Draught Diversions: Ashton Brewing (Middlesex,NJ)

Draught Diversions is the catchall label for mini-rants, think-pieces, and posts that don’t just focus on one beer here at The Tap Takeover. We hope you don’t grow too weary of the alcohol alliterative names we use…

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“Let’s launch our brewery when our State shuts down thanks to a pandemic,” said nobody ever. Well, that’s the situation Steve and Donna Ashton found themselves in March 2020 when they wanted to open Ashton Brewing Company. Considering the planning for the brewery was going back as early as summer 2019, Steve and Donna could not foresee what they’d be up against in March 2020. But persist, they did.

Steve and Donna have been making beer for over 25 years, Steve is a BJCP Master Judge and a member of the highly respected MASH (Morris Area Society of Homebrewers), and Steve has won awards for his homebrewing skills. In other words, when it comes to making beer, they really know what they are doing. When Steve retired from his finance career, it made sense for him to look to beer, which helped bring him and Donna together nearly 30 years ago.

Steve and Donna initially set their sights on an old roller rink in Roxbury, NJ, but that didn’t pan out. However, one door closing isn’t the end especially when another door opens. The location they settled on turned out to be a great spot, since it once housed a brewery, Demented Brewing Company in Middlesex, NJ. The demise of Demented is fairly well document in NJ beer circles, including my post from April 2019. The location is already a known brewery destination and was set up as a brewery, which made the build out a little bit easier. That doesn’t necessarily mean there was no work to be done, because the new tenants understandably wanted to ensure the location is completely branded with Ashton Brewing and remnants of the former tenants no longer present. Personally speaking, that location is about a mile from where I work and not too far from home, so I was very happy to learn of a new brewery taking over the location.

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Speaking of that branding, Donna Ashton was and is a freelance graphic designer. Those skills come in quite handy when it comes to giving a business a visual identity, and she’s done a really nice job with the branding. The company’s logo incorporates an Ash tree and many of the beers have an Ash tree in the background or worked into the label in some fashion. For example, their Barleywine, Fraxinus takes its name from the genus name of the Ash family of trees. Throughout the post, I’ve included some of the cans Ashton has produced over the last year, which shows the potent brand identity Donna helped to establish for Ashton Brewing Company.

Shortly after Ashton officially opened for business, I was hoping to try their beer. That first weekend in April 2020, my wife and I were doing some errands (i.e. food shopping) and she got me in the car and surprised me when we arrived Ashton to pick up a couple of crowlers, their English Mild (Billy Two Hats) and their stout (Velvet Elvis). I was pretty impressed with the beers and had a good feeling that Ashton Brewing was off to as good a start as possible, given the state of the world. Steve and Donna had to pivot to a model that did not rely on taproom and on-site consumption sales even before they opened, and the crowlers proved to be a pretty good start for them.

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Another way Ashton Brewing was able to pivot successfully was in their canned beers. The majority of canned beer for the past couple of years has been in the pint/16oz cans popularized by the growth of Hazy/New England IPAs. When Steve and Donna brought in a canning line, they went with 12oz cans. That alone sort of sets them apart from the crowd of NJ canned beer. I’d guess Carton, Bolero Snort, and Spellbound are part of the minority of the post 2012 breweries regularly canning their beer at the 12oz size. What they couldn’t have foreseen was that a can shortage was going to hit. A combination of tariffs and resources was making it difficult for breweries to keep crowlers and 16oz cans in stock, but in speaking with Steve when I visited the brewery for their First Anniversary recently (more on that later), he said because Ashton decided to go with 12oz cans as their can of choice, they were not as affected by that shortage.

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Images courtesy of Ashton Brewing’s Facebook

Because of the pandemic and social distancing requirements, getting a peek proved a challenge. During the annual birthday brewery tour my wife takes me on, we were able to partake in outdoor seating. Although it was the first weekend in November, it was unseasonably warm and made for a lovely outdoor, socially distanced experience. However, my most recent trip to Ashton was during their 1 year anniversary and with social distancing somewhat relaxed, a limited number of occupants were permitted indoors for consumption. And what struck me most, compared to how the previous tenants had the interior laid out, is that Steve and Donna opted for a much brighter look. More well-lit, not as much dark imagery (not that I’m against dark imagery, I’m a horror junkie after all), but the overall feel and tone of the taproom is very, very welcoming. Of course during my visit for that First Anniversary, we felt very welcomed because we were sitting on one of the most comfortable leather couches upon which I’ve ever sat…which was wiped down with disinfectant before we took our seats.

Another element that sets Ashton Brewing apart from many of their peers is the breadth of styles which they brew and make available. Of course IPAs and Pale Ales are part of their portfolio, but the second beer the canned was the fantastic Pilsner, Jersey Dreamin (a top new beer to me in 2020). Two of the first styles Ashton brewed were an English Mild (Billy Two Hats) and an Altbier (Red Baron), both very traditional styles, but styles you don’t see very often. I’ve had both and enjoyed both. Other early brews included a Dutch, a Patersbier (the Belgian Trappist style with lowest ABV); ’Aina, a Farmouse/Saison; and Aura a Witbier, among other beers/styles. Ashton set out to brew beers of a drinkable ABV (around the 6% mark) and with a draught capacity of 18 beers, they certainly have a wide variety of styles available most of the time, maybe one of the more diverse tap lists in the State.

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March 2021 Taplist, courtesy of Ashton Brewing’s Facebook page

What I especially appreciate is how well-crafted Ashton Brewing’s lagers are. I mentioned Jersey Dreamin’ and I will again because it is that damned good. Recently, I had their Czech Dark Lager (Beach Badges), which was a wonderful beer. Their Schwarzbier, Black Orpheus is a delicious collaboration with Sunken Silo Brew Works in nearby Lebanon, NJ; during my November visit, I thoroughly enjoyed their Festbier (Festus Haggen) and their Maibock/Helles Bock, Cellar Hellar.

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L to R: Cellar Hellar (Maibock/Helles Bock); Stella Blue (Saison); Mashed Up (Porter); Festus Haggen (Festbier)

Back to their Anniversary celebration on March 27. Ashton was pouring quite a few barrel-aged beers, in addition to their standard taplist. In briefly speaking with owner Steve, he said he was able to procure used barrels from Jersey Spirits in Fairfield, NJ (which is in the same complex as Magnify Brewing Company). I started my day out with the aforementioned Schwarzbier before diving into the bigger beers. My second beer was the Rye Barrel Aged Barleywine, Fraxinus. Fraxinus is an English style Barleywine, which leans more on malt than hops, compared to the American version. With the Rye Barrel aging, the beer is extremely balanced. There was a nice spice from the rye, but the toffee-caramel-malt elements from the base Barleywine were still present. The third beer that day, and perhaps one of the most interesting barrel-aged beers I ever had was the Grappa-barrel aged Farmhouse ale Aina. I remarked to Steve that I’d never think to age anything in Grappa, but he said when he was getting the barrels from Jersey Spirits, a small Grappa barrel was available, so he figured he’d give it a shot. I had Grappa once many years ago, and found it to be very unpleasant and what I expected kerosene to taste like. However, the elements of the Grappa played nicely with the Farmhouse Ale, for a somewhat crisp, but pleasant and effervescent beer. The last barrel-aged beer was perhaps the most straight-forward in its premise, a Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Stout, Midnight Moonlight. Although this was probably the barrel aged beer I liked the least of the three, it was still a good beer with huge chocolate notes.

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Clockwise from top left: Black Orpheus Schwarzbier; Fraxinus Barleywine (Rye Barrel); Aina Farmhouse (Grappa Barrel); Midnight Moonlight (Bourbon Barrel)

Between the straight-forward styles (IPA, Pilsner), somewhat less prevalent styles (Altbier, Schwarzbier, Czech Dark Lager), and barrel-aged beers, Ashton Brewing has demonstrated a very high level of expertise in craft brewing. They started strongly with a delicious IPA and what is turning out to be one of my favorite Pilsners. Over the past year, the beers they’ve been churning out have each been extremely flavorful and very well-crafted. The majority of the beers are the recipes Steve has been refining over the past couple of decades as a homebrewer, that refinement and elegance is really easy to taste.

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Images courtesy of Ashton Brewing’s Facebook

Ashton Brewing has already established themselves as a significant presence in the NJ Craft Beer community. Steve has been a member of MASH (Morris Area Society of Homebrewers) and because of that, Ashton collaborated on a beer with brewers who have connections to MASH. All Mashed Up is a collaboration between Ashton, Seven Tribesmen (Wayne, NJ), and Untied Brewing in New Providence. Each brewery tweaked the base recipe slightly, Ashton added marshmallows and Cacao Nibs to their version. Ashton was a fairly early contributor to the Brewery Strong Philanthropy as well.

Given their ability to successfully pivot during the most challenging of times, and the quality of the liquid they produce, I expect that Ashton Brewing will be a staple of the NJ Craft Brewery scene for a very long time. I know I’ll be keeping their beer in my regular rotation

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

Ashton Brewing Company’s Web site | Instagram | Facebook | Ashton Brewing on NewJerseyCraftBeer.com | Ashton Brewing entry @ Beer Advocate | untappd

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Draught Diversions: Four City Brewing (Orange, NJ)

Draught Diversions is the catchall label for mini-rants, think-pieces, and posts that don’t just focus on one beer here at The Tap Takeover. We hope you don’t grow too weary of the alcohol alliterative names we use…

Four City Brewing in Orange, NJ has been generating some positive buzz since opening their doors for business about a year ago (2019). Their average beer rating on untappd is about 3.75 / 5, with many beers landing above a 4-bottle cap rating and a few friends rating their beers quite higher than that. Four City Brewing is one of three black-owned breweries in New Jersey (the other two are Montclair Brewing Company and Hackensack Brewing Company), too.

Four City Badge from Untappd

Four City is in a pretty good location, close to the downtown area of Orange and across the street from the Orange NJ Transit train station. Orange also has a history of brewing; Rheingold Beer, once one of the most popular beers in the NY/NJ area, brewed beer in Orange, but shut its doors in 1980. The beautiful building, once a warehouse and coal facility, is now a mixed use space developed by L+M Partners with the brewery just one element in the revitalization of the Downtown Orange. The space is very simply, a beautiful brewery. A very inviting exterior, a welcoming interior, as well as the friendly staff, help to make this brewery look so good.

Before the brewery opened, a lot of passion, work, and effort went into its creation. Like the origin story for many breweries, owners Roger Apollon Jr., Jeff Gattens, and Anthony Minervino were homebrewers who unofficially (or really, I suppose officially) called themselves “The Brew Council.” For about fifteen years, Roger sought out different beers wherever he went, before meeting Anthony and Jeff. As the brewery ramped up, they hired a full time head brewer, Joe Vitale. That was all about a year ago. They all settled on Orange as the location because they are all from the area and in addition to Rheingold once calling Orange home, way back in 1901, the Winter Brothers’ Orange Brewery was in the Township. The name, “Four City” honors the four Oranges of NJ (West, East, South, and Orange). As will become evident, many of the beer names are homages/tributes to the local diversity and history of the area. The design of the brewery, the design of the logo, and most of the can labels are very consistent. In other words, Four City has established a very strong brand identity.

The taproom is fairly large at 4,700 square feet and the tanks are visible, but I don’t recall what brewery’s barrel capacity is. What Jeff Gattens told me during our conversation was that Four City has a canning line and they have enough capacity to allow them to brew and can beer for their friends at Hoboken Brewing. The day of my visit, 11 beers were available in cans and 21 beers available on draught. There is some overlap there, for example, their flagship Pale Ale Citrus City was available in both Cans and on draught. In other words, Four City has a great set up to be a production facility that also can house patrons on site.

Four City’s Beer Menu, November 7, 2020

The day was unseasonably warm for November (I was wearing shorts). When we arrived, we were seated at a table inside, with all the tables amply spaced out for social distancing. The door was open and the coolish breeze was blowing through the brewery. The extremely friendly beertender greeted us and took our orders. While Four City wasn’t doing flights, they were pouring “medium” pours, which I think were about 8oz.

“Medium” Pour of Citrus City Pale Ale

I went with the flagship, Citrus City, the Belgian Dubbel, St. Cloud (reviewed Tuesday, 11/17) and Quad City, the Quadrupel. It isn’t often I see both a Dubbel and a Quadrupel (one of my favorite styles) on draught, so I felt very compelled to get Four City’s interpretation of these two styles that tend not to be uber-prevalent. I was very impressed with Citrus City, to the point I regret not bringing home a four pack of the beer especially since it has three of my favorite hops: Citra, Simcoe, and Centennial hops. It was everything I hope to enjoy a Pale Ale…hints of citrus, with hops and malt expertly balanced. The beer was very clean and would be a great beer for the cooler. I reviewed St. Cloud, so that leaves Quad City to discuss, albeit briefly. Wow. Simply, wow. There is so much flavor to this beer, hints of dates and figs from the potent yeast, a very sweet beer whose 10.2% ABV is dangerously masked. This is a fantastic Quadrupel.

“Medium” Pour of the delicious Quad City Quadrupel

As I noted above, many of the beers pay tribute to the history/diversity of the region. Citrus City is a fairly obvious homage to the nickname of the brewery’s home town. A series of IPAs, Hedison’s Phonograph are named in honor of West Orange’s Thomas Edison, inventor of the phonograph. The Miseducation of Loral Hops pays tribute to megastar Lauryn Hill of South Orange, NJ, Sak Pasé (a fruited Berliner Weisse) is a Haitian Creole greeting for “What’s Up?” and there’s a sizeable Haitian contingent in the Oranges; Brewellyn Park is an IPA named for West Orange’s Llewellyn Park; Eagle Rocktoberfest (a Märzen) takes its name from the Eagle Rock landmark; Brick Church is a dark wheat ale takes its name from the eponymous landmark minutes from the brewery, and 55 Sour Essex Ave is a Berliner Weisse named for the brewery’s address, and so on.

Four City Can Collage, images courtesy of Four City’s Facebook

Talking about the pandemic is unavoidable at this point, but Four City was in a decent position to pivot. The aforementioned canning line in the facility allowed them to package their beer for the home delivery now being allowed in the State of New Jersey. Also during the pandemic, Four City celebrated their 1st anniversary with four different beers: Hedison’s Medison with three different hops rather than the standard single hop; Darker than Blue, a pastry stout with cacao nibs, maple syrup, and raspberries; You Down Wit FCB, a witbier (the name is an homage to 90s rapgroup Naughty by Nature’s song “O.P.P.” and if you are humming that song as you read this then I suspect we’re about the same age); and It’s Better Than Yours, a Milkshake IPA who takes its name from the lyrics of the song “Milkshake.”

Four City Anniversary Beers, courtesy of Four City’s Facebook

Although Four City is just over a year old, they’ve already garnered some national recognition. Being a Black-owned brewery is one way they’ve stood out, not just in New Jersey, but nationally. There’s been a beer festival in Pittsburgh the last few years called Fresh Fest, which features Black-owned breweries. In 2020, Four City collaborated with Shu Brew of Zelienople, PA on a Dark Ale with Oreos, cacao, vanilla, coffee, and lactose they’ve called Brewers Gonna Work it Out. That sounds like a beer I want yesterday. Some of their beer has become available on Tavour, as well.

Four City/ShuBru Brewers Gonna Work it Out courtesy of hopculturemag via Four City’s Facebook

Prior to the Pandemic, Four City hosted onsite events, including Halloween parties, a night for a meet and greet with local artists, a Holiday Beerzar, a “Brews and Culture” night of local music, a cornhole tournament, and the requisite yoga nights. These events, along with the owners’ deep roots in the region, deep respect they have for the community, and honor they show with their beer names adds up to one thing in my mind. Just over one year into their existence, Four City Brewing is something of a template, or ideal of what a community Craft Brewery should be.

The goodies I brought home from my visit to Four City

Since Four City was part of a tour of a few breweries fairly close together (a tradition for my birthday over the last few years), there are obviously a handful in the area that could comprise a similar tour. Montclair Brewery is the closest at 4 miles away, and we tried to visit, but they were extremely packed and because of the social distancing rules of the Pandemic, we couldn’t stick around because we had reservations at other places during the day. Also very close is the Gaslight Brewpub, which is where we went after Four City for dinner, they’ve got really good food. Melovino Meadery is about 5 miles away, Ghost Hawk Brewing, Magnify Brewing, and Cricket Hill Brewing (the latter two of I’ve visited) are relatively close at about 11 miles away.

The Kegstand, a delicious American Lager

I’ve written quite a bit about Four City Brewing at this point. One thing should be very clear – I like the brewery a lot. Between supporting local independent businesses, supporting black-owned breweries, and supporting breweries that make super beer, Four City is a must visit for those reasons. Four City Brewing is comfortably near the top of the 50 or so “new to me” breweries I’ve visited over the last few years and I look forward to visiting again.

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

Four City Brewing’s Web site | Instagram | Facebook | Twitter | Four City Brewing on NewJerseyCraftBeer.com | Four City Brewing on Beer Advocate | Four City Brewing on Untappd

Draught Diversions: Untied Brewing (New Providence, NJ)

Draught Diversions is the catchall label for mini-rants, think-pieces, and posts that don’t just focus on one beer here at The Tap Takeover. We hope you don’t grow too weary of the alcohol alliterative names we use…

What’s this? Another brewery feature just over a month since the last brewery feature? It sure is, and this time I’m highlighting a brewery that is 1) slightly closer to home, 2) close to my parents, and 3) the next town over from my in-laws. With that, I finally visited Untied Brewing Company in New Providence, NJ, which opened in early 2019. Untied joins breweries Wet Ticket in Rahway, Two Ton Brewing in Kenilworth, and Climax Brewing in Roselle Park, NJ as breweries who call Union County, NJ their home as well as long-standing brewpub Trap Rock in neighboring Berkeley Heights.

I’ve seen and heard varying opinions about Untied Brewing when they opened in January 2019 (My father,, friends, and commenters in the Beer Advocate 2019 Thread). However, any new business needs a little bit of time to settle into who they are to work out the kinks and whatnot. Over the past six months, since about Untied’s first anniversary, the things I’ve been hearing (from friends on untappd and in those Beer Advocate forums (Beer Advocate 2020 Thread) are that Untied is making good beer, so I had mixed expectations. That’s just a peek into where my headspace was about the brewery before visiting on a warm, late summer afternoon in September 2020.

Partial Taplist, 09-11-2020

New Providence, for many years, was a semi-dry town with no liquor stores until 2015, so why did Matthew and Kim Green settle on New Providence? Matthew and Kim had a vision to open a brewery in the town they had been calling home for the 6 years prior to Untied’s opening and they really like the community. Although they explored other locations in towns neighboring Untied, the location, space, rent, and support of New Providence convinced Matt and family company to launch the brewery in New Providence.

Matt and co-owner Mark were home brewing as a hobby and like may breweries I’ve highlighted here, had the notion of pivoting this passion into a business. In speaking to Matt during my visit, he said he also wanted to have a full time, experienced brewer on board, which led to Untied hiring Tim Stumpf before the brewery opened. More on Tim later.

The brewery is located on a dead end street in an industrial park setting, which isn’t too far from a strip mall with some food options. Many of the independent breweries in NJ are in very similar locations. The facility has ample room for a production brewery as well as seating for onsite consumption. Matt also opted this location which allowed for a little more freedom in the build-out compared to a main-street type of setting. While that main street type of setting allows for potential walk up patrons, the higher rent and stricter rules around build out can prove to be difficult.

Matt attributes canning their beer early on as something that set Untied apart. They built a relationship with a local mobile canning company, Tripod Canning in nearby Mountainside, NJ, which helped, too. The pandemic brought challenges, but Untied was able pivot fairly easily and perhaps more easily than some of their brewing peers in NJ. The majority of their beer labels were approved by the TTB and their set up with serving tanks rather than kegs made transitioning to canning their beer a fairly seamless transition. Home delivery was fairly consistent during the stay at home and the outdoor space afforded Untied the opportunity to serve on premises once NJ opened up outdoor dining/consumption. Untied was also able to take advantage of the PPP relief program.

Matt spoke very highly about Tim Stumpf’s ability and experience, especially with Lagers, which is why Untied will always have at least one Lager available. Tim has a resume of awards from his time at the renowned Northeast Brewpub chain, Iron Hill. (I’ve visited a couple of their brewpubs and found the beer quite tasty). Untied opened with 24 Taps proving out Matt and Tim’s philosophy of having styles and varieties for everybody – multiple IPAs, stouts and porters, a range of Lagers (from their flagship Vienna Lager People Pleaser to Jurmala, a Baltic Porter) as well as a variety of Sour Ales.

Quite a bit of thought went into the name and branding of the brewery. Untied, as Matt said (and I’m paraphrasing), is a mindset; relax, untie yourself from being at work, stress. The name is branded extremely well, the flight paddle (pictured below) is a slightly crooked necktie, as if it is loosened around one’s neck. Beer names like File This (a New England IPA); Behind Schedule (a Sour Ale); First Point of Contact (German Pilsner); Content is King (New England IPA); Milking the Clock (Milkshake IPA); Take it Offline (Saison); Climbing the Corporate Ladder (Belgian Tripel); and Morning Meeting (Imperial Porter) are all names that evoke that business theme or even that corny corporate speak. Those are just some of the beer names, too. The cans are immediately recognizable – with the businesslike courier font emblazoned on a large “U,” Untied Brewing’s cans stand out on the shelves.

 

Images in collage courtesy of Untied Brewing’s Facebook. Clockwise: “Milking the Clock” Milkshake IPA, “Morning Meeting” Milk Porter, “Behind Schedule” Sour Ale; “First PoINT of Contact” Pilsner, and “File This” IPA

I knew I wanted to try a couple of their lagers, so the Helles Lager, Long Days Short Years was first on the paddle, you can read more about that in my review. Next up was Turkey Town Lager, Untied’s interpretation of Märzen/Oktoberfest. Good stuff, nice malt with a low-level of sweetness. Beer number three was one of the beers that brought some positive attention to Untied, Knucklehead Hall of Fame, a double New England IPA. The beer has a great hop balance between tropical sweetness and hop bitterness, I think I liked it so much because there was no Mosaic hops in it. Last on the paddle was Pioneer Ale, an Extra Special Bitter, which was OK. Not my favorite of the bunch (one of a group always has to fit that role), but I’m not the best judge of that particular style.

Flight Left to Right: Long Days Short Years Helles Lager, Turkey Town Märzen, Knucklehead Hall of Fame NE IPA, Pioneer Ale ESB

Matt spent some time speaking with me about the brewer Tim Stumpf, as I noted above and specifically saying how their best-selling lager is People Pleaser. This beer is a Vienna Lager – the two best known beers in this style are Samuel Adams Boston Lager and Brooklyn Lager so it is a style of lager rather ubiquitous even if many people may not know those beers by their style as Vienna Lagers. It is typically my least favorite Lager style. However, Matt talked up the beer enough, and Brewer Tim’s abilities and recognition for brewing the style in his previous brewing roles, I had to give the beer a try. I’ll be damned if People Pleaser isn’t my favorite Vienna Lager. I can understand why the beer is their top lager, patrons visiting who only  know “Craft Beer” because of Sam Adams Boston Lager will gravitate to this beer out of familiarity and I’d say the name fits because Untied’s Vienna Lager is a very tasty, pleasing Lager.

Image courtesy of Untied Brewing’s Facebok

I also had a small pour of their Russian Imperial Stout, Left in the Dark. I’ll preface this with another conversation point from Matt. When we were discussing Tim Stumpf’s brewing skills, in addition to brewing great lagers, Tim has a proclivity when it comes to brewing Russian Imperial Stouts, not an easy style. His skill shows beautifully in this sweet, potent, dark ale. Untied is bottling the beer in the near future so I’m going to have to grab a bottle.

Label Art, courtesy of Untied Brewing’s Facebook

Like many small, independent breweries, Untied Brewing has sought to foster ties to the community. That can be done through beer names; Pioneer Ale, their fall ale is a reference to the mascot of New Providence High School; Turkey Town Lager gets its name from the city which Untied calls home, New Providence, which was originally called “Turkey” or “Turkey Town,” due to the presence of wild turkeys in the area but was changed around 1750.

Image courtesy of Untied Brewing’s Facebook

One of their beers, Untied Cares is an IPA brewed to honor the struggle COVID-19 and was offered at $9 a 4-pack, an extremely low price for 4-pack of 16oz cans. Untied wanted to give back somehow and they were initially going to raise funds for a good cause. In the end, they wanted to give back to the people who had been supporting Untied through all the tough times. Selling the beer at cost is a way to thank their supporters who have been buying Untied’s beers during the Pandemic, with the profits normally going towards donation simply taken out of the price to customers. With the large space Untied has hosted several gatherings for a wide range of audiences. They’ve hosted multiple meetings of B.I.G. Girls Night Out, several Yoga nights as well as a few comedy nights.

Images courtesy of Untied Brewing’s Facebook

Two beer names brought a great deal of attention to Untied, both of which drew inspiration for their names from NJ Governor Phil Murphy. The first one, Data Determines Dates was something Murphy said about when things in NJ would open up, in terms of social gatherings. The second beer, Knucklehead Hall of Fame is what Murphy said people should avoid becoming a part of in his warning that we should all be wearing masks and practice social distancing. Matt told me Governor Murphy called the brewery when word started making the rounds about Data Determines Dates. Untied also happened to be one of the breweries who attended and poured beer The Governor’s Craft Beer Event at Drumthwacket in October 2019.

From left, Tammy Murphy, Untied Brewing Company part owner Mark Russo, Untied Brewing president Matthew Green and Gov. Phil Murphy pose at The Governor’s Craft Beer Event this past October 2019. (Photo courtesy of Matthew Green & NJ.com)

Untied Brewing, in my opinion, is doing some really good things in New Providence. They are brewing good beer, which is first an foremost what any brewery needs to do. Matthew and Kim Green, Mark Russo, and Tim Stumpf are adjusting quite well to the changing beer landscape and adjusting to customer desires. Getting the governor of the State is a pretty good way to garner some attention, too.  I know I’ll be seeking out more of their beer in the future.

New Providence is fairly centrally located in Northern New Jersey, the brewery is a short drive off of Route 78, which is a major highway bisecting the State and connecting to other major highways – The Garden State Parkway, the New Jersey Turnpike, and Route 287. One could easily do a tour of a half-dozen breweries with Untied as part of that tour. Although in Morris County, Twin Elephant is only a few miles away, Four City in Orange (Essex County) is a short drive, the aforementioned Union County breweries Wet Ticket in Rahway and Two Ton in Kenilworth could round out the tour.

If you find yourself in thr New Providence area, Untied Brewing is well worth the visit.

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

Untied Brewing’s Web site | Instagram | Facebook | Twitter | Untied Brewing on NewJerseyCraftBeer.com | Beer Advocate | untappd

Draught Diversions: Toms River Brewing (Toms River, NJ)

Draught Diversions is the catchall label for mini-rants, think-pieces, and posts that don’t just focus on one beer here at The Tap Takeover. We hope you don’t grow too weary of the alcohol alliterative names we use…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image courtesy of Toms River Brewing’s Facebook

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

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

Image courtesy of Toms River Brewing’s Facebook

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

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

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

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

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

Image courtesy of Toms River Brewing’s Facebook

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

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

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

A Beer Journal of the Pandemic: Supporting Local NJ Beer and Breweries

The world is facing an unprecedented global pandemic, but we as a society are trying to maintain life as close to normal as possible. There’s a fairly wide margin between today’s normal and the normal of a few weeks ago.

 

UPDATE, MARCH 31, 2020: As of March 30, Breweries in NJ have been once again permitted to deliver. The list of breweries who are delivering has shifted from what is below so your best bet is to visit your local brewery’s Facebook/Instagram/Website.

Governmental rules being enforced to protect society at large from the spread of the pandemic are changing on a daily basis. We really don’t know how long the world, specifically the United States, is going to be adjusting to this pandemic and what the long-range impacts will be once we have this in the rearview mirror. But that could be weeks to months from now. I’m not going to speculate beyond that, I’ll just suggest going to the CDC’s website for COVID-19 for more information and heed your local and State government.

Business, especially local businesses which are seeking to live out their own American Dream, are struggling or will be struggling. Sadly, there’s a very good chance that some of these small breweries may be unable to weather the storm the coronavirus has caused. The NJ Beer Community has always been a great, well-connected community. Breweries are always trying to help each other, the people who buy and drink NJ beer are very loyal to their local purveyors of that fine beverage made from water, grain, yeast, and hops. That theme has become very evident during this pandemic.

In New Jersey many breweries have relied on Taproom sales to be successful; drawing crowds to share their beer and conversation. Well, with the Social Distancing mandates being put forth, that side of the business for these breweries is not currently really possible. Many breweries are shifting to “to-go” sales only – that means packaged goods like cans, bottles, and for some, growlers and crowlers. Other breweries are delivering their beer in the immediate area of their production facility, thanks to NJ Governor Phil Murphy’s Executive Order 104. Like everything else about this pandemic, who knows how long this will last.

While some of the larger non-macro breweries are well worth supporting in these times (breweries like Sierra Nevada, Victory, Jack’s Abby, Bell’s, etc. who have illustrated a great sense of community in addition to making great beer), now is a better time than ever to support the ultra-local breweries in your area. Go to them and buy some of their to-go options directly from the brewery. Pick up some of their beer in your local bottle shop/liquor store. Hell, if you have the means, buy some gift cards to use at a later time.

For NJ specific breweries, Mike from New Jersey Craft Beer has been working to spread the word of the breweries that are doing the TakeOut option.

The list below, borrowed from the good folks over at reddit’s NJ Beer forum highlights the breweries who are doing to-go pickups (and deliveries) of their packaged goods. The reddit thread can be found here (https://www.reddit.com/r/njbeer/comments/fjwe06/covid19_brewery_update/) and seems to be continuously updated by Matty and the other moderators over there so the list below is probably incomplete as of the time you are reading this.

Many other states are likely following suit, I’d say check in with Breweries in PA for information about breweries in the Keystone state, like this post Breweries in PA Offering Delivery Options in Response to Coronavirus.

*Disclaimer…some of the posts I’ve got ready for the next week or so were put together before the world changed as drastically as it has.

Draught Diversions: Six Pack of Favorite Breweries of 2019

Draught Diversions is the catchall label for mini-rants, think-pieces, and posts that don’t just focus on one beer here at The Tap Takeover. We hope you don’t grow too weary of the alcohol alliterative names we use…

 

I was happy with my favorite breweries post last year, so I figured I’d put one together for 2019 – My favorite breweries for 2019, with a slight difference from last year: I’m highlighting six breweries rather than four. Some of these I visited, others I’ve had many beers from over the year, and although last year I labeled one as “rediscovery” I wouldn’t go quite that far this year for one of the breweries, but I would say my enjoyment of their portfolio was reinvigorated. It also shouldn’t be surprising that the breweries in this post made a showing with a beer in my Favorite Beers of 2019 post. Like last year, I’ll sort this alphabetically, but immediately call out Icarus Brewing and Victory Brewing Company as my two overall favorites for 2019. The combination of quantity of beers I had from them and the consistent quality are large factors in that decision.

Bolero Snort Brewery (Carlstadt, NJ) | Total “new to me” Bolero Snort beers checked in on untappd in 2018: 13

Bolero Snort is one of the more recognizable breweries in New Jersey despite not having their own facility until late in 2019, with the official grand opening set for the weekend of Martin Luther King day (January 17-20, 2020). Despite that, they managed to produce many beers, and many beers I enjoyed throughout the year. I began enjoying Bolero Snort early as their Moosaic was a standout beer for me at the 2019 Meadowlands Great Beer Expo. Much like choosing a best of Icarus, I was torn between two superb beers from Bolero Snort in 2019 when it came to picking my favorite from them, their annual Bergen County Stout release (specifically, the French Toast variant) and Moo Doo Doll, a Mardi Gras “King Cake” inspired stout with an amount of adjuncts that magically come together in lovely harmony: brown sugar, “a whisper of milk dust,” cinnamon, nutmeg, Madagascar vanilla and a pinch of lemon zest. The outstanding quality of Moo Doo Doll and French Toast Bergen County Bull Stout alone would have made Bolero Snort a standout for me in 2019.

Clockwise from top left: Mootopia, á La Mooode, Gingerbread Moochiato, Ragin Bull, OVB

One of my beer highlights of the whole year; however, came on my birthday. My wife surprised me by getting me and some friends in the car and surprising me with a Bolero Snort beer pairing dinner. Fortunately for me, my wife does not like beer, so I was able to enjoy more than just my 5oz taster of most beers. The beers included in course order: (1) Bolero’s flagship lager Ragin Bull Amber Lager which I’d had before and liked; (2) OVB Creamsicle IPA; their flagship IPA, a sweet delicious Milkshake IPA which I was pleased to enjoy again later in the month at a NJ Devils game; (3) Mootopia, a New England IPA; (4) á La Mooode one of the best hard ciders I’ve ever had; and finished it off with the star of the show for me, (5) Gingerbread Moochiato and outstanding coffee-milk stout. When my wife asked me to grab a four pack of a stout for her to gift to a colleague for Christmas, I picked up Gingerbread Moochiato.  That event was hosted by Bolero Snort’s beer ambassador Adrian who was super-friendly and was the perfect host/ambassador.

I would not be surprised if beers from Bolero Snort Brewery appears quite often on my blog throughout 2020 with the brewery now open to the public.

Cape May Brewing Company (Cape May, NJ) | Total “new to me” Cape May beers checked in to untappd in 2019: 11

Cape May Brewing Company is currently the second largest brewery in the state (Flying Fish, is still #1), but I wouldn’t be surprised to see them overtake Flying Fish in the near future. In late 2018, Cape May Brewing Company launched Cape Beverage Distribution Company so they could self-distribute throughout the state. As such, I have definitely noticed a difference as their beers are mainstays of the beer shops I visit and I think throughout the majority of the state. But good things began early in 2019 for Cape May for me, one of my first reviews in 2019 was of their Baltic Porter, King Porter Stomp. Like Icarus and Bolero Snort, I was torn between two beers standing out enough to make my top 12 list: Swinging the Lamp (Imperial NEIPA) and Bourbon Barrel Aged Concrete Ship (Russian Imperial Stout). Only one beer from Cape May didn’t quite work for me despite being a well-made beer, but every other beer I had from them was superb. Their sadly and recently discontinued Pale Lager, simply called Lager was one of the mainstays in my cooler in the summer and a beer I suggested my wife gift to a co-worker who was just “entering the world of craft beer.”

Other Cape May Brewing Standouts for me: The Bog Cranberry Shandy, Follow the Gull (IPA – American); and their annual Oktoberfest.

Icarus Brewing Company (Lakewood, NJ) | Total “new to me” Icarus beers checked in on untappd in 2019: 16

You might say this is a late addition since I visited the brewery in August with more than half of the year in the rear-view mirror, but that alone should indicate how highly I think of Icarus and the beer I had from them in 2019. I’d seen good things about their beer all over beer social media pretty much since they opened in 2017, had a couple of their beers in 2018 (one even made my best of 2018 list), but it wasn’t until August that I finally visited the brewery, then again in October (here’s my post/brewery report from October). As I alluded to in my Favorite New to Me beers of 2019, the majority of the beer I had from Icarus Brewing in 2019 was superb, so whittling it down to a single beer was challenging, but I slotted in Kalishnikov (Stout – Russian Imperial).

My other new-to-me 2019 Standouts from Icarus Brewing were were Just Wing it (Stout – Milk/Sweet); Making Whoopie (Stout – Imperial/Double Milk/Sweet); Build me Up Butternut (Porter – Imperial / Double); Life in Helles (Lager – Helles), Velvet Fjord (IPA – Milkshake); and Fruited… & Flying With Pineapple, Mango, Blackberry (Sour – Berliner Weisse).

Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers Company (Framingham, MA) | Total “new to me” Jack’s Abby Beers checked in on untappd in 2019: 6

It is always exciting when a regional brewery with a stellar reputation beings distributing in your area. Even more so for a Lager lover like me for a brewery who brews only Lagers! In 2019, Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers began distributing into NJ and I was thrilled. Granted, I only had 6 beers from Jack’s Abby in 2019, but they were all superb lagers and I found myself re-purchasing the beers from them I enjoyed. The standout for me is the one that made my favorites of 2019, their world class pilsner, Post Shift Pilsner.

Rounding out my superb six pack of Jacks Abby Lagers I enjoyed in 2019: Copper Legend (Festbier); Sunny Ridge Pilsner (Pilsner – Other), House Lager (Lager – Helles), Hoponius Union (Lager –India Pale); and Maibock Hurts Like Helles (Bock – Hell / Maibock / Lentebock).

Kane Brewing Company (Ocean Township, NJ) | Total “new to me” Kane beers checked in to untappd in 2019: 11

Kane is probably the most respected brewery in New Jersey, hands down. Their IPAs, their barrel-aging program, their big stouts, and their Quadrupels all are outstanding. Two things happened over the last year or so – Kane began self-distributing their three core beers to stores in NJ and I began enjoying and appreciating more hop-forward beer, which gave me the opportunity to enjoy Overhead (their Imperial IPA) and Sneak Box (their outstanding American Pale Ale).

There’s a local bar in Somerville, NJ I have mentioned on the blog called Project P.U.B., P.U.B. standing for Pop Up Brewery, wherein a brewery has a month long tap takeover or is essentially a “satellite” brewery for a month. In March 2019, Kane was that brewery, which gave me the opportunity to have a couple of their more limited release beers: their 2190 Anniversary Ale, a delicious Barrel Aged Quadrupel as well as Vengeful Heart, a hoppy Barleywine. I also visited Kane at the end of the summer and was even more impressed with the beers I had: Two barrel aged Quadrupels (One Thousand Eight Hundred and Twenty Five & 2555 7th Anniversary Ale), a hoppy blonde (Whale Pond), and a Chestnut Barrel-aged version of their Pilsner, Sideshore. Other standouts, thanks to friends and family visiting Kane were Half-Timbered barrel-aged Bock and vintages their superb Coffee Porter, Morning Bell and Mexican Brunch.

Victory Brewing Company (Downington, PA) | Total “new to me” Victory Beers checked in on untappd in 2019: 7 new to me, many bottles of Prima Pils “new recipe” and their Festbier for the first time in years

Victory Brewing has come up on this blog as much as or maybe more than any other brewery, I’d venture to guess. At least as much as any non-NJ brewery, that’s because I’ve always enjoyed their output. However, they rebranded in early 2019 with a consistent label design across their portfolio, introduced a handful of new beers, and tweaked their classic Prima Pils by lowering the bitterness just a smidge. I love it as much as I ever did.

I’d say there’s a good chance I bought more beer from Victory in 2019 than any other brewery, I had some form of Victory beer in my poolside cooler throughout the summer, and Prima Pils was a fixture in my refrigerator. I’ve always enjoyed their beers and that proved to be true again in 2019. New-to-me standouts in 2019 from Victory included Cloud Walker Hazy Juicy IPA, Java Latte (Stout – Milk/Sweet), Twisted Monkey (Blonde Ale – Belgian Blonde / Golden), Liberty Bell Ringer (IPA–Imperial/Double)

 

Some additional stats, via untappd’s Year in Beer:

  • 412 Unique Beers
  • Beers from 173 different breweries
  • 104 distinct styles

Top 5 Most Checked in beer styles:

  • IPA – American – 31
  • Pale Ale – American – 18
  • IPA – Imperial / Double– 17
  • Hefeweizen – 14
  • IPA – New England – 14

Top 5 Most Checked in breweries (this includes beers I’ve had prior to 2019, i.e. I had Prima Pils from Victory prior to 2019, but checked it in in 2019, too):

  • Icarus Brewing – 18
  • Kane Brewing Company – 15
  • Cape May Brewing Company– 14
  • Bolero Snort Brewery – 13
  • Victory Brewing Company – 13

Breweries I visited for the first time in 2019 (17 total)

482 Badges Earned

Draught Diversions: Icarus Brewing (Lakewood, NJ)

Draught Diversions is the catchall label for mini-rants, think-pieces, and posts that don’t just focus on one beer here at The Tap Takeover. We hope you don’t grow too weary of the alcohol alliterative names we use…

Few breweries have made as big of an impact in as short a time as Icarus Brewing has since they opened in early 2017. Their beers seemed receive acclaim as soon as they appeared in bars and taprooms, and of course their brewery. But that’s now, late 2019. I’ve had a few of their beers over the years and most recently (late August 2019 and mid October 2019) I made two visits to the brewery. But let’s go back in time a little bit, to the brewery’s opening before returning to the present. Whereas many of the breweries featured here at the Tap Takeover had roots in home brewing, Icarus Brewing has a more “formal” path to brewing. Jason Goldstein, head brewer and owner, built up a very impressive resume before opening Icarus Brewing. Gaining the necessary knowledge studying food science, Jason spent some time at an Ohio brewery before heading to the prestigious Brewlab in England. Jason settled back into NJ where was brewing at Rinn Dunn (now Toms River Brewing) where his skills earned him some great recognition from one of the leading beer zines of note, Beer Advocate.

When he was trying to land on a name, (according to this reddit AMA), Jason wanted something that evoked Greek mythology, but could also have multiple meanings. In a very real life Icarus situation, the world famous Hindenburg disaster occurred in nearby Lakehurst, too. But Icarus, the figure from mythology, was also daring and tried something adventurous and new. Jason wants to try doing new and different things at Icarus whether or not they work. That’s admirable, but I think (and I’d guess many beer aficionados in NJ would agree) that Jason and the crew of Icarus have not flown too close to the sun yet and have managed to fly at the perfect height considering how well their beers are received and sell. The name also offers up plenty of potential beer names to play off the imagery and myth of Icarus.

Taster of Smooshing Chocolate Parts

Like many breweries of this size in NJ, Icarus is located in an industrial park/warehouse. These spaces often make for a great deal of flexibility in how the brewery builds out their taproom and brewhouse. They are not too far from the Garden State Parkway so getting there isn’t too much of a problem. Parking during my first visit didn’t prove problematic despite the taproom being fairly filled with several people coming and going while I was there. However, the second time I visited was for a special release, “Build Me Up Butternut” a collaboration with NJ Craft Beer/Mike Kivovitz, which was a Friday night and the lot was quickly filled and the street on which the brewery is located was tightly packed.

So what is in the tap room? Barrels function as the table base with round tops and a painting of the Icarus logo in the center. Hanging on the wall are some of the artistic renderings of some of their packaged labels. But the most noticeable element is the huge menu at the back of the taproom above the 24 taps. The bar is very nice with some of the Icarus branded products for sale on display (shirts, hats, glasses). There’s also a fridge where the canned beers and crowlers are sold.

Icarus Brewing Beer Menu/Tap List August 29, 2019

In addition to the main taproom, just on the other side of a door is more space with another full length bar, some barrel tables, and some more seating. That special Butternut night, a band was playing in the secondary area where barrels are stored. What was nice is that the sound from that area barely impacted the main taproom. We knew a band was playing, but the only reason I needed to raise my voice a little bit was because the main taproom was pretty packed.

In that facility, Icarus currently has the capacity to have 24 beers on available on draught in their Tap Room, with styles rangiing from lagers to saisons to IPAs/Pale Ales to porters to Stouts. When they first opened, Icarus had 5 beers taps…so yeah, they’ve come a long way. I have to say (and my wife said it when we visited in August on our way back from our annual trip to the Chicken or the Egg in LBI) their menu looks great from an overall presentation perspective, and specifically, the care that seems to go into how the beer names are written. Really eye-catching stuff.

Images courtesy of Icarus’s Facebook

During that first visit in August, Mike Kivovitz from NJCB happened to be at Icarus and we chatted for a while in the comfort of the taproom. Many people were coming and going with multiple 4 packs of beer.  As for the beers I had, I was extremely happy with my flight selection. The first beer was part of their Berliner Weisse series, Fruited and Flying and this version featured Pineapple, Mango, and Blackberry. This was a great beer, perfect for a summer day. Next was their pilsner, Extinguish which was very tasty. Third up was a super delicious pastry stout, Smooshing Chocolate Parts, a variant of the Smooshing Sweet Parts stout. Fourth was the hazy, juicy Drinking Crayons, so named after as a nod to one of the employee’s daughters who was in the brewery coloring the day the beer was first brewed. Turned out the name made for really terrific logo. I wound up getting an additional taster, their second collaboration with Brix City, Yacht Jams Vol. 2 Hurricane, a Hazy/New England IPA conditioned on tropical fruits.

I’ve mentioned a few of their beers in the past (the DDH Not a Schooner as the best beer at the 2018 Bridgewater Beerfest, my review of Yacht Juice, the flagship beer, and Velvet Fjord in last month’s six pack. In addition, the beer I’ll be reviewing this week is from Icarus, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak.

The aforementioned Yacht Juice is the beer that put them on the proverbial map and Icarus has brewed several variants of the beer: an imperial double dry hopped versions featuring Citra, an imperial double dry hopped versions featuring Mosiac, a session version (“Lil Yacht Juice”), a milkshake version with lactose (“Yacht Shake”), as well as collaboration with Brix City (Yacht Jams) which is conditioned on passionfruit, pomegranate, tangerine, and lime zest.

Images courtesy of Icarus’s Facebook

Other highly rated IPAs include Milking It (an Imperial Milkshake IPA), Power Juicer (a New England/Hazy IPA), Spelt Check (An Imperial New England/Hazy IPA), Touching the Sun (a Triple IPA), and Drinking Crayons (An Imperial New England/Hazy IPA).

Icarus brews a nice stable of dark beers, too. Maybe the most popular and well known is their Russian Imperial Stout Kalishnikov, a 14% Stout that has several variants, Kalishnikoffe (with coffee), My Little Friend (a smaller ABV version of Kalishnikov) as well as a few barrel-aged versions. Their first two dark beers were ChewBocka the Masticator Dopplebock (named after Jason’s dog), and Yukon Cornelius Coffee Porter. There’s a nice range of Dessert/Pastry dark beers, too: Smooshing Sweet Parts (and its variants), Making Whoopie, and King Arthur’s Steed (Porter with toasted coconut).

Images courtesy of Icarus’s Facebook

Jason and crew have collaborated with several breweries in their short life: Cypress Brewing Company (Edison, NJ); Levante Brewing (West Chester, PA), Brix City Brewing Company (Little Ferry, NJ), Gun Hill Brewing Company (Bronx, NY), Dark City Brewing Company (Asbury Park, NJ), Imprint Brewing Co (Hatfield, PA), Lost Tavern Brewing (Hellertown, PA), Heavy Reel Brewing Co (Seaside Heights, NJ), and Last Wave Brewing Co. (Point Pleasant, NJ).

So yeah, that’s a small fraction of the beers Icarus has brewed over the last couple of years. They have just over 300 beers cataloged on untappd.

Build Me Up Butternut World Tour, October 11, 2019

Speaking again of collaborations, in what has become an annual tradition, Jason brews an “anti pumpkin” beer with Mike Kivovitz of New Jersey Craft Beer. The beer is Build Me Up Butternut which is a porter brewed with Mike’s butternut squash soup made with some chipotle and guajillo peppers. The release of this beer in the taproom is what prompted my second visit to Icarus Brewing. The taproom was pretty tightly packed as was the secondary taproom where the band was playing. I also had a delicious, perfect every day beer when I first arrived, Life in Helles a beautiful Helles Lager. I spent most of the night talking with Mike and his friends and my friend Matt, the new taproom manager at Icarus. It was a great night, with bands playing and quite a lot of people hanging out. In other words, just about everything you’d want in a brewery visit – good beer, good friends, and good conversation.

Life in Helles is a damned fine lager. a perfect everyday beer. Low ABV + Flavorful = Winner

Back to the beers from Icarus… Over the last year or two, cans of Icarus have been appearing on shelves in many stores in NJ as Icarus Brewing self-distributes. That is a good thing because not everybody can head to Lakewood for the latest can release from Icarus. The only downside is that cans of Icarus beer don’t last in stores for very long, especially their popular and highly regarded Hazy IPAs. More of their beers can be found on draught through a decent portion of New Jersey

Like many of the smaller breweries in NJ, Icarus is a fixture in their community. That sense of community began even before the brewery opened, as Lakewood wanted a brewery to open in their town. Another example of Icarus supporting local is that they use hops grown at a local farm in neighboring Colts Neck. Icarus has also helped to raise funds for several fire departments and Jason is a volunteer fireman himself. Icarus has brewed beer to benefit charitable organizations, including an Imperial IPA they call For the Story, the proceeds of which went towards City Stair Climb fund which honors 9/11 First Responders. Icarus also sponsors an annual Unity Tour fundraiser, which honors officers who lost their lives in the line of duty. Furthermore, Icarus hosts an annual McKenzie Blair Foundation event to raise funds and awareness for Sudden Unexpected Death in Childhood.

As I noted early in this post, Icarus has grown into one of the most respected breweries in the State (and even surrounding states) with many highly sought out beers. On untappd, for all the beers they’ve brewed, they have an overall 4.04 bottle cap rating and their average rating for all their beers on Beer Advocate is 4.06. NJ Monthly named them on of the 16 best breweries in NJ (out of 100 at the time of the articles writing). At the Beer BBQ Bacon Showdown, Kalashnikovcoffee was named best overall beer and Icarus received the “Best NJ Beer Award” at the 2019 Asbury Park Beerfest.

Another standout element of Icarus Brewing is the fantastic can art as many of the pictures throughout this post illustrates. The person responsible for the eye-catching can art is British based artist Ben Paul.

Icarus is in their third year of existence and it is clear they are one of the leaders of the New Jersey beer scene. Their taproom/brewery is a must visit, their great core beers are well known, but many of the tap room only beers are easily as good (like Build Me Up Butternut, Life in Helles). The taproom makes for a great hangout spot and chances are there might be a food truck parked outside. Icarus would be a great destination by itself and is near enough to some other breweries (Heavy Reel Brewing in Seaside Heights, Last Wave Brewing Company in Point Pleasant Beach, Kane Brewing Company in Ocean, Jughandle Brewing Company in Tinton Falls) that a multi-brewery tour of sorts could be worth a full day’s trip.

In short, try some Icarus beers or head to the brewery.

Special thanks to Matt Barnish, the new Taproom Manager of Icarus for helping out with some of the information in this post.

Some other links of interest:

Where to find Icarus Brewing on the Internet:

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

Draught Diversions: Jersey Cyclone Brewing (Somerset, NJ)

Draught Diversions is the catchall label for mini-rants, think-pieces, and posts that don’t just focus on one beer here at The Tap Takeover. We hope you don’t grow too weary of the alcohol alliterative names we use…

Continuing the celebration of Jersey Beer Week at the Tap Takeover, I wanted to feature a new brewery that opened up very close to me. I know the majority of these brewery visits/posts feature New Jersey breweries, so what better week to feature a new New Jersey Brewery than this week?

A pint of one of their first beers, Quarter Off Kölsch in front of the brewery’s cool logo

With the growing number of breweries in New Jersey, location can be everything. Timing helps, too. Jersey Cyclone Brewing Company opened in Franklin Township/Somerset, New Jersey on May 4, 2019 marking the third brewery to open in Somerset County, NJ. I’ve visited four times since they opened, once was a brief stop in for a growler fill of their delicious Helles Lager, Beach Blonde Lager, which I reviewed back in June. So I figured after my most recent visit, and this week being New Jersey Craft Beer Week, I should do a feature on the brewery here at The Tap Takeover.

A sign from the streets points you to a storm, a Cyclone, you’ll definitely want to visit

A familiar origin story for Jersey Cyclone, friends and owners Jan Chwiedosiuk and Brian Teel were home brewers. Their road to opening Jersey Cyclone, like many new small business, hit some bumps. The idea for opening a brewery began around the time Super Storm Sandy hit New Jersey back in 2011. After a few years and a few potential spots not working out for Brian and Jan, they settled into their current location on World’s Fair Drive in Somerset, NJ. The location is very centrally located off of route 287, a few of miles from the main campus of Rutgers University in New Brunswick. Even better for me is that I work around the block from the brewery. I found it very interesting to watch the progression of the brewery’s build out through social media, so I was very happy to be able to visit the brewery on their grand opening on May 4, 2019, which was also Star Wars Day (May The Fourth Be With You).

Tap list at Jersey Cyclone during their grand opening

During that visit, the brewery was extremely busy and filled with patrons glad to have a new brewery in their area especially with Demented Brewing (formerly located about a mile or two away) having closed a couple of weeks prior. Additionally, the NJ Brewing/Beer Community is, of course, always happy to check out a new brewery especially at the grand opening. While the region (Somerset/Middlesex County NJ) isn’t absent of breweries, it isn’t quite the destination spot at the moment that Hammonton or Hacketstown are with a few breweries within walking distance of each other. The closest breweries to Jersey Cyclone are the Harvest Moon brewpub in downtown New Brunswick, Flounder Brewing in Hillsborough and Cypress Brewing in Edison. All four can easily be done in one day, but some driving will definitely be required.

I was very impressed during that Grand Opening – the brewery/tap room was pretty packed when I arrived in the early afternoon. The owners and brewers took their time with everybody who approached them, never gave off a sense that they were rushed or overly nervous. They did everything correctly in other words. I briefly spoke to Jan and Mike that day and spent a little more time speaking with Charles, the brewer. All three gentlemen were friendly and excited, as they should be. Charles mentioned that he wanted to feature a lager in the near future. With the longer brew time for a lager, a lager wasn’t quite ready for opening day, but what I had was very impressive. I started with the Kölsch, which I found to be nearly perfect. It was a warm day and the crisp, flavorful ale that’s almost a lager hit the spot. Everything I like about a Kölsch was present in their take, which they call Quarter off Kölsch. I had a full pour/pint of it. The other beer I had was a variant of their Snowtober Porter, with Vanilla and Coconut. Some beers with Coconut are overpowered with Coconut drowning out all other flavors. Not this one, the flavor was there, but dialed in and in harmony with everything else.

Let me talk about their approach and roll out of beers. Some breweries come out of the gate very aggressively with 12 taps and 12 different beers. Jan, Mike, and Charles went with a more measured approach, and one that in the long run, I think will pay off nicely for them and their customers. 8 beers were served opening weekend: Four variants of Snowtober (i.e. a Coconut, a coffee, etc), three variants of their flagship IPA Eye of the Storm, each highlighting a different hop, and the aforementioned Kölsch. For me, that says they are focusing their efforts in an attempt to be as precise as possible. Sure there are 8 beers on that taplist, but it is really three beers at their base.

An interesting water fountain.

The interior of the brewery is beautifully designed and very roomy with plenty of space where the brewing happens with room to expand. From the exterior, you’d be surprised how much space is inside the brewery and taproom. The tables are constructed from locally sourced white oak built by Jan and Brian. A water fountain is made from a re-purposed fire hydrant from the Middlesex Water Company from the early 1950s. Jan spent much of his career as the director of distribution for the Middlesex Water Company and this is a very cool homage and a great functional, conversation piece. How many breweries dispense their drinking water through a fire hydrant? Not many, I’d venture to guess. About the only criticism I can level is that the taproom could use some more lighting and/or brighter lighting.

Since getting that glass, it has become a favorite

There were couple of other nice elements in the experience of the tap room. I mentioned in my review of Beach Blonde Lager that Jan meticulously wiped down my growler with a water bottle. The servers/bartenders did the same for each pour in the taproom. I had the chance to speak with bartender Keith for a bit about the brewery, some of their plans, their approach and beer in NJ in general. From my conversation, it sounded very much like Keith was quite happy to be part of Jersey Cyclone. What all of this amounts to is that Jersey Cyclone is a welcoming, inviting place to enjoy good beer and conversation.

A 10.5 oz pour of Franklin Double, a very tasty Imperial IPA

On my second visit I only had a full pour of Franklin Double, their flagship Imperial/Double IPA. This is a classic Imperial IPA with a lot of hop bite, but with enough malt to balance out the beer so that it is approachable. Third visit entailed the copiously linked and noted growler fill of Beach Blonde Lager.

Compare this tap list to day one. It looks much better and features 8 unique beers.

The fourth visit was the most recent, and a few things stood out. While the taplist still consists of 8 beers, the taplist is more diverse. The 8 total beers includes two saisons/farmhouse ales, a pilsner, an imperial stout, an imperial porter, an Imperial IPA, an Imperial NEIPA, and a Pale Ale. Not a bad representation of different styles. The menu, from a font/physical standpoint, looks better, too. Thought and a bit of whimsy went into how they represent each beer on their taplist. The taproom looked just as clean and nice (but still a little too dark). On that Saturday evening, there were quite a few people and some patrons had pizza delivered.

New World Pilsner. Blurry, clearly not my best photo.

On to the two beers I had most recently. I’ve come to love Pilsners and I was very happy to see a new Pilsner on draught. New World Pilsner is a dry-hopped Pilsner that reminded me quite a bit of Victory’s Home Grown Lager, also a dry-hopped lager. It was refreshing, tasty, but a little more hoppy than I expect from a Pilsner. The next beer…oooh the next beer was Flood, an Imperial Stout that was brewed a couple of weeks prior to my visit. My picture below doesn’t quite capture the colors as well as I’d like, but the khaki head and deep blackness of the beer itself is *exactly* what I want to see in my Imperial Stout. The beer had a very pleasant aroma of chocolate malt and some hops. The beer tastes delicious, a nearly perfect take on an Imperial Stout. What I learned after speaking to Keith and what I really like is that there are no adjuncts, no coffee, no chocolate, just the core four ingredients of beer. To continue the comparisons, my taste memory for this beer kept returning to Sierra Nevada’s Narwhal – great roasted malt with a potent, yet unobtrusive hop bite at the end. For me, this is the best beer I’ve had from them so far. In my conversation with Keith, we both thought this would be a good beer for barrel aging.

10.5 oz pour of Flood

As has become a little evident, there’s a stormy/weather theme to many of the beers, as is appropriate with the impact Superstorm Sandy had on the region and the brewery itself. Flood is pretty obvious, the Cloudy/Hazy New England IPA is aptly named Storm Cloud, the standard IPA is called Eye of the Storm, the Pale Ale goes by Pier Pressure, the Imperial Porter goes by Snowtober, and the Saison with Hibiscus goes by Red Skies at Night.

In three and a half (I didn’t stay long for the Growler fill) visits over the course of 5 months, it seems to me that Jersey Cyclone is doing all the right things a new brewery should do. They opened with quality beer on May 4, they’ve been largely well-received by the community, and their quality and output improves. Jersey Cyclone has also recently expanded the hours of operation, opening earlier (3PM as opposed to 5PM on Friday), with the brewery adding Wednesday and Thursday hours. That tells me their beer is selling and people want to visit Jersey Cyclone. One thing that I was very pleased with is something I alluded to at the beginning of this post – Jersey Cyclone will always have a lager available. They didn’t immediately have their lager ready, but since Beach Blonde Lager has been on tap, the plan is to always have a lager of some kind. Right now the New World Pilsner fits that bill and soon a Dopplebock (a style I love) will be tapped.

It has been only about four months since Jersey Cyclone has opened but they are laying down a nice trajectory for the growth and maturity. Local places have been featuring some of their beer on draught including a favorite NJ Spot which I’ve mentioned previously – the Stirling Hotel. Jersey Cyclone has been making the round local beer festivals, too. Hopefully their growth continues and we can maybe see some bottles or cans from these folks. I know I feel very fortunate to have a brewery of this quality this close to my house and where I work. I’ve said this often about the breweries I’ve highlighted but repeating it makes it no less true – Jersey Cyclone is well worth the visit.

Jersey Cyclone Brewing Web site | Instagram | Facebook | Jersey Cyclone Brewing on NewJerseyCraftBeer.com | untappd

Some other links of interest:

My Central Jersey on the opening of Jersey Cyclone (May 2019)
NJ Monthly Previews Jersey Cyclone (March 2019)

Draught Diversions: 4 Breweries to Visit, Part 4 of a Series

Draught Diversions is the catchall label for mini-rants, think-pieces, and posts that don’t just focus on one beer here at The Tap Takeover. We hope you don’t grow too weary of the alcohol alliterative names we use…

It has been a little over a year since I cobbled together one of these posts highlighting breweries I’d like to visit so I figured it was time to add to the growing list of breweries on my bucket list of breweries to visit.  A lot can happen in a year, like a brewery gaining entry into NJ giving me (and many lucky consumers) exposure to their beer for the first time. Last year, Bell’s Brewery entry into NJ was one of those breweries and as such, they made the list of breweries I’d like to visit last year. Same case for one of the breweries on today’s list. All that said, like the last few times I’ve made one of these posts, I’m going alphabetically with this list.

Allagash Brewing Company | Portland, ME | Established 1995 | Total # of Allagash beers checked in on untappd: 7
Allagash Beers reviewed at The Tap Takeover: Black and Pick Your Own

Images courtesy of Allagash’s Web site

If one were to carve out a Mount Rushmore of American Breweries, then Allagash would be an immediate and unanimous choice. Only one other brewery in the US has embraced the Belgian art and science of brewing near to the extent that Allagash has and I mentioned that brewery in a previous “breweries to visit” post. One of the differences: Allagash is largely the outgrowth of one man’s vision and still a fiercely independent brewery.

Rob Tod started Allagash in 1995 at a time when few breweries were producing Belgian style beers. Belgian beers weren’t nearly as present as they are today outside of maybe Chimay and Saison du Pont. Allagash’s Belgian Witbier, simply White is a nearly perfect beer and one of the Independent/Craft Beers you’ll see on tap nearly everywhere. It is a beer that tows the fine line of mass appeal and beer geek appeal. Their Saison is one of the best, widely available American interpretations of the style, and their Tripel is a clean, delicious interpretation of the style.

Where Allagash manages to elevate their game is in how they embrace barrel aging and wildly fermented beers. Barrel Aging is a storied process, some would say art, of beer brewing, and Allagash’s Curieux, their barrel-aged Tripel, is a sublime beer. Allagash’s Coolship is the largest open fermentation facilitation devices in the country. A coolship allows the ingredients of the beer to play with the environment and produce some very unique beers. I’ve only had one of those complex, delicious beers, but I need to get my hands on some more.

Image courtesy of Allagash Brewing’s Web Site

Rob Tod was recently awarded the prestigious James Beard Award, specifically, the 2019 Outstanding Wine, Spirits, or Beer Producer. He’s only the 4th beer person to receive the award. That and the brewery’s legendary status are reason enough to encourage a visit to the brewery in Portland, Maine.

The Bruery | Placentia, CA, | Established 2008 | Total Bruery / Bruery Terreaux beers checked in on untappd: 12
Bruery Beers reviewed at The Tap Takeover: Autumn Maple (The Bruery) and Beret (Bruery Terreaux)

Images courtesy of The Bruery’s Web site

One of the craftier and “artisanal” of breweries, the Bruery focuses on Barrel Aged and high end beers. Only recently did they sell beer in anything other than 750ml bottles, for example. Big stouts with flavorful adjuncts on the one side of the Breury, with the Terreaux side focusing on sours and more Belgian inspired open fermentation wild ales on the other side. Both sides of Patrick Rue’s brainchild offer complexly flavored and extremely potent beers.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the 12 Beers of Christmas series of beers they’ve released every year, with each annual release inspired by one of the days of Christmas, my favorite being the 8 Maids-A-Milking Imperial Milk Stout, which is also the first beer I had from The Bruery.

Like many breweries, The Bruery has some beers available only on site. Additionally, they have a bottle program Society that is available to folks who live close enough to pick up their bottles at the brewery.

For some really great insight into The brewery, John Holl interviews owner and founder Patrick Rue on the Craft Beer and Brewing podcast .

Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers | Framingham, MA | Established 2011 | Total Jack’s Abby beers checked in on untappd: 4
Jack’s Abby Beer reviewed at The Tap Takeover: Post Shift Pilsner

Images courtesy of Jack’s Abby’s Web site

A brewery focused largely on Lagers? Count me in. I didn’t know too much about this brewery before 2019 began seeing as they are in Massachusetts. I’d heard and seen talk about them around Beer Web and Social Media ©, but that’s about it until I saw them with a tent at the Meadowlands Beerfest in February announcing they’d be entering NJ Distribution.

I’ve been really drawn to my Germanic roots when it comes to beer as of late, really appreciating the elegance of a well-crafted pilsner and how good a low ABV (“crusher”) of a tasty lager can be. Take their Hoponius Union, an India Pale Lager. A hop-forward lager that is one of the best lagers I’ve ever had and was recently named the best Lager by Beer Advocate. The beer has the lovely floral/fruity hop finish you’d expect from a classic IPA, but it is most definitely a lager. Jack’s Abby has a few variants on this one I need to try.

For quite a few years in the early 2000s, my wife and I would follow my cousin’s travel hockey team. Specifically, his team played annual tournaments in Massachusetts and we always stayed in Framingham, which is where Jack’s Abby is located. Unfortunately, our “hockey groupie” days were both before Jacks Abby existed and before I had this deep an understanding and enjoyment of Craft Beer. Jack’s Abby may be the Massachusetts brewery, in a state rich with iconic breweries, I want to visit most.

Owner Jack Hendler chatted with Jamie Bogner on episode 59 of the Craft Beer and Brewing podcast .

Schneider and Weisse/G. Schneider & Sohns | Kelheim, Bayern German | Established 1872 | Total Schneider & Sohns beers checked in to untappd: 6

Schneider’s lineup with new labels. Image courtesy of G. Schneider & Sohns

I took a look at the German breweries whose beers I’ve enjoyed and every one of the six beers I had from Schneider Wesse have been absolutely outstanding. Wheat beers (Hefeweizen, Dunkelweizen, Dopplebock, Eisbock, and Weizenbock primarily) are a German specialty and quite a few of the more well known German breweries (and likely double the amount of lesser known German breweries) brew wheat-only beers. From what I’ve consumed and  enjoyed, it is hard to argue few, if any, do it better than Schneider & Sohns.

Schneider & Sohns uses a numbering system for most of their beers, TAP 7, for example is their classic Hefeweizen, while TAP 3 is their designation for the alcohol-free beer.

It wasn’t too long ago when I first had their “Original” Hefeweizen, but it still stands out as one of the best Hefeweizens I’ve ever had. I wasn’t too familiar with the brewery at the time, but I saw an authentic German Hefeweizen on draught and I was extremely eager to get a pour. Their Weizenbock (TAP6) is maybe the best Weizenbock I can remember having. They also collaborated on a more hopped up Weizenbock with Brooklyn Brewery – Meine Hopfenweisse which is also delightful. Schneider & Sohns will brew a once a year specialty, barrel-aged Weizenbock beer they designate TAP X. I only had one of those, the one called “Marie’s Rendezvous” but I’m keeping an eye out for the next iteration.

Perhaps their crown jewel, in my opinion, is Aventinus Eisbock, one of the most unique styles of beer, the accidental beer. I touched up on the Eisbock style in my overview of Bocks, highlighting this beer specifically.

Image courtesy of Schneider & Sohns’s Web site

Here’s what G. Schneider & Sohns says about the beer:

Unfathomably sensuous

Magic and a black soul – the mahogany coloured, almost black “Eisbock” for sensuous indulgence, best served in a balloon glas. Matured in a special freezing process following a special recipe, with a soft, elegant body, but still intensive. Spicy flavours of plum, banana and clove reveal themselves along with a hint of bitter almond and marzipan. Tempting as digestif, to crepes, dark chocolate, Tiramisu and fully ripe parmesan cheese.

It is still one of the best beers I’ve ever had. A Top 10 all time for me. I’ve seen different vintages of this beer in stores, too, so I’m going to have to pick up some more soon.

That said, a trip to Germany would most likely include a trip to these fine purveyors of wheat beer

Draught Diversions: Twin Elephant Brewing (Chatham, NJ)

Draught Diversions is the catchall label for mini-rants, think-pieces, and posts that don’t just focus on one beer here at The Tap Takeover. We hope you don’t grow too weary of the alcohol alliterative names we use…

Bottom left image courtesy of Twin Elephant Brewing’s facebook

You might say this post is a reboot? A Retcon? A Revisiting. The brewery I’m focusing on today did get a small shout out a couple of years ago, but a minor one of about two paragraphs. Since that brief mention of my 2016 visit, Twin Elephant has grown in stature in New Jersey and even New York. Based in Chatham, NJ in the same building that houses an H&R Block office, Twin Elephant has a fairly convenient location, not far from NJ Route 24 and Interstate Route 78. Before my 2016 visit, Twin Elephant had a brewery launch event at The Stirling Hotel (one of the very best beer bars in NJ, in my opinion). That was the first brewery launch I attended and boy was it a good one. I had what would become the brewery’s “flagship” beers – Little Shimmy Ye Pale Ale and Diamonds & Pearls Coffee Milk Stout. At the time I wasn’t as into the hop-forward beers as I am now, but Little Shimmy Ye was so good I had to get a full pour after having a taster. So from my perspective, the brewery was off to a grand start.

Tap List @ Twin Elephant Brewing – 07-23-2019

But that was the public start to the brewery. Behind the scenes, founders Tim Besecker, his then-girlfriend and now-wife Cindy DeRama, and their pal Scott McLusky were home brewers for about a decade before opening their doors to share (for a very reasonable fee*) their beer with the public. To illustrate the smallness of this big world (and especially brewing in New Jersey), my brother-in-law went to school with Tim as all four of the people mentioned in this paragraph grew up in the Murray Hill/Berkeley Heights area of New Jersey. As for the brewery’s name? Well, elephants giving birth to twins is pretty rare, something special, if you will. In a little over three years Twin Elephant has proven to be something just as special.

*The brewery charges $10.50 for a flight of five 4oz tasters. That is a damned fine price for 20oz of beer. Especially because other breweries I’ve visited charge up to $12 for a flight of four or more than that.

As for the brewery itself, it has a very comforting, rustic feel. Much of the seating area is made from wood reclaimed from a collapsed barn. The material, along with the lower benches around the perimeter, as well as some high tables in the middle give a mixed, yet intimate feel. The seating gives communal feel, all told. There’s an outdoor biergarten, but the first thing you see down the hall when you walk into the brewery is a lovely mural of their brewery’s logo – an elephant with two hop cones in its trunk depicted in black on off-white background that really pops.

So what about the beers? A space can be welcoming and comforting, but if the beer is unpalatable, then those seats will not be occupied for long. Little Shimmy Ye and Diamonds & Pearls are the Twin Elephant with the most check-ins on untappd, and their hop-forward beers, i.e. their IPAs, are what bring all the drinkers to the yard, to butcher a song phrase. Twin Elephant occasionally will do a can drop of one of their beers, but be sure to arrive early because those cans go VERY quickly. They’ve been very good about announcing these can releases across social media, mainly Facebook, as well as their email newsletter.

Let’s get back to Little Shimmy Ye an absolutely outstanding American Pale Ale. Twin Elephant uses probably the most popular hops used by brewers for the citrusy profile – Citra and Mosaic, but they also utilize Belma hops, one with which I’m not as familiar. I was so impressed with the citrusy, nectary taster I had during the brewery launch I had to order a full pint. Maybe the only Pale Ale from a NJ brewery that I liked more than this one is Kane’s Sneakbox although another taste/can/pint of Little Shimmy Ye might be required to give a full accounting since I haven’t had the beer in quite a while. Little Shimmy Ye is also the beer Twin Elephant cans more than any of the other beers in their portfolio.

Image courtesy of Twin Elephant’s Facebok

The other “flagship” is one of the best Coffee Milk Stouts brewed by a NJ brewery – Diamonds & Pearls. A perfect beer and coffee marriage with just the right amount of sweetness to make for a sublime and delicious beer. Twin Elephant has canned this one multiple times, too, I was lucky enough to get 1 can during a past canning run.

From my May 2017 untappd check-in

One of the other beers they’ve canned multiple times is Here There be Monsters, but on the second canning, they redid the artwork with an absolutely stunning piece by Tom Schmitt. As I said in my September 2018 Six Pack, “The beer inside, which evokes those juicy citrus and tropical notes that so many IPAs do nowadays, lives up to the dark and lovely can art on the outside of the beer.”

Awesome can art, right? Glass from their “Brewery Launch” at the Stirling Hotel

Twin Elephant has quite a few beers that honor New Jersey. The beer I reviewed this week, Bowcraft shares its name with a recently and sadly closed amusement park in Scotch Plains, NJ. An imperial Red Ale I had during my visit to the brewery, The Bayonne Bleeder, is the nickname of Chuck Wepner, the boxer from Bayonne, NJ who went 15 rounds with Muhammed Ali and inspired Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky film and character. I couldn’t pass it up since my Mom is from Bayonne. Red Ales aren’t my go to beers, but I liked this one. Chuck’s Garage is named for the place where Tim, Cindy, and Scott refined their brewing skills, Chuck is also Scott’s dad. A porter, Old Raritan gets its name from the largest river to run through the State of New Jersey. Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey’s theme song is “On the Banks of the Old Raritan,” too. I really need to try this not just because of the name (as readers may well know, I’m a Rutgers grad), but because of the smorgasbord of ingredients in this spicy milk porter. Their brown ale, Jersey Squirrel is pretty obviously named for the ever-present tree rodent. Maybe the sibling beer to Bowcraft is Action Park a Pale Wheat Ale. Action Park is probably the most infamous “amusement park” in NJ’s history. After all, it is nicknamed “Traction Park” for all the injuries sustained at the park.

Twin Elephant lists 273 beers on untappd and a quick glance through the beers I haven’t had makes me really want to try them based on the quality of those I’ve enjoyed. In addition to the beers I’ve already mentioned, one big standout is Grimmace, probably one of the best fruit-infused beers I’ve had. This is a wheat beer conditioned on blueberries and lemon peel and is absolutely delicious. My picture doesn’t capture how great the purple beer looks. I called out the banging summer beer, “Worker Drone” as the biggest highlight of the Bridgewater Beerfest recently. Dude Maintain has elements of West Coast IPA (piny) and East Coast IPA (Juicy) for a really nice blend and a wonderful hop profile. Chingas, a Black IPA which had the best elements of a stout and IPA in one beer. Tag You’re Wit was the third beer I had back on their launch day and hit the spot as a really nice Witbier. Gathering Clouds was maybe the best single IPA I had at the Bridgewater Beerfest in 2019.

In addition to building a sense of community in their brewery and through their beer names, Twin Elephant gives back to the community. Tim, Cindy, and Scott are involved with MASH, the Morris Area Society of Homebrewers. This is a fantastic example of people giving back to something that helped them to get to their point of success. Twin Elephant holds a Toys for Tots drive during the holidays. The Twin Elephant crew is very supportive of other breweries in the region, I saw Tim at Czig Meister’s third anniversary party and had the chance to briefly chat with him and realized for as great as their beer is, Tim is just as nice of a guy. Twin Elephant has also collaborated with regional breweries on a few beers: Lost Tavern Brewing out of Pennsylvania and Five Boroughs Brewing out of Brooklyn and can be seen at beer fests in the area. Cindy is often called out as one of the relatively few (but growing number of) females in the NJ Brewing community.

Some of the cans released by Twin Elephant

In short, Twin Elephant promotes and exudes the community spirit in all facets of the idea.

Just over three years into their brewing life and Twin Elephant has made an impact and built a respected reputation for exceptional beer. Back in March 2017, they gained some good buzz when they reached the final four of NJ.com’s search for the “Best Brewery in NJ.”  and NJ Monthly had them as one of the 16 best breweries in New Jersey (out of about 100 total breweries in the state). Their cans sell out VERY quickly and their discussion thread at Beer Advocate is one of the more active threads for a NJ brewery.

Great beer, fine people, and a cozy, welcoming tap room. What other reasons do you need to visit Twin Elephant?  That’s enough for me, just make sure you get there early if they happen to be releasing cans on that day!

Twin Elephant Brewing Web site | Instagram | Facebook | twitter | Twin Elephant Brewing on NewJerseyCraftBeer.com | untappd | Twin Elephant discussion thread @Beer Advocate

Some other links of interest: