Beer Review: Czig Meister Brewing’s The Herdsman

Name: The Herdsman
Brewing Company: Czig Meister Brewing
Location: Hackettstown, NJ
Style: Bock – Single / Traditional
ABV: 6.7%

“Czig Meister’s (Matt Czigler’s) German brewing skill and knowledge are on full display in this spot on take on the classic German Bock.”

Unfortunately, my reflection makes an appearance here

I’ve made it no secret that I enjoy the beers coming out of Czig Meister in Hackettstown, NJ. I also have proclaimed my enjoyment of Bocks beers and desire to see more of the style available, in all their varieties. So, when Czig Meister announced their third anniversary party the first weekend in June (Happy Anniversary!) I was hoping they’d still have this traditional German beer still available because I knew I was going to attend. I was planning on featuring one of their beers this week as a nod to their anniversary and I’ve been wanting to feature a bock for a while. Obviously they did or else I wouldn’t be writing about it and those two things came together.

The Anniversary party was in full swing when I arrived, with Czig’s large outdoor Biergaten relatively packed and the line to get beer both inside and outside weren’t short, but they were moving. The atmosphere, on the whole, was super friendly and the weather was perfect. The party was a great showcase for what a great community the NJ Craft Brewing community is, I was chatting with a couple of folks from Twin Elephant and saw folks from Fort Nonsense. Granted, those two breweries are relatively close and Czig Meister is one of the largest in Northern New Jersey. But on to the beer…

The beer poured into the glass a brownish amber and looked just like I’d expect a Bock to look. I’d say it is a little darker than the traditional German Amber Lager (i.e. the Columbia Street Lager from Karl Strauss I reviewed a couple of weeks ago) and slightly less carbonated. I smell malt, sweetness, and maybe a little nuttiness. I like how this is shaping up for me.

The sweet malt presence is the first thing about the flavor I noticed. The traditional caramel-like flavor is very present, too, and it doesn’t go away. That is most definitely a feature for me for this beer. Some bocks have an aftertaste that is too bitter or too earthy for my tastes. That aftertaste is nowhere to be found with this beer. The caramel sweet-smooth flavor follows through to the end and picks up some nuttiness, giving the finish a nice rounded and appealing overall profile.

I had four total beers during my stay at the anniversary party, chatting with old friends and new alike. All four beers I had (three were 4oz tasters) were very good, but the delicious, sweet caramel aspect of the Herdsman lingered on my palate for quite a while after having the beer. Later in the evening when I was on my couch, I still caught hints of the caramel somewhere in my sense of taste. Again, this is a good thing.

A note on the label/can art. Czig Meister has developed a pretty consistent branding across all of their canned beers that makes their beer very identifiable, from a brand perspective, on the shelf. For The Herdsman, they went simple and to the point, featuring the iconic image of goat which has long been associated with Bock beer..

Czig Meister has a very solid reputation in the New Jersey brewing scene. Much of that reputation has been built on the vast number IPAs they brew, many which are part of their “Deep Sea Series.” The Herdsman is one of the rare Lagers they’ve brewed and have made available in cans. Sure they’ve done a pilsner and a few other lagers such as a special Dopplebock, but a “single” or traditional Bock shows the knowledge, skill, and confidence Matt and his crew have in their brewing abilities. As precise as a Pilsner can be, a Bock is just as complex a style to brew successfully and to keep dialed in with the appropriate flavor profile. That confidence is well-founded with this on-point interpretation of a Traditional Bock. I hope this beer continues to be part of Czig Meister’s portfolio.

One last Happy Anniversary to Czig Meister, a brewery that produces delicious beer and has some good people making that beer.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4-bottle cap rating.

Untapped badges earned with this beer:

I’ll Be Bock (Level 10)

Once you’ve had just one, there’s no doubt you’ll be saying “I’ll be bock” for another. That’s 50 different Bock beers.

Beer Review: Tonewood Brewing’s Freshies

Name: Freshies
Brewing Company: Tonewood Brewing
Location: Oaklyn, NJ
Style: Pale Ale – American
ABV: 5%

“The growing NJ brewery’s flavorful, hoppy take on the classic American Pale Ale is well-worth a spot in your cooler/refrigerator..”

From the Untapped page for Freshies:

Freshies – 5.0% ABV – American Pale Ale – A soft and crushable Pale Ale brewed with Wheat and hopped with Simcoe, Amarillo, and Cascade hops.

Tonewood Brewing opened up in 2015 and has been brewing well-received beer since then. Located in Oaklyn, NJ,  they aren’t exactly close to me, so I was very pleased to see a few of their beers at one of the three liquor stores at a major intersection on my commute home. Keeping to my recent trend of mostly lower ABV beers towards which I’ve been gravitating, I grabbed a six pack of Freshies with its relatively low 5% ABV.

Cracking open the can and pouring the beer into the glass, a pleasant hop aroma wafts to my nose. The beer is golden yellow and with the hints of citrus in the air, Freshies is very inviting to the senses. It is almost cloudy/hazey along the lines of the Northeast/New England style of Pale Ales, but not quite. The nose doesn’t lie with this beer, big hop presence, almost as much as an IPA. More of a pleasantly aggressive hop presence than some of the IPAs I’ve had, in fact. Lots of hops on the first taste and all the way through.

The hops used in this beer – Simcoe, Amarillo, and Cascade – are some of the most popular hops used in Pale Ales and IPAs. For example, Cascade is used in arguably the most important American Pale Ale – Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale. Tonewood’s take on the style is less malty than Sierra’s flagship ale, but that’s not a knock on the quality at all. The blend of hops gives the beer its own identity. That blend, coupled with the ample wheat used in the beer, gives the beer a softer feel and with the relatively low ABV of 5%, makes for a flavorful beer that falls into the currently overused term of “crusher” category. In other words, great flavor along with a not-bludgeoning-you ABV.

Freshies is a delicious beer that is a fine addition to the style of American Pale Ale. Perhaps the best way I can describe this beer is as follows: between the color, level of haze, and hop profile, Freshies perfectly straddles the line between a “traditional” American Pale Ale and the juicy Northeast/New England Pale Ale. It compares pretty favorably to some of the other pale ales I’ve enjoyed recently and mentioned here on the Tap Takeover including Kane’s Sneak Box and Industrial Arts’s Tools of the Trade. While it may not be as widely known as those two breweries and beers, Tonewood’s Freshies, for my drinking dollars, is no less a beer.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4-bottle cap rating.

Untapped badges earned with this beer:

Pale as the Moon (Level 21)

Ahh, the trusty pale ale; crisp, refreshing, and always a good choice in a bind.

 

Beer Review: Tree House Brewing’s Haze

Name: Haze
Brewing Company: Tree House Brewing Company
Location: Charlton, MA
Style: IPA – Imperial / Double
ABV: 8.2% | IBU: 90

“A quintessential juice bomb, a definitive and foundational Imperial Hazy New England IPA. Simply a must have beer.”

From Tree House Brewings’s page for Haze:

Our core double IPA! Haze is crafted with pale malt and an extreme kettle and dry hop dose of our favorite Northwest American hops. We smell a ton of peach on the nose, with complimentary notes of orange and passionfruit. The flavor is similar with a blast of citrus fruit & peach quickly followed by a bounty of tropical fruit. A lingering and pleasant saturated hop oil finish awaits. . . . A real juice bomb of a beer, and a true Tree House original.

Tree House Brewing is one of the highest profile, most well respected independent small breweries in the country. They are at the forefront of breweries pioneering and making popular the style of New England IPA. I haven’t visited yet, but fortunately, a few friends at work have and were kind enough to pass along one of their “extras” to me because you can only get the beer at the brewery.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way, the visuals of the beer. If you gave me the beer I poured into the glass without the can, I would guess that it was orange juice. The nose give hints of that, there’s a nice mix of citrus sweetness and hoppy bitterness wafting off the hazy beer. While the underlying scent is beer, you’d be forgiven for mistaking this for orange or orange citrus punch by look and aroma.

Diving in and tasting it, I’m hit with a soft, hoppy, delicious beer. There’s a creaminess and a very soft (I hate this word) mouthfeel to the beer, one of the most pleasant “feeling” beers I’ve ever had. Makes it hard to believe this beer is ratcheted up at 90 IBUs. The finish is tropically sweet with a pleasant hop bite and hints of the hop oil I’ve come to expect and enjoy from the more well-made Imperial IPAs (I’m looking at you Dogfish Head’s 90 Minute and Burton Baton).

The flavor is super potent to the point that this beer is as close to a chewable IPA as you’ll find. That citrus/hoppy juice bomb lingers long enough for you to take your time enjoying the beer. Considering the ABV is 8.2% taking your time with this beer is a wise choice. On the other hand, the beer is so delicious you want more. And more. And more. All of *that* having been said, unless you live in Massachusetts near the brewery, getting beer from Tree House Brewing is far from an easy task so you really want to savor the beer for as long as possible.

One thought that came to me as I was enjoying the beer is that this would be a good beer for breakfast or brunch. I’d normally think a Breakfast Stout (brewed with Oatmeal and Coffee) would be the ideal “breakfast beer.” Then I had this juice bomb, with that delicious hop profile, this wouldn’t be a bad choice for a fancy brunch.

This is one of the beers (along with their flagship Julius) that helped to put Tree House Brewing on the map, helped to establish the style of New England IPA on an “Imperial” or “Double IPA” level, and transform the idea that an Imperial IPA can evoke juiciness just as much as it can evoke pleasant bitterness. This beer may even be considered a modern American Craft Beer Classic.

Quite simply, this is one of the best IPAs I’ve ever had.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4.75-bottle cap rating.

Beer Review: Karl Strauss Brewing Company Columbia Street Amber

Name: Columbia Street Amber
Brewing Company: Karl Straus Brewing Company
Location: San Diego, CA
Style: Lager – American Amber / Red
ABV: 4.5%

“Every brewery should have a “workhorse” lager this good on continual rotation in their portfolio.”

From Karl Strauss’s landing page for Columbia Street Amber:

It was February 2nd 1989 when we opened our first brewery on Columbia Street in downtown San Diego. This easy drinking beer has been pouring since that very first day. Imported Munich malts give Columbia Street Amber its deep bronze color, smooth body, and crisp toasted flavor. Karl Strauss has grown, but the original brewery location remains. Raise a pint of Columbia Street Amber and join us in a cheers to San Diego’s vibrant craft beer scene.

I’ve said in the past that one of the benefits of traveling for work is the opportunity to visit breweries I wouldn’t otherwise visit. Case in point, this beer review. While there are many breweries in San Diego, only one brewery was the first and that happens to be Karl Strauss Brewing Company. They are something of a legacy brewery, as the two men who started the brewery, Chris Cramer and Matt Rattner, asked their cousin Karl Strauss to help them start a brewery. Karl Strauss was an iconic brewer in America, working at Pabst where he helped reformulate Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, which helped the beer reach iconic status. That Wikipedia link is well worth a click, as is the history section on Karl Strauss Brewing’s web site. Karl eventually served at Pabst until 1983 and was president of the Master Brewers Association of the Americas for a few years. In short, he’d probably be on a Mount Rushmore of American Brewing. That legacy carries on in the brewery that bears his name, which is why I wanted to visit the brewery.

I ordered up a flight to get an idea of what I wanted with my meal. The flight included Red Trolley Ale (an Irish Red Ale), Follow the Sun (Pilsner), Aurora Hoppyalis (IPA), and this beer, Columbia Street Amber Lager.

Sometimes (hell, like last week’s beer), a well-made lager is what really hits the spot and Columbia Street Amber certainly hits the spot. The glass is full with amber beauty, a beer that glows with invitation. There isn’t too much of an aroma, maybe a little bit of maltiness? For the most part; however, it smells like you’d expect a beer to smell.

First sip is sweetness, but not a cloying sweetness. Sweetness from the malt, that good lager flavor on the finish laced with the carbonation. The sweetness is consistent throughout the beer, but as it sits in my mouth with each successive sip, I begin to taste the lovely toasted malts that make up the body of the flavor. There’s a really nice caramel, almost toffee flavor to the beer. The elements of the toasted malt and the sweetness come together very nicely as a whole in the beer. The beer is incredibly flavorful altogether, especially given that it is a sub-5 ABV. The longer lagering process allows for flavors to develop and mature during the brewing process, which seems to be exactly what happened with this beer.

Every brewery should have a lager like this in their portfolio: a workhorse lager that can sit in the glass for every occasion and complement a meal or be enjoyed by itself. I enjoyed my pint of Columbia Street Amber while eating delicious fish tacos from Karl Strauss.

I could compare this another way. For years my go to lager and most dependable beer was Yuengling’s Lager. Some may look down upon that beer because in the Northeast, it is an inescapable mass produced beer. That said, it is a mostly well-made lager and considering the mass level on which the beer is produced, has some good flavor. It also happens to be an Amber Lager, much like Columbia Street Lager. The beer from Karl Strauss reminded me of Yuengling’s Lager, with the exception that I found Karl Strauss’s amber lager to be a more flavorful and complex beer.

While at the brewery/brewpub and enjoying my meal, I was speaking with the bartender. Apparently, Columbia Street Amber is the longest standing beer continuously being poured in San Diego, having been served since Karl Strauss opened their doors and tap handles back in 1989 when the beer was originally called Karl Strauss Lager. I could hear the pride in his voice as he told this to me.* I can understand why – it is a very well-balanced, flavorful lager that has a low enough ABV (4.5%) that it almost begs to be enjoyed in multiple pints.

*Yeah, I know it says that up in the description, but I didn’t have that in front of me when I was speaking with the bartender.

Bottom line, any brewery without a lager in their portfolio would be improved by having a lager of this quality in their regular rotation.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4-bottle cap rating.

Badge Earned:

Untapped badges earned with this beer:

Lager Jack (Level 15)

After a long day, what better way to kick back than with a crisp and refreshing lager? You’re already feeling more relaxed, aren’t you?.

Beer Review: Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers Post Shift Pilsner

Name: Post Shift Pilsner
Brewing Company: Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers
Location: Framingham, MA
Style: Pilsner – Other
ABV: 4.7%

“A finely crafted Pilsner is a beer of beauty, Post Shift Pilsner from Jack’s Abby is such a beer.”

From Jack’s Abby’s landing page for Post Shift Pilsner:

There will be no working during drinking hours! Brewed with Bavarian malt and hops, this everyday Pilsner is bright, crisp and refreshing. We think it’s the perfect way to end the work day. Clock out, post-up and enjoy!

It is always exciting when a well-respected regional brewery begins distributing in your area. Last year for me, it was Bell’s Brewery. This year for me that brewery is Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers. As their name would imply, Jack’s Abby specializes in lagers (i.e. German inspired beers), with the majority of their portfolio falling in that category. Pilsner is one of the most popular (and sometimes reviled) styles of beer in the world, but in the hands of expert craftspeople, a Pilsner is an elegant beer. When I learned Jack’s Abby was going to start distributing into New Jersey, I knew this was the first beer I wanted to try from the fine purveyors of German-style beers out of Framingham, MA.

So, Post Shift Pilsner. The name tells me this is the first thing you want to grab after a day’s work. Can’t argue with the ethos of a beer name like that. Out of the 16oz can, the beer pours a beautiful, mostly clear yellow. In other words, it looks exactly how you’d expect a Pilsner to look like. But, how does it taste compared to other Pilsners? That’s a big difference indeed.

A Pilsner is a precise beer, it uses few ingredients except those of the German Purity Law Reinheitsgebot: Water, Barley, and Hops. With a Pilsner, you can’t hide any mistakes with a fruit adjunct or sweeten up the beer with an addition of Lactose. An elegant beer whose prime, essential ingredients shine. Jack’s Abby captures that spirit and those ingredients wonderfully.

The first sip turns into a gulp, the beer is so tasty. Just about everything I want in a Pilsner is present in this beer – delicious and refreshing, slightly bitter, a little sweet. Let’s unpack that a little, shall we?

There’s a wonderful balance at the start, I get a pleasant, slight bittering from hops with a sweetness, maybe a little fruity sweetness. The bitterness and sweetness are almost a single flavor thread throughout the beer, they work so well together. What makes this one great is similar to what makes the beer I reviewed last week great, the authentic German malts (as in from Germany) used in the beer. They impart that lovely sweetness that so perfectly balances the Noble hops. According to Jack Abby’s Web site:

The Jack’s Abby brewing team travels to Germany every year to procure German hops and malt from small family run operations in Bavaria. The brewers use old-world brewing techniques of decoction and spunding to recreate historical lagers.

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.

Amazingly, this is the first beer I’ve reviewed from a Massachusetts brewery.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4.25-bottle cap rating.

Badge Earned:

Crisp as Day (Level 12)

bdg_pilsner_lg

Light and crisp, a Pilsner is all you need to make your day great. Though, perhaps another one would make it even better.

Beer Review: Ramstein Blonde Hefe-Weizen

Name: Ramstein Blonde Hefe-Weizen
Brewing Company: High Point Brewing Company (Ramstein)
Location: Butler, NJ
Style: Hefeweizen
ABV: 5.5%

“If not just the best Hefeweizen brewed in New Jersey, one of the best Hefeweizens brewed in America.”

From Ramstein’s Flagships beer page:

Our fresh traditional German-style Weiss Beer. Malty wheat bouquet brimming with clove and banana aromas. Wheat and barley balance with imported German noble hops. Unfiltered for a natural flavor. The finish is malty, smooth and refreshing.

This is only the second Hefeweizen I’ve reviewed here at the Tap Takeover, with the first being arguably the best Hefeweizen in the world (Weihenstephaner). It is a style I love, a style for me that works perfectly for warmer weather, so with spring in full swing and summer on the horizon, what better time to highlight one of the best American-made Hefeweizens…or Hefe-weizens as the fine craftspeople of High Point Brewing Company call this beer.

The Ramstein brand/label is brewed out of High Point Brewing Company in Butler, NJ. Owner and brewmaster Greg Zaccardi brings amazing old-world (i.e. German) knowledge to his brewery, including this beer, arguably the most definable German style of beer. High Point is one of the 5 original craft breweries in New Jersey having opened in 1996, and one of the few dedicated solely to German Lagers and Ales.

A pop of the cap and the whiff of the clove evoked by the yeast hits my nose. The inviting aroma of a Hefeweizen that speaks to good times in warm weather. Out of the bottle and into the glass the beer goes. The golden liquid that fills the glass has a slight haze, as is apropos for a Hefeweizen, and when poured correctly, a frothy white head. The Hefeweizen is the original hazy beer, don’t let those folks standing on line for $25 4-pack can releases fool you.

Back to the deliciousness of Ramstein Blonde Hefe-weizen… That first sip is refreshing with the yeast providing much of the flavors – some clove, some banana-like fruit. Overall, the beer is just a beautifully clean, and wonderfully crafted beer. It isn’t over assertive with hops, the flavor evocations from the yeast are there, but not to the point where they’ll drown out anything else you may want to consume.

For that reason, this beer is a perfect accompaniment to almost any meal. In my mind a Pilsner is the perfect beer to enjoy with pizza, but this beer is a very close second. I enjoyed a glass of this with a pork tenderloin meal. I’ve had this at one of my favorite restaurants/beer bars with a delicious burger. I enjoyed a bottle, actually the one pictured above, just sitting in my yard on warm spring day relaxing with my dog.

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

In some of my reviews of beers from NJ breweries, I’ve alluded to a “Hall of Fame” or a shelf of “Essential NJ Beers” Ramstein Blonde Hefe-Weizen definitely gets a spot and maybe the first one, given High Point Brewing’s legacy as one of the Fab Five of New Jersey Craft Brewing and the outstanding quality of this World-Class Beer.

My only real knock on the beer (and most of the beer from Ramstein/High Point Brewing) is how limited the availability of their beer is. Bottles of their beer are rarely in stores in my daily driving radius which is surprising given the quality and longevity of the Ramstein brand. All their beers are superb, the brewery is nice to visit (as I did a couple years ago for the release of their world class Winter Wheat), but it isn’t exactly close at about 45 miles from my home. The quality of is great and I’d be more than happy to give these folks my money for that high quality beer on a regular basis.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4.25-bottle cap rating.

Beer Review: Wet Ticket Brewing’s Trolley Hopper

Name: Trolley Hopper
Brewing Company: Wet Ticket Brewing Company
Location: Rahway, NJ
Style: IPA – New England
ABV: 7.7%

“The flagship IPA from the Rahway brewery is a stellar interpretation of the popular Hazy/New England IPA.”

Wet Ticket Trolley Hopper Draught

Not the best picture, I admit but it provides a decent shot of that perfect pour and the Wet Ticket logo.

From Wet Ticket’s our beer page:

We’ve blended six hops to create an explosion of JUICY tropical fruit flavors and aromas in this New England style IPA. Vic Secret hops from Australia take the lead here, with Citra, Mosaic, Columbus, Amarillo and Simcoe all doing their part to create a maelstrom of hoppy refreshment. The chassis for this resinous hop bomb is mostly Pale 2-row malt, and just enough oats to contribute to the haze that is the signature of this style.

From the untappd description of the beer:

This beer is all about the hops, and is our interpretation of a New England IPA. With more than 3 pounds of hops per barrel, you will be engulfed in a resinous, juicy, tropical hop experience that lets you savor the hop flavors without being overcome by bitterness. Savor the aromatics of this beer as you will be hit by an intense wave of citrus, peach and tropical fruit aromas. The flavor will be ever so slightly dank and will match the expectations created by the aroma. Named after the long lost Rahway Trolley line, jump aboard the “Hopper,” and enjoy the ride.

Wet Ticket is about the same age as this beer blog, so it is about time I got around to reviewing one of their beers. On a recent visit (more on that later this week), I figured I’d go with their flagship IPA, Trolley Hopper. As the description above indicates, this beer is a Hazy/New England IPA. Most of the beers I’ve reviewed here have been consumed at my house out of the can or bottle. As you can see from the picture above, I had a pint of this at the brewery. A beer like this, with the kind of hops that evoke a citrus juiciness are best consumed fresh, and what’s more fresh than a beer straight from the keg at the brewery?

Visually, the beer exhibits the beautiful characteristics of a New England IPA perfectly. Hazy, orange-juice like appearance in the glass with a frothy white head. A quick pass of the beer under my schnozz gives off the pleasant hoppy aromas of the style I would expect. After a long day of work, and a frustrating drive during rush hour to the brewery, the first sip of the beer was a delicious remedy.

For a beer at 7.7% ABV it drinks a little lower in alcohol than I’d expect. A refreshing blast of hops catapults the flavors through the palate, hitting all the right buttons. Wet Ticket indicates Vic Secret and Centennial as two of the hops used in this beer, those happen to be two of my favorite hop varieties.

Wet Ticket first canned the beer a little over a year ago, in March 2018 and it has been available in cans in NJ since. While March 2018 was about the one year mark for Wet Ticket, Trolley Hopper is currently the most “checked in” beer on untappd. In other words, it is their most popular and most consumed beer. There’s really no surprise for that, in my humble opinion. Plain and simple, Trolley Hopper is a delicious, on-point interpretation of arguably the most popular style of IPA being made today.

You might say, sure the beer tasted good at the brewery, but how did it taste in cans? Well, I can answer that for you, I liked the beer so much I brought some home. I split a four pack with my dad, as it so happens. A couple of days after visiting the brewery, I poured the beer into my brand new Wet Ticket pint glass and the beer looked just as inviting as it did out of the tap handle in the brewery. There’s virtually no difference in taste. The same blast of juicy hops and clean flavor profile pervade. In other words, it was delicious.

There you have it, Trolley Hopper from Wet Ticket Brewing is what I’d hand somebody if they asked, “Give me a solid juicy IPA that does New Jersey craft brewing proud.”

Recommended, link to Untappd 4-bottle cap rating.