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: May 2019 Six Pack

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…

May turned out to be a stronger month for new beers than I expected. I was able to visit three new to me breweries while returning to a couple of local favorites throughout the month. An interesting mix of beers for sure, and another monthly six pack without an IPA. I had a few IPAs in May (as last week’s review can testify as will this week’s review) but a few of the styles represented here don’t often get as much attention as they should. On to the six pack.

A Quarter of Kölsch (Jersey Cyclone Brewing Company) | Kölsch | 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

Jersey Cyclone is one of the newest breweries to open in New Jersey, they began serving beer to the public from their brewery on May 4. I visited and was very pleased with what I had and the brewery in general. The standout for me was this Kölsch, a style I’ve really come to appreciate. A very easy drinking German ale that is sort of the ale equivalent of a Pilsner. This is a beer perfect for warm weather and a beer I hope will be in constant rotation at the brewery around the corner from where I work. I can see myself getting growler fills of this on Fridays to share with friends by my pool in the summer.

World Wide Stout (Dogfish Head Brewing Company) | Stout – American Imperial / Double | 4.50 bottle Caps on untappd

It has been a couple of months since Dogfish Head showed up here at the Tap Takeover, but with the recent release of World Wide Stout, their appearance in a six pack shouldn’t be a surprise. This is one of their biannual releases, and this year’s version is the first I had. Well, the I had the variant of Oak Aged World Wide Vanilla Stout a couple of years back and this one is just as good. I don’t think I’ve had a beer this high in ABV (18%) that was so deceptive in its booziness. This is a sweet beer for sure, but delicious all the way through. Even the 12oz bottle might be worth sharing, or for me, enjoyed over the course of an hour.

Hefeweizen (Wet Ticket Brewing Company) | Hefeweizen | 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

I’ve been talking up Wet Ticket quite a bit lately, haven’t I? Well, they make really good beer. There happened to be a NJ Craft Beer “Beer Up” / meet up at Wet Ticket in early May, which turned out to be a great event I attended with my Dad (who lives the next town over). I had the chance to talk with owner Tim Pewitt, Mr. NJCB himself Mike Kivovitz, and Al Gatullo of the AG Craft Beer Cast. This Hefeweizen was my first beer of the night and it is a really good interpretation of a classic German style. Tim’s version leans more towards banana than clove and was fantastic way to get the night rolling.

Peril & Perish (Conclave Brewing) | Saison / Farmhouse Ale | 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

Usually if I visit Conclave, chances are one of their beers will appear on the monthly six pack. Such is the case with this lovely, elegant Saison they brewed/released in Mid-May. There’s a really good balance of sweetness, almost citrusy in nature, and earthiness in the beer, just what I hope to taste in a Saison. The hops used in this one, Hallertau, brings a very nice, pleasant bitterness throughout the beer.

Hefeweizen (Mission Brewery) | Hefeweizen |  4 bottle Caps on untappd


Two new hefeweizens in the month, which is a rarity. I love the style, but it isn’t hugely popular. I recall having some Mission beer a few years ago here in NJ (pre-untappd) so when I had a San Diego business trip on my calendar, I knew I wanted to visit them. I did and this beer was great, just what I want in a Hefeweizen, like Wet Ticket’s this one is a little more on the fruity side with maybe even hints of pear. Regardless, this was a very pleasant beer and a welcome refreshment after a long day flying (two flights added with the layover amounted to about 11 hours of travel) from NJ to CA.

Gumballhead (3 Floyds Brewing Co.) | Pale Wheat Ale – American | 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd


I’ve been wanting to try a beer from the vaunted Indiana brewery for years so when my wife and I stopped in one of our favorite restaurants (and one of the best beer bars I’ve ever visited) Isaac Newton’s and saw this on the beer list, I was thrilled. There were a few beers from 3 Floyds, but I wasn’t in an IPA mood and I’m glad I wasn’t. This is one of the best “Pale Wheat Ales” I can remember enjoying. There’s a wonderful sweet, lemony finish to the beer that was absolutely perfectly balanced. This is a very simple straight-forward beer whose excellence and craftsmanship pushes it far above the taken-for-granted style. Great stuff.

There were a lot of good beers in May, but there were a couple of not so great and one really terrible, un-finishable beer. That awful beer has a name that is the complete antithesis of the liquid itself, Stone Delicious IPA. I had it at the Stone bar at the San Diego Airport, one of the biggest wastes of money on beer I ever spent, especially considering how much more expensive beer is at an airport.

Draught Diversions: Summer 2019 6 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…

With the official kick off of summer, Memorial Day, behind us, I may be a little tardy in putting up a Summer Six pack, but life’s been a little busy this time of year for me. Be that as it may, since a post about Summer Beers was the very first Draught Diversion I posted/published, I want to continue the tradition. There are so many light and flavorful options for Summer, I could probably do a case’s worth of Summer Six packs. Like last year, not all of these are official “summer” beers, but they are styles for me that seem to fit right into the summer. For example, I think  a crisp Pilsner or Helles Lager can make for wonderful summer brews.

Summer Catch | Witbier | 5.5% ABV | Cape May Brewing Company | Cape May, NJ

Two years in a row for Cape May Brewing in my summer, six pack. I’ve since had and enjoyed the Cape May beer in my Summer Six Pack from 2018/last year. However, this one says “Summer” in the name. Witbiers, for me, are always a good option for summer/warm weather months. Light yet flavorful, works great at a barbecue or by the pool. When done well, it can be an elegant and classic style. I haven’t had this one yet, but that will likely change as I expect to have this in my cooler in the summer.

What Cape May says about the beer:

Citrusy and refreshing, notes of orange peel and tropical fruits dominate this Belgian-style Wheat Ale. Lightly dry-hopped with Citra and Amarillo hops to give it a noticeably American twist, this crushable wheat ale is complex, yet approachable, just like the Jersey Shore.

Salt and Sea | Sour – Gose | 4.3% ABV | Flying Fish Brewing Company | Somerdale, NJ

Image courtesy of Flying Fish’s Facebook

Like Cape May Brewing Company, I featured a brew from the venerable NJ brewery last year for this post, so I figured why not again? Especially since Flying Fish has continued to smartly evolve their portfolio and this beer screams summer on its label, description, and name. Salt & Sea evokes beach and a Ferris Wheel screams boardwalk, both scream summer as does the low ABV. I picked up a six pack of this and really enjoy the beer, not too tart and not as sour as a typical Gose, but quite flavorful.

What Flying Fish says about the beer:

Memories are made by the sea, and this Session Sour is inspired by evenings on the boardwalk. Enticing aromas of strawberry and lime evoke hints of salt water taffy, providing a souvenir twist to this unique style.

Blood Orange Wheat | Shandy/Radler | 4.0% ABV | Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers | Framingham, MA

Image courtesy of Jack Abby’s blog

This is part of Jack Abby’s year-round line-up, but really works for summer. Shandy/Radlers are great for summer consumption, the lemonade/fruit addition to the beer is a natural mix to refresh and cool down after yard work or relaxing by the book. Enough flavor to satisfy, but low enough in ABV to allow for a long session of thirst quenching. This beer is a big seller for Jack’s Abby and is strongly positioned for the summer, especially those big pool and barbeque gatherings with the availability in 15 packs. Jack’s Abby has an interesting story on their blog about this beer, where they say Blood Orange Wheat combines blood orange seltzer with a wheat lagerJack’s Abby is one of the most respected breweries focusing on German styles in New England and a Radler (the German word for bicycler or cyclist) is always a great warm weather style.

What Jack’s Abby says about the beer:

Blood Orange Wheat debuted in our Beer Hall and it quickly became a fan favorite. This German-style radler is fruit forward, juicy and bloody refreshing. Lean back and enjoy!

Cruise Control Helles Lager | Lager – Helles | 4.8% ABV | Two Roads Brewing Company | Stratford, CT

Image courtesy of Two Roads’s facebook

This is the newest year-round beer from Two Roads and one of the few lagers in their portfolio. I’ve come to trust just about everything out of the great Connecticut brewery and this beer is something of a cousin to their Ol’ Factory Pils. I haven’t had this beer yet, but I definitely see it on the road of my future.

What Two Roads says about the beer:

An effortlessly refreshing golder lager built for kicking back and taking it easy down the Road Less Traveled.

Kölsch | Kölsch | 5.0% ABV | von Trapp Brewing | Stowe, VT

Image courtesy of von Trapp’s Facebook

A Kölsch is a really underrepresented and underappreciated style of beer. The umlaut should tell you this is a beer with German origins and von Trapp is the other pnomiment breweries in the New England brewing German style beers. One comparison I made to a local brewer is Kölsch is  an ale that drinks almost like a pilsner, he nodded in agreement. Light/easy drinking, flavorful and refreshing, this is another one I’ll be seeking out. That plus the fact that von Trapp slaps “Summer Session Ale” on the label proclaims this as von Trapp’s Summer seasonal.

What von Trapp says about the beer:

Kölsch is a style of ale that famously originated in Cologne, Germany. A true summer session ale, this Kölsch utilizes German Tettnanger and Hallertau Hops, that combine to provide a hoppy explosion packed in every can

Summer Crush | Pale Wheat Ale – American | 5.0% ABV | Yards Brewing Company | Philadelphia, PA

Image courtesy of Yard’s Facebok

It isn’t too often when the venerable Philadelphia brewery releases a new beer, but Yards has done just that with Summer Crush this year. In general, the style of the Pale Wheat Ale is kind-of-sort-of an Americanized Hefeweizen. The description Yards puts out for this reminds me a bit of Samuel Adams Summer Ale or even Bell’s Oberon Ale, both classic Summer Ales. A good thing, if you ask me. Since you’re here, I suppose you are sort of asking me.

What Yards says about the beer:

JUICY, MELLOW, REFRESHING

NEW IN 2019!

The moment it hits your lips, there you are. Summer Crush is an easy drinking, flavorful Wheat Beer with a juicy citrus finish that transports you to bright summer days and hot summer nights. Brewed with orange and lime zest, this crushable delight brings the refreshment to the shore, the front stoop, the rooftop, and everywhere else you celebrate summer.

What new brews are you hoping to try this summer?

Draught Diversions: The Tap Takeover’s 2nd Beerthday

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…

Are you all sick of me rambling about beer yet? Because it has been two years since I launched the Tap Takeover. Well, yesterday marked two years since I launched the Tap Takeover. I figured I’d wait a day and not break my Tuesday/Thursday pattern.

Bottle caps from some of the beers featured here at The Tap Takeover

Not too much I can say now compared to what I said on the one year anniversary of the Tap Takeover. I haven’t quite reached 100 reviews or 100 Draught Diversions yet. The 89th review went up this week and this post marks the 87th Draught Diversion, for a total 73 posts of the last year. Still not too shabby and on average, more than one post per week.

Maybe a few things have changed since last year. Sam and Sam….or rather Jim and Sam are now business partners as Boston Beer and Dogfish Head announced a few weeks ago that they are merging, more breweries have opened in New Jersey since last year, with the sad closing of Demented Brewing. I’m not going to go into too many details about Demented, aside from saying the quality of their beer was good enough to sustain them in the area. Business/financial and personal reasons caused them to close. But, with the increase of more breweries in NJ (105 as of this writing, according to New Jersey Craft Beer), I’ve found myself gravitating even more to NJ beer as some of the breweries are more widely available via distribution. I’m looking at you Cape May Brewing Company, thank you!

In terms of my evolving beer tastes, I continue to enjoy and seek out IPAs. Over the last year or so; however, I’ve come to re-embrace the beauty of Lagers in their many varieties, Pilsners, Helles Lagers, Pale Lagers, Amber Lagers, with a hope that more Bocks will be made. Like a many beer drinkers, I overlooked Lagers for a while. But as the smaller/independent/regional breweries began to embrace lagers, and make delicious lagers, I’ve really taken to the style once again. Alementary’s Hackensack Lager is an incredible beer, Cape May’s Pale Lager, simply called Lager,  is a delicious, complex beer, last week’s review beer, Post Shift Pilsner from Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers, might be my favorite Pilsner right now, the two Pilsners I had from Steam Whistle were revelations last year, maybe my favorite beer at the Meadowlands Beerfest earlier in the year was Steamworks’ Pilsner, and Carton Brewing’s This Town is near the very top of the list of my favorite NJ beers. I have a feeling my cooler will be filled with a variety of Lagers this summer.

I had the opportunity to visit some more breweries since the blog began its second year, including these which garnered a full Draught Diversions/Brewery Spotlight post:

Other breweries I visited for the first time are below in chronological order. Not all of these breweries were great, some I will be or would like to visit again. Other breweries below, I’m far less inclined to visit or try their beer again. I’ll leave the guessing up to all of you.

I also returned to favorite local breweries Conclave Brewing in Raritan/Flemington, NJ pretty frequently; Carton Brewing a couple of times, one day at the end of the Summer and again for their annual New Year’s Day (sort of) tradition for the release of the latest variant on Regular Coffee; River Horse (for their second 6K race), Beach Haus and of course Lone Eagle Brewing in Flemington.

Like last year, I would like to thank the readers of the blog and folks who have supported my little hobby by spreading the word and simply chatting up with me  about beer. I’d especially like to thank Mike K. of NJ Craft Beer, Al Gatullo, Chuck of NJ Beer and Wine, the new podcast Two Brewthers, Matt of Massive Beers, and John Holl, among many others.

I can also be found on Instagram as @robhbed where I’ve gotten into the habit of posting one beer photo (very amateurishly taken) per week.

With all of that, Cheers to another great year!

Draught Diversions: April 2019 Six Pack

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…

April 2019 started off with a bang, I did a bottle share with some friends/co-workers then had a big blast of different beers in the middle with the second annual (and somewhat disappointing) Bridgewater Beerfest. Quite a few very good beers at the bottle share, but since I only had a 2oz pour of each, I hesitate to include them in full detail aside from pointing out the highlights right here: a 2016 batch of Russian River’s Consecration (an American Wild Ale) and Grimm Artisanal’s Chocolate Cherry Icing on the Cake. One of the participants (a former boss of mine), brought vintages of Kane’s Sunday Brunch and Mexican Brunch. My contribution, Conclave’s Moonwater, seemed to be well-received.

From the April 4th Bottle Share

On to the main six pack, which is a little different this month…

Balinator (Carton Brewing Co) Bock – Dopplebock – 4 bottle Caps on untappd

As soon as I saw that one of my favorite breweries was brewing one of my favorite, least made styles (Dopplebock), I was going to buy the beer. So this beer is made with a great deal of coffee, specifically, per the video Carton put out explaining the beer, coffee beans are added during the brewing process where hops would normally be added. Carton plays a nice coffee beer game and this beer is a really interesting example of the skill they have in blending elements of the two most popular beverages on the planet. This beer is what you’d have if you made a perfect blend of iced coffee and a malty, sweet dopplebock.

Sneakbox (Kane Brewing Company) Pale Ale – American – 4.50 bottle Caps on untappd

The other NJ Independent brewing giant/legend, Kane makes it two months in a row here at the Tap Takeover. This is a beer I’ve been wanting to try for quite a while, especially since coming to enjoy hop forward beers over the last year. However, like most of Kane’s beers, this one was available only on draft only outside of the brewery, while cans could always be purchased at the brewery. As of this month (April 2019), Kane started to softly distribute this to Wegman’s stores throughout New Jersey. As soon as I saw it available at my local Wegman’s I picked up 4 pack. This has a damned near perfect hop profile from the Citra hop and is probably my favorite American Pale Ale. A beer that is perfect for any occasion or any time.

Sucaba 2019 (Firestone Walker Brewing Company) Barleywine – English – 4.50 Bottle Caps on untappd

Few breweries in the United States have as respected a barrel-aging program as does Firestone Walker. This beer is their annually released barrel aged Barleywine and is an outstanding beer. At 11.3% this is a complex, hot beer to sip over the course of an hour or so. Like most big beers, the flavors come alive as the beer settles to room temperature. I enjoyed this rich, sumptuous beer while watching the first episode of the final season of Game of Thrones, a perfect pairing. The beer has hints of vanilla, cherry, and a little toffee with a pleasant hop bite at the end.

Da’ Nile (River Horse Brewing Co.) Red Ale – American Amber / Red – 3.75 bottle Caps on untappd

Each runner received a beer and a “medal” in the shape of River Horse’s mascot Brewtus, which doubles as a bottle opener.

Although I haven’t been running much lately due to back issues, when a brewery run comes up, I’ll make the sacrifice. In 2016 when I was running 3 or 4 times per week, my wife and I ran the first River Horse 6K. Three years later, the great NJ brewery finally did their second 6K and as part of the race fees, each runner gets a pint of beer at the finish. Since my wife does not drink beer, I had two pints and this was the best of the two. I wouldn’t typically think a Red Ale would work as well with Vanilla and Molasses as this beer does, but here we are. This is about a notch away from being a porter and is quite tasty. A very sweet beer that seems a little better suited to cooler months, but a nice post-race beer nonetheless.

Moment of Clarity (Tree House Brewing Company) Stout – Milk / Sweet – 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

This is the first beer I had 100% brewed by Treehouse. I say 100% because I had the outstanding IPA they collaborated with Sierra Nevada to brew in Sierra’s 2017 Beer Camp pack. Back to this beer and all I can say is holy sweet breakfast Batman! Take the flavors that comprise the wonderful breakfast of chocolate chip pancakes doused with maple syrup and topped with a shake of cinnamon and blend it with a delicious milk stout. That’s my guess as to what the alchemists at Tree House Brewing did when they made this beer. Although the ABV isn’t a bomber in double digits, the potent sweetness of the beer makes it best suited as a slow sipper.

A Selection of Tasters from the 2019 Bridgewater Beerfest

Top Left: Worker Drone (Twin Elephant)
Top Right: Triple Power Bomb (Brix City/Barrier)
Bottom Left: Wrench (Industrial Arts)
Bottom Right: Ex Cathedra (The Lost Abbey)

I was excited to attend the Bridgewater Beerfest this year since I enjoyed it so much in 2018 (as that link indicates). While there was a good selection of beer, the fest was a disappointment. There are two reasons, the first is is that 6 breweries listed as appearing (with 5 of them being NJ breweries) did not appear or have any of their beer available. If it was just one brewery who did not appear, I could lay the blame at the brewery’s proverbial feet. However, when at least a half dozen breweries listed end up not attending, I have to think the event organizers posted the list of breweries without getting final confirmation from those breweries. The other frustration was that for the beers that were there, most of the people pouring the beer knew very little about the beer they were pouring for us. I will not be attending this beerfest again, I think.

So, kudos to the breweries who did appear and provide their beer, which is worth highlighting, with the four below as the standouts:

Sure this was a bit of a cheat for the six pack by adding a four pack to the six pack, but given the size of the tasters, these four beers equal – in volume – one full beer. There was another beer that stood out head and shoulders above all the others, but I’ll be reviewing that all by itself in the near-ish future.

So there it is, another monthly six pack in the proverbial books.

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.

Draught Diversions: March 2019 Six Pack

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…

March rolls in and maybe because February is always shorter, March seemed like an extremely long month this year. The upside is that I managed to enjoy a lot of good beer during the third month of the year. It wasn’t quite as easy to trim the new beers down to six for the monthly recap as a result. Four of these beers are from New Jersey breweries. Two beers are Belgian Quadrupels, with two stouts, too. March will make it two months in a row that I haven’t included an IPA in the monthly six pack. Onward we go…

Whiskey Barrel Stout (Boulevard Brewing Co) Stout – American Imperial / Double – 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

I don’t think I’ve had a bad beer from Boulevard. In fact, most beers I’ve had from the great Kansas City brewery have been excellent. This big boozy stout is near the top of that list. Boulevard brews a handful of barrel aged beers including their Bourbon Barrel Quad which I reviewed last year. This Whiskey Barrel Stout is sweet, complex, with a good hit of booziness. The beer has all of that going on without forsaking any of the base stout flavors of the beer. As good a barrel-aged stout as you’ll find

Blasphemy (Weyerbacher Brewing Company) Belgian Quadrupel – 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

Weyerbacher is known for brewing big, strong beers. Their standard Quad is delicious, but to kick up another notch, they let it age in bourbon barrels. This is a super boozy beer, but really complex with vanilla laced throughout the flavor profile and quite sweet overall. This 750mL is one to share, I had a tough time finishing it myself. In fact, I’d like to see this in a 500mL bottle or four packs.

Paragon of Light (Czig Meister) Belgian Tripel 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

Anytime I can sneak Sully into these photos, I will.

Czig Meister has such a diverse portfolio of beers, crafting beer in nearly every style. They have a nice and interesting barrel-aging program, which produced this beer. I typically don’t go for wine barrel aged beers, but the fruitiness of the wine barrel works really nicely with the yeast and other elements of the Belgian Tripel. I can’t say I’ve had many Tripels, or many beers overall to match the flavor profile exhibited by Paragon of Light, but I can say I liked what was going on in this beer quite a bit.

2190 Anniversary Ale (Kane Brewing Company) Belgian Quadrupel – 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

Bottle image half courtesy of Kane’s Facebook, Right half my photo

I haven’t enough beer from Kane in my life. They aren’t exactly super far, but they aren’t exactly close either at about 50 miles away from my house. So when Project P.U.B. in Somerville (less than 10 miles away vs 50+ miles away) featured Kane as their monthly brewery in March, I had to stop in at least once. Project P.U.B. is a fascinating concept, they are a bar that is essentially a month-long tap takeover. March 2019 was ALL Kane beers, in the past, they’ve featured Bell’s for a month, Founders, and Oskar Blues, among others. I was especially eager to visit when I saw one of the “rare pourings” was this Anniversary Quadrupel and oh my is this a delicious beer. Lots of booziness from the barrel-aging up front, but as the backend of the beer finishes off, none of the Quadrupel elements are lost. A nearly perfectly barrel aged quadruple if I’ve ever had one.

MooDoo Doll (Bolero Snort Brewery Company) Stout – Imperial / Double 4.5 bottle Caps on untappd

Top half my photo, bottom half courtesy of Bolero Snort

I saw Bolero posting about this beer on their social media pages and was intrigued but I was also a little hesitant to give it a try. I’ve liked a lot of their beer, but for whatever reason, when they add Madagascar Vanilla to their big stouts, I find that the Madagascar Vanilla overtakes all the other flavor components and leaves an unwelcome aftertaste. This beer…this beer is just pure delicious. Maybe the lemon zest they add to evoke the Mardi Gras King Cake flavor was the key to cutting the vanilla. Regardless, this beer was the highlight of the month for me and it just might be my favorite beer from Bolero Snort.

Cape May Lager (Cape May Brewing Company) Lager – Pale 4 bottle caps on untappd

The first widely available lager from Cape May Brewing Company and it is damned good. Good malt balance, with a great amount of Saaz hops, the classic, Noble hops. “Craft Lagers” are becoming more prevalent, especially from some of the larger regional breweries and Cape May is the second largest in New Jersey. Cape May Brewing has a great post that details this beer from conception to what you find on shelves, and it highlights how delicate it can be to make what is considered a “simple” beer. I’d slot this on the same shelf as Carton’s This Town as the two best Lagers brewed in New Jersey. I’ll likely have a couple of six packs of this one in my cooler throughout the summer.

While it may seem I loved every beer I had in March, I had a couple that weren’t so good. I had Boulder Beer Company’s Mojo IPA which was undrinkable. The date was fine, the beer is highly rated, so maybe I had a bad batch. Either way, it was just plain bad. I’ll also add that this year’s Nugget Nectar from Tröegs was absolutely delicious. I liked it the first time I had it a few years ago, but this year’s vintage was the first I had since began appreciating hop-forward beers. On draught, it was outstanding.