Draught Diversions: The Tap Takeover Takes a Break

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…

This post has been brewing for a few months, probably at least as far back as May 2022, when The Tap Takeover celebrated its Fifth Anniversary. I’m referring to The Tap Takeover going on an indefinite hiatus. I don’t know how long that hiatus will be because life gets in the way of the plans we make for ourselves.

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When I started the Tap Takeover back in 2017, I wasn’t sure what the long term goal was, other than a hobby with a professional mindset, if that makes sense. I started it with the thought that since I wrote about the books I enjoyed for so many years (SFFWorld, Tor.com, SFSignal, as well as my personal blog) I figured I’d take a stab at writing about the beers I enjoy. On the one hand, writing this blog turned into an educational exercise as I learned more about beer in general, more about why I like certain beers and not others. On the other hand I met a lot of really cool people and feel as if I’ve become more connected in the independent beer scene, especially in New Jersey.

I’ve briefly considered monetizing the site somehow, but usually dismissed those thoughts very quickly. At times, I thought maybe I’d parlay this blog into some kind of paid writing assignments about beer, but that hasn’t quite formed despite some attempts.

I won’t say maintaining the blog has become a chore, but there is time and effort that goes into writing, formatting, and generating the content. I’ve maintained a pretty consistent schedule, I haven’t missed publishing at least one post per week (226 reviews and 178 Draught Diversions) since launching in 2017, and often two posts per week. I’ve been reading blogs for long enough to know for my own personal enjoyment, if there’s not consistent, timely content, then I stop giving attention to that blog/outlet.

I’ll admit that I put pressure on myself with this blog. I’m the owner, lead editor, whatever you call it and I’m not affiliated with any other media outlet or brewery. Building out those monthly six packs of new beers every month, sure it was fun consuming those beers, but it wasn’t always easy to come up with six “new to me beers” beers or new beers for the Summer / Oktoberfest / Christmas seasonally themed six packs. I found myself going out of my way to find something new I hadn’t ever drank just to ensure I was able to have a review or fill a monthly six pack and that the content I was posting was new to this blog. I’d pass up a 4-pack or 6-pack beer I enjoyed in the past in favor of a new beer when determining what to buy in order to have content for this blog based on my personal budget. Again, that’s pressure only from myself to keep to the standards I set early on with this blog. This post is by no means a plea for sympathy, just a rationalization of the state of things.

Have my priorities changed since launching the Triple T? A little bit, sure. I’ve moved up in my career, have been focusing once again (although not as diligently) on fictional writing as well as renewed attention to the book reviewing I’ve been doing for the better part of the last 20 years. If I’m writing a piece for the Tap Takeover, then that’s time I’m not doing something else like attempting to spin my own stories.

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Also, unlike the book reviews I write where the majority of the books I review are provided to me by publishers, 95% of the beers I’ve reviewed or featured were beers I purchased. The other 5% were gifts or beer exchanges. Sure, I’d be buying and drinking beer regardless, but like I said previously, I’d go out of my way to get something new to me rather than grabbing an old favorite to buy. That’s good in many ways because trying new things is fun, right? I’m just adding another layer to what goes into publishing a beer blog that maintains a weekly schedule of new content.

Plus, sometimes and more often lately, I just want to drink a beer, enjoy it, and not overanalyze what’s in the can or my glass and write a review about it. There’s only so much one can say about one stout vs. another and I’ve felt myself getting repetitive in my reviews more frequently so I just need a break from this little monster I’ve created. I also sometimes feel like I’m shouting into a vacuum with this blog.

I’ve enjoyed keeping this active for the last 5 and a half years, I really have. I’ll still be filling my fridge with beer, visiting breweries, spending time thinking about beer, but more relaxed and less formally, if you will.

In the end, I’m not sure what’s next for The Tap Takeover. When or if I’ll return from hiatus, but maybe I’ll run into some of you at a brewery or some other beer event in the future.

I’ll still be checking into untappd (RobHB), posting on Instagram (robhbed) (usually one’s beer per week as well as some bookish posts), taking part in the dumpster fire that is currently twitter as RobHBedford, as well as facebook. Connect with me there if you haven’t already and say hi.

I’ll close this post by  saying thank you to everybody who has been reading my barely coherent ramblings about beer for the past five and half years and  chatting up with me online or in meatspace.

Cheers and enjoy your beer responsibly!

Draught Diversions: Favorite Beers of 2022

As has been tradition in January here at the Tap Takeover for the previous five years, I present the annual roundup of my favorite new to me beers of the previous calendar year. Why a “12-pack?” Well, everybody does a top 10 list and beer is generally sold in quantities of 6 and 12 packs. This Favorite of the Year 12-pack will feature the highest rated beers I’ve had the previous year. Of the twelve beers, there was only one beer I rated below 4.5 bottle caps on untappd, which is to say that I had some high-quality beers in 2022. This 12-pack is what I deemed  as “Best” beers of the 349 unique beers I checked into untappd in 2022, from 126 different breweries.  I think in previous years, a few beers I rated at 4.25 bottle caps made the list. According to untappd, I tried 105 different styles of beer, but what probably shouldn’t be a surprise at this point is the style I checked in the most: Pilsner – Czech.

2022_ Favorites

As always, for the purposes of this post New means “New to Me” because a some beers on this list have been around for many, many years, but I had the beer for the first time in 2023.

Before diving into the list, here’s another plug for my old Blog o’ Stuff, which is where I write, rant, and rave about Fantasy, Horror, and Science Fiction books. I brought it back to life this year with a few reviews and a monthly reading wrap up, not too dissimilar to the monthly six packs here at the Triple T.

Back to our regularly scheduled beer programming…

While I had more beers from NJ breweries this year than probably any other year, only 5 of them make the top 12, which still comprises the dominant State. Again, as in past years, the annual 12-pack could have easily been comprised of 3 or 4 breweries, but the one rule I’ll stick to from past years is allowing only one beer per brewery to appear. That rule made it difficult to whittle down some breweries from whom I’ve had upwards of 10 beers in 2022.

If I’ve done a full review of the beer here at The Tap Takeover, the beer name links to that review, otherwise the beer name links to my untappd check-in for the beer. For the beers that I’ve reviewed, I’ve provided a truncated blurb of my beer review.

Here’s the style breakdown for the 12 beers below:

  • 4 Lagers
    • 2 Pilsners
    • 1 Baltic Porter
    • 1 Dark Lager / Schwarzbier
  • 2 Stouts
    • 1 Imperial / Double Oatmeal
    • 1 Imperial / Double
  • 2 Barleywines
  • 1 Old Ale
  • 1 IPA
  • 1 Pumpkin Beer
  • 1 Farmhouse Ale (Grisette)

Without further adieu, here are the 12 best beers I drank in 2022:

12. John | Bradley Brew Project | Pilsner – German | 4.25 bottle caps

BradleyBeach_John

This is the third beer (at the time) I had from Bradley Brew Project and it might be the best one. A clean, crisp, extremely well-crafted interpretation of a German Pilsner. This beer does just about everything correct for the style. There’s a slight lemon/lime presence on the finish, but overall, an excellent beer.

11. Wolfe’s Neck | Maine Beer Company | IPA –American | 4.5 bottle caps

MainBeerCo_WolfCreek

Maine Beer Company makes outstanding IPAs and Wolfe’s Neck is another delicious example. A fantastic blend of hops with a dialed-in hop flavor, great malt character, and and overall, perfectly balanced and elegant profile. This is one of the cleanest IPAs I’ve ever had. Despite Mosaic being one of the main hops in this beer, I still enjoyed this beer quite a lot. The El Dorado and Sabro hops balance out what is normally an unpleasant aftertaste in beers with Mosaic hops for me.

10. Scythe | The Drowned Lands Brewery I Pumpkin / Yam Beer | 4.50 Bottle Caps

DrownedLands_ScythePump

Pumpkin beers dominate the shelves from August through October/November to a very overwhelming level. This has; unfortunately, set something of a mark against the style… With Scythe, The Drowned Lands may have crafted an ideal Pumpkin Beer. It has near perfect balance of all the elements, lives up to the “pumpkin pie in a glass” moniker, but is still most certainly a beer. If I’m making a Mount Rushmore of Pumpkin Beers, Scythe would very likely find itself on that mount.

9. Cigar City’s Marshal Zhukov’s Double Envelopment | Cigar City Brewing | Stout – Imperial / Double | 4.5 bottle caps

CigarCity_ MarshalZ_DoubleE

Marshal Zhukov’s is Cigar City’s flagship Stout …and blend two versions, the rum barrel-aged and sherry barrel-aged to create something unique… Since this is an 11.8% stout, I take my time with the beer. Being in a cool bar with a good friend and good food on the way, I was real happy to just relax and enjoy this complex beer…The barrel elements blend into one, dynamic flavor adjunct that is extremely pleasing, the sweetness from the rum barrel is complemented by some of the dried fruit elements in the sherry character. This beer is one of the more unique barrel-aged stouts I’ve ever had…well-worth seeking out.

8. Dew Drop | Oakflower Brewing Company | Farmhouse Ale – Grisette | 4.50 bottle caps

Oakflower_DewDrop

Not many breweries are making Grisettes, let alone making it as one of their first beers available to the public…For a beer to have so much flavor at such a low ABV is very impressive. Even more impressive is that Oakflower was open for just a week when I visited and this beer was on draught. Head brewer/owner Colin McDonough was brewing in small batches for a few years under the Lamington River Brewing banner so he’s got some experience. That said, it often can take time for a brewer to adjust to newer, larger scale equipment and the learning curve here seems non-existent. Dew Drop is the kind of beer I’d expect from a brewery that’s been open a few years, not a couple of weeks.

7. Scotch Double Barrel-Aged Picture in Reverse | Kane Brewing Company | Old Ale | 4.5 Bottle Caps

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Old Ales aren’t the most common style   of beers, they sit somewhere between Barleywine and an aged Imperial Stout. Beers in this style typically undergo an aging process, sometimes for years, lending a very rich character similar to wine. This particular version from Kane is a blend of Barleywines aged in Willett Bourbon barrels then aged again in Scotch barrels. This is the second release of “Picture in Reverse” I’ve had and it was stunning. There’s a sweetness and boozy element with some heat in the back with the scotch presence pleasantly noticeable on the finish. A complex and delicious ale, one of many beers that proves to me nobody does barrel aging better than Kane.

6. Life Unravaled | Icarus Brewing Company | Barleywine – American | 4.5 Bottle Caps

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One of the kinds of beer Icarus is best known for are dark beers/stouts, particularly their barrel-aged beers. This is their first bottled Barleywine and it was fantastic. Aged in bourbon barrels, the sweetness from the barrel plays wonderfully with the Maris Otter Barley and balances out the hops very nicely. I would love to see more Barleywines from Icarus in the future if this is any indication of what they can do with the style.

5. Schwarzbier Black Lager | Chilton Mill Brewing Company | Lager – Dark / Schwarzbier | 4.5 bottle caps

ChiltonMill_Schwarzbier

I am very pleased with my first taste of this beer. There’s a very nice roast character, which is a hallmark of the style. It isn’t overpowering to the point that it is a smoked beer, but just enough to make that element of flavor’s presence known. On my second quaff of the beer, I get something unexpected, yet pleasant – some kind of sweet fruit element. Not sure what specifically, but that element likely comes from the Noble hops. But that sweetness is a great level of complexity in this beer… What I like about the beer is how elegant, well-crafted, and balanced the beer is. I have a very strong appreciation for the level of complexity especially considering the beer is only 5.6% ABV.

4. Lagerness Monster | Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers | Porter – Imperial Double Baltic | 4.75 bottle caps

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A sleeping Dusty makes a cameo in the background

I like the beer quite a bit from that first taste and I have a feeling I’m going to enjoy this 500ml bottle over the next hour or so. Moments later, I have a second sip and it is stellar. I start to get a pleasant tingly feeling in my belly when the beer hits, a familiar feeling I associate with good beer… What impresses me the most is the balance in this beer… the more I thought about it, the more I realized the beer had almost no flaws.

3.Straight Jacket | Revolution Brewing Company | Barleywine – English | 4.75 bottle caps

Revolution_StraightJacket

The first word that comes to mind for this beer is smooth…everything about it is delightfully, sinfully, sumptuous, and smooth… The bourbon elements could easily overpower the entire beer and drown out the malt and hops, but here in Straight Jacket the name of the game is accentuation. Each flavor element (hops, malt, barrel) enhances the other elements to a wonderful and delightful degree. I only wish that Revolution distributed this beer (and their other barrel-aged beers) into New Jersey.

2. 6th Anniversary Imperial Stout | Czig Meister | Stout – Imperial / Double Oatmeal | 4.75 bottle caps

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As I take further sips, that silky smooth character envelopes my palate like a luxurious blanket. The barrel character emerges more prominently, but *perfectly* accentuates the roasted malts of the beer rather than overpowers the flavor profile. Those elements by themselves would make this a world-class Imperial Stout, but then the Vanuatu Vanilla emerges…. I was totally blown away by this beer.

1. Tenner | Notch Brewing Company | Pilsner – Czech | 5 bottle caps

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The pour….is perfection in a mug. Look at that picture above, just a beautiful beer with a thick head atop a bright yellow-gold beer. Tenner was poured just as you’d expect in Plzeň (Pilsen to us Americans) in the Czech Republic… First sip is pure heaven. I get a little bit of foam in that first sip, but the beer itself is everything I could hope to have in a Pilsner beer… without hesitation, I can say this is the best Pilsner (or Pale Lager as our friends in the Czech Republic and Notch might say), I’ve ever had the pleasure of drinking.

Some other notes:

While I visited several breweries in 2022, the list of new-to-me breweries I visited wasn’t quite as lengthy as past years. While many new breweries opened in NJ in 2022, some aren’t exactly close. Additionally, for example, I visited the localest brewery a half dozen times (Readington Brewery), I made 5 trips to Icarus Brewing, I visited the seven breweries on the Hunterdon County Beer Trail and the six breweries on the Skylands Ale Trail. For both of those Beer Trails, I’d visited most of the breweries for the first time in years past and multiple times at that. My favorite brewery that I visited for the first time in 2022 was Notch Brewing’s Brighton, MA taproom. A complete focus on German and Czech Lagers and Ales…right up my alley. That said, here are the breweries I visited for the first time in 2022:

Breweries whose beer I checked in/enjoyed the most according to untappd, which should be a shock to nobody reading this blog. This is not new beers exclusively, but overall:

  • Icarus Brewing: 34 different
  • Kane Brewing Company: 14 different beers
  • Jersey Cyclone Brewing Company: 13 different beers
  • Readington Brewery & Hop Farm: 12 different beers
  • Czig Meister: 12 different beers

So there it is, the 12 “New to Me” beers I enjoyed the most in 2022.

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Draught Diversions: December 2022 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…

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December means Christmas and some annual seasonal returns (I’m looking at you Mad Elf), big stouts, darker lagers, and barrel-aged beauties to warm the cold nights. Speaking of cold nights, New Jersey saw the coldest Christmas in twenty years, with temperatures below freezing after the wind chill was factored. I made two trips to Icarus this month, once for their Yuleapolooza and the second (two days later) for a beer and doughnuts pairing with Purple Glaze Donuts out of Asbury Park. This month’s six pack, will again, feature some expected favorite breweries, plus a few new ones.

Let’s dive into the November 2022 Six Pack …

Red Tape (Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers) | Lager – Amber | 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

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Red Tape is another crispy, malty lager from the Framingham brewery. This is Jack’s Abby’s early winter seasonal, meaning it hits shelves in November and is a perfect everyday lager with great flavor at the sweet spot of 5% ABV. This was one of Jack’s Abby’s launch beers and I can understand why it has been in rotation since. I grabbed a four pack for $8.99 and for my money, that’s a damned bargain.

Double Barrel Evening Bell Old Rip Van Winkle (Kane Brewing Company) | Porter – Imperial / Double | 4.5 Bottle Caps on untappd

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Another month, another Kane beer appears. Considering I picked up 5 different bottles when I visited the brewery on Black Friday, that shouldn’t be a surprise. Evening Bell is Kane’s base Milk Porter and this version underwent an extensive aging process through three different barrels including the holy grail of bourbon, Rip Van Winkle barrels. Smooth, sexy, with hints of vanilla and a strong barrel element, this beer is sublime and delicious.

Samichlaus Classic 2020 (Schloss Eggenberg) | Bock – Dopplebock | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

Samichlaus

Samichlaus is a special beer from Austria. Brewed only on St. Nicholas Day December 6 (which lends the beer its Austrian name), the beer is aged for 10 months before being put into bottles for sale. At one point in time, this was the strongest beer in the world at 14.1% ABV. The beer was sweet, very boozy, a little syrupy with stone fruit elements. Very reminiscent of a barleywine in all the right ways.

Visions of Snickerdoodles (Buttzville Brewing Company) | Cream Ale | 3.5 Bottle Caps on untappd

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A colleague was kind enough to give me a four-pack of this as a thank you Christmas gift. There’s a lot of cinnamon in this beer which is one of the things I (and many people) like about the Snickerdoodle Cookie. The lactose brings a nice sweetness to the beer and makes for a tasty Christmas beer

Life Unraveled (Icarus Brewing) | Barleywine – American | 3.75 Bottle Caps on untappd

Icarus_Unraveled

I picked up Icarus’s first bottled barleywine during my July visit to the brewery and I knew I wanted to save it for a special occasion. Tradition in recent years has my father and I sharing a special beer, so here it is. The Marris Otter Barley, a hallmark of the style, shines with a great malt bill. Icarus says there’s a “touch of rye” in the beer and that spiciness comes through slightly on the end with the barrel character balancing out the strong hop profile. A great barleywine that just has me hoping Icarus will brew/bottle more of the style.

Downdraft (Jersey Cyclone Brewing Company) | Rauchbier | 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

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Rauchbier is probably one of my least checked-in styles on untapped, it is generally a style towards which I don’t gravitate. But the friend I was with at Jersey Cyclone spoke highly of the beer, so I tired it and liked it! There’s of course a smoky element, but I also get a bit of sweetness, maybe from the malt, maybe from the smoked beechwood? Either way, this was a very tasty beer.

A couple of beers were stinkers this past month, (I was not a fan of this year’s Anchor Christmas Ale, seemed to be brewed with juniper) but mostly really good stuff. I mentioned Mad Elf at the top of the post, but it is worth mentioning again because I had a can I let age for four years and it was absolutely delightful. The cherry element was even more enjoyable.

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Draught Diversions: Mini Brewery Overviews: Chilton Mill, Oakflower, Wild Air

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…

Over the last few months, I’ve visited two new breweries that opened in 2022 and a newer one that opened in 2019. By the time this goes live, I’ll have posted a review from each brewery (Oakflower’s Dew Drop, Wild Air Beerworks’s Outer Dark, and Chilton Mill’s Schwarzbier – Black Lager). I wanted to give a brief overview of these three breweries. I’ll go alphabetically starting with Chilton Mill Brewing in Long Valley, NJ; then Oakflower Brewing Company in Millington / Long Hill, NJ, and  close it out with Wild Air Beerworks in Asbury Park, NJ.

Chilton Mill Brewing

Image Courtesy of Chilton Mill Brewing’s Facebook

Mike Peachy is the owner and head brewer at Chilton Mill Brewing with a similar story to many breweries – he liked beer, got into home brewing, and decided to open up a brewery. Mike is from New Jersey, spent time in New Hampshire where the New England craft beer scene provided Mike with more knowledge and push to open a brewery. In May 2019, Mike opened Chilton Mill in one of the two most popular kinds of locations for independent breweries in New Jersey – a Strip Mall. (The other being an industrial park).

Papa Don Brown Ale

As soon as I entered the brewery each time I visited, I felt welcome in the cozy little brewery. The first visit was during the spring and all the outdoor chairs/tables were occupied, so I enjoyed the Fruited Sour ale inside. The second visit was a cold evening in November and I felt almost like I was walking into Cheers. Not that I was Norm, but plenty of friendly conversation amongst patrons and staff.

What I appreciate the most about Chilton Mill is that despite being one of the smaller breweries with just eight taps, they have a very nice variety. In that way, I’m reminded of Odd Bird Brewing in Stockton. Mike always seems to have an IPA, a fruited/sour beer, a lager, a brown ale. He proudly doesn’t add lactose to any of his beers, which this lactose-intolerant beer enthusiast appreciates! Most of the beers are on the lower-ABV side of things, allowing Mike to showcase his skills in coaxing such robust flavors out of the ingredients he uses.

I’ve only visited twice, but that will be changing.

Some other links of interest and sources of information for this post:

Chilton Mill Brewing Web site | Instagram | Facebook | Chilton Mill Brewing on NewJerseyCraftBeer.com | Beer Advocate | untappd

Oakflower Brewing

Oakflower Brewing is the newest of these three breweries having opened late November 2022, but as often as breweries are opening in New Jersey a couple more breweries opened since then. Anyway, Oakflower Brewing Company in Millington, NJ joins a growing group of breweries in Morris County, NJ (Twin Elephant, Highpoint/Ramstein, Fort Nonsense, Glenbrook, Double Tap and the aforementioned Chilton Mill).

Oakflower Taproom, photo courtesy of Oakflower Brewing’s Facebook

Owned by Colin McDonough and his wife Leann, Oakflower opened with 8 beers on draught. Colin brought his brewing experience to the table, he spent quite a few years doing small batches under the Lamington River Brewing banner. They were sort of a “If you know, you know” kind of brewery, more of a home-brewer with a Instagram page if I’m not mistaken.

Oakflower Ember Oatmeal Stout

Be that as it may, the brewery itself has a bright and inviting interior, beertenders AJ and Dani are super friendly. In addition to their Grisette, Dew Drop the review of which I posted earlier in the week, I had their smooth, roasty, and delicious Oatmeal Stout called Ember

Located next to the Millington Post Office and across the street from the Millington Train Station, the brewery is in a great spot and fairly easy to find. That also makes for prime potential customer location with NJ Transit commuters on a Thursday or Friday night. The taproom is bright, inviting, and very clean in appearance. If those first two beers I had from Oakflower are any indication of the quality that will be pouring out of their draught lines, then I suspect the taproom will be quite busy.

Some other links of interest and sources of information for this post:

Oakflower Brewing Web site | Instagram | Facebook | Oakflower Brewing on NewJerseyCraftBeer.com | Beer Advocate | untappd

Wild Air Beerworks

Logo courtesy of Wild Air Beerworks’s Facebook

Wild Air Beerworks is a fairly unique brewery for a couple of reasons. For starters, they are in a building previously occupied by another brewery, Dark City Brewing which went out of business. The people behind the scenes, owners, etc, of Wild Air Beerworks are owners of Last Wave Brewing in Point Pleasant (Nick Jiorle, Bert Roling and his wife Dani Roling.) as well as a former brewer from Carton (Doug Phillips).

One of the cool things about Wild Air, at least to this English major and reader of many books, is that names of most beers are some kind of literary reference. Their delicious American Lager, Inherent Vice is a book by Thomas Pynchon, the Baltic Porter I reviewed recently, Outer Dark is a book by Cormac McCarthy, their Cold IPA Unhallowed Rites is a reference to H.P. Lovecraft’s “Horror at Red Hook.”

Image courtesy of Wild Air Beerworks’s Facebook

That naming convention and theme carries over to the brewery itself. The aesthetic is somewhere at the intersection of speakeasy, library, and lounge and the vibe is really chill and relaxed. I don’t recall what the look was exactly when it was Dark City, only that the look is an improvement. Quite frankly, everything about Wild Air is an improvement over its predecessor from the quality of the beer to the people working at the brewery giving off a welcoming vibe.

Wild Air Beerworks Inherent Vice

Something that drew me to Wild Air is their focus on Lagers and Wild Ales, especially the Lagers. They have one or two IPAs on draught, but most of the 16 beers they have available are either Lagers or Wild Ales. When I visited, I had the aforementioned Baltic Porter as well as the Italian Pilsner, Fortuna, which was delicious. There were nice bready elements to it and like all Italian Pilsners, this one was dry-hopped, but that element wasn’t overpowering.

Almost as soon as they opened their doors, their beers were distributed out in stores, which is not something all breweries can say. Granted, the fact that they are an offshoot of an established brewery who has been distributing cans of their beers for a couple of years might help.

The brewery is worth visiting and the beer is well-worth getting into your fridge.

Some other links of interest and sources of information for this post:

Wild Air Beerworks Web site | Instagram | Facebook | Wild Air Beerworks on NewJerseyCraftBeer.com | Beer Advocate | untappd

Beer Review: Oakflower Brewing’s Dew Drop

Name: Dew Drop
Brewing Company: Oakflower Brewing Company
Location: Millington, NJ
Style: Farmhouse Ale – Grisette
ABV: 3.9%

An extremely flavorful low ABV beer that showcases the brewer’s skill and talent in a very impressive fashion.

From the untappd page for the beer:

Dew Drop is our low ABV, rainy Spring inspired grisette. We start with a base of floor malted pils and plenty of malted wheat, firmly hopped with some lovely Saaz, and then gently dry hopped with Motueka. It brings a great marriage of earthy, floral, and citrus. Dew Drop is highly carbonated and finishes nice and dry, making it all too easy to refill your glass.

New breweries will sometimes stumble out of the gate when they open for the first time. In some cases, the brewers may be working on new equipment, sizing up their recipes for larger batches. I can’t say that is the case with Oakflower Brewing in Millington, NJ. I visited the second weekend they were open and ordered this Grisette. What is a Grisette, though? It is a Belgian style dating back to the 1700s initially brewed to reward and refresh miners. The name “Grisette” translates as “little grey one,” likely a reference to the stone of the mines. Typically, this beer is similar to the Saison style of beer, with a lower ABV (often less than 5% ABV) with a sometimes fruity or tart element from the yeast used in the beer.

Not many breweries are making Grisettes, let alone making it as one of their first beers available to the public. To coax flavor out of the elements while maintaining a strong flavor profile with a low ABV isn’t the easiest task. But in the interest of trying  styles I don’t often see (just 6 different Grisettes including this one), I ordered Dew Drop.

The beer I’m given is bright and inviting, yellow-golden with a frothy head. The aroma has a slight bit of funk.

The first sip puts a smile on my face. It is both light and flavorful at the same time. There’s an effervescent element that seems slightly more carbonated than most beers I’ve had. As I continue to drink the beer, I enjoy it more and more as a spritzy, fruity element becomes a bit more pronounced. Not a dominant flavor component, but something tickling the edges.

I’m guessing part of what sets this apart from other farmhouse style ales I’ve had is the Motueka hops. While the Saaz hops are a very traditional hop (they are THE pilsner hop), Motueka is fairly new and from New Zealand. The two hops play nicely together..

I think the most impressive element of this beer is the whole of it. For a beer to have so much flavor at such a low ABV is very impressive. Even more impressive is that Oakflower was open for just a week when I visited and this beer was on draught. Head brewer/owner Colin McDonough was brewing in small batches for a few years under the Lamington River Brewing banner so he’s got some experience. That said, it often can take time for a brewer to adjust to newer, larger scale equipment and the learning curve here seems non-existent. Dew Drop is the kind of beer I’d expect from a brewery that’s been open a few years, not a couple of weeks.

Highly recommended, link to 4.5 bottle cap untappd rating check in.

Beer Review: Hardywood Park’s Gingerbread Stout

Name: Gingerbread Stout
Brewing Company: Hardywood Park Craft Brewery
Location: Richmond, VA
Style: Stout – Imperial / Double Milk | Imperial Milk Stout with Ginger and Honey
ABV: 9.2%

Christmas in a Glass – it has been said about this beer by others, but it is no less true. A delicious, iconic stout that is a must have during the Yuletide season.

Hardywood_GingerbreadStout

From the Hardywood’s landing page for the beer:

Made with baby ginger from Casselmonte Farm and wildflower honey from Bearer Farms, Hardywood Gingerbread Stout captures the terroir of Central Virginia in a rich, creamy libation with a velvety mouthfeel and an intriguing evolution of notes from milk chocolate and vanilla, to honeycomb and cinnamon, to a snap of ginger in the finish. We hope Hardywood Gingerbread Stout contributes to your merriment this season.

I’ve been circling around this beer for a few years now, going back to 2019 when I featured the beer in that year’s Christmas Six Pack before Hardywood began sending their beers into New Jersey. Just a year later, that changed when Hardywood beers begain appearing on NJ shelves. Since then, I’ve had a few variants: Christmas Morning, Barrel-Aged/Kentucky Christmas Morning, and last year, the Barrel-Aged version of this beer. Now, at last I finally picked up a four-pack of a beer many people put on the “Mount Rushmore” of Christmas Beers.

That’s quite a bit of preamble with perhaps some unfair expectations set on the beer, I realize. Be that as it may, I’ll dive into the beer…

Pop of the can and the beer pours jet black into my Delirium Noël glass. I get strong aroma of ginger coming off the beer, along with cinnamon. In other words, the beer very much smells like gingerbread cookies and Christmas.

I take a sip and gingerbread is the most prominent element of the beer. Shocking, I know. The same is true for the beer itself, very heavy on the ginger, which is to be expected. If you have the least bit of a problem with ginger or gingerbread, don’t go near this beer. Me? I like ginger (the tea I drink has ginger in it) and gingerbread cookies so this is all fine by me. There’s also a prominent cinnamon element to the beer, which nicely compliments the ginger.

My wife leaves out Gingerbread cookies for Santa Claus on Christmas Eve so the aroma and flavor of Gingerbread cookies is one of the elements I most associate with Christmas. As I tasted and enjoyed more of the beer, that Christmas in a Glass theme really hits home. An element of the beer that stands out as the beer warms and I get beyond that wonderful gingerbread element is the honey. Ginger is a potent spice/root that can be quite aggressive, fortunately, isn’t overly aggressive here and that may be due to the generous amount of honey in the beer. That natural sweetness that pleasantly balances out the ginger.

The milk sugar further brings the sweet balance to the beer, plus the lactose adds a silky smooth feel to the beer. The combination of flavors also evokes hints of chocolate and vanilla for a perfect Christmas dessert beer. Bottom Line: The beer lived up to be what I hoped it would be.

Highly Recommended, link to 4.25 bottle cap untappd rating check in.

Draught Diversions: Christmas 2022 Six Pack

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…

Here I come a wassailing a wassailing with another six pack holiday feature, this time on Christmas/Winter Holiday beers.

Christmas and the Yuletide season is a time for celebration and family gatherings. It is a time for a specific kind of beer, often with some kind of spice, maybe a big stout, or maybe something with fruits or nuts in the mix. I’ll tell you, having put together a Christmas Six Pack every year since 2017, it is becoming a little more challenging each year to craft a diverse six pack of beers that hasn’t been covered in some form here at the Tap Takeover in the past.

Of course, I haven’t helped myself with whittling the field by doing 12 Beers of Christmas a couple of times (2018 part 1, 2018 part 2, 2017 Christmas Beers of Past, 2017 Christmas Beers of Future), thus removing two posts from the future. Be that as it may, there tends to be a good mix of holiday mainstays each year along with new holiday beers, which is how this pack came into being. As usual, I tried to balance NJ beers with beers that are nationally distributed or at least with large regional distribution footprints.

On to the Six Pack!

Alpha Klaus (Porter – American) | 3 Floyds Brewing | Munster, IN | 7.3% ABV

Image courtesy of 3 Floyds Brewing’s Twitter

3 Floyds is one of the great midwestern breweries, they brew largely hop-forward/hop-aggressive beers. Like many breweries, they offer a seasonal spate of beers, including this Christmas Porter.

What 3 Floyds Brewing says about the beer:

Alpha King’s festive cousin. A big American Xmas Porter brewed with English chocolate malt, Mexican sugar and, of course, tons of strange American hops…

Blue Christmas (Sour – Fruited Gose) | Brix City Brewing | Little Ferry, NJ | 5.5% ABV

Image courtesy of Brix City Brewing’s Facebook

I’ve included lighter ABV beers in my Christmas posts previously and this one can work, too. Blue Christmas is a very popular Christmas song and the fine folks at Brix City have played off of that with this holiday-inspired Gose!.

What Brix City Brewing says about the beer:

We hope your white Christmas brings you cheer, but if you’re like us you don’t mind a little Blue Christmas… Blue Christmas is our holiday Gose brewed with both Lactose & Fleur De Sel and conditioned on a ton of fresh Spruce Tips & Blueberry Purée.

Notes of blueberry pie filling and jelly donuts with a touch of fresh spruce in the finish.

Brudolph (Stout – Imperial Double / Milk) | Ludlam Island Brewing | Ocean View, NJ | 10% ABV

Image courtesy of Ludlam Island Brewing’s Facebook

Ludlam Island brews a “Brudolph” every year, or has for the last few years at least. The recipe and beer changes slightly with each incarnation, this year’s (2022) seems to evoke oatmeal raisin cookies. I’ve only had one beer from the South Jersey brewery (their Helles Lager) since they increased their distribution footprint, so perhaps this one will show up near me before Rudolph makes his annual journey leading Santa’s sleigh.

What Ludlam Island Brewery s says about the beer:

This year’s holiday offering is our thick milk stout loaded with heaps of oats, raisins, and just the right amount of cinnamon reminding us of baking with our grandmoms right around the holidays!

Santa’s Little Helper (Stout – Imperial/Double) | Port Brewing Co. | Philadelphia, PA | 10% ABV

Image courtesy of Port Brewing’s Instagram

For a few years, I was getting this stout around Christmastime, the years before I was on untappd, and just after I joined. I haven’t seen it lately, but I remember loving this big, boozy stout. Port Brewing also brews and distributes a barrel-aged version, which I had about a decade ago and that one is even more elusive these days since I’m not sure if Port Brewing is still distributing into New Jersey. Regardless, if you see either the standard or barrel-aged version, grab it.

What Port Brewing says about the beer:

Santa knows who’s been naughty and who’s been nice. This is one seriously naughty but nice beer.

Santa’s Little Helper, our Imperial Stout, starts with an emphasis on dark cocoa and roasted coffee aromatics. The finish lends hints of sweet crystal malt, warming tones of alcohol and a touch of hops, making a perfect accompaniment to leftover fruit cake and sugar cookies.

Cherished Festive Brown Ale (Spiced / Herbed Beer) | Spellbound Brewing | Mount Laurel, NJ | 7.1% ABV

Image courtesy of Spellbound Brewing’s Facebook

Spellbound brewed an “Oatmeal Raisin Cookie” Brown ale for years. They’ve recently undergone a slight rebranding and I suspect this is the replacement beer. Regardless, I’d wanted to try their Oatmeal Raisin Cookie for a few years and this one looks quite tasty, too.

Spellbound Brewing says this about the beer:

A fall/winter spiced ale with notes of cinnamon, raisin, oats, clove and malt.

We call it Cherished because it is released for the Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years holidays. Some of our most cherished days of the year.

Shiner Holiday Cheer (Wheat Beer – Dunkelweizen) | Shiner / Spoetzl Brewery | Shiner, TX | 5.4% ABV

Image courtesy of Shiner Beer’s Facebook

Shiner is one of the more widely distributed beer brands in the country. I’ve been seeing this beer in the stores for years, but never pulled the trigger on it. Although pecans are quite popular (part of why I’m including the beer here), I’m a little hit or miss with them. Nonetheless, I would like to try this beer at some point

What Spoetzl/Shiner says about the beer:

A Bavarian-style Dark Wheat Ale, Dunkelweizen, brewed with Texas peaches and roasted pecans. The malty flavors are enhanced through the use of malted barley and wheat. And Kräusening ensures a smoothness that makes the subtle peach and pecan flavors all more satisfying.

That’s another Christmas Six Pack in the proverbial Yuletide fridge. Any particular beers you’re looking forward to trying or enjoy during the Yuletide season?

Beer Review: Outer Dark from Wild Air Beerworks

Name: Outer Dark
Brewing Company: Wild Air Beerworks
Location: Asbury Park, NJ
Style: Porter – Baltic
ABV: 7.8%

A complex, delicious ark lager whose deceptively smooth taste belies its ABV.

WildAir_OuterDark

From the untappd page for the beer:

A dark brown hue and notes of rich cacao and fresh roasted coffee makes this cold-fermented porter the perfect option for the cold nights ahead.

When I learned that the old Dark City Brewery location was going to be taken over by people from Last Wave Brewing, I was excited. I’ve enjoyed all the beers I’ve had from Last Wave and frankly, I had a less than great experience in my one visit to Dark City. What had me even more thrilled when I learned Wild Air Beerworks would be focusing (not exclusively) on Lagers and Saison/Open Fermented beers. Of the three beers I’ve thus far had from Wild Air, part of me landed on reviewing this one because I was the very first person to check in the beer on untappd.

So…here we are again with a Germanic Dark Lager. Yes, a Baltic Porter is indeed a Lager because it uses cold-fermented lager yeast. Named for the region in which the style was originally produced (countries like Estonia, Finland, Latvia, and especially Poland, among others), the beer is essentially the lager answer to Imperial Stout. I’ve reviewed a couple and had a few over the years here at the Triple T and as with some of the other Dark Lager styles I’ve featured, I’ve found myself particularly drawn to this dark lager.

But what about this beer, Outer Dark? How does a relatively complex style from a new brewery rank? I’ll try to tell you below..

I’m a little surprised, initially, at the look of the beer. Most Baltic Porters I’ve had have been quite dark, leaning more towards black than brown. This beer is a very murky looking brown. Quick whiff…smells fine

First sip is roasted elements, with cocoa and hints of chocolate being most prominent. There’s a thickness in the body of this beer that I appreciate, but aside from that, my initial impression doesn’t lead me to think this has as high an ABV as it does at 7.8%. One thing I appreciate is an element that isn’t present. Licorice is sometimes a prominent flavor in Baltic Porters. I DO NOT like licorice so I was very pleased that there was no licorice element in this beer.

The more I drink from the glass, the more impressed I am with this beer and the more robust the flavor profile reveals itself to be. The cocoa becomes more prominent / present and hints of coffee emerge, which is nice. I try to avoid coffee because it wrecks my system (even in the small amounts that are in coffee beer), but I love the flavor and a beer like this – where hints of coffee are present thanks to the malts – is very pleasing. As it warms a little bit, the flavors become robust and it feels like it is a touch sweeter.

Wild Air Beer Works is off to a fantastic start with their beer and if this Baltic Porter is a sign of the fun things to come, more of their beer will find its way into my fridge.

Recommended, link to 4.25 bottle cap untappd rating check in.

Draught Diversions: November 2022 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…

November still has some lingering Oktoberfest beers on shelves and in refrigerators, pumpkin beers are still acceptable, but Stout season is in full effect. November 2022 happened to be another month of beers that proved challenging to bring down to just six. Of course the fact that my wife brought me to the “Pittsburgh invades Philly” beerfest as a birthday complicated matters in the best of ways. Lots of good beers from that beerfest, one of which makes this month’s six pack, but beers from Dancing Gnome, Stick City, and Gristhouse all stood out. I happened to visit a couple of breweries this past month, too. Mostly locals and usual haunts like Conclave Brewing, Jersey Cyclone, Readington Brewery, as well as Chilton Mill, Kane Brewing, Bar Hygge, and Wild Air Beerworks. More on Wild Air in a post in the future, though.

SixPack_2022-Nov

Let’s dive into the November 2022 Six Pack …

Boos (Untied Brewing Company) | Pumpkin / Yam Beer | 3.75 Bottle Caps on untappd

Untied_Boos

I don’t go for the Pumpkin beers as much as I once did, although I still enjoy them. I was interested in Untied’s take on the style because I’ve enjoyed most of their beers. This was a pretty good take, good spice blend even if I found the nutmeg to be overpowering. Untied also makes an “Imperial” version of this beer as well as a Barrel-Aged version. I may have to try the Barrel-Aged version in the future.

Oktoberfest (Birdsmouth Beer) | Märzen | 3.75 Bottle Caps on untappd

Birdsmouth_Oktoberfest

Birdsmouth Beer is one of the newest breweries in New Jersey, started by a former brewer from Kane. That’s a pretty good pedigree. What I like is that they only brew lagers so I’m going to have to make my way down there at some point. My dad visited and brought back some of this excellent Oktoberfest, which considering it is one of the first beers brewed by Birdsmouth is impressive. Hell, it is impressive regardless of the “age” of the brewery.

Cherry Bomb (Bar Hygge/Brewery Techne) | Sour – Fruited | 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

TechneCherryBomb

Brewery Techne is the latest brewery venture from vaunted NJ Brewing legend Tom Baker. The brewery is inside Bar Hygge, in Philadelphia. My wife took me there for my birthday, the food was excellent, the space had a great vibe, and this cherry sour was quite tasty. There was a good balance between sweet and tart and it was a nice beer to accompany my meal.

Deep Island (Brew Gentlemen) | Stout – Imperial / Double | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

BG_DeepIsland

This beer was part of a birthday celebration, too. As part of my gift, my wife took me to Broken Goblet Brewing who was hosting the aforementioned “Pittsburgh invades Philly” beer fest. I had quite a few good beers that day, but this was the standout and the only beer I wound up getting two pours. Not small pours, the fine folks of Brew Gentlemen filled up the taster glass both times. This imperial stout was very decadent and had the perfect amount of coconut in the mix. I was told they bottle a barrel-aged version for their anniversary beer. I wish I could get some of that.

Stingo Ate My Baby – Barrel Aged (Conclave Brewing Company) | Strong Ale – English | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

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Since Conclave expanded a couple of years ago, I’ve enjoyed their experimental styles and beers off the hop-forward path. This one is a perfect example. A “Stingo” beer is a English Strong Ale aged in Oak of some kind, originated by Samuel Smith’s Stingo. For a local twist, this beer was aged in Applejack Brandy Barrels from Laird’s (out of NJ and the first distillery in the US). This was a very unique beer, I can’t say I’ve had many that tasted quite like it – strong malt giving off toffee and caramel vibs, decent hop presence, and a nice finish from the Applejack brandy.

4018 (Kane Brewing Company) | Stout – Imperial / Double | 4.5 Bottle Caps on untappd

Kane4018

I say it a lot here at the Triple T, but for my money, Kane makes the best barrel-aged beers in NJ and I’d put their mastery at this art/skill alongside national leaders like Firestone Walker. I had a few Kane Beers in November since I visited the brewery, but this one stood out. Their anniversary beers are always a treat, I’ve probably had about half of the anniversary beers they’ve brewed over the years. This one emulates an ice cream dessert, since it was conditioned on Madagascar Vanilla, Maple Syrup, Cacao Nibs and Waffle cones. Before that, the blend as aged in multiple bourbon bottles. This was a thiccc stout that was delicious and decadent. At 13.1% ABV, I wound up sipping this over the course of about an hour.

A couple of beers were stinkers this past month, but mostly really good stuff.

Beer Review: Chilton Mill Brewing’s Schwarzbier – Black Lager

Name: Schwarzbier – Dark Lager
Brewing Company: Chilton Mill Brewing Company
Location: Long Valley, NJ
Style: Lager – Dark | Schwarzbier
ABV: 5.6%

A delicious, elegant, dynamite Dark Lager from one of NJ’s smaller, yet more robust breweries.

ChiltonMill_Schwarzbier

From the untappd page for the beer:

This German style dark lager exudes smooth roasty characteristics, balanced by traditional Noble hops. Dark in color, while remaining exceptionally drinkable!

Chilton Mill Brewing is a “Pandemic” Brewery, having the unfortunate timing to open during the early days of the COVID-19 Pandemic. Their ability to pivot to crowlers for offsite consumption, coupled with the great beer they brew, allowed them to survive the pandemic and grow as the world recovered (and still is recovering) from the Pandemic. I visited once earlier in the year and made my way back because I wanted to try this beer in particular.

So…this beer, a Germanic Dark Lager. Three words describing a beer I very much enjoy. German Dark Lagers come in a few varieties, Munich Dunkel, Dopplebock, and this, the Schwarzbier which literally translates to “Black Beer” from the German language. The style has more roast/smokiness than most lagers and in some ways, could be considered the lager-cousin to the Porter of the ale family. There are also similarities between the German Schwarzbier and Czech Dark Lager, or Tmavé Pivo.

Mini-style lesson over, on to Chilton Mill Brewing’s Schwarzbier.

The beer I’m given is black, as black as any beer I’ve had. A nice, light khaki head about the thickness of my pinky sits atop the beer. Picture perfect, I would say.

I skip breathing in the aroma of the beer and take a sip. I am very pleased with my first taste of this beer. There’s a very nice roast character, which is a hallmark of the style. It isn’t overpowering to the point that it is a smoked beer, but just enough to make that element of flavor’s presence known. On my second quaff of the beer, I get something unexpected, yet pleasant – some kind of sweet fruit element. Not sure what specifically, but that element likely comes from the Noble hops. But that sweetness is a great level of complexity in this beer.

This beer, Schwarzbier – Dark Lager is one of Chilton Mill’s most popular beers, it has more check-ins on untappd than any other they have brewed. I was speaking to owner/head-brewer Mike about the beer and he said it was the first (or one of their first) beer he made available and it proved extremely popular. What I like about the beer is how elegant, well-crafted, and balanced the beer is. I have a very strong appreciation for the level of complexity especially considering the beer is only 5.6% ABV. This isn’t a very common/popular style and what I also appreciate about Chilton Mill is the dedication to these kinds of classic, flavorful styles, keeping them in rotation (the other beer I had on my visit was an excellent English Brown Ale).

This is one of the best Dark Lagers I’ve had all year and maybe even since I’ve been on untappd..

Recommended, link to 4.50 bottle cap untappd rating check in.