Beer Review: Avery Brewing’s Samael’s Oak Aged Ale

Name: Samael’s Oak Aged Ale
Brewing Company: Avery Brewing Company
Location: Boulder, CO
Style: Strong Ale – English
ABV: 15.47% (2012 vintage under review)

A beer that showcases how aging can impart flavors before the beer is put in the bottle, and age on the shelf can enhance that flavor to an even greater degree. 

From the Avery Brewing’s page for the beer:

Samael is the prince of demons, the angel of death, accuser and destroyer. Filled with enmity towards man, he planted the vine, the forbidden tree of paradise. Behold his venom and vengeance, both sweet and tempting, enticing you, his spellbound victim, within his wings.

Avery is one of the great, respected Colorado breweries who helped to kick start the Western US Craft Beer movement. Avery began brewing/selling beer to the public in 1993 and although they are now part of the same group Founders Brewing is part of – Mahou-San Miguel – their reputation for quality beer is still quite high. Like many breweries, they have core offerings, but the beer under review today is part of the now defunct Demons of Ale series, which ceased bottling/production in 2016. So yes, this beer is very old. In fact, it is the oldest beer I’ve ever consumed at about 7 and a half years of age since it was bottled in April 2012 according to the label.

The bottle itself has some cool artwork, but because it was seven (7) years old, the foil and label was a little faded worn out. There wasn’t an overly noticeable pop and hiss when the bottle opened, but there was a bit of noise. Being that the beer was 15479%* I split it with my father on Christmas Even in two snifter glasses. Once the beer was in the glass, one could be forgiven for thinking the liquid wasn’t beer but rather apple cider. One would realize as the beer drew closer to one’s nose and mouth; however, that what they held was most certainly not apple cider.

Sweet oak and vanilla are most prominent elements of the aroma, but it is such a wonderful smell that sniffing the beer is nearly as enjoyable as drinking the beer. The same elements of oak and vanilla make their presence known immediately upon tasting the beer. Intermingled elegantly with those flavors as the beer sits in your palate are elements from the abundant malts; flavors of caramel and toffee most prominently as well as burnt/brown sugar. I also got some hints of fruitiness, but not enough to really pinpoint what exactly those fruit elements are. A very sweet, pleasant beer.

The beer is fairly thick and the while the booziness is extremely present, there’s little to no burn from the alcohol in the same way I’ve experienced burn of some level with other barrel-aged ales. The level of booze – a very specific 15.47% – is well enmeshed in the whole flavor profile of the beer and not a kick at the end.

As the beer finishes off the oak and vanilla elements reassert themselves. There’s some sediment at the bottom of the glass, which for me is a feature and not a bug. This beer also skirts the line between what a beer is and can be and when beer can be something else, not unlike Samuel Adams Utopias. Samael is still about half the ABV of Utopias, but the transcendence of the form is still a hallmark of this Oak Aged Ale from Avery.

I noted early in the review this is the oldest beer I’ve ever had. I’ve let some barrel-aged stouts and higher ABV stouts sit for a year or two before enjoying them. This beer was a revelation, I’d seen many comments online about people drinking beers they’ve aged for 5 to 10 years and what a great experience it was. With this beer, I don’t have a comparison as to what it tastes like the year it was bottled or even a couple of years later like I do for with other aged beers. What I can say is that 7(+) years on this beer gave me a beer experience unlike few beers I’ve ever enjoyed before. Sharing it with my Dad helped to make it that much more enjoyable.

So why review a beer that is so old and difficult to find? Two reasons…if you can find this beer, grab a bottle regardless of vintage. Second, I wanted to to illustrate why aging a beer can be such fun part of enjoying the plethora of possibilities in beer.

I can see why people would want to let beers like this sit before opening. If possible, I’d probably buy multiple bottles of something like this (if the price-tag wasn’t cost-prohibitive) to enjoy immediately and “cellar” or age for multiple years.

Many beers have a story of how they were procured, but I figured I’d leave this part until the end …. At the Bridgewater Beer Fest in the spring of 2019, there were only a small handful of beers to make a good impression on me, but this beer was the clear standout to the point where I had multiple tasters of the beer. Probably enough tasters to equal a half bottle throughout the evening. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t give a little shout out to Mat of Massive Beers since he recommended this beer to me. He and I live in NJ and we happened to both attend the Bridgewater Beer Fest in 2019. One of the first things he said to me was that this beer was being poured at the festival, and that it was a fantastic beer and one of his favorites. I was only familiar with Avery’s core lineup, but the way Mat spoke of this beer was as if it was something legendary and a beer I wanted to at least try. I can’t say I disagree with how Mat spoke of the beer since it is first and foremost a wonderful beer and secondarily, because it is no longer being brewed and distributed as of the writing of this post. Much to my delight, I was able to procure a bottle* of the same vintage and I wanted to save it for a special occasion, which turned out to be Christmas Eve 2019.

* By procure, I mean the gentleman who was pouring samples at the beer festival saw how many return trips I made to the table and was kind enough to slip me an unopened bottle, since he had a couple of additional bottles and the festival was winding down.

Highly recommended, link to 4.5 bottle-cap Untappd check in. This is a whale of a beer that is worth keeping at the front of your mind or mental list when you visit bottle shops with a deep shelf.

Untapped badge earned with this beer:

Iron Man (Level 9)

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 45 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: Six Pack of Favorite Breweries of 2019

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…

 

I was happy with my favorite breweries post last year, so I figured I’d put one together for 2019 – My favorite breweries for 2019, with a slight difference from last year: I’m highlighting six breweries rather than four. Some of these I visited, others I’ve had many beers from over the year, and although last year I labeled one as “rediscovery” I wouldn’t go quite that far this year for one of the breweries, but I would say my enjoyment of their portfolio was reinvigorated. It also shouldn’t be surprising that the breweries in this post made a showing with a beer in my Favorite Beers of 2019 post. Like last year, I’ll sort this alphabetically, but immediately call out Icarus Brewing and Victory Brewing Company as my two overall favorites for 2019. The combination of quantity of beers I had from them and the consistent quality are large factors in that decision.

Bolero Snort Brewery (Carlstadt, NJ) | Total “new to me” Bolero Snort beers checked in on untappd in 2018: 13

Bolero Snort is one of the more recognizable breweries in New Jersey despite not having their own facility until late in 2019, with the official grand opening set for the weekend of Martin Luther King day (January 17-20, 2020). Despite that, they managed to produce many beers, and many beers I enjoyed throughout the year. I began enjoying Bolero Snort early as their Moosaic was a standout beer for me at the 2019 Meadowlands Great Beer Expo. Much like choosing a best of Icarus, I was torn between two superb beers from Bolero Snort in 2019 when it came to picking my favorite from them, their annual Bergen County Stout release (specifically, the French Toast variant) and Moo Doo Doll, a Mardi Gras “King Cake” inspired stout with an amount of adjuncts that magically come together in lovely harmony: brown sugar, “a whisper of milk dust,” cinnamon, nutmeg, Madagascar vanilla and a pinch of lemon zest. The outstanding quality of Moo Doo Doll and French Toast Bergen County Bull Stout alone would have made Bolero Snort a standout for me in 2019.

Clockwise from top left: Mootopia, á La Mooode, Gingerbread Moochiato, Ragin Bull, OVB

One of my beer highlights of the whole year; however, came on my birthday. My wife surprised me by getting me and some friends in the car and surprising me with a Bolero Snort beer pairing dinner. Fortunately for me, my wife does not like beer, so I was able to enjoy more than just my 5oz taster of most beers. The beers included in course order: (1) Bolero’s flagship lager Ragin Bull Amber Lager which I’d had before and liked; (2) OVB Creamsicle IPA; their flagship IPA, a sweet delicious Milkshake IPA which I was pleased to enjoy again later in the month at a NJ Devils game; (3) Mootopia, a New England IPA; (4) á La Mooode one of the best hard ciders I’ve ever had; and finished it off with the star of the show for me, (5) Gingerbread Moochiato and outstanding coffee-milk stout. When my wife asked me to grab a four pack of a stout for her to gift to a colleague for Christmas, I picked up Gingerbread Moochiato.  That event was hosted by Bolero Snort’s beer ambassador Adrian who was super-friendly and was the perfect host/ambassador.

I would not be surprised if beers from Bolero Snort Brewery appears quite often on my blog throughout 2020 with the brewery now open to the public.

Cape May Brewing Company (Cape May, NJ) | Total “new to me” Cape May beers checked in to untappd in 2019: 11

Cape May Brewing Company is currently the second largest brewery in the state (Flying Fish, is still #1), but I wouldn’t be surprised to see them overtake Flying Fish in the near future. In late 2018, Cape May Brewing Company launched Cape Beverage Distribution Company so they could self-distribute throughout the state. As such, I have definitely noticed a difference as their beers are mainstays of the beer shops I visit and I think throughout the majority of the state. But good things began early in 2019 for Cape May for me, one of my first reviews in 2019 was of their Baltic Porter, King Porter Stomp. Like Icarus and Bolero Snort, I was torn between two beers standing out enough to make my top 12 list: Swinging the Lamp (Imperial NEIPA) and Bourbon Barrel Aged Concrete Ship (Russian Imperial Stout). Only one beer from Cape May didn’t quite work for me despite being a well-made beer, but every other beer I had from them was superb. Their sadly and recently discontinued Pale Lager, simply called Lager was one of the mainstays in my cooler in the summer and a beer I suggested my wife gift to a co-worker who was just “entering the world of craft beer.”

Other Cape May Brewing Standouts for me: The Bog Cranberry Shandy, Follow the Gull (IPA – American); and their annual Oktoberfest.

Icarus Brewing Company (Lakewood, NJ) | Total “new to me” Icarus beers checked in on untappd in 2019: 16

You might say this is a late addition since I visited the brewery in August with more than half of the year in the rear-view mirror, but that alone should indicate how highly I think of Icarus and the beer I had from them in 2019. I’d seen good things about their beer all over beer social media pretty much since they opened in 2017, had a couple of their beers in 2018 (one even made my best of 2018 list), but it wasn’t until August that I finally visited the brewery, then again in October (here’s my post/brewery report from October). As I alluded to in my Favorite New to Me beers of 2019, the majority of the beer I had from Icarus Brewing in 2019 was superb, so whittling it down to a single beer was challenging, but I slotted in Kalishnikov (Stout – Russian Imperial).

My other new-to-me 2019 Standouts from Icarus Brewing were were Just Wing it (Stout – Milk/Sweet); Making Whoopie (Stout – Imperial/Double Milk/Sweet); Build me Up Butternut (Porter – Imperial / Double); Life in Helles (Lager – Helles), Velvet Fjord (IPA – Milkshake); and Fruited… & Flying With Pineapple, Mango, Blackberry (Sour – Berliner Weisse).

Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers Company (Framingham, MA) | Total “new to me” Jack’s Abby Beers checked in on untappd in 2019: 6

It is always exciting when a regional brewery with a stellar reputation beings distributing in your area. Even more so for a Lager lover like me for a brewery who brews only Lagers! In 2019, Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers began distributing into NJ and I was thrilled. Granted, I only had 6 beers from Jack’s Abby in 2019, but they were all superb lagers and I found myself re-purchasing the beers from them I enjoyed. The standout for me is the one that made my favorites of 2019, their world class pilsner, Post Shift Pilsner.

Rounding out my superb six pack of Jacks Abby Lagers I enjoyed in 2019: Copper Legend (Festbier); Sunny Ridge Pilsner (Pilsner – Other), House Lager (Lager – Helles), Hoponius Union (Lager –India Pale); and Maibock Hurts Like Helles (Bock – Hell / Maibock / Lentebock).

Kane Brewing Company (Ocean Township, NJ) | Total “new to me” Kane beers checked in to untappd in 2019: 11

Kane is probably the most respected brewery in New Jersey, hands down. Their IPAs, their barrel-aging program, their big stouts, and their Quadrupels all are outstanding. Two things happened over the last year or so – Kane began self-distributing their three core beers to stores in NJ and I began enjoying and appreciating more hop-forward beer, which gave me the opportunity to enjoy Overhead (their Imperial IPA) and Sneak Box (their outstanding American Pale Ale).

There’s a local bar in Somerville, NJ I have mentioned on the blog called Project P.U.B., P.U.B. standing for Pop Up Brewery, wherein a brewery has a month long tap takeover or is essentially a “satellite” brewery for a month. In March 2019, Kane was that brewery, which gave me the opportunity to have a couple of their more limited release beers: their 2190 Anniversary Ale, a delicious Barrel Aged Quadrupel as well as Vengeful Heart, a hoppy Barleywine. I also visited Kane at the end of the summer and was even more impressed with the beers I had: Two barrel aged Quadrupels (One Thousand Eight Hundred and Twenty Five & 2555 7th Anniversary Ale), a hoppy blonde (Whale Pond), and a Chestnut Barrel-aged version of their Pilsner, Sideshore. Other standouts, thanks to friends and family visiting Kane were Half-Timbered barrel-aged Bock and vintages their superb Coffee Porter, Morning Bell and Mexican Brunch.

Victory Brewing Company (Downington, PA) | Total “new to me” Victory Beers checked in on untappd in 2019: 7 new to me, many bottles of Prima Pils “new recipe” and their Festbier for the first time in years

Victory Brewing has come up on this blog as much as or maybe more than any other brewery, I’d venture to guess. At least as much as any non-NJ brewery, that’s because I’ve always enjoyed their output. However, they rebranded in early 2019 with a consistent label design across their portfolio, introduced a handful of new beers, and tweaked their classic Prima Pils by lowering the bitterness just a smidge. I love it as much as I ever did.

I’d say there’s a good chance I bought more beer from Victory in 2019 than any other brewery, I had some form of Victory beer in my poolside cooler throughout the summer, and Prima Pils was a fixture in my refrigerator. I’ve always enjoyed their beers and that proved to be true again in 2019. New-to-me standouts in 2019 from Victory included Cloud Walker Hazy Juicy IPA, Java Latte (Stout – Milk/Sweet), Twisted Monkey (Blonde Ale – Belgian Blonde / Golden), Liberty Bell Ringer (IPA–Imperial/Double)

 

Some additional stats, via untappd’s Year in Beer:

  • 412 Unique Beers
  • Beers from 173 different breweries
  • 104 distinct styles

Top 5 Most Checked in beer styles:

  • IPA – American – 31
  • Pale Ale – American – 18
  • IPA – Imperial / Double– 17
  • Hefeweizen – 14
  • IPA – New England – 14

Top 5 Most Checked in breweries (this includes beers I’ve had prior to 2019, i.e. I had Prima Pils from Victory prior to 2019, but checked it in in 2019, too):

  • Icarus Brewing – 18
  • Kane Brewing Company – 15
  • Cape May Brewing Company– 14
  • Bolero Snort Brewery – 13
  • Victory Brewing Company – 13

Breweries I visited for the first time in 2019 (17 total)

482 Badges Earned

Draught Diversions: Favorite New Beers of 2019

The third annual roundup brings a slight change. The last two “best of the year” lists focused on the best beers – those I gave the highest ratings. For 2019, while I’ll still have beers with very high untappd ratings, I’m shifting a little bit to “Favorite” beers. What does that mean? Well, there were beers I consumed in 2019 which I awarded a high 4.75 rating, but I may be including a 4.25/5 beer that I enjoyed more. Put it another way, there were some highly rated (4.5) beers I enjoyed in 2019 that one beer was enough, while some beers I may have rated at a 4.25 I would have multiple times. Or still another way – some movies are incredibly well made masterpieces, but one viewing is enough whereas some movies you love and want to watch over and over or will leave on the TV no matter where in the running time you catch it.

So, let’s get on with shall we?

Another definition for the purposes of this post: New means “New to Me” because a few beers on this list have been around for many, many years, but I had the beer for the first time in 2019.

It will come as no surprise that a NJ bias shines through on this list as 5 of the beers are from NJ breweries (last year featured 6 NJ breweries and 7 the first year). Considering more than half of the beer I bought & consumed in 2019 was from NJ breweries, this shouldn’t be a surprise.  I had multiple beers from many breweries and the quality was very consistent across the board for some breweries. However, I was only allowing each brewery to have one beer on the list so for some of the breweries below, the beer on this round up represents my favorite from the beers I had from them. For example, I had over a dozen beers from Icarus Brewing, so the beer on this list from them is what I enjoyed the most from them. As in years past, some of the breweries on this list will not be a surprise to readers of this blog or people who know me

Here’s a Breakdown of the Favorite Beers of 2019 12-pack:

  • 5 from NJ breweries
  • 2 from PA breweries
  • 2 from Belgian Breweries
  • 3 Stouts
    • 1 Pastry Stout
    • 1 Imperial Stout
    • 1 Russian Imperial Stout
  • 2 Belgian Quadrupels
  • 2 IPAs (both are of the New England variety, one is a Double NEIPA)
  • 1 Pilsner
  • 1 Saison
  • 1 Cream Ale
  • 1 Pale Ale
  • 1 Belgian Strong Dark Ale

Without further ado…

12. Post Shift Pilsner | Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers (Framingham, MA) | Pilsner – Other | 4.25 bottle caps

Had to show off Sully! A perfect pint of Post Shift Plisner pleases the palate and is perfect for lounging in the yard with your puppers.

I reviewed this one back in May and havethe had a few times over the year. Simply an elegant and delicious beer. From my review: “The finish has a slightly toasted bready/crackery taste that I associate with Pilsners (and some Helles Lagers, too). I like it, I want more of it. Hell, I picked up a 6 pack on a Thursday and found it hard to not enjoy one of these delicious beers every day of that weekend. When it comes to a wonderfully flavorful beer perfect for any day, a beer that will please both discerning craft beer drinkers with that flavor, while not making non-craft drinkers wary, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better beer than Jack Abby’s Post Shift Pilsner.”

11. Saison DuPont | Brasserie Dupont (Tourpes, Hainaut Belgium) I Farmhouse Ale – Saison | 4.5 Bottle Caps

Sometimes it takes a little while for one to get to the classics. Such is the case with Saison DuPont for me. But when I did finally have a bottle of it, I was supremely impressed. From my review in August: “Saison Dupont is an absolutely delicious beer that is rightfully the measuring stick for every Saison being produced today. All the qualities I’ve had in other saisons are on bold display here – strong yeast character, clean delicious taste, and a transportative element that transcends most other beers.”

10. Swinging the Lamp | Cape May Brewing Company | IPA – Imperial / Double New England 4.25 Bottle caps

Cape May’s been knocking it out of the park all year so it should be no surprise one of their beers lands on my favorite beers of the year list. This beer is a standout for many reason, the wonderful use of hops (Moutere, Raku, and Motueka) which evoke a peachy-pineapple juice bomb. The Kviek yeast (one of the “hot” ingredients nowadays) adds another layer of flavor. Quite simply, this is an outstanding IPA from a brewery for whom “outstanding” is the norm.

9. Cloud Walker Hazy Juicy IPA | Victory Brewing Company | IPA – New England | 4.25 bottle caps

As the New England/Hazy IPA continues to be the hottest style, especially with local/independent brewers, the larger brewers have been making attempts at the style. Victory’s take on the style is probably the my favorite of the larger brewery’s attempts at the style and an overall superb beer. The Citra and Mosaic are *perfectly* blended and the beer is a wonderful, juicy, hoppy delight. I hoped and expected to enjoy the beer, but I didn’t expect to love it as much as I did. Victory really came out strong in 2019 with some of their new beers to go along with their rebranding. More on that in another post.

8. Sneakbox | Kane Brewing Company | Pale Ale – American | 4.50 bottle caps


This past year, I really came to appreciate one of the icons of NJ Independent Brewing – Kane Brewing. I’ve had their beers here and there at bars, but they began self-distributing cans of their beer more widely in NJ, at least their three core beers, Head High, Overhead, and this beer, Sneakbox. This is a delicious, outstanding, juicy pale ale that highlights the full flavor of the ubiquitous Citra Hop…I’d say this could be in contention for best American Pale Ale.

7. La Trappe Quadrupel | La Trappe/Brouwerij de Koningshoeven (Berkel-Enshot, Noord-Brabant, Netherlands) | Belgian Quadrupel | 4.5 bottle caps

Another beer that is essentially the first of its style. The bottle I reviewed was, I think, from 2016 if my interpretation of the date code was correct. Based on that and having a more recently dated bottle, I’d suggest letting this beer sit before opening it. Here’s what I said in my review: “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 back in 1991. So it is the style-namer or “Ur-Quadrupel,” if you will. I know, considering the great brewing tradition in Belgium and of Belgian styles, I thought the style was a bit older than that.”

6. Kalishnikov | Stout – Russian Imperial | 4.25 Bottle Caps

I had quite a few beers from Icarus this year, but two visits to the brewery and a friend getting a job as their taproom manager will help helped to keep the number growing in 2019. I wanted to feature one of their beers on the best of list this year and the thing is – every beer I had from them was outstanding, so I’m going with their big, boozy Russian Imperial Stout. Kalishnikov is a delicious, super-boozy (14% ABV!) stout that doesn’t feel like it has that much alcohol in it. Russian Imperials can be very bitter on the finish, but the addition of honey in the brewing process gives the beer a nice hit of sweetness on the finish. I’ve had one of the barrel-aged variants of this beer, but I think I prefer the base stout more.

5. French Toast Bergen County Bull Stout | Bolero Snort Brewery (Carlstadt, NJ) | – Stout – Pastry | 4.5 Bottle Caps

Bolero Snort cranked out quite a few tasty beers by my standards in 2019 but for me, the top of that list is their delicious dessert variant annual Bergen County Bull Stout. This was a recent review, but managed to stand out very strongly over the 400+ different beers I had in 2019. From my review: “This is a complex beer…I need to put that up front. The eggy-bread aroma of French Toast is present in the taste with the bourbon hints from the barrel making their way through everything. … A beer that has the flavor components of that rich, dessert-like breakfast while still retaining the stout qualities that give the beer it’s primary character. … This beer is probably the best I’ve had from them. As their motto says, that is No BS, just ragin’ good beer.”

4. Nitro Regular Coffee | Carton Brewing Company | Cream Ale | 4.75 bottle caps

Over the past couple of years, it has become a New Year’s / Early January NJ tradition to head down to Carton Brewing in the Atlantic Highlands to get whatever variant Augie and company release of their highly coveted Regular Coffee cream ale. This year, I met up with some friends to grab some of this beer. Carton has the best deal of any brewery in NJ in terms of tasters, and I knew I had to bring this one home. Regular Coffee is an “Imperial” Cream Ale made with coffee from local roasters. Put simply, Regular Coffee is the best Coffee beer I’ve ever had. I’ve realized I don’t care for Nitro beers over the past year, but this one bucks that recent trend. I can’t think of a beer that more perfectly utilizes Nitro.

3. Quadraphonic | Barrel of Monks Brewing Company (Boca Raton, FL) | Belgian Quadrupel | 4.5 bottle caps

Quadraphonic was the first beer review I posted in 2019 and even then I had a feeling it would standout as one of my favorites of the year. From my review: “The first sip is delightful wow and does what a good beer should – encourages to you drink more. I found the typical stone fruit flavors to be present, hints of plum and raisin with some figginess, and maybe a hint of cherry too. This is a complex, extremely well-made beer. … Quadraophonic is quite simply, a delicious beer.”

2. Mad Elf Grand Cru | Tröegs Independent Brewing | Belgian Strong Dark Ale | 4.5 bottle caps

Mad Elf from Tröegs is an iconic Christmas beer and an annual tradition for me. This “Director’s Cut” version with the addition of “loads” more tart Balaton cherries was a bit daunting. I wasn’t sure how much I would enjoy a more tart version of the beer, but goddamn is this a delicious cherry-forward beer that still retains ample flavor from the yeast and base ale. Tröegs continues to prove why they are one of my favorite breweries, last year my favorite new-to-me beer was from them and this year, this one is pretty damned close.

1. So Happens It’s Tuesday | The Bruery | Stout – Imperial / Double | 5 bottle caps

Image courtesy of The Bruery’s Facebook. I wasn’t able to snap a photo of the beer in the restaurant

The Bruery is one of the premier California breweries, they specialize in complex beers, often of the barrel-aged variety. That nuance and skill with beer is showcased in this beer, the best barrel aged beer I’ve ever had. Subtle, yet potent notes of the barrel character can be enjoyed throughout finely balanced with the stout character of the base beer. The Bruery recently began releasing cans of some of their beers and I’ve seen single cans of this beer sold in my area, I may need to snag one.

Honorable Mentions – Touchdown (Lager – Munich Dunkel) and Flood (Stout – Imperial/Double) from Jersey Cyclone; 2190 Anniversary Ale (Belgian Quadrupel) and Overhead (IPA – Imperial/Double) from Kane Brewing; Haze (IPA – Imperial/Double) from Tree House Brewing; MooDoo Doll (Stout – Pastry) from Bolero Snort Brewery; Sucaba 2019 (Barleywine – English) from Firestone Walker Brewing Company; Pick Your Own (American Wild Ale) from Allagash Brewing Company; Gunner’s Daughter (Stout – Milk/Sweet) from Mast Landing Brewing Company; Java Latte (Stout – Milk/Sweet) and Twisted Monkey (Blonde Ale – Belgian Blonde / Golden) from Victory Brewing Company; Worker Drone (Cream Ale) from Twin Elephant Brewing Company; and Dunkel Lager (Lager – Munich Dunkel) from Von Trapp Brewing.

I’ll be doing a complementary post – as I did last year – that takes a look at the breweries to impress me the most in 2019, along with some more stats courtesy of untappd.

Draught Diversions: December 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 month of December began with another bottle share, but even outside of that great day, I was able to enjoy quite a few very good beers. Some Christmas/Winter-adjacent, stouts, and the usual mix of NJ, regional, and nationally available beers. .

Kalishnikov (Icarus Brewing Company) | Stout – Russian Imperial | 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

Shockingly, a beer from Icarus Brewing appears on this list. Kalishnikov is one of their annual favorites and I know why, a delicious, super-boozy (14% ABV!) Stout that doesn’t feel like it has that much alcohol in it. Russian Imperials can be very bitter on the finish, but the addition of honey in the brewing process gives the beer a nice hit of sweetness on the finish. I’ve had one of the barrel-aged variants, but I think I prefer the base stout more. .

Christmas Ale (Brouwerij St. Bernardus) | Winter Ale | 4 bottle Caps on untappd

I’ve been trying to sample at least one of the more popular and widely available Belgian Christmas beers every year and this year I landed on bottle sporting the happy monk. This beer turned out to be a really nice ale. The classic from St. Bernardus is basically a Quadrupel (10%ABV), but with more fruit character (some cherry notes, maybe?) than their standard Quadrupel. This is definitely a slow sipper and a beer you should let warm a little bit to room temperature to fully enjoy the aroma and full flavor of the beer.

Winter Cru (Flying Fish Brewing Company) | Belgian Strong Golden Ale | 3.75 / 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

Over the last year, Flying Fish continued to evolve, brew new beers, and tweak their classic beers. Winter Cru is a reboot of their Winter seasonal (Grand Cru Winter Reserve) with a great label and tweaked recipe. The original wasn’t one I cared for too much, so this change in recipe is very much welcome and the beer is more full-flavored My tagline: “A Belgian style ale w/hints of cinnamon and nutmeg will settle you in for a comforting Christmas and Winter Holiday.”

Willettized Coffe Stout (Lagunitas Brewing Company) | Stout – Coffee | 4.50 bottle Caps on untappd

This is an annual release Lagunitas that is often highly-sought after. That’s because it is a delicious, very balanced barrel-aged stout. The barrels are Willett Rye and what an excellent blend of flavors – coffee, roasted malt, rye whiskey. This is quite simply a fantastic barrel-aged stout.

Psycho Simcoe (Three 3’s Brewing Company) | IPA – New England | 4.50 Bottle Caps on untappd

I wasn’t able to snap a photo of my beer in the very crowded bar, so here’s the can art, courtesy of Three 3’s Facebook

You never know what you’ll find in a dive bar and there’s a pretty great dive bar in my town – The Royal Bar. They have a pretty standard selection of beers, but every time I’ve gone to the Royal, I’ve always found at least one gem. This most recent visit the gem would be Psycho Simcoe, a fantastic IPA from the South Jersey brewery. This is a wonderful blend of dank and juicy hops (Simcoe, obviously, but also Mandarina Bavaria for the juiciness) that make for a delicious beer – juiciness at the start with a nice dank finish.

Haunted House (Allagash Brewing Company) | Belgian Strong Dark Ale | 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

I say this every time I mention beers from Allagash, but I need to get more of their beers because this one a, “Halloween seasonal” is excellent. There’s a wonderful start to the beer with flavorful roast, then it moves to a fantastic blend of hops and then finishes with a sweet hint of coffee. Allagash brews primarily Belgian styles and there really isn’t a stout in the catalogue of Belgian styles, so this one is considered the closest to it a “Belgian Strong Dark Ale.” .Whatever you call it, the beer is really, really tasty.

My work pals and I had a Christmas “Gathering of the Fellowship of the Beer” in the beginning of December, which was fun as it is everytime we get together to share new beers with each other. The standout at that gathering was a bottle of Samuel Adams Utopias (which takes center stage below in the photo of the beers we shared), which one of our friends generously shared. The bottle was from 2017 and was unlike any other beer I’ve had. The only slight negative is that it smelled like slightly of nail polish, but the flavor … heavenly.

The Treehouse and Hill Farmstead bottles contained some delicious homebrews (a wonderful milk stout and tasty New England IPA) from our friend Brad

Beer Review: 2SP’s Wawa Winter Reserve Coffee Stout

Name: Wawa Winter Reserve Coffee Stout
Brewing Company: 2SP Brewing Company in collaboration with Wawa
Location: Aston, PA
Style: Stout – Oatmeal / Coffee Stout
ABV: 6.5%

A Pennsylvania Icon and a great Pennsylvania brewery come together to make a tasty stout. 

From the 2SP’s page for the beer:

Working with Wawa’s own coffee wizard, Michael McLaughlin, we brewed a oatmeal stout and steeped it with Wawa’s Reserve Winter Blend Coffee, an exclusive handpicked roast that has flavors of sweet clove, dark chocolate, and graham crackers. Our brewer, Bob Barrar who, like Wawa, is a Delaware County native, and has won over 30 Great American Beer Fest Medals and 11 World Beer Cups, chose to brew an oatmeal stout because of its balanced sweetness that will showcase the full range of flavors from the Reserve Blend.

Just about everybody in the Northeast/Mid-Atlantic region (PA/NJ/DE/VA specifically) of the United States knows Wawa. The store is a cultural icon and staple of the greater Philadelphia region, South Jersey and even Central Jersey. For those not in the know, nationally, think 7-11, but much, much better. I grew up in North Jersey where there weren’t many Wawas but once I moved a little south to Middlesex, then Somerset County, there were plenty of Wawas near me and I’ve been getting their doughnuts, breakfast sandwiches, and most importantly and relevant to this review, their coffee since. So when 2SP announced they were brewing a Coffee Stout with Wawa coffee last year, I wanted some. Demand was high and I didn’t get any. Well, they saw how popular the beer was and brewed more (and different varieties) for Winter 2019, which brings me to this beer.

So…the beer. Pop of the can and it pours a nice black into the glass. There’s a thin khaki/tan head to the beer that dissipates fairly quickly. In terms of aroma, I’m introduced to a beer with mild hints of coffee, but it mostly smells like I’d expect a stout to smell. No complaints there.

My second introduction to the beer, the taste, is quite pleasing. I get ample stout flavors – roasted malts, smoothness from the oatmeal. There’s definite coffee flavors, too, but not overpowering. Mild spiciness akin to the cloves mentioned in the description, maybe a little bit of nutmeg? The short of it – I like what I’m tasting.

Image courtesy of MyBeerBuzz via untappd

First things first, this is tasty, well-made beer. Nothing else about the beer would work unless the base beer – a smooth and tasty Oatmeal Stout – wasn’t well-crafted. I typically have strayed away from flavored coffee over the past few years, aside from throwing a few dashes of cinnamon in the coffee I brew at home, so I was a tad nervous that flavored coffee could potentially sway my experience. Well….the coffee element, and the flavored elements in that coffee, of the beer is really nice, not overpowering and the beer has a good finish. I suspect the oatmeal and graham cracker flavors of the coffee help to give the overall profile of the beer a harmonious balance of flavors.

Wawa has such a loyal customer base and beer drinkers and coffee drinkers overlap quite strongly, that this beer could be seen as a novelty beer that would sell regardless of quality. Fortunately, the beer is pretty damned tasty. Bob Barrar, the head brewer at 2SP has a great reputation, has won several awards and that quality of craftsmanship shows in every drop of this beer. Put simply, this is very good beer.

Highly recommended, link to 3.75 bottle-cap Untappd check in.

Untapped badges earned with this beer:

Oat of this World (Level 7)

This velvety smooth, roasty style will take your taste buds to another planet. Oatmeal isn’t just for breakfast anymore. That’s 35 different beers with the style of Stout – Oatmeal or Stout – Imperial Oatmeal. Try 5 more for Level 8!

Draught Diversions: Christmas Six Pack 2019

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…

The last two years, I’ve posted “12 Beers of Christmas” over the course of two days as an homage to the “12 Days of Christmas.” However, even last year to get to 12 I felt I was stretching my search parameters a bit. I’d rather have a super-solid six pack filled with a couple of borderline iconic beers this year. Also, in an effort to NOT exhaust all the Christmas beers available, I’m trimming it down to a single six pack of Christmas beers for 2019.

Avec Les Bons Vœux | Farmhouse Ale – Saison | Brasserie Dupont | Tourpes, Belgium | ABV 9.5%

Image courtesy of Brasserie Dupont’s Web site

I’ve seen this holiday Saison in some shops over the years but never grabbed a bottle. However, after having THE flagship Saison earlier this year, I’m even more excited  to try this beer. A spiced up and higher ABV version of a world-class Saison sounds very intriguing indeed. This might be a bottle to bring to my in-law’s since my father in law is a big fan of Belgian style ales.

What Dupont says about the beer:

Les Bons Voeux means best wishes, which is what Brasserie Dupont sends with this very special saison ale brewed for the holidays. .

Redolently aromatic, rich and velvety, rich gold color, fragrant (lemony with hints of pepper, banana and clove), as all the beers of Dupont are with a full,deep malt richness that lingers on your tongue for what seems the whole holiday season.

Considered by some the finest offering from this unparalleled Brewery. “The best Belgian beer, if ever there could be such an award…a sumptuous, seductive 9.5% beer. Because of it’s intensity, I would recommend the novice graduate to this beer. However, if a saison that is starting to lean towards being a triple appeals to you, and if its in season, don’t hesitate.

N’Ice Chouffe | Winter Ale | Brasserie D’Achouffe | Achouffe, Belgium | ABV 10%

Image courtesy of Brasserie D’Achouffe

How do I not include a beer whose label looks so Christmasy with those red-hatted gnomes? N’ice Chouffe is one of those beers I see often in the import section but never got around to trying, similar to the beer above.  At 10%, this dark beer seems like a nice sipper for a cold evening by the fire with the Christmas Tree acting as the only other light source in the room.

About the beer:

N’ice CHOUFFE is the winter beer from the Achouffe Brewery. We recommend that you enjoy it from mid-October to mid-February, preferably by the fireplace. It is a dark beer, slightly hoppy, spiced with thyme and curaçao, and made using orange peel. It has an alcohol content of 10%. N’ice CHOUFFE goes well with any winter dishes.

Winter Lager | Schwarzbier | The Brooklyn Brewery | Brooklyn, NY | ABV 5.6%

Image courtesy of The Brooklyn Brewery’s Facebook

Brooklyn has a beer for every season and their Winter seasonal is a dark lager in the vein of a German Schwarzbier. Although I’ve had only a few Schwarzbiers, I do like the style, but it isn’t a very popular/prevalent style. Of the Schwarzbiers I’ve had, I was very much reminded of porters from the ale side of the beer tree – strong roasted flavors, maybe smoky, sometimes coffee or chocolate. I haven’t had Brooklyn’s dark lager yet, but that may change.

What Brooklyn says about this beer:

Brooklyn Winter Lager is our answer to the heavy ales and stouts that emerge in wintertime. Though dark in color with a sturdy presence, our Schwarzbier-inspired lager layers notes of chocolate, roasted barley, and dark bread into a 5.6% ABV frame that finishes surprisingly light and pleasantly dry. Winter means different things depending where you live, but Brooklyn Winter Lager is ready for any chill.

Gingerbread Stout | Imperial Milk Stout | Hardywood Park Craft Brewery | Richmond, VA | ABV 9.2%

Image Courtesy of Hardywood Park Craft Brewery’s Website

This is one of those “event” beers that has specially scheduled days of release dedicated to it. Ever since I became more aware of the online beer community and more aware of regional breweries outside of NJ over the past few years, Hardywood’s Gingerbread Stout is the Christmas Beer at the top of my list to get. Unfortunately, Hardywood does not distribute into NJ so the potential for me to get this beer is not very high. Based on the description, this beer seems like the epitome of a Christmas Stout.

What Hardywood Park says about the beer:

Made with baby ginger from Casselmonte Farm and wildflower honey from Bearer Farms, Hardywood Gingerbread Stout captures the terroir of Central Virginia in a rich, creamy libation with a velvety mouthfeel and an intriguing evolution of notes from milk chocolate and vanilla, to honeycomb and cinnamon, to a snap of ginger in the finish. We hope Hardywood Gingerbread Stout contributes to your merriment this season.

Fuggly Sweater | Lager – Dark | Ithaca Beer Company | Ithaca, NY | ABV 5.7%

Image courtesy of Ithaca Beer Company’s Website

Ithaca is one of the great Northeast Breweries, their “Flower Power” IPA is iconic. With that said, it is nice to see another Lager for the Christmas season. Ginger and cinnamon, the holiday spices, seem to be on prominent display here. Plus, that is some nifty looking label design.

What Ithaca says about the beer:

‘Twill be the fuggliest time of the year, so we joyously present our gift to this year’s season… Fuggly Sweater. Fuggly Sweater is a dark lager brewed to inspire the holiday favorite, gingerbread. The wide range of specialty malts create yummy cookie and cake qualities. The presentation is dark, but not opaque, with brown hues. Ginger is at center stage, and as with traditional gingerbread, a light amount of cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon round out the spice profile.

Mad Elf Grand Cru | Belgian Strong Dark Ale | Tröegs Independent Brewing | Hersey, PA | ABV 11%

Image courtesy of Tröegs Independent Brewing’s Facebook

It just doesn’t seem like the Christmas season until I have a bottle/glass of Mad Elf. A couple of years ago, the brothers Trogner decided to play with the legendary beer by adding more tart cherries to the mix. I haven’t had this beer yet, but for Krampusnacht, The Krampus (my wife) got me a bottle of this, so I’ll be sipping from that bottle when we decorate our Christmas tree.

What Stone says about the beer:

If you know Tröegs, you know The Mad Elf, the mischievous belle of the holiday beer ball that helped put our little brewery on the map. In your hands is the Director’s Cut. Tart Balaton cherries – loads of them – make all the difference. Bottle-conditioned and flush with notes of cinnamon and clove, this beer begs to be shared. Take a bottle home, gather your friends, and cherish the cherries.

We taste: tart cherry, brown sugar, clove, subtle peppercorn

Availability: 750mL cork & cage bottles only.

There it is, a robust six pack of suggestions. For my Christmas Beers this year, I’ll be having at least one of the above.  On Christmas Eve specifically I’ll also likely bring a growler from one of the handful of breweries in my immediate vicinity, maybe Jersey Cyclone, maybe Conclave Brewing to my parents’ house. The last couple of years I’ve brought growlers from Lone Eagle Brewing and Demented Brewing (which went out of business earlier in the year). All of those growlers went over very well and were finished very quickly so I feel like I have set the bar high in the past with what I brought to share.

Have a warm and safe holiday season, Merry Christmas!

Beer Review: BEE-R from Five Boroughs Brewing Co & All-Wise Meadery

Name: BEE-R
Brewing Company: Five Boroughs Brewing Co. / All-Wise Meadery
Location: Brooklyn, NY / Brooklyn, NY
Style: Lager – Helles
ABV: 5%

A complex and flavorful beer that showcases local innovation from two fine Brooklyn purveyors of adult beverages. 

From the untappd page for the beer:

This Honey Lager is our third collab with the cool cats over at All-Wise Meadery in Brooklyn. Brewed with delectable orange blossom honey, BEE-R is sessionable, smooth, and slightly sweet, powered by New York State malts and hops.

As close as I live to NYC, I haven’t had very many beers from the growing number of breweries in New York City’s five boroughs. I’ve been participating in a semi-monthly bottle share with some colleagues/friends from work and friends who once worked with all of us. On a recent bottle share, we did a Secret Santa and this was one of a handful of beers I received. To say this beer, a collaboration between a NYC brewery (Five Boroughs Brewing) and a NYC meadery (All-Wise Meadery) was a pleasant surprise is an understatement.

That’s how I received the beer. On to the beer itself…

The beer pours a beautiful golden-yellow from the 16oz can into the glass. It isn’t very clear but it isn’t also very hazy so I’m not sure how filtered the beer is. Regardless, it looks great. Aroma has a little bit of the honey, but nothing out of the ordinary….it smells like beer.

The first sip brings a smile to my lips…in a time of year when darker, heavier beers, are the norm, it is very refreshing to have such a full-flavored less-heavy* lager in my glass. I’ve only had a few different meads, not that this is mead…but I’ve had plenty of lagers and stylistically, this fits the bill very nicely. I get the crispiness of the lager, plus some bready characteristics typically associated with Lagers, Helles Lagers specifically. Underneath it all and completing the pleasant finish of the beer is sweetness from the honey.

*Blatantly avoiding the word “light” since that word brings so many negative connotations to Lager.

BEE-R has one of the most important qualities any beer needs to have – drinkability. An overused term, but a term that most definitely applies to this beer. There’s such an easy-going flavor profile to the beer, it is elegant and refreshing at the same time. Every time I put the glass down, I didn’t want to wait too long to pick it up and consume more because BEE-R is, to put it simply – a very tasty beer.

As a beer on its own merits – BEE-R is a standout. As a collaboration between a NY brewery and a NY Meadery that showcases NY ingredients, it is a home run.

I like the relatively simplistic label and the clever name, too. One of those obvious names that seems like somebody should have used it already for a beer that features honey as a prominent adjunct.

Highly recommended, link to 4 bottle-cap Untappd check in.