Draught Diversions: Odd Bird Brewing (Stockton, 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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As the beer landscape in New Jersey has grown over the last decade or so, a natural element of this growth is how some of these breweries are located rather closely together. Case in point, Odd Bird Brewing in Stockton, New Jersey, which happens to be in Hunterdon County. Recently, the breweries in Hunterdon County have come together in a promotional effort as the Hunterdon Beer Trail. Patrons can get little “Passport” booklets at breweries located in Hunterdon County to be stamped and once all the breweries have been visited, patrons get a free pint glass. But on to Odd Bird Brewing…

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Adam Juncosa was a homebrewer, having as many as 13 beers on tap at his home for gatherings. He’s won awards at homebrewing competitions and spent some time brewing at Conclave Brewing. When he realized the town in which he lived, Stockton, didn’t have the best beer options, he and his wife Karen Malzone, a teacher in Hunterdon County, decided to open a brewery of their own. Thus Odd Bird Brewing was born.

One of the first things I asked Adam was how he came up with the name. His mom always called him an Odd Bird and it stuck. Running with that theme, Adam and Karen eventually enlisted local artist Catherine Lent to come up with the logo and branding for the brewery. This all fits in with Karen’s passion for conservation efforts.

Opening in January 2020, Adam and Karen had only a few months before the pandemic struck the world, but they were able to pivot after a brief shut down to crowler sales and eventually on-site consumption after the world adjusted to the pandemic and what social distancing meant as they were able to offer seating in an outdoor biergarten during warmer weather.

A peek inside the brewery revealed a welcoming taproom with a row of ornately designed, artistic custom blown glass taphandles created by Dan McStocker. Much of the furniture, chairs, tables, etc. were built by Karen and Adam, lending an even more personal touch to the brewery.

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I knew of Odd Bird Brewing when the brewery opened, but not too much beyond the fact that another NJ brewery opened. Over the past year, I saw a great deal of good chatter on the Beer Advocate forums about the quality of their beer and Adam’s focus on the lower-ABV classic styles like Pilsners (he won a homebrew competition for his pilsner), clean lagers, Kölsch, straight-forward English-style stout, and more traditional IPAs (as opposed to the hazy / New England / Milkshake varieties). That “chatter” had me even more inclined and interested in visiting the brewery.

The location is rather unique, especially compared to the other breweries I’ve visited in NJ. It isn’t on a main street, nor is Odd Bird Brewing located in an industrial park. Risler Avenue/NJ State Route 29 parallels the Delaware River at the southwestern end of County Road 523 – a lovely drive to be had on a late summer/early fall day. Odd Bird is located in an old auto body shop, which is in the same building/location as the Stockton Eagle gas station, and that building is next to a restaurant, Cravings. That set up/location does sort of fit in with the name of the brewery. Stockton is one of, if not the smallest, municipality in NJ with a population under 600 and just over a half-mile square in area, lending even more intimacy to the brewery.

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Odd Bird Brewing’s Beer Menu, September 11, 2021

The day of my visit, the outdoor biergarten was at just about full capacity, which was no surprise because it was a gorgeous day. See my previous comment regarding what a lovely drive along NJ/Hunterdon County Road 523 the path to the brewery was. As I pointed out in my review on Tuesday, the beer that drew my immediate attention was the Extra Stockton Bitter. Prior to visiting the brewery, I’d seen that Adam brewed an Amber Lager and tapped that day, OddsBodkins. An “Amber” lager isn’t the hottest Lager style (that would be Pilsner in the craft world), which is part of what drew me to ordering the beer. Also, almost any time I see a Lager on draft in a smaller brewery, I’m going to order it. I was very pleased with this one; smooth, clean and flavorful (I realize “flavorful” is perhaps becoming the most overused word by the proprietor of The Tap Takeover).

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OddsBodkins Amber Lager, plus Crowler

When I was ordering the Lager, another patron, a young woman who seemed to be friends with Karen, was telling me how much she loves sour beers and how great Adam’s Berliner Weisse Sommer was. If I wasn’t making the drive to another brewery to continue my path towards completion of my Hunterdon Beer Trail passport, I likely would have ordered that beer. Given the quality of the two beers I enjoyed, I’ve no doubt this sour beer was on point. Another patron was strolling up to the ordering window and I recommended the ESB and the gentleman told me that was the purpose of his visit to Odd Bird, to enjoy a cask pint of the ESB. In the future, because chances are pretty good I’ll visit again, I’ll make my way through some of they other beers. In particular, I’d like to try their British-style stout Mumbletypeg Tavern Stout. Adam mentioned that he’ll be brewing a Schwarzbier, a style I came to thoroughly enjoy over the last year. Other beers typically on draft at Odd Bird would be a mix of IPAs, saisons, and other “classic” styles.

Odd Bird Brewing is, in my mind, what a quintessential local brewery should be. Great people who own it, who make delicious beer, with a unique taplist of beers that will attract more than just the immediate locals. The brewery has such a wonderful character and ambiance that is more than complimented by the classic styles brewed to near perfection.

Go visit and enjoy their delicious beer.

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

Odd Bird Brewing Co. Web site | Instagram | Facebook | Odd Bird Brewing Co on NewJerseyCraftBeer.com | Beer Advocate | untappd

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Draught Diversions: Buttzville Brewing (Washington Township, 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 is becoming a familiar story here on a couple of levels at the Tap Takeover with my brewery spotlight features… (1) home brewer turned brewery owner and (2) COVID-19 impacting a brewery’s opening. Take those elements (among others) and here I am spotlighting Buttzville Brewing Company in Washington Township (Warren County), NJ. Although owner/brewer Dave Anderson and his wife were homebrewing since 2014 (when Erin bought Dave a Homebrew kit), the name was established in 2020, and the Andersons finally opened the doors to the brewery for the public to enjoy the beers of Buttzville Brewing on July 31, 2021.

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Image courtesy of Buttzville Brewing’s Web site

It is very rare for a brewery, or any business to open on their scheduled opening date. Permits, loans, construction schedules all bring wild cards into the equation that can impede any schedule. Add to that a global pandemic and Buttzville Brewing opened a little over a year after their initially scheduled opening date. Dave and Erin didn’t give up on their dream and the result: an inviting, eye-pleasing taproom where patrons can find good conversation, good people behind the business, and excellent beer.

Dave dove into homebrewing headfirst after receiving that homebrew kit and The Complete Joy of Home Brewing by Charlie Papazian as gifts from Erin. Papazian is looked upon as something like the godfather of homebrewing and is the founder of the American Homebrewers Association. Dave joined the Lehigh Valley Homebrewers club, which has spawned a couple of breweries from its members: Lost Tavern Brewing and Taylor House to name two. Dave’s passion, and Erin’s belief in Dave, helped them weather the storm of delays and a Pandemic to open the fourth brewery in Warren County, NJ (Czig Meister, Man Skirt, and Invertase being the other three), forming a nice group of breweries to visit on a day trip.

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Buttzville Brewing’s Taplist 09-05-2021

I’m not going to get through a piece about this brewery without remarking on the name of the brewery. Buttzville…it just makes you giggle when you say it, at least the part of me that is still an eleven-year old boy. Dave and Erin are clever enough to run with the joke as the brewery’s motto is “The Great Beer with the Cheeky Name.” They’ve carried that theme through to some of their beers, too. Frankly, if they didn’t what would have been the point of the whole endeavor? They’ve got a Milkshake IPA called “Turn the Other Cheek,” a Brown Ale (pause for laughter) called “Buttz Not to Like” so far. Dave and Erin have only registered 13 beers on untappd (having been open only over a month), but I wouldn’t be surprised to see more cheekily named brews in their future. Currently, Buttzville Brewing has 9 beers on tap, plus a seltzer.

As has become tradition (the second time something happens, I suppose allows a thing to become “tradition”), my good friend and I decided before enjoying an All Elite Wrestling Pay-Per-View event (All Out 2021, one of the best wrestling PPVs I’ve ever watched), we’d partake in some local brews. With Buttzville Brewing having opened in July 2021, we figured we’d hit up one of the newest breweries in the State, which is fairly close to where he lives.

I happened to be wearing my New Jersey Craft Beer hat (which I almost always wear when I visit breweries) and Dave commented on it, and we shared some words about how great the organization is, what a great guy Mike Kivowitz is, and the general camaraderie of the New Jersey craft beer scene.

On to the beers…..

I started the day with the Norwegian Sprinter, a blonde ale with the magical Norwegian Kviek yeast. The beer reminded me a bit of a Belgian Golden Ale, but that Kviek yeast added a nice citrusy dimension to the beer beyond what I’ve had before. At 4.7%, this is the kind of beer I could enjoy all day.

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The second beer I enjoyed was the Milk Stout with the ingenious name, Just Butt I Needed. I was impressed with this beer, too. Roast elements with hints of coffee and a sweet finish.

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My friend had the Pale Ale and the Saison. As I posted this past Tuesday, I also had the Saison and was extremely impressed with the beer. As I said in my review of the beer, we enjoyed the Saison so much, we brought back a growler of it to enjoy while watching All Out 2021.

Buttzville Brewing is located in what is a “Main Street” downtown on E. Washington Avenue in Washington Township and like NJ breweries before it (Wet Ticket in Rahway, Czig Meister and Man Skirt in Hackettstown), could be a key player in the growing downtown area. Dave is an extremely welcoming and knowledgeable guy and he makes excellent beer. Whether visiting and spending time at the brewery, or taking in the other breweries in the area, Buttzville Brewing is worth visiting. I have a feeling I will visit again.

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

Buttzville Brewing Co. Web site | Instagram | Facebook | Buttzvile Brewing Co. on NewJerseyCraftBeer.com | Beer Advocate | untappd

Draught Diversions: Alternate Ending Beer Co. (Aberdeen, 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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Breweries take a lot of time and money to plan before they are ready to open for business. There’s often a long tail from the time an idea forms to any site work begins until beer is poured at the opening. More often than not, there are delays for various reasons like permits or bad weather. Or “Acts of God” like a Pandemic. So here we are at the Tap Takeover featuring another brewery – brewpub – with the unfortunate timing to open during the COVD-19 Pandemic in 2020. Today’s featured brewery: Alternate Ending Beer Co. in Aberdeen, NJ.

Owner/Founder/CEO Scott Novick had built up his knowledge and experience in both the entertainment and brewing industries prior to planning out Alternate Ending Beer Co. He worked at VH1 (MTV’s sister channel) and then worked at Jughandle Brewing in nearby Tinton Falls then at Other Half in Brooklyn, one of the hottest breweries on the East Coast. Other Half’s beers, particularly their hop-forward beers and big stouts, have long been sought after in the beer trading community. Sustaining that job, driving from Monmouth County to Brooklyn was a challenge, so Scott figured he’d open a brewery much closer to home. When the BowTie cinemas on Route 34 in Aberdeen became available as a location, Scott has his spot. Going with the name of Alternate Ending plays on the movie theater theme as do many of the beer names.

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Image Courtesy of Alternate Ending’s Facebook

Scott also hired Brendon Arnold as his head brewery, a fellow New Jersey native who has a wealth of experience, largely in Kansas at Gella’s Diner + LB Brewing. I visited to Alternate Ending Beer Co. for their New Jersey Craft Beer night on July 13 and as part of the “event,” members of NJCB were offered a tour of the brew facility. (I should have taken pictures!) Brendan spent some time talking through his brew process and his more scientific/technical approach, given his education at the Siebel Institute of Technology, America’s premier brewing education institute. He mentioned that one of the beers on tap that day, a delicious Saison brewed in collaboration with Screamin’ Hill Brewery in Cream Ridge, NJ, was also being aged in wine barrels. That Saison, Decocted Saison (pictured below) was one of the beers I sampled during my time at the brewery and it was fantastic – earthy and true to style with the yeast elements, and even more pleasant thanks to the wildflower honey added during the brewing process.

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Brendan also mentioned the “partnership” Alternate Ending has with Asbury Park Distillery. Alternate Ending gets used barrels from Asbury Park to age their beers, they’ve got some stouts in oak barrels, and once those are emptied of the beer, Asbury Park takes the barrels back and ages their spirits in the double-used barrels. Another beer I sampled (before the tour) was Rye Imperial Stout – 1 Month Version (pictured below) which was aged for only a month in Penelope Rye barrels along with Tahitian Vanilla. The amount of barrel flavor imparted after just a month was quite impressive: a rich, decadent stout with hints of vanilla, the beer is simply delicious.

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The first beer I had; though, was the beer that is their best seller – Royal Rug (pictured below) a German-style pilsner, meaning it is slightly hoppier than its Czech cousin. I ordered the beer in the “Slow Pour” method, which typically takes 5-7 minutes to pour the full beer. The slow pour method allows the carbonation to be softer, a much fluffier head with the ultimate result of a beer a bit more flavorful than a standard pour thanks to warming a bit to room temperature, allowing the flavors to breathe and the flavors become more stable in general.

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A beautiful slow pour with a nice peak.

In talking to Brendan about the beer, he mentioned he expected to go through a couple of “beta” versions of the beer since the equipment was different than he’d long been accustomed to using and Pilsners typically are a style that requires extreme precision. As it turned out, Brendan’s years of experience paid off because he told me the version of Royal Rug on draft was the very first version of the recipe he brewed for Alternate Ending, it was unchanged. I can’t see why anything should change about that beer, it was fantastic. Brendan also mentioned the Rauchbier he brewed and hoped it would be a feature on “This Week in Rauchbier: The world’s most important, long running, and most awarded show dedicated to smoked beer.”

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An assortment of Alternate Ending labels on the door of their cooling room

With the location having roots as a popular movie theater, there are quite a few nods to that history. Movie posters, like The Rocky Horror Picture Show adorn the wall and images form movies as well. As I said, the names often call out to specific movies, like their recent Helles Lager, Willy’s Gold as an homage to The Goonies or the beer I reviewed earlier this week, Amity Beer a call out to Jaws; Chuckle Heads is a call out to one of my favorite film makers and geeky celebrities – Kevin Smith’s popular Jay and Silent Bob duo; Bad Mother Force User is an homage to Samuel L. Jackson and two of his most famous roles, Mace Windu and Jules from Pulp Fiction, Sloane Knew a shout out to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and son.. Movies will be shown, too! There are even seats from the old movie theater.

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The great Kevin Smith holding “Chuckle Heads,” the beer made in homage to him! Image courtesy of Alternate Ending’s Facebook

Since opening in late 2020, Alternate Ending has been releasing cans of their beers and many of them have been selling out via BeerBroadcast.com. As brew-pub, they’ve partnered with Talula’s Pizza in Asbury Park and as America wearily emerges from the Pandemic, more patrons have been able to get the full experience of the brewpub. During my visit, the dining area was largely filled with many patrons eating what looked to be tasty food and what I know to be well-crafted beers. The partnership is a natural one that speaks to the local/independent ethos of craft beer. Scott Novick was a fan of Talula’s Pizza so it was a perfect fit.

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One of the pieces of movie memorabilia that adorns the walls, this from Kevin Smith’s “Mallrats.”

I’ve attended a few of these “NJCB Member Event” nights in the past at Jersey Cyclone (Somerset, NJ), Icarus Brewing (Lakewood, NJ), and Wet Ticket (Rahway, NJ). Mike K., the man behind New Jersey Craft Beer does a fantastic job of rallying the NJ beer community and given this recent event was on a Monday night, the turnout was quite impressive. I also had the chance to chat with Al Gatullo and his friend (also named Rob), of the great Al Gatullo Craft Beer Cast for a bit since we have bumped into each other at these events in the past. The event at Alternate Ending was another awesome night, a good opportunity to connect face to face with people I’ve only seen on social media, and reconnect with a few people face to face I haven’t seen since the pandemic began.

Delicious beer, great atmosphere, awesome theme, and excellent people – that sounds like a great start for Alternate Ending to me! I know I’ll be visiting again and next time, I plan on enjoying some of that famous Talula’s Pizza and definitely another slow-pour of Royal Rug.

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

Alternate Ending Beer Co. Web site | Instagram | Facebook | Alternate Ending Beer Co on NewJerseyCraftBeer.com | Beer Advocate | untappd

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Draught Diversions: Brewery Ommegang Visit

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’m going to change up the formula just a little bit for this Draught Diversions installment. Often, when I write about breweries, the breweries are somewhat smaller, not nationally distributed, and “hyper-local.” Brewery Ommegang isn’t exactly small, they are one of the iconic American breweries, and I’ve written about them quite extensively in the past. For this installment; however, I’ll be writing about the visit and experience, while spotlighting the delicious beers, and skip the history of the brewery which typically comprises a significant portion of these posts. Chances are, if you are reading this beer blog, you have an inkling of Brewery Ommegang’s history, or you can check out my write up on the American Craft Beer Classic Abbey Dubbel, which goes into a bit of the brewery’s history.

Ommegang_TapHouseMy wife and I decided to take a trip for our 21st anniversary. We hadn’t gone on an overnight trip in years because of our beloved dog Sully, but sweet Sully passed away on May 4 at 11 years old after a long fight with various health issues. We miss her every day. But enough sadness…

We figured we had the opportunity to travel since the pandemic is slowing, and we are both vaccinated so it made sense. We are both huge baseball fans and Leslie wanted to visit the Baseball Hall of Fame for many years and I hadn’t visited in about 20 years. The Baseball Hall of Fame is in Cooperstown, NY, which is also the home of Brewery Ommegang. No brainer, right? Right.

The first noticeable thing about the brewery is that its location could be described as “just West of the middle of nowhere.” That is not a knock by any means because the setting and location is absolutely gorgeous, one of the most comforting and beautiful brewing facilities I’ve had the opportunity to visit. Leslie and I took to the outdoor café to soak in the relaxing atmosphere and were greeted by Samantha, our charming and lovely server/waitress. I knew a couple of the beers I wanted to sample (Idyll Days Pilsner; Double Barrel Dubbel, and Super Kriek), but I needed some guidance on filling out the flight. Samantha suggested the Rose Cider, and on the whole, it was a fantastic flight. Idyll Days was a delicious pilsner with some of the Belgian yeast character. Second sample was that Cider and it was a great taste for the beautiful day. Third up was the barrel aged Abbey Dubbel, a complex, rich take on their classic Abbey Dubbel with the barrel hints and for some reason, hints of coconut; all welcome in an already delicious base beer. I finished off the flight with Super Kriek (2021), which is cherry Lambic-Style ale, sweet, tart, and delicious.

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The food we ordered was savory and deliciously crafted. My wife had the pork belly sandwich and I had one of the best Chicken and Waffles meals I ever had. I know Leslie’s pork belly sandwich was out of this word because I tried a few bites! My flight was over, and Samantha came back to check on us. She had earlier recommended Apripeche, a fruited sour with Peach and Apricot as a great summer beer. Well, it was summer, so I took her advice and boy howdy was I pleased. Apripeche is one of the most refreshing fruited beers I’ve had. Sometimes the atmosphere and timing of having a beer helps the enjoyment, and sitting in this gorgeous brewery, with my beautiful wife, and perfect day only increased how great the beer was.

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Apripiche is the perfect summer beer, I’m hoping to get some for my poolside cooler this year.

We were winding down out time at the café (we did drive about 3½ hours to get to Cooperstown, after all), and as we moseyed on out, I decided to have a full pour of Idyll Days Pilsner, because it was such a fantastic and different pilsner than I’d had before.

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A full pour of delicious Idyll Days Pilsner.

We strolled through the gift shop and I decided to grab my favorite Game of Thrones beer to go, Valar Doheris, which is a Belgian-style Tripel. I enjoyed splitting the bottle the following day with a good friend. I was reminded, upon pouring and enjoying the beer, that Valar Doheris is one of the best Tripels I’ve ever had, hands down. Rich, potent Belgian style yeast with esters evoking hints of clove and banana make for a world-class take on the renowned Belgian style. Simply an out of this world beer.

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As I mentioned in one of my early blog posts, Brewery Ommegang had been near the top of my bucket list breweries to visit. To say that the visit – on every single level – far exceeded my expectations is an understatement. Gorgeous location, world-class beers, some of the most welcoming people I’ve met working at a brewery, and sumptuous food, make Brewery Ommegang, and their Tap House and absolute must visit.

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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)

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