Draught Diversions: September 2017 Beer Pours

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…

In rolls September, what should be a month of slightly cooler weather and darker beers. But what we get is still warm weather, but the beer always flows. I started off the month by hitting up two breweries very close to me, Demented Brewing and Conclave Brewing on the first two days of the month, respectively.

At Demented, I picked up a growler of their Hefeweizen (Rumplestiltskin) and tried their New England IPA, Gallows Hill, which was delicious; Baccara, their second anniversary Imperial Stout, which has wonderful chocolate and cherry flavor additions; and a new Hefeweizen, The First Born which didn’t quite work for me. The next day, I headed to Conclave, which I wrote about a couple of weeks ago.

L->R : Gallows HIll, Baccara, Rumplestiltskin, and The First Born

With Oktoberfest beginning in the middle of the month, Oktoberfest beers began appearing back in August. Every year I try to have at least a couple I haven’t had in the past. One of those was the Sierra Nevada / Miltenberger collaboration, which was excellent. I also really enjoyed Two Roads Ok2berfest, which I brought to a friend’s NFL Kick-off party. That same friend visited Ommegang and brought me back a bottle of Rosetta, a sour-ish Lambic that might be the best Cherry beer I’ve ever head.

 

I already mentioned what is probably my favorite Fall Beer of the year, The Bruery’s ® Autumn Maple. I enjoyed it so much I may need to try the darker take on the beer, Midnight Maple. That same weekend, I slowly enjoyed the indulgent, decadent Wrath from Demented Brewing. This is a delicious Russian Imperial Stout aged in Bourbon Barrels. Some Russian Imperials can be too bitter for my taste buds, but as I say briefly on untappd, letting this one sit in Bourbon Barrels really helped soften that bitterness.

I’ve mentioned Weihenstephaner several times here as a favorite brewery, so when they brew something new, I’m going to want to try the beer. Their new Kristalweizenbock is delicious, interesting beer. Very clear, like a filtered Hefeweizen, but sweet, smooth, and malty like a bock. I tried my second Von Trapp beer at a tasting, the Vermont brewery’s take on the classic German style, Helles Lager. Even though the beer was warm, it still tasted quite good. I may have to get a full six pack of this one at some point in the future.

After missing it in August, I stopped at Lone Eagle for the September Brews and Board Games night. In the past, I’ve only had one or two, but I figured I’d go for a flight. First off was a beer I mentioned wanting to try in my Oktoberfest post, My Favorite Marzen, which was an excellent, malty, caramelly beer. I liked it so much I had a pint once I finished the flight. Rounding out the flight was the Pumpkin Amber Ale, a subtle Pumpkin Ale; Lone Eagle’s anniversary brew, Saison Jubileum, a Saison “aged in wine barrels and fermented on peaches” which made for a tasty sweet n’ sour beer; and finally, Black Out IPA, a roasty, yet bitter Black IPA.

Lone Eagle Flight L->R: My Favorite Marzen, Pumpkin Amber Ale, Saison Jubileum, and Black Out IPA

During the last full weekend in September, we all went up to Mountain Creek for their annual Oktoberfest celebration. The mountain feel gave a decent vibe, but that was completely negated by the near 90-degree temperature. Unfortunately, prices just about doubled since last year, according to the brother-in-law so the beer and food didn’t flow as copiously as it did in past years when he attended. Be that as it may, there were still some good brews to enjoy. One of which was a solid German Oktoberfest from Dinkelacker. The last beer I had there was from the venerable NJ Brewery Ramstein, their newest beer, INK, their take on the Schwarzbeir / Black Lager. This is a roasty, tasty dark brew with hints of coffee. I think this is something I’d like to have again without the beer warming so much from the hot weather.

Dinkelacker Oktoberfestbier

I’ve avoided mentioning of unenjoyable beers in these monthly posts, but I figured to show some balance, I’ll rattle off a few that were not-so-good over the last month. Abita’s gose, To-Gose was very bland, the Louisiana brewery has been hit or miss for me over the years. Bear Republic’s Big Bear Black Stout, was a stout I couldn’t even finish, not smooth enough and too bitter for a standard stout. Luckily I only had one bottle of each from a choose-your-own sixpack. My wife, brother-in-law, his girlfriend, and I (the same crew that went to the Mountain Creek Oktoberfest) went to a great Taco Festival in the middle of the month. They had a very slim offering of brews (despite the advertising leading people to believe there would be a wider selection) which consisted of Bud Light, Coors Light, and two from Lagunitas. I tried was 12th of Never Ale from Lagunitas, an undrinkable pale ale which I didn’t even finish. I’m coming to learn I don’t like much from this brewery. The last “unenjoyable” was a relatively new beer from New Belgium, Voodoo Ranger Atomic Pumpkin, which is a pumpkin ale with cinnamon and habanero chili peppers. For all the flavoring elements, I found it to be pretty bland, with a slight kick. I think it may also have been flat.

Best new brews of the month (not reviewed on their owne) are probably Ommegang’s Rosetta and Wehenstephaner’s Kristalweizenbock.

In October, I expect I’ll likely try a few new Pumpkin beers, some new stouts and offerings from local breweries.

Beer Review: Neshaminy Creek Brewing Company’s Dunks Ferry Dunkelweizen

Name: Dunks Ferry Dunkelweizen
Brewing Company: Neshaminy Creek Brewing Co.
Location: Croydon, PA
Style: Dunkelweizen
ABV: 5.2%

Proper weizen glass for a proper weizen beer

From the beer’s description on Neshaminy Creek Brewing Company’s Web site:

We stay with the German wheat beer theme for our Fall seasonal, and much like it’s Summertime sister, Dunks Ferry Dunkelweizen has a unique banana and spicy clove character but this time paired with a chewy, bready (dare we say banana bread) malt backbone. Again, we hop this German wheat beer with Hallertau and Tettnanger hops. 5.2% ABV.

I may have mentioned I like Dunkelweizens so it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that I’ve come around to reviewing one. As I said in the post about Dunkelweizens, there just aren’t enough of this traditional European style widely available. Thankfully, the fine folks at Neshaminy Creek brew Dunks Ferry as a fall offering. Originally available on draft and in 22oz bomber bottles, last year Neshaminy Creek Brewing began distributing the beer in 4 packs of pint cans.  But what about the beer itself?

Over the past couple of years, I’ve had only 9 beers from Neshaminy Creek, but I have really enjoyed each of them. Their stout offerings in particular are repeats for me and this one is probably my favorite that isn’t a stout. But this one is a darker, somewhat maltier beer, so there is that common strand…

A nice pop when opening the can hints at the freshness before pouring unleashes some of the aroma, but it doesn’t fully breathe (obviously) until the beer is in the class. Like many Dunkelweizens, Dunks Ferry’s aroma is similar to that of a Hefeweizen, but this one in particular might be a little sweeter, with slightly more banana in the flavor profile.

The hazy brown color is maybe slightly lighter than some other Dunkelweizens I’ve enjoyed (well, Erdinger’s I recall being quite dark), but the taste from the first sip really nails the expected notes of the flavor profile. Most Bavarian wheat beers lean towards a strong clove notes or more fruity notes. I like both flavor leanings, Dunks Ferry is nicely balanced with both in almost equal measure with maybe, just maybe the fruit/banana presence being slightly more prominent. The yeast, as it does in these more bready beers, gives Dunks Ferry a nice, balanced flavor profile that is subtle and welcoming. I wouldn’t go so far as to say this is like drinking banana bread (Well’s Brewery has you covered for that), but the beer evokes some of the same hits in the taste buds that a tasty bread does.

I gave a brief shout out to this beer when I suggested more breweries should be brewing Dunkelweizens on a regular basis. At least in the Northeastern US, Neshaminy Creek’s Autumnal Wheat beer is one of the only ones available in distribution near me in NJ. Fortunately, it is a high quality Dunkelweizen so it is far from the worst-case scenario of beggars not being choosers. In other words, if other Dunkelweizens were readily available, I would likely still go for this one repeatedly.

This late summer/fall, I unfortunately did not see Dunks Ferry as much as I recall seeing it in previous years. Breweries tend to tweak their annual beer portfolio from year to year and I hope this one doesn’t go away or become just a draft-only release.

If you are curious to try a solid American Craft take on a classic German/Bavarian dark wheat ale, Dunks Ferry is well with giving a try (and picking up a four-pack).

Recommended, link to Untappd 4-star rating.

Draught Diversions: 5 Breweries I Want to Visit

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…

There are thousands of breweries across the country and visiting them all would be challenge for anybody save the late great Michael Jackson or somebody like Jeff Allworth or John Holl whose jobs are all about beer. I’ve featured breweries I’ve visited from New Jersey so with today’s post, I’ll focus on 5 Non-New Jersey breweries I would love to visit and tour some day in the future. This may be a rotating, ongoing feature because there are definitely more than 5 breweries I would love to tour and visit.

Choosing which I’d like to visit first isn’t an easy decision, so I’ll use the arbitrary ranking of “From Which Brewery Does Rob Have the Most Unique Check ins”

Sierra Nevada Company in Chico, California (1979)
Total Sierra Nevada beers checked in on untappd: 35

Arguably, the most important American Craft Brewery, full stop. Although their iconic green label Pale Ale is not one of my favorites, it is considered by many to be the most important American craft beer produced. I think I may need to try it once again. I do; however, enjoy many of the beers from their portfolio, like Narwhal, the delicious Imperial Stout, the Summerfest Pilsner, the wonderful Porter that doesn’t seem to make it out to New Jersey any more and perhaps the best American Hefeweizen, Kellerweis. The annual Beer Camp collaboration is a highlight, as is what has now become an annual Oktoberfest collaboration brew. Their Barleywine, Bigfoot is iconic and so many people I know countdown the days until Sierra’s ultra-hopped Christmas brew, Celebration Ale is available.

Visiting the brewery that was at the forefront of the Craft Beer Revolution is a no-brainer for any craft-beer fan.

Founders Brewing Company in Grand Rapids, Michigan (1997)
Total Founders’ beers checked in on untappd: 23

Walk into any store selling craft beer and chances are you’ll see at least one beer from the 20-year American Craft Beer institution. Seeing the brewery on television, for example when the dudes from Brew Dogs visited Michigan, makes it more appealing, as does a recent episode of Steal this Beer where Founders’ head Brewery Jeremy Kosmicki was a guest.

I’ve had nearly 2 dozen different beers from Founders and have enjoyed all of them. Just look at their portfolio of beloved brews: Breakfast Stout, Kentucky Breakfast Stout, Backwoods Bastard, All Day IPA, Rübæus, PC Pils, Sumatra Mountain Brown, and the list goes on. Plus, like many breweries, there are quite a few brews that are brewery only releases, like one of the rarest of brews, an Eisbock.

This is high atop the must visit list for me.

Great Lakes Brewing Company, Cleveland Ohio (1988)
Total Great Lakes beers checked in on untappd: 16

I’ve had about a dozen beers from Great Lakes impressive portfolio and haven’t been disappointed by any of them. My wife and I have a life goal of visiting every Major League Baseball stadium and when we eventually get to Cleveland, we are going to have to visit this great Mid-Western brewery. That may not be for a couple/few years, but it will happen.

Great Lakes Brewing’s porter, Edmund Fitzgerald, is possibly the best American porter I’ve had. I’ll probably be reviewing that beer in the nearish future so I’ll hold off on any more descriptive praise. Last week I proclaimed their Oktoberfest my favorite American Oktoberfest and every year, a six pack of Great Lakes Christmas Ale is always in my refrigerator. Cleveland is such a great city, from what I’ve heard, so between this fantastic brewery, the Cleveland Indians, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I’m looking forward to eventually making our way out there.

A small sampling of their year-round brews

Brewery Ommegang, Cooperstown, NY (1997)
Total Ommegang beers checked in on untappd: 15

I’ve talked about their Game of Thrones beers here at the Tap Takeover, but they brew so much more than that. Ommegang brews traditional Belgian ales, in keeping with the ingredients and brewing methods to produce some of the finest, most well-regarded beers in America. The Abbey Dubbel is a world class, delicious beer. The Cherry Lambic they coproduce (Rosetta) is everything a fruit beer should be. About the only beer of theirs that didn’t work for me was their Nirvana IPA, which is a style outside their Belgian wheelhouse.

Also in keeping with a Baseball theme, it has been a few years (almost 20!) since I last visited the Baseball Hall of Fame so this trip would be at least a two-for with two fantastic spots in the same area.

A good friend whose son plays Little League baseball made the trip to Cooperstown and kept sending me pictures of the brewery and talked about how great the smaller batch beers were. Needless to say, I was a little jealous.

Bayerische Staatsbrauerei Weihenstephan, Bavaria, Germany (1040)
Total Weihenstephan beers checked in on untappd: 7*
*They don’t have quite as many styles in their portfolio, which is part of their success because all are superb

Is there any more classic German brewery? I don’t think so. Brewers of the world’s greatest Hefeweizen, a Weizenbock with nearly as good a reputation (Vitus), a great Dopplebock (Korbininan) to name just 3. If there’s a German style of beer, they brew it and it is a classic. Plus, with my German roots, I really want to visit this brewery and if I do, I’ll probably tour other German breweries. Just look up any of the beers from the picture below on Beer Advocate to check the ratings. Most if not all are World Class or Outstanding from the Alström Bros.

With Mom being born in Germany, there’s an added desire for me to visit Germany and why not start with the oldest and one of the most respected breweries in the world?

Beer Review: Conclave’s Gravitational Pull

Name: Gravitational Pull
Brewing Company: Conclave Brewing
Location: Raritan Township, NJ
Style: India Pale Ale / New England IPA
ABV: 6.6%

From the beer’s description on Conclave’s Web site:

Juicy and hoppy. An American IPA double dry hopped with large amounts of Galaxy, Motueka, and Azacca hops. Not bitter with notes of fresh crushed citrus.

Here we are back to New Jersey for a delicious beer from the fine brewers at Conclave. Not only that, an IPA? What? We thought you don’t like IPAs that much, Rob? Yet here is the second beer review of an IPA and you’ve yet to review one of your favorite styles like Porters or some other styles you enjoy more. Well, two things. First, Porters are more of a fall/cool weather beer for me and we are just in our first year here at the Tap Takeover. Second, the fact that I’m “reviewing” a second IPA should be an indication of just how wonderful this beer is.

The first, most noticeable characteristic of the beer is the thick, hazy, orange color. It pours almost like pulpy orange juice, the same consistency and thickness, but without the pulp. The aroma is a refreshing blend of citrus and hops, a nice balance that is very inviting.

The first taste gives you the hops, but not in a bludgeoning overpowering way that many IPAs deliver. The citrus/juice-bomb finish of that first sip encourages you to drink more. It is such an elegantly crafted beer that one pint can go too fast. Although the taste expands a little bit as it warms to room temperature, for me, this one tastes better colder.

The blend of the three hops in the beer, the Motueka in particular, is what lends the citrusy tropical fruit flavor to this beer. I think this is the second time Conclave has brewed this beer and if I recall correctly from briefly chatting with owner Carl when I had my growler filled on Friday, the Motueka hops aren’t the easiest to acquire, nor are the Galaxy hops, both of which lend a citrusy/tropical fruit flavor profile. A brief Google search points to New Zealand as the source for the Motueka hops and Australia for the Galaxy hops, so that challenge makes sense. The more common Azacca hops in the beer to blend extremely well with the Motueka and Galaxy hops, enhancing that juice-bomb aspect to the beer.

Equation for Newton Universal Gravitation, used as icon for the beer on untappd

OK, that was a little bit of a science, geography, and business lesson, back to the beer.

I briefly mentioned Gravitational Pull in my August round up and my feature on Conclave, so again, the repeated mentions of this beer should only point to what a standout beer this is. The first time I had it was in a bar, so as soon as I saw a new batch was ready for growler fills at the brewery, I had to go. I was also hoping there would be some cans of it, but not just yet.

The first pour from the mini growler on Friday night was fantastic, so fresh and juicy. I wanted to save the remaining pint of the 32 oz. growler for the next night and it stayed just as juicy and delicious the following day. I don’t know that I’d want to get a full 64 oz. growler for myself over the course of multiple days because I just don’t know how long it would stay fresh. I’ve had growlers of stouts over the course of a few days and around day 3 or 4 the freshness and taste start to fade. For an IPA like this one, I think freshness is the key.

Image/Logo used by Conclave in advertising beer’s availability at the brewery

Right now on untappd Gravitational Pull is categorized as an “American IPA” though I suspect this might change to New England IPA since this beer seems to have all the characteristics I’ve read that are associated with NEIPAs. Irregardless, Gravitational Pull is a great, great beer and one that is helping to establish Conclave Brewing as one of the premier (out of 70~) NJ Breweries.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4.25-star rating.

Draught Diversions: Oktoberfest 2017

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…

Oktoberfest…is there any time of year that is more of a beer holiday? I don’t think so. Sure there are beers for every season and every occasion, but few times throughout the year does beer, across the world, have such a spotlight shone upon it. As with many great beer-related traditions, this one goes back to Munich, Bavaria, Germany in 1810. What began as a celebration of the marriage of then Prince and soon King Ludwig to Princess Therese expanded to something that is a global celebration of German culture and Gemütlichkeit two hundred years later. With Okoberfest 2017 beginning this weekend, September 16 [ends October 3], what better time for a little post about the great German celebration?

From Wikipedia:

Only beer conforming to the Reinheitsgebot, and brewed within the city limits of Munich, can be served at the Munich Oktoberfest. Beers meeting these criteria are designated Oktoberfest Beer. The breweries that can produce Oktoberfest Beer under the aforementioned criteria are:
Augustiner-Bräu
Hacker-Pschorr-Bräu
Löwenbräu
Paulaner
Spatenbräu
Staatliches Hofbräu-München

Oktoberfest Beer is a registered trademark by the Club of Munich Brewers, which consists of the above six breweries.

From those breweries, the only Oktoberfest beer I haven’t had is the one brewed by Augustiner-Bräu.

I suppose one way you could view this is similar to sparkling wine and Champagne in that only the sparkling wine from Champagne, France can truly be considered Champagne. Only those six brewers make “True Oktoberfest” beer.

There are many, many more Märzen/Oktoberfest/Festbiers available, brewed by German breweries and American breweries alike. Last year (in 2016) the Oktoberfest that I enjoyed the most was Ayinger’s so I’m probably going to get some of that this year. I almost always get at least a six pack of the Hacker-Pschorr and really want to pick up some of Weihenstephaner’s Festbier since I haven’t had theirs in a couple of years.

Then we get to the American Oktoberfest beers and boy is there a variety as it seems most mid level craft brewers have a fall Oktoberfest offering and even some of the local nano-breweries in New Jersey are brewing up the traditional Lager style of the beer.

As of this writing, I’ve only had two Oktoberfest beers so far in 2017 and I usually try to push off having any until after Labor Day. I may have ranted about that in the past.

The first I had was Sierra Nevada’s collaboration with Brauhaus Miltenburger, which was quite good. I like this annual tradition, you get a new version of the Oktoberfest every year, but with the Sierra Nevada brand, chances are it will be a good Oktoberfest.  This was the third year Sierra Nevada collaborated with a German brewery on an Oktobefest, rthe first was in 2015 with Brauhaus Riegele and last year’s (2016) was Mahrs Bräu.

The other was Two Roads’ offering, Ok2berfest which was a great interpretation of the style. I was not surprised considering I’ve enjoy just about everything from Two Roads, but I’d never had theirs in the past.

Annual American Favorites

The best Oktoberfest from an American brewery, for my drinking dollar every year, is Great Lakes Oktoberfest. The great Cleveland brewery doesn’t make a bad beer and their portfolio of beers is one of the most consistent in the American craft brew landscape Their Oktoberfest is an annual must for me, as it perfectly captures the malty, caramelly essence of a Märzen lager. Despite their size and distribution reach, Yuengling is still considered a micro brewery and their Oktoberfest is usually a very dependable, solid offering. It is ubiquitous this time of year in the Northeast and family and friends usually have this one in their fridge.

Victory Brewing’s Festbier is worth getting every year, too. That shouldn’t be a surprise coming from me at this point, if you’ve been reading The Tap Takeover every week. Local NJ Craft Brewer Ramstein / High Point Brewing makes a very good Oktoberfest, considering the strong German roots and basis for their approach to brewing, this is a natural beer for them to make.

Oktoberfest Beers to Try in 2017 for the First Time

From NJ breweries there are three I’d like to try. My friends at Flounder are brewing up an Oktobefest I’m hoping to sample in the next couple of weeks. Czig Meister in Hackettstown released an Oktoberfest this year and they’ve really been making a big push with cans into distribution so hopefully that’ll show up locally. Lone Eagle has one they’ve named “My Favorite Marzen” which on the name alone seems worth trying.

Outside of breweries in NJ, I really want to try Firestone Walker’s Oaktoberfest. I’ve only had excellent beers from the popular California craft brewery so I’ve got high hopes for this beer. Unfortunately this will only be a limited draft offering in 2017. With von Trapp’s beers entering the NJ Market, I would like to try theirs as well, considering the German brewing tradition behind the brewery.  For all the beers I’ve enjoyed over the years from Harpoon, I’ve never had their Oktoberfest.  I haven’t seen their beers as widely available in NJ as I did a few years ago.

I usually try to get to at least one Oktoberfest celebration every year.  A local restaurant has a big outdoor celebration every year, but it seems to get earlier and earlier every year. This year, I’m likely going to a mountain retreat for a big outdoor Oktoberfest celebration.

So, with that, a safe and enjoyable Oktoberfest to you all. Or as my ancestors say (mom was born in Germany!),

Ein prosit und Gemütlichkeit!

Beer Review: The Bruery Autumn Maple

Name: Autumn Maple
Brewing Company: The Bruery
Location: Placentia, CA
Style: Belgian Brown / Pumpkin/Yam Beer
ABV: 10%

From the beer’s description on The Bruery’s site:

Brewed with 15 lbs. of yams per barrel (in other words, a lot of yams!), this autumn seasonal is a different take on the “pumpkin” beer style. Cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, vanilla, maple syrup, and fermentation with our traditional Belgian yeast strain, make this bold and spicy beer perfect for a cold autumn evening.

We have also created bourbon barrel-aged, barrel-fermented, and darker variations of Autumn Maple.

A shift to a California brewery this time around, The Bruery. A brewery known for big, bold, flavorful brews distributed in what seems to only be 750mL bottles and draft. I’ve never seen any of their beers in 12 oz bottles here in New Jersey. I’ve seen many of their bomber bottles and have had two of their “Days of Christmas” series and loved both. I recently received a promotion at work and my wife, knowing what kinds of beers I enjoy, picked me up a bottle of this in congratulations. The timing was also perfect as I was approaching unique check-in #1,000 on untappd. I figured this beer would be a perfect celebration of both of those things and I was correct in that assumption. As you can see by the screen-grab to the right, Autumn Maple was my 1,000th unique beer on untappd.

As the name of this beer indicates, Autumn Maple is an annual Fall / Autumn release. It pours very brown and a little bit cloudy, not the brownish-orange-amber of many fall beers like Oktoberfests or Pumpkin beers. The first thing that struck me with this beer was the Belgian yeast, it came through in the aroma along with the spices associated with pumpkin beers (cinnamon and nutmeg in particular) even if this isn’t really a pumpkin beer. The longer I breathed in the aroma, the more I could smell the spices and knew this could be a really tasty beer.  That aroma did not lead me astray.

The presence of the Belgian yeast is up front in the taste, too. A quite potent presence at that. But then the spices come through and there’s a nice intermingling of the cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla with that yeast strain that is quite interesting. I don’t quite get the taste of the yams (despite 15 pounds of them) as much as the spices, but they give the beer an added earthiness and weight. Even when I have candied yams or sweet potatoes they act more as a delivery mechanism for the other flavors.

The beer is a big one, not just in the size of the bottle, but ABV at 10%. I wound up enjoying this one gradually and I slowed down even more once I realized how much more flavorful the beer was once it had the chance to air out, warm up, and have more open space for the flavor components to play together. Those spices played even more with the yeasts to make this a very, very tasty beer. For an unfiltered beer, there wasn’t really much sediment at the bottom of the glass, good or bad.

The label says this is a “Belgian Brown Ale” but the beer sites consider it a Pumpkin/Yam/Vegetable beer. I don’t care how Autumn Maple is categorized, because quite frankly, I found it to be a unique, delicious beer. Definitely an out-of-the-box take on the traditional fall Pumpkin beer, I can see myself returning to this beer every Autumn.

It was an early September evening when I enjoyed this beer, a cool evening that felt more like Autumn than late summer. This is a beer to drink alone while you are engrossed in a great, enjoyable book for a couple of hours (as I was) or one to share with a friend or family member over a hearty, Autumn meal or as a desert beer following that same hearty meal.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4.25-star rating.

Draught Diversions: Conclave Brewing

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…

The brewery visit posts I’ve published here at the Tap Takeover have all been New Jersey breweries. When I first started the Tap Takeover, my goal was to feature more brewery visits and brewery focus posts than just the breweries of the 70 currently in New Jersey, but that’s easier said than done. There’s also a nice selection of breweries very close to my house, so featuring those first seems quite logical. None of those breweries are as close to my house as the brewery featured today, Conclave Brewing in Raritan Township, NJ, which is only about five miles from me. The brewery has another added appeal, my fraternity’s annual meeting is called Conclave. While I’ve enjoyed the majority of the beers I’ve had from those other breweries I’ve featured, from the top to the bottom of their list, Conclave makes the best beers. Last year for my Birthday, my incredible wife got me in the car and took me to a handful of breweries within driving distance (Twin Elephant, Kane, Beach Haus, Carton, and Conclave). Conclave’s beers were at the top of those I visited that day.

Carl and Tim are the two guys behind the brewery, high-school friends who had a passion for great beer. Although they are originally from Northern New Jersey, life coincidentally brought their careers and lives to proximity once again to Hunterdon County. They eventually decided to open Conclave, which according to them got its name thusly:

The name comes from a secret society of brewers. The myth we created is that they merged old world techniques with new world craft beer styles.”

Conclave is also the smallest of the breweries I’ve highlighted here, but every single beer I’ve had from them has been top shelf and excellent representations of the style. I’ve only had 9 of their beers and the lowest rating I’ve given one of their beers on untappd was 3.75 bottle caps, everything else was 4 or higher. Conclave Brewing is also relatively new, they opened up in 2015, but their reputation has grown very nicely in that time with those honed and focused brewing efforts. The picture below illustrates just how small the brewery is, they typically offer only 6 beers on tap. But that small quantity means that the focus on quality is spread across 6 magnificent beers. Not on the list, technically, are the cans of Gravitational Waves (Conclave’s highly rated and much-loved IPA) being sold that day.

The tap list at Conclave on September 2, 2017

In their two years brewing beer, Conclave has gained a well-earned reputation as smart artisans of craft brewing. Last summer, NJ.com posted an article which touted Conclave as the highest rated NJ brewery on untappd (with one of the highest rated beers, Gravitational Waves). The current average on untappd by all users for all Conclave beers is 4 bottle caps. A majority of their beers on Beer Advocate have average ratings above 4 (out of 5) and all of their beers with over 15 community reviews are cumulatively rated above 4.25 (out of 5) and have a lively discussion thread in the Beer Advocate forums which illustrates their local, dedicated fan base. Just couple of weeks ago, Conclave was ranked highest in the “Philadelphia Metro Area.” So yeah, well-earned recognition which drives people make to make out-of-state trips just to sample their beer and fill their growlers.

What those two paragraphs above prove is that perfecting a smaller number styles is a smart way to build a brewery, dedicated customers, and a reputation that spreads beyond the borders of the state. The only reason I gave one of the beers a lower than 4 rating is that it is typically not my go-to-style of beer. It was still a very good beer.

The first time I visited the brewery in November 2015, I sampled and filled one of my growlers with Espresso Milk Stout. To this day, it is one of my favorite Milk Stouts and one of my favorite beers brewed in New Jersey. The beer is brewed with lactose and coffee beans from local roaster Benfatto Roasters. With Conclave starting to occasionally can beers, this seems like a perfect candidate for 16oz four-packs.

From a growler fill last November. Such a lovely, dark stout. If you squint enough, you can see the black Conclave logo on the glass.

As if the Espresso Milk Stout weren’t good enough, this beer has a delicious spicier cousin Mexican Morning. Few beers I’ve ever consumed produced such a cacophony of wonderful flavors that came together in a symphony of delicousness. Carl, Tim, and Bryan take their wonderful Espresso Milk Stout and: “kick it up with dried red chile de arbol peppers, vanilla bean, cinnamon and cocoa nibs. Sweet and complex, it brings just enough heat to invite one sip after another.” The process for making this beer is timely and more complex due to the peppers (among other things), so only once that I know of did Concalve offer this in growlers, and only 320z growlers. When it is on tap at the brewery, they usually only offer 4oz pours. For me, it is a mandatory pour every visit to Conclave when on the menu. Sadly, as my picture of the tap list above indicates, Mexican Morning was not available during my most recent visit.

Photo of Mexican Morning from Conclave’s Website

As much as I love Mexican Morning (and most people who have had it seem to love it, too (a cumulative review of 1,244 untappd users rates it at 4.27 as of this writing), Tim and Carl upped a beer which is already an amped up beer. At the Garden State Brewfest in September 2016, Conclave was pouring a Barrel aged version of this beer. They used bourbon barrels from Four Roses (one of the premier bourbon distillers). I feel lucky to have had a sample of the beer, it was sublime and elegant. They’ve done a couple of brewery pourings of this one, too. Hopefully this one will be available again, as B.A.M.M was easily the best beer I had at that Brewfest and probably one of the best beers I ever head.

From Garden State Brewfest 2016

Like a lot of breweries in NJ (and across the country) have been doing lately, Conclave began canning some of their beers. I think the first was Hop Ritual Pale Ale and the release was smashing successes. When they released the cans, they did a special release and the brewery was very, very crowded with all the cans going quickly. The next release in cans was (and is) Gravitational Waves. Again, when they announced it, the beers flew off the shelves. What they’ve done more recently in these can releases is not announce it, and simply have it available at the brewery in a “soft release,” but the 4-packs still sell. As I said, I think Espresso Milk Stout would be a great beer to go in cans, but something tells me either Gravitational Pull or Tyrion might be next. Regardless I’ll be buying if they are for sale. Conclave’s plan may be to go with the “soft release” of the cans which ensures the regular visitors will have first shot at the 4-packs.

I had the chance to chat briefly with Bryan and Matt this past weekend, who were working the growlers and taps in the back room where the brewing equipment and seating was located. Bryan is one of the brewers and when I asked what Conclave has on the horizon, I was happy to hear three of my favorites from would soon be returning: Gravitational Pull (A New England IPA), Equinox Brown (the best brown I’ve ever had), and the main Espresso Milk Stout. Bryan mentioned more than one of their customers who always returns for fills of Equinox Brown when I told him how delicious I think the beer is. I got a growler fill of that one New Year’s Eve two years ago and couldn’t have been happier with the beer. It was a smooth, tasty beer that was much cleaner than many browns I’ve had, the beer had a sweet almost caramel finish.

Despite what was probably a frozen glass and not the best pour from the bartender, Gravitational Pull was fantastic.

My only regret with regard to Conclave is that it has been so long since my last visit. With the brewery so close, I’m going to make a point of returning more often, for small growler fills, sampling, and to check to see what cans are available. Two years into their existence, Conclave has proven to be a great brewery and I look forward to seeing what they brew next. I certainly feel lucky to live so close to the brewery where these fine folks make and pour their beer.

Resources for this post and additional reading about Conclave Brewing:
Best brewery in Philly region (August 2017)
Brew Jersey (May/July 2017)
NJ.com June 2016
Hops and Horns beer blog (April 2016)
Courier News (Hunterdon County, December 2015)
NJ Monthly July 2015
Hunterdon Happenings (no date, probably July 2015)