Beer Review: Firestone Walker Nitro Merlin

Name: Nitro Merlin
Brewing Company: Firestone Walker Brewing Company
Location: Paso Robles, CA
Style: Milk Stout
ABV: 5.5%
Drank at: Revolution: A Social Brew House in Morristown, NJ

FW_NitroMerlin
From the beer’s description on Firestone Walker’s Web site:

 

Our Velvet Merlin oatmeal stout has been transformed into a mindblowing mouthful known as Nitro Merlin Milk Stout.

The new ingredient is lactose, a.k.a. milk sugar. When Velvet Merlin is brewed with milk sugar to create Nitro Merlin Milk Stout, the effect is similar to adding cream to your dark roasted coffee. The wizardry comes via “nitro,” the brewing nickname for nitrogen gas.

Exclusively on draft.

You take the sweetness of a Milk Stout, add Nitrogen to it and you have a smooth, sweet, velvety delectable beer drinking experience. Stouts are one of my favorite styles and milk stouts possibly my favorite variety of the style. I’d been wanting to try this one for a while, but with it being a draft-only beer, finding it was a bit of a challenge but find it I did. In every way imaginable, the beer exceeded my expectations.

Prior to enjoying this beer, I had and enjoyed many bottles of Firestone Walker’s Velvet Merlin Oatmeal Stout. The fine folks at Firestone Walker took an already wonderful base and embellished it to create one of the best Milk Stouts I’ve ever had. Some Milk Stouts have an underlying bitterness that takes over at the finish of the beer, not this one.

From the first sip of the freshly poured beer with its thick white head to the final sip, Nitro Merlin is a nearly perfect Milk Stout. A comforting mouthfeel is complemented with the sweet underlying roasty taste of coffee and hints of chocolate throughout.

As the description implies, the nitro injection adds a wonderful creamy, fluffiness to the beer that makes for a sumptuous beer drinking experience. Some Nitro beers are too airy or fluffy with that nitro injection drowning out the taste. Perhaps it is because those beers are bottled and not on draught, which always makes a difference. No matter how you pour it, Nitro Merlin is perfectly balanced in texture.

As both a Nitro Stout amd Milk Stout, many, if not all, others will be judged. If you see this one become available at a bar you haunt, do yourself a favor and head over to that bar and have a pint…or two.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4.5-star rating.

Draught Diversions: Summer Beers (2017)

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

Bring back the old label!

Memorial Day is upon us, and with it, the unofficial launch of summer. However, by the reckoning of the brewery releases, summer has been going on since late March / early April as the yellow labeled beers were appearing on shelves. That’s a Diversion for another time, but summer brings to mind lighter beers and for me, wheat-based beers. I’ll feature the big four that seem to be the most prominent summer beers (at least distributed in my area of Central New Jersey) then touch on some others. Once you’ve made it through the post, feel free to call out your favorites in the comments.

The elephant in the room is Boston Beer’s Sam Adams Summer Ale, as it should be since 2017 marks the 21st year Jim Koch’s Boston Beer has released the seasonal favorite. Summer ale is brewed with wheat, lemon zest and “grains of paradise.” For my palate, a is very refreshing beer that all other summer beers were compared against. For years, that was my go-to summer beer and my favorite of their regularly released beers. It is still an enjoyable beer, but over the past few years, other breweries have latched on to the trend by the market leader.

The other elephant in the room, especially if you tune into the Major League Baseball channel for more than five minutes, is Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy.  Quite a few people will look down their nose at this beer and style, but it is certainly refreshing. The style is a call-back (like many styles, natch), to the Germans and their Radler style of beer. So named after the German word for cyclist, the beer is traditionally a 50/50 mix of beer and lemonade given to bicycle messengers/delivery people to refresh and rehydrate in the heat. Leinenkugel started the trend in the US and quite a few breweries are selling this refreshing style of brew during spring/summer, many tweaking the flavor profile with blueberry, watermelon, ginger, pumpkin (in the fall), and grapefruit (the most disgusting fruit).

Sierra Nevada brews a special pilsner for distribution in the summer season, Summerfest. Pilsner is a very popular style, but is especially suited to summer-time consumption.  The style is very crisp and on a hot day extremely refreshing. I think it was first released in 2001. At least that is when the venerable Beer Advocate added it to their beer reviews.

The pilsner style is great for summer and the craft brew innovator smartly capitalized on that years ago. I try to get at least a sixpack of this every year and with my growing predilection for Pilsners, I think I may have more of this one over the summer months.  This one is available in both cans and bottles.

My favorite place to enjoy a beer, my pool

Last but not least, the fourth of the big Summer Beers (at least in the Northeast), would be Yuengling Summer Wheat.  For years, Yuengling stuck by a relatively consistent portfolio of beers, but in 2014 they launched Summer Wheat, which is their interpretation of a German Hefeweizen. Frankly, for a brewery as old as Yuengling is, it took them a surprisingly long time to release such a traditional style. In my opinion, the wait was worth it. Hefeweizen is one of my top 2 or 3 favorite styles of beer and the fine folks at Yuengling have crafted a fantastic interpretation of the style.

When my wife and I visited the brewery in late April in 2015, they had tapped the first keg of the season that day, so that was quite fortunate timing. The only thing Yuengling needs to do with this beer is distribute in cans.

A trio of summer beers in my cooler for our annual 4th of July party last year

Two other local NJ favorites are River Horse’s Summer Blonde, a crisp, blonde ale and Flying Fish’s Farmhouse Summer Ale, the Jersey craft-stalwart’s take on a Saison. One state over, Victory brews Summer Love for the summer months, a golden ale.

Breaking away from those specific beers branded as “Summer,” pilsners make for solid summer beers, some great ones include Two Roads Ol’ Factory Pils, Founder’s recently re-released PC Pils, and what many consider the flagship pilsner of American Craft Beer – Victory’s Prima Pils. All of these beers are available in cans, which makes them easier to transport, keep in coolers, and trash. There’s something about enjoying a crushable beer in a can that just feels right when sitting by a pool.

Get accustomed to Sully, my dog will likely be featured in some of these pictures

Wheat beers also work well in the summer, a very popular Pale Wheat Ale is Bell’s Oberon Ale. The style is similar to Sam Adams Summer Wheat, but the beer has a more orange hue and more of a kick of spice at the end of the beer. Unfortunately, Oberon Ale has limited availability in New Jersey. I’m lucky enough to be friends with a co-worker who lives in Pennsylvania who gave me a couple of bottles. I’ll be posting a review of it in the near future.

I could also easily pass a summer afternoon throwing back a classic German Hefeweizen like Weihenstephaner’s Hefeweissbier or one of Schneider & Sohn’s many variations on the Hefeweizen. For American interpretations of the classic German Style, the pillar of American Craft’s take on it is Widmer’s Hefeweizen.  Sierra Nevada’s Kellerweis is a fantastic interpretation of a Hefeweizen, once a seasonal release but now year-round.

Victory is smartly releasing Kirsch Gose in 6-packs as of 2017

The last style I’ll touch on is Gose. A recently “rediscoverd” style, Gose (pronounced Go-zuh) is unsurprisingly an old German style, with a sour/salty flavor profile. The pop of flavor on a warm summer day is really nice, and especially when a brewery like Victory throws cherries into the mix for their Kirsch Gose, or Long Trail throws cranberries into their Gose.  Westbrook makes two wonderful Gose beers, their standard Gose and their more seasonal and more difficult to find Key Lime Pie Gose, too. The balance of sweet, tart, and sour, plus the typically low ABV, fits well with warm weather beer drinking.

Ciders are also great for summertime consumption, but that could be an entire Draught Diversion itself and this Diversion has probably reached its limit of keeping your attention.

So, what do prefer to throw back during the warm summer months?

Beer Review: Vila Wit by Demented Brewing

I was trying to decide which beer would be the first I review here on The Tap Takeover, but given the time of year, I decided to go somewhat seasonally appropriate with a local beer I had about a month ago and enjoyed a great deal.

Demented Brewing is less than 5 miles from where I work, I’ve visited quite regularly, and the fast growing, well-received brewery celebrating two plus years of crafting “insanely flavorful ales” was recently named NJ’s best craft brewery by famed NJ Food writer Pete Genovese.

On to the beer…

Name: Vila
Brewing Company: Demented Brewing
Location: Middlesex, NJ
Style: Witbier
ABV: 4.8%DementedVila

From the beer’s description on Demented Brewing’s Web site:

As the warm weather starts to arrive, our palates start craving a light refreshing drink. Our Belgian Wit blossoms classic esters & lemony flavors rounding out a unique experience. Enjoy this beer with poultry, fish, and when you need to reward yourself.

Witbiers, a Belgian style wheat beer with a long history and cousin to the German Hefeweizen. Where the German style is often unfiltered and leans towards banana and yeast hints, the Belgian style is a bit more crisp and leans towards citrus and coriander hints.  Let’s face it, if you like beer at all, love it or hate it, you know Blue Moon’s Belgian White. If Blue Moon’s is the best-known Witbier, then Allagash White is easily the epitome of American Craft Beer take on the classic Belgian style and one of the landmark beers of American Craft Beer.

Demented has been brewing beer in NJ since late 2015 and they’ve grown very impressively in that time. Their range of styles on their chalkboard menu any given day is impressive and each beer I’ve had from them has been quite good.

Vila…Vila is something different.  I stopped in for a flight and a growler fill one day on my lunch break thinking I might get the Vila since the refreshing, light profile of a Witbier is perfect for warm/spring weather.  I didn’t expect this beer to be so perfectly matched for what I sought. I was expecting a tasty refreshing beer, but Vila exceeded the already high expectations I had for something brewed by Demented. The sample was enough to convince me to fill up my growler. The next day I had some friends over and it was a tad warmer and Vila went down perfectly and very quickly.

The beer pours a bright yellow with a lovely white head that epitomizes the style so well, and screams Drink Me Now.  With the crisp, citrusy flavor profile, finishing one beer only makes you want to pour yourself another. With a relatively low ABV of 4.8%, you can throw back a few pints on a warm spring or summer day and still have your (pun lightly intended) wits about you to lounge in the pool. (Of course, if you are driving, still be sure to hand over those keys)

With Demented canning more of their beers (three at this point), Vila seems a logical choice to can and distribute. If for no other reason than I can grab several packs to keep in my cooler when my pool is open in the summer.

I’ll close out this review with a request to the fine folks at Demented Brewing: please add Vila to your canning program!

Recommended, link to Untappd 4.25-star rating.

Tapping The Tap Takover

What is The Tap Takeover? It is a craft beer blog focused primarily on beer reviews, with some reviews of breweries as well as other assorted beer thoughts. I have enjoyed beer for many years now and like many other “craft beer enthusiasts,*” I feel we are in a golden age of beer. In New Jersey alone (where I’ve lived my entire life), there are over 50 craft breweries and a significant portion of those opened over the last 2 or 3 years, and close to a dozen within less than an hour’s drive from where I live and work.

With that thought in mind, most of the beers I review and/or talk about will be available in the Northeast with a slight focus on NJ craft/microbreweries though I will try to include beers with more of a national distribution, like Founders or Sierra Nevada. For example, I know of Schell’s Hefeweizen because a friend on untappd checks it in throughout the summer. Since the beer is unavailable in NJ/Northeast, I of course can’t review it which is a shame because for me, few beers are as satisfying in the summer as a Hefeweizen. Likewise, beers I review from Carton Brewing in Atlantic Highlands, NJ will have limited availability outside of NJ. Hell, some of Carton’s beers are tough for me to get and I live a little over an hour away from the brewery! Point being, I’ll try to mix it up, but ultimately, I can only drink the beers available to me, obviously.

Let’s face it, “craft beer enthusiasts” are even more connected because of untappd, Beer Advocate, and local to me here in NJ, perhaps the best resource, New Jersey Craft Beer, as well as the growth of small, independent breweries across the country. Learning about new beers is both easier and more challenging with so much of a good thing whittle down to what you want to try. It can be an endeavor fraught with the potential for buying and drinking beer you don’t like. #FirstWorldProblems, I know.

So why turn to writing about craft beer? For the past decade and a half or so, I’ve been writing book reviews for various outlets (SFFWorld.com, SFSignal.com, and Tor.com as well as my own blog) and will continue to do so. However, I wanted to shift that review/critical focus to craft beers. There are craft beer blogs out there, and with the popularity of untappd and Beer Advocate, why go the extra step? Well, as I said, I like sharing my opinions in more than 140 characters.

GOTBeersandBooksCropped

Game of Thrones A Song of Ice and Fire and Ommegang exemplify the convergence of two of things I enjoy most: Great Beer and Great Fiction (Specifically Science Fiction & Fantasy)

Why “The Tap Takeover?” I was trying to come up with a clever beer-associated name for this blog; each name I thought was clever, was of course taken. After only a few minutes, my wife said “How about ‘The Tap Takeover?’” So here we are. Most of the beers I’ll be talking about are from a bottle or can, rather than on draft or from a tap, so apologies for the slight misnomer.

* If the term Craft Beer Enthusiast has any real meaning any more, as the term “craft beer” has lost some of the weight it had even a few years ago, especially with the giants like AB InBev buying the “Microbreweries.” The term that now seems to be in more use is Independent Brewery.  Whatever you call it and whoever makes that beverage made from Grain, Hops, Yeast, and Water, I’ll be discussing it here. 

Thanks for stopping by and I hope you enjoy what I share with you all.

Cheers!