Beer Review: Conclave’s Gravitational Pull

Name: Gravitational Pull
Brewing Company: Conclave Brewing
Location: Raritan Township, NJ
Style: India Pale Ale / New England IPA
ABV: 6.6%

From the beer’s description on Conclave’s Web site:

Juicy and hoppy. An American IPA double dry hopped with large amounts of Galaxy, Motueka, and Azacca hops. Not bitter with notes of fresh crushed citrus.

Here we are back to New Jersey for a delicious beer from the fine brewers at Conclave. Not only that, an IPA? What? We thought you don’t like IPAs that much, Rob? Yet here is the second beer review of an IPA and you’ve yet to review one of your favorite styles like Porters or some other styles you enjoy more. Well, two things. First, Porters are more of a fall/cool weather beer for me and we are just in our first year here at the Tap Takeover. Second, the fact that I’m “reviewing” a second IPA should be an indication of just how wonderful this beer is.

The first, most noticeable characteristic of the beer is the thick, hazy, orange color. It pours almost like pulpy orange juice, the same consistency and thickness, but without the pulp. The aroma is a refreshing blend of citrus and hops, a nice balance that is very inviting.

The first taste gives you the hops, but not in a bludgeoning overpowering way that many IPAs deliver. The citrus/juice-bomb finish of that first sip encourages you to drink more. It is such an elegantly crafted beer that one pint can go too fast. Although the taste expands a little bit as it warms to room temperature, for me, this one tastes better colder.

The blend of the three hops in the beer, the Motueka in particular, is what lends the citrusy tropical fruit flavor to this beer. I think this is the second time Conclave has brewed this beer and if I recall correctly from briefly chatting with owner Carl when I had my growler filled on Friday, the Motueka hops aren’t the easiest to acquire, nor are the Galaxy hops, both of which lend a citrusy/tropical fruit flavor profile. A brief Google search points to New Zealand as the source for the Motueka hops and Australia for the Galaxy hops, so that challenge makes sense. The more common Azacca hops in the beer to blend extremely well with the Motueka and Galaxy hops, enhancing that juice-bomb aspect to the beer.

Equation for Newton Universal Gravitation, used as icon for the beer on untappd

OK, that was a little bit of a science, geography, and business lesson, back to the beer.

I briefly mentioned Gravitational Pull in my August round up and my feature on Conclave, so again, the repeated mentions of this beer should only point to what a standout beer this is. The first time I had it was in a bar, so as soon as I saw a new batch was ready for growler fills at the brewery, I had to go. I was also hoping there would be some cans of it, but not just yet.

The first pour from the mini growler on Friday night was fantastic, so fresh and juicy. I wanted to save the remaining pint of the 32 oz. growler for the next night and it stayed just as juicy and delicious the following day. I don’t know that I’d want to get a full 64 oz. growler for myself over the course of multiple days because I just don’t know how long it would stay fresh. I’ve had growlers of stouts over the course of a few days and around day 3 or 4 the freshness and taste start to fade. For an IPA like this one, I think freshness is the key.

Image/Logo used by Conclave in advertising beer’s availability at the brewery

Right now on untappd Gravitational Pull is categorized as an “American IPA” though I suspect this might change to New England IPA since this beer seems to have all the characteristics I’ve read that are associated with NEIPAs. Irregardless, Gravitational Pull is a great, great beer and one that is helping to establish Conclave Brewing as one of the premier (out of 70~) NJ Breweries.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4.25-star rating.

Beer Review: The Bruery Autumn Maple

Name: Autumn Maple
Brewing Company: The Bruery
Location: Placentia, CA
Style: Belgian Brown / Pumpkin/Yam Beer
ABV: 10%

From the beer’s description on The Bruery’s site:

Brewed with 15 lbs. of yams per barrel (in other words, a lot of yams!), this autumn seasonal is a different take on the “pumpkin” beer style. Cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, vanilla, maple syrup, and fermentation with our traditional Belgian yeast strain, make this bold and spicy beer perfect for a cold autumn evening.

We have also created bourbon barrel-aged, barrel-fermented, and darker variations of Autumn Maple.

A shift to a California brewery this time around, The Bruery. A brewery known for big, bold, flavorful brews distributed in what seems to only be 750mL bottles and draft. I’ve never seen any of their beers in 12 oz bottles here in New Jersey. I’ve seen many of their bomber bottles and have had two of their “Days of Christmas” series and loved both. I recently received a promotion at work and my wife, knowing what kinds of beers I enjoy, picked me up a bottle of this in congratulations. The timing was also perfect as I was approaching unique check-in #1,000 on untappd. I figured this beer would be a perfect celebration of both of those things and I was correct in that assumption. As you can see by the screen-grab to the right, Autumn Maple was my 1,000th unique beer on untappd.

As the name of this beer indicates, Autumn Maple is an annual Fall / Autumn release. It pours very brown and a little bit cloudy, not the brownish-orange-amber of many fall beers like Oktoberfests or Pumpkin beers. The first thing that struck me with this beer was the Belgian yeast, it came through in the aroma along with the spices associated with pumpkin beers (cinnamon and nutmeg in particular) even if this isn’t really a pumpkin beer. The longer I breathed in the aroma, the more I could smell the spices and knew this could be a really tasty beer.  That aroma did not lead me astray.

The presence of the Belgian yeast is up front in the taste, too. A quite potent presence at that. But then the spices come through and there’s a nice intermingling of the cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla with that yeast strain that is quite interesting. I don’t quite get the taste of the yams (despite 15 pounds of them) as much as the spices, but they give the beer an added earthiness and weight. Even when I have candied yams or sweet potatoes they act more as a delivery mechanism for the other flavors.

The beer is a big one, not just in the size of the bottle, but ABV at 10%. I wound up enjoying this one gradually and I slowed down even more once I realized how much more flavorful the beer was once it had the chance to air out, warm up, and have more open space for the flavor components to play together. Those spices played even more with the yeasts to make this a very, very tasty beer. For an unfiltered beer, there wasn’t really much sediment at the bottom of the glass, good or bad.

The label says this is a “Belgian Brown Ale” but the beer sites consider it a Pumpkin/Yam/Vegetable beer. I don’t care how Autumn Maple is categorized, because quite frankly, I found it to be a unique, delicious beer. Definitely an out-of-the-box take on the traditional fall Pumpkin beer, I can see myself returning to this beer every Autumn.

It was an early September evening when I enjoyed this beer, a cool evening that felt more like Autumn than late summer. This is a beer to drink alone while you are engrossed in a great, enjoyable book for a couple of hours (as I was) or one to share with a friend or family member over a hearty, Autumn meal or as a desert beer following that same hearty meal.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4.25-star rating.

Beer Review: Dogfish Head Oak Aged Vanilla World Wide Stout

Name:Oak Aged Vanilla World Wide Stout
Brewing Company: Dogfish Head Craft Brewery
Location: Milton Delaware
Style: Stout / Imperial Stout / American Double
ABV: 16% IBU: 70

If hasn’t become clear by now by how often it appears in beer reviews, this is one of my favorite beer glasses.

From the beer’s description on Dogfish Head’s site:

Rare and often rumored about in the darkest corners of the beer community, World Wide Stout is dark, rich, roasty and complex, and lingers somewhere beyond the limits of the average beer.

Brewed with a ridiculous amount of barley, we’ve now taken this Dogfish Head classic and aged it on oak with real vanilla beans! With a little tender love and care we foster this beer from smooth, sweet wort into the big, bad blackend stout it always longed to be. Its bold, port-like complexity goes great with (or as) dessert.

With its high ABV, this is an excellent candidtate for cellaring, so grab a few bottles to enjoy now and lay the others down for a few years.

I seem to be making my way through some of the foundationial Northeastern Craft Breweries on these beer reviews without even planning it, having reviewed great beers from Tröegs and Victory in Pennsylvania and Flying Fish right here in New Jersey. Few breweries and brewers have as much respect in the world of craft beer as Dogfish Head and Sam Calagione. From experimental brews to beers that are icons in the American Craft Beer landscape, Dogfish Head has been brewing it all since 1995 and Sam even had a TV Show (Brew Masters).

One of their semi-regular releases is World Wide Stout, big 18% Stout that catches a hefty price tag. One bottle can be pricier than a six-pack of a quality beer. I was foolish when the beer was released last year, I didn’t pick up a bottle. However, I was not going to let this Oak-Aged Vanilla variant go off the shelves without picking up a bottle.

My, oh my am I glad I picked up a bottle.

The first thing I did after pouring the beer in the glass pictured above was nothing. Just look at how pitch black and beautiful that beer looks. I wanted to let it sit for a bit, come up to room temperature and breath to let the flavors come alive. Strike that, I took a big whiff of the beer and there was a great punch of vanilla.

I was slightly nervous, I have to admit. I’ve had a couple of beers with vanilla beans or some kind of vanilla component and I was a little disappointed, the vanilla was too over powering in those beers. I won’t name names, I try to focus on the positive when talking about specific beers here at the Tap Takeover. Knowing the quality of Dogfish Head’s beers, I really should not have worried. If the aroma was a hint of things to come (and it was), the vanilla here was quite present but not dominant.

The first sip was just sublime, the roasty flavor of a stout comes through, there’s a little bit of the oak, but that vanilla shines through so well. Like I said, it doesn’t hit you in the face and overpower you, but it is a noticeable, perfect blend with the stout flavors you’d expect along with a hint of the oak.

The beer is a whopping 16% ABV and isn’t too noticeable on the first sip, but the more you have of the beer, the more the potency comes through. Again, not in an overpowering way, but as a perfect element of the gestalt of this beer.

One other element of the beer that surprised me was the high IBU at 70 IBUs, when I saw that I earned another level on “Hopped Up” badge (for beers with an IBU over 65). A lot of these higher ABV stouts have a large hop presence, but there was no real bitterness to the beer, the hops were just slightly noticeable to me at least. Again, a perfectly applied component of a delicious beer.

A sipping beer to enjoy over the course of 45 minutes or so, or “slow, easy drinking” as I said on my untappd comment. This one helped me through the finale of Game of Thrones. While the show delivered some of what I expected, the beer went above and beyond to the point I was sad when there was no more.

This is an outstanding beer that I cannot recommend enough, if you are able to track down a bottle. I know I will because I want to see how this beer tastes a couple of years from now.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4.75-star rating.

Beer Review: Tröegs Troegenator Double Bock

Name: Troegenator Double Bock
Brewing Company: Tröegs Independent Brewing
Location: Hershey, PA
Style: Dopplebock
ABV: 8.2%

From the beer’s description on Tröeg’s Web site:

Monks had fasting figured out. No food? No problem. Just drink a Double Bock. Thick and chewy with intense notes of caramel, chocolate and dried stone fruit, ‘Nator (as we call him) serves as a tribute to this liquid bread style.

Tröegs is a foundational Independent American Craft brewer, not just in the Northeast (Pennsylvania specifically), but very likely in the United States. The Trogner brothers founded the brewery in 1996 and have been crafting delicious beers over the last twenty years. One of the highlights of their line-up is their famous Troegenator, a double-bock brewed in the Germanic tradition of malty, sweet beers. The naming convention also follows German tradition, which includes the suffix of –nator to denote a dopplebock (or double bock).

Bock is in the family of lagers, and therefore involves a longer brewing process compared to Ales, which may be one reason few breweries included bocks of any kind in their regular rotation of brews. The Troegenator has been part of Tröegs line up nearly since the brewery’s inception and has proven to be one of their most respected offerings, winning medals at beer festivals, garnering fans, and helping to put Tröegs on the Craft Beer map. Why is that?

Let’s start with opening the beer… When the beer pours from the 12 oz bottle into my fluted glass, the deep amber or brown color is the most noticeable element. Finishing off the pour leaves a thin foamy head that presents a very inviting beer. Aromas of caramel waft from the glass across to the palate.

The first sip for me this time ‘round (I’ve had this one a few times, my Dad tends to keep at least one six pack of Tröegs in his fridge and this is usually the one) was maltiness and sweetness. That’s exactly what a Dopplebock should deliver. The beer is relatively thick, the malt and sweet give rise to a caramel taste. Again, essential flavor components one should expect with a dopplebock. What gives this one a little more complexity are the spices that follow, giving the beer a more robust flavor profile than the standard Dopplebock. There may be some hints of chocolate in the beer, but that sweetness was given further complexity with a fruitiness as well.

The heaviness of the beer, complex sweetness and thick maltiness make this a beer you might want after dinner. I suspect it would also pair nicely with a rich hearty meat, too. Like many beers with higher ABV, Troegenator’s flavors release even more potently as the beer warms from fridge temperature to room temperature. I finished the beer off on a late August evening with cool air blowing in through the windows, which seemed perfect. This is a beer you’d probably enjoy more when the weather is slightly cooler, like late summer, early fall, or early spring. But, this really is an anytime beer because it is so damned good.

If you haven’t had the opportunity to enjoy a Troegantor, this is a must-try beer of the American Craft Beer landscape. If you have tried it, then chances are you’ve had it more than once.

Tröegs brews a barrel-aged variety of this Big Beer which I need to find and enjoy. I’m not sure how limited a release the beer is or if it is a brewery-only release, but somehow, some way I will be getting my hands on a bottle of it.

Lastly, Tröegs recently (2015, just ahead of their 20th Anniversary) revamped their label designs to go for more of a hand-drawn arty style, created by a local artist, rather than labels with a thicker line art.

Previous, iconic label of the beer.

Fortunately, for long-time fans of the beer and brewery, the horned head of the original Troegenator logo is still on the beer.

New Logo, which still sports the horned character, who I assume is god Pan

Recommended, link to Untappd 4.25-star rating.

Beer Review: Trappistes Rochefort 8

Name: Trappistes Rochefort 8
Brewing Company: Brasserie de Rochefort
Location: Rochefort, Belgium
Style: Belgian Strong Dark Ale
ABV: 9.4%

Maybe not my best pour, but look at that fluffy head

From the beer’s description on Belgium Tourism’s Website :

History and provenance are readily apparent, in the taste of the 8. Ever since the 1960s, Rochefort’s own yeast culture has produced those characteristic esters in its divine brews.

Rochefort 8 is considered the ‘lad’ among the three Rochefort beers, with its green-bottle cap hat, which first saw light in 1954. This youngest member of the family straightaway received a warm welcome, after its commissioning by one particular (and rather important) client. One year on, and it was made an official addition to what is now the Rochefort trio, and marketed as a ‘spéciale’. Some still refer to it by this name.

The Rochefort 8 is a beer to be savoured at your leisure. Not too dense, it goes down easily, quietly sparkling. The alcohol in the finish never lets you forget that this is an authentic degustation beer, one that cannot be hurried along. It is sweet and chocolatey, pleasant but certainly never boring. The same can be said of the alcohol content – it makes itself known, but it never overpowers, leaving plenty of room for all the rich subtlety to be found in a glass of the 8.

If beer is said to be liquid bread, then Trappist Rochefort 8 is a great example of that ideal. Trappist beers are relatively rare, there are certain rules and regulations around what is considered a Trappist Brewery, Rochefort is one of only a eleven breweries in the world that can be called a Trappist Ale, and is a classic example of a Trappist Brewery in Belgium. The Abbey in Rochefort has been brewing since 1595 so, like last week’s beer from Weihenstephan, this beer can be considered a European Classic.

So what can one expect from a beer brewed by an Abby that’s been around for over 800 years and brewing beer for a majority of that time? A lot of complexity. The yeast in this one releases a bounty of flavors that will appeal to beer lovers who appreciate low-hopped, dark, bready beers with hints of fruit. This is a beer to enjoy over time and not one to consume quickly.

The beer pours brown from the bottle and, at least with my bottle, a very fluffy tan head. The aroma hits your nose and invites you to linger for a bit to give your taste buds an idea of what to expect. A “Belgian Strong Dark Ale” is almost like a stout, largely from the hue of the beer and the robust nature of the flavor profile, but it isn’t quite a stout either. At least this one is fairly far removed from a stout.

The first hints are of a malty, thick beer that will linger on the palate. I didn’t quite get the plum flavor evocations in the taste profile others claim to taste, but I definitely get the banana hints from the yeast. Or maybe my palate is unaccustomed to plums, especially as a flavor component in a beer. There’s also a spice flavor laced throughout the beer that isn’t quite clove, nor is it too assertive. Rather, it gives the beer a very well-rounded flavor profile. That was all on just the first couple of sips of the beer.

This beer warms up real nice. As it gets closer to room temperature, the flavors come out more prominently. Maybe the plum hints come through as the beer warms, because I get *something* that is a bit of a fruity taste, but not the banana evocation I tasted initially. Maybe something earthier like figs, I don’t know, but I like it quite a bit.

At 9.4%, this one does have a noticeable bite of alcohol. This beer has a quality similar to barrel aging that gives stouts an extra kick, but it is welcome in this beer and not too overpowering. Of course I took my time drinking this beer over the course of maybe 45 minutes to an hour. There’s not a lot of filtration going on here, so expect some yeast particulates to linger at the bottom of the glass, even thicker from this bottle than I’d come to expect from a Bavarian Hefeweizen. Some people think those particulates are the best part of the beer. I was a little wary of finishing them off, but what allowed the flavor of the beer to evolve even in the last few sips was swirling the beer with those particulates, which continued to release flavor bursts.

This is the second Belgian style brew I’ve reviewed here at The Tap Takeover and the first from an actual Belgian brewery. I’m coming to thoroughly enjoy the beer produced by the Belgian brewing methodologies and Belgian ingredients, particularly the yeast which gives the beer the robust flavor, a great deal. This is a beer worth trying once. I know I’ll be trying more of the Trappist Ales in the future.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4-star rating.

Beer Review: Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier

Name: Hefeweissbier
Brewing Company: Bayerische Staatsbrauerei Weihenstephan
Location: Freising, Bavaria, Germany
Style: Hefeweizen
ABV: 5.4%

From the beer’s description on Weihenstephaner’s Web Site:

Our golden-yellow wheat beer, with its fine-poured white foam, smells of cloves and impresses consumers with its refreshing banana flavor. It is full bodied and with a smooth yeast taste. To be enjoyed at any time, goes excellently with fish and seafood, with spicy cheese and especially with the traditional Bavarian veal sausage. Brewed according to our centuries-old brewing tradition on the Weihenstephan hill.

If a brewery, the world’s oldest, has been in continuous operation for nearly 900 years and the beer has remained relatively unchanged, then clearly, this brewery is doing something right. I can’t think of anything that would codify the term “classic beer” and that ethos quite as powerfully as do the brewers at Weihenstephaner and their absolute classic Hefeweizen they call “Hefe Weissbier.”

While I’ve largely been focusing these beer reviews on “Craft Beer”, I wanted to take some time and space to give some love to a classic beer style, from a classic brewery. For what it’s worth, Weihenstaphan is labeled as a Micro Brewery on untappd, despite their global reach.

Few drinks or foods hit my tastebuds so well as does a Hefeweizen beer, and the wonderful brewers of Weihenstephaner have perfected the traditional Bavarian wheat beer like few others in the world. Hefeweizen is a fairly straightforward style, a classic style, but sometimes that simplicity is what makes it such an elegant, tasty beer. This is a beer I enjoy over and over and return to with regularity.

Some Hefeweizens can lean towards more of a fruity, banana flavor evocation, while clove flavor dominates other Hefeweizens. A lot of this comes down to the yeast and the brewing process. The Weihenstephaner take is more on the banana side of things, giving the beer a profile that evokes sweetness and happiness.

One may be inclined to add a citrus slice to the beer, be it orange or lemon thanks to the brewers of Blue Moon who have made it seem a standard thing to do for European wheat beers. Do not do that with any German Hefeweizen, especially, the Weihenstephan Hefeweissbier.

Pouring a bright golden yellow from the bottle (or tap), the beer head foams up quite nicely. One thing to do with many of the unfiltered beers like the classic hefeweizen is to pour only about ¾ of the beer into the glass. Let it settle and let the foamy head grow to its potential. Swirl the last of what is in the bottle to gather all the yeast particulates and top off the beer to allow those taste bursts to float through the beer and give it the flavor profile most associated with it.

The glass in the photos here is, admittedly, not the intended glass for any Hefeweizen, but I figured I’d rather use a glass with the Weihenstephaner logo on it than the logo of another brewer (even if it is another German brewery). To the right you’ll see the classic Hefeweizen/Wheat Beer glass. I do have a few of them with various logos, but opted for the large mug with the Weihenstephaner logo, which is a good second option.

These days, brewers put so many ingredients into beer or age the beer in some type of barrel which does result in a wonderful, complex flavor profile. On the other hand, there’s definitely something to be said for the elegance of using simple, straightforward ingredients (just two grains), which results in something so incredibly tasty. All you need to do is taste the Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier and look no further than their logo with the year 1090 to know you’re drinking a great, classic beer.

Ein prosit und gemütlichkeit!

Highly Recommended, link to Untappd 5-star rating.

Beer Review: Flounder Iced Coffee Stout

Name: Iced Coffee Stout
Brewing Company: Flounder Brewing
Location: Hillsborough, NJ
Style: Stout
ABV: 4.6.%

From the beer’s description on untappd:

Iced black coffee has become sort of a staple during our morning brews. We figured, why not make a beer that tastes just like one? Perfect for desert, or a quick pick-me-up in the morning!

A 4.6% light bodied Stout conditioned on a custom cold brew roast coffee from our friends Fieldstone Coffee Roasters in Milford, NJ.

A stout? In Summer? A stout as a summer-time seasonal beer? Crazy, I know. But listen, I drink coffee every day and in the summer, like many people (and possibly a major reason Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks make so much money) I prefer Iced Coffee to the piping hot Joe in the morning. Same reason I typically won’t have soup on a hot summer day. Our friends at Flounder hit upon that idea with this beer and it was even better than I expected.

Flounder Brewing has been around for a few years now. I recall one of their beers winning the Fan Favorite beer at one of the first Brewfests I attended. I have to be up front, this brewery is the next town over from me, on the way from work (if I go one of the half dozen ways home) and I know one of the brewers from our day job together. On the other hand, I was enjoying their beers before I started working at the company where we both work so if anything, any partial “bias” here comes from the proximity and Garden State roots of the brewery but mostly from the quality of the beer they create. I will likely go into more detail about the great things Flounder has done and the accolades they’ve received in a future Draught Diversions post.

So, what about their Iced Coffee Stout?

Although I’ve said Hefeweizen is my favorite style, I’d be lying if I said Stouts weren’t a close second or even tied for that top spot. Since joining untappd in February 2014, I’ve had over 150 different stouts compared to the 50 or so different Hefeweizens. Then again, there is a far wider variety of stouts and many more flavor enhancements that can be added to stouts or variations on the style than a Hefeweizen. For example, brewing a stout to evoke the same flavor profile as one would get from Iced Coffee.

Sometimes coffee stouts can carry over the bitterness of coffee, which doesn’t always make for either a pleasing overall flavor profile, or may impart an aftertaste that could offset the initial taste of the beer. I didn’t find that to be the case with Flounder’s take on what has become a staple of the stout variety. I’ll notch that up to the beans and what seems to be more sweetness. At least when I have iced coffee, I tend to have it with more sugar than hot coffee. Whatever secrets the brewers at Flounder have put into this recipe, it works very well.

Stout, as a style, is one that sometimes tastes better as the beer warms to room temperature. This one, as the Iced Coffee name implies, doesn’t benefit quite as much as do the higher ABV barrel-aged stouts. This beer, you want fresh from the tap or just as it is poured from the growler you had in your fridge. Speaking of the ABV, this one is nice and low at 4.6% making for a nice sessionable beer, one where a couple in an hour wouldn’t unsettle you too much. Again, if you have more than that, make sure you aren’t driving anywhere and so forth.

Flounder has played with beer expectations and given craft beer drinkers lucky enough to live near the brewery the chance to enjoy a summertime stout, something that is outside of conventional beer brewing and drinking.

Flounder hasn’t yet bottled or canned their beer for store availability, so you’ll either have to go to a bar where their beer is on tap or stop in the brewery located in Hillsborough and fill up your growler. I filled up a growler on a Friday in May and it didn’t last the weekend. They tapped another keg this past weekend and the beer is just fantastic.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4.25-star rating.