Draught Diversions: Book Review – DRINK BETTER BEER by Joshua M. Bernstein

Name: Drink Better Beer: Discover the Secrets of the Brewing Experts
Author: Joshua M. Bernstein
Publication Date: September 2019
Publisher: Sterling Books

Don’t we all want to drink better beer? Beer these days, isn’t cheap (at least the good stuff). There are many choices and if you’re taking a potentially $20 risk on a beer you’ve never had, and if you only have a beer a day or don’t drink more than a few a weekend, you want to make sure you’re time and the space in your beer drinking calendar aren’t wasted. Joshua Bernstein’s Drink Better Beer is a great book to help make sure the beer you drink isn’t wasting your time or money.

Cover courtesy of the publisher, Sterling Publishing

From the publisher’s landing page for the book:

With thousands of breweries creating a bewildering array of beers each year, learning from the experts is practically a necessity for the modern beer lover. Luckily, beer guru Joshua M. Bernstein is here to tap their wisdom for you, with sage advice about which brews to buy, how to taste your beers, and what to eat with them.

Drink Better Beer features the must-know insights of more than 100 professionals, including competition judges, beer consultants, and master brewers. Find out how to shop clever by heeding two simple rules. Learn the art of selecting the right glass, cleaning it, and executing the perfect pour. Make sense of all those aromas with just a couple of sniffing tricks. Unlock the taste secrets of different styles, learn when to drink, and how to know if your favorite beer store is treating their beer the way they should. Beer is getting complicated—Drink Better Beer will give you the confidence to buy smart and enjoy your pour even more.

In Drink Better Beer, Bernstein delivers his message in a wonderful, welcoming, conversational tone. He clearly has a passion and expertise for that wonderful liquid made from water, grain, yeast, and hops. It isn’t difficult to gain an expertise in something you thoroughly study and constant entrenchment in the subject will eventually gain a person a decent level of knowledge. The ability to convey and deliver that knowledge? That’s a combination of Skill and Talent not everybody has, but Joshua Bernstein is just such a person. He is able to extol the virtues of the granular elements that eventually lead to a person consuming better beer and Bernstein does so through the voice a celebratory, friendly enthusiast. There’s no holier-than-thou overtones nor is there the dusty voice professorial voice. The tone in Drink Better Beer is much more like “Beer is great, this is why Beer is great, have fun with it! Let’s have a beer together!”

The organization, formatting, feel, and structure of the book from a physical perspective is glorious. It isn’t quite a coffee table, it is almost like a textbook: enough to convey a sense of authority, but not too much to be off-putting. The book also has lovely pictures and has a fairly substantial size and heft to it. Bernstein covers elements about beer that many people take for granted – the water, the vessel in which the beer is consumed, the dating on the beer, etc. Other writers have done so, writers I’ve mentioned here at the Tap Takeover. Joshua Bernstein’s particular brand of enthusiasm; however, helps to bring these elements together in a freshly engaging manner. Think of a Pilsner – a delicious beer style that can be interpreted differently and can be of equal quality by numerous brewers.

(At this point, I’m switching from “Bernstein” to “Josh” for the author because of the convivial and gregarious tone of his words.)

Josh has broken down how to drink better beer into the following categories/chapters:

  • “What’s in Store: Buying Beer”
  • “The Pour Move: Glassware and the New Rules of Serving Beer”
  • “Scents and Sensibility: Cracking the Code on Flavors and Aromas”
  • “Eat These Words: The New World of Food and Beer Pairings”
  • “Toasting the Future: A Road Map of Delicious New Directions”

Peppered throughout the book are interesting and engaging sidebars featuring the things like the top five beers Josh consumed while writing the book (in fact, I picked up a six pack of one of those beers – a favorite – while I was reading the book), or a page on highlighting what some of the less-known data points on a label mean, or “Six IPAs to Buy to Understand the Style’s Evolution,” and recurring features on “Drinking Destinations.” Noted beer people like Lindsay Barr from New Belgium and founder of DraughtLab; Jeff Alworth, author of The Beer Bible, and Dr. J. Nikol Jackson-Beckham, the Diversity Ambassador of the Brewers Association are featured, among others.

Image courtesy of the publisher, Sterling Publishing (Click the image to embiggen)

This whole book, especially, the first one third or so of the tome, made me want to hang out with Josh and other like-minded people at a bar or brewery to muse over the quality of the beer in our glasses. In all the books I’ve read, fiction (mostly Science Fiction and Fantasy) and non-fiction, I have found the best books to essentially represent a conversation between reader and writer, forging a connection between the two. Joshua Bernstein’s Drink Better Beer captures that conversational ideal about as good as any book I’ve read. As a result, I yearned for that “meatspace”/in-person social interaction that beer facilitates so wonderfully thanks to Josh’s delightfully spun words. Unfortunately, that has become somewhat difficult in the current COVID pandemic.

Over the past few years my library of beer books has been growing. Drink Better Beer is a highlight and a book I expect I’ll be revisiting casually for some time to come. In other words, I’d call this an essential book for anybody building out a shelf of books dedicated to beer.

Cover courtesy of the publisher, Sterling Publishing

Draught Diversions: July 2020 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…

July, of course, features one of the most beer-centric holidays, Independence Day. Celebrating our country in this day and age is not exactly and easy thing, but for about 35 years, my family has had a Fourth of July party. It has always more of a family gathering, and even though COVID has drastically changed things, we were still able to have a handful of family at our house. As such, there is an abundance of beer.

This month brings mostly local (5 NJ and 1 PA) beer.

Lil Yacht Juice (Icarus Brewing Company) | IPA – Session / India Session Ale | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

It has been a bit since I featured an Icarus beer here at the Tap Takeover. “Lil Yacht Juice” is the scaled down version of Icarus’s flagship IPA, “Yacht Juice.” Whereas Yacht Juice is 8%, “Lil” is 4.9%. Despite the lower ABV, “Lil” doesn’t sacrifice any of the flavor with its blend of Mosiac, Citra, and Columbus hops. The beer is cloudy like most New England IPAs and is probably the best “Session IPA” I’ve ever had (not that I’ve had all that many of the style) and a beer that was a perfect start to our annual Fourth of July party.

Bulliner Vice – Passionfruit, Papaya, and Peach (Bolero Snort Brewery) | Sour – Fruited Berliner Weisse | 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

Bolero Snort has a series of fruited Berliner Weisse beers under this obvious bull-punned name, this is the only one I’ve had and I like it quite a bit. A good beer to finish off the night with the various fruit adjuncts and the overall tartness of the beer. However, this is the second “sour” beer I’ve had with passionfruit and the initial aroma is extremely potent – it is stanky. But thankfully that aroma transfers more pleasantly in the beer with the help of the peach and papaya.

Haze Charmer (Tröegs Independent Brewing Company) | Pale Ale – New England | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

This a new year-round addition to the Tröegs portfolio and it is indeed a very welcome beer. It is light but flavorful with a burst of lovely tropical, fruity hops. Tröegs has long been one of my favorite breweries and this beer captures a hot style very well, low ABV and very flavorful. This is a great anytime, pairs with anything kind of beer that should appeal to everyone.

Lilting Grace (Conclave Brewing Company) | IPA – Imperial / Double | 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

I took a ride down to Conclave to check out their outdoor biergarten in their new space (which they moved into shortly before the pandemic) and the outdoor area is really nice. As always, the beer was really tasty, too. This one has one of my favorite hops, Vic Secret, which seems to be a favorite of Conclave’s too. Good tropical fruity elements in the beer with a slightly bitter hop finish. Good stuff.

Raspberry Radler (Beach Haus Brewery) | Shandy / Radler | 3.75 Bottle Caps on untappd

Radlers/Shandys are the refreshing German style that blends fruit juice and beer (often lemonade and beer). Beach Haus’s take on the style with Raspberry is really nice and a perfect post-yardwork summer beer. This is the exactly the kind of a beer I’d expect from a brewery walking distance from the beach with great outdoor seating…and it is quite good, too!

Eye of the Storm w/Citra (Jersey Cyclone Brewing Company) | IPA – American | 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

Although Jersey Cyclone has been open for more than a year, this is my first time trying their flagship IPA. This is a flavorful almost Hazy/New England IPA. It is a little more bit grassy than most IPAs I’ve had, but very tasty nonetheless. The Citra hops shine in this beer, evoking the citrus profile which lends the hop the name.

A great month overall for new beers, so let’s leave it at that.

Beer Review: Eis Maker from Jack’s Abby Craft Lager

Name: Eis Maker
Brewing Company: Jacks Abby Craft Lagers
Location: Framingham, MA
Style: Barleywine – Other (untappd) / Lager Wine (label) / Eisbock (Web site)
ABV: 13%

“A delicious, inventive interpretation of a beloved style through a new lens. A beer that truly defines Craft Brewing.”

From Jack’s Abby’s page for beers:

Eis is the German word for Ice. A former distillation process in making Eis Beer would be to freeze it, remove the ice, and collect what remained.

While today’s beer, like Eis Maker, is no longer produced this way, it is used as a connotation that the beer is very strong.

You will find this Eis Bock to be sweet, malty and boozy with notes of raisin, dark fruit and similar profile of a barley wine.

This beer is not part of the 20 Years 20 Beers series, nor it is a NJ beer. However, Jack’s Abby entered the NJ market last year and as much as I love my local breweries, I want to support the “new to the area breweries,” especially when they are independent and are known primarily for Lagers. This all brings me to a style I’ve never seen, at least as Jack’s Abby names it: Lager Wine. Because of that, and the echoes of the rarest of lagers, the Eisbock, I was very drawn to this boozy concoction.

From the bottle into the glass, this beer looks the part of a Barleywine (leaning more on the English side rather than the hoppier American variety) with the toffee-like color. The aroma is of figs and other dark fruits. So far so, good.

The first sip is….wow. Just wow. The aroma of the aforementioned fruits is strong in the profile at the outset. While this is 13%, I took a couple of big sips because it was so tasty. Once I get beyond the initial sip, the complexity of this beer unfolds. The barrel notes are not overpowering to the overall flavor, but I’m sure they add to the overall booziness. On the other hand, as noted above and in my Bock overview, traditional Eisbocks are partially distilled – the frozen water is removed from the process, leaving more alcohol in the final liquid. Thus we have a beer at 13%…but it isn’t overpowering. The beer isn’t too hot or strong with alcohol or the barrel element, but both the barrel and high alcohol are noticeable elements in the overall taste profile. In other words, pleasant components of the overall taste of the beer.

The barrel notes blend fabulously with the raisin/date/fig elements in Eis Maker. I’ve had only two Eisbocks (at least since joining untappd 6 years ago) and a handful of traditional Barleywines over the years. This beer marries the best elements of both styles (and frankly, both styles are wonderful on their own), into a delightful and unique beer. What makes this beer so special is how even in sticking to a Lager yeast/Lager style, Jack’s Abby managed to craft a beer so evocative of a style not typically brewed as a Lager. Jacks’ Abby has a series of Barrel-Aged beers, many of which are their “Framinghammer” Baltic Porters (yes, Baltic Porters are traditionally Lagers) and other beers that are Lager interpretations of beers that are traditionally in the dark range of the Ale family of beers. Eis Maker is the second in this barrel-aged series I’ve had, but it only has me eager to try more. This beer is the definition of delicious, inventive, out-of-the-box thinking that once defined Craft Brewing and from what I’ve had from the fine folks at Jack’s Abby, defines them.

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

Beer Review: Mamaw’s Mean Cobbler from Hardywood Park Craft Brewery

Name: Mamaw’s Mean Cobbler
Brewing Company: Hardywood Park Craft Brewery
Location: Richmond, VA
Style: Belgian Tripel
ABV: 8.2%

“A Belgian Tripel perfectly complemented with some added elements make for a deliciously crafted dessert beer.”

From untappd’s page for beers:

Mamaw’s Mean Cobbler is a delightful variation of our Peach Tripel with vanilla, cinnamon, coconut, and milk sugar additions delivering the classic flavors of a southern-style peach cobbler baked fresh in grandma’s kitchen.

Another great beer from “The 20 Years 20 Beers” gift provides for an introduction to another new brewery! Hardywood is a brewery I’m well aware of and a brewery I featured here for their whale beer, Gingerbread Stout. This installment of 20 Years 20 Beers also gives me a new Tripel to try, a style I thoroughly enjoy, but isn’t quite as common in the American Craft Beer scene.

The initial small pour my wife gave me so I could try guess the style of beer gave off the fruity vibes. I tasted banana and thought perhaps peach might be involved. The yeast was very prevalent, I knew I had some kind of Belgian-style.

This beer, fully poured in my goblet, looks extremely inviting – some Tripels are filtered, some are a little cloudy like this one. Looks great, and the aroma is equally pleasing.

I’m getting massive peach aroma from this beer, fortunately peach is a fruit I enjoy a great deal. The nose leads to the taste, but with more than just a small pour, more than just peach emerges. The Belgian-style yeast is very prominent, but other elements come through, primarily the cinnamon. It is subtle, but present enough and a welcome complement to the peach and yeast. The lactose and coconut are even more subtle, lactose usually adds more texture and sweetness than a distinct flavor which is the case here. I didn’t get too much coconut as a standout, it was more in the background.

I was utterly entranced by this beer. The peach is a perfect complement to the strong, yeast element in the beer and the cinnamon is just a lovely component that ties the two elements together. I’ve had peach cobbler and this beer is a perfect interpretation of the dessert into a beer. Dessert beers are often associated with sweet, “pastry” stouts, but this beer right here? Give me this as a summer dessert beer and I’ll be a very, very happy guy. The peach is sweet, the lactose/milk sugar is an added sweetness, and the yeast helps to generate sweetness, so there’ quite a few sweet elements working together. However, the sweetness is not cloying and those three sweet elements are in balance with each other.

Mamaw’s Mean Cobbler is a beer with a funny name, but a great taste. My wife is continuing to knock it out of the park with the 20 Beers 20 Years theme so far.

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

Beer Review: Braxton Labs Chocolate Cinnamon Roll

Name: Braxton Labs Chocolate Cinnamon Roll
Brewing Company: Braxton Brewing Company | Braxton Labs
Location: Covington, KY
Style: Brown Ale – Imperial / Double
ABV: 8.8%

“A delightful dessert beer that delivers exactly what the name says, cinnamon and chocolate in a deliciously crafted Imperial Brown Ale..”

From untappd’s entry/page for the beer:

This dessert style imperial brown ale has a sweet, full mouthfeel due to flaked oats and lactose. Specialty malts of pale chocolate and crystal malts bring a base of roasted chocolate and caramel. Additions of cinnamon and cacao nibs after fermentation bring together all the flavors of a delicious cinnamon roll with a sprinkling of chocolate chips.

The 20 Years 20 beers theme continues with this week’s beer review and introduces me to another new brewery! Braxton Brewing Company is a brewery I’m aware of, but prior to this beer I haven’t had the chance to try a beer from them.

Like the previous beer (and all 20 beers in this gift project), my wife gave me a taster of a few ounces to see if I could guess the beer. I was immediately hit with cinnamon, which stands out the most. Cinnamon is usually not what you’d call a subtle flavor element, after all. I thought the beer might be a Dessert/Pastry Stout, but looking at the beer, it isn’t quite dark enough to be a stout, so I guessed Brown Ale. I was close, my wife says, since it is an Imperial Brown Ale.

The full beer in the glass is a dark brown, a shade under black. In a certain light it *might* be mistaken for a Stout, but closer inspection reveals the beer’s true brown nature. The aroma of the full beer is largely cinnamon and very inviting.

Diving into the full pour, the cinnamon asserts itself immediately and plays very nicely with the roasted malt that gives a Brown Ale its smooth and sometimes chocolatey flavor. The fact that cocoa was added to the beer brings these flavors together even more strongly and makes for a delicious beer. The same disclaimer I make with big dark ales applies to Chocolate Cinnamon Roll: let the beer get a little closer to room temperature to allow the flavors to breathe a little and it tastes even better.

Perhaps the smartest thing Braxton Labs did with this beer was at the very beginning of the creative process. Now I’m not sure what came first, the style, or what they wanted to achieve with the end result in terms of flavor, but this works better as a big Brown Ale than it would have as a Stout, I think. The roasted elements of a Stout could potentially take over the cinnamon and chocolate and the more muted malt elements, as I pointed out previously, play really well with those two adjuncts.

Braxton Brewing has proven that a Brown Ale can be a flavorful, delicious beer when crafted well and that Brown Ales should not be overlooked. This is a great dessert beer. My wife is batting 1.000 with the 20 Beers 20 Years theme so far.

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

Bravo for Brown (Level 10)

Dating back to the 17th century, Brown Ales come in a number of varieties. With malty, nutty characteristics and a smooth finish, it’s sure to cure your cravings.

Tavour (Level 3)

 

Beer Review: Fort George’s Cathedral Tree

Name: Cathedral Tree
Brewing Company: Fort George Brewing Company
Location: Astoria, OR
Style: Pilsner – Other
ABV: 4.8%

Cathedral Tree is a delicious, classically crafted full-flavored Pilsner and a beer worth seeking out should you find yourself in the Astoria, OR area.”

From Fort George Brewing’s page for Cathedral Tree:

Cathedral Tree is a beer that pays reverence to the timeless lager style – Pilsners. Fermented entirely in 500 Liter oak puncheons, to incorporate Old World methodology and provide a mellow tannic structure that lends a full mouthfeel and support for classic German noble and modern hops. Finishes crisp, clean, and refreshing as any Pilsner should. Look for Cathedral Tree in 16-ounce cans. And just like the actual Cathedral Tree, this one is staying firmly planted at the coast.

BREWER’S NOTES

Brewed in the Lovell Brewery and fermented in the Lovell basement in great big oak barrels, this beer is oak fermented and lagered, but not “barrel-aged.”

Pale straw in color, this pilsner offers floras, white grape, and rustic raw grain aromas in addition to doughy, bready, herbal & floral hops and white nectarine flavors.

For our 20th Wedding Anniversary, my wife bought me a box of special beers, 20 beers specifically. Each beer is meant commemorate a special moment, event, or shared memories from the 20 years of our marriage. Not just any beers, mind you. She bought 20 different styles of beer from breweries from around the country, 18 of the beers through Tavour, which is a beer crating service that allows consumers to get beers from small, independent breweries from around the country. Beers from, say, a small brewery in Oregon a person (like me) from New Jersey would never otherwise be able to procure. Tavour also is a great way to support small and independent business which aren’t exactly local.

My wife also put together 20 index cards with a printed image and a textual hint as to what the beer might be or where the beer was made. This game consists of me picking a card and then she presents a few ounces of the beer in a taster glass, so I can guess what the beer is. The index card clue for this beer hinted at a German store near our house we frequent, so I was hoping for some kind of Lager. I immediately knew it was a Lager of some sort from the aroma, but the small taste also had me feeling pretty good about the beer being a Pilsner. As it so happened, this beer was second I had from the Tavour box and it is one of my favorite styles, a Pilsner.

The beer pours a perfect golden-yellow with a fluffy white head into my Pilsner glass. As it turns out, the glass from which I enjoyed the beer was a wedding gift from my coworkers of 20 years ago, they gave me a box of Pilsner glasses, so another little reminder of 20 great years of marriage.

Getting more of the aroma from the full glass with the fluffy head, it smells like a Pilsner, with some bready elements plus some slightly fruity elements, too.

The first full taste of the beer was extremely pleasing. Cathedral Tree has the classic German Pilsner elements – bready/crackery malt and a pleasant hop finish. Many Pilsners have some kind of hint of fruit element from the hops and while the description above calls out grape as a flavor, I can’t say I was getting any of that. Maybe a hint of nectarine, but more of a pear hint. Not that I was drinking pear juice from a Pilsner glass, but pear is that subtly noticeable fruit that is found in a lot of juice blends to bring other fruit elements together. That’s what the fruity elements here did for my taste buds – brought the wonderful crackery malt together along with the hints of oak from the fermenting barrel.

Cathedral Tree is a superb Pilsner and one I’d happily have again and seek out should I ever have the opportunity to visit Oregon.

Can art by Will Elias, image courtesy of Fort George Brewery’s Website

Also worth pointing out is the gorgeous art wrapping the entire can of beer from Will Elias. Although Fort George’s description of the beer calls out German styles, the Cathedral-like structure looks like it would fit in really well in Czechoslovakia, the birthplace of Pilsner beer.

Highly recommended, link to Untappd 4.5-bottle cap rating, the gorgeous can art nudged the rating just a bit.

Draught Diversions: June 2020 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…

June has rolled in and out, the pandemic continues, as does my focus on local/New Jersey beers. One non-NJ beer in this six pack, but some of the usual suspects from NJ made an appearance in June. A pretty decent mix, style-wise, with two IPAs. Despite my recent Lager Leanings, most of the lagers I’ve been enjoying (outside of those I’ve recently reviewed) have been past favorites.

Here in NJ, restaurants and breweries have opened for outdoor consumption, which accounts for the last beer in this six pack. Hopefully I’ll have the opportunity to visit some breweries in July for outdoor communal consumption.

Fuego (Tonewood Brewing Company) | IPA – American | 4.5 Bottle Caps on untappd

In the few beers I’ve had from Tonewood, I’ve yet to have a bad beer. This straight up IPA may be the best I’ve had from them yet. There’s an absolutely perfect hop blend giving the beer both a citrus/juicy component, but also the hallmark bittering and slightly piney components often associated with West Coast IPAs. I brought a six pack to a socially distanced poker game and wound up drinking three of them myself the beer was so damned good. I know Kane is considered the IPA King of NJ (and rightly so), but Tonewood’s Fuego is outstanding and probably one of the best IPAs brewed in The State of New Jersey, at least that I’ve had the pleasure of drinking.

Picture in Reverse (Kane Brewing Company) | Old Ale | 4.75 Bottle Caps on untappd

Speaking of Kane, this is a beer I picked up at the brewery when I visited in September 2019. Old Ales are an interesting style in that they are often a blend of beers with strong malt and molasses character – those two elements are on prominent and delicious display in this beer. I’ve noted many times that Michael Kane and his crew are masters of the art of barrel-aging beer and that refined craftsmanship is the highlight of this beer. The bourbon-barrel notes are in elegant, perfect harmony with the big malt character of this potent ale. I think Picture in Reverse is an annual release for them so I’m hoping to get a bottle of it this year.

4th Anniversary (Czig Meister Brewing Company) | IPA – Imperial / Double New England | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

Unfortunately, the pandemic prevented Czig Meister from having their 4th Anniversary party, but they still brewed a potent and delicious Imperial New England IPA to celebrate. This is a fantastic beer with wonderful tropical fruit notes all over the place and a nice hop bite to balance out the sweetness. What was most surprising is how easily it went down for a beer at 10% ABV.

Köastal Kölsch Style Ale (Tom’s River Brewing Company) | Kölsch | 3.75 Bottle Caps on untappd

Toms River Brewing (f/k/a Rinn Dunn) is a brewery whose beers I’ve been wanting to try more of, and a brewery I’m looking forward to visiting. My neighbor decided to have us over one evening for some beers and conversation. Much to my pleasure, he grabbed a four pack of this crusher. I liked it so much I had two cans that evening. This is a really nice beer for the summer lounging.

Light & Sweet (Carton Brewing Company) | Cream Ale | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

To say that Regular Coffee is one of Carton’s most beloved beers is an understatement. It is a “franchise” or “brand” within the portfolio, or as Augie says of the variants, the “Regular Coffee” Game. This one is about half the ABV at 6% and there seems to be more sweetness than the standard “Regular Coffee.” This version is Nitro which gives the beer some good body and is simply delicious. Almost as good as the original Regular Coffee, except this one won’t sneak up on you and smack you on the back of the head with a baseball bat with a high ABV. In other words, you can have a couple and still be relatively OK.

Tanker Truck Sour Series: Persian Lime Gose (Two Roads Brewing Company) | Sour – Fruited Gose | 4.5 Bottle Caps on untappd

This was the first beer I had at a bar/restaurant since the pandemic. In NJ, outdoor dining was permitted and fortunately, one of our favorite places, The Stirling Hotel, has ample outdoor dining. As for the beer, this Persian Lime Gose might be one of the best Goses I’ve ever had and one of the best I’ve had from the consistently excellent folks at Two Roads Brewing. The lime was perfectly tart and sweet, the touch of salinity brought it all together. I could drink 50 o of these on a hot day as it is eminently refreshing.

Plenty of good beers, the only one that really didn’t work for me was Cowfee Break from Bolero Snort, a coffee porter. The taste was off and it was rather thin for the style. .

Beer Review: 902 Brewing’s Kürtőskalács Milk Stout

Name: Kürtőskalács
Brewing Company: 902 Brewing Company
Location: Jersey City, NJ
Style: Stout – Milk/Sweet
ABV: 7.4%

“902 Brewing has crafted a very flavorful dessert stout and a great interpretation of the classic Hungarian cake/dessert treat.”

From 902 Brewing’s page for their beers:

Brewed to mimic a delicious Hungarian dessert we had in Budapest, this milk stout has just enough sweetness to round out the dark and roasty coffee presence with a cinnamon aftertaste.

Sometimes you get a taste of a beer at a Beerfest and you want more. That’s the case for this sweet dessert stout from 902 Brewing. Two years ago, at the Bridgewater Beerfest, I had a taste of this beer and liked it but wasn’t seeing in my local stores, I really wanted to get the “full pour experience” of this beer. I was finally able to snag a four pack of the beer and I’m very pleased I did. Subsequently, I thought to myself, “Self, what better time to review a beer from a brewery than around the time of the grand opening of their taproom?” You see, 902 Brewing has been contract brewing since they launched in 2014, but this month (June 2020) they officially opened their production facility and taproom in Jersey City. I’m looking forward to visiting the taproom and trying more of their beers.

On to the beer…

Pop of the can, pour of the beer and what do we have? A dark stout whose thick fluffy head is reminiscent of coffee or malted milk. In other words, it looks like the kind of stout that would be right up my alley. I don’t get too much of an aroma, maybe some of the cinnamon? But the certainly looks the part of a rich dessert stout.

First sip is on point for a Milk Stout with the roasted malt elements and the sweetness from the lactose. The cinnamon comes in immediately and is a dominant flavor element in the beer. I like cinnamon quite a bit so this is just fine by me.  For about a year or so, I was adding cinnamon into my coffee grinds for some added flavor, I’m reminded of that with this beer in a good way. I’m not sure how much of the hazelnut I get but the coffee is most assuredly present.

I also like the (here’s that word I hate) mouthfeel of the beer. The beer has the appropriate thickness for a stout of this ABV and I like how the cinnamon pops around in the beer. You don’t want to gulp this one, let it settle in your mouth a little and get all those flavors.

Aside from simply enjoying Kürtőskalács, there’s a bit of a personal connection with this beer. My uncle and grandfather are both Hungarian (grandfather was born in Hungary). Additionally, a good friend is Hungarian, and before the pandemic, she would visit her family in Hungary quite regularly. That’s the personal, Hungarian connection. As for the name, Kürtő translates to stovepipe and the pastry/cake looks like a hot chimney. A google image search proves it. I’ve had the “chimney cakes” in the past a few times, once at a local Hungarian festival, and another time, at a Christmas Flea Market/Fair, and thoroughly enjoy them. When the cakes are fresh off the interesting contraption used to make the cylindrical cake, they are delicious and one of the most popular variants or styles is with cinnamon sugar.

As an interpretation of the chimney cake, Kürtőskalács is a very successful beer. It hits the flavor notes, especially the cinnamon aspect, extremely well. The coffee elements are a welcome addition that complement the cinnamon very nice.

The Bottom Line: 902 Brewing has crafted a tasty and interesting dessert stout.

Recommended, link to Untappd 3.75-bottle cap rating / 4-bottle cap rating because sometimes, a beer tastes better a few days later.

Beer Review: Victory Classic

Name: Victory Classic’: Easy Drinkin’ Lager
Brewing Company: Victory Brewing Company
Location: Downingtown, PA
Style: Lager – Helles
ABV: 4.8%

“Victory’s newest Lager, Classic is a flavorful cooler-filler for summer, tailgating, or any time you want a tasty beer.”

From Victory Brewing’s page for Classic:

Perfectly balanced and exceptionally drinkable, this lager is expertly crafted with specialty hops, malt and yeast to be the standard of refreshment.

Classic is the definition of drinkable with pilsner malt and Hallertau hops bringing perfect balance to this 4.8% refresher for game day, happy hour, mowing the lawn and everything in between.

In what will likely not come as a surprise to anybody who has read this blog over the last couple of years, the first non-NJ beer to be reviewed here in two months is relatively* local and from one of my favorite breweries, Victory Brewing. A few months ago, the venerable MyBeerBuzz blog posted that Victory Brewing was releasing a new‡ lager. I was very excited since Victory crafts lagers so well (Prima Pils, Festbier, Home Grown, Hip Czech Pilsner, Schwarz Pils, etc).

*I’m about 15 minutes from Pennsylvania border and Victory is close enough driving distance that I’ve visited a couple of times.

‡ For the most part, Classic seems to be a slightly reworked recipe (a slightly lower IBU) of their longtime mainstay Helles Lager which was a very good beer (which itself was rebranded from V Lager.

So, how does Classic stack up against other Helles Lagers and some of those aforementioned lagers from Victory?

The beer pours a perfect see-through yellow, much like many of the beers I’ve been reviewing lately. I don’t get too much of an aroma other than a fairly standard beer aroma. First sip is inviting, a beer that is refreshing. There’s that “beer that tastes like beer” thing going on all over the place with Classic on first impression. Victory; however, has crafted a more layered beer than that.

For Helles Lagers and Pilsners, I like the bready element to be present, which is the case with Classic, while the hop presence is quite mild and not bitter, which again, is what I like in a Helles Lager. I’ll take some mild hop bite in a Pilsner, but a Helles Lager, especially one labeled as an “Easy Drinkin’ Lager” should lean towards mild floral and fruit evocations in the hops, and not the bitterness. That mild hint of floral and fruity was something I noticed more when I had the beer the second time a day later (since I had two beers prior to Classic the first time I had the beer). In other words, the hops do what they are supposed to do in a beer like this and play very nicely with the bready elements from the malt.

A beer like this is deceptively simple in taste and presentation, but to achieve an elegance like this requires the kind of expertise that Ron Barchett and Bill Covaleski, the two masterminds behind Victory Brewing, have honed and shown over the years. I’m not sure how long the process took to refine the recipe for Classic or how long they worked on the previous Helles Lager recipe to get to this beer, but they’ve found success.

Classic is an especially welcome beer because it is a tasty new lager addition to a line-up that has strongly leaned towards IPAs and Monkeys the last couple of years. (Not that I don’t like their monkeys and IPAs!) Victory has been releasing some really interesting new beers over the last couple of years (Twisted Monkey, Cloud Walker, Easy Ringer), but this is their first new Lager in a few years and one I will definitely have in regular rotation.

Bottom line: Victory Classic is a welcome addition to Victory’s year-round lineup and of the quality I’ve come to expect from Victory Brewing’s lagers. I’d also slot Victory Classic in the top half of the Helles Lagers I’ve had over the last few years.

There’s an old advertising slogan, “Does exactly what it says on the tin” and considering the bottom of the can states “Easy Drinkin’ Lager that slogan is most apropos for Classic – the beer is flavorful, easy drinking at 4.8% ABV, and a beer you can enjoy without over-analyzation (says the guy with a 3-year old beer blog).

I want to also point out the can art, too. Eye-popping, great red-white-blue color scheme, which comes across a reflection of the beer inside.

The last anecdotal point is similar to a point I made in the the last non-NJ beer I reviewed (Sierra Nevada’s Barrel-Aged Narwhal): Victory Classic, is the 40th unique beer from Victory I’ve logged in untappd.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4-bottle cap rating.

Beer Review: Lone Eagle Brewing’s King Kölsch

Name: King Kölsch
Brewing Company: Lone Eagle Brewing Company
Location: Flemington, NJ
Style: Kölsch
ABV: 5%

This relatively underappreciated style is a standout of its kind and one of the best beers to come out of Flemington’s Lone Eagle Brewing.

From the untappd page for the beer and can label:

This classic German ale is much like a nice crisp lager. A personal passion of our brewer, it has a nice malty sweetness to it while finishing with a slight bitterness. This Kölsch is true royalty. Long live King Kölsch!

Lone Eagle is one of a small handful of breweries within a 10 mile or so radius of me. As such (and as I’ve noted previously here at the Tap Takeover), I had been visiting them on again and off again for the monthly Board Game Night, both for gaming with friends and the beer. Of course, since March 2020 that hasn’t happened. When I saw that Lone Eagle was canning their re-worked Kölsch, I figured it was finally time I grabbed some of their beer.

In the few Kölsch reviews I’ve posted, I’ve mentioned how the style is underappreciated, it isn’t an IPA, Stout, or even a Pilsner. However, if brewed well, a Kölsch can be very flavorful, refreshing, and satisfying. Those last three words encapsulate this beer, but read below for more…

The beer pours a clear, bright yellow into the Lone Eagle nonic tumbler which really catches my attention. An image just like the one at the top of this post is likely what many people will conjure in their minds if somebody asks them to picture “beer.”

I’m hit with a very clean tasting beer. What does that mean? Well, there’s a consistency to the flavor profile, good contribution from the water, yeast, barley, and hops. The core four ingredients are playing in harmony. There’s zero unpleasant taste on the finish or aftertaste, nothing lingers uninvited. Rather, the taste here with King Kölsch finishes in a way that makes me not want to put the glass down.

There’s great flavor from the malt, a little breadiness that reminds me of a Helles Lager. The beer also has a sweetness to it that makes you want to go for a second sip without having put the glass down from the first sip. Kölsch ales can have a bitterness on the finish, but this one doesn’t. While the hops are definitely present, but there’s no lingering unpleasantness.

I’ve had nearly 50 different beers from Lone Eagle over the last few years, so I wasn’t sure what to expect since I’d characterize them as “a very nice brewery.” While I’ve enjoyed the majority of their beer, only a few of their darker beers (Stouts and Dopplebocks) have stood above the crowd of their peers in an otherworldly sense. Again, not a knock necessarily because I’ve been more than pleased with what I’ve had – I wouldn’t have had almost 50 beers from Lone Eagle if they weren’t good.

However, this Kölsch is one of the best 3 or 4 best beers I’ve had from Lone Eagle Brewing. To put it simply, King Kölsch is a beer worthy of the title because it is a standout beer for a style that (unjustifiably) is not always a standout and a standout beer from a brewery who has been churning out good beer for about four years now.

Recommended, link to 4.25-bottle-cap Untappd check in.

My “Brewery Spotlight” on Lone Eagle Brewing from June 2017. (Three Years ago already!)