Draught Diversions: Fort Nonsense Brewing Company

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…

It really is difficult to keep track of all the breweries opening in New Jersey, the growth has been rapid with a nearly 50% growth over the course of about 15 months with breweries opening all over the state. Fort Nonsense Brewing Company in Denville, NJ is one of those newer breweries. Named after the actual Fort Nonsense in neighboring Morristown, NJ, the three Aslanian brothers opened the brewery and began selling beer to the public in January 2018. Fortunately, Denville isn’t too far from me and even closer to a friend who enjoys beer, too.

The three brothers who opened the brewery, James, Thomas, and Andrew, followed a path similar to many small breweries. They started as hobbyist homebrewers and decided to start their own brewery. After a few years of making beer on the homebrew kit they bought for their father, they found a space on Route 10 in Denville. When they came to this decision finally pull the trigger and actually open a brewery, the brothers took a route only a few start-up breweries have traveled. They crowd-funded via Kickstarter to generate the last bit of funding, which also raised public awareness. Route 10 often has quite a bit of automobile traffic and it can be easy to pass the building, but as you slow down if you’re following your GPS, you can see the brewing system in the window from the highway.

Tap list at Fort Nonsense Brewing Co (06-02-2018)

Fortunately, the Denville community was excited for a brewery, especially since the three brothers live in the area and are from neighboring Rockaway. The actual Fort Nonsense is a historic location, part of the Morristown National Historic Park and an area utilized by George Washington during the Revolutionary War.

Mural of George Washington’s Army and some interesting cargo

Although Fort Nonsense Brewing only started selling beer in January 2018, they’ve already received some positive notice. Their Farmhouse Ale, Saison Absurdite, received the 2nd place award at the 2018 Atlantic City Beer and Music Festival. Their beers are popping up on tap in local bars, too.

The brothers were working full-time jobs as well as preparing for the brewery opening in the lead-up to the opening. One of the brothers, Thomas, is a Civil Engineer and designed the interior. Brother Andrew is now the full-time brewer at Fort Nonsense. Many, if not all, the beers are an homage to the history surrounding Fort Nonsense and the region: the Amber Ale is Benedict Amber Traitor Ale; Great Falls IPA is named in honor of the Great Falls of Paterson; Mango Manunka Chunk IPA honors a locally famous tunnel, and so on.

On the night my friend John and I visited the brewery, it was the first Saturday in June, so initially not many people were there. As the evening darkened into night, more people arrived and filled the taproom to make for quite a lively atmosphere.

But what about the beer, Rob?

L->R Amber Ale, Porter, Hefeweizen, Saison

As I usually do when I visit a brewery for the first time, I ordered a flight. As I said in my review of Bell’s Amber Ale, every brewery seems to have an Amber in regular rotation and as I noted earlier, theirs is called Benedict Amber Traitor Ale. Not mind-blowing, but tasty nonetheless. A good beer to start the flight. Second up was Arnold’s Tavern Porter, which had good taste but the body was a tad thin. Third on the flight was their Hefeweizen, Three Tickle Pitchers, a very sold interpretation of the style. I finished off the flight with the aforementioned award winner, Saison Absurdite. Unfortunately this one didn’t quite work for me. It wasn’t bad, but there’s always one beer that isn’t as good as the others and this was it. I decided I was still thirsty and had a pint of what turned out to be my favorite beer of the day, The Teeth Were a Lie, a pale ale with tangerine whose name is a reference to George Washington. This beer went down really easily and along with the Amber, probably one I’d consider a go-to from Fort Nonsense.

The Teeth Were a Lie (Pale Ale w/Tangerine)

Six months in, there are two beers that stand out in the bunch (at least for my palate). I’d be interested in trying more in the future, such as the Gose they recently tapped. My only real negative is the price of a flight at $12. Most flights I’ve had at other breweries aren’t more than $10. I get the brewery is a business, so I’m not sure of the answer there, but that price tag does stand out to me for a flight of four tasters.

My bottom line: Having launched just six months ago with a few solid beers, Fort Nonsense is a new brewery with signs of promise.

Like many NJ Craft Breweries Fort Nonsense is a Trivia Revolution Partner/Host.

Some other links of interest:
TAP Into Morristown (January 2018)
Daily Record announcing opening of Fort Nonsense (January 2018)

Fort Nonsense Brewing Web site | Instagram | Facebook | Twitter

Beer Review: AleSmith’s Speedway Stout

Name: Speedway Stout

Brewing Company: Alesmith Brewing Company)
Location: San Diego, CA
Style: Stout – American Imperial/Double
ABV: 12%

From AleSmith’s page for the beer:

Speedway Stout’s ominous, pitch-black appearance has become a hallmark of this modern-day classic. Chocolate and roasted malts dominate the flavor, supported by notes of dark fruit, toffee, and caramel. A healthy dose of locally-roasted coffee from Ryan Bros. Coffee, Inc. added to each batch brings out the beer’s dark chocolate flavors and enhances its drinkability. Despite its intensity, Speedway Stout’s fine carbonation and creamy mouthfeel make it very smooth and surprisingly easy to drink. This beer ages very well and will continue to mature for many years to come.

AleSmith is one of the great California craft breweries, having established itself as a presence in San Diego over twenty years ago in 1995. Their beers have won acclaim and loyal fans from their IPAs, their San Diego Pale Ale .394 (named in honor of Tony Gwynn) and this, perhaps their most popular beer with over 100,000 check-ins in untappd. I’ve wanted to try it (or one of its variants) for a while and I’m pleased I finally did.

I’ve seen the beer in large bottles and pint cans, with the pint cans sold singly for about $7, which may be pricey for a single pint in a liquor store but compared to a pint in a bar, it is a bargain. Be that as it may, I popped open the can and out came a thick black beer that was quite dark. As the head formed, there was a little bit of a deep brown at the top and in the foam – the color was reminiscent of a lightly creamed coffee. In other words, this looked like my kind of stout. With an aroma of coffee coming from the glass along with the roasted malts, I barely sat down before taking the first sip.

Whoa-Damn!

This beer is a flavor assault, in a good way. The the typical stout-like flavors are present: roasted malts, extra hops since this an imperial stout and an ample amount of coffee. Usually stouts this high in alcohol with this complex of a flavor profile are barrel-aged. The brewmaster(s) at AleSmith coaxes plenty of flavor without the addition of the stout having aged in barrels and that is quite impressive. While the hops are definitely present as I said, they were just one component of the flavor profile and not overly dominant like I’ve had in some other stouts from West Coast breweries.

As much as the flavor profile is potent and delicious, one thing that is deceiving is the ABV. While you do get some of the alcohol and slight booziness, I would never guess this beer is 12% ABV.

After some friends and coworkers talked up this beer, I had fairly high hopes for it. I was a little cautious because some the hops can be far too dominant on some of these stouts, but that was far from the case with Speedway Stout.

Highly recommended. Now I just need to try some of the variants.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4.25-star rating.

Untapped badges earned with this beer: Heavy Weight (Level 58)

Heavy Weight (Level 58)

You like it thick and dark. Your beer! What did you think we were talking about? That’s 290 different beers with the style of Porter or Stout.

2X (Level 29)

When a single isn’t enough, make it a double. Doubling the hops and malts in a recipe results in a higher ABV and can pack quite a boozey punch. That’s 145 different beers with the style that contains Imperial / Double in its style name.

 

 

Draught Diversions: Book Review: BARREL-AGED STOUT and SELLING OUT by Josh Noel

Title: Barrel Aged Stout and Selling: Goose Island, Anheuser-Busch, and How Craft Beer Became Big Business
Author: Josh Noel
Publication Date: June 2018
Publisher: Chicago Review Press

I’m digging back to my book reviewing roots for the latest Draught Diversion. Although the majority of my reading falls in the realms of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror, as soon as I learned of this book, it was probably the book I was most anticipating reading this year. On to the review…

The Craft Beer movement has been alive and well for a few decades now. Flavorful brews created by smaller breweries mostly regional in nature created as a reaction to Big Beer. With any movement or segment of a market, there are pivotal moments. Moments that, on a time line, can be pointed to as a division between What Happened Before and What Happened After. In Barrel-Aged Stout and Selling Out, author Josh Noel examines that “moment” as well as the history of what led to that moment and the immediate fallout in which “craft beer enthusiasts” are still living. That proverbial moment? When Anheuser-Busch InBev bought “Chicago’s Brewery,” Goose Island in March 2011.

Publisher’s Landing Page: Chicago Review Press for the book:

Goose Island opened as a family-owned Chicago brewpub in the late 1980s, and it soon became one of the most inventive breweries in the world. In the golden age of light, bland and cheap beers, John Hall and his son Greg brought European flavors to America. With distribution in two dozen states, two brewpubs and status as one of the 20 biggest breweries in the United States, Goose Island became an American success story and was a champion of craft beer. Then, on March 28, 2011, the Halls sold the brewery to Anheuser-Busch InBev, maker of Budweiser, the least craft-like beer imaginable. The sale forced the industry to reckon with craft beer’s mainstream appeal and a popularity few envisioned. Josh Noel broke the news of the sale in the Chicago Tribune, and he covered the resulting backlash from Chicagoans and beer fanatics across the country as the discussion escalated into an intellectual craft beer war. Anheuser-Busch has since bought nine other craft breweries, and from among the outcry rises a question that Noel addresses through personal anecdotes from industry leaders: how should a brewery grow?

As the title suggests, the book is quite evenly divided between “Barrel-Aged Stout,” which chronicles the rise of Goose Island and “Selling Out,” which chronicles Anheuser-Busch InBev’s purchase of the brewery. Soon after that purchase, AB InBev itself launched into a spending spree gobbling up regional craft/independent breweries that in hindsight, seems like a very calculated move, but at the time was a very jarring few years.

From the thought that inspired John Hall to open a brewery/brewpub, to determining the name, to building/construction of Goose Island’s brewpub, through its growth and John’s son Greg becoming brewmaster, Josh Noel does a fantastic job telling the story of just why Goose Island grew so much and gained an initially local and loyal, then national reputation as an innovative brewer. It is a fascinating story, to be sure.

Noel wonderfully conveys the drama surrounding everything, from the initial planning, to the development of the beers, to the rise of Greg Hall as an icon of good taste in Chicago. In many ways, the Goose Island story pre-AB InBev is a story of the American Dream, or rather the second act of an American Dream. Ingenuity, intelligence, innovation, and hard work funneled into a market ready for the product the Halls were creating helped to make Goose Island into a standard bearer for well-crafted and sought-after beer.

In this story of Goose Island, John, the father and man who started it all, comes across as the sharp, business-minded head who loves his company and employees. Greg, the son, is the heart and innovator who loves the beer and brewing. John had the know how from a business perspective and Greg emerged as the one who gave the brewery its taste identity. It is easy to forget, or many to not even be aware of just how cutting edge Goose Island was back then now that we live in a world where Goose IPA is on tap next to Bud Light everywhere, a world where 312 Urban Wheat Ale is nearly as prevalent in  bottles and Bourbon County Brand Stout is now at the center of a national beer holiday far beyond the confines Chicago where, arguably, the most important American Stout was first brewed. Something many people grabbing a four pack of 16oz pints of IPA or sharing a bomb of the latest Barrel-Aged release either don’t know, or know of only as a mythical thing of Craft Beer past.

In the book, Noel succeeds at making the reader a fly on the wall as a witness to Goose Island’s growth. It is painted as a loving picture, homage, and history with a bit of that aforementioned myth-making.

Then in March 2011, Goose Island Brewery was purchased by Anheuser-Busch InBev.

The second half of the book, “Selling Out,” takes a turn. Not in quality, by any means, but the tone of the story shifts from almost heartwarming tale of gumption, excitement, and growth to cold and calculating. Not that John Hall wasn’t a smart business man, but making beer is a business beast and Anheuser-Busch InBev can be compared to a great tamer. An idea that pervades the Halls and those on the Goose side of the sale: at AB InBev marketing drives the beer; at Goose, the beer always drove the marketing. The story here for the Halls goes from hope in the future with at least a minimal understanding to a unknown future in an unknown world.

The book is more than just about the sale of Goose Island to AB InBev. Noel meticulously builds and artfully renders a swath of history that may be unknown to many into a fully gripping story. Or of some of the more “inside baseball” elements of the beer industry like the importance of distributors.

The story of the sale of Goose Island is prophetic of what would come after, tragic for what is left behind in its wake, and through the Halls, their confidants, and friends, an ultimately human story. Breweries like Sierra Nevada, Boston Beer/Samuel Adams, Bell’s, Firestone Walker, Lagunitas, Boulevard Brewing (among others) get name checked throughout, showing just how far of a rippling effect March 2011 had on breweries and the people who work at them and started breweries since. Some of those breweries were courted by Big Beer (SABMiller and AB InBev are just two courtiers), some of the brewers at Goose Island went on to success at some of those other breweries.

As I said, I’d been anticipating this book for quite a while as I began following Josh (@hopnotes) on twitter late last year as I became more entrenched in the Craft Beer section of social media. On January 1st, Josh began tweeting what would be the first chapter of the book and I was hooked. This is an immensely well-researched book containing information pulled from over 100 interviews including no less than John Hall himself, the man who started Goose Island Brewing Company.

In the end, two takeaways stand out for me, at least on first reading:

  1. For years, especially since March 2011, discerning beer drinkers have cast AB InBev as the Evil Empire. That is a fair and largely just assessment. But at this point, they are almost beyond Evil (and Good, for that matter). AB InBev, especially in the years between 2011 and 2017 when it bought 10 regional craft breweries, is more akin to a force of nature. A hurricane cannot be stopped, an earthquake can only be survived. That becomes especially clear in the second half of the book.
  2. Early in the book, Noel points out (more than once) that John Hall thought he would sell the brewery at some point, but “probably to Heineken.” It almost makes you wonder if John Hall ended the “story” of Goose Island just where he intended it to end.

Either way, the American Beer landscape is far richer for John and Greg Hall’s contributions, both at Goose Island and the ripple effects they created in the industry. In the Hot! New! Landscape of American Craft Beer it is very easy to haze over just how different the world of beer and going into a bottle shop was a decade (or even 7) years ago, in terms of choices of breweries and styles and exactly who those breweries are.

Candid, factual, gripping, emotional, educational, eye-opening, fascinating – all these things and more. Anybody who appreciates well-crafted beer will enjoy this book. Readers looking for a unique peek into how a multi-billion dollar conglomerate operates (regardless of your beer preferences) will be fascinated to see how an economic landscape can change in just a few short years.

Barrel Aged Stout and Selling Out is an un-put-downable book that tells a gripping story of perhaps the most important post-Prohibition handful years of Beer History in America. This is definitely a book that will remain within easy reach for reference and for re-reads.

Highly, highly recommended.

Beer Review: Bell’s Amber Ale

Name: Amber Ale
Brewing Company: Bell’s Brewery
Location: Comstock, MI
Style: Red Ale – American Amber / Red
Style: 5.8%

From the beer’s description on Bell’s Brewery landing page for the beer:

The beer that helped build our brewery; Bell’s Amber Ale features both toasted and sweet caramel notes from carefully selected malts, balanced with herbal and citrus hop aromas. Capped by a clean bitterness, it’s incredibly versatile with food, but very tasty on its own.

Bell’s Brewery, Michigan’s largest independent Craft Brewery, has finally arrived in New Jersey and many of the State’s residents (including myself) are quite excited. Their Two Hearted IPA, which I tried and loved earlier in the year, is rightfully one of the most renowned IPAs in the country. I reviewed Oberon Ale last year, so I decided to celebrate Bell’s arrival with a second review of one of their beers and went with the beer they peg as their foundational ale Amber Ale

Amber Ales are one of those staple styles that don’t get much attention especially compared the hottest DDH IPA or Barrel Aged Stout, but seem to be part of almost every brewery’s profile. Hell, two of the most widely available craft beers in the country are New Belgium’s Fat Tire (Amber Ale) and Yuengling’s Lager (an Amber Lager). Often not quite as hoppy as an IPA, but with a similar, though less aggressive hop profile, Amber Ales are good everyday ales and perfect starter, approachable or “entry” ales for folks looking for more flavorful than the  “Adjunct Lagers” produced by Big Beer. Bell’s Amber Ale fits that bill perfectly.

Not too much of a distinctive aroma rises from the beer poured into the glass. The color is indeed Amber and if I were to guess what the beer is without knowing, I’d probably guess one of the two beers I mentioned in the first paragraph – Yuengling Lager or New Belgium Fat Tire.

The beer tastes…really good. There’s nothing flashy about the beer, but that’s fine. There are pleasing hop notes with a very nice level of maltiness to give the beer some substance. Between the roast and the malt, there’s a bit of caramel to the taste, too. The ale is very drinkable, relatively thirst-quenching and just overall, what you’d want in a flavorful beer.

I had a second bottle a couple of nights later and I liked it even more. I’ll admit that I was anxious to try a beer from Bell’s I hadn’t previously tasted and probably didn’t let the six pack sit in the fridge long enough. The beer is approachable enough that it will complement most meals and not overpower what you’re eating the way big, roasty stout might or a hoppy double IPA could. For me, this is a great beer to have with your pizza and for me that means having the beer available in my fridge very regularly since I have pizza every Friday night.

If you want to bring something to a party where many people with mixed tastes will be attending, Bell’s Amber Ale would be perfect – an ale that strikes a great balance for those who are wary of “Craft Beer” and those like myself who appreciate flavorful Craft beer from Independent Breweries.

Recommended, link to Untappd 3.75-star rating.

Beer Review: Founders Brewing Dankwood

Name: Dankwood
Brewing Company: Founders Brewing Co. (Barrel Aged Series)
Location: Grand Rapids, MI
Style: Red Ale – Imperial/Double (Untappd) / Imperial Red IPA (Founders’ bottle)
ABV: 12.2%

Official Barrel Aged glass courtesy of Founders.

From Founders’ page for the beer:

What do you get when a big, bold imperial red IPA meets an oak bourbon barrel? A palate stunner that’ll send your senses spinning or, as we like to call it, Dankwood. Rich caramel notes emerge from the depths of the IPA, highlighting strong malt character while the bourbon barrel-aging develops the complexity. A dank, sticky and slightly sweet sipper, Dankwood is the perfect alchemy of wood and hops.

I’ve made it pretty clear that Founders is one of my favorite (easily top 5) nationally distributed craft breweries, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I’m reviewing another beer from them. Last year, Founders kicked off a major brewing program, The Barrel Aged Series and included long-time favorites Kentucky Breakfast Stout and Backwoods Bastard (which I reviewed last year) and newer brews, like Doom (basically, Double Trouble barrel aged) and this one, Dankwood, which is basically ReDANKulous aged in barrels.

Popping open the beer and pouring it into the bottle a wonderful booziness from the bourbon wafts towards me. The beer initially seems a dark red, but as it settles into the glass, the color seems more caramelized. First sip is potent hops but smoothed out by the barrel aging.

There are a lot of powerful flavors swirling in the glass. Hops, bourbon, oak, with an ample malt backbone. Two out of four are standard for a big, bold IPA, with the malt more pronounced in some Red Ales. This is most definitely a beer you want to drink slowly in sips to enjoy the complexity of the hops interacting with the bourbon aging. As it warms, the maltiness is a bit more pronounced. Quite frankly, the beer becomes more of what it claims to be as it settles into the glass. Like many barrel aged beers, wafting in the aroma is nearly as pleasing as the taste itself.

This is the fourth offering I’ve had in the Barrel Aged series. KBS still reigns supreme and Backwoods Bastard is very close to that. As much as I enjoyed Doom, there were familiar elements in that beer from the hops. I don’t drink many Red Ales and have only had a couple of Red IPAs so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was very pleasantly surprised by how much the barrel aging rounded out the sharp hop profile and enhanced the malt backbone.

Many breweries are aging beers in used liquor barrels (Bourbon, Whisky, Rye, Rum, Wine, etc), regardless of the size of the brewery. Hell, a friend helped his friend brew a barrel aged stout with a home-brew kit. That said, the majority of breweries doing barrel aging are focusing on stouts, but Founders has shown how well barrel ageing can work on hop-forward ales like IPAs. The beer I’m really looking forward to is the barrel-aged Old Curmudgeon, AKA Curmudgeon’s Better Half.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4.0-star rating.

Draught Diversions: May 2018 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…

May was a long 31 days, with business travel overtaking much of the month. However, that travel did expose me to some beers I otherwise would not have been able to enjoy as those breweries don’t distribute into NJ. Despite that, I managed to have a few good NJ brews, too. The trek through the IPA section of the beer landscape continues as the style dominates this month’s post once again.

Bock Bier (von Trapp Brewing) Bock – 3.75 bottle Caps on untappd

I wrote about Bocks in April and have been on the hunt for this bock specifically since then as it I’ve seen good things about the Vermont brewery’s interpretation of the style. The beer is quite tasty, has a lot of the lager characteristics, but with an added caramelly flavor that was really pleasing.

Floridian Hefeweizen (Funky Buddha Brewery) Hefeweizen – 4 bottle Caps on untappd

I was in the Miami area for business in early May and was really, really hoping I could actually get out to the Floridian brewing institution that is Funky Buddha. The schedule didn’t allow, but the hotel did have their flagship Hefeweizen on tap and I was extremely pleased (despite the overpriced $11 cost of pint!). That being said, Floridian Hefeweizen is a really delicious interpretation of the classic German wheat ale. I’d have this in my fridge in regular rotation if Funky Buddha distributed into New Jersey.

Punk in Drublic (Stone Brewing) India Pale Lager – 4.00 bottle Caps on untappd

Of the beers I had in May, this one might be the most surprising. Stone’s beers generally don’t align with my palate as I stray away from West Coast IPAs, but this was in a cooler at a friend’s party so I figured I’d try it. Boy was I pleased. I thought it tasted like a Pilsner with a pleasing malt roast so the beer went down really easily. I haven’t had too many IPLs outside of this one and the IPL Yuengling produced a few years back, but I’ll go for more now if I see them.

Fresh Squeezed IPA IPA – American – 3.50 bottle Caps on untappd

On draft at Holsteins Shakes and Buns Las Vegas in the Cosmopolitan Hotel

Sometimes a beer just isn’t right for you. With the name of this beer, I was expecting more of a citrusy/juicy profile, but the beer had more of a West Coast piney flavor. It wasn’t a bad beer, just not to my taste and probably the “new” beer of May I enjoyed the least. That said, a 3.50 rating on untappd is still a decent beer.

Moon Door (Conclave Brewing)– 4.5 bottle Caps on untappd

Conclave’s logo for the beer on top, the beer freshly poured from a growler filled hours prior

Conclave has yet to disappoint me with any of the more than dozen beers I’ve had from them. This IPA features a more experimental hop (007Golden Hop) as well as Mosaic hops for a beautiful, citrusy IPA that is a perfect summer IPA. When I filled up the growler, I was chatting briefly with co-owner Carl and he said that’s one of the things they try to do with their IPAs, take a hop they haven’t used and brew it along with a familiar hop and Mosiac is a fairly prevalent, versatile hop. This is a beer I could drink all afternoon long. I brought a full growler to a small Memorial Day party at my parents’s house and the growler was finished in about 15 minutes. So. Damned. Good. Easily my favorite new beer of May.

Queen Genevieve. (Flounder Brewing Company) IPA – Imperial / Double 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

Flounder is one of the smaller NJ breweries, one of the earliest microbreweries and one of the breweries closest to me, all of which I laid out in my post featuring the brewery. I also know a few of the folks who work and brew there. Since coming around on IPAs I’d been looking forward to trying this beer, the first the brewery canned and boy howdy is it a delicious, juicy IPA. All the great citrusy flavors and hop notes are present as the beer is a great example of an IPA in the “New England” style. Plus it has a great can design and is brewed in honor of brewer Brad’s grandmother. You’ll want this one if you see it on tap near you in New Jersey.