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…
A great variety of beer passed across my palette in November 2017 due, in large part, to the North Jersey Brewery tour my wife took me on for my birthday in the middle of the month. I’ve already highlighted one of those breweries, Angry Erik, and I’ll briefly touch on the four other breweries later in the post as I may wind up doing a feature/full Draught Diversion on at least one of those breweries. That, combined with visiting a couple of my very local breweries and some other assorted beers throughout the month really shine the focus on New Jersey breweries for November. Since the last day of November was on a Thursday (when Draught Diversions normally posts), I figured I’d hold the post for an extra day to squeeze in that one last new beer.
The first new beer I had in November was from craft beer stalwart Harpoon, specifically the new fall offering from their popular UFO Hefeweizen line, Cranbeery. I’ve enjoyed most of the UFO beers a great deal but this one didn’t quite do it for me, it was more tart and sour than I expect from a Hefeweizen. Next up and a couple of days later was an outstanding beer I shared with my father. Well, I gave him the bottle for his birthday in September, but we shared it for my birthday: Brooklyn Black Ops, a delicious Russian Imperial Stout which comes in at 11.6% ABV and tasted better as it settled into the glass. The bourbon barrel aging came through nicely in both the aroma and taste.
The season of stouts continued with Sierra Nevada’s annual Imperial Stout release, Narwhal. I’ve had this in year’s past so was looking forward to having the beer and was not disappointed. Like most stouts, this got better as it warmed. For whatever reason, this was a tough beer to find in my area of New Jersey, with the closest liquor store to me listing it on beermenus about 25 miles away. Fortunately, the store is close to my parents so my dad picked up a six pack for me. Sierra’s been changing some of their labels, over the past year or so including this one. While the new label is nice, I loved the previous label. Keeping with the annual release theme, Founders released Backwoods Bastard and like last year’s vintage, this year’s vintage was outstanding. As I’ve said, I think I like this one more than I like KBS.
As I’ve been doing with more regularity, I stopped into my local brewery, Conclave in November since they released a couple of new beers, both of which were very good. The first was a fall porter, Transcendent Leaf Peeping. The other new beer was a variation on their Hop Ritual Pale Ale. This one is called Hop Ritual with Vic Secret, so named for the strain of New Zealand hops used in the beer. I wasn’t expecting to be as blown away by this beer as I was, but it was so delicious I had to bring home at least a half-growler for myself.
Next was the big Birthday Brewery Tour, courtesy of my wife. Last year was a handful of Jersey Shore breweries, this year was North Jersey breweries. We started out at the venerable brewers of high-quality German style beers, Ramstein / High Point Brewing. As it so happened, that day was when Ramstein was releasing their famous Winter Wheat beer. I had the equivalent of a pint since my wife gave me her free samples. What a phenomenal beer, an absolutely outstanding dopplebock that has rightly earned a reputation that draws people from far and wide to fill their growlers with this delicious beer. The other new-to-me beer I had at Ramstein was the outstanding Imperial Pilsner. I just wish Ramstein’s distribution reached a little more into Somerset County because this is one of the beers they bottle and I’d have this in my house regularly.
The second brewery was Angry Erik, which I wrote about a couple of weeks ago, with the final leg of the journey being the triumvirate of breweries in Hackettstown, NJ. The first of those was Man Skirt Brewing, the highlight (and surprise beer there) was Better than Pants, a tasty excellent English Bitter that earned me the “You’re Extra Special” badge on untappd. All five beers I had were good. From there, we walked around the block to Czig Meister Brewery which was insanely packed, in part, because a portion of the brewery was cordoned off for a party. The standout here was Habonde a barrel-aged barely wine. I may have to pick up a bottle since Czig is now distributing cans and bottles throughout New Jersey. The last of the Hackettstown Trio was Jersey Girl Brewing. The beers in the flight were extremely consistent in quality with their King Gambrinus Belgian Tripel standing out to me the most. I’ll most likely be dedicating an entire Draught Diversions post to some (maybe all) of these breweries where I’ll give some more details on each beer I had.
At the monthly Brews and Board Games at Lone Eagle, I tried their Imperial Breakfast Stout, a malty stout aged on coffee beans then aged in Buffalo Trace Bourbon barrels with some blood orange puree added on the finish. All the characteristics of an excellent stout along with hints of an Old Fashioned thanks to the Bourbon and Orange. The other beer I had was a juicy Pale Ale they call Local Pale Ale.
Tröegs Mad Elf is a seasonal favorite and the 2017 batch might be the best yet. Then came Thanksgiving weekend. The first beer is one I’ve been holding onto for a couple of weeks, a beer I was fortunate enough to snag because only 750 were bottled, the final beer (for now?) in Flying Fish’s Exit Series – Exit 17 – Russian Imperial Stout, which might be the best beer of the month for me. This is probably the best beer in the Exit series, too. Not content with brewing a Russian Imperial Stout, Flying Fish aged this one in Dad’s Hat Rye Whiskey bottles. Although I’ve come to love beers aged in bourbon barrels, allowing this beer to sit in Rye Whiskey bottles helps to set it apart from its barrel-aged brethren. Flying Fish’s description says this is a “one of a kind” beer and I’d be hard-pressed to dispute the claim. I also had the new version of Southern Tier’s Warlock, which they changed from previous years and unfortunately, not for the better. They dropped the ABV from 10% to 8.6% and the whole flavor is different, it doesn’t taste too much different than Pumking, which isn’t bad, just not what I was hoping to have. The last beer on Thanksgiving is the beer I reviewed earlier in the week, Stone’s Xocoveza Imperial Milk Stout.
The last Saturday of the month of new brews were enjoyed at Revolutions a fine Craft Brew bar Morristown, NJ. I met up with a friend who lives in Morristown. We’d visited the bar before and were impressed with the beer list and menu, with its heavy focus on German brats. That night I had two very good beers: Malus from Kane Brewing, in Ocean. This is a Belgian Strong Dark Ale, but the flavor is sweetened by the addition of apple cider. The beer went down very easily for a 9.5% ABV. The other brew I had was one of the best Pilsners I’ve ever had, which was unsurprisingly, from a German Brewery. The beer is Rothaus Pils / Tannen Zäpfle from Badische Staatsbrauerei Rothaus in Baden-Württemberg, Germany. The crispness, freshness and underlying roastiness makes this, in my humble opinion, a world-class Pilsner.
Lastly, the final new beer of November 2017 was last night’s Moo Thunder Milk Stout from Butternuts brewery, which was a little thin and flat for a Milk Stout. I’d seen this on the shelf in area liquor stores for a few years now, it is hard to miss or forget with the big fat cow on the can. Unfortunately, that label is the most appealing element of the beer for me.
I’d have to say the two best beers of the month for me were Exit 17 – Russian Imperial Stout from Flying Fish and the Rothaus Pils / Tannen Zäpfle.