German Lager that is crisp, earthy, herbal and refreshing. A unique water profile (high sulpahtes) to Dortmund Germany differs this beer from the traditional German Helles by interacting with the malt and hops (Hallertau & Saaz) which heightens the bitterness of the hops and the alkalinity leaving a slight haze. Prost!
Here we are with another brewery who had the misfortune to open their doors during the COVID Pandemic, but they started strong, at least based on the two beers I enjoyed. The one under review is (shock to regular readers) a Lager, but not a Pilsner or a Helles Lager (probably two of the most common craft Lagers), but a Dortumunder Lager.
What is a Dortmunder Lager? It falls within the family of Pale Lagers, like a Pilsner or Helles. The most common description I’ve seen is that it is has elements of Pilsner (some kind of hop presence) and a Helles (a more pronounced malt character) and is all about balance. Like many German Lagers, this beer derives its name from the region (Dortmund, German) as many styles originated as such. Not many breweries are making this specific style of Lager on a regular basis, Great Lakes Brewing Company’s Dortmund Gold out of Cleveland, Ohio is the only large regional brewery to come to mind, so I was quite pleased to see a new brewery make the style.
Let’s dive into some Liquid Asset…
Look at that picture above? The beer is clear, golden, and very appealing in that glass. In other words, it looks exactly like I want a lager to look. As good as it looks, I didn’t really catch too much of the aroma on the beer.
Liquid Asset passes my first sip test with flying colors. This lager hits some great opening notes. A little sweetness from the malt in the beer, and that ever-important quality of making me want to drink more.
The most pronounced character of this beer is that wonderful bready, malt element. There’s a little bit of hop presence, essentially just there to be noticed, but there’s no bitterness from the hops. This is an extremely clean, delicious beer. Overall, the malt character brings a pleasant sweetness and the finish is extremely clean.
In speaking to the beertender, he said the recipe for this beer was one of the first or earliest beers the owner/head brewer was making in his home-brewing days. The refinement of making this beer over and over many years shines through and highlights how well-crafted this beer is from first sip to the last drops that remain in the glass. I hope this beer stays in constant rotation at Bull ‘N Bear because it is a showcase for the brewer’s quality. Liquid Asset is the a perfect beer to walk the line between appealing to “new” craft beer drinkers and those of us who consider ourselves something like aficionados.
Prost to Bull ‘N Bear for such finely crafted lager!
A book for both the beer geek and the foodie seeking a better understanding of modern food and drink.
On the night of April 17, 1945, Allied planes dropped more than a hundred bombs on the Burghers’ Brewery in Pilsen, Czechoslovakia, destroying much of the birthplace of pilsner, the world’s most popular beer style and the bestselling alcoholic beverage of all time. Still, workers at the brewery would rally so they could have beer to toast their American, Canadian, and British liberators the following month. It was another twist in pilsner’s remarkable story, one that started in a supernova of technological, political, and demographic shifts in the mid-1800s and that continues to unfold today anywhere alcohol is sold. Tom Acitelli’s Pilsner: How the Beer of Kings Changed the World tells that story, shattering myths about pilsner’s very birth and about its immediate parentage. A character-driven narrative that shows how pilsner influenced everything from modern-day advertising and marketing to immigration to today’s craft beer movement.
Pilsner, the most ubiquitous beer style in the world and perhaps the most maligned style in the world. For me, when a Pilsner is made well with the right ingredients…I don’t know that there’s any beer I like more than a cold, freshly made, freshly poured pilsner. In this fine book from Tom Acitelli, the style is given a historical perspective through a fascinating narrative weaving a story of the beer style, its place in the world, and America specifically, rather than a regurgitation of facts.
The “story” begins with beer before Pilsner was born, because in many ways, the beer was a reaction to much of the beer in Germany and the Bohemian region of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Acitelli charts some of the German breweries and styles like brewery Spaten brewery, the Vienna Lager, as well as the dark lagers that all predate Pilsner and eventually led to the style’s creation. I’m a big reader of Fantasy and the way in which Acitelli writes of the “pre-history” of Pilsner felt near mythic in nature, not unlike some of the mythic backstory of some of the Fantasy novels I’ve read. In other words, his mythologizing approach to telling the beer’s story clicked very strongly with my personal reading sensibilities.
The burghers (high profile citizens) of Pilsen wanted to have their own beer, they didn’t want to have to go to more Germanic regions for lager. As a result, they came together to build a brewery and hired a brewer to create a lager that was unheard of at the time: a clear, yellow, clean lager. That beer, of course, came to be known as Pilsner and would have a ripple affect like a boulder being dropped in a small pond
From there, the beer (or an interpretation of the style) was adopted as the flagship by breweries that would become the largest breweries in the world: Anheuser-Busch, Heineken, Pabst, and Miller. Acitelli weaves the history of these breweries into a fascinating narrative, how Anheuser Busch came to call their beer Budweiser, the familial history behind the Heinekin brewery, the legacy of Pabst’s early prominence as an American Lager brewery. While many of the beers from those breweries now are distinct from what Pilser actually is, there’s no doubt Budweiser, Pabst Blue Ribbon, and the Champagne of Beers would not exist if it weren’t for Pilsner beer and the large contingent of German immigrants in the United States.
One thing I particularly enjoyed about the book (I originally wrote “novel” because the book reads like a story), is how Acitelli demythologizes some elements of the history. For example, since Pilsner was created in the region of Bohemia that is now the Czech Republic the beer has often been considered a Czech invention. As such, many breweries would refer to their interpretation of Pilsner as “Bohemian Lager.” Well, that Pilsner is a Czech invention is only partially true. Sure, regionally that may be the case, but at the time, that region was largely populated by people of Germanic heritage and the man who created the beer, Bavarian Josef Groll, himself was German.
From the early days of those “American Adjunct Lager” breweries, through the days of Prohibition, Acitelli tells a fascinating story of the Beer of Kings. He then shifts his pen slightly to focus on Pilsner’s affect on advertising, especially Television advertising, through to the development of Light (or Lite) beer and its saturation of the market in the 1970s and 1980s. Much like Pilsner was a reaction to the earlier lagers from Germany, the author notes how the American Craft Beer movement of the 1980s and 1990s and IPAs were most definitely a reaction to how flavorless the Americanized Pilsner had become. He further charts the more recent embracement of the Pilsner and Lager style in general by the smaller, Independent American Craft breweries.
I initially heard about this book on the Steal This Beer Podcast hosted by Augie Carton and John Holl, both of whom have championed the style on episodes of their podcast. Augie’s Carton Brewing cans a few really tasty pilsners, as have many of the smaller breweries in my home State of New Jersey. I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least give them a shout out because reading this book about Pilsner made me want to enjoy a few pours. An inexhaustive list of great New Jersey pilsners, according to the Tasting Faculty of the Rob Bedford Institute of Beer at The Tap Takeover University follows: Whip and Peitsche from Carton Brewing (Atlantic Highlands), Rewal from Jersey Cyclone Brewing (Somerset), Parking Lot Pilz from Hackensack Brewing (Hackensack), Morning Breeze from Untied Brewing (New Providence), Pound of Feathers from Icarus Brewing (Lakewood), Lawn Boi from Tonewood Brewing (Oaklyn), Jersey Dreamin’ from Ashton Brewing (Middlesex), Czechs and Balances from Man Skirt Brewing (Hackettstown), Pilsner from Double Nickel Brewing (Pennsauken), Ramstein Imperial Pilsner from Ramstein/High Point Brewing Company (Butler), plus from neighboring Pennsylvania, I have to mention Victory’s Prima Pils and Tröegs’s Sunshine Pilsner.
In the end, Tom Acitelli has told an extremely fascinating story about the most popular style of beer in the world and reveals things about the style that add even more to the beer’s allure. This book is a must read and should reside on the shelf of any beer drinker.
Banana Bread Mind Over Matter is a new variant in our series of double chocolate milk stouts featuring a new, refreshed label design. We set out to brew a double chocolate Milk Stout with as much flavor as our 10+% stouts a more manageable ABV. Banana Bread Mind Over Matter is brewed with lactose and conditioned on cocoa nibs, walnuts, wild Thai banana, cinnamon and vanilla.
Magnify has been one of the hottest New Jersey / Northeast breweries over the past few years, with about three new beer releases per week, their IPAs and other flavorful ales are highly sought by craft beer drinkers in the area. I personally haven’t had very many beers from them, so I was looking forward to giving something from them a try for the blog.
”Mind over Matter” is a series of Imperial Milk Stouts Magnify brews with various adjuncts, there’s a “S’Mores” version, a Pancake version (which I’ve had) made with maple syrup, a “Candy Cane” version, and so forth. This version looks to emulate banana bread, obviously, and is brewed with walnuts, “wild Thai banana,” cinnamon, and vanilla. I really enjoy banana bread and beer with most of these adjuncts, but I was admittedly a little wary of what the walnuts would bring.
The pop of the can is nice and the beer that pours into my glass is dark and thick. It definitely has the appearance I’d expect at the outset. The strongest element in the aroma for me was the cinnamon, which is quite welcome. I give the glass a little swirl and there’s a nice reddish/burgundy tint to the edges from the foam from the cinnamon.
First sip test….the beer easily passes that test. There’s a lot going on with this beer, just look at all those adjuncts I mentioned! I enjoy the taste quite a bit and I want to drink more to really figure out if the flavors I’ve tasted match up with the description
As I enjoy the pint over the course of about an hour, I begin to get a nice feel for this beer and what works for me. The sweetness is incredibly potent, but it isn’t overpowering and cloying. The cinnamon is the most prevalent additive I taste, which works for me, it is ever present. There’s a soft creaminess to the beer, too. I’m not sure how much of the banana is coming through, but on the finish, the walnuts assert themselves and I’m pleased. I suppose I like the flavor of walnuts, but I loathe having any kind of nut in my baked goods probably because of the texture. I just hate the way the hard crunchiness ruins the softness of say, a brownie or banana bread.
Banana Bread Mind over Matter is a damned good “beer interpretation” of banana bread. The cinnamon is wonderful, the hints of walnut give the beer a nice finish. If I can knock the beer for anything it is that the bananas themselves aren’t quite as present in the overall flavor profile of the beer compared to the other elements. However, of the 10 beers I’ve had from Magnify Brewing over the years, this beer is hands down the best beer I’ve had from them.
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…
“Let’s launch our brewery when our State shuts down thanks to a pandemic,” said nobody ever. Well, that’s the situation Steve and Donna Ashton found themselves in March 2020 when they wanted to open Ashton Brewing Company. Considering the planning for the brewery was going back as early as summer 2019, Steve and Donna could not foresee what they’d be up against in March 2020. But persist, they did.
Steve and Donna have been making beer for over 25 years, Steve is a BJCP Master Judge and a member of the highly respected MASH (Morris Area Society of Homebrewers), and Steve has won awards for his homebrewing skills. In other words, when it comes to making beer, they really know what they are doing. When Steve retired from his finance career, it made sense for him to look to beer, which helped bring him and Donna together nearly 30 years ago.
Steve and Donna initially set their sights on an old roller rink in Roxbury, NJ, but that didn’t pan out. However, one door closing isn’t the end especially when another door opens. The location they settled on turned out to be a great spot, since it once housed a brewery, Demented Brewing Company in Middlesex, NJ. The demise of Demented is fairly well document in NJ beer circles, including my post from April 2019. The location is already a known brewery destination and was set up as a brewery, which made the build out a little bit easier. That doesn’t necessarily mean there was no work to be done, because the new tenants understandably wanted to ensure the location is completely branded with Ashton Brewing and remnants of the former tenants no longer present. Personally speaking, that location is about a mile from where I work and not too far from home, so I was very happy to learn of a new brewery taking over the location.
Speaking of that branding, Donna Ashton was and is a freelance graphic designer. Those skills come in quite handy when it comes to giving a business a visual identity, and she’s done a really nice job with the branding. The company’s logo incorporates an Ash tree and many of the beers have an Ash tree in the background or worked into the label in some fashion. For example, their Barleywine, Fraxinus takes its name from the genus name of the Ash family of trees. Throughout the post, I’ve included some of the cans Ashton has produced over the last year, which shows the potent brand identity Donna helped to establish for Ashton Brewing Company.
Shortly after Ashton officially opened for business, I was hoping to try their beer. That first weekend in April 2020, my wife and I were doing some errands (i.e. food shopping) and she got me in the car and surprised me when we arrived Ashton to pick up a couple of crowlers, their English Mild (Billy Two Hats) and their stout (Velvet Elvis). I was pretty impressed with the beers and had a good feeling that Ashton Brewing was off to as good a start as possible, given the state of the world. Steve and Donna had to pivot to a model that did not rely on taproom and on-site consumption sales even before they opened, and the crowlers proved to be a pretty good start for them.
Another way Ashton Brewing was able to pivot successfully was in their canned beers. The majority of canned beer for the past couple of years has been in the pint/16oz cans popularized by the growth of Hazy/New England IPAs. When Steve and Donna brought in a canning line, they went with 12oz cans. That alone sort of sets them apart from the crowd of NJ canned beer. I’d guess Carton, Bolero Snort, and Spellbound are part of the minority of the post 2012 breweries regularly canning their beer at the 12oz size. What they couldn’t have foreseen was that a can shortage was going to hit. A combination of tariffs and resources was making it difficult for breweries to keep crowlers and 16oz cans in stock, but in speaking with Steve when I visited the brewery for their First Anniversary recently (more on that later), he said because Ashton decided to go with 12oz cans as their can of choice, they were not as affected by that shortage.
Because of the pandemic and social distancing requirements, getting a peek proved a challenge. During the annual birthday brewery tour my wife takes me on, we were able to partake in outdoor seating. Although it was the first weekend in November, it was unseasonably warm and made for a lovely outdoor, socially distanced experience. However, my most recent trip to Ashton was during their 1 year anniversary and with social distancing somewhat relaxed, a limited number of occupants were permitted indoors for consumption. And what struck me most, compared to how the previous tenants had the interior laid out, is that Steve and Donna opted for a much brighter look. More well-lit, not as much dark imagery (not that I’m against dark imagery, I’m a horror junkie after all), but the overall feel and tone of the taproom is very, very welcoming. Of course during my visit for that First Anniversary, we felt very welcomed because we were sitting on one of the most comfortable leather couches upon which I’ve ever sat…which was wiped down with disinfectant before we took our seats.
Another element that sets Ashton Brewing apart from many of their peers is the breadth of styles which they brew and make available. Of course IPAs and Pale Ales are part of their portfolio, but the second beer the canned was the fantastic Pilsner, Jersey Dreamin (a top new beer to me in 2020). Two of the first styles Ashton brewed were an English Mild (Billy Two Hats) and an Altbier (Red Baron), both very traditional styles, but styles you don’t see very often. I’ve had both and enjoyed both. Other early brews included a Dutch, a Patersbier (the Belgian Trappist style with lowest ABV); ’Aina, a Farmouse/Saison; and Aura a Witbier, among other beers/styles. Ashton set out to brew beers of a drinkable ABV (around the 6% mark) and with a draught capacity of 18 beers, they certainly have a wide variety of styles available most of the time, maybe one of the more diverse tap lists in the State.
What I especially appreciate is how well-crafted Ashton Brewing’s lagers are. I mentioned Jersey Dreamin’ and I will again because it is that damned good. Recently, I had their Czech Dark Lager (Beach Badges), which was a wonderful beer. Their Schwarzbier, Black Orpheus is a delicious collaboration with Sunken Silo Brew Works in nearby Lebanon, NJ; during my November visit, I thoroughly enjoyed their Festbier (Festus Haggen) and their Maibock/Helles Bock, Cellar Hellar.
Back to their Anniversary celebration on March 27. Ashton was pouring quite a few barrel-aged beers, in addition to their standard taplist. In briefly speaking with owner Steve, he said he was able to procure used barrels from Jersey Spirits in Fairfield, NJ (which is in the same complex as Magnify Brewing Company). I started my day out with the aforementioned Schwarzbier before diving into the bigger beers. My second beer was the Rye Barrel Aged Barleywine, Fraxinus. Fraxinus is an English style Barleywine, which leans more on malt than hops, compared to the American version. With the Rye Barrel aging, the beer is extremely balanced. There was a nice spice from the rye, but the toffee-caramel-malt elements from the base Barleywine were still present. The third beer that day, and perhaps one of the most interesting barrel-aged beers I ever had was the Grappa-barrel aged Farmhouse ale Aina. I remarked to Steve that I’d never think to age anything in Grappa, but he said when he was getting the barrels from Jersey Spirits, a small Grappa barrel was available, so he figured he’d give it a shot. I had Grappa once many years ago, and found it to be very unpleasant and what I expected kerosene to taste like. However, the elements of the Grappa played nicely with the Farmhouse Ale, for a somewhat crisp, but pleasant and effervescent beer. The last barrel-aged beer was perhaps the most straight-forward in its premise, a Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Stout, Midnight Moonlight. Although this was probably the barrel aged beer I liked the least of the three, it was still a good beer with huge chocolate notes.
Between the straight-forward styles (IPA, Pilsner), somewhat less prevalent styles (Altbier, Schwarzbier, Czech Dark Lager), and barrel-aged beers, Ashton Brewing has demonstrated a very high level of expertise in craft brewing. They started strongly with a delicious IPA and what is turning out to be one of my favorite Pilsners. Over the past year, the beers they’ve been churning out have each been extremely flavorful and very well-crafted. The majority of the beers are the recipes Steve has been refining over the past couple of decades as a homebrewer, that refinement and elegance is really easy to taste.
Ashton Brewing has already established themselves as a significant presence in the NJ Craft Beer community. Steve has been a member of MASH (Morris Area Society of Homebrewers) and because of that, Ashton collaborated on a beer with brewers who have connections to MASH. All Mashed Up is a collaboration between Ashton, Seven Tribesmen (Wayne, NJ), and Untied Brewing in New Providence. Each brewery tweaked the base recipe slightly, Ashton added marshmallows and Cacao Nibs to their version. Ashton was a fairly early contributor to the Brewery Strong Philanthropy as well.
Given their ability to successfully pivot during the most challenging of times, and the quality of the liquid they produce, I expect that Ashton Brewing will be a staple of the NJ Craft Brewery scene for a very long time. I know I’ll be keeping their beer in my regular rotation
Some other links of interest and sources of information for this post:
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…
The Ides of March…have passed and I’ve assembled my March 2021 Six Pack. For the first time in a very long time (maybe ever), all the beers here are from NJ breweries. I didn’t necessarily plan that, but I’m not upset about it either, because there’s some really good beers here. Mostly from the usual suspects and frequent breweries, but one brewery I haven’t mentioned in a very long time (years).
Yet again, the folks at Icarus make a beer that I need to talk about. This beer makes two consecutive months with a Schwarzbier and damn if this isn’t an outstanding take on the style. Extremely flavorful with elements of sweet malt, hints of smoke, and the nice crisp lager finish. This could be an all-day drinker for me.
Another dark lager? Yes! Apparently, over the last few months I’ve really been taken with dark lagers, as the posts on this blog may attest. Ashton’s take on the Czech Dark Lager is fantastic, which isn’t surprising given the quality of the lagers I’ve had from them. This beer has a sweet breadiness, I’d almost say toasted, fluffy, buttered pumpernickel bread not unlike Kane’s Hollow Sea which made a Six Pack appearance in November 2020. As soon as I learned of this beer, I had to have it and I’m damned glad I picked up a six pack.
For St. Patrick’s Day, Kane releases Port Omna, their take on the Irish Dry Stout (which I’ve enjoyed in the past), they also release some variants. I grabbed two of the variants and this one was not just the better one (not that the other was bad), but it quickly climbed the list of my top barrel-aged beers. Granted this beer is a blend of milk stout and Barrel-Aged stout, but it is truly divine, with hints of maple syrup, coffee, and chocolate.
A trip to Jersey Cyclone led me to this beer, a really nice barleywine with hints of sweet toffee intermingled with the strong hop presence. This beer reminds me of Sierra Nevada’s iconinc Bigfoot Barelywine, but with a more mellow hop presence, which is fine by me. In talking with owner Jan, he hinted that there might be some of this beer sitting in bourbon barrels for a future release. Sign me up for a bottle now, please!
When Carton Brewing expanded their production facility, it coincided with more lagers, specifically Pilsners. Augie and his crew have been brewing regional takes on the style, with the Whip American Pilsner as the base, they’ve brewed and canned an Italian, Czech, and now this German Pilsner which is just great. There’s a slight slap of hops on the end that reminds me of Victory’s Prima Pilsner which is not a bad thing by any means.
It has been quite a long time since a beer from Cypress Brewing made an appearance (December 2018), but this one was worth mentioning. This beer, as the name implies, is Cypress’s take on what a French Toast inspired beer might taste like and this beer mostly succeeds. I like the maple and cinnamon, but I’ve come to realize I don’t care for nutmeg. Aside from how thin the beer was, it was quite good.
So there you have it, a really good selection of beers this month. There were a few clunkers, too, but they weren’t offensive enough to mention.