Draught Diversions: Beer Date Codes – Posted On and Best Before

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…

Something that’s been on my mind for a while is beer dating. No, not appropriate beers for a date, which is a different topic. I refer to how breweries date stamp or, in some cases, don’t date stamp their beer. You’d think this would be a simple thing a brewery would want to do from an integrity standpoint, right?

Some beers with proper beer date stamping

Maybe breweries are concerned that if they do date stamp their beer, then the beer won’t sell if it is on the shelf of a bottle shop for a certain amount of time? In some cases, a brewery is utilizing a canning or bottling line that may not have the ability to stamp dates on the bottom of cans or sides of bottles. If that’s the case, then the added time of printing labels/stickers and slapping those stickers on the packaged beer could be inefficient and costly, perhaps. I don’t know, I can’t get in their heads. But there are indeed some complexities involved with date stamping beer.

Best before date. This brewery takes a little extra time to put the sticker on top of the can holder.

Another complexity is what format to use for date stamping. There’s the Gregorian calendar dating, which is what most of humanity uses. You know, January 1, 2019. This can sometimes be written as 01/01/19. The other, more obtuse method is swapping out letters for numbers, while also including the bottling line. Sure, that’s specific and not as easy to read as a normal date, but it is something to give the consumer an idea of the freshness of the beer. This thread at RateBeer.com illustrates the cryptography involved in this type of date stamping, while this post at Craft Beer and Brewing gives a nice overview of beer date codes in general. Bill Cord of the great MyBeerBuzz intelligently and cogently presented his thoughts on the subject of standardized beer dating a couple of years ago.

It shouldn’t be incumbent on the consumer to have to go and figure out which method of date stamping is used. As a general rule, manufacturers really shouldn’t make extra work for potential customers when manufacturers are asking those customers to part with their hard earned money.

Aside from the format of the date, there’s the issue of what date to put on the beer. Some breweries will stamp a “canned on” date, others stamp on a “best before” date. Again, both are good methods. I prefer the canned on/packaged on date, though the benefit of a “best before” date tells you what the people who actually made the beer think the lifespan of the beer should be. They probably know best. One would think the brewery/brewers would know best, at least.

Perhaps my largest frustration is the utter lack of consistency. I’d almost expect say, a Trappist Tripel to have a different method/format of date stamping from that of an IPA brewed in California. But when two breweries in the same state – say Pennsylvania, one of the largest brewing states in the Nation – have different date stamping methods, then the problem becomes more noticeable.

What is probably optimal is what you see on the photo below and in the snapshot of Orval in the lead image in this post. A bottled on date and a best before date. Orval stamps the bottled on and best before date. It ages well, I’ve had a 2 year old bottle. That beer below is a barrel aged Quadrupel from Weyerbacher (which is delicious, by the way). Many barrel aged beers tend to develop more robust flavors over time, as do many Belgian beers like Orval. So when the beer shows those bookended dates it is nice. If I were the HopLord of All Brewing, that’d be one of my decrees – all beer should have a packaged and best before date. Another brewery that does it right is Bell’s, which is really not surprising. They date stamp the beer with a packaging date and almost all the labels have a shelf life note. Two Roads does the same, too. Date stamp on the bottom of the can, note on the side indicating how long the beer lasts. Hell, the “Shelf Life” can be added to the label that goes on every single bottle or the can packaging.

Top date is bottling date, bottom is good until date. Perfect date stamping for a boozy, barrel-aged Quadrupel

But maybe even worse is what comes off as a middle finger to the consumer. When, rather than a date stamp at the bottom of the can, the brewery decides to put a song title, a movie title, or some other random line of text that is anything other than either a “Canned On” or “Best Before” date. Why is that a middle finger? Clearly, the brewery has the capability at their disposal which provides them the ability and means to stamp something on the bottom of the can. Is the song a code for people in the know? Why waste effort and money in something that could likely be meaningless to a potential new consumer? Something that could be a potential barrier to a new customer.

It is a deceitful thing, too. More educated craft beer drinkers are probably concerned about what date is on the beer, especially those who enjoy beers that are best enjoyed as close to the packaging date as possible: Hazy/New England IPAs, one of the hottest styles on the market. Most breweries who are producing Hazy/Juicy IPAs will even include a “Drink Fresh” edict on their label. I know if I see a Hazy/New England IPA without a date on it, I’ll not buy the beer if were on the shelf. Hell, if I’m trying to decide between two beers to buy in a specific style I’m craving, maybe from different breweries, I’d probably lean towards the beer with the date stamping if only one of those beers had the date stamping. I would even encourage other consumers to not buy those beers, too.

What does “My Hometown” even mean? The time is stamped, but not the date? Waste of ink, in my humble opinion.

Another set of complications are stores that keep beers on shelves long past their packaged dates and best before dates. That’s a different rant, but I’ll just say I saw a beer I really enjoy and hadn’t seen in a while in my area (Sierra Nevada’s Kellerweis) that was two years old. I clearly remember the date on the beer as 2016 when I was in the store last summer (2018). Because it was so far out of date, I passed on the beer and was more frustrated with the store than Sierra Nevada. Unfortunately, that store carries some beers I don’t see elsewhere in my immediate area so I do find myself returning to it once in a while.

A selection of properly dated beers from my refrigerator

What is the solution, then? Who is responsible? The Brewer’s Association, presumably, has some clout. In this article, the Brewer’s Association provides some very broad guidelines around “beer freshness,” but that’s it. This seems like something they’d want to enforce. The BA defines what Craft Beer actually means (itself a definition fraught with great debate in beer circles), so you’d think the packaging and freshness dating is something they’d want to enforce to some degree for their member breweries. The TTB (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau), the governmental arm that approves all the labels and names before a beer can be released into the world has little sway on dates, it would seem.

Ultimately, it seems to be a matter of trust. We, the consumers, have to trust the breweries to stamp their beers with dates. I know if I see a beer with a dumb song title, or a cheeky phrase where a date stamp should be and there is no dating on the beer whatsoever, I’ll be extremely hesitant to buy the beer unless I’m at the brewery and I know for a fact that the beer was packaged/released close to the day I’m at the brewery.

Enough local breweries (at least in NJ), send out emails and engage in social media for new beer releases. For example, I just finished the last of a four pack from a New Jersey brewery I really like, they put out a new beer and I know the beer that showed up at the local store was fresh because they disseminated the messaging of a new beer via email and social media. That’s because I might be a little obsessive over new beers and breweries I like. Not all consumers are as proactive about the beer they buy.

So when a beer from an untested brewery is on the shelf, I’ll be hesitant to pick up the beer if I don’t know how fresh it is.

I say all this as a consumer and beer enthusiast. There are likely elements of beer production, packaging, and distribution about which I’m speaking out of my butt. But be that as it may, date stamping is something that deserves proper attention from the brewery asking us to part with our hard earned money.

Beer Review: Modern Times’s Black House

Name: Black House
Brewing Company: Modern Times Brewing
Location: San Diego, CA
Style: Stout – Coffee
ABV: 5.8%

One of the best coffee stouts you’ll have. Period.

One of the most perfect of pours I’ve ever poured.

From Modern Times’s page for the beer:

It’s so great that you like coffee. I just love that about you. Speaking of which, you’re holding an oatmeal coffee stout positively redolent with coffee aroma and flavor. It kind of tastes like a chocolate-covered espresso bean, only drier and more like beer. Nifty fact: we’re one of the only breweries in the world to roast our own coffee, which allows us to be extremely persnickety about which beans we buy and how we roast them. Taste the persnicketiness!

Coffee and beer, a liquid amalgamation that brings together two of the most popular beverages in the world. Modern Times is one of the more well-regarded San Diego area breweries and they’ve recently begun distributing their beer into NJ. This entry into New Jersey features their core line up: a Pale Wheat Ale (Fortunate Islands) a New England IPA (Orderville), a Gose (Fruitlands Passion Fruit), a straight-forward/West Coast IPA (City of the Sun), and this wonderful Coffee Stout, Black House. In other words, a good sampling of styles. I’d been in the mood for a stout that wasn’t too high in ABV, so I grabbed a four pack as soon as I saw the liquor store on my way home from work had it in stock.

As a person could likely infer from a coffee stout named Black House, the beer pours a very dark black. Given the relatively sessionable ABV of 5.8%, the beer pours from the can into the glass thicker than I’d expect. I don’t always manage to pull off a good head on my pours, but the head on this one is damned near perfect. Fluffy, almost like a whipped batch of malted chocolate milk. The beer was canned late January and I had it almost exactly two months after the canning date so the beer was relatively fresh, at least by stout standards.

The beer smells delicious. Hints of coffee, with a bit of sweetness, and some roast. I think to myself, “I’m going to like this beer.”

That internal thought was correct….

That first sip is just what I’d hope – a near perfect blending of coffee and stout flavors. Like the best beers, the first sip just encourages you to drink more.

As I continue to enjoy the beer, I notice the wonderful sweet coffee flavors on the backend of the beer. I generally drink my morning coffee a little on the sweet side, so the level of sweetness in the coffee portion of the show perfectly evokes my ideal cup of coffee. The coffee flavor is omnipresent, pleasant, and not overpowering.

Another great element of the beer is the lack of bitterness on the finish. Some coffee stouts I’ve had, and the ones I tend not to like, have a bitter, almost burnt coffee taste on the finish. That burnt bitterness is like a badly written ending to a novel or television finale you may have otherwise enjoyed, it makes what came before almost irrelevant. Thankfully for my tastes, that burnt bitterness is not present in Black House. In fact, the opposite is true. The delicious taste makes me want to have more.

Black House is one of the best coffee stouts I’ve ever had. I think I’ll have to give some of Modern Times’s other offerings a try.

Recommended link to Untappd 4.25-Bottle Cap rating.

Beer Review: Victory Brewing’s Twisted Monkey

Name: Twisted Monkey
Brewing Company: Victory Brewing Company
Location: Downingtown, PA
Style: Blonde Ale – Belgian Blonde / Golden
ABV: 5.8%

Though still cool in early spring, Twisted Monkey is the type of beer that has you yearning for warmer days

From Victory Brewing’s page for the beer:

Belgian-Style Blonde Ale with Mango

Born into a family of mystical monkeys, this light-hearted sibling brings a twisted spin to the bunch. Hearing about the flavorful excitement that the overgrown jungle had to offer, he set out to explore. It was a sensory overload, and he had to try it all. His favorite – the mango. Introducing hints of his favorite fruit to the same imported malts and Belgian yeast favored by the family, this magical ale results in big flavor refreshment that only the Monkey can deliver.

The great Victory Brewing company (a member of Artisanal Brewing Ventures) is beginning their 23rd year with a re-branding of their whole line of beers. Part of that unified branding is, of course, the launch of some new beers. Building on the success and quality of what is arguably their flagship or bestselling beer, Golden Monkey, Ron and Bill have brewed Twisted Monkey. Twisted Monkey is the latest in the Monkey family, following Sour Monkey, Sour Monkey Remix, and White Monkey. A smart move, if you ask me – build on something successful but with a twist, if you will.

A disclaimer of sorts: Aside from maybe 2 or 3 out of the three dozen or so beers I’ve had from Victory, I’ve enjoyed them all. I don’t know if that’s a bias going into trying this beer, but I figured I’d put it out there to be transparent. I’ve also come to realize beers that are simply “Golden Ales” rarely work for me, “Blonde Ales” usually do work, but if the beer is a “Belgian Golden” or “Belgian Blonde,” chances are I will enjoy it.

As the style would imply, the beer pours a deep golden from bottle to glass. The beer looks really pleasing. I get the strong hints of the Belgian-style yeast from the beer, maybe a little sweetness, but not mango specifically.

I get a hit of sweetness to start and through most of the beer. The finish has a slight sour edge and then a very similar spicy finish to the great Golden Monkey. The mango is definitely present, no doubt. More mango than the aroma would lead you to believe, but fortunately, I really like mango (I have a glass of mango juice every day). For me, the mango wasn’t overpowering.

Belgians have been utilizing various fruits in the brewing process as long as they’ve been brewing beer, the Lambic style of beer almost always features some kind of fruit component, for example. Not sure how many beers made in Belgium used mangoes, but this Belgian style golden from Victory uses the fruit generously; the sweetness from the mango complements the yeast very nicely. I had two more bottles of the beer in the days after first having the beer and I liked it better each time I had it.

The first Victory beer I featured here was Blackboard Series #6 Peach Belgian Blonde with Coriander, a beer I enjoyed a great deal and miss now that it is gone. I would argue that Twisted Monkey can be seen as a cousin to that beer while also sitting firmly in the growing Monkey family Victory is establishing. This is a great beer to hand to somebody who is put off by the aggressive hoppiness of many of the IPAs being brewed today. This is also a beer that I think would please people who enjoy  Belgian Golden/Belgian Blondes, especially if they enjoy that style on the sweeter side.

Where would I drink this? Rather, where wouldn’t I drink this beer? I can see this beer working really well in the summer – refreshing, sweet, and relatively low in alcohol (5.8% ABV) so having a couple won’t go to your head too quickly. You may want to give this one an initial try/taste not alongside a dinner, but on its own. Sweetness can be subjective, so for some palates, this beer could potentially overpower any other tastes in your mouth or just be too sweet in general. If, like me, you enjoy mango this beer should work nicely for you.

Some of the comments I saw on untappd and on other sites like Beer Advocate had me a bit worried, that the beer might be just a full on mango-bomb. The beer tastes as good as I hoped it would and not as sweet and cloying as I worried it might so those fears and that hesitancy was largely unfounded. Like I said initially, I’ve enjoyed the majority of the three dozen beers I’ve had from Victory Brewing so I shouldn’t have been too surprised this one worked for me as well as it did.

Bottom line: I like this one a lot and can foresee this being in my refrigerator regularly and my cooler by the pool in the summer.

Untappd badges earned with this beer:

Fields of Gold (Level 9)

Sometimes you need a break from all the hops, fruits, and spices. What better way than with a crisp, smooth Blonde Ale or Golden Ale? Basic but delicious.

Recommended link to Untappd 4 Bottle Cap rating.

Image courtesy of victorybeer.com

 

Draught Diversions: St. Patrick’s Day 2019 Six Pack

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…

Last year for my St. Patrick’s Day post, I wasn’t yet doing the six pack feature and was a little all over the place with beer recommendations/suggestions. As such, I stuck with some of the more traditional options – Guinness, Murphy’s, etc. with some brief mentions of other, local (mostly NJ) options. So for 2019, some not so traditional options or twists on those traditions. I did have and enjoy one of those beers I highlighted in last year’s St. Patrick’s Day post – the Guinness 200th Anniversary Export Stout and recommend it. As usual, I’ll put my list together alphabetically by beer name.

Black Magic Stout | Empire Brewing Company | Syracuse, NY | Stout – Irish Dry | 5.8% ABV

Image courtesy of Empire Brewing’s Twitter

For all the NJ beers I review and feature, I don’t feature many NY beers here at the Tap Takeover. That said, this Irish Dry Stout from Empire Brewing is one well worth featuring. I had it a few years ago and really enjoyed it and found it to be similar to Guinness but maybe a little sweeter. I imagine this one could be found on Nitro Draft in NY, especially closer to the Syracuse area where the brewery is located.

What Empire Brewing says about the beer:

A traditional dry Irish stout, carbonated with nitrogen (it pours very much like a Guinness). Dry roasted flavors are prominent, with hints of chocolate and coffee on the finish. World Beer Cup Gold Medal winner for best Dry-Irish Style Stout in the world!

Craic | River Horse Brewing Company | Ewing, NJ | Stout – Irish Dry | 9.1% ABV

Image Courtesy of River Horse’s Facebook

One of the great NJ Breweries, River Horse partnered with Jameson Irish Whiskey a couple of years ago for their Caskmates series of beers. This was the first of those beers which was first brewed in 2017. If you’re going with a whiskey or a stout involving some kind of whiskey barrel aging, there’s no better whiskey than Jameson especially around St. Patrick’s Day. This beer was produced in fairly limited quantities and I’ve not had the chance to try it yet. (Though if the fine folks at River Horse are reading and happen to have an extra bottle…)

What River Horse and Jameson say about the beer:

An imperial, dry Irish-style stout aged with vanilla and coffee beans. We love doing takes on classic cocktails. This is our take on an Irish coffee. Aptly named Craic*, because beer is meant to be fun.

*Craic is a term for news, gossip, fun, entertainment, and enjoyable conversation, particularly prominent in Ireland.

Irish Coffee | Carton Brewing Company | Atlantic Highlands, NJ | “Imperial” Cream Ale | ABV: 12%

This was the first variant of Carton’s legendary “Regular Coffee” game I had and it still ranks as one of the best beers I ever had. As the name implies, Carton adds some Irish cream and crème de menthe in the brewing process. This would be a perfect dessert sipping beer after you’ve enjoyed your Corned Beef or Shepherd’s Pie. I’m hoping this beer gets released again since I haven’t had it nearly four years..

What Carton says about the beer:

Irish Coffee is a continuation of the Regular Coffee game. Our golden imperial coffee cream ale has been finished on Irish wood and peppermint. Much like Regular Coffee looks to evoke an amusing version of the acidic bitter coffee curbed by milk and sugar that starts a day in a paper cup, Irish Coffee addresses it on the other end of the day. A beer rendition of a mug of coffee touched by Irish and whipped cream with a drizzle of green crème de menthe to tie up a big meal. Drink Irish Coffee to take it all home.

Irish Stout | O’Hara’s Brewery (Carlow Brewing Company) | Leinster, Ireland | Stout – Irish Dry 4.3% ABV

This was my St. Patrick’s Day beer last year in an Irish tavern (or a bar decorated to appear so) whilst men in kilts were playing bagpipes. I enjoyed the beer very much while I had my traditional shepherd’s pie. I think this is better than Guinness’s standard stout even if not quite as widely distributed. O’Hara’s also has an Irish Red and an IPA to round out their top 3 beers (of about 70+ beers in total).

What O’Hara’s says about the beer:

The flagship of the O’Hara’s brand, this uniquely Irish stout brings one back to how Irish stouts used to taste. First brewed in 1999, it has since been awarded prestigious honours for its quality and authenticity. .

O’Hara’s Irish Stout has a robust roast flavour complemented by a full-bodied and smooth mouth feel. The generous addition of Fuggle hops lends a tart bitterness to the dry espresso-like finish. This sessionable stout beer is filled with rich complex coffee aromas mingled with light licorice notes. The combination of traditional stout hops with an extra pinch of roast barley allows us to stay true to Irish tradition, recreating a taste so often yearned for by stout drinkers..

Kindred Spirits | Innis & Gunn | Edinburgh, Scotland | Stout – Other 6.1% ABV

Pic Alan Richardson Dundee, Pix-AR.co.uk
Innis and Gunn Kindred Spirits

I’ve had a few beers from Innis & Gunn and enjoyed them, and this one looks like it would help that trend continue, should I have the opportunity to try it. If Jameson is the most recognizable Irish Whiskey, then Tullamore D.E.W. is probably a close second. With barrel staves from Tullamore part of the aging/brewing process, this would be an appropriate stout to enjoy on March 17.

What Innis & Gunn says about the beer:

We’ve collaborated for the first time with Tullamore D.E.W., bringing together the very best of Scots and Irish craftsmanship to launch our newest Limited Edition: Kindred Spirits.

Using our unique barrel ageing process, this Scottish Stout has been matured using Tullamore’s legendary triple distilled whiskey barrels creating a rich and delicious Irish Whiskey barrel-aged stout. A perfect pairing of the character of Innis & Gunn’s rich flavour packed beer, and the sweet, spicy, smooth taste of Tullamore D.E.W. with notes of dark chocolate and coffee alongside hints of vanilla.

Stout Aged in Bulleit Bourbon Barrels | Guinness Open Gate Brewery and Barrel House | Baltimore, MD | Stout – Foreign / Export | 10% ABV

Image courtesy of Brewbound.com

I wasn’t going to get away without mentioning one of the many beers from Guinness. This one is slightly different for a few reasons. It is one of the first beers – and first barrel-aged beer – to come out of the new Open Gate Brewery and Barrel House Guinness opened in Baltimore. This beer may also be the first widely available barrel aged beer from Guinness. As it so happens, both Guinness and Bulleit are owned by Diageo, the world’s second largest distiller. A nice bit of corporate synergy allowing for what could be a really good beer in a hot popular style. Supposedly, only 15 cases were made available to the entire state of New Jersey so I’ll probably have a tough time finding this one. (Unless somebody from Guinness Open Gate is reading this and wants to send me a bottle!)

What Guinness says about the beer:

Guinness Antwerpen Stout aged in Bulleit Bourbon Barrels. Rich and endlessly complex. The stout we first brewed just for Belgium aged in charred oak bourbon barrels. Coconut and oaky vanilla aroma with a rich and full bodied, dark caramel and coconut flavor.

So there you have it. Whether you enjoy one of these beers or something along your own preference, something you have as a St. Patrick’s Day tradition like a Guinness Draught or a Conway’s Irish Ale from Great Lakes, do so safely and responsibly. Sláinte!!!

Beer Review: La Trappe Quadrupel

Name: La Trappe Quadrupel
Brewing Company: La Trappe/Brouwerij de Koningshoeven
Location: Berkel-Enshot, Noord-Brabant, Netherlands
Style: Belgian Quadrupel
ABV: 10%

A world class beer, a beer that gave birth to a style. 

From La Trappe’s page for the beer page:

In 1991, The Koningshoeven brewery baptized her beloved Quadrupel under the approving glance of the monks. A closely guarded recipe became reality, and the first Quadrupel beer in the world was born.

Colour: Warm amber-coloured with a crème-coloured head.

Aroma: Hints of cloves and nuts, balanced by the sweet aromas of vanilla, raisins and banana.

Taste: La Trappe Quadrupel is the heaviest ale of La Trappe Trappist ales and is eponymous of this ale style. A full, warming and intensive taste. Malty with the sweet tones of date and caramel.

Aftertaste: Smooth and light bitter aftertaste.

Trappist Ales…perhaps the rarest of breweries in the world. To wit, Brouwerij de Koningshoeven is one of 14 Abbeys officially designated as Trappist breweries in the world and one of two in the Netherlands. I’ve had a handful of ales from Trappist breweries and I think this is the best of the handful I’ve had. Granted, I haven’t had the legendary and highly sought after Westvleteren 12. That said, I realize it has only been about a month since I last reviewed a Belgian Quadrupel, so that alone should be an indicator of just what an amazing beer La Trappe Quadrupel is.

As always, the look and aroma is where we begin. The beer pours a deep brownish-amber-copper. The aroma is typical of a Belgian Quadrupel – some earthiness, some vanilla, maybe even some almond/amaretto. I can smell the sweetness in the beer. Outside of some barrel aged beers, I usually don’t smell the sweetness quite as potently.

That first sip is filled with flavor, lots of sugary goodness like caramelized banana, maybe some stone fruits like figs or even warmed cherries. The finish isn’t quite as yeasty as some other Quadrupels I’ve had (I’m thinking the classic Abt 12 from Saint Bernardus) which sets this beer slightly apart from other Quadrupels but not in an unwelcome fashion.

I also get a smoother finish on the whole with La Trappe’s Quadrupel, compared to most other Quadrupels I’ve enjoyed. There’s a bit more booziness, I taste the alcohol just a bit more in this one than other Quads, from what I can recall. It has the smooth finish of what I’d expect from a barrel-aged beer, but without the barrel-aged flavor. Again, (to borrow a tech term), this is a feature and not a bug for me. This is a boozy, sweet, potent, flavor-filled beer that is big in every good way.

This is an outstanding, world-class beer that really is in a class its own. I’d say it would be a great interpretation of the style but as I recently discovered, La Trappe’s Quadrupel was the first beer with the Quadrupel name when it was first brewed back in 1991. So it is the style-namer or “Ur-Quadrupel,” if you will. I know, considering the great brewing tradition in  of Belgian styles, I thought the style was a bit older than that.

I may say this with frequency, but it is perhaps truer for this beer than any other beer I’ve mentioned or reviewed – La Trappe’s Quadrupel is an absolute must try.

Recommended link to Untappd 4.5-Bottle Cap rating.

Additional reading on this beer and Quadrupels:

Draught Diversions: February 2019 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…

Like January, I tried a solid batch of new to me beers in February and some I’d been wanting to try for years. Three New Jersey beers, three non-NJ beers this month for a fairly balanced selection of styles. One of these beers happened to be perfectly timed for #FlagshipFebruary, a nice initiative meant to shift focus from Hot! Special! releases to those iconic beers that helped lay the foundation for the American Craft/Independent beer market.

Arabicadabra (Bell’s Brewery)  Stout – Milk / Sweet – 4 bottle Caps on untappd

The very first new beer of February makes the list, setting a good tone for the month. Since Bell’s hit NJ last year, I’ve been making my way through their portfolio and this was part of a mixed six pack my wife picked up for me. I guessed correctly that it was a stout when she presented it to me just in the glass. There’s a nice sweet hit to the coffee in this milk stout that hits all the right notes for a coffee milk stout.

Black Butte Porter (Deschutes Brewery Company) Porter – American – 4 bottle Caps on untappd

A dark restaurant at a table with 7 people is not conducive to good beer photography.

Visiting Vegas on a work trip makes for good possibilities, including the opportunity to finally try one of the flagship beers (timely enough for #FlagshipFebruary) from one of the largest independent/craft breweries of the American West. This is an excellent porter. Even though the beer was about a year old according to the date stamping, the flavor held up quite nicely. I’d really like to have this closer to the “best by” date for comparison sake and to try the beer in its best possible sitiuation. As it stands, I can taste why this porter is held in such high regard.

Bluffing Isn’t Weisse (Bad Beat Brewing) Hefeweizen 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

I’m always on the lookout for a good Hefeweizen so I was pleased to see one of the bars near the hotel carrying this beer. Maybe because of the glut of IPAs and darker beers I’ve been having, this Hefeweizen hit the spot really nicely as I was reminiscing with a former colleague. It was a clean, tasty beer that had a nice clove/banana profile. Plus, this was a local beer from Nevada.

Milk Chocolate Stout (Lone Eagle Brewing) Stout – Imperial Milk / Sweet – 4 bottle Caps on untappd

Good ol’ Lone Eagle, one of the two closest breweries to my house. For the first time in a few months (travel and weather cancellations) I was able to attend Board Game night at Lone Eagle. I had this beer at the Great Beer Expo at the Meadowlands earlier in the month and liked it enough that I was hoping Lone Eagle would have some cans for sale at the brewery. Sure enough, the fridge had some relatively fresh four packs canned at the end of January. The beer has a really nice chocolate flavor, but doesn’t lose any of the traditional stout flavors. It represents nicely in both cans and draft.

Social Mosaic (Dark City Brewing Company) Sour – Berliner Weisse 3.75 bottle Caps on untappd

This might be the most surprising beer of the month for me, for two main reasons. I’ve had a small handful of beers from Dark City and they’ve honestly been hit (their 1st anniversary brown ale is outstanding) or miss. Mosaic is a hop I usually don’t like. Part of another mixed six my wife got me, she poured a bit into the glass and I was thrown off. I smelled the hops foremost, but tasting the beer, the sour elements prevail. The mosaic and lactose mix really nicely in this beer for a extremely well balanced sour that doesn’t overpower form any of the elements in the beer.

Exit 9 – Hoppy Scarlet Ale (Flying Fish Brewing Company) Red Ale – Imperial / Double 4 bottle caps on untappd

Outside of a Flying Fish glass, what’s more appropriate than a Rutgers pint glass for this beer?

One of my favorite brewing projects in New Jersey is Flying Fish’s Exit Series of beers. There were 18 beers in total in this series, each signifying a NJ Turnpike Exit. This beer is for Exit 9, New Brunswick, NJ and home of my alma mater Rutgers University whose mascot is the Scarlet Knight. Red Ales typically aren’t in my sweet spot, but the blend of hops in this one makes for a very tasty beer. Centennial is one of the hops and it really stands out. The beer is a nice sweet maltiness to the beer and a tasty hop finish. This beer is like an amped up version Flying Fish’s year-round red ale Red Fish. However, Exit 9 should still be available in Flying Fish’s current Exit Variety Pack but probably not after that.