Beer Review: Yards’ Thomas Jefferson Tavern Ale

Name: Thomas Jefferson Tavern Ale
Brewing Company: Yards Brewing Company
Location: Philadelphia, PA
Style: Strong Ale – English
ABV: 8.0%

The beer’s description on Yard’s Landing Page for the beer:

This powerful and complex golden ale pays homage to Founding Father and fellow brewer, Thomas Jefferson. Yards Brewmaster, Tom Kehoe, worked closely with Philadelphia’s historic City Tavern to recreate this recipe, employing honey, rye, and wheat, just like the beer Jefferson made at Monticello.

Yards Brewing is one of the most recognizable and long-standing American Craft Breweries, an East Coast institution since 1994. Much of their portfolio leans heavily on British brewing traditions and early American brewing traditions, like the “Beers of the Revolution” subset, including this Tavern Ale, an interpretation of Thomas Jefferson’s recipe. With the President’s Day holiday yesterday and the Philadelphia Eagles winning the Super Bowl two weeks ago, what better time to highlight a presidential beer from a Philadelphia brewery?

What exactly is a tavern ale? I’m not too sure, but what *this* tavern ale is is a Strong English Ale. That may not be may not the hottest or most popular style of beer, but that doesn’t mean the beer can’t be well-crafted and pleasing.

The beer pours a deep gold, almost amber, with a decent head atop the glass. There’s a lot of malt in this beer, the wheat and rye combine really nicely to give this beer a solid, appreciable backbone. There’s also a sweetness up front in the beer from the honey that makes Thomas Jefferson Tavern Ale a really balanced ale.

This is more of a slow-sipping beer than a guzzler or a crusher. Whereas much of the American craft beer on the market falls into the IPA and Stout categories, it is nice to see a steadfast traditional style in continuous production.

The maltiness and overall way the beer felt as I was drinking it reminded me of an Oktoberfest or Märzen beer. This beer; however, is stronger, available year-round, and sweetened by the honey. That’s where you have to be a little cautious, the beer is very drinkable with the sweet malt, but the 8% makes it a beer you don’t want to crush. This is the type of beer you would enjoy in a pub amongst friends after a long day of work, while waiting for your barmaid or bartender to serve you that order of French Fries you’ve been craving.

Thomas Jefferson Tavern Ale, like many beers from Yards, is very widely available, in bottles and on draft. It is also part of the Ales of the Revolution branding (as the label states) and available in an Ales of the Revolution variety pack along with General Washington Tavern Porter and Poor Richard Tavern Spruce. I haven’t had the other two “Ales of the Revolution,” at least since being on untappd, so I may have to give them a try.

I’ve only had small sips of this one at brewfests and beer tastings, but liked it enough to give a fully try. I’m glad I did and could find myself reaching for this beer again in the future.

Recommended, link to Untappd 3.75-bottle cap rating.

Beer Review: River Horse Chocolate Porter

Name: Chocolate Porter
Brewing Company: River Horse Brewing Company
Location: Ewing, NJ
Style: Porter
ABV: 6.5%

The yellow “Coaster” is from the River Horse 6K I ran with my wife in brother-in-law in April 2016. At the end of the race, everybody got a pint of Summer Blonde. Logo on the glass is the old-school, pre-2007 logo.

The beer’s description on River Horse’s Landing Page for the beer:

We start with a brown porter brewed with dark roasted malts, and add one pound of chocolate per barrel. We then throw in some Madagascar Vanilla beans to accentuate the chocolate flavors, resulting in a decadent porter. Available February – March.

As one of the oldest micro-breweries in the state, River Horse Brewing Company is a New Jersey Brewing institution. Originally started back in 1995/6 in Lambertville, NJ, new ownership took over in 2007, and they moved to a larger facility in 2013 in Ewing, NJ. Their mascot Brewtus (a stylized cartoon hippo) appears in various guises appropriate for each beer of the line-up (with cow markings for the Milk Stout, googly eyes for the Hippotizing IPA, etc).

Although I’ve mentioned their beers and the brewery in a few posts here at the Tap Takeover, I’ve had intentions of giving one of their beers a full review for a while. Initially determining which beer from their portfolio to highlight  first was a minor challenge since River Horse brews quite a few beers I like including the excellent Oatmeal Milk Stout and Tripel Horse, which was awarded a Bronze Medal at the 2017 Great American Beer Festival. In the end, I figured I’d highlight one of the special beers they consider a seasonal and available throughout their distribution footprint.

On to the delicious Chocolate Porter…

Popping open the cap, the beer pours into the glass a silky dark brown that smooths into black when the light hits it the right way. Poured properly, there’s a small light brown or tan head. Once fully poured into the glass the beer practically screams: Drink Me!

Some porters can have a powerful (or overpowering) smoky element, which is not the case for this beer. The “one pound of chocolate per barrel” sweetens the beer and eliminates some of that bitter smoke/roast flavor. If anything, the roast/smoke is akin to the edges of a freshly baked brownie, but the overall flavor, if we’re continuing with the brownie analogy, is like the gooey, slightly under-baked deliciousness at the center of the brownie.

The texture of the beer is really smooth with only minimal carbonation; just enough that it still feels like a beer.  For me, this is a beer that works better when it is colder rather than warming to room temperature like many darker beers.  At 6.5% ABV, it isn’t too heavy, so you don’t have to take your time with drinking it for those reasons, but the decadent, sumptuous flavor makes you want to take your time with the beer you just poured. Even if you have another four or five in the refrigerator from your six pack.

River Horse’s Chocolate Porter is most definitely a dessert beer, if that hasn’t become evident at this point. In other words, if you could take the best brownie you’ve ever had and transformed what makes it so good into beer form, chances are you’d have yourself a bottle of River Horse’s Chocolate Porter. First brewed and bottled in 2015 (I think), the beer has become a highlight of River Horse’s annual lineup in February, just in time for Valentine’s Day.

If I were to build a shelf of Essential NJ Beers, River Horse’s Chocolate Porter would definitely have a spot. From River Horse’s long history in the state to the pure wonderful taste of this beer, I’ve had this in my rotation of beers since I first had and enjoyed the beer. I know I raved about Kane’s Sunday Brunch Porter a couple of weeks ago and don’t get me wrong that is a fine, fantastic porter. However, the simple elegance of chocolate makes this beer stand on its own and make it a sought after beer in the region.

Back in 2016, River Horse bottled an Imperial version of this Porter, I hope they do again and I hope I get to sample it.

Highly Recommended, link to Untappd 4.5-bottle cap rating.

Beer Review: SingleCut’s Eric, More Cowbell!

Name: Eric More Cowbell! Chocolate Milk Stout
Brewing Company: SingleCut Beersmiths
Location: Astoria, NY
Style: Stout – Milk/Sweet
ABV: 6.6%

The beer’s description on SingleCut’s Landing Page for the beer:

WE’VE GOT A FEVER – And there is only one cure: a lusciously creamy, slightly sweet Stout that sits atop a roast malt base and huge cocoa infusion that will rock all night long.

It has been quite a few reviews since I wrote about a stout, specifically a Milk Stout. I’ve tried to vary up the styles in these reviews even if Milk Stout is one of my favorites sub-styles of stouts. A multi-repeat style beer would have to stand out (in the blog’s first year) if I was going to review it, and ERIC, More Cowbell! Milk Stout certainly stands out from most stouts and the other 46 Milk Stouts I’ve consumed over the past few years.

The beer pours a deep black, blotting out all light and any black text on the glass (like the word “Bedford’s” on the glass in the picture). I smelled a little bit of chocolate as it poured. The beer was very cold when I first poured it but it was so good I had a tough time waiting for it to warm up, as is proper for most stouts.

The thickness of the beer was perfect, some other milk stouts I’ve had are far too thin, but this one is substantial enough that I was very pleased taking my time with it. The chocolate is not as potent, as say Terrapin’s Moo-Hoo Chocolate Milk Stout, and that is welcome. If I wanted a Moo-Hoo (which I like quite a bit) I would have bought a six pack of that beer. This beer has enough going on aside from the chocolatey sweetness to set it apart.

The lactose sugars are really nice and balance out the bitterness some stouts can have. There’s also a touch of toasted/roasted chocolate/malts at the back-end of the beer that was really welcoming. The finish lacked the bittersweet characteristics present in many stouts and milk stouts, too. In other words, I wanted to drink more and more of the beer to get to that finishing flavor. However, I slowed a bit as I noticed how much better the beer was once the temperature moved from ice cold to closer to room temperature.

I picked this up as a 16.9oz bottle and would love to give this a try on draught. This beer is well worth the $7 I plunked down (minus the NJ Craft Beer discount) considering how well made it tastes and because of the amount of beer.

SingleCut is one of the growing number of breweries in the boroughs of New York City, and this is the first one I’ve had from them but hopefully it will not be the last.

Highly Recommended, link to Untappd 4-bottle cap rating.

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Heavy Weight (Level 51)

You like it thick and dark. Your beer! What did you think we were talking about? That’s 255 different beers with the style of Porter or Stout.

Beer Review: Carton Brewing’s This Town

Name: This Town
Brewing Company: Carton Brewing Company
Location: Atlantic Highlands, NJ
Style: Lager – Helles
ABV: 4.9%

The beer’s description on Carton’s Landing Page for the beer:

In a perfect world each town would have access to a fresh, straightforward lager beer. For our neighbors we built around a typically bready helles malt bill fermented with classic yeasts. Made unique by focusing on the defining bitterness and pleasant citric spice of Opal hops. Drink This Town because you’re almost home and deserve a beer from here.

It took a while before I repeated a brewery on one of my reviews, but I at least waited until the calendar flipped to a new year. I also figured if I was going to repeat breweries, it might as well be from (arguably) the best NJ brewery, Carton Brewing Company.

Carton Brewing is known for experimental brews, a series of IPAs (the 0-dub and Dubviant series of IPAs), and of course, Boat Beer. With This Town, Augie Carton and his cadre brewing wizards crafted something more straightforward with this Helles Lager. What is a Helles Lager, one might ask?

Essentially, a Helles Lager is the younger, jealous cousin to the Pilsner. A Helles Lager has a similar malt and hop profile as a Pilsner. This isn’t surprising since the Helles Lager was first brewed in Munich Germany as a reaction to the Czech/Bohemian Pilsner. The popularity of the Pilsner style (so named for the Plzeň (Pilsen) region of Bohemia in Czechoslovakia where it was first brewed) pushed brewers in Munich to come up with a comparable style so Germans would be more inclined to drink a beer from their own country and region. The designation of “Helles” means bright and once you look at the beer in the glass, the name makes sense.

For this beer, Carton went simple and elegant and it really, really paid off. The beer pours a bright inviting yellow and when poured correctly, with a fluffy white head. When most people think beer, an image of what comes out of a can of This Town is likely similar to what is in most people’s heads.

The aroma is pleasant and nearly as inviting as the look. A crisp refreshing taste of some breadiness, a nice bit of hops followed by a little bit of roasty malt/hops. This shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, considering the beer style’s roots, but I was very, very much reminded of Rothaus Pils / Tannen Zäpfle from Badische Staatsbrauerei Rothaus, one of the best German Pilsners I ever had.

I think the best compliment I can pay this beer is that I’d want it in regular rotation in my refrigerator as an everyday beer. If Boat is Carton Brewing’s flagship year-round beer, then This Town would make an excellent #2 beer.

Highly Recommended, link to Untappd 4-bottle cap rating.

Beer Review: New Belgium Brewing’s French Oak Saison

Name: French Oak Saison
Brewing Company: New Belgium Brewing Company
Location: Fort Collins, CO
Style: Sour – Farmhouse IPA (untappd) / Barrel Aged Sour Farmhouse Ale (Bottle)
ABV: 7.5%

The beer’s description on New Belgium’s Landing Page for the beer:

To understand “Belgian-style beer” is to understand Belgium’s nuanced regions and historical past. To the north, we have Flanders, a region invaded and occupied by many foreign powers over hundreds of years, known for everything from white beer to oak-aged sour brown ales.

To the south, we have Wallonia, a region known for its rich farmland, industrial coalfields, French culture and farmhouse ales like Biere de Garde and saison. Our French Oak Saison pulls inspiration from both regions by marrying a dry, hop-forward Wallonia-style saison with a golden ale soured in French oak foeders for 15 to 18 months — a method derived from Flanders. The rye and spelt grains in the saison contribute to a medium-light body while the Huell Melon and Tettnang hops give aromas of honeydew and white pepper.

The result is a rustic, goldenrod yellow saison offering pleasant lemon and white grape aromas and a bright, mouthwatering sourness with a clean, dry finish.

New Belgium, is of course, one of the largest (4th largest), most widely distributed, and longest standing (established in 1991) American craft breweries. As the name would imply, the brewery focuses on Belgian style ales. Along with their popular Fat Tire Amber Ale, Dubbel and Trippel, New Belgium has an extensive barrel aging line of beers with one of the largest cellars for barrels in the U.S. Which leads to this beer, an ale in French-Oak barrels for about a year and half. The style classification is a seeming mish-mash of styles that may not seem complementary to each other and a couple of styles that aren’t exactly in my favored styles. I expected something overly bitter and hoppy.

That couldn’t be farther from the what this beer turned out to be. There’s a citrusy aroma floating out as the beer pours from the 22oz bottle into the glass. The first hit is very much citrusy, with strong hints of lemon that was hinted at in the aroma. The sour/sweet is prominent and makes the beer very, very drinkable.

The barrel aging, I think cuts some of the hop-bite as well as the peaty-earthiness that some Farmhouse Ales can impart on the palette. This is a bright, crisp beer that shines in both flavor and color, my photo above does not do justice to just how inviting the beer is. As my brief comment on untappd suggests, this is a lovely beer that would do well for a spring day. As it was, the beer was a nice change of pace from the stouts, porters, and darker ales I usually enjoy during cold months.

This beer is so refreshing and sweetly balanced it practically screams at you to keep drinking, but the complexities of the flavor urge you to take your time. The 7.5% ABV isn’t too high, sort of a middle of the road beer in that respect, but a tad higher than many Saisons/Farmhouse Ales which are typically slightly lower in alcohol (closer to 5%). As this one stands, the barrel aging likely drew out more of the alcohol presence making for a very smooth, tasty and drinkable beer.

This is the third beer I’ve had from New Belgium’s barrel-aged portfolio (the others being Lips of Faith – Flowering Citrus Ale and Lips of Faith – Clutch) and while those other two were good, the pure drinkability – complex taste & sweetness making me not want to put the beer down – elevate this beer to another level for me. I’m not sure how many of these are still on shelves, but if you want an interesting take on a Farmhouse Ale, this is a great beer to fit that taste craving.

Further, if you only know of New Belgium through Fat Tire, Trippel, and Abby, explore beers like this one. Those popular beers you see everywhere on draught and in 12oz bottles help to make beers like this experimental ale possible.

Highly Recommended, link to Untappd 4-bottle cap rating.

Beer Review: Czig Meister’s Uholy Ritual

Name: Unholy Ritual
Brewing Company: Czig Meister Brewing Company
Location: Hackettstown, NJ
Style: Belgian Quadrupel
ABV: 9.4%

There isn’t much of a description on this beer, either on the brewery’s Website or on untapped and I don’t recall seeing much on the label, so in this spot, I’ll drop in the Beer Advocate description of the Quadrupel (Quad) style

Inspired by the Trappist brewers of Belgium, a Quadrupel is a Belgian style ale of great strength with bolder flavor compared to its Dubbel and Tripel sister styles. Typically a dark creation that ranges within the deep red, brown and garnet hues. Full bodied with a rich malty palate. Phenols are usually at a moderate level. Sweet with a low bitterness yet a well perceived alcohol.

Czig Meister is one of the Hackettstown trio of breweries, which also includes Jersey Girl Brewing and a recent feature here, Manskirt Brewing. I’ll go into more detail in a couple of days about Czig Meister, but suffice it to say, they are aggressively brewing and hitting NJ distribution, both good things.

Unholy Ritual is a big, dark beer that hits a lot of the expected notes for a Belgian Quad/Quadrupel Ale. The style is one of the older varieties of Belgian ales being brewed and one of the strongest – most clock in between 9% and 13% ABV. Usually dark brown to deep amber, Czig Meister’s take on the beer pours a deep mahogany/amber and has a strong, earthy aroma. I found it very inviting indeed, with a sweet aroma that started hitting the right flavor buttons.

The first sip is sweet and malty with hints of stone fruit/plums as well as figs and raisins. There’s enough complexity with the yeast and other flavors that I found it a little difficult to take my time with the beer. I wanted to give this beer the opportunity to shine on its own after my meal, so it was effectively a dessert beer. With those earthy, stony fruits being emulated, I couldn’t have planned this beer any better. I also did take my time with it, enjoying the full 500ml bottle over the course of about an hour and as usual, the flavors became more delicious over that time.

Since being on untappd, I’ve had only three other Belgian Quads before this one but they were there of the more prominent American Craft Breweries (Ommegang, Weyerbacher, and Victory). As such, I’ll admit to perhaps not being the best to judge this one exactly against the style and its peers in the style, especially a Quadrupel from a Belgian brewery. Against the three “classic” American Quadrupels; however, Unholy Ritual compared very, very favorably and worked very well for me. It hit the notes the flavor notes in the style description quite well, too.

Czig Meister’s beers are available in Central and Northern NJ and maybe, NY and Pennsylvania. If you happen upon this in a bar or find a 500ml bottle with that awesome label, grab it and savor the complexities of a classic Belgian style interpreted by a newish, growing NJ brewery.

A final note: I realize the standard pint glass isn’t the “proper glassware” for a Belgian Quadrupel, but I always lean towards using the glass of the brewery’s beer I’m drinking rather than appropriate glass style. I do have a couple of snifters. I’ll also admit the label and name of the beer drew me to it, so that’s successful marketing at work!

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

Beer Review: James E. Pepper 1776 Brown Ale aged in Rye Whiskey Barrels

Name: James E. Pepper 1776 Smoked American Brown Ale aged in Rye Whiskey Barrels
Brewing Company: Georgetown Trading Company / James E. Pepper Distilling & Beltway Brewing Co.
Location: Washington, D.C.
Style: Brown Ale Imperial / Double:
ABV: 10.4%

From the beer’s description about halfway down James E. Pepper’s Web site:

Like most whiskey aficionados, we also love a great beer. And in particular, we became very fond of barrel-aged beers, which from time to time had been aged in our whiskey barrels! So we decided to have some fun and make our own beer. We partnered with a great craft brewery (the Beltway Brewing Co. in Sterling, VA) and began working with their master brewer to create a beer that would age best in barrels that previously held our award winning James E. Pepper “1776” Rye Whiskey. No more than 30 days after our whiskey barrels are dumped in Kentucky, they are at the brewery being filled with beer. This ensures that every batch gets a rich Rye whiskey finish and notes of toffee, chocolate, oak and vanilla. Because we buy barrels from the cooper to age our whiskey, and then we monitor that maturation process over the years until we bottle our whiskey, we have complete control over the age and type of barrels we use. We think that is a big reason why this beer has come out with such uniquely rich flavor and taste. Cheers!

Brown Ales are a very old style and often overlooked. Just the style name tells you only about its color, but when brewed with ingenuity, like this Imperial Brown is, then something old really tastes like something new.

This one has the malty characteristics of a Brown Ale, with the enhancements of the rye barrel aging. The beer is a little bit boozy with wonderful hints of toffee and oak. The high alcohol from the barrels is definitely present, but it isn’t overpowering. Like many of the dark, high alcohol beers, the flavor profile becomes more pronounced and enjoyable as it warms up to room temperature after pouring.

This is the only beer took Georgetown Trading Company seems to brew and they’ve created something really nice. Every other brewery is aging their dark beers (mostly stouts) in bourbon barrels, so it is nice to take a classic style, employ a well-honed aging, but with a slightly different aging agent. In this case, the brown ale is aged in barrels from a classic brown alcohol – rye whiskey. Legend has it that the first Old Fashioned was invented in honor of James E. Pepper whose distillery dates back to 1780. Having enjoyed many bourbon-aged ales, it was a welcome taste variation on what I have come to expect.

The usual caveats apply here: let it warm before enjoying as the flavors really come out more strongly as the beer settles into the glass. Although I had a 12oz bottle, this beer also comes in a 22oz bottle. Drink it slowly or share it because the 10.4% ABV has the potential to knock you on your keester.

I see bottles of this one in most of the bottle shops I visit so, presumably, this one is fairly easy to find. At least in the Northeast. The bottle I enjoyed was bottled in February 2016 so this one aged even more for almost two years in the bottle before I consumed it. After having one that sat for so long (and that’s not a knock, because this is a great beer), I wonder how a more recently bottled version would taste . Another problem for me to solve, oh well.

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

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Sky’s the Limit (Level 19)

You don’t always intend to go for beers with a double digit ABV, but when you do, you make it count! Cheers to you, but be careful, 10% and up can really pack a punch. That’s 95 different beers with an ABV of 10% and up.

2X (Level 24)

When a single isn’t enough, make it a double. Doubling the hops and malts in a recipe results in a higher ABV and can pack quite a boozey punch. That’s 120 different beers with the style that contains Imperial / Double in its style name. Try 5 more for Level 25!