Draught Diversions: Sierra Nevada Beer Camp 2017 Six from the States

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

This is the first of two posts focusing on Sierra Nevada’s annual collaboration beer project, Beer Camp. I had couple from last year’s mix pack, but this is the first year I picked up the whole 12 pack. For 2017, the fine brewers at Sierra Nevada invited breweries from around the world to collaborate and as such, this year’s variety pack features 12 different brews, six collaborations with US breweries, 6 collaborations with oversees breweries, three of which (all from the US) are 16oz cans.

Today, I’m going to give my thoughts about the six collaboration beers between Sierra Nevada and breweries from the United States. I’ll go from the one I enjoyed the least and finish it off with the one I enjoyed the most.

West Coast DIPA – A collaboration with Boneyard Beer (Bend, OR)

As I’ve said a few times, IPAs are not my preferred style of beer. On occasion, I will find one that is to my liking but as a style IPAs are unavoidable since they are so popular. If I don’t enjoy a “single” IPA, chances are I won’t enjoy a Double IPA and that is the case with this beer. Everything I don’t like about IPAs, especially Double IPAs are highlighted in this beer. The hop presences is funky, piney and extremely overpowering. The bitterness exemplified by IPA/DIPA is on full display in this pint. I like there to be a little more of a malt profile, but this one had none of that, or at best, was overpowered out by the drowning hop presence. This was a rare case of me actually pouring out a beer I paid for, I couldn’t finish this one as it hit every wrong button in my palate. That said, if you love DIPA as a style, chances are you’ll love this one. This one was in a 16 oz can.

Barleywine style Ale – A collaboration with Avery Brewing (Boulder, CO)

I haven’t had too many Barleywines, not out of dislike, more out of just not gravitating towards them. If I’m going to be honest, they are often at a price tag of $15 for a four pack and I’m hesitant to spend that much on four beers I may not like, which is why I’ll order them if I’m at a bar with a good beer menu. This one was pretty good.

Most Barleywines have a big hop hit and this one was no exception at 90 IBU. The IBU was a bit much for my palate. I think I prefer the “English” style of Barleywines, which tend to have a lower hop presence and are usually a bit sweeter with the malt overtaking the hop presence. This one tasted like a variant on Sierra’s popular Bigfoot Barleywine, which is essentially what this brew is. In other words, if you like Bigfoot, you’ll probably like this one.

Ginger Lager – A collaboration with Surly Brewing (Minneapolis, MN)

This was an interesting beer and not like many I’ve had before. This one, as I said on untappd, has “all the ginger,” which given the title, is no surprise. The description indicates there’s cayenne pepper added, too, but all I tasted was ginger. I was surprised how much I enjoyed this one since ginger is a flavor I only really enjoy in Asian food. This is the kind of beer one would expect in a variety of experimental beers, not exactly to my taste, but an interesting beer altogether. This was one of the other 16 oz cans.

Dry-Hopped Berliner-Style Weisse – A collaboration with Saint Arnold Brewing Company (Houston, TX)

Berliner Weisse is a style I’ve really come to enjoy over the past couple of years and this sour-wheat beer is a really good example of the style. It isn’t too overpowering on the sour end of things and is a little more tart than sour. This beer hit all the right notes associated with the style, though I would have like to taste a bit more fruit in the beer. I could see myself going back to this one again.

Now, for my two favorites of the Stateside Collaborations

Raspberry Sundae – A collaboration with The Bruery (Placentia, CA)

Again, the name implies it all – Raspberry Sundae. This is a perfect dessert beer or one for the middle of a warm day. The raspberry flavor isn’t overpowering, for me at least, and blends well with the chocolate for an extremely pleasant and tasty beer. Per the description linked above, lactose is also added which enhances the flavor even more. I think I enjoy sweeter beers more than most, so this beer worked really well for my palate.

The beer pours golden-red and the aroma, coupled with the taste, give a nice evocation of what you get at your ice cream parlor when you order a raspberry sundae while still retaining the flavor profile of a delicious beer. I’ve had a couple of the Christmas offerings in The Bruery’s ongoing/annual 12 Beers of Christmas and they were both delicious. I was looking forward to this beer because of that and I was not disappointed in the least. I’d definitely buy this one if it became available in 4 packs, 22oz bombs, or somehow on its own.

East Meets West IPA – A collaboration with Treehouse Brewing Company (Charlton & Monson, MA)

This beer surprised me the most. First and foremost I never thought I’d enjoy an IPA more than four other styles, especially when one of those styles is a wheat-based beer. Second, I was so disappointed by the other Stateside IPA I was even more hesitant to give this beer from a 16oz can a full pour.

After thoroughly enjoying this beer, I think I came to the conclusion that I prefer East Coast / New England style IPAs over their West Coast cousins. The hop profile of many West Coast beers, especially the IPAs, just don’t register positively in my palate.

But this beer, with its citrusy and sweet profile complementing the hops was delightful. It poured a bright and inviting orange-yellow almost like orange juice, as I’ve seen quite a few of the New England IPAs on untappd. The aroma is fairly hop-forward, but that first sip just sets the taste buds crazy begging for another sip. And another.

This is, what I believe many craft beer, especially those who favor IPAs. would call a juice bomb. I’m glad this one came in a 16oz can and would buy this one over and over again, it was a delicious surprise that stands out as my favorite of the Stateside Beer Camp collaborations.

I’m going to have to hunt down some IPAs from the fine folks at Treehouse.

Draught Diversions: Brewery Ommegang’s Game of Thrones Beers

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

This Sunday, the biggest show in the history of HBO returns, Game of Thrones so what better time to feature the  officially “licensed” beers made by the fine folks of Brewery Ommegang inspired by the show. I’ve been a fan of the books for years having read the series when the first book published. I was lucky enough to attend a couple of George R.R. Martin’s signing events over the past couple of years, too.

At the Staten Island Yankees, who became the Staten Island Direwolves for the day. There’s an actual wolf sitting next to Mr. Martin

When HBO decided to make what even author George R.R. Martin considered an unfilmable project, the craft brewers of Ommegang knew they could complement the show. The show was an immediate success when it debuted in 2011, two years later in March 2013, the first Game of Thrones beer from Brewery Ommegang was released – Iron Throne Blonde Ale, a refreshing, relatively light beer at 6.5% ABV.

This was a smart move and a very approachable beer,  with hints of citrus. I recall having a sample at the second Garden State Brewfest in May 2013, when the event was held walking within distance from where my  in-laws live. I also remember the box/case of bottles Brewery Ommegang had at the event went very quickly so I was fortunate that a local favorite bar had it on tap a couple of months after that. As of this writing, Iron Throne is the only one of the Game of Thrones beers I haven’t checked into Untappd as I didn’t sign up until about a year later.

Later that year, the second Game of Thrones beer was released, a rich earthy stout clocking in at 7% ABV: Take The Black, which is named as an homage to the Night’s Watch. These men, often bastards or criminals who “commute their sentence” by taking the black of the Night’s Watch and live at the Wall. They are humanity’s defense against what may emerge from beyond the Northern borders. I recall enjoying the beer, but there was a bitterness to the finish that didn’t complement the chocolate profile so well. Not a bad beer, but I thought the Iron Throne was a better beer. (untappd check-in)

The third beer, Fire and Blood is a 6.8% Red Ale with chili peppers launched March 2014 about a month before Season 4 began airing. This beer is as an homage to the fire breathing dragons of House Targaryen and their matriarch Daenerys. The series Martin gave the books is A Song of Ice and Fire so there’s a thematic parallel there, too. I only recently began appreciating beers made with spiciness so when I had this one a few years ago, I wasn’t too keen on it. There seemed to be a fruitness to counter the spice at the end, but it is still a well-made beer. (untappd check-in)

October 2014 brought the fourth Game of Thrones beer and up to that point, the Game of Thrones beer I enjoyed the most. An 8% Belgian Dubbel, Valar Morghulis takes its name from one of the key phrases from the series which translated from the ancient language of Valyrian, means “All Men Must Die.” It should be no surprise that this is a well-made, delicious beer considering how very Belgian it is in nature. Ommegang’s year-round Dubbel, Abbey Ale, is incredible beer, earning a perfect 100 from Beer Advocate. Valar Morghulis doesn’t have as much of a fruit hint as does Ommegang’s Abbey, but it is still a delicious beer. I’d especially love to find another bottle of this in the next couple of days to enjoy while watching the season premiere on Sunday. (untappd check-in)

Season Five and beer number 5 in the Game of Thrones series synced up and released at the same time in April 2015. Beer #5 is a 7.2% AB Dark Saison named Three-Eyed Raven after a creature of prophecy and supernatural power whose visions have profound effect on the characters and their actions. This is a pretty unique beer, blending elements of a farm house Saison with a dark ale/stout. The IBU on this one is high at 80, but it is balanced by a mellow fruitiness on the finish. I would love to give this one another try, too. (untappd check-in)

Two things changed with beer 6. Rather than a fall release, it was released closer to the premiere of Season Six of the show in March 2016. The beer bottle’s shape/style changed slightly, too. This installment of the beer series takes its name from the collective realms where the story takes place, Seven Kingdoms, which is a Hoppy Wheat Ale at 6.9%. This is probably my least favorite of the Game of Thrones beers. I really like wheat beers, but there’s too much of a hop presence in this one for my liking. I know, the name/style says it right on the label, but it just didn’t work for me as well as all the others. (untappd check-in)

That’s a signed first edition of A Game of Thrones

Season Seven begins this weekend (July 2017), three months later than usual, but returning to the dual year release, Ommegang released beer number 7 in September 2016. This is currently my favorite of the eight beers they’ve released, a big 9% Belgian Tripel, Valar Dohaeris. The name is a companion saying to Valar Morghulis and means “All Men Must Serve,” (in this case beer) and a companion or “sister beer” to that earlier Belgian Style Dubbel. Oh boy is this a delicious beer and has the yeast, spice, banana, and bready profile you would expect from a Tripel. Since this a 9% beer, it might be a good idea to slowly enjoy this one over the course of an episode or two. (untappd check-in)

The most recent brew is timed slightly ahead of the premiere of Season Seven, Bend The Knee a Belgian Golden Ale that does not feel like the 9% the label indicates. It is more malty than I’d expect a golden ale to be, but the Belgian yeasts, along with the honey added during the fermentation seems to cut the bitterness some Golden Ales can exhibit. (untappd check-in)

So, those are the Game of Thrones beers. 8 beers, seven seasons and 5 books as of this writing.

All the books in the series, and all the bottles except the most recent, “Bend the Knee”

 

Beer Review: Founders Backwoods Bastard (2016)

Name: Backwoods Bastard
Brewing Company: Founders Brewing
Location: Grand Rapids, MI
Style: Scotch Ale / Wee Heavy
ABV: 11.2% (2016, but it ranges from year to year)

From the beer’s description on Founders’ Web site:

Expect lovely, warm smells of single malt scotch, oaky bourbon barrels, smoke, sweet caramel and roasted malts, a bit of earthy spice and a scintilla of dark fruit. It’s a kick-back sipper made to excite the palate.

Scotch Ales are one of the beer styles less consumed than say, an IPA or a Stout. The style has been around since the 19th Century and is known for being malty, dark brownish in color, with a sweet almost caramel-like flavor profile. It is also a style that I’ve come to really enjoy over the past year or so as I’ve had a small handful of well-made beers in this style.

One of Founders’ year-round styles is their Dirty Bastard Scotch Ale. The style has proven popular enough that Founders puts the beer out in 12-packs of cans. What they’ve done here with Backwoods Bastard is, in a word, sublime. Taking that already malty beer and aging in bourbon barrels weaves a magical spell over a beer that has an existing taste profile that is quite tasty and well regarded. As much as stouts benefit from the barrel aging (see Founders Kentucky Breakfast stout), the Scotch style ale may benefit even more as the profile of a Scotch ale may be more complementary to the refinement in bourbon barrels.

This was, I think, the second major Barrel Aged release from Founders when it was first released in 2007. They have since implemented a year-long “Barrel Series” of 6 beers which began in early 2017 with Frootwood (a Cherry/Fruit beer aged in barrels that at one time held both maple syrup and bourbon). When it releases in November 2017, the four packs of Backwood Bastard will be joined by a 22oz bomb.

Beer connoisseurs talk about the “nose” of the beer, which is basically the aroma. I can’t recall having a beer with such a wonderful nose to the point where I’d almost want to bask in the aroma and not drink the beer. That may be a bit of a stretch, but breathing in the complex aroma, a blend of caramel and bourbon, produced by Backwoods Bastard is a sensual experience that hints at the deliciousness of the beer itself. For as much attention as Founders receives for Kentucky Breakfast Stout (and it is well-deserved attention), Backwoods Bastard is a beer equal in complexity and taste.

I split a four pack with a friend/co-worker as we were both unsure what to expect from the beer. After consuming both bottles (a few months apart), this beer is quite firmly in my top 10 of all time. I had one in November shortly after getting the beer and I let the other one sit until April of this past year, which I think made the beer even better. When I get the four pack in November, I think I’ll let one of the beers age for at least a year to see how that changes the taste. In November, I’ll be getting at least a four-pack of my own.

Highly Recommended, link to Untappd 5-star rating.

 

Draught Diversions: June 2017 Beer Pours

Draught Diversions is the catchall label for mini-rants, think-pieces, and other non-review posts here at the Tap Takeover. We hope you don’t grow too weary of the alcohol alliterative names we use…

In addition to the beers I highlighted and enjoyed in my regular Tuesday reviews, I drank and enjoyed quite a few other beers. Some of the beers I’ll be featuring in the Tuesday reviews were enjoyed weeks and months ago, but here I’ll touch on a few of the best beers I had over the past month. In most, if not all cases, these are beers I had for the first time.  Yes, I know one day still remains in June as of this writing.

I started off the month really well with Dogfish Head’s Namaste White, which is the Delaware craft beer stalwart’s take on the classic Belgian Witbier. I haven’t had too many beers from Dogfish in the recent past, although I’ve always enjoyed their offerings, including Raison d’Etre to their Beer for Breakfast to the Festina Peche. This might be my favorite, at least as I compare it to those beers in my memory. I may have to pick up a six pack of this in the near future.

This was a delicious beer that has all the characterstics a Belgian wheat should, a nice hit of citrus and coriander that says warm weather beer.  Incredibly refreshing.

Another beer I had for the first time was from another Northeastern beer stalwart,  Golden Monkey from the great Victory Brewing Company of Pennsylvania, one of my favorite breweries in the country. I will be writing about them more extensively in the future as I’ve visited them a few times. Out of the two dozen beers I’ve had from Victory, only one really disappointed. But back to Golden Monkey. This is Victory’s take on a the classic Belgian Tripel and it is a very good one, a nice banana, spicy, clovey profile that masks the 9.5% ABV.

I enjoyed Ommegang’s latest Game of Thrones inspired beer “Bend the Knee,” a Golden Ale with honey that was very, very tasty. The 9% ABV was barely noticeable and the honey infusion countered the bitterness/tinge that some golden ales can exhibit. I’ve had all of the Game of Thrones releases from Brewery Ommegang and this offering is on the top half of what they’ve produced so far. To be perfectly fair, all of the Game of Thrones beers have been good,  I’ll likely do a post about all of them.

I picked up Sierra Nevada’s Beer Camp Across the World Variety pack. The last few years, Sierra Nevada has paired up with other brewers to make unique, one-time only beers under the Beer Camp banner. For this year’s installment, half of the beers were made with international brewers and I’ve so far sampled two, the Raspberry Sundae (collaboration with the Bruery) and the Dunkle Weisse (my untappd check in), a collaboration with the great German Brewery Ayinger. I would love for this to become a regular release in bottles as it is one of the best Dunkelweizens I’ve ever had. I may do a post on the whole 12-pack once I make my way through all of them.

One of the highlights of the month, the most recent “new to me beer,” and soon to be reviewed on the blog, was one of Flying Fish’s Exit Series brews: Exit 3: Blueberry Braggot. What a unique brew, more of a mead than a beer, but I’ll go into more detail in the full review.

I’m not sure what I’ll be drinking later today for my “New Brew Thursday,” but maybe I’ll talk about it in my potential July round-up or even dedicate a review to it.

I may be skipping the standard Thursday post next week with the July 4th holiday on Tuesday and post my beer review either Wednesday or Thursday. Frankly, who is going to be reading about beer on Independence Day? People will be drinking the beer – responsibly, I hope.

Ein Prosit!

Draught Diversions: Lone Eagle Brewing Company

Draught Diversions is the catchall label for mini-rants, think-pieces, and non-review posts here at the Tap Takeover. We hope you don’t grow too weary of the alcohol alliterative names we use or the third person referencing…

Last Thursday, June 15, I spent a couple of hours at Lone Eagle Brewing in Flemington, NJ. Located in the Liberty Village Outlets, Lone Eagle has been open about a year and after starting with eight beers, they now feature a dozen taps. Their head brewer Alex Franko, formerly of Dogfish Head, joined the brewery shortly before launch and he has helped owners Todd and Bob brew some tasty beers and the brewery become a welcoming presence in the community and area.

I visited Lone Eagle a couple of times over the past year for a flight and for a couple of growler fills. During those visits, I was very pleased with what they were brewing, particularly the Oatmeal Stout which impressed my family when I brought a growler to Christmas Eve. I also liked the Cranberry Saison and as well as their Dopplebock which was a nice surprise as not too many breweries, let alone smaller breweries, are brewing Dopplebocks. I know I said that about Jughandle a couple of weeks ago, but of the small craft breweries I go to fairly regularly, I don’t recall seeing a Dopplebock on tap outside of here at Lone Eagle or at Jughandle. In addition to their rotating 12 beers on tap, Lone Eagle sometimes puts one of their beers on Nitro. In the case of my most recent visit, it was their Baltic Porter.  The nitro addition cushioned the bitterness usually associated with Baltic Porters and made for a really pleasant beer.

Tap list @ Lone Eagle on 06-15-16. A nice mix of styles highlighted by the DILLIGAF Hefeweizen, in my opinion, as well as the Award Winning West Coast IPA.

Lone Eagle is currently canning four beers, their West Coast IPA (which won best IPA in April 2017’s Atlantic City Beer Fest), their Turkey Trot Porter (named in honor of the 20+ year old Thanksgiving Day Turkey Trot in Flemington), their American Pale Ale, and their Craison, a saison with cranberries. More on the Turkey Trot Porter in a bit.

The beer that impressed me the most; however, was their Hefeweizen, which also goes by the name of Dillagaf Hefeweizen so named for one of the regular customers. I’ve been wanting to try this beer for a while since it was one of the “launch beers” and finally did on Thursday. Other times I visited, they didn’t have any of the beer tap ready as the previous visits were during cooler months.

As I’ve said in the past, wheat based beers – especially Hefeweizens – are at the top of my list of favorite styles and this one did not disappoint. In fact, I was surprised with how great it tasted. I would compare Lone Eagle’s Hefeweizing very favorably with some of the better German Hefeweizens. I would even say Lone Eagle’s was better than some of the German Hefeweizens I’ve had. With how well Hefeweizens pair with warm weather, I’d love to see this beer as the brewery’s next canned release for convenience in a poolside cooler, for easy transport to summer BBQs, or just to stock up and have a can always on the ready.

Just what a Hefeweizen should look like

With regard to the facility itself, Lone Eagle has a nice first floor bar and seating area, with an even larger seating area on a second floor. They rent it out and have a second tap upstairs, too. For my most recent visit, I was going for the monthly Brews and Board Games meeting, this was the group’s third such meeting and my first. I know a couple of people in the group, one a former coworker who I recently discovered is a craft beer geek like me, and another friend I knew from the online Science Fiction Community/twitterverse.

Exterior of Lone Eagle @ 44 Stangl Rd in Flemington, NJ. The photo doesn’t do justice the building footprint and spacious interior

One of the games was actually beer based, Brewcrafters Travel Card Game, and is slightly reminiscent of the game Munchkin. The point of the game is to get 21 points by brewing beer based on the cards you draw. I enjoyed it so much I’m going to have to get this game for myself . There were a lot of games, a lot of people engaged in those games and it seemed like everyone was having a great time. Considering most were enjoying some delicious beer, this should be no surprise. Suffice it to say, I’m looking forward to the next gathering of the Brews and Board Games group on July 20.

One of the great things about craft beer and these smaller breweries is the sense of community they inspire or at which they are are often the center. Demented in Middlesex has a great taproom and will often have food trucks in the parking lot. Lone Eagle has this sense of community at its heart, too. The brewery was founded by two friends and home brewers from neighboring Raritan Township. Lone Eagle hold regular events that bring people in the community together with local restaurants or food trucks selling food, local musicians and bands playing music for patrons to enjoy, or folks looking to play some interesting games while sharing some beer.

That sense of community was strong even before the brewery had a name. In November 2015 Owners Todd Becker and Bob King, asked people to submit names for the brewery. After some back and forth to ensure a winning name wasn’t already taken by an existing brewery, Lone Eagle became the name in honor of Charles Lindbergh as it was the nickname he received after successfully completing a solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean in 1927. Lindbergh spent a great deal of time in Flemington during the Trial of the Century, which at its center was the kidnapping and murder of Lindbergh’s son.  Flemington is also where an annual Thanksgiving 5K race is held, the 2017 version of the Turkey Trot will be the 25th Annual race. My wife and I have run in it for the past 7 or 8 years. The race is the name Lone Eagle uses for their tasty porter, Turkey Trot Porter. I said earlier I’d come back to that beer and so I did.

Lone Eagle is coming up on their one year anniversary so Todd and Bob are having a two-day celebration. I’m hoping I can make it to one of those days, but I know for sure I’ll be returning to the Brews and Board Games meet up and stopping in for a flight or growler fill in the future. (And hopefully for some canned Hefeweizen!)

Draught Diversions: Bacon and Beer Classic Philadelphia

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

With the growing popularity of Craft Beer by drinkers and the proliferation of smaller/micro/craft breweries across the country, beer festivals seem to happen every weekend. At least throughout the New Jersey/Pennsylvania/New York area, I think it averages out to one beer festival per weekend through October. (While some weekends don’t have any beer festivals, there are multiple weekends where multiple festivals are held).

This past weekend, I (along with my wife, brother-in-law, and his girlfriend) attended the Bacon and Beer Classic in Philadelphia. This was held at the end of Philly Beer week (June 1 to 11). The B and B Classic is nationwide festival held in various cities, one is being held at Citifield in New York, Soldier Field in Chicago last October,  and Safeco Field in Seattle a few months ago, among others. I’ve attended quite a few beer festivals (The Garden State Brew Festival for the past five years, a couple of others in Philadelphia), but this was the first that was more than beer. In the end, that uniqueness compared to the other festivals I attended was what set this one apart. I also really like the taster “glass” we were given, it looks like a red Solo Cup but is made of I’m guessing ceramic.

The festival was held at Schmidt’s Commons, sit of the old Schmidt Brewery. Urban Village Brewing Company, a brewpub that had opened it’s doors a week prior to the festival, is conveniently located at the commons. Dan Goldman, founder of the brewery, was pouring beer: Beach Day Belgian Blonde, which set the bar for the festival and a fantastic Oatmeal Stout. Dan also happened to be on Al Gatullo’s Craft Beer cast a couple of weeks ago.

Next up was the Iron Hart Brewing tent and boy was I surprised with Industrial Lager, the lager they were pouring. I can’t recall tasting a lager with such a pleasant malt/caramel profile. It still maintained the characteristics of the lager, but the higher malt was a nice balance. Also in that immediate area of the Commons was Shiner, pouring their Homespun Cream Ale which was very pedestrian. Root Down was pouring a style not many brewers are making – an Altbier they call 3 Legged Rabbit, which was a nice surprise. Their Pale Wheat, Slag was on the hoppy end for Pale Wheats.

Harpoon was one of the non-Pennsylvania breweries in attendance and they were pouring their UFO Witbier and Camp Wannamango, their Pale Wheat Ale with Mango. I’d had UFO plenty of times previously so passed on it to save room for other beers, but I did go for the Camp Wannamango only once before, so I wanted to give a try on draft. What a wonderful summer beer, the mango is a perfect addition for flavor and sweetness, but not too much sweetness. I need to stock my cooler with this over the summer.

Next to them was venerable PA brewery Weyerbacher, pouring the blonde Mellow Monks (which I’ve had before and enjoyed) and Line Street Pilsner which is a nice crisp pilsner well-suited to summer. Next to them was Green Flash Brewing, pouring an IPA (I passed) and Passion Fruit Kicker, a wheat ale with Passion Fruit. Sweet and tart, the beer borders on sour, but seems well-suited to warm weather.

I made my way to another non-PA brewery after that, Peak Organic Brewing Company from Maine. They were pouring two beers, Summer Session Ale and Fresh Cut. Summer Session Ale is similar to Founders’ All Day IPA but the wheat base cuts the bite of the hops, which is quite welcome. Fresh Cut is the brewery’s flagship beer, a wonderful Pilsner that I wish was available in NJ. It is everything a Pilsner should be for my beer drinking sensibilities, but with slightly less hop bitterness

Out in the center of the commons, Twin Lakes poured an IPA (I passed) and Caesar Rodney Golden Ale a slightly hopped Blonde. One of my favorite breweries, also a non-PA brewery, Great Lakes Brewing was pouring two beers, their Commodore Perry IPA and Turntable Pils, a tasty Pilsner.

Guinness was there pouring some of their staples, including a new Irish Wheat, which  was a surprisingly tasty Witbier. I say surprising because their American Blonde is not very drinkable. The only NJ brewery at the festival was Forgotten Boardwalk, I had another try of their Funnel Cake a tasty, but almost too sweet cream ale. Lagunitas, from Californa, was pouring their Pils which is a passable Pilser, but like many of their beers, the hop profile is strong and doesn’t quite sync up with my taste buds.

There’s usually at least one cidery at most of these beer festivals and this was no different – Jack’s Hard Cider  was pouring an Apple Hard Cider and Peach Cider. I can’t recall ever seeing Peach cider, but this was really tasty. The Peach was a nice sweet addition to the apple base.

I closed out my beer tastings with two from venerable Philadelphia brewery Saint Benjamin’s Brewing Company. I’ve had their Wit or Witout in the past, but during that session, they were pouring Franklin’s Abbey Dubbel, a Belgian Dubbel and quite good and Inca a cream ale. I think I’ll need to visit this brew pub on a future visit to Philadelphia.

One food guy was grilling up sliders which were great. Hormel, one of the main sponsors, was giving out what seemed to be all varieties of their bacon (about 6 or 8 in total) and some delicious pork belly. Some other bacon samplings included bacon wrapped hush puppies, bacon/fish tasters, fried bacon mac and cheese, and bacon topped waffles.

While I didn’t have quite as many different beers at this festival as I have at other festivals (over 35 at this past year’s Garden State Brewfest), the quality was very good across the 18 I did have. Also, plenty of bacon samples and bacon infused/dishes. I’d definitely give this one another try, maybe even in New York next year as the event is held in many locations.

Draught Diversions: Jughandle Brewing Company

Draught Diversions is the catchall label for mini-rants, think-pieces, and basically non-review posts here at the Tap Takeover. We hope you don’t grow too weary of the alcohol alliterative names we use…

This is the first of what will be several posts featuring a single brewery I’ve visited. There are currently 73 production breweries in NJ and with state’s small size from a geographical perspective, it quite easy to find a brewery either intentionally (by visiting the great and indispensable NJ Craft Beer website) or by accident. In my case, there are 4 or 5 micro/nanobreweries/brewpubs within about 15 miles of my house as of this writing. (More are on the way in some phase of start-up.)

Which brings me to Jughandle Brewing in Tinton Falls, NJ, soon to be celebrating their first year of brewing and selling beer. They have a great location, just off of the Garden State Parkway (Exit 102) and barely a mile from the Jersey Shore Outlets, which makes it very convenient to stop there after a day of shopping at the outlets or on the way home from the beach. In my case, my wife and I decided to enjoy the lovely weather and try to get some things at the outlets. We stopped in the brewery on our way home. After all, we had to pass it the brewery on our way to the Garden State Parkway after we left the outlets.

The brewery is located in a strip mall, which might seem somewhat odd initially. At least to folks not from NJ and unfamiliar with the peculiar laws surrounding breweries and microbreweries in particular. There are specific laws that preclude breweries from selling food. On the other hand, breweries in NJ like Jughandle and others (for example Ship Bottom in Beach Haven, Twin Elephant in Chatham, and Wet Ticket in Rahway) allow patrons to bring food inside the brewery. There’s a pizzeria and I think a Mexican take out place in the same strip mall as Jughandle.

What about the beer? What impressed me the most about the beer was the variety of styles on tap, with quality across the board for the four beers I sampled. There are too many breweries, I can think of a couple in NJ, that seem to only brew IPAs or focus on one primary style…or when you visit one of the smaller breweries and of the 12 taps, 9 are variations of one style. Not so with Jughandle, in addition to the styles I had, they were also pouring a Scotch Ale, a Brown Ale, a Irish-style Stout as well as a couple of IPAs

A cleverly designed flight paddle

I had four tasters, which is how many these fine folks include in their flight. I love the flight paddle they use for delivering their flight of tasters. I started off with Berliner Weisse with Raspberry – a very refreshing beer perfect for summer. Second was the Belgian Dubbel, a style I don’t see very often from smaller breweries, also quite good. Third was another style, steeped in tradition, but sort of drowned out by IPAs and other popular styles: Dunkelweizen. Jughandle’s Dunkelweizen really matched well against the style profile. Last was the classic German Hefeweizen and a very good rendition of it from the fine folks at Jughandle.  I’d likely fill my growler with their Berliner Weisse or Hefeweizen were I to visit them again.

I’d highly recommend stopping in if your travels take you near their location. If you are in NJ and enjoy quality beer, making Jughandle a part of your trip would be worth it.

As I mentioned at the top of my post, Jughandle is celebrating the first year on June 15 with a Pig Roast. Were I a little bit closer, I’d probably attend.

Ein Prosit!