Draught Diversions: A Chocolate 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 Valentine’s Day tomorrow, today (February 13) seems the perfect time to assemble a six-pack of Chocolate beers. Without even planning it, the beer I reviewed last week had some chocolate flavorings. In addition to the beers I mention below, the beer being reviewed in Thursday’s post is a chocolate beer, too. One of my favorites, in fact.

As it turns out, there are a plethora of options when it comes to beers with chocolate, but many of those options feature other flavoring elements such as peanut butter, cherry, coffee or mint among other flavors. For this post, I’ll keep the taps pouring beers with only chocolate as the main flavor enhancement. As I have in the past, I’ll go alphabetical by brewery name.

Chocolate Stout Rogue Brewery, Newport, Oregon, 5.8% ABV

This is the second appearance from the fine Oregon brewery in one of my “Six-Pack” posts. It has been quite a while since I had this beer (back in 2014) but I remember loving it. There’s a great balance of chocolate in this beer, I don’t recall the chocolate being an overpowering presence and the overall beer being very smooth. As of this writing, Rogue only distributes this beer in 22oz bottles and on draught, but hopefully they will begin distributing into 12oz bottles. Rogue also brews a Double Chocolate stout I’ve yet to try.

Per the Web site: Ebony in color with a rich creamy head. An earthy flavor of oats and hops that gives way to a rich chocolate truffle finish.

Organic Chocolate Stout Samuel Smith Brewery, Tadcaster, North Yorkshire, UK 5% ABV

Yorkshire’s oldest brewery (1758) produces one of the best chocolate stouts in the world. I’ve had this one a few times and each time I’m surprised that I’ve forgotten how perfectly brewed this beer is. There exists in this beer just about the perfect balance between the flavor profile of an English stout and the sweetness of chocolate. Again, the last time I had a bottle of this was a little over a year ago. Originally this beer was available only in 500ml bottles, but it was recently made available in 12oz bottles in 4-packs and as part of a variety pack from Samuel Smith.

Per the Web site: Brewed with well water (the original well, sunk in 1758, is still in use with the hard water is drawn from 85 feet underground), the gently roasted organic chocolate malt and organic cocoa impart a delicious, smooth and creamy character, with inviting deep flavours and a delightful finish – this is the perfect marriage of satisfying stout and luxurious chocolate.

Choklat Imperial StoutSouthern Tier Brewing Company, Lakewood, NY 10% ABV

At this point, Southern Tier appearing in one of these posts shouldn’t be a surprise. I like many of their beers and this, in my humble opinion, is one of their best beers. Whereas the previous beers I mentioned in this post are lighter bodied stouts, low in alcohol and fairly well balanced from a chocolate perspective, this one is decadent on all levels. Clocking in at 10% ABV, this beer packs quite a punch. It is a thick, rich beer where the chocolate dominates the beer and that is no problem at all. As the label indicates, this is a wonderful dessert beer. Originally available only in 22oz bottles, Southern Tier has softly re-branded their Blackwater Series (i.e. “high-gravity dessert beers”) with new labels/packaging and made those beers available in 12oz 4-packs. I really need to have one of these again, it has been far too long.

From the Web site: The Popol Vuh, the sacred book of the Maya, unfolds a complex web of mystery around a beverage known as Xocoatl. We’re not surprised that ancient hieroglyphs depict chocolate being poured for rulers & gods. Cacao is a mystical bean.

Choklat is, without a doubt, a dessert beer. It encompasses the complexity of the darkest, bittersweet candy together with that of the original frothy beverage of the Mayans. We combine the finest ingredients to tempt your senses &pay homage to history in every glass.

Moo-Hoo Chocolate Milk Stout Terrapin Beer Company, Athens, GA 6% ABV

One of my favorite seasonal stouts, I try to get at least a six-pack of this one every season, since Terrapin considers this a seasonal beer (Winter). One of the more cleverly named beers, it immediately (and intentionally) brings to mind the classic chocolate milk drink Yoo-Hoo. Terrapin’s beverage; however, is far more flavorful. I had this on tap once and it was a delight, but more recently (as of 2015) the beer has become available in 12oz cans in six packs, where it was previously a 12oz bottle 4-pack. I know I’ve gone on record as holding Firestone Walker’s Nitro Milk Stout as a standard-bearer for Milk Stouts, but Moo-Hoo is on that same level for me: an annual must-buy.

From the Web site: Dark brown to black in color. Aromas of dark chocolate. Dark roasted malt flavor with hints of caramel and chocolate, rounded out by a sweet, creamy finish. The Terrapin “Moo-Hoo” Chocolate Milk Stout proudly uses cocoa nibs and shells from Olive and Sinclair Chocolate Company to give this beer its great taste.

Chocolate Love Stout Yard’s Brewing Company, Philadelphia, PA 6% ABV

Yards is one of the standard bearers of Craft Brewing in the US and a craft beer institution of Philadelphia, PA (some would say the best beer city in America). How could a list like this *not* include a beer called Chocolate Love Stout? Yards also brews a Love Stout that has some chocolate hints, but Chocolate Love Stout is the full chocolate beer experience brewed with Belgian Dark Chocolate and Chocolate Liquor for a rich chocolatey beer. I’ve had this a couple of times and really enjoyed it.

From the Web site: IRRESISTIBLY SMOOTH

Passionately brewed with over 200 pounds of pure, 100% cacao Belgian dark chocolate, this irresistibly smooth stout explodes with the taste and aroma of rich, dark chocolate goodness. This deep black beauty will seduce you with her roasty maltiness and hints of vanilla and caramel.

Young’s Double Chocolate Stout Charles Wells Brewing Company, Bedford, Bedfordshire England 5.2% ABV

This is one of the earliest and most widely available chocolate beers in the world and it holds up quite well, all things considered. Again, like a couple of these beers, it has been quite a while since I had this beer (back in September 2015), but I remember liking it quite a bit, giving it 4 bottle caps out of 5 on untappd. The beer is available in bottles and in cans, as well as on draught and is probably the easiest to find of all the beers on this post.

From the bottle (since there doesn’t seem to be a website with a page for the beer): Young’s Double Chocolate Stout has an intriguing twist. Chocolate malt and real dark chocolate are combined with Young’s award-winning rich, full flavored dark ale to craft a satisfyingly indulgent, but never overly sweet experience.

…and one for the road (if you aren’t driving)…

New Jersey craft beer institution, Flying Fish, brewed a beer with chocolate as part of their now-concluded Exit series: Exit 13 – Chocolate Stout. Unfortunately this is a “retired” beer of the Exit series, but hopefully the fine folks at Flying Fish will bring this beer back into circulation as they’ve done for a couple of the beers in the series. I may have more to say about this brew in the future.

Draught Diversions: January 2018 Six Pack

Time for another slight change in protocol here at The Tap Takeover. With my first Monthly recap post for 2018, I’m going to trim back from writing about the majority (90%) of the beer I had in the previous month and go with six beers. Ideally, I’ll try to keep mention at least one beer that didn’t quite work for me. Also, this list of beers excludes any that have been featured as a single beer review. For this post, at least, I’ll go chronological from what I had early in the month to what I had most recently.

I’ve found myself drawn to more NJ breweries over the recent past, rather than nationally distributed brands, so two of the beers in this post are from NJ Breweries.

Café Con Leche Stout – Milk / Sweet – 3.25 bottle Caps on untappd

First up is the very first beer I had in 2018. Café Con Leche from Cigar City Brewing is a beer whose style is strongly in my wheelhouse, but the execution left a lot to be desired. Cigar City started distributing into NJ last year so I was looking forward to trying some of their beers. Especially their interpretation of a Milk Stout. While it wasn’t bad, and relatively true to style there was something unpleasant on the finish of the beer. An odd aftertaste made the beer, on the whole, not something I’d want to try again. This was one of the bombers I received for Christmas so I didn’t feel too guilty about not finishing the whole bottle.

Han Shot First IPA – Imperial / Double – 4 bottle Caps on untappd

Next up is an IPA, or rather, Imperial/Double IPA from a fairly local brewery in Pennsylvania, Evil Genius Beer Company. I’ve had a few of their beers, the quality is good and the names are very clever, including this one, Han Shot First. This beer surprised me, it did not have nearly the level of hop bitterness I expected considering it is a Double. While the ABV is 8%, the IBU is 30, making this a very juicy, drinkable IPA. I’d definitely have this one again and not just for the name.

Collaboration No. 6 – Barrel-Aged Blend Other – 4.50 bottle Caps on untapped

The third beer in the January Six Pack is one of two beers I had at one of my favorite Mexican restaurants, Sol Mexican Cantina. Very good food combined with one of the best selections of beers in Somerset County, NJ are why I like this place so much. The first beer I had that night was Collaboration No. 6 – Barrel-Aged Blend, a collaboration between Boulevard Brewing Co. and Firestone Walker. I’ve only had a couple of Boulevard’s beers and liked them fine, I need to seek out more from them. This beer is listed on untappd as “Other” likely because it is a blend of four heavy styles, two from each brewery: Bourbon Barrel Quad (45%) & Imperial Stout X Tart Cherry (10%) from Boulevard and Stickee Monkee Belgian Quad (35%) & Velvet Merkin Oatmeal Stout (10%) from Firestone Walker. It probably will not come as a surprise that the Belgian Quad flavors come through the most, but the sweetness of the stouts is there, too. This quite simply an outstanding beer

It looks like this one was brewed in 2016 so I don’t know if it was a one-time beer or has been brewed again more recently. Either way, if you see this one, get it because it is a fine example of experimental, collaborative brewing.

IPA IPA – American – 4 bottle Caps on untapped

Number four is the first of two beers from New Jersey and the other beer I had at Sol Mexican Cantina: a straightforward IPA from Brotherton Brewing. This is the first beer I’ve had from the South Jersey brewery and boy was I impressed. This is a borderline juice-bomb; a hazy Citra-hopped unfiltered IPA. I could drink this all day and hope I can find some of this in cans near me. Like I said, this is just simply a tasty, well-made IPA. Sometimes a well-made standard style is just the beer you need.

Sunday Brunch Porter – Imperial / Double – 4.75 bottle Caps on untapped

The second New Jersey beer was probably the best beer I had in January and one of the best porters I’ve ever had. One of our (my wife and I) favorite restaurants is the Stirling Hotel – amazing food, great beer, and excellent beer events like the one I attended in the middle of the month. Essentially a Tap Takeover, Stirling Hotel hosted a “Kane Brewing Brewer’s Lunch,” which featured six beers from Kane and a unique menu. My meal was fantastic, waffles topped with a roasted duck leg and fig syrup. One of beers I had was Kane’s Sunday Brunch, an Imperial Milk Porter made with coffee, maple syrup, and cinnamon. At 9.5% this is a potent beer, but so smooth and sweet. This is one of Kane’s once per year beers and seems to only be available at special events like this and in 750ml bottles at the brewery.

Some people may be wary of anything with cinnamon, but the spice is used perfectly in this beer and compliments the flavor profile rather than overpowering everything else that went into the beer. This is a must have beer, especially if you live in or near New Jersey.

Two Hearted Ale IPA – American – 4.25 bottle Caps on untapped

Finishing off the six pack for January is one of the iconic American craft beers: Two Hearted Ale from the great Bell’s Brewery in Michigan. I have lamented in the past that Bell’s doesn’t (yet?!?!) distribute to NJ. I happened to see this one on draught at the Houston Airport. Considering I had some time to kill before my flight departed, I ordered a pour and was satisfied. I now know why this beer has the reputation it does, this is one of the best, most drinkable IPAs I’ve ever had. As I plead when I reviewed Bell’s other iconic beer, Oberon Ale, if folks from Bell’s are reading this, please get your beer into NJ. You’d make an entire state of craft beer consumers extremely happy.

There you have it – six beers, five of which were excellent and one that just didn’t work for me.

Draught Diversions: Czig Meister Brewing Company

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

This week’s brewery focused post features another of the “Hackettstown Trio” of NJ Craft breweries which was part of my fall 2017 New Jersey Brewery Tour: Czig Meister Brewing Company which is literally around the block from Man Skirt Brewing (featured here: https://thetaptakeover.com/2017/12/14/draught-diversions-man-skirt-brewing/).

Image of brewery front courtesy of Czig Meister Web site

Czig Meister opened its doors and taps to the public in June 2016, but  President/CEO Matt Czigler’s beerstory began long before that. Like many brewery owners, Matt began homebrewing, but then unlike many homebrewers, formally educated himself at Siebel Institute of Brewing Technology in Chicago. Once the formal education concluded, Matt eventually found himself in about as great a gig as one could hope for in NJ Craft Beer – head brewer at NJ’s iconic Kane Brewing. As it turns out, Matt had a big impact on Kane. His recipe for A Night to End All Dawns, an Imperial Stout aged in Four Roses Bourbon Barrels, won gold at the Great American Beer Festival in 2014. He eventually left to start what is now Czig Meister Brewing. All of this happened before he was even 30 years old. Very impressive indeed. (This is a very truncated version of what appears on Czig Meister’s About Us Page.

Image courtesy of Czig Meister’s Web site

But what about the brewery, where it is, and the beers produced by Czig Meister?

The location: Czigler managed to secure himself a really great space, a big, eye-catching brick building that was once a Ford maintenance garage. The ceiling is high, with barrels stacked in some spots. Perhaps what is best about the space is how open and welcoming it is. There’s an outdoor seating area / Biergarten and I think the big old garage doors open up to allow great airflow. Of the five breweries I visited on that cool November afternoon/evening, none were as packed and hopping as Czig Meister. Granted, some space was cordoned off and rented for a party, but there were enough people milling about enjoying fine beer that I suspect it still would have been the busiest brewery that day. Because it was so packed and the schedule for the day was pretty tight, I didn’t have the opportunity to snap any photos from inside the brewery.

The beers: I did manage to get a flight during my visit and all four beers were good, with one bordering on great. One of the beers I had was one of Czig Meister’s “Forge Batch” beers, which are the single-keg, experimental, brewery only releases. In this case, it was a “Blueberry Imperial Saison” (Forge Batch 9.8) and boy did it hit the spot. A lovely beer, the tart/sweet of the blueberry balanced out the yeast and earthiness of the Saison. I’d drink this all through the spring, if I could.

Flight at Czig Clockwise from Left: Forge Batch 9.8 Imperial Blueberry Saison, Blacksmith (Oatmeal Stout), Chaos (Belgian Dubbel), and Habonde (Barrel-aged Barley Wine)

The second beer in the flight was Chaos, Czig Meister’s interpretation of a Belgian Dubbel, which was spot on from a stylistic / flavor profile standpoint. The third beer in the flight was one of their flagship brews, Blacksmith, an Oatmeal Stout that was more roasty and smokey than I’d expect from a stout, especially an oatmeal stout. Almost more like a porter than a stout to me. The final beer was Habonde, and outstanding Barley Wine aged in Wild Turkey Bourbon Barrels. I’ve seen this one in local bottle shops, too. I’d highly recommend it to folks who enjoy Barley Wines. I think this is also the Barley Wine that cemented the fact that I enjoy Barley Wines in the English, rather than American style.

Speaking of bottle shops, sometime last year, I started seeing Czig Meister beers in shops near me in Somerset, Middlesex, and Hunterdon Counties, NJ. Again, this is really impressive – having a growing production brewery (compared to some of the smaller breweries in NJ) able to crank out beers consistently enough to gain continual distribution is no small feat. It seems Czig Meister’s core beers are the aforementioned Oatmeal Stout Blacksmith, as well as The Huntsman (Kölsch), Falconer (American Pale Ale, which I suspect would be similar to Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale especially with the green can), Prospector (Amber/Red Ale and Matt’s favorite, according to the Website and my links below), and The Shipwright (American IPA).

Of course Czig Meister has some regular seasonal brews and Special Releases, too. The next one I plan to try from them will have to be either Upon the Shattered Cliffs an Imperial Milk Porter (a collaboration brew with Bolero Snort) or the Dopplebock they call Chieftans Covenant.

Between the variety of beers they produce (over 200 distinct beers as of this writing), the busy atmosphere, great location, and portfolio of beers in distribution, Czig Meister has made a great mark on the NJ Craft Beer scene in less than two years. I know I would like to visit the brewery again and at the very least, continue making my way through the variety of their beers I see at my local bottle shops.

Like many breweries are doing, such as the Brews and Board Games club that meets monthly at Lone Eagle Brewing Czig Meister has regular events at their brewery, including a regular trivia nights. Bottom line, Czig Meister is worth making the drive up to Hackettstown on its own. Add the other two breweries in the town (Man Skirt and Jersey Girl), and the trip is almost a must for people interested in sampling fine New Jersey beer.

Additional reading and resources

Wine and Craft Beverage News (July 2017)
Brew Jersey (January 2017)
The Daily Record (June 2016)
I Drink Good Beer (June 2016)

A final aside: As it turns out, the younger brother of one of my fraternity brothers works at Czig Meister and has been there since the brewery opened.

Draught Diversions: Favorite New Beers of 2017

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…

2017 has come to a close and to the surprise of nobody reading this blog, I enjoyed my fair share of beer in 2017. Many styles of beers, beers from many breweries, and beers of varying quality. With this post, I’ll go over the best of “new to me” beers in 2017. These are the beers I enjoyed the most between January 1, 2017 and December 31, 2017. A small disclaimer, I’m not including special annual releases like Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout, Weyerbacher’s Sunday Morning Stout, or Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout. First, I’ve had previous vintages of those beers so they really aren’t “new to me.” Second, I’d rather highlight beers that may not have the reputation those event beers had. Why 12 breweries? Pretty obvious since a 12-pack is a common way to purchase beer and most beer bottles hold 12oz of beer.

I’ll admit to a NJ bias on this list as 7 of the beers are from NJ breweries. Also, many of these are stouts. I did try to whittle down my list so as not to include one brewery twice on the list so there’s one spot for two beers from the same brewery. I’m going from bottom to top. Each title links to either my full review here at the Tap Takeover or my check-in for the beer on untappd. Some of these may be a surprise, mot probably won’t be.

12. Rothuas Pils Tannen Zapfle (German Pilsner) 4.5 Bottle Caps

Rothaus Pils / Tannen Zäpfle from Badische Staatsbrauerei Rothaus in Baden-Württemberg, Germany. Over the past year or so, I’ve come to really enjoy Pilsners and appreciate the history of the style of beer. While I still consider Victory’s Prima Pils the American standard for Pilsners, this authentic German Pilsner is a nearly perfect beer in many ways. Look, taste, and aroma are exactly what to expect with a Pilsner. There was a slight, slight aftertaste to this one, but I would be happy if I had on shelf consisting only of this beer in my refrigerator.

11. Conclave Brewing Hop Ritual with Vic Secret 4.5 Bottle Caps

I’ve made no secret about how much I enjoy the beer from the closest brewery to my house. With this beer, Conclave outshone themselves and produced a beer in a non-go-to style for me that makes me want this to always be in my refrigerator. Vic Secret (which lends the name to the beer) is the strain of New Zealand hops used in the beer and it really does shine. I wasn’t expecting to be as blown away by this beer as I was, but it was so delicious I had to bring home at least a half-growler for myself. I went to Conclave thinking I’d bring home a growler of their porter, which was good, but this Pale Ale may be the best “new” Pale Ale I’ve had in years.

10. Demented Brewing Gluttony (Coffee Stout) 4.5 Bottle Caps

One of the last beers I had in 2017 and possibly my favorite from Demented Brewing over the last couple of years. Every brewery making stouts seems to make some kind of coffee stout. Beer/hops and coffee are two flavor profiles that are strong and can go into opposite directions and be at odds with each other as much as they can complement each other. Some coffee stouts aren’t made the best coffee beans or the coffee can dominate the flavor and leave a lingering unpleasant aftertaste. With Gluttony, there’s a perfect balance of coffee and beer and there’s little to no bitterness on the finish.

9. Firestone Walker Nitro Merlin (Milk Stout) 4.5 Bottle Caps

I think I said all I can say about this beer as one of my first beer review at the Tap Takeover. Bottom line: probably the best Milk Stout I’ve ever had on draft. As I said in my review, “A Nitro Stout against which many, if not all, others should be judged.” Firestone recently released this in cans so I wonder how well the wonders of the beer on draught will translate to cans.

8. Ayinger Celebrator (Dopplebock) 4.5 Bottle Caps

The gold standard for Dopplebocks, plain and simple. Malty, caramelly, with a slight smokiness at the end. This is a wonderful warm weather beer and a prime example of German brewing at its peak. My only problem is that I never had the beer before. I’m going to have to grab this one in bottles in the future, I see it frequently enough in 4-packs.

7. The Alchemist Heady Topper (IPA – Imperial / Double) 4.75 bottle caps

One of the Whale beers of North America, this is the standard by which all other IPAs and double IPAs are judged. I’m slowly, slowly turning a 180 on my dislike of IPAs and maybe it is because of this beer. I shared the 16oz can with a friend and wished I had a full can to myself.

6. Carton Café Y’ Churro (Imperial Cream Ale) 4.75 bottle caps / Carton Sundae (Russian Imperial Stout) 4.75 bottle caps

I have two here from Carton because both were equally wonderful. I also wanted to avoid having two breweries on the list so decided to list these two from the same brewery at the same spot. Anyway, this is my list and blog so I can construct the list how I choose. Back to the beers. Café Y’ Churro is a variation on Carton’s popular Imperial Cream Ale, Regular Coffee with perfect amounts of vanilla and cinnamon. At 12% the beer is deceptively easy drinking and full of flavor.

 

Sundae is a spin on Cosmonaut, Carton’s annual Russian Imperial Stout. This deep burgundy/crimson brew aged in cognac barrels with walnuts and Maraschino cherries just may be the most perfect dessert beer ever brewed. From my review: “From that initial pour and inhale, I kept thinking, “What a surprise this beer is. …makes Sundae one of the more unique beers I’ve ever consumed.”

5. Sierra Nevada & Tree House Brewing Beer Camp Across the World East Meets West IPA (New England IPA) 4.5 Bottle Caps

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. 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.

4. Spellbound Brewing Porter aged Palo Santo Wood 4.75 Bottle Caps

This may be familiar as it was the first beer I reviewed in 2018 and the last 2017 beer I reviewed. From that review: “What I can say is that this is the absolute best porter I had this year, an all-time best porter for me, and very, very high on the list of “New to Me” beers for 2017”

3. Ramstein Winter Wheat (Dopplebock) 4.75 Bottle Caps

Photo courtesy of Ramstein / High Point Brewing

Ramstein (High Point Brewing Company) is one of the craft beers that established NJ as a player in the scene nearly two decades ago. People drive from out of state for growler fills and tastes of this incredible dopplebock. This is a tad sweeter than the previously mentioned dopplebock from Ayinger and perhaps the best “Winter” beer I’ve ever had, possibly one of the best bock varieties I’ve ever had, and one of the best beers brewed in NJ.

2. Dogfish Head Oak Aged Vanilla Stout (Stout – American Imperial / Double) 4.75 Bottle Caps

Dogfish needs no introduction. One of their big annual releases is World Wide Stout so they decided to vary it up with some vanilla producing the best beer with vanilla I can remember having. From my review: “I was slightly nervous, I have to admit. I’ve had a couple of beers with vanilla beans or some kind of vanilla component and I was a little disappointed with those beers, the vanilla was too over powering in those beers. Knowing the quality of Dogfish’s beers, I really should not have worried. If the aroma was a hint of things to come (and it was), the vanilla here was quite present but not dominant.

…and finally, the “new to me beer” for 2017 I enjoyed the most, was a special release from a New Jersey brewery. One of NJ’s oldest and most respected craft breweries…

1. Flying Fish Exit 17 Russian Imperial Stout 4.75 Bottle Caps

This is probably the best beer in Flying Fish’s Exit series, in my humble opinion. Not content with brewing a Russian Imperial Stout, Flying Fish aged this one in Dad’s Hat Rye Whiskey bottles.  My father is a big fan of Flying Fish’s output and we’ve both been trying to have each of the beers in the Exit series, so I figured we’d share this final Exit beer over Thanksgiving. Although I’ve come to love beers aged in bourbon barrels, allowing this beer to sit in Rye Whiskey bottles helps to set it apart from its barrel-aged brethren. Flying Fish’s description says this is a “one of a kind” beer and I’d be hard-pressed to dispute the claim. Supposedly, only 750 bottles were put into distribution so if you’re in the NJ/PA area, grab this because it will not be .around long.

So, there you have it. A 12-pack of the 13 beers I enjoyed the most in 2017

Draught Diversions: December 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…

With December, the Winter Ales and Stouts are filling the shelves. Many filled my glasses and comprise a majority of the new beers I enjoyed this December.

As has been tradition with my wife and I the last decade or so, on the first Saturday of December, we tag our Christmas Tree at a local farm with our friends and celebrate with brunch and adult beverages. This year, my friend had a Six Point variety pack, including Resin, their Double IPA and Sweet Action their blonde. I’ve come to realize I’m just not a fan of much of Six Point’s output. Later in the week, at a work dinner, I had a fine New Jersey brew: Philoso-Rapper, a Belgian Strong Golden Ale from Departed Soles out of Jersey City, NJ.

I stopped at Flounder and picked up a growler of Delta House Stout, their tasty interpretation of a Milk Stout, to bring to a gaming session. At that same session I had some Viking Blood mead, also quite good. I need to explore the world of mead more thoroughly. One of the pleasant surprises of the month was a solid Pilsner from Industrial Arts Brewing, Metric, which was part of a recent Wegman’s Craft Your Own 6 Pack.

I dove fully into the Christmas/Winter Ales having this year’s version of Anchor’s Anchor’s Christmas Ale beer and Rogue’s Santa’s Private Reserve. Anchor’s was good, but I enjoyed previous recipes/iterations more, the 2017 batch was stronger on some spices that didn’t quite work for me. Rogue’s revamped Santa beer, on the other hand, I found to be excellent. A sweet cherry Dark Strong Ale, the beer was perfect as a dessert beer and reminded me of Ommegang’s Rosetta, but without the sourness. Also from my 6 Beers of Christmas Future (2017) was  Two Roads’ Holiday Ale one of the more unique holiday / Christmas beers I’ve had. There’s an interesting malt/sweetness to the beer that really sets it apart.

The Thursday before Christmas was the monthly Brews and Board Games at Lone Eagle. This brewery continues to impress me with how the beer has been getting better and more consistent over the past year. First up was their Abbey Road Dubbel, a fantastic interpretation of the classic Belgian style. The second beer I had was one of their staple brews, 007 Golden Rye Pale Ale, the first Rye beer I’ve had in a while and the first one I can remember enjoying this much. I think I need to reassess this style, particularly the German interpretation known as Roggenbier.

Abbey Road Dubbel on the left, 007 Golden Rye on the right

Finally, Christmas arrived. Well, Christmas Eve, which is when we get together with my side of the family. Christmas Day is spent with the In-laws. Fortunately, I’m not the only person who enjoys craft beer either day, so for years I’ve been bringing special beers to share on both days. I started off sharing possibly the best beer I’ve had all year with my dad, Goose Island’s 2017 Bourbon County Brand Stout. As I have the past few years, I brought a local growler to share with everybody, in this case it was Demented Brewing’s Gluttony and incredible coffee stout that is perfectly balanced. Just as good (if not better) than Firestone Walker’s Mocha Merlin. Unsurprisingly, the growler did not survive the night. My dad also brought out a bomb of Founders Doom the IPA entry in their Barrel Aged series. This is one of the best, smoothest, most balanced IPAs I’ve ever had.

On Christmas Day, I had the Corsendonk Christmas Ale my folks gave to me as a gift the night before. I can taste why this is such popular, traditional beer around Christmas Time. This is a very solid interpretation of a Belgian Strong Dark Ale. The other Christmas beers I brought was 10 Lords a Leaping from the Bruery. This beer tasted like the best parts of a Witbier and a stout amalgamated into one beer with lots of spice complexities.

The final week of 2017 brought still more beers. I had a bottle of Chimay Blue, the Belgian Trappist brewery’s Strong Dark Ale which is a wonderful World Class ale. As I said in my Tuesday review, one of my team members at work got me a 4-pack of Spellbound’s Porter aged on Palo Santo Wood as well as their fantastic IPA. Spellbound’s IPA had the perfect balance of hops and malt. I continued my trek through Flying Fish’s Exit Series with Exit 7 Pork Roll Porter at Hub City Brewhouse, a local tap house in New Brunswick, NJ. Unlike another pork infused beer from a NJ brewery I had earlier in the week, Flying Fish’s beer was really well balanced with the right amount of spice and flavor from the pork roll. The other beer was a fantastic Belgian Brown ale from Leffe.

Lastly, New Year’s Eve for the last beers of 2017. The last few years, my wife and have been going to our friend’s house and just about everybody brings their own beer, but everybody winds up sharing. In addition to a six-pack of Victory’s Prima Pils, I’d been holding a Chocolate Bock from Samuel Adams for a couple of weeks and figured New Year’s Eve the right time to have it. I’ve had the beer in the past, but not in a very long time, long before joining untappd. It was as good as I remembered it. I also had a Wet Dream from Evil Twin Brewing, a brown ale with coffee and Flower Child IPA, a well balanced brew from Cambridge Brewing Company.

So there you have it. The “new to me” December 2017 beers. If I’m calling out the best, the top would definitely be Spellbound’s Porter aged on Palo Santo Wood, Founders’ Barrel-Aged IPA Doom and Demented Brewing’s Coffee Stout Gluttony. I’m excluding Bourbon County Brand Stout since I’ve had a previous year’s version.

Coming next week, my top 12 new to me beers of 2017.

 

Draught Diversions: A 6 Pack of Beer Blogs/Websites

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 post could be seen as a “cousin” to my second Draught Diversion post which focused on podcasts. This time around I’m going to highlight a six pack of Beer Web sites/Blogs I visit every day and follow on twitter. Most people on the internets with an interest in craft beer are already visiting Beer Advocate (and the Forums), so I’ll only mention that one right here. The others? Well, let’s take a look. I’ll go through these alphabetically. If you have any suggestions, please let me know in the comments.

Brewbound (Twitter: @Brewbound)

Brewbound is probably the top website when it comes to beer news and releases as well as craft beer jobs. Although the Web site is geared more towards “craft brewers with brands sold on- and off-premise, beer distributors, retailers, investors and industry suppliers” there’s still a wealth of interesting information for folks like myself who enjoy the delicious beverage and want to know more about what’s going on in the industry. If you want a job in the beer industry, this is the website you want to visit every day.

On his weekly Craft Beer Cast, Al Gattullo almost always reads a story or two from Brewbound. Simply put, a nearly indispensable news site for craft beer.

Brew Jersey by Chris Casellani (Twitter: @WhyAmINotThere)

Going local for NJ is Brew Jersey, written by Chris Casellani. Brew Jersey is a “sub site” of the Best of NJ web site which promotes fun and interesting things about and to do in NJ. I’ve referenced Brew Jersey in a few of my Draught Diversions Brewery visit posts as resources or “for further reading.” Chris does a fantastic job of providing history of each brewery and a profile of the folks who started the brewery and make the beer. Essentially, each time I read a new installment of the semi-regularly released series, I feel very compelled to visit the brewery about which I just read.

If you are not from New Jersey and you are going to visit New Jersey, this is probably the first web site you’ll want to visit to get an idea of the 70+ (and growing) breweries in the Great Garden State where you’d like to get a flight of a couple of pints.

Craft Beer & Brewing (Twitter: @CraftBeerBrew)

I’ve mentioned John Holl on this blog a few times, he’s one of the pre-eminent beer journalists/writers today. As he’s a New Jersey guy, I naturally gravitate to what he has to say about beer (even if I don’t always agree with him). I’d been following @CraftBeerBrew on twitter for some time, and reading Craft Beer & Brewing for quite a while, too. The professional-level reviews at Craft Beer and Brewing often consist of a panel of reviewers, which are brief yet very informative.

Craft Beer & Brewing also has a great Weekly Podcast.

MyBeerBuzz.com (Twitter: @mybeerbuzz)

One of my favorite Web sites/blogs in the online beer community is MyBeerBuzz.com. Bill Cord is the “Founder, owner, author, graphic designer, CEO, CFO, webmaster, president, mechanic and janitor” for mybeerbuzz and one might guess he doesn’t sleep very much, especially when you learn he also produces and co-hosts a weekly radio show

What makes MyBeerBuzz.com so indispensable? Content, content, content. Strike that. Good content, good content, good content. Bill seems to tirelessly (and joyfully) comb beer news websites for all sorts of beer news and my favorite feature, future beer releases which often included bottle and/or can labels.

Bill is relatively local to me, based in Scranton, PA, so while mybeerbuzz does always feature brews from across the country (and world), it is nice to see some focus on PA breweries. As much as I love my home state of New Jersey, I feel very fortunate that Pennsylvania is a neighboring state since they have such a rich history and variety of excellent breweries.

Porch Drinking (Twitter: @PorchDrinkingCO)

For a really wide look at Craft Beer across America, Porch Drinking is one of the most comprehensive, professional web sites dedicated to that fine adult beverage. There’s a large team of contributors, a pretty wide swath of categories for the content/posts, including great reviews to help you find a good beer, or just read about beer in general.

I started following Porch Drinking about a year ago on twitter and I’ve clicked on the majority of their articles. On the whole, well written, informative, interesting, and professional. Another thing I like about the team of contributors as that there’s a pretty good gender balance, showing again that more than just neck-bearded dude-bros enjoy craft beer and have smart things to say about craft beer.

Stout and Stilettos (Twitter: @StoutsStilettos)

Stouts and Stilettos is a wonderful, fun website that highlights “All things #craftbeer, from the female perspective. Content curated by craft beer-loving ladies.” A nice variety of content from beer reviews to brewery reviews to news, these ladies cover it all. A nice looking web site and good content help to make this a site I return to regulary.

Like Porch Drinking, I find myself clicking on a lot of the articles the @StoutsStilettos account tweets, especially those by Chelsie Markel. They’ve even collaborated with Boneshire Brew Works brewery in Harrisburg, PA for a beer that seems to be squarely in my palette’s wheelhouse: Oatmeal Cookie Stout.

One more for the road…

Though not exclusively about beer, Paste Magazine features quite a bit of quality beer writing, including their lists like the regular blind taste-rankings for styles of beer including the most recent (as of this post here at the Tap Takeover) featuring 103 Christmas/Winter Beers

Draught Diversions: Man Skirt 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…

No pants, just great beer!

 

This week’s brewery focused post features Manskirt Brewing in Hackettstown, NJ, one of three fine breweries in the Northwestern town in New Jersey. This brewery was part of the 2017 Birthday Brewery Tour and the first one we visited in Hackettstown.  I’d heard/read good things about the brewery over the last couple of years and enjoyed the beers I had from them, so Man Skirt was fairly high on the list of breweries I wanted to visit.

Although Joe Fisher had the name “Manskirt” in 2008 when he was homebrewing, the doors opened in 2015 in what is an old bank (United Jersey and People’s Bank of New Jersey), which actually makes for a great gathering space. Joe launched a kickstarter to help open the brewery and in the two years since opening, they’ve built a nice reputation for tasty beer. Hackettstown has a pretty active Main Street and the former bank, which Manskirt calls home, is a prominent, hard-to-miss building along the strip. As a former bank, that would make sense (and cents to torture you all with a horrible pun).

But, converting an old bank to a production brewery took a significant amount of work. Joe kept the flavor of the bank since it is such an iconic building in Hackettstown having been in existence for nearly one-hundred years including the vault’s survival during a major fire in Downtown in the 1940s.

All that history is fine and dandy, but when it comes to a brewery, the most important element is the liquid. With a couple of core beers, including the fantastic Great Porter, Joe Fisher has something good going. I’d had that tasty porter prior to visiting the brewery (I think at Garden State Brewfest 2016), so I went for a few different beers in my flight. The first of those beers was another of Manskirt’s launch/flagship beers, Better than Pants, a tasty English Bitter. I haven’t had too many English Bitters so I can’t speak to how it represents the style, but I liked it very much and could think of far worse beers to have sitting in my refrigerator on a regular basis.

The bar top continues the “bank” theme with pennies under a glass top.

Rounding out the flight choices from the eight beers on tap was a tart Berliner Weisse dubbed Once, Twice, Weisse that hit the style notes well but could have maybe benefited from a fruit/sweet syrup addition. Since it was the beginning of November, their Oktoberfest was still on tap, which is nice representation of the classic German lager. Rounding out the flight was a very interesting and potent Saison, Cracked the Code. At 8.2% the ABV is a little higher than most Saisons. The addition of cracked peppercorns complement the yeast and other components quite nicely for a good early fall beer.

At the aforementioned Garden State Brewfest, I had two other beers from then brand new Manskirt: pleaTed wheaT a tasty hefeweizen brewed in collaboration with Linden, NJ’s Two Ton Brewing and Luftweizen Weizenbock. I think they still brew the pleaTed wheaT in the summer, I’m not too sure about the Weizenbock.

As I said, the brewery space is really good for gatherings, there’s ample room at the bar and some long tables setup allowing for quite a few people to enjoy their beer together. In fact, on the day I visited, I happened to run into a couple of friends from a past job who also part of the Brews and Board Games group that meets monthly at Lone Eagle Brewing. Truth be told, Brandon helped me to join the group at Lone Eagle. Man Skirt has plenty of events at their brewery, including a monthly trivia night and regular Yoga and Beer nights, which seems to be a thing many breweries are doing now.

From what I’ve gathered on social media (Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook), owner/brewer Joe Fisher is exactly the type of guy who should own a micro/craft/independent brewery in NJ. I’ve remarked previously how great the NJ Craft Beer community is, in terms of helping each other grow, looking out for the community as a whole, and the great collaborations. Joe seems to have as much passion for the community as he does for making his delicious beer. He’s brewed a couple of collaboration beers with other NJ Brewers and enthusiastically posts about beer from other NJ Breweries like Ramstein and Lone Eagle Brewing.

Man Skirt has been canning some of their beers, primarily two of the flagship beers (The Great Porter and Better than Pants) which are stored in the old bank vault. The brewery is well worth visiting as the staff are affable and welcoming and at least on the day I was there, the patrons were genial and friendly, giving the brewery a wonderful atmosphere. Of the five breweries we visited that day, I think I enjoyed the atmosphere at Man Skirt the most. I’d visit more regularly if it was just a bit closer and will probably head up to Hackettstown to check out what new brews Joe has on tap at some point in the future.

Sources and additional reading:

Best of NJ: Brew Jersey (August 2017)
I DRINK GOOD BEER blog (June 2016)
New Jersey Isn’t Boring (June 2016)
The Daily Record (October 2015)