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 Lakewood, 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:

Draught Diversions: Hackensack Brewing Company

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 know I’ve said this a few times here at the Tap Takeover (and to anybody unfortunate enough to be in my presence in “real life”) but keeping up with the rapid growth of Craft / Independent Beer around the country and new brewery openings in New Jersey is not an easy task. But when family members enjoy beer almost as much as you do, you learn about breweries near them as the breweries open. Especially when that family member brings a couple of crowlers and a growler to your house for your annual family Fourth of July Party. The brewery I’m alluding to is, of course, Hackensack Brewing in Hackensack, NJ.

After having some of their beers on the Fourth of July, I made an impromptu visit to the brewery with my wife and my aunt and uncle. (My uncle is more like a brother as there’s fewer years between the two of us than there are between my wife and my brother in law, but I digress). Anyway, my wife and I were heading up to my uncle’s house and he twisted my arm and suggested we visit Hackensack Brewing. Who am I to say no to my uncle?

The brewery is a little unassuming in terms of where it is located, if you don’t know it is there, you can easily pass it. Mike Jones and his crew set up shop in an old warehouse of sorts. When we arrived, the sun was out, so the big bay doors were open with plenty of standing room visible from the parking lot. Through the main entrance, there’s a very nice and inviting taproom, with some board games and a table at one side and barrels stood up as tables throughout the taproom for plenty of standing and conversing. It was fairly early in the day, but there were already a few people in the brewery. At the center of it all seemed to be big Mike Jones, head brewer and one of the owners. That’s a good thing, because a visible owner/brewer can be a good thing for any business, especially a business like a small brewery that generates a sense of community.

Image courtesy of Hackensack Brewing’s Facebook page

Mike came across like Sam Malone of Cheers, except a little more outgoing and with a North Jersey accent. Everybody knew him, he seemed to know everybody walking into the brewery, and remembered my uncle from when my uncle grabbed the crowlers and growler earlier in the week. The two reminisced about legendary beer bar Andy’s Corner Bar in Bogota, NJ, a spot known nationally for its amazing beer selection. Many a North Jersey resident learned to appreciate great beer at Andy’s over the years. No less an authority than Michael Jackson had wonderful things to say about Andy’s. I had a few beers there over the years, too.

An affable owner/face of the brewery is great, but making beer is the name of the game, so about now is a good time to get to that. A little bit more on Mike later. I was going to go with a full pour/pint of something, but my wife convinced me to go for a flight. Smart suggestion especially with the varied selection. I appreciated that wide variety, which included the requisite IPAs and Pale Ales, as well as a stout, a Blonde Ale, a couple of lagers, a Pilsner, and a Fruit Beer.

Tap List at Hackensack Brewing Company on July 6, 2019

A four pour flight for $10 is a good price and I think they were four ounce pours. I started off with Nu Bajan Breakfast Blend, a 5.1% ABV blonde ale with vanilla and coffee. The standard Nu Bajan Blonde is a Blonde Ale with vanilla, this variant is aged on coffee beans and is a wonderful beer. Conventional wisdom with beer typically slots coffee to stouts as a flavor adjunct (outside of Carton Brewing’s Regular Coffee game). The coffee is perfectly balanced and there’s some added sweetness that makes for an extremely flavorful ale. A great start. The second in the flight was the Parking Lot Pilz, which I reviewed on Tuesday but I wanted it super fresh from the tap. The freshness was a slight improvement on an already great beer. Beer number three was another Lager, as regular readers may have noted or as I pointed out a couple of months ago, I’ve been drawn to lagers quite a bit lately. Beach Badge is a 5% ABV Pale Lager that has some fruity notes at the end thanks to the Sabro hops utilized in the beer. Very refreshing and a great summer / warm weather beer. The last of the flight was Fruit Stripe, a 5.5% ABV Fruit beer with apricot for a sweet refreshing finish.

Flight, clockwise from top left: Nu-Bajan Breakfast Blend, Parking Lot Pilz, Beach Badge, Lawn Stripes

As for the beers I had on the Fourth of July, which my uncle brought, both were IPAs of the New England/Haze variety. The first was Musket Haze, effectively Hackensack’s flagship beer. This beer is a 6.3% ABV New England IPA which poured super hazy and was a delicious juice bomb. Citra and Motueka stand out in this beer if I’m not mistaken. This is a beer that draws all the IPA and haze lovers into the brewery, it is Hackensack’s most checked-in beer on untappd. The other Hazy was It Was All A Dream an Imperial New England IPA that was even juicier and more flavorful. This one has Citra (as just about all NEIPAs do) and Idaho 7, a hop that does some nice things, too. Overall, these two beer were excellent examples of the Hazy IPA/IIPA.

Like a lot of independent, “local” breweries, Hackensack brewing pays homage to the history and culture of the area with their beer names. The aforementioned Parking Lot Pilz is “An ode to the tailgating culture we grew up with in North Jersey/NYC” i.e. The Meadowlands, a short drive from Hackensack. Musket Haze is dedicated to New Bridge Landing, a key crossing during the Revolutionary War (“The Bridge That Saved a Nation“) just up the road from the brewery. Nu Bajan Blonde hearkens back to pre-Revolutionary War days, when Hackensack was known as New Barbadoes Township. The people of Barbados are referred to as “Bajan” (pronounced “bay-jun”), hence the beer’s name. Moment’s Notice, a 5% ABV Stout, is an ode to Hackensack’s unique place in Jazz history. In the 1950’s the sound of Blue Note records, and thus the sound of Jazz globally, was defined by Rudy Van Gelder and the artists that came together in the recording studio he set up in his parent’s living room up on Prospect Avenue. Moment’s Notice is a track of off of John Coltrane’s masterpiece “Blue Train”, recorded in that Hackensack living room back in 1958. Blizzard of ’96 is a nod to the big blizzard that hit New Jersey (and the whole Northeast) in 1996. I think that was one of the few times, and maybe first, that Rutgers University cancelled classes because of the weather. I remember how bad the snow was, I was working at the Menlo Park Mall and it closed because of the storm just as I arrived for my shift at Herman’s World of Sporting Goods. Mike first brewed this Weizenbock when the brewery opened and he told me the beer went much faster than he expected. I love weizenbocks and wish it was on tap when I visited. Oh well, just an excuse to visit the brewery again if it shows up on tap.

Thought the mirror was cool, too bad I made it into the picture. But you can get a glimpse of the open area.

Let’s get back to Mike, shall we? Like Tim Pewitt and Wet Ticket, Mike (at least when I visited the brewery) was the face of the brewery. He took time to speak to me as well as all the other patrons, making sure people were happy and felt welcome at Hackensack Brewing. In chatting with Mike, I asked how long he’d been brewing beer and he said about 15 years. It shows in the quality of the beers I had and as I said on Tuesday, the fact that he brews such a delicious Pilsner is further proof of Mike’s skill. Talking to Mike a little more, the guy has passion – passion for the beer he makes, knowledge about the hops and ingredients he uses, passion for being part of the community in Hackensack, and the NJ Beer Community. In other words, like Tim, or Joe Fisher of Man Skirt Brewing, Mike is exactly the kind of person and personality who should be running a brewery. A great guy and a great brewer.

Mike also mentioned a canning line (or canning machine?) was on the horizon in the near future. I was also impressed that barely 6 months into their “life,” Hackensack Brewing has a crowler machine and a fridge full of crowlers for easy to-go beer. If my research is correct (and the articles linked below is where I found the information), Hackensack Brewing opened up with 8 taps. Again, I visited the first weekend in July, five months after they opened, and the number of taps increased from 8 taps to 12 taps. That tells me Hackensack Brewing is making beer people want to drink.

I haven’t seen beer from Hackensack Brewing near me in Somerset County yet. Then again, some of the beer in the breweries more local to me haven’t traveled up to Bergen County yet. However, with the aforementioned canning capabilities and the quality of the beer, I wouldn’t be surprised if taps and stores start selling some of Mike Jones’s delicious beers soon.

Barely a half a year into being open and Hackensack Brewing is already making a name for themselves with the quality of the beer they make. They are definitely worth the visit because they make great beer, have a fun tap room, and with The Alementary just around the corner, Hackensack is growing into a beer destination.

Cheers to Mike Jones, Alex Ferenczi, Herbert Lamont Barr III, and Irfan Qureshi to many years of great beer!

Hackensack Brewing Web site | Instagram | Facebook | twitter | Hackensack Brewing on NewJerseyCraftBeer.com | untappd

Some other links of interest:

 

Draught Diversions: NJ Brewery & Beer Check In

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…

Is the bubble bursting or is the NJ Craft Beer landscape simply maturing? Read on for my take on the subject…

That’s been a “hot topic” of discussion in beer circles, and NJ Beer circles specifically. The third NJ brewery over the last 12 months has closed its doors, in one definition of the phrase. More specifically, these are the first three breweries to open after the 2012 laws passed to have closed. Earlier in the year (April 2019), Rinn Duin brewing became Toms River Brewing. Demented Brewing in Middlesex closed at the end of April 2019 after about a month of very public drama on social media. This past week/early June 2019, Common Sense Brewing in Bordentown closed and is in the process of being purchased/taken over by Tindall Road Brewery out of Robbinsville. Tindall Road didn’t have a location but their website claims the brewery to be active “since 2017” which is probably when they established the name.

Three brewery changes in a few short months is worth noting. One is a blip, two is a little more thought provoking, but could three be a pattern? Or could it just be a coincidence. I’ll provide my perspective of these three brewery changes below.

Demented Brewing Publicly Implodes, Closes

Demented’s closure was the most visible closure in NJ Beer (Beer Advocate forum discussion), it was also one of the first to open and close since the 2012 law passed that enabled breweries to have taprooms and serve beer on premise.  Demented Brewing established themselves in 2015 in Middlesex, NJ where the closest brewery was Harvest Moon Brewpub in New Brunswick. In other words, an area without a nearby brewery. They made some good beer, with some beers that were well-above average (by my ratings, over a 4-bottle cap rating on untappd). Cypress Brewing in Edison, NJ opened around the same time and were the closest brewery, but not exactly convenient for folks looking to make a visit to both breweries. Put it this way, you’d have to get on a congested highway and drive over 10 miles to get between breweries, they weren’t close to each other like the three breweries in Hackettstown, some of the NJ Shore breweries, the breweries in Hammonton, or even the Mount Holly breweries. In short, Demented was largely successful because they were relatively uniquely located and produced better than average product. Kegs were in bars in Central New Jersey and cans and 22oz bottles could be found in bottle shops since they had a distribution deal. In other words, it seemed like they were growing naturally at a nice rate.

Personally, I liked Demented quite a bit and had a quite a few of their beers, visited Demented probably as much or more than any of the NJ breweries since they were a mile or two from where I worked, close to where a few friends live, and close to my brother-in-law’s house. My first review here on the Tap Takeover also happened to be of one of their beers. In participating a few NJ beer online circles (NJ Craft Beer, reddit/njbeer, and Beer Advocate’s “Mid-Atlantic” forums), the consensus about the beer seems to be that it was good enough that Demented could have had a relatively lengthy lifespan. NJ Food writer Pete Genovese anointed Demented the best brewery in NJ when he did his Best Brewery tour in NJ. While that selection was rather controversial, at the very least, the “win” gave Demented some attention.

Demented Brewing’s problems were financial in nature in that they had difficulty paying taxes and didn’t always pay their employees. No matter how good the product is, the government won’t let you continue if you don’t pay your taxes. The employees won’t want to keep working if they don’t get paid. Just watch Bar Rescue. Sadly, some good people were working at Demented. Demented also had two annual Bottle Clubs – one for sours, one for stouts – almost like a subscription. Many who paid up front will not see the beer they paid for and will likely not see that money again.  All told, a sad end to what was a pretty good thing.

Rinn Dúin becomes Toms River Brewing

I knew very little about Rinn Dúin brewing aside from knowing they opened in 2014 at the early stages of the NJ Craft Beer boon. This was just 2 years after the big 2012 law passed. Their focus was on English and Irish styles as the name Rinn Dúin might imply and the brewery even temporarily closed in mid-2018 at one point. Having started in 2014, their reach in the State didn’t quite expand the way some other breweries who started at the time did, or even to the extent that Demented did who started a year later. In other words, much of what I say here relative to Rinn Dúin is from a bit of a remove.

From what I was able to surmise from some online posts, it seems they went bankrupt, but made good beer, just not styles that were lighting the world on fire.

I don’t know how embedded in the local bar scene Rinn Dúin was, whether they were able to get the kegs into bars in Toms River and neighboring locals. I assume they were since they’d been in business for nearly 5 years before changing over to Toms River Brewing. They may have done some brewery-only or super-local bottle/can releases, but they didn’t seem to expand beyond Ocean County, NJ from what I was able to observe. Rinn Dúin did seem to have a nice partnership/business relationship with local minor league baseball team Lakewood Blue Claws, which is the kind of thing you’d hope to see between “small” businesses.

Scrolling through Rinn Dúin’s facebook page, it appears they were fairly active in the community, had yoga nights and musicians; many things a lot of successful breweries do. On the other hand,, not many people were talking about the brewery outside of an occasional mention in a thread like “Unspoken NJ Breweries” in the Beer Advocate discussion forums (and the updated/2019 thread). As recently as February (two months prior to the name change/takeover), this brewery was still making and pouring beer as Rinn Dúin, whichh is when I had their tasty cream ale Sweet Nothing at the Meadowlands Beer Expo.

I think the name change is good and gives the brewery more of a local flavor. There was a press release earlier in the year about the buyout that reads a bit on the corporate/business side with talk of a “vertical integration plan.” The original name, Rinn Dúin, while not bad might work in a more mature beer landscape or even a beer landscape from the early 90s. Much as I enjoy a Guinness and a good Irish Red Ale like Great Lakes’ Conway’s Irish Ale, Irish/English styles aren’t the most popular/sought after styles. I realize Rinn Dúin had a more diverse output than that. Again, my observations are from quite a distance and relatively superficial.

What I can say about the name change / re-branding / relaunch is from a similar remove, but the observations are positive. Toms River Brewing is already canning their beer with canning giant Iron Heart Canning. They’ve been relatively active on social media and it looks like there’s potential for this brewery. With Icarus Brewing in somewhat nearby Lakewood (14 miles away), visiting one of these breweries might compel people to visit both breweries.

Common Sense Brewery Closes, Purchased by Tindall Road Brewery

This is the most recent brewery closure and marks the third over the last four months. I do have some more knowledge of Commons Sense Brewing than Rinn Dúin, at least. I visited Common Sense in November 2018 as part of my birthday brewery tour. In fact, Common Sense was the last of six breweries our group visited that day. The brewery looks great from the outside, is extremely well-placed in downtown Bordentown, NJ (a very underrated downtown), and has a very nice and inviting taproom.

But then you get the beer.

I had a flight and what I had was subpar, at best. A very thin Porter that tasted on the edge of being skunked, a decent Pumpkin Ale (helped by the spice rimmed glass) and what, in hindsight, seems strange – two brown ales. Brown ales are fine, in general, but not a style that you’ll typically see more than once on a daily taplist from a brewery. One of the brown ales I had was OK, but the other was outright undrinkable. Easily the worst beers I had that day out of the six breweries, but to be fair, three of the other breweries are relatively established award-winning breweries (Spellbound, Neshaminy Creek, and Village Idiot) and one a well-respected “elder statesman” of NJ brewery (Forgotten Boardwalk) so the comparison may be a little unfair. On the other hand, bad beer is just bad beer no matter how you cut it.

Common Sense was open for less than two years. If some of the comments on social media from locals and people who claim to have relatively intimate knowledge of the brewery are to be believed, than it seems like there was almost a Bar Rescue situation going on with at the brewery. People giving beer away, monetary issues, and a lack of knowledge about making good beer and running a business.

I only learned about Tindall Road Brewery a day after I learned of Common Sense’s closure, so hopefully there’s a positive outcome for whatever this brewery ends up being called. Third State Brewing who celebrated their fourth anniversary this month (June 2019), less than 10 miles away in nearby Burlington, helps to make this area a soft destination for beer fans. Tindall Road has been posting some of the progress of their takeover on their facebook page.

Side note – interesting naming for the two closed breweries – Demented and Common Sense. Almost a harbinger of things to come.

All is Not Dire, Quite the Opposite!

Despite these three brewery closures, I would argue that the bubble is not bursting at all as some might argue. I would even suggest that the “bubble” metaphor isn’t appropriate at this point and rather landscape is appropriate. A landscape implies a longer life span while a bubble implies something not very long-lasting. Quite simply, the New Jersey Craft Beer landscape is maturing. While there have been small independent breweries and brewpubs in the state for twenty or more years like High Point/Ramstein, Cricket Hill, Harvest Moon Brewery (where I had my wedding rehearsal dinner) and so forth – the landscape was really reborn, or reseeded to continue with a landscaping metaphor, with the aforementioned 2012 law change.

What happens when things mature? Things fall off, things change, things evolve – people lose their baby teeth, caterpillars weave a cocoon around themselves and emerge as a butterfly. The independent/craft beer scene is doing just that, I’d posit. Breweries not strong enough to survive and going by the wayside could even be seen as a healthy feature of something that is maturing and evolving. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if, before the year ends, another brewery or two goes through a closure/buyout/takeover like the three I highlighted in this post did..

You could also call this a “Brewing Darwinism” of sorts – the strong breweries are surviving, breweries like Kane Brewing, Carton Brewing, Icarus Brewing, Cape May Brewery, River Horse, and Flying Fish of the NJ beer scene. Hell, Cape May split into two companies, a brewery and a distributor. What further shows the strength of the NJ Beer Landscape is how some of the breweries that have opened are from people with experience at breweries like Kane, JJ Bittings (one of the oldest brewpubs in NJ), and Flying Fish. Additionally, breweries like Lone Eagle (Flemington), Bonesaw Brewing (Glassboro), and Mudhen Brewing (Wildwood) are attracting brewers with experience at leading, respected breweries like Dogfish Head, Founders Brewing, Victory Brewing, Funky Buddha, and New England Brewing Company to brew beer in New Jersey, brewers who have received awards. With just over 100 breweries in New Jersey, that is still a relatively small number of breweries compared to the population of the State.

Just two weeks after Demented closed in Middlesex, Jersey Cyclone opened about a mile or two away in Franklin Township/Somerset, NJ. Having visited Jersey Cyclone three times since they opened on May 4, 2019, I can say that I’m pretty impressed with their output, but more about one of their beers later in the week.

It isn’t just Jersey Cyclone having recently opened. Breweries continue to open in New Jersey on an almost weekly basis. Equally as important to a maturing landscape is that existing/established breweries are expanding – Flounder Brewing in Hillsborough is moving to a barn (or group of barns) not far from the current location that will provide them far more space. Angry Erik in northwestern New Jersey just moved into a facility they built after about five years in an office park. Lone Eagle in Flemington is expanding, by constructing and another building for manufacturing on their lot. There’s been word for at least a year that Conclave Brewing in Raritan/Flemington increasing capacity. Perhaps the most exciting thing for many NJ beer fans, longtime mainstay Bolero Snort is in the middle of building their facility in Carlstadt, NJ after years of gypsy brewing.

So yeah, the New Jersey Beer landscape is maturing, evolving, and still growing and healthy DESPITE the most recent legislative roadblock thrown in front of the breweries. But that problematic legislature is another topic.

At this point in the NJ Beer/Brewery landscape’s maturation; however, breweries more than ever need to produce better than average beer, not just passable beer. They need to brew beer that makes people come back for more. This is, of course, in addition to being smart about owning a business. Because the NJ Beer Consumers palates are maturing alongside the brewery and beer landscape.

 

Draught Diversions: Wet Ticket Brewing

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…

 

The state of beer in the State of New Jersey is pretty good. As of this writing, we are near 100 breweries in the Garden State. I’ve got two solid breweries very close where I live now (Conclave Brewing and Lone Eagle Brewing), and as of 2 years ago, a really good brewery close to the city in which I grew up (Linden, NJ) – Wet Ticket Brewing in Rahway, NJ. Wet Ticket recently celebrated their second anniversary. I didn’t make it to their celebration, but I stopped in and met my parents before celebrating their anniversary a couple of weeks ago. I also visited Wet Ticket shortly after they opened in 2017. Let’s just say I don’t think I’ll let 2 years pass between visits, or at least having some of their beer.

Co-owners Tim Pewitt and Al Povalski met through a mutual friend, both fascinated by craft beer. Tim started as a homebrewer and brings about 25 years of home brewing experience with him, which is a familiar story for many independent breweries. Though I don’t know how many of those home brewers turned brewery owners had over two decades experience brewing. At this point, I’ll just say Tim’s years of experience show in the beer. Although Union County, Roselle Park specifically, is home to Climax Brewery, there wasn’t a true brewery/taproom experience in Union County. Rahway is and has been a city under revitalization, so when a former Woolworth’s location became available on Main Street, Tim and Al found their location. Not a bad location, either. When the brewery first opened, nobody seemed to be walking the streets on Fridays. Since then, Tim and Al say they see much more pedestrian traffic. There’s a parking garage across the street, Wet Ticket is a couple of doors down from local staple the Townhouse (home of the world’s greatest thin crust pizza), so the location within Rahway is fantastic.

Wet Ticket’s Taplist on April 12, 2019

Tim and Al were all set from a passion point of view, they just needed a name. A family member suggest Wet Ticket as the name. This is a reference to Prohibition in the United States. Politicians wishing to bring an end to Prohibition ran on what was called a Wet Ticket. Good ingredients for a successful brewery so far: good location, good name, and owners with knowledge and passion for the liquid that comes from water, hops, barley/malt, and yeast.

It is around this point in most of these Brewery spotlights that I say, well, what about the beer?

That’s part of the interesting here with Wet Ticket as I’ve visited the brewery twice. Both visits occurred in April before having dinner with my parents (who live in a neighboring town) to celebrate their anniversary. During the first visit to Wet Ticket, my parents and my wife and I brought some pizza from neighboring Townhouse Tavern into the brewery. Like many breweries in NJ, you can bring outside food into the brewery. The Townhouse is a Rahway and Union County institution, my family and I have been going there since before I was born. My mother ate there several times while she was pregnant with me (when it was called Paolini’s Townhouse) so I guess you could say I have been enjoying the world’s best thin crust pizza since before I was born. Whenever family who moved out of state come back to visit, pizza at the Townhouse is a requirement. But enough about the Townhouse…for now.

During that first visit to Wet Ticket, the folks at the brewery were really nice, and gave a mini tour of the facilities. I’m guessing Tim Pewitt was there, but I can’t say for certain. During that initial visit and on my most recent visit, I was very impressed with how open and clean the brewery is. From just about anywhere in the brewery, you can see into the brewing area. Part of the open ambiance is from the large window which affords pedestrians from Main Street a pleasing, inviting look into the brewery and for patrons inside the brewery, provides a great deal of natural light. The bar area is nice and clean, with posters of the beer labels adorning the wall as well as several other interesting art pieces from local artist John Ward, a friend of Tim’s.

I had five beers during that first visit, the two that stood out the most were their Kick the Bucket Brown, which was a tasty interpretation of the style. A brown ale is typically seen as the “workhorse” of a brewery’s lineup and this was nicely made. The other standout is arguably their first flagship ale, the Kölsch, an easy drinking German ale. Their Kölsch, simply called Kölsch is a fine interpretation of the style and a beer they call the “Swiss Army Knife of the Wet Ticket lineup.” The other beers I had on that initial visit didn’t stand out for me as much as the brown Kölsch and the Brown Ale – a saison, an oatmeal stout, and a Blonde. At the time, I wasn’t a fan of IPAs so I didn’t try any of their hop forward beers. That Kölsch, though? That was really nice.

The brewery recently invested in a canning machine, which really gives them the flexibility to can beers as they make them. Many breweries utilize mobile canning companies, which are great and afford breweries with limited space the opportunity to have their beer canned. However, with the growth of breweries like Wet Ticket, the breweries are a little more beholden to the canning company’s schedules. Having a canning machine allows Wet Ticket to have more control.

Like many breweries, Wet Ticket is often trying new styles, new takes on established styles, and new beers in general. They call these beers “Test Ticket” beers. These are small batch beers that debut in the tap room, for example. If the beer proves “successful,” i.e. it sells well and people like it, the beer “graduates” to regular rotation. Trolley Hopper began this way, as did their anniversary porter, Rahway or the Highway. Trolley Hopper was one of those beers, Tim said, he felt good about from the start. Again, a couple of decades worth of home-brewing experience comes in handy. Beyond the experimentation, Wet Ticket has a solid line up of beers in regular rotation, the aforementioned Brown and Kölsch as well as a Hoppy Kölsch, a Double IPA called Dream Ticket, a series of single hop beers they call One Way Ticket, a single IPA named Spanktown IPA, and an Imperial Oatmeal Stout. Seasonal releases include a very popular summer ale “Tastes Like Summer” Watermelon Wheat, Blood Orange Pale Ale and fall beers like Scarecrow Juice Pumpkin Ale and a Pecan Porter. When they can a beer, they are the ones putting the beers in bars and stores as Wet Ticket self-distributes.

Image courtesy of Wet Ticket’s Facebook

In fact, the 2019 batch of Watermelon Wheat (as of this post in late April 2019) should be rolling out soon. When fresh watermelon is  in season, Tim, Al, and company buy as many watermelons as possible. For a 20 barrel batch, 80-90 watermelons are used and they add the watermelon when the beer is about ¾ fermented. Like last year, Wet Ticket will be putting cans of Tastes like Summer Watermelon Wheat into distribution. Also on the horizon is another batch of their highly acclaimed (avg rating on untappd of 4.16 of 5 bottle caps) Imperial Oatmeal Stout aged in Bourbon Barrels. I won’t let a bottle of this pass me by again.

Image courtesy of Wet Ticket’s Facebook

Although their cans list Wet Ticket as established 2013, the brewery on Main opened in 2017. In those two years, the Wet Ticket name has grown, both in terms of the quantity of beers they produce and the reputation they’ve earned. Tim and Al’s baby also has established itself as a fixture in the growing resurgence/revitalization of downtown Rahway. 25 years ago when I lived near Rahway, it didn’t necessarily have the reputation as a destination. It was a place to pass through on the way to your destination. Except for the Townhouse, of course. Sure the Union County Performing Arts Center was in Rahway, but in recent times more restaurants have been popping up. At least three of those restaurants (CubaNu, Nancy’s Townhouse, Meatballs and Brews) seem to always have one Wet Ticket beer on draught.

Several of the beers pay homage to the community and City of Rahway, such as Spanktown IPA, Rahway had the infamous nickname of Spanktown around the time of the Revolutionary War. Another brew, the one I reviewed earlier this week, Trolley Hopper, pays homage to the lost Rahway Trolley. Starting back in 1928 and for about forty years, The Rahway Trolley line connected Westfield, Clark, Rahway, Woodbridge and Perth Amboy. Their latest beer, brewed for their second anniversary, is an Imperial Porter named Rahway or the Highway.

Wet Ticket has been establishing a name for themselves and personally speaking I went from an IPA hater to an IPA embracer. A couple of weeks ago, like two years ago, my wife and I met my parents for my parents’ anniversary dinner, both my dad and I had a glass of Trolley Hopper. I liked it and so did he. So much so that we walked out with a couple of cans of the beer. We headed over to CubaNu for dinner where they had Fully Juiced on tap, freshly tapped is it were. Another delicious beer. Fully Juiced was another beer Tim had a really good feeling about when he was brewing the first batch.

While I liked Wet Ticket’s beers during my first visit in 2017, I thought the quality improved by the time I visited two years later. Wet Ticket is the first brewery in Union County (the County of my birth and where I grew up) to have a fully functional tasting room and to be a destination taproom in the truest sense of the word. At the heart of Rahway’s Main Street, Wet Ticket should be a destination for people wishing to sample finely made beer. With plenty of restaurants within walking distance, patrons can sate their hunger, too. The brewery is conveniently located near Rahway’s NJ Transit station and a short drive off of Routes 1&9 (in this part of NJ, Route 1 and Route 9 are the same highway) and not too far from the Garden State Parkway.

In addition to being available at local restaurants (as well as bars and stores across the northern part of NJ), Wet Ticket is active in the community. They do a regular Yoga night, Flow to Flights. They’ve led and participated in donation drives for the Rahway Food Bank as well as food and supply drives for stray cats. They are hosting a pre-party for an upcoming concert at the nearby Union County Performing Arts Center. In short, Tim, Al, and all the folks behind the scenes at Wet Ticket Brewing are helping to foster a strong sense of community along with making great beer. Their eye-catching logo was crowd sourced and later touched up by Wizdom Media, a local design firm in Rahway down the street from Wet Ticket. Wizdom Media also provided the label art for Trolley Hopper, Kolsch, Dream Ticket, and Watermelon Wheat. The great art for Fully Juiced came from a family member, while the can art for One Way Ticket and Rahway or the Highway came from a former Wet Ticket brewery worker, who now works for Boston Beer/Samuel Adams. If being “draughted” to work for Boston Beer isn’t a sign that Wet Ticket is recognized for doing good things with their beer, I don’t know what is.

Canned beer available for takeout!

Wet Ticket is a brewery definitely worth visiting and their beers are undoubtedly worth sampling should you come across them in a beer store, restaurant, or bar. The taproom is welcoming and inviting, especially with how open they are to allowing food to be brought in by their patrons. I know I’m very likely to visit again and enjoy more of their beer in the future. In fact, on Thursday May 9, Wet Ticket is hosting a NJ Craft Beer “Beer Up”/Meet up which I’m hoping to attend.

Wet Ticket Brewing Web site | Instagram | Facebook | twitter | Wet Ticket Brewing on NewJerseyCraftBeer.com

Some other links of interest:

Brew Jersey December 2017 (Chris Castellani)

Al Gattullo Craft Beer Cast featuring Tim Pewitt (April 16, 2019) (Hell, if you are reading my ramblings on beer, you should be listening to Al every week. He features a good mix of local NJ and national independent breweries.)

Special thanks to Tim and Al for taking some time out of their busy schedule at the brewery to speak on the phone and provide details for some of what I’ve included in this post. All errors are mine alone.