Beer Review: Von Trapp’s Dunkel

Name: Dunkel
Brewing Company: von Trapp Brewing
Location: Stowe, VT
Style: Lager – Munich Dunkel
ABV: 5.7%

A classic style of German Lager interpreted deliciously by the Vermont brewery with Old World traditions.

From Von Trapp’s beers page:

Creamy, toffee aromas balance the bitterness of Munich malts in our roasted brown lager. Although dark in color, Dunkel is medium in body and finishes dry and clean, resulting in a rich lager that can be enjoyed throughout the year.

With my trend towards Lagers over the past few months, I’ve been wanting to highlight one of the lagers from Von Trapp Brewing (yes, that Von Trapp Family) who brew traditional Austrian/German Lagers. I’d had a few of their beers over the past couple of years, but this Dark Lager is one that eluded and intrigued me. I haven’t had too many beers of this style – Munich Dark Lager – usually preferring a Dopplebock or a Dunkelweizen for my dark German-style beers. I wanted to feature this beer specifically because I wanted to try something different, I like Lagers, and I like featuring styles that deserve more attention when I can. Of course, I didn’t know if I would enjoy the beer, but having enjoyed Von Trapp’s Helles and Pilsner in the past, I knew I was getting 2 beers I’d enjoy in their Variety Pack, and since the Dunkel was in it and I wanted to try the beer, I grabbed said Variety Pack.

So, let’s dive into the beer simply called Dunkel

The Munich Dark/Dunkel Lager is far from a popular style here in the states, although I’ve been seeing a few from local breweries as of late. As the name would imply, it is popular in Munich, Germany and a style with deep history. The Von Trapp is a family with history and their lodge in Vermont began brewing in 2010 with this Dunkel as one of their year-round beers.

Crack of the can, pour of the beer. Not black, but a nice dark brown. In the glass, Dunkel looks really appealing for this dark beer lover. Aroma … I did not get too much off the aroma, maybe a little sweetness? First taste … it tastes like a lager, but then more of the malt characteristics come through.

The malt utilized by Von Trapp in this beer imparts a tasty sweetness that evokes notes of caramel/toffee and chocolate. Not a chocolate bomb like River Horse’s Chocolate Porter, but rather subtle hints of the chocolate. Chocolate isn’t used in the brewing of the beer so all those sweet flavors come from the malts themselves which even further highlights the quality of the beer and brewers at Von Trapp. The beer finishes with a very important element – enough great flavor that made me want more. It finishes with a slight roast and a very pleasant sweetness. Unlike most lagers, but like darker beers, letting the beer get just a little closer to room temperature benefits the overall flavor.

An equivalent beer on the Ale side of the brewing spectrum would probably be a Brown Ale, as both it and Munich Dunkel are very similar in color and flavor profile. A pretty popular/easily available Brown Ale that compares favorably is Bell’s Best Brown so if you like Bell’s Best Brown, you’d likely enjoy Von Trapp’s Dunkel.

I appreciate that Von Trapp simply went with “Dunkel” as the name rather than a quirky “clever” name for the beer. The can art/label is equally straightforward, with the horned goat for the Von Trapp logo and the beer title in an attractive font does making for eye-catching can. You know what you’re getting. A straight-forward name for a beer that is also straightforward delicious. I haven’t had enough Munich Dunkels (only a taster of Spaten’s at a beer festival) so I don’t have a good comparison. As a flavorful Lager, I really liked it and hope I can find some six packs of this one near me because it works perfectly in cooler fall months, but is balanced enough to be an every-day/year round lager.

Highly recommended, link to 4.25 bottle-cap Untappd check in.

 

Beer Review: Firestone Walker’s Old Man Hattan

Name: Old Man Hattan
Brewing Company: Firestone Walker Brewing Company
Location: Paso Robles, CA
Style: Strong Ale – American
ABV: 9.6%

A potent beer evoking two popular potent bourbon-based cocktails makes for a complex and tasty slow-sipping dark ale.

From Firestone Walker’s landing page for this beer:

A barrel-aged mashup of two classic cocktails: the Old Fashioned and the Manhattan.

This inaugural Proprietor’s Vintage release features a blend of five notable Firestone Walker beers, including select lots of Parabola and Helldorado aged in cherry, orange and aromatic bitters barrels.

The result is a barnstorming beer that exhibits pronounced whiskey notes while artfully expressing essences of both the Old Fashioned and the Manhattan cocktails.

Originally conceived as a brewery-only Black Friday release, Old Man Hattan now makes its Proprietor’s Vintage debut due to popular demand.

I’ve been wanting to feature a beer from Firestone Walker on here for a while. Granted, one of their beers (Nitro Merlin Milk Stout) was the second beer I ever reviewed here at the Tap Takeover, but their barrel aging program and blending programs are arguably the best/most respected in the country, whether those beers are on the sour side or on the big stout/dark ale side.

The beers in this “Proprietor’s Vintage” aren’t always the most widely distributed or easiest to find, and when they do appear on shelves they don’t last for long. I’d been hoping to get a bottle of this one specifically given that part of the aim of Firestone Walker in brewing this beer is to evoke the classic “Old Fashioned” drink, my favorite cocktail. So, let’s get into it, shall we?

The beer pours dark, maybe a very deep brown, maybe black, maybe even dark burnt sienna. In one of the lights in my house, I can almost see a deep reddish brown. The aroma is strongly of beer, strongly of the bourbon, and of the bitters. At least from the aroma perspective, I’m getting the evocation of the Old Fashioned and Manhattan Firestone was aiming to evoke. So far, so good.

That first sip sure is interesting, I don’t quite think I’ve had a beer like this before. That’s good, by the way, because I like what I’m tasting. More of the beer proves the same. The beer elements remind me of a stout, but not quite as heavy on the roasted malts as a stout. I’d expect some roasted malts from a Russian Imperial Stout (Parabola) and maybe hops from a Barleywine (Helldorado), the two styles of beer which comprise this blend. Again, the absence of the strong roasted malts isn’t bad. The hop presence is mild, too. I get a little bit of hops, but not overpowering. The beer elements are there, bottom line.

What does come through are the whiskey/bourbon elements from the aging of the two base beers. I also strongly get fruit elements from the bitters barrels, cherry and orange most strongly. The beer finishes its journey through my palate with the same little pep that an Old Fashioned does. A great flavor finish that encourages careful and thoughtful consumption, rather than quickly throwing back the beer.

This beer is a great example of how complex flavors can be coaxed into beer through innovative brewing, blending, and barreling methods. I’ve had two of these boxed barrel aged beers from Firestone Walker and now I want to give more of them a try, particularly the beers blended to make this beer. Ten bucks for a 12oz beer, but you’re getting a beer bottled in very limited quantities (3,000, I think) and a beer that has undergone an extensive aging/blending process to get to what is in the bottle. It is also clocking in at just under 10% ABV, so the price is more than justified and well worth trying.

Highly recommended, link to 4.25 bottle-cap Untappd check in.

Untapped badges earned with this beer:

Iron Man(Level 8)

You don’t have to be a superhero to enjoy a strong beer. Boasting a higher than average ABV, these styles really do pack a punch, so be ready for it. That’s 40 different beers with style of Strong Ale – American, Strong Ale – English, Strong Ale – Other, Belgian Strong Dark Ale, Belgian Strong Golden Ale or Lager – Euro Strong.

Draught Diversions: September 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…

The weather is supposed to begin getting cooler in September, but there were quite a few days in the 80s in New Jersey. Oktoberfest begins in Sepember and the darker beers become more prevalent in my fridge. This month features more NJ beers than the usual half split since New Jersey Craft Beer Week fell in the middle of the month. That, coupled with going for some “old reliable” Oktoberfest beers (plus a couple already highlighted in this year’s Oktoberfest feature and I didn’t want to double dip) made for a mostly NJ six pack this time around.

Oktoberfest – Bitburger Braugruppe (2019) (Sierra Nevada Brewing Company) | Märzen | 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

Sierra Nevada continues its annual Oktoberfest tradition of collaborating with a German Brewery. I’ve liked all the collaborations they’ve brewed, this one might be near the top of the list. A great malt flavor, nice crisp finish, and very refreshing. My only problem with the beer is that I wasn’t eating a bratwurst while drinking the beer.

Flood (Jersey Cyclone Brewing Company) | Stout – Imperial / Double | 4.50 bottle Caps on untappd

I realize I mentioned this beer on my Brewery review of Jersey Cyclone, but even a couple of weeks later this beer stands out to me. An absolute delight of a brew, a perfectly balanced Imperial Stout whose flavors are drawn from the core four ingredients with no adjuncts. If I’m going for an Imperial Stout that isn’t aged in a barrel, Flood is exactly what I’d want.

XPA Citra Pale Ale (Flying Fish Brewing Brewery Co) | Pale Ale – American | 3.75 Bottle Caps on untappd

Over the last couple of years, the venerable Flying Fish has been updating their look and some of their beers. Their can art has come a long ways from where it was a couple of years ago and this beer is an update to their original Pale Ale I really liked how the Citra hops were featured in the beer. This could be a nice every-day pale ale.


The Lawman
(Czig Meister Brewing Brewery Co) | Hefeweizen | 3.75 Bottle Caps on untappd

Czig Meister’s Hefeweizen was really tasty, it leaned more on the clove/spicy spectrum of Hefeweizens than the banana-bubblegum flavors. Not a bad thing, in fact a very solid Hefeweizen. For all the attention their many IPAs get, their old school standards are really nice, too

The Hook (Carton Brewing Company) | Pale Ale – American | 4 bottle Caps on untappd

Been a while since Carton featured here and this is a beer I’d been wanting to try for a while. Carton calls it a “Late Hopped Wheated Pale Ale” and I was super happy to see it on the menu Twenty/20 Taphouse. One of my favorite hops, Vic Secret, shines in this one with its citrusy profile. Great stuff and a fine example of a perfectly balanced hazy, hop forward ale. I didn’t want to snap a picture of the beer during dinner, but it had the look of a hazy pale, which is exactly what it is.

Velvet Fjord (Icarus Brewing Company) | IPA – Milkshake | 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

This might be the coolest can art I’ve seen in a long time.

This one just made it under the buzzer, so to speak. I was part of another beer/bottle share with some work friends (my contribution was La Trappe’s Quadrupel, which was well-received) and one of the other participants brought a four pack of this beer. He happens to live very close to Icarus which was fortunate for all of us. He was kind enough to let me have one of the cans he brought and what I tasted on the bottle share was even more evident in a full beer – this is a delicious, sweet IPA. Lots of hops, a bunch of lactose and vanilla on the finish made for a really good beer. Plus that magic Kviek Yeast many brewers have begun using as it is a hot commodity in the beer world.

Other odds and ends…
An old favorite, a new not favorite

I returned to an Oktoberfest beer I haven’t had in a few years, Victory’s Festbier which was just as good as I recall it being. I’ve got to stick to some of the classics and not be hesitate when I’ inclined to go for old favorites beers every now and again. Unfortunately, a beer I had high hopes for seriously disappointed me – Bomb! from Prairie Artisan Ales. This is an Imperial Stout with coffee, vanilla, cocoa, and peppers. I usually like those spicy stouts, but this one may have been a bad batch. I couldn’t even finish the beer..

American Craft Beer Classic: Allagash White

I realized it has been far too long since I did an American Craft Beer Classic post, but like the most recent one back in January, this post features a Belgian-inspired beer. Perhaps the most well-regarded and well-known Belgian-inspired beer. It is the beer that is easily the most accessible of American Craft/Independent beers, and despite the ubiquitous nature of the beer, an absolute delight to drink. I think many will agree: Allagash White is the standard bearer for Belgian Witbiers. Full stop.

It was 1995 and American Craft/Independent Brewing was in its infancy. Samuel Adams’ Boston Lager, Pete’s Wicked Ale (that’s a whole story in and of itself), Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, and Widmer Brothers were probably the most prominent non-macro beers in stores and in bars: a Vienna Lager, a Brown Ale, a hoppy Pale Ale, and  a Hefeweizen. Breweries like New Belgium, Yards, and Dogfish Head were still in their infancy and Bell’s Brewery hadn’t yet reached their current size. Victory Brewing, Stone Brewing, Tröegs Brewing had yet to open. Breweries were focusing on beers more along the Germanic and British branches of the brewing tree. Enter Rob Tod and Allagash Brewing with their focus on Belgian inspired styles, something very few breweries outside of Cooperstown, NY were doing at the time.

Let’s just quickly look at that again: This beer has been part of the beer landscape for nearly 25 years and it has remain largely unchanged. That is one clear indicator of the beer’s quality even if the beer itself is not exactly clear. Out of the bottle, it pours a very bright, but hazy straw yellow. Not exactly white, granted, but compared to a golden yellow pilsner, an amber-hued lager or IPA, or a stout, the beer is as close to white as a beer can get. Like many wheat beers, this one is unfiltered and the instructions on the bottle and can indicate that you swirl and dump the sediment, which adds to the cloudy straw color. The look of the beer, with a white head, pops wherever it sits and the look combined with the aroma seductively whispers to the beholder, “Drink me.”

Image courtesy of Allagash Brewing’s website

From a style perspective, the Witbier itself is a very versatile beer.  Like a pilsner, a Witbier is fairly straightforward and when done well, is extremely flavorful. That flavor profile won’t conflict with many foods and compliments just about any meal. Yet there’s a beautiful balance to Allagash’s take on the style from the hints of clove, a bit of coriander, and the all-important wheat that puts the Wit in Witbier.

At 5.2% ABV, the “versatility” of Allagash White is even more evident. That relatively lower amount of alcohol allows the beer to be a sessionable ale you can enjoy throughout the day at a pool party, barbeque, a cool fall festival and through the night by the fire pit. Allagash says this about the beer on their web site:

Our interpretation of a Belgian-style wheat beer is brewed with oats, malted wheat, and unmalted raw wheat for a hazy, “white” appearance. Spiced with our own special blend of coriander and Curaçao orange peel, Allagash White is both complex and refreshing.

Though it’s brewed in Maine, the recipe sticks to its Belgian roots. We’ve worked hard to make sure that the Allagash White in your hand tastes the same as it did back in 1995, when Rob Tod brewed the first batch.

Most breweries will include a Witbier in their portfolio, it is a classic style and a style that has been elevated to one of the standards largely because of Allagash White. Over the last 5 years or so, I’ve had close to 100 different Witbiers and few come close to the delicious elegance of the American progenitor of the style. So many people who write about beer, work in beer, and love beer have espoused the greatness and elegance of the beer. On a great list on FoodandWine.com, Allagash White was listed as the fourth most important American Craft Beer ever brewed. Numbers 3 to 1 on that list being Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout, Samuel Adams Boston Lager, and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. Honestly, I’d be hard pressed to argue those slots except maybe I’d swap Bourbon County and Allagash White largely because White is a more approachable and far more readily available. Noted Beer writer Josh Noel gave the beer a great write up a few years back and even recently said on Twitter that Allagash White is the beer he’d hand somebody to introduce said person to Craft Beer.

According to this Vine Pair article from September 2017, about 80% of Allagash’s output is White and I doubt that number has shifted significantly in two years. It is the beer that pays the bills, the beer most associated with the brewery, it is the flagship beer. Allagash White is absolutely delicious. One could argue that Allagash White is more than just the brewery’s flagship, it is a flagship for American Craft Beer as a whole. Most bars around me in NJ have it available, either on draft or in bottles. EVERY beer shop carries it. Maybe for that reason, I sort of overlooked the beer for a little while. But earlier in the year, I was out at dinner and the selections on tap were very limited, a few macro beers and Allagash White and a Dogfish 60 Minute. Opting for a less hoppy beer, I went with White. It was a re-revelation. Sure I’d had the beer a few times over the years, but since I last had it and that instance, I’d had many different beers. Taking a long sip of the beer brought me back, made me realize how elegant the beer is.

Allagash has often set their own trends, they’ve helped the beer community to embrace Belgian inspired ales across that particular spectrum. However, Allagash succumbed to a trend themselves when they finally decided to put White into 16oz cans. To say it was a bit of news in the beer world and was met with excitement, is an understatement. Especially in their location (New England) which is where arguably the most popular style at the moment was born (Hazy IPAs, packaged in 16oz cans).

Image courtesy of Allagash Brewing’s website

Although I mentioned this in my August post about breweries to visit, it is worth mentioning again. Rob Tod was recently awarded the prestigious James Beard Award, specifically, the 2019 Outstanding Wine, Spirits, or Beer Producer. He’s only the 4th beer person to receive the award. It all started with Allagash White and persistence.

Like Josh Noel, I don’t know that I can think of a singular beer to hand to a person as their introduction to complex, elegant possibilities of craft beer. 20+ years of an unchanged recipe and you’ve got a masterpiece that should absolutely not be overlooked because of how easy it is to find.

More than any of the other beers I’ve mentioned in these “American Craft Classics” posts (or on this blog as a whole), Allagash is objectively an inarguable definitive classic of American brewing.

Draught Diversions: NJ Shelf of Honor Six Pack #1 (Draught Diversion #100!)

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…

Here we are at the end of my “celebration” of New Jersey Craft Beer Week with the 100th Draught Diversion post. I was planning on doing this specific post – the first of my personal Shelf of Honor for NJ beers as my 100th Draught Diversion so it was very serendipitous that the numbers aligned so I could present this post during New Jersey Craft Beer Week. In some of my reviews of NJ beers, I’ve mentioned a Shelf of Essential NJ Beers or that the beer under review would be in my personal NJ Hall of Fame beer. Now that I’m actually starting a six pack of those beers, I’m officially labeling it the “NJ Shelf of Honor” for beers that are essential or deserve a shelf in everybody’s fridge at some point. I will probably be putting together Shelf of Honor six packs in the future, maybe even a “Shelf of Honor” specific to a style or a brewery so consider this first of a series. Some of the beers in these posts will have been featured in a monthly Six Pack or a full review.

In the event I need to state the obvious – this is all my opinion about the beers I enjoy. I’m sure if you ask a dozen people in NJ what they’d consider a “first ballot for their NJ Shelf of Honor” there would be plenty of different beers in those six packs with only a little bit of overlap and maybe only at the brewery level and not at the specific beer level. As per usual, beers are listed alphabetically by brewery

Devil’s Reach | Belgian Strong Golden Ale | Cape May Brewing Company | Cape May, NJ | 8.6% ABV | Featured in the April 2016 Six Pack on the Tap Takeover

Over the last couple of years of drinking their beers, I’ve come to realize Cape May Brewing Company can do almost no wrong in my book. I’m sure regular readers of my blog are weary of reading my words expounding the virtues of the second largest brewery in NJ. The majority of what they brew is on the hoppier Pale Ale/IPA side of the beer spectrum, but this beer is, in my opinion, a world class ale. Like the best of Belgian inspired beers, the delicious magic of Devil’s Reach comes from the Belgian-style yeast so critical to the beer’s flavor. According to this blog post from CMBC, the beer is virtually unchanged since it was first brewed. I find it extremely impressive that they were able to brew this good of a beer on their first batch. This beer is most similar to the world-renowned Delirium Tremens. I’ll say I like Devil’s Reach more.

Regular Coffee | Imperial Cream Ale | Carton Brewing Company | Atlantic Highlands, NJ | 12% ABV

Two of the “Irregular” Coffee family members in the back

I’ve probably mentioned Carton on this blog as much as any other brewery (and more than most) and when mulling over what beer from the brewery to include I wavered between a few. Of course Boat was one (a nearly style defining beer), their fantastic Helles Lager This Town was another, and this one, Regular Coffee. I settled on Regular Coffee for a few reasons. One, it is the first Carton beer I had. Second, it is a beer that has become nearly synonymous with the brewery. Not as readily available as some of the other beers on this list (or even their own flagship Boat), but is a beer that has become a brand family within the brewery and something of an iconic beer of NJ Craft/Independent Brewing. Around New Year’s Day every year, Carton releases this beer and/or a variant with some flavors added, one year was Irish Coffee, meant to emulate the whiskey and/or mint infused coffee with maybe the best being Café Y. Churro which emulates Mexican Coffee. But Regular Coffee is the beer that started it all for the brand within a brand and my experience and dedication to the beers made by Augie Carton and crew.

Mexican Morning | Stout – Milk / Sweet | Conclave Brewing Company | Raritan/Flemington Township, NJ | 5.5% ABV

Conclave having a beer on this list is probably not a surprise to readers of the Tap Takeover and this beer is one that has attained some national recognition for its uniqueness. Conclave is the smallest brewery on this six pack and this beer is associated with the brewery the same way Regular Coffee is with Carton. Mexican Morning starts as Milk Stout but during the brewing process cinnamon, vanilla, cacao, coffee, and chili peppers are added. This beer deliciously evokes spicy Mexican coffee and is a beer I will have every single time it is available at Conclave when I visit. It isn’t brewed often enough to be on draft year round, largely because of the price of the ingredients and complexity of the brewing process, but it is absolutely delicious. When it is brewed, it is usually only available for pours at the brewery and not for growler fills. Once or twice Conclave has barrel aged the beer and that version is even more rare, but just maybe the best barrel-aged beer I can recall enjoying.

Overhead | India Pale Ale – Imperial / Double | Kane Brewing Company | Ocean, NJ | ABV 8.2% | Featured in the June 2019 Six Pack on the Tap Takeover

Kane has consistently been ranked as the best brewery in New Jersey for the past half-decade or so. This is a brewery that does EVERY style it attempts with a level of quality unparalleled by few other breweries. I knew I’d have to include one of their beers on this list, but I wasn’t sure which one, initially. Despite their amazing Quadrupels, I wanted to include a beer that is a little more accessible and this beer is probably the most accessible and easiest to find of all their beers – Kane started self-distributing 4-pack cans of this beer over the last year or so. The quality of the beer, oh boy oh boy.

As has been documented, only in the last year and half have I come to appreciate, enjoy, and seek out IPAs so I sort of avoided this beer for a long time. Now that I enjoy the hop heavy beers, I truly appreciate the outstanding nature of this beer. I’d say this is not just the best Imperial IPA out of NJ, but you maybe a top Imperial IPA in the country (Disclaimer, I haven’t had Pliny the Elder, for example). But this beer reminds me very much of Dogfish Head’s 90-Minute IPA, the nationally available standard bearer for Imperial/Double IPAs. Kane’s take is at least as good and an outstanding beer.

Blonde Hefe-Weizen | Hefeweizen | Ramstein/High Point Brewing Company | Butler, NJ | 5.5% ABV | Review on the Tap Takeover (May 2019)

I’d be hard pressed not to include a beer from Ramstein on a list like this one – I love German style beers and Ramstein is one of the originals of NJ Beer and Brewing. Good thing they make an absolute World-Class Hefeweizen – one of my favorite styles – in their line up. This beer is arguably one of the best American Hefeweizens and undoubtedly the best Hefeweizen brewed in New Jersey. Although I reviewed it very recently, this was a beer I’ve had quite a few times even before I joined untappd.

I would recommend this beer without hesitation as a great, flavorful example of a beer brewed with German ingredients (most of the hops, malt, and yeast used by High Point Brewing( are imported from Germany), in German tradition and process (Greg honed his brewing technique in Germany), with some American flare.

Chocolate Porter | Porter – Other | River Horse Brewing Company | Ewing, NJ | 6.5% ABV | Review on the Tap Takeover (February 2018)

River Horse is another one of the Originals of NJ Craft Brewing, having brewed beer for over 20 years. Some changes about a decade ago and a greater push in recent years to brew more beers and more eye-catching labels have kept the brewery a constant. Their Chocolate Porter isn’t the oldest beer in their lineup, nor is it one of the new ones, and it isn’t their flagship, (that would be their award winning Tripel Horse) but it is one of the more well-received beers and has been around for about five years. It is my favorite beer they brew and one I will always grab when I see on shelves. Stylistically, the beer sits right on the edge of the “Pastry Stout” craze: it is sweet, but it is still most definitely a beer. I reviewed it back in February 2018.

From my review: some porters are a little on the smoky side, this one is not. The “one pound of chocolate per barrel” sweetens the beer and eliminates some of that bitter smoke/roast flavor. If anything, the roast/smoke is akin to the edges of a freshly baked brownie, but the overall flavor, if we’re continuing with the brownie analogy, is like the gooey, slightly underbaked deliciousness of the center of the brownie but still retaining all the elements of a beer.

So, there you have it, six beers I feel Honorably represent the State of New Jersey and what the Garden State has to offer in beer. There are over 100 breweries in the state now so six beers is just the start of what could be a long and filled shelf of delicious beer.

 

Beer Review: Three 3’s Blueberry Saison

Name: Blueberry Saison
Brewing Company: Three 3’s Brewing Company
Location: Hammonton, NJ
Style: Farmhouse – Saison
ABV: 5.8%

A Farmhouse beer from the Garden State featuring an iconic fruit from the State makes for a fun, flavorful beer.

From Three 3’s page for their beers:

This classic light bodied Saison is flavored with mosaic hops and then conditioned on a truckload of local Hammonton Blueberries, creating a beautifully colored farmhouse ale! Bright colored, crisp, and juicy… With just a little bit of bite! The perfect summer beer!

Few fruits are as associated with New Jersey as the tasty and tart blueberry. After all, the blueberry is the State Fruit of New Jersey. As it so happens, Hammonton, New Jersey, home of Three 3’s brewing, is the “Blueberry Capital of the World,” so when I saw this beer available in stores around me, I figured what better beer to feature/review during New Jersey Craft Beer Week. The imagery on the label evokes the “Welcome to Hammonton” sign emblazoned with “Blueberry Capital of the World,” which is a really nice touch.

Three 3’s is one of a triumvirate of breweries in Hammonton and the brewery whose beers I’ve seen most often in my area so I was especially pleased to see something this interesting on the shelf. I like blueberries quite a bit, they are one of my favorite fruits.  Adding blueberries to a Saison would be a logical pairing. Given those ideas, does the theory prove out in the beer itself?

The beer pours a bluish-reddish-purplish, as you might expect. Think a slightly lighter and hazier version of what blueberry or cranberry blueberry juice would look like with carbonation and a head, of course. Aroma is blueberry with a bit of tanginess intermingled with the earthy flavors associated with Saisons. Nothing unexpected in what is wafting from the glass of beer through my nose into my palate.

First sip leads me to think the taste follows the nose. More sips proves that out to be true. On the front end of the beer, there is a large amount of blueberry. This is great because as I said, I like blueberries. I think the yeast and bready elements inherent in the beer evoke thoughts of blueberry pie in my palate memory. Because blueberries are a tangy and sweet fruit, the beer has nice amount of zing, too. Not sour like a gose, but the pleasant tartness natural to blueberries.

This saison leans a bit on the earthier side, with a bit of an aftertaste. That’s about my only issue with the beer, but that’s more of a personal preference on saisons that exhibit this kind of aftertaste. In that sense, my instinct tells me this is a well-made beer. Before posting this review, I wanted a second take on the beer. The first can, I enjoyed all by itself, with no food accompaniment. The following night, I had the beer with the usual pizza my wife and I get on Fridays and I was surprised that I enjoyed the beer even more. It seemed like more blueberry was present, or my palate was in a slightly different place a day later. Either way, Blueberry Saison from Three 3’s is a top notch saison that is made more flavorful with the local fruit shining as a smart additive.

This is a great beer to represent NJ and NJ’s claim as the Garden State that puts the Official State Fruit on full display. Saisons, with the moniker of Farmhouse Ale is a logical beer to be brewed in Garden State, throw in a fruit (Blueberry) that 100% exemplifies the region of the fruit and few beers may as deliciously shout New Jersey as much as Three 3’s Blueberry Saison. In short, a beer well-worth trying.

Recommended, link to Untappd post. I initially gave this beer 3.75 rating, which translates to a beer I’d want again and happily buy again. After the second can the following night, I’d give this one a 4-bottle cap rating.

Untapped badges earned with this beer:

Trip to the Farm (Level 9)

You have a keen taste for this Belgian masterpiece. Did you know the Saison style beer was invented by Belgian farms, brewed in the Winter and served the Spring / Summer to all their workers? Well now you do! That’s 45 different Saisons.

 

Draught Diversions: Jersey Cyclone Brewing (Somerset, NJ)

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…

Continuing the celebration of Jersey Beer Week at the Tap Takeover, I wanted to feature a new brewery that opened up very close to me. I know the majority of these brewery visits/posts feature New Jersey breweries, so what better week to feature a new New Jersey Brewery than this week?

A pint of one of their first beers, Quarter Off Kölsch in front of the brewery’s cool logo

With the growing number of breweries in New Jersey, location can be everything. Timing helps, too. Jersey Cyclone Brewing Company opened in Franklin Township/Somerset, New Jersey on May 4, 2019 marking the third brewery to open in Somerset County, NJ. I’ve visited four times since they opened, once was a brief stop in for a growler fill of their delicious Helles Lager, Beach Blonde Lager, which I reviewed back in June. So I figured after my most recent visit, and this week being New Jersey Craft Beer Week, I should do a feature on the brewery here at The Tap Takeover.

A sign from the streets points you to a storm, a Cyclone, you’ll definitely want to visit

A familiar origin story for Jersey Cyclone, friends and owners Jan Chwiedosiuk and Brian Teel were home brewers. Their road to opening Jersey Cyclone, like many new small business, hit some bumps. The idea for opening a brewery began around the time Super Storm Sandy hit New Jersey back in 2011. After a few years and a few potential spots not working out for Brian and Jan, they settled into their current location on World’s Fair Drive in Somerset, NJ. The location is very centrally located off of route 287, a few of miles from the main campus of Rutgers University in New Brunswick. Even better for me is that I work around the block from the brewery. I found it very interesting to watch the progression of the brewery’s build out through social media, so I was very happy to be able to visit the brewery on their grand opening on May 4, 2019, which was also Star Wars Day (May The Fourth Be With You).

Tap list at Jersey Cyclone during their grand opening

During that visit, the brewery was extremely busy and filled with patrons glad to have a new brewery in their area especially with Demented Brewing (formerly located about a mile or two away) having closed a couple of weeks prior. Additionally, the NJ Brewing/Beer Community is, of course, always happy to check out a new brewery especially at the grand opening. While the region (Somerset/Middlesex County NJ) isn’t absent of breweries, it isn’t quite the destination spot at the moment that Hammonton or Hacketstown are with a few breweries within walking distance of each other. The closest breweries to Jersey Cyclone are the Harvest Moon brewpub in downtown New Brunswick, Flounder Brewing in Hillsborough and Cypress Brewing in Edison. All four can easily be done in one day, but some driving will definitely be required.

I was very impressed during that Grand Opening – the brewery/tap room was pretty packed when I arrived in the early afternoon. The owners and brewers took their time with everybody who approached them, never gave off a sense that they were rushed or overly nervous. They did everything correctly in other words. I briefly spoke to Jan and Mike that day and spent a little more time speaking with Charles, the brewer. All three gentlemen were friendly and excited, as they should be. Charles mentioned that he wanted to feature a lager in the near future. With the longer brew time for a lager, a lager wasn’t quite ready for opening day, but what I had was very impressive. I started with the Kölsch, which I found to be nearly perfect. It was a warm day and the crisp, flavorful ale that’s almost a lager hit the spot. Everything I like about a Kölsch was present in their take, which they call Quarter off Kölsch. I had a full pour/pint of it. The other beer I had was a variant of their Snowtober Porter, with Vanilla and Coconut. Some beers with Coconut are overpowered with Coconut drowning out all other flavors. Not this one, the flavor was there, but dialed in and in harmony with everything else.

Let me talk about their approach and roll out of beers. Some breweries come out of the gate very aggressively with 12 taps and 12 different beers. Jan, Mike, and Charles went with a more measured approach, and one that in the long run, I think will pay off nicely for them and their customers. 8 beers were served opening weekend: Four variants of Snowtober (i.e. a Coconut, a coffee, etc), three variants of their flagship IPA Eye of the Storm, each highlighting a different hop, and the aforementioned Kölsch. For me, that says they are focusing their efforts in an attempt to be as precise as possible. Sure there are 8 beers on that taplist, but it is really three beers at their base.

An interesting water fountain.

The interior of the brewery is beautifully designed and very roomy with plenty of space where the brewing happens with room to expand. From the exterior, you’d be surprised how much space is inside the brewery and taproom. The tables are constructed from locally sourced white oak built by Jan and Brian. A water fountain is made from a re-purposed fire hydrant from the Middlesex Water Company from the early 1950s. Jan spent much of his career as the director of distribution for the Middlesex Water Company and this is a very cool homage and a great functional, conversation piece. How many breweries dispense their drinking water through a fire hydrant? Not many, I’d venture to guess. About the only criticism I can level is that the taproom could use some more lighting and/or brighter lighting.

Since getting that glass, it has become a favorite

There were couple of other nice elements in the experience of the tap room. I mentioned in my review of Beach Blonde Lager that Jan meticulously wiped down my growler with a water bottle. The servers/bartenders did the same for each pour in the taproom. I had the chance to speak with bartender Keith for a bit about the brewery, some of their plans, their approach and beer in NJ in general. From my conversation, it sounded very much like Keith was quite happy to be part of Jersey Cyclone. What all of this amounts to is that Jersey Cyclone is a welcoming, inviting place to enjoy good beer and conversation.

A 10.5 oz pour of Franklin Double, a very tasty Imperial IPA

On my second visit I only had a full pour of Franklin Double, their flagship Imperial/Double IPA. This is a classic Imperial IPA with a lot of hop bite, but with enough malt to balance out the beer so that it is approachable. Third visit entailed the copiously linked and noted growler fill of Beach Blonde Lager.

Compare this tap list to day one. It looks much better and features 8 unique beers.

The fourth visit was the most recent, and a few things stood out. While the taplist still consists of 8 beers, the taplist is more diverse. The 8 total beers includes two saisons/farmhouse ales, a pilsner, an imperial stout, an imperial porter, an Imperial IPA, an Imperial NEIPA, and a Pale Ale. Not a bad representation of different styles. The menu, from a font/physical standpoint, looks better, too. Thought and a bit of whimsy went into how they represent each beer on their taplist. The taproom looked just as clean and nice (but still a little too dark). On that Saturday evening, there were quite a few people and some patrons had pizza delivered.

New World Pilsner. Blurry, clearly not my best photo.

On to the two beers I had most recently. I’ve come to love Pilsners and I was very happy to see a new Pilsner on draught. New World Pilsner is a dry-hopped Pilsner that reminded me quite a bit of Victory’s Home Grown Lager, also a dry-hopped lager. It was refreshing, tasty, but a little more hoppy than I expect from a Pilsner. The next beer…oooh the next beer was Flood, an Imperial Stout that was brewed a couple of weeks prior to my visit. My picture below doesn’t quite capture the colors as well as I’d like, but the khaki head and deep blackness of the beer itself is *exactly* what I want to see in my Imperial Stout. The beer had a very pleasant aroma of chocolate malt and some hops. The beer tastes delicious, a nearly perfect take on an Imperial Stout. What I learned after speaking to Keith and what I really like is that there are no adjuncts, no coffee, no chocolate, just the core four ingredients of beer. To continue the comparisons, my taste memory for this beer kept returning to Sierra Nevada’s Narwhal – great roasted malt with a potent, yet unobtrusive hop bite at the end. For me, this is the best beer I’ve had from them so far. In my conversation with Keith, we both thought this would be a good beer for barrel aging.

10.5 oz pour of Flood

As has become a little evident, there’s a stormy/weather theme to many of the beers, as is appropriate with the impact Superstorm Sandy had on the region and the brewery itself. Flood is pretty obvious, the Cloudy/Hazy New England IPA is aptly named Storm Cloud, the standard IPA is called Eye of the Storm, the Pale Ale goes by Pier Pressure, the Imperial Porter goes by Snowtober, and the Saison with Hibiscus goes by Red Skies at Night.

In three and a half (I didn’t stay long for the Growler fill) visits over the course of 5 months, it seems to me that Jersey Cyclone is doing all the right things a new brewery should do. They opened with quality beer on May 4, they’ve been largely well-received by the community, and their quality and output improves. Jersey Cyclone has also recently expanded the hours of operation, opening earlier (3PM as opposed to 5PM on Friday), with the brewery adding Wednesday and Thursday hours. That tells me their beer is selling and people want to visit Jersey Cyclone. One thing that I was very pleased with is something I alluded to at the beginning of this post – Jersey Cyclone will always have a lager available. They didn’t immediately have their lager ready, but since Beach Blonde Lager has been on tap, the plan is to always have a lager of some kind. Right now the New World Pilsner fits that bill and soon a Dopplebock (a style I love) will be tapped.

It has been only about four months since Jersey Cyclone has opened but they are laying down a nice trajectory for the growth and maturity. Local places have been featuring some of their beer on draught including a favorite NJ Spot which I’ve mentioned previously – the Stirling Hotel. Jersey Cyclone has been making the round local beer festivals, too. Hopefully their growth continues and we can maybe see some bottles or cans from these folks. I know I feel very fortunate to have a brewery of this quality this close to my house and where I work. I’ve said this often about the breweries I’ve highlighted but repeating it makes it no less true – Jersey Cyclone is well worth the visit.

Jersey Cyclone Brewing Web site | Instagram | Facebook | Jersey Cyclone Brewing on NewJerseyCraftBeer.com | untappd

Some other links of interest:

My Central Jersey on the opening of Jersey Cyclone (May 2019)
NJ Monthly Previews Jersey Cyclone (March 2019)