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.

Beer Review: Boulder Beer Company’s Shake Porter

Name: Shake Chocolate Porter
Brewing Company: Boulder Beer Company
Location: Boulder, CO
Style: Porter – American
ABV: 5.9%

From Boulder Beer’s Web site:

Our twist on the traditional robust American Porter, Shake Chocolate Porter is dark black in color with rich, sweet aromatics and flavors of dark chocolate, coffee and caramel. This unique brew blends five different grains, including Chocolate Wheat, that along with cacao nibs create a devilishly delicious chocolate finish with a velvety mouthfeel.

Boulder Beer Company is one of the earliest independent craft breweries, having begun forty years ago back in 1979! This is a beer I first had nearly 5 years ago (in fact it was one of the first porters I checked into untappd), but in the intervening years, Boulder pulled NJ distribution so I haven’t had it since. As it so happens, I have some good friends who gifted me two installments of the Beer of the Month Club, which included this beer. When the package arrived, I had no idea what would be included so much to my delight, I saw a few bottles of this delicious Porter from Boulder Beer Company.

OK, what about the beer, you may ask. As expected, the beer pours a thick black with an appealing khaki/chocolate milk head. Appropriate given the name of the beer. A whiff of roasted chocolate sweetness comes off as I pass the beer under my nose.

Smooth sweetness is my first impression. Or rather, my second impression five years later.

In my review of River Horse’s delicious Chocolate Porter, I compared that beer to a liquid baked brownie. There’s a similar chocolate here of course, but with a profile that is slightly more bitter as Boulder may have added more hops. Not surprising since western breweries like those from Colorado and California tend to have a more assertive hop presence. Whatever hops were used; however, very much compliment the bountiful amounts of cocoa nibs and Chocolate Wheat Boulder uses in the brewing of the beer.

Shake is a wonderfully balanced beer that is as much beer as it is chocolate shake. The elements you’d expect from a non-chocolate porter are definitely present so this is more than just drinking carbonated chocolate syrup. This beer is much more complex, yet elegant than may of the “pastry stout” style beers that have come on the market since Shake was first brewed about five or so years ago. Not saying this is a pastry stout by any means, but adjacent in that it works great as a dessert beer.

Bottom line: Shake is a perfect dessert beer. If you like your porters a little on the sweet side, this is well-worth seeking out. Just don’t expect to find it in New Jersey at the moment.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4-star rating.

Beer Review: Conclave Brewing’s Moonwater

Name: Moonwater
Brewing Company: Conclave Brewing Company
Location: Flemington/Raritan Township, NJ
Style: IPA – American
ABV: 6%

“The Central Jersey brewery creates another delicious IPA.”

About the beer:

An IPA brewed to be simple, enjoyable and drinkable. We used a blend of base malts, Mosaic and Motueka hops and then a blend of ale yeasts to make this one. While it’s clearly a hoppy one, it’s crisp minerality and finish is what we’re really psyched about. Come on by and let us know what you feel. Notes of Sauvignon blanc, grape bubblegum, lemongrass and lime.

For all the mentions Conclave gets here on the Tap Takeover, this is the first full review I’m doing for one of their beers since fall 2017. For about the past year or so, Conclave has been doing somewhat monthly releases. Moonwater was was the first can release I was able to get I’m very glad I did.

This is a beer they first brewed in late 2018 but when I picked up the 4-pack, it was both the first time they canned the beer and the first time I had the beer.

Immediately noticeable from the pour of the beer is how yellow-orange the beer is, really nailing the “Pale” of the IPA. It looks almost like orange juice, like many of the popular Hazy IPAs. There’s a strong hop aroma that, for IPA lovers, really encourages you to take a sip.

A big hit of hops on the first sip. Per the description above, they’ve used two hops: Motueka and Mosaic.  The Motueka on the start which evokes a really delicious citrus flavor. I think Conclave has used Motueka in quite a few of their beers and it is a really flavorful hop, I’m a fan. The hop I tend not to enjoy; however, is the Mosaic hop. For whatever reason, the finish of beers which feature the Mosaic hop don’t typically jive with my taste sensibilities. I didn’t notice those issues in this beer.

While the Mosaic is present and has some hop qualities I enjoy, the Motueka hop brings enough of its own flavor to give the beer a more balanced hop profile. Motueka is one of the New Zealand hops that is growing in popularity and this beer is a nice showcase as to why. There’s an extremely pleasant tropical fruit element to the beer that inspires you to have more.

So the beer has a well-crafted balance between the two hops, which is nice. Also impressive is how flavorful the beer is with a relatively low ABV at 6%. For an IPA, that’s not exactly a chugger, but lower than the 7-7.5% you’d expect from an IPA with the robust flavor this beer gives.

Conclave Brewing is extremely consistent with every beer they produce and this beer is further proof. Moonwater is a great example of the care, precision, and artistry that can come together in an IPA. Plan and simple, Moonwater is a delicious IPA.

The cans sold out early on Saturday, the brewery is open for a couple of hours on Thursday and Friday evening and Saturday afternoons. I wouldn’t be surprised to see another batch of this beer become available though maybe just for growler fills. If you’re in the Central New Jersey area, it is a beer (and brewery) worth seeking out and visiting.

Can art by Natalie Rengan, @talliedesign. Natalie has been creating some really striking designs for Conclave’s can releases, giving a nice “branding” to the brewery.

Art/Design by Natalie Rengan

Recommended, link to Untappd 4-bottle cap rating.