Beer Review: Black is Beautiful | Czig Meister Brewing

Name: Black is Beautiful
Brewing Company: Czig Meister Brewing
Location: Hackettstown, NJ
Style: Stout – Imperial / Double
ABV: 10.1%

“A delicious, potent, and flavorful stout brewed for a great, noble cause.”

Beer description:

Black is Beautiful is a beer initiative started by Weathered Souls Brewing in San Antonio to show our solidarity in the ongoing movement against the injustices people of color face daily. We will be donating proceeds to the ACLU NJ. This collaboration is a way for us to help not only our local community, but to use our voice and do a part in our ongoing goal toward liberty & justice for ALL.

Black is Beautiful -This 10% Imperial Stout is a variant brewed with chocolate & hazelnut

Earlier this year, Weathered Souls Brewing out of San Antonio launched a worldwide collaborative stout, Black is Beautiful, an imperial stout recipe to be shared with other brewers. Marcus Baskerville, founder and head brewer of Weathered Souls asked participating breweries to do the following:

  • Donate 100% of the beer’s proceeds to local foundations that support police brutality reform and legal defenses for those who have been wronged
  • Choose their own entity to donate to local organizations that support equality and inclusion
  • Commit to the long-term work of equality

I think those are pretty fair requests. I know if I had a brewery, I’d be making my own version of Black is Beautiful.

As of this post going live, 31 breweries in NJ are participating, about one third of all the breweries in the State. Many of these breweries are doing a limited run, making the beer available only at the brewery on draft, with limited canning runs, or like Czig Meister, in crowlers. I’ve been wanting to try one from NJ since I heard about it because (1) Beer for a good cause is a great idea and (2) I love stouts. Unfortunately, not many breweries in NJ (thus far) have canned and or put their version in distribution. Fortunately, a friend from work lives near Czig Meister, so when we decided to meet up at their awesome outdoor biergarten for some socially distanced beer consumption, I knew I was going to try this beer.

Czig Meister is offering their version in crowlers to go. Photo courtesy of Czig Meister’s Facebook.

Since the beer is an Imperial Stout clocking in at 10% ABV, I can understand why this beer was only offered in 8oz pours. That 8oz pour; however, is full of flavor.

As you can see in the picture at the top of this post, this is a very dark beer. Aromas of roasted malt and some chocolate are present. I didn’t initially realize hazelnut was used in this beer until I tasted the beer then read the description so I imagine that other aroma I caught was indeed the hazelnut.

First sip test…the beer passes with flying colors. Damn is this a delicious stout! There’s a ton of sweetness, but not cloying at all, at the start of the beer. The chocolate begins to assert itself as I continue to enjoy the beer. I really like the spin that Czig Meister put on the recipe with the hazelnut and chocolate. The blend of flavors from the roasted malts and chocolate make for a sumptuous beer. The hazelnut sneaks in and cuts the bitterness at the end in a nice way and brings a great level of balance to the beer.

This is a wonderful, delicious dessert stout but I wouldn’t say it is super sweet like a big pastry stout, which I appreciate. However, the chocolate and hazelnut bring a very welcome flavor boost and sweetness into a big, burly stout. Achieving a good balance between sweetness and bitterness, especially for an Imperial Stout is mark of a good brewer and Czig Meister has achieved that balance extremely well.

The Czig Meister version of Black is Beautiful is a superb stout. What’s more, it is a beer for a really good cause. I’ve long been a fan of Czig Meister so I had pretty high expectations for this beer and it delivered. I now want to see what other breweries are doing with what is a solid, base stout.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4.25-bottle cap rating.

Untapped badges earned with this beer:

Black is Beautiful (2020)

Raise your glass and join us in supporting the many Black is Beautiful collaboration beers as we come together to recognize and bring awareness to the injustices that many people of color face daily.

Draught Diversions: Toms River Brewing (Toms River, 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…

It has been a very long time since I posted one of these Brewery Spotlights mainly because the Pandemic has severely impacted on-site consumption. Some breweries; however, have been able to pivot in the current landscape and grown. Some breweries have very successfully shifted to canning more beer and home delivery, some breweries have been able to increase their distribution reach, while other breweriess have been able to allow for on-site consumption thanks to outdoor biergartens. Toms River Brewing has been able to lean on all of those options thanks to their successful rebirth in 2019.

I touched upon Toms River Brewing about a year ago when a handful of NJ breweries closed and/or re-branded. In that post, Toms River Brewing was one of those “re-launched” breweries, the proverbial Phoenix to rise from the former Rinn Dúin Brewery. When a company named Advanced Biotech announced they were taking over the brewery in 2018, and renaming it, some eyebrows were raised. It seemed very corporate and a little peculiar for a “Biotech” company to purchase a brewery. The name change was completely understandable and works better in the current beer landscape in NJ. Toms River is one of the largest and most prominent Jersey Shore towns, the 8th most populated municipality in NJ, and gives the brewery a more clear and local identity. Unlike Rinn Dúin, there’s no question of where the brewery is located.

A couple of things to unpack there…Toms River Brewing is largely a new brewery compared to Rinn Dúin. While they’ve retained the same head brewer and couple of the beers (primarily their core beers, St. John’s Irish Red Ale and Sweet Nothin’ Honey Cream Ale), nearly everything else about the brewery is essentially a new brewery. The taproom was completely renovated and now has 16 draught lines, the brewing system was upgraded/expanded, an outdoor biergarten was constructed, the beer lineup was considerably updated (previous flagships of an English Brown and Scotch Ale, while styles I enjoy, not exactly two styles upon which to lay the foundation of a brewery) are no longer present. More IPAs are part of the lineup, of course, plus a few stouts and a fairly wide range of styles. While I’ve been seeing cans of their beer since the middle of last year thanks to their increased dedication to distribution, the grand reopening of the taproom was November 2, 2019.

The Core Lineup – courtesy of Toms River Brewing’s website

The branding has leveled up quite a few notches, as design firm Bezerdesign was hired to re-brand the brewery. All the cans are now sport the big “Toms River Brewing” circle prominently in the center, a claddagh at the top of that circle. Most of the beer cans with are wrapped with a different color of banded Celtic knots/braid. Their cans are immediately recognizable. In the current landscape with over 100 breweries in NJ (with quite a few popular breweries not too far from Toms River Brewing at the Jersey Shore), thought and planning is required to go into launching a business. That thought and planning also includes the beer portfolio, the most important element. But the branding does stand out on the shelves, at least to my eyes.

Not everything about Rinn Dúin is gone; however. Bob the Brewer Warzecha, who was the head brewer under the previous banner and George, the assistant brewer, are still around making the beer. Well, George Lissenden was more of a “volunteer” than actual employee, but since the relaunch, George is an actual assistant brewer. Both gentlemen have experience in home brewing (Bob about 25 years!), passion for beer, knowledge of beer, and have roots in Toms River. So some of the good things (and there were quite a few) about Rinn Dúin were smartly retained.

As I said in my post last year, I didn’t know much about Rinn Dúin except that it existed and was one of the breweries to open shortly after the 2012 Executive Order. I learned last year as I was preparing my feature on Icarus Brewing that Jason Goldstein, owner of Icarus Brewing, spent part of his career there. Since Toms River Brewing came into existence last year (May 2019), I’ve been seeing cans of their beer in stores near me with frequency. That logo and branding, while not exactly the most unique, does stand out very well on the shelf and gives the brewery a visual identity. In my mind, that’s a success.

From here on out, there will be no more mention of the words “Rinn Dúin,” because of what Lacey Striker, VP Marketing, Tap Room and Office Operations of Toms River Brewing states below. Lacey essentially runs the day-to-day operations of the brewery, which makes her one of the few, but growing number of, women not just working in beer in NJ, but leading a brewery in NJ. Lacey is no stranger to the adult beverage industry, having experience in the wine and spirits industry. That knowledge she gained and her market savvy helped to relaunch Toms River Brewing as a new entity.

It’s a completely different brewery.” – Lacey Striker

Every year, my wife and few of our friends take a road trip down to the Chicken or the Egg in Beach Haven and we stop at a brewery on the way home. Because of everything I noted above, Toms River Brewing has been on my radar and they were a short drive off the Garden State Parkway exit 82A on NJ Route 37, they are one of the few breweries along our journey to open at noon and have outdoor seating. In other words, it was a pretty easy decision to make.

Image courtesy of Toms River Brewing’s Facebook

Unfortunately, it was raining the day of our trip and visit. Fortunately, Toms River Brewing (as noted above) has a lovely outdoor biergarten and the tables have big umbrellas. Another plus, like many breweries in NJ who are legally not permitted to serve food, Toms River Brewing allows their patrons to bring food, which was another plus. The food was kept warm on the 40 minute drive from LBI to Toms River in some coolers, for those worrying about the food.

We situated ourselves at the table and I ordered a Pilsner…many people will go for the IPA as their first beer at a brewery visit (because they are so ubiquitous), but as many of my readers know, I’m a Lager for Life kind of guy. I was very pleased with my choice. Just look at how that bright beer pops on an otherwise grey day in that picture atop this post! Just Pils was very flavorful and hit the spot pairing perfectly with my Burrito Gordito. The second beer I had was the highlight and one of the better coffee stouts I’ve had in quite a while, the outstanding Top O’ the Morning Coffee stout, which I reviewed earlier this week.

Image courtesy of Toms River Brewing’s Facebook

I usually have more photos I’ve taken in these posts, but between the rain and the limitations on indoor gathering, I only snapped photos of the two beers I drank and enjoyed. This time around, I’ve “borrowed” a few photos from Toms River Brewing’s facebook page. I did have to go inside to use the restroom and the taproom is really, really nice. It is very inviting, with plenty of room and a gorgeous bar. I saw some of the employees chatting and wearing masks and let them know how much I enjoyed the beer. In particular, the owner (I’m guessing Jim Mulligan), addressed me because I resemble one of the brewers. We had a chuckle, but he made sure to walk through the biergarten as patrons started sitting at tables to see how everybody is doing. He further told me the brewer I resemble built out the biergarten since he has a background in construction. Between the outdoor biergarten and the indoor taproom, the brewery has a great air professionalism and being well-thought out. In short, our group of people felt quite welcome at the brewery.

Interior of Toms River Brewing’s Taproom, image courtesy of Toms River Brewing’s Facebook

I’ve only had five beers from Toms River Brewing at this point…but as can likely be surmised, what I’ve had has been quite good. I’m happy to know they are keeping the Sweet Nothin’ Honey Cream Ale in the lineup. I had it last year at the Meadowlands Great Beer Expo when they were still using the previous name of the brewery. Last month, I had their Koastal Kölsch for the first time, I think they brewed it for the first time this year. Last year, I had the St. John’s Irish Ale, which is spot on for the style. Their lineup of beers I’ve seen on social media and in the stores around me is intriguing, maybe beer I’d like to try the most is Black Rabbit Black Lager. Other beers in the line up include the Sweet Chai ‘O Mine Cream Ale; Celtic Sunrise Blood Orange Pale Ale, a Belgian Pale Ale; Out on the Razzle Cranberry Winter Blonde Ale, which I hope returns in the Winter; and Irish Goodbye Imperial Stout looks delicious. Actually, three of the people with me during the visit (my brother-in-law, and two of our friends) had and enjoyed the Irish Goodbye.

Images in collage courtesy of Toms River Brewing’s Facebook. Clockwise: “Out on the Razzle Cranberry Winter” Blonde Ale, “Irish Goodbye Imperial Stout, Celtic Sunrise Blood Orange Pale Ale,” “Black Rabbit Black Lager,” and “Sweet Chai ‘O Mine” Cream Ale

Since their grand opening, Toms River Brewing has hosted local musicians, they’ve partaken/hosted Community Fund Drives, hosted Trivia Nights, hosted local PBA Fund Raisers, and of course hosted St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. Like I said, the space (both inside/taproom and outdoor biergarten) is inviting and made to be social spaces. The honey in their Cream Ale is from Zenjas Honey Farm, in Toms River. One of their beers, Boots on the Ground is an IPA in honor of US troops, with a portion of the proceeds going to the Gary Sinise Foundation. So you could say that Toms River Brewing is both a place for communal growth and a company that gives back to the community.

Image courtesy of Toms River Brewing’s Facebook

In other words, from limited experience, Toms River Brewing is a brewery to take seriously as a player in New Jersey’s evolving craft beer scene. They may not be in the Elite, rarified air of Kane, Carton, Icarus, or Cape May Brewing yet. That is by no means a knock, because they’ve only been producing, canning, and distributing beer as Toms River Brewing for a little over a year. I think even the good folks at Toms River Brewing would admit they aren’t quite in that Elite Group yet. What I can say is that they produce quality beers, in a nice range of styles, you’ll be able to find and depend upon for good flavors. The taproom and biergarten should be a must visit for independent beer enthusiasts making the rounds of the Jersey Shore breweries. I for one, will be seeking out their beer again in the near future. The Celtic Sunrise Blood Orange Pale Ale should be in stores as this post goes live!

Some other links of interest and sources of information for this post:

Toms River Brewing Web site | Instagram | Facebook | Twitter | Toms River Brewing on NewJerseyCraftBeer.com | Beer Advocate | untappd

Beer Review: Toms River Brewing’s Top O’ the Morning Coffee Stout

Name: Top O’ the Morning Coffee Stout
Brewing Company: Toms River Brewing
Location: Toms River, NJ
Style: Stout – Coffee
ABV: 5.1%

“A smooth, extremely drinkable and balanced Coffee Stout – one of the better I’ve had, especially of the non-barrel-aged variety.”

From Tom River Brewing’s beer list/untappd description:

Coffee before beer or sometimes (if it’s that kind of day) beer before coffee. In that spirit, we collaborated with Bubby’s Beanery right here in Toms River to create Top O’ The Morning. This beer was brewed with Bubby’s blend of Honduran roasts, lending flavors of sweet milk chocolate, cashew and caramel. We then added lactose to carry the acidity of the coffee and to provide heft and mouthfeel. The infusion of robust coffee flavors provides a jump start to your day…morning, noon or night.

Toms River Brewing is a NJ brewery I’ve touched upon briefly here at the Tap Takeover and will again in the future. (Hint: I’ll be posting one of my “brewery spotlight” posts later in the week.) I’ve been seeing cans of their beer in some of my local stores over the better part of the last year and I finally stopped at their brewery recently, during a rainy day on the way back from Chegg’s in Beach Haven. The second beer I had that day is what asserted itself in my taste buds with a pint of deliciousness and has me here writing about it.

On to the beer…

I knew I wanted something a little darker, I saw what Toms River had available via untappd before we even left our trip and the description above really had me intrigued.

The beer I was given in the very interesting glass is dark as dark can be. Only if you look very closely can you see the black Toms River Brewing logo on glass. In other words, the beer looked the part of coffee stout. The aroma of roasted malts that wafted from the glass to my nose was another good sign.

Sometimes you can tell from the first sip of beer everything you need to know about it. That’s exactly what happened with Top O’ the Morning, I got the full flavor of stout and coffee in that first sip and it was delightful. The lactose brings a very welcome sweetness to the beer, adding to the sweetness from the roasted malts and balancing the coffee’s natural bitter elements. There’s also a pleasant lacing of chocolate throughout each sip of beer.  All these flavors blend very well together.

Image courtesy of Toms River Brewing’s Facebook

I’ve had plenty of coffee stouts where the bitterness from the coffee, or overly roasted beans and malts are very off-putting. Toms River skirted that issue completely. The finish on this beer was so good, I found it a little difficult not to consume it in one quick gulp. If I can really level any criticism at the beer (and it is very minor at that), a smidge more bitterness would have been welcome. However, I tend to drink my coffee fairly sweet, so the sweetness in this beer from the lactose is a nice mirror to how I typically drink my coffee.

The beer has the perfect density and feel for the style, too. That element, coupled with the balanced taste, make this one of the more enjoyable coffee stouts I’ve had in quite a while. The craftsmanship and quality of this beer have me eager to try more beers from Toms River Brewing in the future

Beer and coffee are two of my favorite beverages, which is why I love a good coffee stout. With Top O’ the Morning, Toms River Brewing blended the flavors of these two beverages together in great harmony.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4.25-bottle cap rating.

 

Draught Diversions: Book Review – DRINK BETTER BEER by Joshua M. Bernstein

Name: Drink Better Beer: Discover the Secrets of the Brewing Experts
Author: Joshua M. Bernstein
Publication Date: September 2019
Publisher: Sterling Books

Don’t we all want to drink better beer? Beer these days, isn’t cheap (at least the good stuff). There are many choices and if you’re taking a potentially $20 risk on a beer you’ve never had, and if you only have a beer a day or don’t drink more than a few a weekend, you want to make sure you’re time and the space in your beer drinking calendar aren’t wasted. Joshua Bernstein’s Drink Better Beer is a great book to help make sure the beer you drink isn’t wasting your time or money.

Cover courtesy of the publisher, Sterling Publishing

From the publisher’s landing page for the book:

With thousands of breweries creating a bewildering array of beers each year, learning from the experts is practically a necessity for the modern beer lover. Luckily, beer guru Joshua M. Bernstein is here to tap their wisdom for you, with sage advice about which brews to buy, how to taste your beers, and what to eat with them.

Drink Better Beer features the must-know insights of more than 100 professionals, including competition judges, beer consultants, and master brewers. Find out how to shop clever by heeding two simple rules. Learn the art of selecting the right glass, cleaning it, and executing the perfect pour. Make sense of all those aromas with just a couple of sniffing tricks. Unlock the taste secrets of different styles, learn when to drink, and how to know if your favorite beer store is treating their beer the way they should. Beer is getting complicated—Drink Better Beer will give you the confidence to buy smart and enjoy your pour even more.

In Drink Better Beer, Bernstein delivers his message in a wonderful, welcoming, conversational tone. He clearly has a passion and expertise for that wonderful liquid made from water, grain, yeast, and hops. It isn’t difficult to gain an expertise in something you thoroughly study and constant entrenchment in the subject will eventually gain a person a decent level of knowledge. The ability to convey and deliver that knowledge? That’s a combination of Skill and Talent not everybody has, but Joshua Bernstein is just such a person. He is able to extol the virtues of the granular elements that eventually lead to a person consuming better beer and Bernstein does so through the voice a celebratory, friendly enthusiast. There’s no holier-than-thou overtones nor is there the dusty voice professorial voice. The tone in Drink Better Beer is much more like “Beer is great, this is why Beer is great, have fun with it! Let’s have a beer together!”

The organization, formatting, feel, and structure of the book from a physical perspective is glorious. It isn’t quite a coffee table, it is almost like a textbook: enough to convey a sense of authority, but not too much to be off-putting. The book also has lovely pictures and has a fairly substantial size and heft to it. Bernstein covers elements about beer that many people take for granted – the water, the vessel in which the beer is consumed, the dating on the beer, etc. Other writers have done so, writers I’ve mentioned here at the Tap Takeover. Joshua Bernstein’s particular brand of enthusiasm; however, helps to bring these elements together in a freshly engaging manner. Think of a Pilsner – a delicious beer style that can be interpreted differently and can be of equal quality by numerous brewers.

(At this point, I’m switching from “Bernstein” to “Josh” for the author because of the convivial and gregarious tone of his words.)

Josh has broken down how to drink better beer into the following categories/chapters:

  • “What’s in Store: Buying Beer”
  • “The Pour Move: Glassware and the New Rules of Serving Beer”
  • “Scents and Sensibility: Cracking the Code on Flavors and Aromas”
  • “Eat These Words: The New World of Food and Beer Pairings”
  • “Toasting the Future: A Road Map of Delicious New Directions”

Peppered throughout the book are interesting and engaging sidebars featuring the things like the top five beers Josh consumed while writing the book (in fact, I picked up a six pack of one of those beers – a favorite – while I was reading the book), or a page on highlighting what some of the less-known data points on a label mean, or “Six IPAs to Buy to Understand the Style’s Evolution,” and recurring features on “Drinking Destinations.” Noted beer people like Lindsay Barr from New Belgium and founder of DraughtLab; Jeff Alworth, author of The Beer Bible, and Dr. J. Nikol Jackson-Beckham, the Diversity Ambassador of the Brewers Association are featured, among others.

Image courtesy of the publisher, Sterling Publishing (Click the image to embiggen)

This whole book, especially, the first one third or so of the tome, made me want to hang out with Josh and other like-minded people at a bar or brewery to muse over the quality of the beer in our glasses. In all the books I’ve read, fiction (mostly Science Fiction and Fantasy) and non-fiction, I have found the best books to essentially represent a conversation between reader and writer, forging a connection between the two. Joshua Bernstein’s Drink Better Beer captures that conversational ideal about as good as any book I’ve read. As a result, I yearned for that “meatspace”/in-person social interaction that beer facilitates so wonderfully thanks to Josh’s delightfully spun words. Unfortunately, that has become somewhat difficult in the current COVID pandemic.

Over the past few years my library of beer books has been growing. Drink Better Beer is a highlight and a book I expect I’ll be revisiting casually for some time to come. In other words, I’d call this an essential book for anybody building out a shelf of books dedicated to beer.

Cover courtesy of the publisher, Sterling Publishing

Draught Diversions: July 2020 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…

July, of course, features one of the most beer-centric holidays, Independence Day. Celebrating our country in this day and age is not exactly and easy thing, but for about 35 years, my family has had a Fourth of July party. It has always more of a family gathering, and even though COVID has drastically changed things, we were still able to have a handful of family at our house. As such, there is an abundance of beer.

This month brings mostly local (5 NJ and 1 PA) beer.

Lil Yacht Juice (Icarus Brewing Company) | IPA – Session / India Session Ale | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

It has been a bit since I featured an Icarus beer here at the Tap Takeover. “Lil Yacht Juice” is the scaled down version of Icarus’s flagship IPA, “Yacht Juice.” Whereas Yacht Juice is 8%, “Lil” is 4.9%. Despite the lower ABV, “Lil” doesn’t sacrifice any of the flavor with its blend of Mosiac, Citra, and Columbus hops. The beer is cloudy like most New England IPAs and is probably the best “Session IPA” I’ve ever had (not that I’ve had all that many of the style) and a beer that was a perfect start to our annual Fourth of July party.

Bulliner Vice – Passionfruit, Papaya, and Peach (Bolero Snort Brewery) | Sour – Fruited Berliner Weisse | 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

Bolero Snort has a series of fruited Berliner Weisse beers under this obvious bull-punned name, this is the only one I’ve had and I like it quite a bit. A good beer to finish off the night with the various fruit adjuncts and the overall tartness of the beer. However, this is the second “sour” beer I’ve had with passionfruit and the initial aroma is extremely potent – it is stanky. But thankfully that aroma transfers more pleasantly in the beer with the help of the peach and papaya.

Haze Charmer (Tröegs Independent Brewing Company) | Pale Ale – New England | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

This a new year-round addition to the Tröegs portfolio and it is indeed a very welcome beer. It is light but flavorful with a burst of lovely tropical, fruity hops. Tröegs has long been one of my favorite breweries and this beer captures a hot style very well, low ABV and very flavorful. This is a great anytime, pairs with anything kind of beer that should appeal to everyone.

Lilting Grace (Conclave Brewing Company) | IPA – Imperial / Double | 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

I took a ride down to Conclave to check out their outdoor biergarten in their new space (which they moved into shortly before the pandemic) and the outdoor area is really nice. As always, the beer was really tasty, too. This one has one of my favorite hops, Vic Secret, which seems to be a favorite of Conclave’s too. Good tropical fruity elements in the beer with a slightly bitter hop finish. Good stuff.

Raspberry Radler (Beach Haus Brewery) | Shandy / Radler | 3.75 Bottle Caps on untappd

Radlers/Shandys are the refreshing German style that blends fruit juice and beer (often lemonade and beer). Beach Haus’s take on the style with Raspberry is really nice and a perfect post-yardwork summer beer. This is the exactly the kind of a beer I’d expect from a brewery walking distance from the beach with great outdoor seating…and it is quite good, too!

Eye of the Storm w/Citra (Jersey Cyclone Brewing Company) | IPA – American | 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

Although Jersey Cyclone has been open for more than a year, this is my first time trying their flagship IPA. This is a flavorful almost Hazy/New England IPA. It is a little more bit grassy than most IPAs I’ve had, but very tasty nonetheless. The Citra hops shine in this beer, evoking the citrus profile which lends the hop the name.

A great month overall for new beers, so let’s leave it at that.

Beer Review: Eis Maker from Jack’s Abby Craft Lager

Name: Eis Maker
Brewing Company: Jacks Abby Craft Lagers
Location: Framingham, MA
Style: Barleywine – Other (untappd) / Lager Wine (label) / Eisbock (Web site)
ABV: 13%

“A delicious, inventive interpretation of a beloved style through a new lens. A beer that truly defines Craft Brewing.”

From Jack’s Abby’s page for beers:

Eis is the German word for Ice. A former distillation process in making Eis Beer would be to freeze it, remove the ice, and collect what remained.

While today’s beer, like Eis Maker, is no longer produced this way, it is used as a connotation that the beer is very strong.

You will find this Eis Bock to be sweet, malty and boozy with notes of raisin, dark fruit and similar profile of a barley wine.

This beer is not part of the 20 Years 20 Beers series, nor it is a NJ beer. However, Jack’s Abby entered the NJ market last year and as much as I love my local breweries, I want to support the “new to the area breweries,” especially when they are independent and are known primarily for Lagers. This all brings me to a style I’ve never seen, at least as Jack’s Abby names it: Lager Wine. Because of that, and the echoes of the rarest of lagers, the Eisbock, I was very drawn to this boozy concoction.

From the bottle into the glass, this beer looks the part of a Barleywine (leaning more on the English side rather than the hoppier American variety) with the toffee-like color. The aroma is of figs and other dark fruits. So far so, good.

The first sip is….wow. Just wow. The aroma of the aforementioned fruits is strong in the profile at the outset. While this is 13%, I took a couple of big sips because it was so tasty. Once I get beyond the initial sip, the complexity of this beer unfolds. The barrel notes are not overpowering to the overall flavor, but I’m sure they add to the overall booziness. On the other hand, as noted above and in my Bock overview, traditional Eisbocks are partially distilled – the frozen water is removed from the process, leaving more alcohol in the final liquid. Thus we have a beer at 13%…but it isn’t overpowering. The beer isn’t too hot or strong with alcohol or the barrel element, but both the barrel and high alcohol are noticeable elements in the overall taste profile. In other words, pleasant components of the overall taste of the beer.

The barrel notes blend fabulously with the raisin/date/fig elements in Eis Maker. I’ve had only two Eisbocks (at least since joining untappd 6 years ago) and a handful of traditional Barleywines over the years. This beer marries the best elements of both styles (and frankly, both styles are wonderful on their own), into a delightful and unique beer. What makes this beer so special is how even in sticking to a Lager yeast/Lager style, Jack’s Abby managed to craft a beer so evocative of a style not typically brewed as a Lager. Jacks’ Abby has a series of Barrel-Aged beers, many of which are their “Framinghammer” Baltic Porters (yes, Baltic Porters are traditionally Lagers) and other beers that are Lager interpretations of beers that are traditionally in the dark range of the Ale family of beers. Eis Maker is the second in this barrel-aged series I’ve had, but it only has me eager to try more. This beer is the definition of delicious, inventive, out-of-the-box thinking that once defined Craft Brewing and from what I’ve had from the fine folks at Jack’s Abby, defines them.

Highly recommended, link to Untappd 4.25-bottle cap rating.

Beer Review: Mamaw’s Mean Cobbler from Hardywood Park Craft Brewery

Name: Mamaw’s Mean Cobbler
Brewing Company: Hardywood Park Craft Brewery
Location: Richmond, VA
Style: Belgian Tripel
ABV: 8.2%

“A Belgian Tripel perfectly complemented with some added elements make for a deliciously crafted dessert beer.”

From untappd’s page for beers:

Mamaw’s Mean Cobbler is a delightful variation of our Peach Tripel with vanilla, cinnamon, coconut, and milk sugar additions delivering the classic flavors of a southern-style peach cobbler baked fresh in grandma’s kitchen.

Another great beer from “The 20 Years 20 Beers” gift provides for an introduction to another new brewery! Hardywood is a brewery I’m well aware of and a brewery I featured here for their whale beer, Gingerbread Stout. This installment of 20 Years 20 Beers also gives me a new Tripel to try, a style I thoroughly enjoy, but isn’t quite as common in the American Craft Beer scene.

The initial small pour my wife gave me so I could try guess the style of beer gave off the fruity vibes. I tasted banana and thought perhaps peach might be involved. The yeast was very prevalent, I knew I had some kind of Belgian-style.

This beer, fully poured in my goblet, looks extremely inviting – some Tripels are filtered, some are a little cloudy like this one. Looks great, and the aroma is equally pleasing.

I’m getting massive peach aroma from this beer, fortunately peach is a fruit I enjoy a great deal. The nose leads to the taste, but with more than just a small pour, more than just peach emerges. The Belgian-style yeast is very prominent, but other elements come through, primarily the cinnamon. It is subtle, but present enough and a welcome complement to the peach and yeast. The lactose and coconut are even more subtle, lactose usually adds more texture and sweetness than a distinct flavor which is the case here. I didn’t get too much coconut as a standout, it was more in the background.

I was utterly entranced by this beer. The peach is a perfect complement to the strong, yeast element in the beer and the cinnamon is just a lovely component that ties the two elements together. I’ve had peach cobbler and this beer is a perfect interpretation of the dessert into a beer. Dessert beers are often associated with sweet, “pastry” stouts, but this beer right here? Give me this as a summer dessert beer and I’ll be a very, very happy guy. The peach is sweet, the lactose/milk sugar is an added sweetness, and the yeast helps to generate sweetness, so there’ quite a few sweet elements working together. However, the sweetness is not cloying and those three sweet elements are in balance with each other.

Mamaw’s Mean Cobbler is a beer with a funny name, but a great taste. My wife is continuing to knock it out of the park with the 20 Beers 20 Years theme so far.

Highly recommended, link to Untappd 4.25-bottle cap rating.

Beer Review: Braxton Labs Chocolate Cinnamon Roll

Name: Braxton Labs Chocolate Cinnamon Roll
Brewing Company: Braxton Brewing Company | Braxton Labs
Location: Covington, KY
Style: Brown Ale – Imperial / Double
ABV: 8.8%

“A delightful dessert beer that delivers exactly what the name says, cinnamon and chocolate in a deliciously crafted Imperial Brown Ale..”

From untappd’s entry/page for the beer:

This dessert style imperial brown ale has a sweet, full mouthfeel due to flaked oats and lactose. Specialty malts of pale chocolate and crystal malts bring a base of roasted chocolate and caramel. Additions of cinnamon and cacao nibs after fermentation bring together all the flavors of a delicious cinnamon roll with a sprinkling of chocolate chips.

The 20 Years 20 beers theme continues with this week’s beer review and introduces me to another new brewery! Braxton Brewing Company is a brewery I’m aware of, but prior to this beer I haven’t had the chance to try a beer from them.

Like the previous beer (and all 20 beers in this gift project), my wife gave me a taster of a few ounces to see if I could guess the beer. I was immediately hit with cinnamon, which stands out the most. Cinnamon is usually not what you’d call a subtle flavor element, after all. I thought the beer might be a Dessert/Pastry Stout, but looking at the beer, it isn’t quite dark enough to be a stout, so I guessed Brown Ale. I was close, my wife says, since it is an Imperial Brown Ale.

The full beer in the glass is a dark brown, a shade under black. In a certain light it *might* be mistaken for a Stout, but closer inspection reveals the beer’s true brown nature. The aroma of the full beer is largely cinnamon and very inviting.

Diving into the full pour, the cinnamon asserts itself immediately and plays very nicely with the roasted malt that gives a Brown Ale its smooth and sometimes chocolatey flavor. The fact that cocoa was added to the beer brings these flavors together even more strongly and makes for a delicious beer. The same disclaimer I make with big dark ales applies to Chocolate Cinnamon Roll: let the beer get a little closer to room temperature to allow the flavors to breathe a little and it tastes even better.

Perhaps the smartest thing Braxton Labs did with this beer was at the very beginning of the creative process. Now I’m not sure what came first, the style, or what they wanted to achieve with the end result in terms of flavor, but this works better as a big Brown Ale than it would have as a Stout, I think. The roasted elements of a Stout could potentially take over the cinnamon and chocolate and the more muted malt elements, as I pointed out previously, play really well with those two adjuncts.

Braxton Brewing has proven that a Brown Ale can be a flavorful, delicious beer when crafted well and that Brown Ales should not be overlooked. This is a great dessert beer. My wife is batting 1.000 with the 20 Beers 20 Years theme so far.

Highly recommended, link to Untappd 4.25-bottle cap rating.

Bravo for Brown (Level 10)

Dating back to the 17th century, Brown Ales come in a number of varieties. With malty, nutty characteristics and a smooth finish, it’s sure to cure your cravings.

Tavour (Level 3)

 

Beer Review: Fort George’s Cathedral Tree

Name: Cathedral Tree
Brewing Company: Fort George Brewing Company
Location: Astoria, OR
Style: Pilsner – Other
ABV: 4.8%

Cathedral Tree is a delicious, classically crafted full-flavored Pilsner and a beer worth seeking out should you find yourself in the Astoria, OR area.”

From Fort George Brewing’s page for Cathedral Tree:

Cathedral Tree is a beer that pays reverence to the timeless lager style – Pilsners. Fermented entirely in 500 Liter oak puncheons, to incorporate Old World methodology and provide a mellow tannic structure that lends a full mouthfeel and support for classic German noble and modern hops. Finishes crisp, clean, and refreshing as any Pilsner should. Look for Cathedral Tree in 16-ounce cans. And just like the actual Cathedral Tree, this one is staying firmly planted at the coast.

BREWER’S NOTES

Brewed in the Lovell Brewery and fermented in the Lovell basement in great big oak barrels, this beer is oak fermented and lagered, but not “barrel-aged.”

Pale straw in color, this pilsner offers floras, white grape, and rustic raw grain aromas in addition to doughy, bready, herbal & floral hops and white nectarine flavors.

For our 20th Wedding Anniversary, my wife bought me a box of special beers, 20 beers specifically. Each beer is meant commemorate a special moment, event, or shared memories from the 20 years of our marriage. Not just any beers, mind you. She bought 20 different styles of beer from breweries from around the country, 18 of the beers through Tavour, which is a beer crating service that allows consumers to get beers from small, independent breweries from around the country. Beers from, say, a small brewery in Oregon a person (like me) from New Jersey would never otherwise be able to procure. Tavour also is a great way to support small and independent business which aren’t exactly local.

My wife also put together 20 index cards with a printed image and a textual hint as to what the beer might be or where the beer was made. This game consists of me picking a card and then she presents a few ounces of the beer in a taster glass, so I can guess what the beer is. The index card clue for this beer hinted at a German store near our house we frequent, so I was hoping for some kind of Lager. I immediately knew it was a Lager of some sort from the aroma, but the small taste also had me feeling pretty good about the beer being a Pilsner. As it so happened, this beer was second I had from the Tavour box and it is one of my favorite styles, a Pilsner.

The beer pours a perfect golden-yellow with a fluffy white head into my Pilsner glass. As it turns out, the glass from which I enjoyed the beer was a wedding gift from my coworkers of 20 years ago, they gave me a box of Pilsner glasses, so another little reminder of 20 great years of marriage.

Getting more of the aroma from the full glass with the fluffy head, it smells like a Pilsner, with some bready elements plus some slightly fruity elements, too.

The first full taste of the beer was extremely pleasing. Cathedral Tree has the classic German Pilsner elements – bready/crackery malt and a pleasant hop finish. Many Pilsners have some kind of hint of fruit element from the hops and while the description above calls out grape as a flavor, I can’t say I was getting any of that. Maybe a hint of nectarine, but more of a pear hint. Not that I was drinking pear juice from a Pilsner glass, but pear is that subtly noticeable fruit that is found in a lot of juice blends to bring other fruit elements together. That’s what the fruity elements here did for my taste buds – brought the wonderful crackery malt together along with the hints of oak from the fermenting barrel.

Cathedral Tree is a superb Pilsner and one I’d happily have again and seek out should I ever have the opportunity to visit Oregon.

Can art by Will Elias, image courtesy of Fort George Brewery’s Website

Also worth pointing out is the gorgeous art wrapping the entire can of beer from Will Elias. Although Fort George’s description of the beer calls out German styles, the Cathedral-like structure looks like it would fit in really well in Czechoslovakia, the birthplace of Pilsner beer.

Highly recommended, link to Untappd 4.5-bottle cap rating, the gorgeous can art nudged the rating just a bit.

Draught Diversions: June 2020 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…

June has rolled in and out, the pandemic continues, as does my focus on local/New Jersey beers. One non-NJ beer in this six pack, but some of the usual suspects from NJ made an appearance in June. A pretty decent mix, style-wise, with two IPAs. Despite my recent Lager Leanings, most of the lagers I’ve been enjoying (outside of those I’ve recently reviewed) have been past favorites.

Here in NJ, restaurants and breweries have opened for outdoor consumption, which accounts for the last beer in this six pack. Hopefully I’ll have the opportunity to visit some breweries in July for outdoor communal consumption.

Fuego (Tonewood Brewing Company) | IPA – American | 4.5 Bottle Caps on untappd

In the few beers I’ve had from Tonewood, I’ve yet to have a bad beer. This straight up IPA may be the best I’ve had from them yet. There’s an absolutely perfect hop blend giving the beer both a citrus/juicy component, but also the hallmark bittering and slightly piney components often associated with West Coast IPAs. I brought a six pack to a socially distanced poker game and wound up drinking three of them myself the beer was so damned good. I know Kane is considered the IPA King of NJ (and rightly so), but Tonewood’s Fuego is outstanding and probably one of the best IPAs brewed in The State of New Jersey, at least that I’ve had the pleasure of drinking.

Picture in Reverse (Kane Brewing Company) | Old Ale | 4.75 Bottle Caps on untappd

Speaking of Kane, this is a beer I picked up at the brewery when I visited in September 2019. Old Ales are an interesting style in that they are often a blend of beers with strong malt and molasses character – those two elements are on prominent and delicious display in this beer. I’ve noted many times that Michael Kane and his crew are masters of the art of barrel-aging beer and that refined craftsmanship is the highlight of this beer. The bourbon-barrel notes are in elegant, perfect harmony with the big malt character of this potent ale. I think Picture in Reverse is an annual release for them so I’m hoping to get a bottle of it this year.

4th Anniversary (Czig Meister Brewing Company) | IPA – Imperial / Double New England | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

Unfortunately, the pandemic prevented Czig Meister from having their 4th Anniversary party, but they still brewed a potent and delicious Imperial New England IPA to celebrate. This is a fantastic beer with wonderful tropical fruit notes all over the place and a nice hop bite to balance out the sweetness. What was most surprising is how easily it went down for a beer at 10% ABV.

Köastal Kölsch Style Ale (Tom’s River Brewing Company) | Kölsch | 3.75 Bottle Caps on untappd

Toms River Brewing (f/k/a Rinn Dunn) is a brewery whose beers I’ve been wanting to try more of, and a brewery I’m looking forward to visiting. My neighbor decided to have us over one evening for some beers and conversation. Much to my pleasure, he grabbed a four pack of this crusher. I liked it so much I had two cans that evening. This is a really nice beer for the summer lounging.

Light & Sweet (Carton Brewing Company) | Cream Ale | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

To say that Regular Coffee is one of Carton’s most beloved beers is an understatement. It is a “franchise” or “brand” within the portfolio, or as Augie says of the variants, the “Regular Coffee” Game. This one is about half the ABV at 6% and there seems to be more sweetness than the standard “Regular Coffee.” This version is Nitro which gives the beer some good body and is simply delicious. Almost as good as the original Regular Coffee, except this one won’t sneak up on you and smack you on the back of the head with a baseball bat with a high ABV. In other words, you can have a couple and still be relatively OK.

Tanker Truck Sour Series: Persian Lime Gose (Two Roads Brewing Company) | Sour – Fruited Gose | 4.5 Bottle Caps on untappd

This was the first beer I had at a bar/restaurant since the pandemic. In NJ, outdoor dining was permitted and fortunately, one of our favorite places, The Stirling Hotel, has ample outdoor dining. As for the beer, this Persian Lime Gose might be one of the best Goses I’ve ever had and one of the best I’ve had from the consistently excellent folks at Two Roads Brewing. The lime was perfectly tart and sweet, the touch of salinity brought it all together. I could drink 50 o of these on a hot day as it is eminently refreshing.

Plenty of good beers, the only one that really didn’t work for me was Cowfee Break from Bolero Snort, a coffee porter. The taste was off and it was rather thin for the style. .