Draught Diversions: 5 More Breweries to Visit, Part 3 of a Series

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 has been a while (October of 2017) since I did one of these “Breweries I’d like to visit” posts and since then, I think my taste in beer has evolved. I’m seeking out IPAs, enjoying sours and really starting to appreciate beers from some of the more established Craft Breweries/Craft Beer Brands. The first couple of these posts were fairly easy, as I had dozens of beers from many of those breweries. So this time around, I’m ordering these alphabetically.

Bell’s Brewery in Comstock, MI (1983)
Total Bell’s beers checked in on untappd: 4
Bell’s Beers reviewed at The Tap Takeover: Oberon Ale and Amber Ale.

Seems like I find new reasons to talk about Bell’s Brewery every month, doesn’t it? Well, that alone should be an indicator of what a big deal this brewery is and how happy many folks in New Jersey are that their beers are available to us. Just about everybody I know who had Two Hearted for the first time within the last couple of months loves the beer and folks are pleased Oberon was here in time for the summer.

Image courtesy of Bell’s Brewing’s Web site

In addition to those beers, I’ve had and enjoyed the Amber Ale and Pooltime Ale. Their Eccentric Café looks extremely inviting, doesn’t it?

With 20+ draught options, a full-service restaurant, a luscious Beer Garden, comfortable patio and a state-of-the-art music venue, Bell’s Eccentric Café is the premiere craft beer destination in Michigan.

Our kitchen offers inspired fare, made with locally sourced, primarily non-GMO and sustainable ingredients, made from scratch to complement our beer.

All of that adds to Bell’s reputation as not just one of the Great Midwestern Breweries, but one of the Great American Breweries.

Boulevard Brewing Beer Company Kansas City, MO (1989)
Total Boulevard beers checked in on untappd: 11
Boulevard Beer reviewed at The Tap Takeover: Bourbon Barrel Quad

Boulevard is another Midwest/Southwest brewing institution. With nearly 30 years of brewing history based out of Kansas City, Boulevard has been pleasing fans in the Missouri and Kansas region for years. One of the beers that helped to build the Boulevard name is their renowned Saison, Tank 7. I had the beer years ago and liked it, but over the past year or so, I’ve come to really enjoy saisons even more so I think I need to revisit this beer. This past Fourth of July, I had the chance to sample two of their most popular beers thanks to the variety back my brother-in-law brought: Unfiltered Wheat (touted as the best-selling beer in the Midwest) and American Kolsch. These two beers were perfect for a warm fourth of July.

Image courtesy of Boulevard’s Facebook page

Probably the best beer I had from Boulevard was the one I reviewed earlier in the year: Bourbon Barrel Quad. This beer part is of their Smokestack Series, “A collection of bigger, bolder, more complex beers, these delicious, higher alcohol offerings are perfect for sipping or sharing.” Other beers in the series include a Double IPA, an Imperial Stout, a Whiskey Barrel-Aged Stout and the aforementioned Tank 7.

Image courtesy of Boulevard’s Web site

While the story of Boulevard’s growth is a great American story, the brewery was purchased by Duvel Moortgat in 2014. This is not like the other craft beer purchases in recent years. Boulevard seems to remain true to its original roots and continues to produce beer as an independent brewer would – pushing the definition of beer.

For some really great insight into Boulevard, I highly recommend listening to the Craft Beer and Brewing podcast featuring Boulevard’s brewmaster Steven Pauwels.

My wife and I took a trip out to Kansas City and Saint Louis about 8 years ago. At the time, I didn’t know nearly as much about Craft Beer as I did now, though I did manage to visit Schalfly. Unfortunately, we did not visit Boulevard but we were barely in Kansas City for 24 hours. Next time.

Cape May Brewing Company, Cape May, NJ (2011)
Total Cape May beers checked in on untappd: 3
Cape May Beer reviewed at The Tap Takeover: Coastal Evacuation Double IPA

A New Jersey brewery? Really? Well, Cape May is at the southern tip of the state and not exactly a day trip for me. Cape May is one of the great Jersey Shore vacation destinations, my parents spend a weekend or two there every year. Every year, they visit the brewery and this past year, they brought me back what is now one of my favorite NJ beers: Devil’s Reach, a delicious, nearly perfect Belgian Strong Golden Ale. That beer is far from the only beer they brew; many of their IPAs are highly regarded including their Double IPA Coastal Evacuation.

About a year or so ago (May 2017), they redid their label art and “brand design” and for my eyes, their cans and overall design aesthetic is some of the strongest of any brewery in the State.

Cape May’s 3 flagship beers, DEVIL’S REACH is one of my favorite NJ beers

Currently, Cape May Brewing Company is the second largest brewery in NJ (by capacity, I think) which combined with the beer community’s high regard for many of their beers, are reasons enough to visit and sample some of their beers. Additionally, where I live (Somerset County) is just outside of Cape May’s current distribution footprint. I’m really hoping as their capacity ramps up, I’ll begin seeing their beers (especially Devil’s Reach) on shelves at my local Gary’s, Wegman’s, or Petrock’s.

Firestone Walker Brewing Company, Paso Robles, CA (1996)
Total Firestone Walker Beers checked into untappd: 8
Firestone Walker Beer reviewed at The Tap Takeover: Nitro Merlin Milk Stout

California has many, many breweries. I mentioned one I’d like to visit in the first installment of this “series,” in fact. I haven’t had many of their beers largely because much of their core line up is hop-forward (IPAs and the like). I’ve come to appreciate IPAs recently and in my greater appreciation of some of the more storied American Craft Breweries, just how great an impact Firestone Walker had on the craft beer scene.

The first beer I remember having from them was Pivo Pils, a great Pilsner. Every beer I’ve had since that Pivo Pils has been of very high quality. In fact, two of the best beers I had last year came from Firestone Walker: Nitro Merlin Milk Stout and Mocha Merlin, one of the best coffee stouts I ever had.

Image courtesy of Firestone Walker’s Twitter feed

Like Boulevard, Firestone Walker was purchased by Duvel Moortgat in 2016. I can’t speak to the quality of the beer too much prior to the sale (except for maybe Pivo Pils), but it seems the purchase has afforded Firestone the ability to grow even more – in addition to the core lineup (Lion & Bear series), they’ve initiated two different IPA “series:” Leo v. Ursus and the Luponic Distortion series of IPAs that rotates about every 120 days. Their barrel aging program is some of the most robust of any brewery: The Proprietors Vintage series focuses on darker brews like Stouts, Browns, and Barleywines. The Barrelworks Wild Ales are barrel-aged sours.

Image courtesy of Firestone Walker

I had Union Jack their flagship IPA for the first time recently and really enjoyed it. This has me wanting to explore the bulk of their IPA line-up. What is really surprising to me is that their flagship beer, the beer upon which their name was initially built – Double Barrel Ale – is tough to find here in New Jersey. As for visiting? Well, their production facility, from what I’ve seen on line, seems to be a marvel.

Harpoon Brewery, Boston, MA (1986)
Total Harpoon beers checked in on untappd: 17

Samuel Adams isn’t the only craft brewery to emerge in Boston, the other brewery, often referred to as “Boston’s Brewery” is the great Harpoon Berwery.

Image courtesy of Harpoon

Harpoon began in a very grass roots manner, distributing their own beer and being the first brewery to obtain a permit to brew and sell alcohol in Massachusetts in more than 25 years. Their IPA, a beer upon which the brewery’s foundation was built, is still their most popular beer according to untappd. While Anchor may have been the first American Craft Brewery to brew an annual Christmas beer, Harpoon’s Winter Warmer is one of the more longstanding Winter beers available every season, and one of the brewery’s more popular offerings.

Other early offerings, included UFO Hefeweizen and UFO White, two wheat beers (Hefeweizen and Belgian Witbier respectively). The UFO brand is now its own entity with a continuing schedule of releases with various fruits added or seasonals, like the Pumpkin/Fall UFO, the Winter/Coffee UFO, or Pineapple UFO. I’ve enjoyed some more than others, to be completely honest. I still think the original UFO Hefeweizen is one of the better American Hefeweizens on the market.

Image courtesy of Harpoon’s twitter

One of their more popular seasonal beers in recent years is Camp Wannamango, a Pale Wheat Ale with (as the name implies) notes of mango. On a hot day, this is one of the more refreshing beers on the market.

As good as the beer is from Harpoon, The Harpoon Beer Hall itself has long been a Boston destination for hop heads. Fresh beer, pretzels, and limited release beers are available in addition to the many festivals held at the brewery/beer hall including an annual Octoberfest that I’d love to attend.

Not a bad group of breweries this time around, I think.

One thought on “Draught Diversions: 5 More Breweries to Visit, Part 3 of a Series

  1. Pingback: Draught Diversions: June 2018 Six Pack | The Tap Takeover

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