Draught Diversions: Thanksgiving 2017 Suggestions

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…

Perhaps no American holiday is more centered around food, feasting, and gathering together for a sit-down meal as is Thanksgiving. Sure, Christmas Dinner is a focal point for many families around the world, but food is the primary icon of what many Americans call “Turkey Day.”

You can probably justify any style pairing for the day since there are so many potential dishes as part of the overall day, so I’ll just run off a few styles that I’ve had over the past few years I’ve found to be really nice. First and foremost; however, I’d suggest grabbing a growler or two from your favorite local brewery to bring to the family gathering if at all possible. This is by no means an exhaustive set of beer suggestions and a lot of people (myself included), split the day and do dinner at one location and desert at another location so you may have a special beer you’d rather share at one place than another.. There are plenty of lists like that floating around the internets (Craft Beer and Brewing, GQNY Times, Food and Wine, among many others).

When first arriving and chatting with your family and friends, something light and sessionable might a good option. Maybe a Session IPA (like Founders’ All Day IPA or Southern Tier’s Tangier) or a Hefeweizen (Any of Harpoon’s UFOs including the Winter Blonde would be nice as would Tröegs Dreamweaver Wheat), both are low in alcohol (floating around 5%) and provide a distinct flavor. Or something really good as starter is a good ol’ American Lager and it doesn’t get much more American than the Lager from America’s Oldest Brewery, Yuengling.

The dinner beer is even more open for debate and consideration. Some might lean towards a solid IPA or Pale Ale, but not me. I think the hoppiness might clash too much with the earthy flavors of the main course.  Here’s where you want a brew that is a little more hearty, something with weight to it. Last year, I enjoyed a Moonglow Weizenbock from Victory Brewing and it paired wonderfully with the turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and especially the sweet potatoes. At 8.7% with a tasty malty base, you’ve definitely got a hearty brew. Along those lines, a Dubbel like Ommegang’s world class Dubbel Ale or a Dopplebock (like the Troegenator I reviewed a few weeks ago) would be both make for nice pairing.

A brown ale could go really well, here, too, Newburgh Brewing Company makes an excellent Brown as does Smuttynose, with their classic of American Craft Beer, Old Brown Dog Ale. About as close as I’d come to thinking IPA for dinner would be say a black IPA like Two Roads Brewing’s Route of All Evil could be good here with a nice hop and malt balance. A porter; however, would be perfect, some have roast and the style is just complementary enough for most meals that something like Great Lakes’s Edmund Fitzgerald or the American craft beer standard for porters, Anchor Porter could work well for many palettes.

Here we come to dessert. Some folks will go for a beer with their dessert, I usually don’t. In this case, maybe a sweeter brew like Southern Tier’s Choklat, which is a rich, sweet stout. Same goes for Terrapin’s fabulous Moo-Hoo Chocolate Milk Stout. Since Pumpkin Pie is a staple dessert at Thanksgiving, why not go for a pumpkin beer at this time? One of the classics of the style is Weyerbacher’s Imperial Pumpkin Ale, a beer I haven’t had in a couple of years. Perhaps I’ll remedy that this year.

Once the food is done and you want to relax and maybe take that nap, splitting a sipping beer to top off the day might be nice. Perhaps something barrel-aged and/or higher in ABV.

I was able to snag a bottle of Flying Fish’s Exit 17, which is a Russian Imperial Stout aged in Dad’s Hat Whiskey bottles. This was a fairly limited release, with only 750 bottles put into distribution. Really, though, one of the dessert beers could be good here, too. If you were lucky enough to snag multiple bottles of KBS, it might not be a bad idea to share one of those after the food is done. Something like one of these higher ABV stouts are Barleywines might be good to sip throughout the day, too.

 

Obviously these are all only suggestions. Mostly based on what I’ve enjoyed in year’s past at Thanksgiving. The only additional thing I’ll say is more than a suggestion, a request. Drink responsibly. If you have more than two or three (hell more than one of some of the beers I mentioned in this post), don’t get behind the wheel.

Draught Diversions: Angry Erik 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…

In last week’s Draught Diversions, I wrote about the New Jersey beer tour my wife took me on last November for my birthday. The majority of those breweries are located along/near the Jersey Shore – Kane, Beach Haus, and Carton. Well this year (this past weekend, in fact), another brewery tour commenced. This round focused on beers located in Northern New Jersey. This week, I’ll be focusing on one of those breweries: Angry Erik Brewing.

This is the brewery (of the five we visited that day), that surprised me the most for a couple of reasons. Before visiting them, I didn’t know where Angry Erik was located. I wouldn’t have thought to make them part of any brewery tour because of that. I wasn’t unaware of Angry Erik, I enjoyed a beer or two from them at past Garden State Brewfests but don’t see their beer too often here in Somerset County, NJ. The brewery is in one of the most northern townships in NJ (Lafayette) and may be the northern-most brewery in the State.

Situated in the open farmlands of Sussex County, the brewery is relatively unassuming in an office park. As I’ve said in previous Brewery posts, their location isn’t too dissimilar from other breweries. While the exterior wouldn’t lead you to believe there’s a brewery located in this office park, once you open the doors, the environment – while somewhat tight – is quite lively and comforting. On the day of our visit, the brewery was hosting a puppy adoption, which may have added to the crowd, but people were lined up at the bar waiting for beer, standing around chatting while holding a beer, or at the tables enjoying some beers. In other words, the type of atmosphere you’d want to see in a brewery on a late Saturday afternoon.

Once the crowd allowed Erik to step away from the taps, he took us on a tour of the small brewery. What impressed me the most was how clean, neat, and organized everything in the facility was.

Just as NJ Beer laws were changing shortly before 2014, husband and wife Erik and Heide Hassing were able to open Angry Erik Brewing. Heide’s got a chemistry background (a degree from one of the most prestigious departments in the country, Cornell) which may be part of the reason their beers taste so damned good. At least the beers I sampled during my visit were quite tasty.

What was most pleasing about the beers on Angry Erik’s tap list was the variety of styles across the seven beers on draft. I sampled a tasty Black IPA (Pedals BIPA), a delicious blond with Elderflower (The Dainty Viking), one of the best Red/Amber Ales I’ve had in a very long time (Ravøl), and a fantastic Imperial Porter (Original Dragon Booty). The beer that I enjoyed the most, though, was that Blonde with Elderflower. The addition of the sweet Elderflower is a perfect balance to what can be a crisp and sometimes bland style. In addition, Erik and Heide were pouring a tasty tart Saison and a couple IPAs, Hoparoo and the spicy Viva Verde.

Angry Erik Flight of Four: Ravøl, The Dainty Viking, Pedals BIPA, and the Original Dragon Booty.

When I was speaking to one of the bartenders, I asked if bottles or cans of their beer were available that day or in the future. While a small release has happened, the brewery is looking to go into a larger facility about a mile away, which may open the possibilities for canning, bottling, and the ability for patrons to bring home Angry Erik’s delicious beer in something other than a growler, thus keeping the tasty beer as fresh as possible for longer than a couple of days.

Were Angry Erik closer, I would definitely be visiting and filling growlers with some regularity. At least as regularly as I visit Lone Eagle, Flounder, Demented, and Conclave which are the four closest breweries to where I live and work. I may make a another pilgrimage to Lafayette to sample more of their beers in the future. The brewery is well worth visiting and their beers, based on the four I enjoyed, are well worth trying if they show up on draft at your favorite pub or bar.

Angry Erik’s beers have won awards at festivals, including A People’s Choice Award at Morristown’s Big Brew Fest in 2017.

Resources for this post and additional reading about Angry Erik Brewing:
Brew Jersey (March 2017)
NJ Monthly: 8 Badass Women Who Brew

Draught Diversion: NJ Brewery Tour November 2016

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…

This Draught Diversion is something of a #ThrowbackThursday post. A little over a year ago, my wife got me in the car with my brother-in-law and his girlfriend and visited a bunch of NJ Breweries on a mini tour. In the weeks leading up to my birthday, my wife asked me what I wanted to do for my birthday, I said I’d like to visit a some of the many breweries which have sprung up in New Jersey over the past few years, in particular Carton and Kane since they are both so well-regarded and relatively close. Keep in mind that this was months before I began the Tap Takeover and the bulk of this post is written from memory, aside from telling a friend at work (who hits up local breweries on his birthday) what I had at each brewery.

Because things with us tend to go out of order, we went North before coming back down and landed at Twin Elephant Brewing in Chatham, NJ. At the time, Twin Elephant was only open a few months, we’d even attended their “launch” at the Stirling Hotel (one of the best beer bars in NJ, great tap selection and wonderful food) in Gillette in July 2016. There were a great variety of styles on tap in the beautiful newly opened tap-room. A really nice wood interior made for a great gathering place for local patrons. Unfortunately, the Diamonds and Pearls Milk Stout I had in July was not on tap but there were some tasty beers to be had.

The Flight from Twin Elephant

The beer that stood out the most for me was Chingas, a Black IPA which had the best elements of a stout and IPA in one beer. Rounding out the flight was the New Found Friends IPA, Faja Bod, a fruity, Abbey ale; Pucker Cup, an odd but interesting sour Coffee ale; and a citrusy ale called Dux. I’d definitely like to return to this brewery, hopefully to get in on their limited can releases of either Diamonds and Pearls.

The second visit had us come back down basically to my house to go to – Conclave Brewing in Raritan Township/Flemington. My wife hadn’t realized I stopped there a few times over the past couple of years. Fortunately, their wonderful Mexican Morning stout was on tap. I’ve written extensively about this fine brewery in the past (click the link to see what I have to say about them), this was the shortest stop since I’d been there previously and their tap list was the smallest, so on to Brewery #3.

As I said at the opening of this post, high on the list of breweries I wanted to visit was what turned out to be our third stop – Kane Brewing in Ocean, NJ. Unfortunately, there always has to be one of any kind of list that is the bottom and that day it was Kane. I know, I know, I’ll catch a lot of flack from hop heads, especially the folks who hang out in the Beer Advocate Forums. Despite about 10 or 12 beers on tap, the variety was quite limited, a lager and a blonde were on the list, but the great majority of what was on tap was either an IPA or a Pale Ale of some sort. I was very disappointed that no stouts or porters were on tap considering it was November, prime season for dark, roasty, malty ales. Put it this way, if I enjoyed IPAs half as much as I enjoy stouts, then chances are Kane would have been my favorite stop of the day. At the time we visited Kane, I still had a strong aversion to IPAs. Despite that, I couldn’t deny what a good beer their flagship beer, Head High is.

The tap room; however, was really impressive. With barrels stacked high, the room felt very busy (in a good way) and I got a sense that a lot of people knew each other. Very much a feel of a lot of “regulars” sharing some good time over highly-hopped Ales. I’d like to visit them again, although this time I’ll take a peek at beermenus to make sure the list isn’t just high-hopped ales. Then again, since I’ve come appreciate IPAs a little more over the past few months, I might find more to enjoy from their tap list on any given visit.

Beach Haus Flight: Herb’s Rye, Station 2 Station, Toast (Black IPA), Pumptoberfest

Next up was Beach Haus Brewery in Belmar, NJ which is only about 4 miles away from Kane. What I liked best about Beach Haus was the overall variety of styles available for sampling and consumption. Beach Haus has been bottling their beers and distributing them in New Jersey for quite a few years and I recall trying a couple of their beers at Garden State Brewfests in the past, but what I had last year was all new to me. I really enjoyed Herb’s Rye which is a Pale Wheat Ale that reminded me a bit of Samuel Adam’s Summer Ale. The Black IPA they call Toast was interesting, Pumptoberfest, an Oktoberfest with Pumpkin spices, was a tasty fall beer and the Station 2 Station Porter was a roasty porter. The tap-room was wide open and felt like a great place to hang out. A similar set up to the second floor of Lone Eagle. You could say the brewing approach seem similar, too. A good bunch of styles with a focus on pleasing a wade variety of palettes rather than focusing the majority of their brewing on only one style.

The final brewery was the best of the day and the brewery I had on the top of my to-visit list: Carton Brewing in Atlantic Highlands. Everything about Carton put it at the top of the list that day. The tour, the gregarious tour guide, and the wonderful ambiance of the welcoming tap room which felt like the attic of a friend’s house, set the foundation for a great experience. What about the beers? They were, of course, delicious and interesting.

As part of the tour, you pay six bucks for a few tokens, which you exchange for a 4 oz taster. This works out to about $0.83 per taste and every tour includes a taste of their flagship beer, Boat, essentially a session IPA that is often ranked as one of the best beers in NJ. In addition to Boat, I had Unjunct, a wonderful stout which was so good I walked out with a 4-pack of pint cans. Although I’ve had the beer previously, I couldn’t pass up Carton of Milk, a superb Milk Stout. Next up was To Wong Brew, Thanks for Everything! Julie Brewmar! an “American Wild Ale” that was a damned interesting stout/sour hybrid. I also had The Wit Whale, a Witbier with more hops than most Witbiers. I rounded out the samples with one of the famous “O-Dub” variants, 077-7006 Sorachi Ace. I really need to get down to Carton again.

So, a couple of breweries I’d gladly visit again one and one I go to with some regularity since it is so close.

Draught Diversions: October 2017 Beer Pours

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…

October, the month for Oktoberfest beers and Pumpkin Beers. A time when Porters and Stouts are becoming more prominent on the shelves. There are always many good beers to be had, but I do love porters and stouts. That’s the variety of beers I had for October, Pumpkins and Stouts, mostly.

I started the month off with an interesting beer from New Belgium, part of their Lips of Faith series of beers called Clutch. My wife picked up the beer for me since we are fans of the band Clutch, who they partnered with New Belgium for a that is a melding of styles – 80% Stout / 20% Sour. Sour beers are probably more hit or miss for me than any style since the flavor profile can vary so much, but this one worked quite well for me. Since my brother-in-law is also a big fan of Clutch, I shared the beer with him, though I think I enjoyed more than he did since I finished what I poured for him.

Next up on the new to me beer list for October was a very tasty Dunkelweizen from Veldensteiner, a German Microbrewery whose beers recently appeared in NJ. I’d get this one again for sure and will be trying the other offerings from this brewery over the next few weeks. I’ve been enjoying the majority of Flying Fish’s Exit Series of beers, so I finally got around to trying Exit 18 – Baltic Porter which was quite good. This a very dark porter with a nice hit of sweetness, though a little stronger on the licorice than I typically like. Baltic Porters tend to be a little more bitter than standard porters, but the high ABV (9.5%) in this one, I think, smoothed out the bitterness. Although this one was a 750mL bottle, I wouldn’t be surprised (and hope) that Flying Fish reissues this one in 12oz bottles either in 4-packs or part of their annual “Exit Series” Variety pack.

The monthly “Brews and Board Games” meeting at Lone Eagle was a little earlier for October, falling on the 12th. I had a few of their beers I hadn’t previously tried in the flight (from left to right, below): Belgian Pale Ale, which I thoroughly enjoyed, enough that I ordered a pint of it after the flight; ESB, which was tasty; New England Chowdah, their take on an New England IPA which didn’t quite do it for me; and Tropical Stout which was OK for what it was (a stout with some pineapple/coconut flavors), but just not for me. I may pick up a four-pack of the Belgian Ale on my next visit to the brewery.

Lone Eagle Flight: Belgian Pale Ale; ESB; Chowdah (NE IPA), Tropical Stout

I went into detail about the O’Fallon Pumpkin Pack last week as well as Blackbeard’s Breakfast a couple of weeks ago. A couple of annual releases were next to be pulled from my refrigerator: this year’s version of Two Roads’s Roadsmary’s Baby is just as tasty as it was last year. Founders’ released their Breakfast Stout in October and it is always a must-get stout for me. There were more notes of coffee than I remember from past iterations of the brew, but a solid sipping beer nonetheless. I may let one of the bottles to age for at least a year.

A beer I’ve been looking forward to trying since seeing it announced was the latest installment of Victory Brewing’s Blackboard series, Black Forest Cake with Cherries. I’ve enjoyed most of the beers I’ve had in this series to varying degrees, I think I only missed the Agave IPA and the Oatmeal Porter with Hazelnut. This one was quite good, though a tad more on the bittersweet end of chocolate than I expected. I would even say this is a tamer, sweeter version of their popular Storm King stout (a big Imperial Stout with a 95 IBU and one of the few Victory brews I don’t like too much). The chocolate and cherries really balance the bitterness in Black Forest Cake with Cherries and makes for a really tasty beer. Like the Saugatuck Blueberry Maple Stout I reviewed at the beginning of the month, I found myself enjoying the second and third beers (each days apart from each other) more than the first.

My wife stopped at a bottle shop on her way home and picked up a couple of beers I never had, but definitely style-wise are in my wheelhouse. Continuing the Pennsylvania theme, one was a beer I’ve been seeing and intending to try was Crunch from Manayunk Brewing Company, which is a peanut butter chocolate porter. Boy did the peanut butter assert itself. This beer is one that is so potent with the flavors that just one is fine for the night. I’ve been eyeing other beer quite a while, too: Skull Splitter from Orkney Brewery in Scotland. This is a fantastic, sweet, bold, and malty Scotch Ale. I may review this one in more detail, but suffice to say, a lovely Scotch Ale.

The last weekend in October, I happened to try four new beers during a Chili Cook-Off I was judging. I picked up a six pack of another beer I’d been looking forward to since I learned of its release, Mocha Merlin from Firestone Walker as my “beer to bring.” Dear lord what a sublime and perfect stout this is. All the flavor goodness of coffee without the accompanying bitterness some coffee stouts bring. I’ve had the Nitro Merlin Milk Stout and the Velvet Merlin Oatmeal Stout in years past so I had high hopes for this variant on the Velvet Merlin “brand.” Mocha Merlin is just so damned good, it really is tough for me to say which of those three I enjoy the most.

Don’t judge the red Solo cup

Since this Chili Cook Off attracts quite a few people (between 50 and 80 every year), there are a lot of different beers floating around. One of my friends’ guests happens to live 7 minutes from Victory Brewing and he brought three growlers of delicious beer from Downington, PA. The first I had was Whirlwind Witbier an excellent Witbier that, despite the growler being filled the day before, was still quite good and pretty fresh. I could swear I had this years ago, long before joining untappd, although I haven’t seen it in stores recently. The other two Victory brews were Vital IPA and Hop Devil. My aversion to IPAs is waning so I tried both and enjoyed Hop Devil much more with its maltier profile. I can definitely see why this beer helped to establish Victory’s outstanding reputation.

I closed out the month with Winter is Here, the latest Game of Thrones beer from Brewery Ommegang, but you already read about that on Tuesday. A very consistent month for new beers, there weren’t any that were drain pours and all were quite good. On to November! With November 2 (today) as Stout Day, the stout season is officially here. The best beer of the month for me was the Mocha Merlin, so I’ll probably have at least one of those on Stout Day.

Cheers!

Draught Diversions: O’Fallon Pumpkin Pack

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…

Now for a seasonally appropriate review of a variety pack of pumpkin beers less than a week before Hallowe’en, the O’Fallon Pumpkin Pack.

O’Fallon Brewery, based in Missouri, has been crafting ales and lagers since 2000 including their regionally popular Pumpkin Beer. Unfortunately, only select beers of their output are distributed here in NJ, although I recall seeing their pumpkin beers last year and I did pick up a bomb of their Imperial Stout earlier in the year. Two particular beers in  this “Pumpkin Patch” pushed me to get the variety pack, the Jack O’Latte Milk Stout and Pumpkin Bread Dunkelweizen. So, how did the whole variety pack fare? Like most variety packs some beers were, of course, better than others, but not in ways that I expected. I’ll give a mini-review of each below leading up to the one I enjoyed the most.

The beer I had first was the Pumpkin Bread, as I’ve said in some posts, I really like Dunkelweizens so I’m always on the lookout for a new Dunkel to try. In the case of O’Fallon’s Pumpkin Bread, there are definitely bready elements of the Dunkelweizen but a lot of the expected finishing notes (clove/banana) are masked or altogether not present due to the pumpkin / pumpkin spice elements. As I commented on untappd, it does exactly what the label suggests, evokes the flavor profile of pumpkin bread. That said, there’s something not quite there for me. Not a bad beer, just not quite what I’d hoped.

 

Next up (and the one I tried last) was the standard Pumpkin Beer, which was a perfectly acceptable pumpkin ale. It didn’t blow me away but it didn’t leave an aftertaste like some pumpkin ales can leave. Better than many pumpkin beers I’ve had, not quite as good as a few others, and one I’d rank in the top half of the many pumpkin beers I’ve had. In other words, a pumpkin ale I’d reach for again. I can understand why this is a local favorite in the State of Missouri, this is a very drinkable ale. This would be for relaxing by a fire pit whilst enjoying a few while the night begins to cool.

 

The one that surprised me the most was Saison De Citrouille. Citrouille is French for Pumpkin, and as the name implies, this is a Saison/Farmhouse brewed with pumpkin and pumpkin pie spices. While I enjoy Saison/Farmhouse Ales, they aren’t one of my “go to” styles. Sometimes, this style can have a bitter, earthy aftertaste that I find unpleasant. On the other hand, some of the lighter Saisons I’ve had are more crisp with a bit of a fruitiness to the flavor profile. O’Fallon’s take on the style is a nice variation and melding of styles, the pumpkin spices blend really well with esters in the beer, complementing each other for a balanced, tasty beer. A perfect beer for those early fall days that still have some warm winds and sun leftover from the summer.

Last is Jack O’Latte and the beer from this variety pack I enjoyed the most. There was a time I loved pumpkin flavored coffee and would have it every day once the leaves started changing. Since the Pumpkin Spice overkill began a few years ago (coupled with Dunkin Donuts drastically altering its flavorings), I slowed that roll and mostly drink dark roast coffee. Anyway, back to this beer… Jack O’Latte does everything right with those flavors: a stout sweetened with lactose, further enhanced with pumpkin / pumpkin pie spices for a beer that makes you want more. If this were available in 6-packs, I would make sure to pick up a pack every fall. In the end, isn’t that what a brewery tried to do with the beer it produces?

The final verdict: The O’Fallon Pumpkin Pack is worth trying if you enjoy pumpkin beers and are looking to sample a variety of styles with pumpkin/pumpkin spice flavors. Each beer is good with the Saison De Citrouille and Jack O’Latte very good. I it is impressive, on the whole, how well O’Fallon blends the pumpkin flavors into a variety of typically non-pumpkin styles.

Draught Diversions: Breweries to Visit, Part 2

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…

Here’s the second on my potentially ongoing series featuring breweries I would like to visit. The first five were easy, the next five are also relatively easy, too. A combination of historical importance to beer and the products I’ve enjoyed from them pushed these breweries to my “wish list.” The breweries in today’s post are largely in the Northeastern US. As I’ve intimated, distribution for some of the smaller breweries that seem to offer products I like (Schell’s in Minnesota, for example) doesn’t make it easy or convenient for me to even taste beers from breweries who don’t distribute into NJ, thus the geographical bias.

Like the first installment of this “series,” I’ll use the arbitrary ranking of “From Which Brewery Does Rob Have the Most Unique Untappd Check ins”

Southern Tier Brewing Company in Lakewood, NY (2002)
Total Southern Tier beers checked into untappd: 25

I’ve been enjoying Southern Tier’s brews for as long as I can remember enjoying craft beer. Being only one state over from their home base, their tasty brews have almost always been readily available. They’ve been a trusted brewer of delicious beer well before I was on untappd, their range of styles is impressive from their wonderful “Blackwater Series” of stouts (Choklat, Crème Brulee, and Choklat Oranj Stout) to their ales Citra Hopped Live Pale Ale, Tangier, 3 Citrus Peel Out to their legendary Pumpkin beers: Pumking and perhaps my favorite Pumpkin beer Warlock, Southern Tier brews beer in styles that please just about every palate.

Additionally, Southern Tier became partners with perhaps my favorite brewery, Victory Brewing, last year as

Artisanal Brewing Ventures. Since I’ve visited Victory a few times, it only makes sense that I visit their sibling brewery.

Samuel Adams / The Boston Beer Company Boston, MA (1984)
Total Samuel Adams beers checked into untappd: 24

Let’s face it fellow “craft beer enthusiasts,” if not for Jim Koch and the Boston Beer Company, many of us may still be drinking Michelob, Miller Lite, or Coors. For me, Samuel Adams was my big introduction to good tasting beer. When their beers hit the scene, my father converted from Anheuser-Busch, primarily the Michelob product line, to the Church of Koch. I really didn’t enjoy beer until college and getting the Samuel Adams Holiday Sampler back in the mid 1990s was a taste-bud opener. I recall the packaging to this day and getting bottles of Cranberry Lambic and really enjoying it despite not knowing what the hell a Lambic was. I also really liked the Cream Stout, too, but the highlight was always the Old Fezziwig Ale.

My preference for their brews has waned over the years (I still say that Boston Lager is the weakest of all their beers), but I do appreciate their experimentation with styles and variations, like the latest Harvest Hefe (I’ve yet to try). Where they’ve not quite hit the mark is falling a little behind on the IPA craze as Jim Koch has admitted to not being a fan of the style.

Their seasonal offerings are quite good, the Summer Ale is always a favorite. In fact, the most refreshing beer I ever had was a Samuel Adams Summer Ale after spending over 12 hours putting up a fence around my pool. The Old Fezziwig ale is still sought after and a beer EVERYBODY wishes would be distributed in six packs. One of the beers I enjoyed most from them, and I wish would return is the Honey Porter, that’s the beer that really introduced me to what a Porter was.

If I can really say anything negative is that the constant label changes for their beers are a tad….frustrating. I miss the old ones with Samuel Adams hoisting a tankard of ale on every label like the one to the left from a couple of years ago.

I visited the Samuel Adams Taproom in Boston on my last business trip up there about 15 years ago but didn’t do a full tour of the brewery. However, a full tour of the facility is a must for anybody who enjoys craft beer, it would seem especially after hearing what the folks at Flounder Brewing had to say about their experience at the brewery.

Two Roads Brewing Company, Stratford, CT (2002)
Total Two Roads beers checked into untappd: 15

I’ve had only about 10 beers from Two Roads, but their consistency for those beers is extremely impressive. One of their best beers is their Workers Comp Farmhouse Saison. This shouldn’t be too surprising since Two Roads’s Master Brewer Phil Markowski literally wrote the book on Farmhouse Ales. Lest you think this is all Two Roads brews, their portfolio runs the gamut of styles and influences, from their wonderful Ol’ Factory Pils Pilsner, the delicious No Limits Hefeweizen to the outstanding Honeyspot Road IPA and one of the best pumpkin beers produced annually, Roadsmary’s Baby (Pumpkin beer aged in Rum Barrels!). Like the breweries already mentioned, Two Roads brews styles to match most beer-drinker’s palates.

Over the past couple of years, Two Roads has begun an impressive program of Sour Beers. Last winter, I had Bog Wild a cranberry-sour and I thought it fantastic. As part of the push for Sour Beers, Two Roads uses an old milk truck to allow the beer to sour for what they’ve dubbed the “Tanker Truck Sour Series.” They recently broke ground on a new brewing facility, Area Two Experimental Brewing on their property for sours and spirit-based barrel-aged beers. Given that, I may want to hold off on visiting until that facility is up and running.

Tröegs Independent Brewing, Hershey, PA (1996)
Total Tröegs beers checked into untappd: 10

I know, I know, Tröegs is only one state away in Pennsylvania. But Pennsylvania is a big state and for my beer purchasing dollar, one of the best beer states.Hershey is just outside of a day trip, so this one would likely be an over-night trip so a trip to Hersey Park could be part of the journey. Logistics aside, as I pointed out in my review of their wonderful dopplebock Trogenator, Tröegs is one of the foundational breweries of not just the Northeastern US, but of the American craft beer scene. In the midst of several mergers, acquisitions, and ownership splits for other brewers, Tröegs has remained fiercely independent, family owned, and community committed.

Like Southern Tier, I can’t recall a time where I haven’t seen Tröegs beers available on shelves in my area. I’ve extolled the virtues, at length, of Trogenator but that is just the tip of the iceberg for these brewing brothers. Their Dreamweaver is a fine, widely available Hefeweizen, Sunshine Pils is a terrific pilsner, and Mad Elf…Mad Elf is legendary American Christmas Ale and an annual holiday beer tradition for me.

Tröegs also has an experimental series of beers they’ve dubbed the “Scratch Series,” and I need to try some of those.

Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, Milton, DE (1995)
Total Dogfish Head beers checked into untappd: 8

I know I’ve lauded many of the breweries I’ve highlighted here and the earlier post for ingenuity, but when it comes to experimental, “off-centered” beers, few can compare to the output of Sam Caligione’s Dogfish Head Craft Brewery. Sam’s got the personality to keep his beer in the spotlight, he even had a television show a few years ago, Brew Masters.

For whatever reason, I haven’t had nearly as many Dogfish Head beers since joining untappd, but the brews I’ve had have been great to outstanding, just look at what I said about Oak-Aged Vanilla World Wide Stout a few months ago. Their Namaste White is a nearly perfect Witbier, Indian Brown Ale is a tasty brown ale (a very underrated style), and Festina Peche is a great take on the classic Berline Weisse. For years I would try to get a six pack of Raison D’Etre when I could but it seems much harder to find now. I can’t think of any other beer off the top of my head that features beets and raisins, but damn was this a good beer. I recall sharing a bottle of the rare Fort years ago and loving it.

Right, for the quality of their beers, what Dogfish means to the American Craft Beer Landscape and some of the fantastic brewery only releases (like Carobock, a chocolate-banana Weizenbock!) make this another must-visit.

Ein Prosit!

Draught Diversions: Beer Ratings

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…

This is probably something I should have posted earlier in the life of this blog, but I thought giving a brief overview of how I rate the beers from a number standpoint and how that translates into what the beer actually fits into my refrigerator rotation. I’ve recently started rating beers on Beer Advocate, but this post is mostly about my ratings on Untappd.

Untappd, for the uninitiated is a social media platform for sharing thoughts and ratings on beer with their friends, both in “real life” and on the intarwebz and social media. There are various “rewards” like a badge for checking into distinct beers of a specific style; every 5 distinct beers gets you a level in the badge. There are also some promotions for local beer fests and similar beer-related things.

Most sites / apps like Untappd feature a ratings scale of some sort. Untappd uses “bottle caps” rather than stars, allowing users to rate from one to five bottle caps in increments of quarter bottle caps. The ratings scale at Beer Advocate is even more granular than untappd. Understandable since BA is THE online institution of beer communities. Another example, though not for beers, is goodreads, an online book sharing/rating community where I’ve been a member for quite a few years. The rating scale for goodreads is a scale of 1 through 5 whole stars.

So, how do these “bottle cap” ratings translate for me?

4.75 to 5 Bottle Caps
The Best of the Best for me, beers like Founders KBS and Backwoods Bastard, Carton Brewing’s Regular Coffee and Weihenstephaner’s Hefeweissbier. Most cases, these are beers that are limited release but I always try to get them when they are released.

4 to 4.5 Bottle Caps
These are the beers I’ll consider “go-to” beers in constant rotation. For example, I usually get about two six packs for myself when I visit my local bottle shops. Often, one six pack may be of something new, but usually, the other six pack is for one of my favorites that is always good to have available and pairs with just about anything. Beers like River Horse’s Oatmeal Milk Stout in winter, Victory Brewing’s Kirsch Gose in summer, or Great Lakes’s Edmund Fitzgerald Porter and Two Roads’ Honeyspot Road IPA year round. Like the above grouping, I’ll check beermenus.com to see where I can find these beers.

3.5 to 3.75 Bottle Caps
Middle of the road beers for me. A 3.75 is a beers that I liked and might try again but probably won’t go out of my way to hunt down. Something in the beer worked well enough for me that I’ll get it again when I see it among the sea of craft beers, beers like Brooklyn’s Oktoberfest or Magic Hat’s #9. These are beers I’m happy to see among the choices at a bar with limited taps.

3 to 3.25 Bottle Caps
These are slightly below average beers for my palate. In many cases, the exact rating of 3.25 Bottle Caps is an indicator of a beer that isn’t necessarily to my taste but still a quality beer. One example is Saranac Caramel Porter, a style I like, but one that had one thing very off about it, in this case too much of a cloying sweetness. Similarly, the 3.25 I gave to Sixpoint Brewery’s Bengali IPA: a beer not particularly to my palate, but I recognize the beer is well made.

2.5 to 3 Bottle Caps
Anything below three bottle caps didn’t do much for me. In a case like Sierra Nevada’s Celebration Ale which I gave 3 Bottle Caps, it isn’t something I can even drink, but I recognize that the hop level is what people want. Brooklyn’s Summer Ale is listed as a Pale Ale with an IBU of only 18, but I recall a very strong aftertaste that wasn’t refreshing at all. Another good example in this range is Great Divide’s Hibernation Ale which I liked on the initial taste, but the aftertaste threw the whole beer out of whack for me.

Below 2.5 Bottle Caps
These are mostly drain pours. I haven’t rated many beers in this range, to be honest. These are perhaps poorly made beers or some combination of ingredients and style that didn’t work for me. Lagunitas’s Dopple Weizen is an example of a beer I rated .5 bottle caps. This was perhaps the most disappointing beer I’ve had in years. I was expecting a smooth, sweet, caramelly, low-IBU weizenbock but what came out of the bottle was a mild IPA. It was the exact opposite of what a weizenbock should be in nearly every way imaginable and just about made me gag. The only reason I gave the half star was because it actually looks like some other weizenbocks I’ve enjoyed when poured into the glass.  Thinking about this beer months later still has me angry at it. Another one was Long Trail Brewing’s Summer Ale which was a bland, bitter Golden Ale.

I suppose the bottom line is that it is easier to rate a beer I really like high, a beer I strongly dislike low, while those middle of the road beers are the toughest to “rate.”