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…
This post has been brewing for a few months, probably at least as far back as May 2022, when The Tap Takeover celebrated its Fifth Anniversary. I’m referring to The Tap Takeover going on an indefinite hiatus. I don’t know how long that hiatus will be because life gets in the way of the plans we make for ourselves.
When I started the Tap Takeover back in 2017, I wasn’t sure what the long term goal was, other than a hobby with a professional mindset, if that makes sense. I started it with the thought that since I wrote about the books I enjoyed for so many years (SFFWorld, Tor.com, SFSignal, as well as my personal blog) I figured I’d take a stab at writing about the beers I enjoy. On the one hand, writing this blog turned into an educational exercise as I learned more about beer in general, more about why I like certain beers and not others. On the other hand I met a lot of really cool people and feel as if I’ve become more connected in the independent beer scene, especially in New Jersey.
I’ve briefly considered monetizing the site somehow, but usually dismissed those thoughts very quickly. At times, I thought maybe I’d parlay this blog into some kind of paid writing assignments about beer, but that hasn’t quite formed despite some attempts.
I won’t say maintaining the blog has become a chore, but there is time and effort that goes into writing, formatting, and generating the content. I’ve maintained a pretty consistent schedule, I haven’t missed publishing at least one post per week (226 reviews and 178 Draught Diversions) since launching in 2017, and often two posts per week. I’ve been reading blogs for long enough to know for my own personal enjoyment, if there’s not consistent, timely content, then I stop giving attention to that blog/outlet.
I’ll admit that I put pressure on myself with this blog. I’m the owner, lead editor, whatever you call it and I’m not affiliated with any other media outlet or brewery. Building out those monthly six packs of new beers every month, sure it was fun consuming those beers, but it wasn’t always easy to come up with six “new to me beers” beers or new beers for the Summer / Oktoberfest / Christmas seasonally themed six packs. I found myself going out of my way to find something new I hadn’t ever drank just to ensure I was able to have a review or fill a monthly six pack and that the content I was posting was new to this blog. I’d pass up a 4-pack or 6-pack beer I enjoyed in the past in favor of a new beer when determining what to buy in order to have content for this blog based on my personal budget. Again, that’s pressure only from myself to keep to the standards I set early on with this blog. This post is by no means a plea for sympathy, just a rationalization of the state of things.
Have my priorities changed since launching the Triple T? A little bit, sure. I’ve moved up in my career, have been focusing once again (although not as diligently) on fictional writing as well as renewed attention to the book reviewing I’ve been doing for the better part of the last 20 years. If I’m writing a piece for the Tap Takeover, then that’s time I’m not doing something else like attempting to spin my own stories.
Also, unlike the book reviews I write where the majority of the books I review are provided to me by publishers, 95% of the beers I’ve reviewed or featured were beers I purchased. The other 5% were gifts or beer exchanges. Sure, I’d be buying and drinking beer regardless, but like I said previously, I’d go out of my way to get something new to me rather than grabbing an old favorite to buy. That’s good in many ways because trying new things is fun, right? I’m just adding another layer to what goes into publishing a beer blog that maintains a weekly schedule of new content.
Plus, sometimes and more often lately, I just want to drink a beer, enjoy it, and not overanalyze what’s in the can or my glass and write a review about it. There’s only so much one can say about one stout vs. another and I’ve felt myself getting repetitive in my reviews more frequently so I just need a break from this little monster I’ve created. I also sometimes feel like I’m shouting into a vacuum with this blog.
I’ve enjoyed keeping this active for the last 5 and a half years, I really have. I’ll still be filling my fridge with beer, visiting breweries, spending time thinking about beer, but more relaxed and less formally, if you will.
In the end, I’m not sure what’s next for The Tap Takeover. When or if I’ll return from hiatus, but maybe I’ll run into some of you at a brewery or some other beer event in the future.
I’ll still be checking into untappd (RobHB), posting on Instagram (robhbed) (usually one’s beer per week as well as some bookish posts), taking part in the dumpster fire that is currently twitter as RobHBedford, as well as facebook. Connect with me there if you haven’t already and say hi.
I’ll close this post by saying thank you to everybody who has been reading my barely coherent ramblings about beer for the past five and half years and chatting up with me online or in meatspace.
As has been tradition in January here at the Tap Takeover for the previous five years, I present the annual roundup of my favorite new to me beers of the previous calendar year. Why a “12-pack?” Well, everybody does a top 10 list and beer is generally sold in quantities of 6 and 12 packs. This Favorite of the Year 12-pack will feature the highest rated beers I’ve had the previous year. Of the twelve beers, there was only one beer I rated below 4.5 bottle caps on untappd, which is to say that I had some high-quality beers in 2022. This 12-pack is what I deemed as “Best” beers of the 349 unique beers I checked into untappd in 2022, from 126 different breweries. I think in previous years, a few beers I rated at 4.25 bottle caps made the list. According to untappd, I tried 105 different styles of beer, but what probably shouldn’t be a surprise at this point is the style I checked in the most: Pilsner – Czech.
As always, for the purposes of this post New means “New to Me” because a some beers on this list have been around for many, many years, but I had the beer for the first time in 2023.
While I had more beers from NJ breweries this year than probably any other year, only 5 of them make the top 12, which still comprises the dominant State. Again, as in past years, the annual 12-pack could have easily been comprised of 3 or 4 breweries, but the one rule I’ll stick to from past years is allowing only one beer per brewery to appear. That rule made it difficult to whittle down some breweries from whom I’ve had upwards of 10 beers in 2022.
If I’ve done a full review of the beer here at The Tap Takeover, the beer name links to that review, otherwise the beer name links to my untappd check-in for the beer. For the beers that I’ve reviewed, I’ve provided a truncated blurb of my beer review.
Here’s the style breakdown for the 12 beers below:
1 Baltic Porter
1 Dark Lager / Schwarzbier
1 Imperial / Double Oatmeal
1 Imperial / Double
1 Old Ale
1 Pumpkin Beer
1 Farmhouse Ale (Grisette)
Without further adieu, here are the 12 best beers I drank in 2022:
12. John | Bradley Brew Project | Pilsner – German | 4.25 bottle caps
This is the third beer (at the time) I had from Bradley Brew Project and it might be the best one. A clean, crisp, extremely well-crafted interpretation of a German Pilsner. This beer does just about everything correct for the style. There’s a slight lemon/lime presence on the finish, but overall, an excellent beer.
11. Wolfe’s Neck | Maine Beer Company | IPA –American | 4.5 bottle caps
Maine Beer Company makes outstanding IPAs and Wolfe’s Neck is another delicious example. A fantastic blend of hops with a dialed-in hop flavor, great malt character, and and overall, perfectly balanced and elegant profile. This is one of the cleanest IPAs I’ve ever had. Despite Mosaic being one of the main hops in this beer, I still enjoyed this beer quite a lot. The El Dorado and Sabro hops balance out what is normally an unpleasant aftertaste in beers with Mosaic hops for me.
10. Scythe | The Drowned Lands Brewery I Pumpkin / Yam Beer | 4.50 Bottle Caps
Pumpkin beers dominate the shelves from August through October/November to a very overwhelming level. This has; unfortunately, set something of a mark against the style… With Scythe, The Drowned Lands may have crafted an ideal Pumpkin Beer. It has near perfect balance of all the elements, lives up to the “pumpkin pie in a glass” moniker, but is still most certainly a beer. If I’m making a Mount Rushmore of Pumpkin Beers, Scythe would very likely find itself on that mount.
Marshal Zhukov’s is Cigar City’s flagship Stout …and blend two versions, the rum barrel-aged and sherry barrel-aged to create something unique… Since this is an 11.8% stout, I take my time with the beer. Being in a cool bar with a good friend and good food on the way, I was real happy to just relax and enjoy this complex beer…The barrel elements blend into one, dynamic flavor adjunct that is extremely pleasing, the sweetness from the rum barrel is complemented by some of the dried fruit elements in the sherry character. This beer is one of the more unique barrel-aged stouts I’ve ever had…well-worth seeking out.
8. Dew Drop | Oakflower Brewing Company | Farmhouse Ale – Grisette | 4.50 bottle caps
Not many breweries are making Grisettes, let alone making it as one of their first beers available to the public…For a beer to have so much flavor at such a low ABV is very impressive. Even more impressive is that Oakflower was open for just a week when I visited and this beer was on draught. Head brewer/owner Colin McDonough was brewing in small batches for a few years under the Lamington River Brewing banner so he’s got some experience. That said, it often can take time for a brewer to adjust to newer, larger scale equipment and the learning curve here seems non-existent. Dew Drop is the kind of beer I’d expect from a brewery that’s been open a few years, not a couple of weeks.
Old Ales aren’t the most common style of beers, they sit somewhere between Barleywine and an aged Imperial Stout. Beers in this style typically undergo an aging process, sometimes for years, lending a very rich character similar to wine. This particular version from Kane is a blend of Barleywines aged in Willett Bourbon barrels then aged again in Scotch barrels. This is the second release of “Picture in Reverse” I’ve had and it was stunning. There’s a sweetness and boozy element with some heat in the back with the scotch presence pleasantly noticeable on the finish. A complex and delicious ale, one of many beers that proves to me nobody does barrel aging better than Kane.
6. Life Unravaled | Icarus Brewing Company | Barleywine – American | 4.5 Bottle Caps
One of the kinds of beer Icarus is best known for are dark beers/stouts, particularly their barrel-aged beers. This is their first bottled Barleywine and it was fantastic. Aged in bourbon barrels, the sweetness from the barrel plays wonderfully with the Maris Otter Barley and balances out the hops very nicely. I would love to see more Barleywines from Icarus in the future if this is any indication of what they can do with the style.
I am very pleased with my first taste of this beer. There’s a very nice roast character, which is a hallmark of the style. It isn’t overpowering to the point that it is a smoked beer, but just enough to make that element of flavor’s presence known. On my second quaff of the beer, I get something unexpected, yet pleasant – some kind of sweet fruit element. Not sure what specifically, but that element likely comes from the Noble hops. But that sweetness is a great level of complexity in this beer… What I like about the beer is how elegant, well-crafted, and balanced the beer is. I have a very strong appreciation for the level of complexity especially considering the beer is only 5.6% ABV.
I like the beer quite a bit from that first taste and I have a feeling I’m going to enjoy this 500ml bottle over the next hour or so. Moments later, I have a second sip and it is stellar. I start to get a pleasant tingly feeling in my belly when the beer hits, a familiar feeling I associate with good beer… What impresses me the most is the balance in this beer… the more I thought about it, the more I realized the beer had almost no flaws.
3.Straight Jacket | Revolution Brewing Company | Barleywine – English | 4.75 bottle caps
The first word that comes to mind for this beer is smooth…everything about it is delightfully, sinfully, sumptuous, and smooth… The bourbon elements could easily overpower the entire beer and drown out the malt and hops, but here in Straight Jacket the name of the game is accentuation. Each flavor element (hops, malt, barrel) enhances the other elements to a wonderful and delightful degree. I only wish that Revolution distributed this beer (and their other barrel-aged beers) into New Jersey.
As I take further sips, that silky smooth character envelopes my palate like a luxurious blanket. The barrel character emerges more prominently, but *perfectly* accentuates the roasted malts of the beer rather than overpowers the flavor profile. Those elements by themselves would make this a world-class Imperial Stout, but then the Vanuatu Vanilla emerges…. I was totally blown away by this beer.
The pour….is perfection in a mug. Look at that picture above, just a beautiful beer with a thick head atop a bright yellow-gold beer. Tenner was poured just as you’d expect in Plzeň (Pilsen to us Americans) in the Czech Republic… First sip is pure heaven. I get a little bit of foam in that first sip, but the beer itself is everything I could hope to have in a Pilsner beer… without hesitation, I can say this is the best Pilsner (or Pale Lager as our friends in the Czech Republic and Notch might say), I’ve ever had the pleasure of drinking.
Some other notes:
While I visited several breweries in 2022, the list of new-to-me breweries I visited wasn’t quite as lengthy as past years. While many new breweries opened in NJ in 2022, some aren’t exactly close. Additionally, for example, I visited the localest brewery a half dozen times (Readington Brewery), I made 5 trips to Icarus Brewing, I visited the seven breweries on the Hunterdon County Beer Trail and the six breweries on the Skylands Ale Trail. For both of those Beer Trails, I’d visited most of the breweries for the first time in years past and multiple times at that. My favorite brewery that I visited for the first time in 2022 was Notch Brewing’s Brighton, MA taproom. A complete focus on German and Czech Lagers and Ales…right up my alley. That said, here are the breweries I visited for the first time in 2022:
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…
December means Christmas and some annual seasonal returns (I’m looking at you Mad Elf), big stouts, darker lagers, and barrel-aged beauties to warm the cold nights. Speaking of cold nights, New Jersey saw the coldest Christmas in twenty years, with temperatures below freezing after the wind chill was factored. I made two trips to Icarus this month, once for their Yuleapolooza and the second (two days later) for a beer and doughnuts pairing with Purple Glaze Donuts out of Asbury Park. This month’s six pack, will again, feature some expected favorite breweries, plus a few new ones.
Red Tape is another crispy, malty lager from the Framingham brewery. This is Jack’s Abby’s early winter seasonal, meaning it hits shelves in November and is a perfect everyday lager with great flavor at the sweet spot of 5% ABV. This was one of Jack’s Abby’s launch beers and I can understand why it has been in rotation since. I grabbed a four pack for $8.99 and for my money, that’s a damned bargain.
Another month, another Kane beer appears. Considering I picked up 5 different bottles when I visited the brewery on Black Friday, that shouldn’t be a surprise. Evening Bell is Kane’s base Milk Porter and this version underwent an extensive aging process through three different barrels including the holy grail of bourbon, Rip Van Winkle barrels. Smooth, sexy, with hints of vanilla and a strong barrel element, this beer is sublime and delicious.
Samichlaus is a special beer from Austria. Brewed only on St. Nicholas Day December 6 (which lends the beer its Austrian name), the beer is aged for 10 months before being put into bottles for sale. At one point in time, this was the strongest beer in the world at 14.1% ABV. The beer was sweet, very boozy, a little syrupy with stone fruit elements. Very reminiscent of a barleywine in all the right ways.
A colleague was kind enough to give me a four-pack of this as a thank you Christmas gift. There’s a lot of cinnamon in this beer which is one of the things I (and many people) like about the Snickerdoodle Cookie. The lactose brings a nice sweetness to the beer and makes for a tasty Christmas beer
I picked up Icarus’s first bottled barleywine during my July visit to the brewery and I knew I wanted to save it for a special occasion. Tradition in recent years has my father and I sharing a special beer, so here it is. The Marris Otter Barley, a hallmark of the style, shines with a great malt bill. Icarus says there’s a “touch of rye” in the beer and that spiciness comes through slightly on the end with the barrel character balancing out the strong hop profile. A great barleywine that just has me hoping Icarus will brew/bottle more of the style.
Rauchbier is probably one of my least checked-in styles on untapped, it is generally a style towards which I don’t gravitate. But the friend I was with at Jersey Cyclone spoke highly of the beer, so I tired it and liked it! There’s of course a smoky element, but I also get a bit of sweetness, maybe from the malt, maybe from the smoked beechwood? Either way, this was a very tasty beer.
A couple of beers were stinkers this past month, (I was not a fan of this year’s Anchor Christmas Ale, seemed to be brewed with juniper) but mostly really good stuff. I mentioned Mad Elf at the top of the post, but it is worth mentioning again because I had a can I let age for four years and it was absolutely delightful. The cherry element was even more enjoyable.