Beer Review: Peak Organic Happy Hour Pilsner

Name: Happy Hour
Brewing Company: Peak Organic Brewing Company
Location: Portland, ME
Style: Pilsner – German
ABV: 4.7%


From the Peak Organic’s Landing Page for the beer:

Happy Hour is a masterfully designed pilsner. Built to be crisp, clean and crushable. This beer is easygoing and pairs well with everything, including another beer! With this new pilsner, it’s always Happy Hour.

Over the last year or so, I’ve come to  appreciate the elegance of a well-crafted Pilsner. The style has drawn some bad rap because of mass-produced tasteless light/Lite beers. If you hear from brewers or some folks deeply entrenched in the beer community; however, great Pilsners are held in very high regard.

Peak Organic is based out of Maine and they don’t yet distribute into NJ. I had a couple of their beers (including a fantastic Pilsner) at the Philadelphia Bacon and Beer Festival last year, so when I saw a can of their beer in Wegman’s for a Mixed Six Pack, I knew I had to grab it.

I am glad I did. On the other hand, I’m a little frustrated, because (as I just said) Peak isn’t yet distributed into NJ.

Out of the can, the beer pours a bright golden yellow. If I’m going to be honest, then the aroma doesn’t stand out too much. I mean, it smells like a beer should smell and that just makes me want to drink it.

This is one of the lighter Pilsners I’ve had, but that doesn’t detract from the taste at all. If anything, this beer is full of flavor and wonderfully refreshing. Like the best Pilsners, the malt and hop blend nicely to give the beer a really consistent taste. The first sip is a pop of flavor that, when cold, is extremely refreshing. As the can says, this is a crushable beer, one you can throw back to refresh your thirst with a really straightforward taste with superb, clean finish. This is a beer you’re going to want to finish while cold.

If you want to think of it one way, Happy Hour from Peak Organic is almost an entry-level craft beer. Folks who are usually wary of craft beer because they associate “craft beer” with hopped up IPAs or boozy stouts should give this one a try. Especially given the name, this is a beer that is one you’d bring to a party to share with anybody and everybody. Full of enough taste to please craft beer drinkers, and approachable enough not to deter non-craft drinkers, Peak Organic’s Happy Hour is a winner regardless of how you cut it. As the old adage goes, this beer does exactly what it says on the can!

Peak Organic, as the name implies, uses organic ingredients in the beer and based on Happy Hour and the tastings I had of their other two beers, that freshness really shows. I just hope these fine folks are able to fully distribute into New Jersey.

Highly Recommended, link to Untappd 4.25-star rating.

Draught Diversions: St. Patrick’s Day 2018

Draught Diversions is the catchall label for mini-rants, think-pieces, and posts that don’t just focus on one beer here at The Tap Takeover. We hope you don’t grow too weary of the alcohol alliterative names we use…

If Oktoberfest is the Fall holiday for beer, then St. Patrick’s Day, the day when everybody is Irish, is certainly the Late Winter/Spring Holiday day for beer. Not just a holiday for a specific style of beer, but a brand, some would say. Guinness, of course. Guinness is far from the only beer option (or even Irish Stout) to enjoy on and around St. Patrick’s Day, so I’ll touch on a few of those. But I’ll start with Guinness itself.

Guinness, the most popular and best selling stout in the world is still quite well regarded by many craft beer folks despite being such a global brand. When it comes to stouts, especially Irish Stouts, few compare to Guinness especially when the line from the keg to the tap is short. A nice touch is when the bartender adds a four-leaf clover to the head.

Guinness has been expanding their portfolio here in the U.S. over the past handful of years, including a Blonde Ale (the less said the better), an “Irish Wheat” that was surprisingly tasty, and several stouts. They offer up a Milk Stout as well as a Belgian-inspired Antwerpen Stout. The Guinness I’m really looking forward to trying, though, is the 200th Anniversary Export Stout, brewed in late 2017 in honor of the 200th anniversary since Guinness was first shipped to America.

The “other” Irish Stout, Murphy’s is also an excellent example of the style. It has been many, many years since I enjoyed a Murphy’s. I may have to change that soon.

Many American brewers try to evoke the style as well. This may not come as a shock to folks who read this blog regularly, but my favorite is probably Victory Brewing’s offering: Donnybrook Stout. I believe this is a draft only beer as I’ve never seen it in bottles or cans, but I recall the beer hitting the same notes as Guinness does, and to a fairly successful degree. Breckenridge Brewery has a “Nitro Dry Irish Stout” that is very much playing into the whole Guinness beer profile, too. Of course, Breckenridge is one of a growing number of American Craft Breweries purchased by Anheuser-Busch and part of its “High End” brand initiative.

It isn’t all about the Stouts on St. Patrick’s Day, though. Smithwick’s is the brand name for the Red Ale the fine folks at Guinness brew and distribute. For years this was a go-to beer for me. I even prefer a “Black and Red” or “BlackSmith” to the traditional “Black and Tan.” Smithwick’s may be the quintessential Irish Red Ale and again, many American brewers try to evoke the style.

I miss this logo from the beer. The new red logo looks like Bud and doesn’t stand out at all.

For my beer drinking dollar, the best of the American interpretations of an Irish Red Ale is – hands down, no discussion – Great Lakes Brewing’s Conway’s Irish Ale. I seem to alternate going with this or something from Guinness on St. Patrick’s Day.  Great Lakes (rightfully so) makes a big deal out of this one on St. Patrick’s Day.

I’ve only touched upon some a few of the seasonal/holiday appropriate brews to enjoy (responsibly!) during a St. Patrick’s Day celebration, I know.* Of course, some Jameson would also be perfectly appropriate or one of the caskmates brews they’ve brewed in collaboration with a few American Craft brewers, like the Craic they partnered with River Horse here in New Jersey to brew last year. This beer is really tough to find and I haven’t had much luck yet.

Some other NJ breweries are getting in on the fun, too.*

*Gotta save some for next year’s St. Patrick’s Day post, right? 

For some Irish brews to enjoy for St. Patrick’s Day, take a look at this great article by Jason Notte.

There you have it. A quick rundown of some of the more widely available and widely known seasonally appropriate brews for St. Patrick’s Day as well as a handful of beers from some NJ Breweries. I know there are many more, so drop a note in the comments to let me know of a good one I may have overlooked.

Beer Review: Epic Brewing’s Son of a Baptist

Name: Son of a Baptist
Brewing Company: Epic Brewing Company
Location: Salt Lake City, UT and Denver, CO
Style: Stout – Imperial/Double
ABV: 8%

From the beer’s description on Epic Brewing Company’s landing page for the beer:

Son of a Baptist is an 8% ABV imperial stout. It is not barrel aged like its father, Big Bad Baptist; instead its flavor profile was designed to highlight the complex and often unique flavors of small batch coffees. Instead of sourcing a coffee that would play well in a beer we sought out creative and innovative roasters, then asked them which beans they’re passionate about. Each resulting release of Son of a Baptist is widely different depending on the coffee selected. Some are fruity and sweet with notes of jam and chocolate, others are rich and earthy with a big roasted finish. Each limited release will return to the Roaster’s home market where the beer and the coffee can be sampled side by side.

Stouts, truly my favorite style of beer. Add coffee to the beer in the appropriate amount, and I like the beer even more since coffee is probably the beverage I drink at least as much as or more than beer. Coffee may be the most prevalent adjunct flavor element in stouts and given that large swath of coffee stouts on the market, they vary in quality. For some of those coffee stouts, the coffee overpowers the beer. In other coffee stouts, the coffee is barely noticeable. With Epic’s Son of a Baptist, harmony is achieved.

As the beer pours from the can into the glass, I realize this is one of the blackest beers I’ve ever had. A combination of the roasted malts and coffee add to this, I suspect, but the aroma hints at coffee rather than blasting your senses with the coffee.

That first sip sets the tone for the delicious 12 oz that will be consumed. The standard stout flavors of roasted malt, a bit of hops are prevalent but the coffee slides in to give a wonderful, balanced flavor. There’s an added layer of sweetness not all coffee stouts exhibit. I do tend to put a little more sugar in my coffee so I’m accustomed to sweetened coffee. Whatever the fine folks at Epic did with the coffee matches just about perfectly with the level of sweetness I try to achieve every morning in my own mug of coffee.

For a non-barrel-aged stout, Son of a Baptist packs a decent punch at 8%. The closest comparison I can think of is Founders’ vaunted Breakfast Stout, a beer I love and get quite regularly. Son of a Baptist compares extremely favorably against Founders’ brew, so I’d highly recommend seeking out Son of a Baptist.

One of my co-workers was talking about this beer for the last few days before I picked up the six pack at my favorite beer shop. In other words, he convinced me to give this one a try and I’m very happy I did.

The particular six pack I purchased used beans from Novo Coffee. There are about at least another dozen variants to Son of a Baptist with beans from other local roasters so I may have to give each of those a try.

The “Baptist” line of stouts from Epic is very well regarded. In addition to the Son of a Baptist, there’s the Big Bad Baptist, which is aged in whiskey barrels as well as Triple Barrel Big Bad Baptist with coconut aged in rum and whisky barrels.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4.5-star rating.

Untapped badges earned with this beer:

Heavy Weight (Level 53)

You like it thick and dark. Your beer! What did you think we were talking about? That’s 265 different beers with the style of Porter or Stout.

2X (Level 26)

When a single isn’t enough, make it a double. Doubling the hops and malts in a recipe results in a higher ABV and can pack quite a boozey punch. That’s 130 different beers with the style that contains Imperial / Double in its style name.


Draught Diversions: I’m Now an IPA Believer

Draught Diversions is the catchall label for mini-rants, think-pieces, and posts that don’t just focus on one beer here at The Tap Takeover. We hope you don’t grow too weary of the alcohol alliterative names we use…

Well, it finally happened. I never thought it would come to pass, but alas, I have succumbed to the masses of craft beer. I not only enjoy IPAs now, I seek them out.

For years I avoided IPAs like they were a communicable disease. I hated high-hopped beers and even disliked many Pale Ales (like Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale). I’d get that bitter beer face when I did have IPAs and would drink water if an IPA was the only beer option.

When I first joined untappd about 4 years ago, I did so with a good friend and it turned into a little competition. For a while we were neck in neck with check-ins to unique beers, badges and the like. The primary difference, he was (and is) an IPA guy and I was (and still am) primarily a stouts & porters guy. The whole time we were switching places in the “race to most check ins” he would be at, for example, level 30 on his “I Believe in IPA” badge and level 8 on “Heavyweight” badge and I would be on level 30 on my “Heavyweight” Badge and level 8 of my “I Believe in IPA” badge.

Then, something happened. Something that supposedly happens to people every seven years or so. Just do a google search on “palate changes every 7 years” and a plethora of scientific, semi-scientific, and conjectural results are returned. My palate changed and evolved. I became more open to trying different styles, and part of it started with a beer I reviewed here last year: Two Roads Honeyspot IPA. The beer was from a brewery I trusted implicitly: Two Roads Brewing Company and it had wheat as a malt ingredient.

From there I became more open and curious to trying the occasional IPA. Another IPA that really wowed me and had me eager to try juice bomb and New England IPAs came from the Sierra Nevada Beer Camp pack last year: the Sierra Nevada/Treehouse collaboration East Meets West IPA which was one of the best beers I ever had. I knew I might be willing to try more IPAs at this point.

I also began to doubt myself. Was I just folding under the pressure of the overwhelming imbalance of IPAs vs other styles in the beer market? I hoped that wasn’t the case, but the more IPAs I had, the more I enjoyed them. I am also not the only person to have an aversion to IPAs. Just like the wide variety of stouts available on the market, I’ve learned IPAs are just as diverse. In learning that, I realize I prefer the East Coast IPAs and a lot of what makes me enjoy a specific IPA comes down to the specific Hop used in the brew. For example, Conclave’s “Hop Ritual with Vic Secret” is a delicious beer because of the strand of hop in the beer. Yeah, I know it is technically a Pale ale, but it is one of those Pale Ales that blurs the line and well, Hop is in the name.

Another Hop that works well for my palate is Citra, which imparts a citrusy flavor to the beer. Another that worked wonders for my palate is the Centennial Hop. I learned this when I had Two Hearted Ale for the first time, which is hopped 100% with Centennial Hops. Centennial also imparts a citrus flavor profile. I’ll again make the obligatory plea that Bell’s begin distributing in New Jersey.

Just take a look at my first two monthly six packs for 2018 and how prominently IPAs are featured in the six highlight beers of each month. The beer that really sealed my fate with regard to IPAs and hopped up beers, though not an IPA, is Sierra’s Nevada Pale Ale, arguably the most important hop-forward beer in American Craft beer over the last thirty plus years.

I could probably go to great lengths about the varieties of hops. In fact there are several books on the subject with For The Love of Hops: The Practical Guide to Aroma, Bitterness and the Culture of Hops by Stan Hieronymus considered by many to be the standard book on the subject. I haven’t personally read it, but I threw out a question on twitter about the best book on Hops and multiple trusted beer folks tweeted back with this book.

So what does this all mean? Well, I’m excited to explore more IPAs and Pale Ales. Beers that are hop-forward and maybe feature a single hop. There’s now a shelf or fridge section of beers I don’t need to skip over any longer.

Or, to put it another way, just like the untappd badge, I Believe in IPA!

Beer Review: BOVB (Blood Orange Cream Pop IPA)

Name: BOVB (Blood Orange Cream Pop IPA)
Brewing Company: Bolero Snort Brewery
Location: Ridgefield Park, NJ
Style: IPA – American
ABV: 6.3%

Glass from Garden State Brewfest 2015, where I first encountered Bolero Snort’s brews.

Description of the beer from Bolero’s blog post announcing the beer

BOVB offers a metal escape to warmer weather in these brisk months. This 6.3% IPA is brewed with white wheat and hopped with some of our favorite old school citrusy C hops then conditioned atop blood orange puree, milk sugar and Madagascar Vanilla before being dry hopped with some sleek new Experimental Hops and more Centennial and Cascade. Fluffy and crisp, bright citrus with a creamy finish.

Bolero Snort is one of the more well-regard breweries in the New Jersey craft beer community, and all without having a “home base” tap room where patrons can taste and purchase the beer. They are a gypsy brewery, and brew their recipes at various larger breweries in the State. They’ve gained this reputation through distribution of kegs, cans, and bottles in a mix of traditional brews and innovative twists on those traditions, like this twist on a citrusy IPA. Aside from the beer, owner Bob Olson is considered one of the really good guys in the New Jersey brewing community and has brewed collaborations with several NJ breweries.

It has been a while since I gave the full review attention to an IPA and this one is really terrific. Upon cracking open the 16oz can, the aroma is citrus and hops with an underlying sweetness. The beer pours a bright, inviting yellow-orange that looks in all respects like your standard IPA

Looks are deceiving because this is far from a standard IPA.

The upfront flavors of the hops and bold blood orange citrus meld quite harmoniously. A very pleasing mouthfeel leads to a creamy sweet vanilla finish. I’ve said before that vanilla is very tricky flavor component for my palate, as it can be overpowering in some cases and prevent a beer from elevating to that next level. The judicious and balanced application of the Madagascar Vanilla in this beer is absolutely perfect. The sweetness and vanilla essence finishes and complements the citrus hop up front that compels you to drink more.

Similar to how I suggested that River Horse’s Chocolate Porter was the delicious essence of a brownie distilled into beer form, this is the sweet, tasty essence of an orange creamsicle (or even the orange vanilla twist famous on the NJ boardwalk) into beer form. In other words, a great dessert beer.

I did make one mistake on the first can of this beer – I poured without the swirl. Because this beer has the lactose sugar and other sweetening elements, as well as not being 100% filtered, sediment will settle to the bottle of the can. Kind of like an unfiltered Hefeweizen. The glass from which I was drinking the beer didn’t hold the full 16oz of the can so a lot of slurry poured out when I topped off the glass. Swirling all that sediment kicks up the lovely flavors even more which was definitely the case when I had my second can a couple of days later. This is quite simply a delicious beer.

Bolero Snort produces a few different versions of this beer: the original OVB (Orange Cream Pop); TVB (Tropical); and SVB (Strawberry). I need to try these soon and more than the dozen or so of Bolero’s beers I’ve already had.

Highly Recommended, link to Untappd Check-in 1 and Check-in 2

4.25-bottle cap rating.

Draught Diversions: February 2018 Six Pack

Draught Diversions is the catchall label for mini-rants, think-pieces, and non-review posts here at The Tap Takeover. We hope you don’t grow too weary of the alcohol alliterative names we use…

Since today is March 1st, let’s take a look back at the February 6-pack. Again these are beers that stood out over the past month. Most are really good beers, but I’ll try to keep it somewhat balanced and include one beer that didn’t quite work for me.

As this six pack (and last month’s) are showing, I’m more strongly leaning into the whole IPA/hopped up beer side of the bottle shop. There might be another rant/post about that specifically, but I’ll go through this six pack chronologically.

Victory Mighty Things Imperial IPA – 4 bottle Caps on untappd

On the very first day of the month, I had a new Double/Imperial IPA from my favorite brewery, Victory Brewing. There’s a near perfect balance between the hops and malt in this beer with a nice citrusy undertone. I’ll admit, I was a little unsure if I should get a full six pack of the beer, but I am very glad I did. I’ve seen some chatter on beer boards that this is just a repackaged version of Hop Ranch. I can’t say, never had that one. Mighty Things, though? I’d have this again and again.

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale Pale Ale – American – 4 bottle Caps on untappd

I had to travel in February for my job and at one of the cocktail hours/receptions, the beer choices were Stella Artois (which I don’t like at all), Bud Light, and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. I of course went with the famous green labeled bottle. I haven’t had one of these in many years (at least since before I was on untappd) and never really enjoyed the beer. In fact, it was the beer from Sierra I liked the least. But since it was free, I figured I’d revisit. I’m glad I did because with my shift to enjoying IPAs and my changing (evolving?) palate, I now enjoy this beer very much and grabbed a bottle at the following night’s cocktail hour.

Weyerbacher Sunday Molé Stout Stout – American Imperial / Double – 2.75 bottle Caps on untappd

Here, we reach the drain pour. I like stouts quite a bit, spiced up stouts very much, and I enjoy much of Weyerbacher’s output, so I was expecting to enjoy this one a great deal. Especially since it is a variant on their wonderful Sunday Morning Stout. This beer didn’t work for me at all. I’m not sure why, maybe the smokiness? I couldn’t put my finger on it and couldn’t finish the beer, it just wasn’t for me.

Flying Fish Jersey Juice IPA – New England – 4 bottle Caps on untappd

Number four for the month (and the second IPA) is from New Jersey’s largest craft brewery, Flying Fish. I’ve enjoyed many of the beers I’ve had from Flying Fish’s portfolio so how could I not at least try a beer with the state’s name in it? Well, Jersey Juice is quite tasty with a good hop / malt / juicy balance. Further playing on the New England IPA craze, this beer is distributed in 16oz cans. The beer isn’t quite what it I thought it might be, in that the name, packaging, and untappd classification made me think it would be a New England IPA. The beer doesn’t have quite the level of juiciness or cloudiness most NEIPAs have, but the beer is still quite good and is one of those versatile brews that fits any occasion.

Tröeg’s First Cut IPA – American – 4 bottle Caps on untappd

I’ve always respected and liked the beers Tröegs produces, and now that I’m on-board with IPAs, I like them even more. First Cut is the first of Tröegs Hop Cycle series of seasonal IPAs. Not too highly hopped, the beer is extremely well balanced and sweet with honey and mangoes added to the brew process. This is a delicious, extremely refreshing IPA. I don’t know if I’d call it “crushable” because of the 6.2% ABV, but the beer goes down really nicely. As the first in the Hop Cycle, this is a spring seasonal, but damn would this be a perfect summer/poolside beer.

Now I’m looking forward to progressing through Tröegs Hop Cycle this year.

Samuel Adams Sam ‘76 Lager – American Light– 3.75 bottle Caps on untappd

There’s been a lot of hype for this beer and how the fine folks of Samuel Adams went through 60 different recipes before settling on the beer that is known as Sam 76. I may have to up my rating when I have a second can of the beer because this is a solidly made beer. Billed as an ale/lager hybrid, the beer is bright, crisp, and has a nice hop-pop. With a  4.7% ABV, the beer is really crushable. This is a year-round beer and I can imagine it will do very well in warm months and in people’s coolers in the summer. The beer is maybe a session lager? A hoppy Helles Lager? The flavor profile actually reminds me of Carton’s Boat Beer, if not quite as hoppy. I may have more to say about this beer at a later date, but I hope this does well for Jim Koch’s great company.

Honorable mention: Czig Meister brewery in Hackettstown had a 2-day Stoutfest (their second annual) and there were some fantastic stouts, 50 different stouts over two days! The best I had were the Caramel Macchiato Stout, Imperial Milk Stout and the Bananas Foster Stout. I’d love to see the Caramel Macchiato make it to season/full time status and put into distribution.

Beer Review: Boulevard’s Bourbon Barrel Quad

Name: Bourbon Barrel Quad (Part of Boulevard’s Smokestack Series)
Brewing Company: Boulevard Brewing Co.
Location: Kansas City, MO
Style: Belgian Quadrupel
ABV: 11.2%

Duvel (the beer name on the glass) owns Boulevard, thus the glass style (tulip) and name, are doubly appropriate!

Description of the beer from Boulevard’s landing page for the beer

Based loosely on the Smokestack Series’ The Sixth Glass, this abbey-style quadrupel is separated into a number of oak bourbon barrels where it ages for varying lengths of time, some for up to three years. Cherries are added to make up for the “angel’s share” of beer lost during barrel aging. Selected barrels are then blended for optimum flavor. The resulting beer retains only very subtle cherry characteristics, with toffee and vanilla notes coming to the fore.

Boulevard is one of the largest craft breweries in Missouri, and despite being owned by Belgian brewing giant Duvel Moortgat, they seem to hew to their own traditions. I can’t really compare the brewery and its output to the pre-Duvel purchase (2013), but their beers seem to have a very solid reputation in the Craft Beer industry. Enough about Boulevard, on to this fine Belgian inspired brew…

I realize this is the second Belgian Quadrupel I’ve reviewed in two months, so you know the beer stood out.

The beer pours brownish/amber and the aroma that arises out of the glass is pleasing and inviting. There’s quite a bit of sweetness on the first sip, but it is very welcoming. Some sweeter beers can be too cloying, but the balance up front (and overall) is quite nice. Then the bourbon hits and the sweetness continues, along with the flavors imparted by the oak barrels and the whiskey remnants. I’m not sure I got too much of the cherry flavors called out in the beer description, but there was a little more to the sweetness than the vanilla and bourbon.

I initially expected the beer to be a little darker than it poured, if I’m going to be honest. However, everything else about this beer exceeded my expectations, or side-stepped them in some way. The quad aspects are definitely present, but after that initial sip, the bourbon barrel flavors assert themselves and complement the yeasty Belgian goodness quite nicely. There’s a sweetness of vanilla that brings this fully into the realm of a dessert beer. Pour it early just after dinner and enjoy it over the course of the evening. I thought I was going to enjoy the beer, but I was sad when i downed the last sip in the glass.

This is a very delicious beer and one that has me more interested in the beers that Boulevard Brewing is producing. Especially Boulevard’s Smokestack Series,  their group of brews which are higher in ABV, more complex in taste, and great for slow enjoyment. As a part of the series, this Bourbon Barrell Quad fits perfectly. They distribute fairly strongly into New Jersey so meeting that interest shouldn’t be too tough.

Highly Recommended, link to Untappd 4.25-bottle cap rating.

Untapped badges earned with this beer

Sky’s the Limit (Level 20)

You don’t always intend to go for beers with a double digit ABV, but when you do, you make it count! Cheers to you, but be careful, 10% and up can really pack a punch. That’s 100 different beers with an ABV of 10% and up.


You’re off to a great start! Keep trying Boulevard Smokestack Series beers to #UntapTheStack and unlock all three levels (it’ll be worth it, trust us).