Draught Diversions: May 2021 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…

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May was a month for a plentiful amount of new beer. I was fortunate enough to enjoy so many good new beers that I had a tougher time choosing six than I have in quite a few months. A nice mix of styles, a brewery or two appearing in the Monthly Six Pack for the first time or first time in a while. This marks the third month in a row with a Barleywine, third month in a row without an IPA, and first time in a two months without a new Pilsner. Only one of these beers was purchased a liquor/beer store (the lone non-NJ beer), the other five were purchased directly at the brewery, with four of those enjoyed at the brewery. Is that too granular of an analyzation?

Saint Alphonsus (Bull ‘n Bear) | Belgian Dubbel | 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

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Had a meet up in Summit, NJ on the first day of the month and we had time before our restaurant reservations so of course we stopped at the neighboring brewery. This is the 3rd beer I’ve had from Bull ‘n Bear and each style has been very tasty. This Dubbel is a very impressive interpretation of the style from Bull ‘n Bear.

Vanilla Maris (Timber Ales/Horus Aged Ales/Mindful Ales) | Barleywine – English | 4.50 Bottle Caps on untappd

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Here I am again with the third beer I’ve had from a brewery…what a fantastic Barleywine this beer is. The English Barleywines are more malty and sweet compared to their hoppy cousins from America and often exhibit hints of toffee in the flavor profile. This beer does indeed have that element to it, which plays wonderfully with the vanilla beans on which the beer was aged. Another standout from Timber Ales.

Morning Bean 2020 (Kane Brewing Company) | Porter – Other | 4.5 Bottle Caps on untappd

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With the world slowly emerging from the Pandemic, a couple of friends and I decided to visit Kane’s Biergarten. Morning Bell is a superb Coffee Porter and they release variants every year. I missed out on the bottle release of this one, which takes the beer and conditions the liquid on Bourbon Vanilla Beans. This beer is an unbelievably delicious porter.

Paddy’s House Kölsch (Source Brewing) | Kölsch | 4.75 Bottle Caps on untappd

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…and after Kane, we visited Source, which was a first for us. A beautiful setting, a warm day, and a cold beer with friends. Well, I saw good things about this beer on untappd and I was not disappointed. The is beer is the winner of a homebrew contest, and there’s no question of the quality. Of the 30 beers on untappd I’ve had categorized as “Kölsch,” this is at least the best American version and maybe the best period. This was zlow-poured to allow the flavors to express themselves even more potently, some malt/breadiness with a crisp finish that has some hops and a wonderful mouthfeel. This is everything I want in a beer.

Blackberry Frukt (Conclave Brewing Company) | Farmhouse Ale – Other | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

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I took a quick drive to Conclave to grab one of the very limited bottle releases (likely to be mentioned in next month’s six pack) and of course had to have some freshly poured beer. I was glad to see this beer still on tap because it was absolutely perfect for warm weather enjoyment. Conclave calls this a “Norwegian Farmhouse Ale” because of the Kviek yeast which brings fun flavors to the beer, but they went further and finished the beer on fresh blackberries for a really special beer.

Triple 5 Phat Crispy (Twin Elephant Brewing Company/Five Boroughs Brewing Company ) | Lager – American | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

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Twin Elephant is celebrating their fifth year this year and they’ve canned a few beers, including this one, the first Lager they’ve packaged. Brewed in collaboration with Five Boroughs Brewing, this beer is just about everything a fan of flavorful Lagers could want in a beer. Refreshing, tasty, a delicious crusher. A contender for my favorite beer from the folks from Chatham, NJ.

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Draught Diversions: Summer Six Pack 2021

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…

Summer is nearly upon us and the Summer Beers have been in stories for the better part of the last month, with upcoming Memorial Day weekend as the unofficial kick off of Summer. I mixed it up a little bit with NJ and PA beers compared to last year, and each beer is a different style, at least according to how they are categorized on untappd. As I preface this Summer Beer post every year, because a post about Summer Beers was the very first Draught Diversion I posted/published, I am continuing the “tradition.”

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As in past Summer Six Packs, not all of these are official “summer” beers, but they are styles for me that seem to fit right into the summer and have been organized alphabetically by brewery.

The Keg Stand | Lager – American | 5.5% ABV | Four City Brewing | Orange, NJ

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This beer is the only one I’ve had the opportunity to enjoy and it is everything you’d want in an “American Lager.” Clean, refreshing, and crisp. The can art practically screams summer beer

What Four City Brewing says about the beer:

Our American Style Lager is brewed with the best Heidelberg malt, flaked rice & corn. This combination meshes nicely with New Zealand Hallertauer hops & our house lager yeast.


Trimmin’ | Pilsner – Other | 6% ABV | Last Wave Brewing Company | Point Pleasant Beach, NJ

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For me, Pilsner is one of the ideal styles of beer for summer. Then again, Pilsner is one of my favorite styles, so that shouldn’t be a surprise to long time readers of the Tap Takerover. I figured a brewery based in one of New Jersey’s most popular shore towns would be a good one to highlight for this style.

What Last Wave Brewing says about the beer:

When you’re cruising on your longboard and set your line, it’s all about the glide, which is also known as “Trimming.” Our dry-hopped pilsner takes this classic style to heart with a simple pilsner base that gets its flavor from a slow, lagering process that brings out crisp notes of grainy goodness and a pale yellow body. A light dry hopping provides a touch of citrus and floral notes in the aroma to create a highly crushable lager with a little extra flavor to get you locked in.


Beach Fuzz | Wheat Beer – Witbier | 5.5% ABV | Neshaminy Creek Brewing Company | Croydon, PA

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This beer looks like it would be great for the cooler in the summer, with refreshing sweetness from peach puree doesn’t it? Victory has a similar beer (Twisted Monkey), but I think Beach Fuzz may be slightly lower in ABV and the base beer is a little lighter, too.

What Neshaminy Creek Brewing Company says about the beer:

Brewed with: coriander, orange peel

We brewed up a classic, Belgian Style Wheat Ale with White Wheat & Flaked Oats, hopped in the kettle with Saaz hops, and then we conditioned it on peach puree. The result? A bright and zesty Belgian Wheat Ale, with a soft malt character, hints of spice, and loaded with stone fruit flavors. We taste juicy, ripe peach notes, a dry finish, and rays of sunshine on our faces.


Meet Me at the Snack Shack | IPA – Session / India Session Ale | 4.7% ABV | Ross Brewing Company | Port Monmouth, NJ

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IPAs are still the most popular style, but with lower ABV beers becoming more popular, the Session IPA (sub 5% ABV) has grown in popularity. When you go to the beach, you either bring food or you go to the snack shack. Even if you bring food, you still likely go to the snack shack, so this beer is really appropriate for the Summer.

What Ross Brewing Company says about the beer:

Meet Me at the Snack Shack will be dropping at all your usual spots starting this week and rolling out throughout New Jersey and New York during the two weeks after that! Our 4.7% abv Session IPA somehow fits all the flavor and aroma of a full strength IPA into a crushable low-alcohol package. Citra, Motueka, Azacca, and El Dorado hops, flaked wheat, and a perfectly pleasing malt bill combine to give you 2021’s beer of the summer, even if its only March. Get in early, you’ll be thankful you did. Not to mention it’s the first-ever Ross can to feature the amazing original art of the one and only Tommy Lombardozzi!


16oz of Freedom | Pale Ale – American | 5.2% ABV | Twin Lights Brewing Company | Monmouth County, NJ

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Twin Lights officially launched last year and in the summer, they canned up this celebratory Pale Ale. I hope they offer it up again this year.

What Twin Lights Brewing says about the beer:

In honor of Fourth of July, we introduce to you another limited release, 16oz To Freedom. Our first American Pale Ale! For the malt bill we incorporated a blend of Pale malt, Maris Otter, and a touch of light crystal. For our hop selection we chose to kick it a little old school. We added Chinook for some bittering and also in the whirlpool combined with Centennial. We dry hopped this beer with Cascade, Centennial and Simcoe for a crushable, medium-bodied, malty and hopped up American Pale Ale


Summer Hazy Love | IPA – American | 5.5 % ABV | Victory Brewing Company | Downington, PA

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One of Victory’s most popular beers is their Summer Love golden ale so this is something of a brand extension, if you will. Upping the hop level, making it an IPA and throwing Hazy in the title is a sure way to get some attention. I haven’t had this yet, but I’d be surprised if I get through the Summer without trying this beer

What Victory Brewing says about the beer:

Let’s keep sharing the love. Summer Love goes Hazy in this IPA that sparkles with juicy hop notes for those days that feel like the sun never sets. Time for another..

What new lagers or ales are you hoping to try this summer? What has been a trusty beer for you in past summers?

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Draught Diversions: The Tap Takeover’s 4th 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…

Well, four years have passed since I decided to write about beer and launched the Tap Takeover. I skipped writing about my “Third Anniversary” because there were far more important things going on in the world of beer, and the world in general. The Pandemic was a colossal shift in life, but it seems the light at the end of the tunnel might be something resembling the normalcy of the Before Times rather than the oncoming train. I figured I could publish a self-reflective post, right?

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A collage of NJ Belgian Quadrupels for The Tap Takeover’s 4th Anniversary

The brewery landscape in New Jersey has evolved and grown, with more canned beer being made available as a result of the COVID restrictions affecting on-site consumption in brewery taprooms. However, some breweries did actually launch/open over the last couple of years and during the pandemic, bringing the number of breweries to 130 and 21 Brewpubs as of this writing, according to New Jersey Craft Beer, as of this posting in May 2021.  I’ve found myself gravitating even more to NJ beer over the last year during the Pandemic, as some of the breweries are more widely available via distribution as well. I would guess that close to 80% of the beer I purchase is from New Jersey breweries. In addition, I tend to also gravitate to Pennsylvania breweries since a couple of the breweries in the Keystone State are actually closer to me than some breweries here in the Great Garden State.

I published another 76 reviews since the May 2019 2nd anniversary post!

Over the past two years (since I published the self-aggrandizing 2nd anniversary post), I visited 24 breweries (some of these were mentioned in my year end posts for 2019 & 2020):

As in past years, I would like to thank the readers of the blog and folks who have supported my little hobby by spreading the word over the years via social media and simply chatting up with me (virtually or in meatspace) about beer. I’d especially like to thank Mike K. of NJ Craft Beer who I’ve run into a few times at breweries and who was kind enough to invite me to a livestream chat; in March with other NJCB Members. Mike is always one of the first to spread the word/retweet my beer posts. Additionally, I’d also like to thank some of the other people who’ve spread the word on social media about my beer ramblings: the folks behind Breweries in PA ; John Couchoud and the the Crew of South Jersey Beer Scene; Al Gatullo of Al Gatullo’s Craft Beer Cast, my old college pal Chuck of NJ Beer and Wine; the great beer writer John Holl; Rob Callaghan and everybody in the great Brewery Strong organization; Matt Ross/MattyBlayze and the crew over at reddit/njbeer; the folks at the Beer Advocate Northeast subforum, among many others.

I’m still over at Instagram as @robhbed where I’ve gotten into the habit of posting one beer photo (very amateurishly taken) per week.

Cheers to another great year!

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Draught Diversions: April 2021 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…

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April means Easter (most years) and hints of warmer weather. The darker beers (traditionally) start to fade and the lighter fare begins to emerge; Golden Ales, Pale Lagers/Pilsners, etc. Well, Pilsners are always at the forefront here at the Tap Takeover (two this month), and 5 out of 6 beers this month were crafted at New Jersey breweries. A couple of the usual suspects, a returning guest, and two breweries making their first appearances in a monthly six pack (even if they’ve both been mentioned a few times over the years).

Santa Lucia (Angry Erik Brewing) | Belgian Strong Golden Ale | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

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It has been a very long time since I’ve enjoyed a beer from Angry Erik Brewing. Since my visit to them back in 2017, they moved into a facility they built and increased their production. When I was in the area, I figured I’d grab some beer to share on Easter and this delicious Belgian-Style Golden Ale was perfect for the spring day. This beer is extremely flavorful, the sweetness from the honey works very nicely with the Belgian-style yeast. The 9.7% ABV is very well hidden.

Rewal (Jersey Cyclone Brewing Company) | Pilsner – Other / Polish Pilsner | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd
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Since they opened, Jersey Cyclone has been brewing fantastic lagers and this “Polish Pilsner” is hands down my favorite Pilsner from the Somerset brewery. What makes it a “Polish” Pilsner? The hops – Lubelski – are from Poland. This beer is light but very tasty and hits all the notes a Pilsner should hit (a little crackery/bready, a bit of hops, and refreshing) and is worth the wait for a slow pour at the tap or out of your can.

Slugger (Sly Fox Brewing Company) | Pilsner – Other | 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

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Sly Fox is one of the great Pennsylvania breweries, unfortunately not much of their output makes it to my area/region of NJ. So when I saw this Pilsner (a maroon/baby blue/white can for Phillies), brewed largely for on site consumption at Citizen’s Bank Park (and a black/gold can for the Pittsburgh Pirates), I immediately ordered it. I was very pleased with the balance of hops and malt and overall finely crafted flavor of the beer.

Object Permanence (Aramagnac Barrel-Aged 2020) (Kane Brewing Company) | Barleywine – English | 4.5 Bottle Caps on untappd

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Barleywines aren’t on the shelves very often, so when I placed an order with Kane, I had to add this and another variant of the same beer. I’ve never heard of Aramagnac before getting this bottle, but essentially it is a brandy-like liquor which is a byproduct of wine. The beer is smooth and sweet, the barrel imparts some fruitiness which works really nicely with the toffee character of an English Barleywine. Do I really need to state again how great Kane’s barrel program is?

Boat Ramp Champ (Cape May Brewing Company) | Lager – Helles | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

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Being on Social Media can be a good thing. You get to see beers months ahead of their release to the public, like this Helles Lager from Cape May Brewing Company. They don’t brew/can/distribute many lagers, but when they do, they do them well (Cape May Lager from a couple of years ago; my new summer go-to, Tan Limes; and their annual Oktoberfest), so I was really looking forward to trying this one and I was absolutely not disappointed. This is one of the best Helles Lagers I’ve ever had, a fantastic American interpretation of the classic German style, and it might be my favorite beer from Cape May Brewing Company.

Morning Meeting (Untied Brewing Company) | Porter– Imperial / Double | 3.75 Bottle Caps on untappd

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This is one of the beers from Untied Brewing I’ve wanted to try since they opened and I learned about it. Essentially, with the maple syrup, coffee, and cinnamon, this is a breakfast beer. Very flavorful, the vanilla brings all of the elements together quite nicely. My only real issue is that the body of this beer is somewhat thin. The second can of the 4-pack I had a week later sat with me a little better. I may have noted that I tend to enjoy beers even more the second time I have them since I kind of know what to expect and that theory proved true with Morning Meeting.

Another month in the books! Nothing really lousy like past months so I’ll end it here.

Draught Diversions: Ashton Brewing (Middlesex,NJ)

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

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“Let’s launch our brewery when our State shuts down thanks to a pandemic,” said nobody ever. Well, that’s the situation Steve and Donna Ashton found themselves in March 2020 when they wanted to open Ashton Brewing Company. Considering the planning for the brewery was going back as early as summer 2019, Steve and Donna could not foresee what they’d be up against in March 2020. But persist, they did.

Steve and Donna have been making beer for over 25 years, Steve is a BJCP Master Judge and a member of the highly respected MASH (Morris Area Society of Homebrewers), and Steve has won awards for his homebrewing skills. In other words, when it comes to making beer, they really know what they are doing. When Steve retired from his finance career, it made sense for him to look to beer, which helped bring him and Donna together nearly 30 years ago.

Steve and Donna initially set their sights on an old roller rink in Roxbury, NJ, but that didn’t pan out. However, one door closing isn’t the end especially when another door opens. The location they settled on turned out to be a great spot, since it once housed a brewery, Demented Brewing Company in Middlesex, NJ. The demise of Demented is fairly well document in NJ beer circles, including my post from April 2019. The location is already a known brewery destination and was set up as a brewery, which made the build out a little bit easier. That doesn’t necessarily mean there was no work to be done, because the new tenants understandably wanted to ensure the location is completely branded with Ashton Brewing and remnants of the former tenants no longer present. Personally speaking, that location is about a mile from where I work and not too far from home, so I was very happy to learn of a new brewery taking over the location.

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Speaking of that branding, Donna Ashton was and is a freelance graphic designer. Those skills come in quite handy when it comes to giving a business a visual identity, and she’s done a really nice job with the branding. The company’s logo incorporates an Ash tree and many of the beers have an Ash tree in the background or worked into the label in some fashion. For example, their Barleywine, Fraxinus takes its name from the genus name of the Ash family of trees. Throughout the post, I’ve included some of the cans Ashton has produced over the last year, which shows the potent brand identity Donna helped to establish for Ashton Brewing Company.

Shortly after Ashton officially opened for business, I was hoping to try their beer. That first weekend in April 2020, my wife and I were doing some errands (i.e. food shopping) and she got me in the car and surprised me when we arrived Ashton to pick up a couple of crowlers, their English Mild (Billy Two Hats) and their stout (Velvet Elvis). I was pretty impressed with the beers and had a good feeling that Ashton Brewing was off to as good a start as possible, given the state of the world. Steve and Donna had to pivot to a model that did not rely on taproom and on-site consumption sales even before they opened, and the crowlers proved to be a pretty good start for them.

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Another way Ashton Brewing was able to pivot successfully was in their canned beers. The majority of canned beer for the past couple of years has been in the pint/16oz cans popularized by the growth of Hazy/New England IPAs. When Steve and Donna brought in a canning line, they went with 12oz cans. That alone sort of sets them apart from the crowd of NJ canned beer. I’d guess Carton, Bolero Snort, and Spellbound are part of the minority of the post 2012 breweries regularly canning their beer at the 12oz size. What they couldn’t have foreseen was that a can shortage was going to hit. A combination of tariffs and resources was making it difficult for breweries to keep crowlers and 16oz cans in stock, but in speaking with Steve when I visited the brewery for their First Anniversary recently (more on that later), he said because Ashton decided to go with 12oz cans as their can of choice, they were not as affected by that shortage.

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Images courtesy of Ashton Brewing’s Facebook

Because of the pandemic and social distancing requirements, getting a peek proved a challenge. During the annual birthday brewery tour my wife takes me on, we were able to partake in outdoor seating. Although it was the first weekend in November, it was unseasonably warm and made for a lovely outdoor, socially distanced experience. However, my most recent trip to Ashton was during their 1 year anniversary and with social distancing somewhat relaxed, a limited number of occupants were permitted indoors for consumption. And what struck me most, compared to how the previous tenants had the interior laid out, is that Steve and Donna opted for a much brighter look. More well-lit, not as much dark imagery (not that I’m against dark imagery, I’m a horror junkie after all), but the overall feel and tone of the taproom is very, very welcoming. Of course during my visit for that First Anniversary, we felt very welcomed because we were sitting on one of the most comfortable leather couches upon which I’ve ever sat…which was wiped down with disinfectant before we took our seats.

Another element that sets Ashton Brewing apart from many of their peers is the breadth of styles which they brew and make available. Of course IPAs and Pale Ales are part of their portfolio, but the second beer the canned was the fantastic Pilsner, Jersey Dreamin (a top new beer to me in 2020). Two of the first styles Ashton brewed were an English Mild (Billy Two Hats) and an Altbier (Red Baron), both very traditional styles, but styles you don’t see very often. I’ve had both and enjoyed both. Other early brews included a Dutch, a Patersbier (the Belgian Trappist style with lowest ABV); ’Aina, a Farmouse/Saison; and Aura a Witbier, among other beers/styles. Ashton set out to brew beers of a drinkable ABV (around the 6% mark) and with a draught capacity of 18 beers, they certainly have a wide variety of styles available most of the time, maybe one of the more diverse tap lists in the State.

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March 2021 Taplist, courtesy of Ashton Brewing’s Facebook page

What I especially appreciate is how well-crafted Ashton Brewing’s lagers are. I mentioned Jersey Dreamin’ and I will again because it is that damned good. Recently, I had their Czech Dark Lager (Beach Badges), which was a wonderful beer. Their Schwarzbier, Black Orpheus is a delicious collaboration with Sunken Silo Brew Works in nearby Lebanon, NJ; during my November visit, I thoroughly enjoyed their Festbier (Festus Haggen) and their Maibock/Helles Bock, Cellar Hellar.

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L to R: Cellar Hellar (Maibock/Helles Bock); Stella Blue (Saison); Mashed Up (Porter); Festus Haggen (Festbier)

Back to their Anniversary celebration on March 27. Ashton was pouring quite a few barrel-aged beers, in addition to their standard taplist. In briefly speaking with owner Steve, he said he was able to procure used barrels from Jersey Spirits in Fairfield, NJ (which is in the same complex as Magnify Brewing Company). I started my day out with the aforementioned Schwarzbier before diving into the bigger beers. My second beer was the Rye Barrel Aged Barleywine, Fraxinus. Fraxinus is an English style Barleywine, which leans more on malt than hops, compared to the American version. With the Rye Barrel aging, the beer is extremely balanced. There was a nice spice from the rye, but the toffee-caramel-malt elements from the base Barleywine were still present. The third beer that day, and perhaps one of the most interesting barrel-aged beers I ever had was the Grappa-barrel aged Farmhouse ale Aina. I remarked to Steve that I’d never think to age anything in Grappa, but he said when he was getting the barrels from Jersey Spirits, a small Grappa barrel was available, so he figured he’d give it a shot. I had Grappa once many years ago, and found it to be very unpleasant and what I expected kerosene to taste like. However, the elements of the Grappa played nicely with the Farmhouse Ale, for a somewhat crisp, but pleasant and effervescent beer. The last barrel-aged beer was perhaps the most straight-forward in its premise, a Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Stout, Midnight Moonlight. Although this was probably the barrel aged beer I liked the least of the three, it was still a good beer with huge chocolate notes.

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Clockwise from top left: Black Orpheus Schwarzbier; Fraxinus Barleywine (Rye Barrel); Aina Farmhouse (Grappa Barrel); Midnight Moonlight (Bourbon Barrel)

Between the straight-forward styles (IPA, Pilsner), somewhat less prevalent styles (Altbier, Schwarzbier, Czech Dark Lager), and barrel-aged beers, Ashton Brewing has demonstrated a very high level of expertise in craft brewing. They started strongly with a delicious IPA and what is turning out to be one of my favorite Pilsners. Over the past year, the beers they’ve been churning out have each been extremely flavorful and very well-crafted. The majority of the beers are the recipes Steve has been refining over the past couple of decades as a homebrewer, that refinement and elegance is really easy to taste.

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Images courtesy of Ashton Brewing’s Facebook

Ashton Brewing has already established themselves as a significant presence in the NJ Craft Beer community. Steve has been a member of MASH (Morris Area Society of Homebrewers) and because of that, Ashton collaborated on a beer with brewers who have connections to MASH. All Mashed Up is a collaboration between Ashton, Seven Tribesmen (Wayne, NJ), and Untied Brewing in New Providence. Each brewery tweaked the base recipe slightly, Ashton added marshmallows and Cacao Nibs to their version. Ashton was a fairly early contributor to the Brewery Strong Philanthropy as well.

Given their ability to successfully pivot during the most challenging of times, and the quality of the liquid they produce, I expect that Ashton Brewing will be a staple of the NJ Craft Brewery scene for a very long time. I know I’ll be keeping their beer in my regular rotation

Some other links of interest and sources of information for this post:

Ashton Brewing Company’s Web site | Instagram | Facebook | Ashton Brewing on NewJerseyCraftBeer.com | Ashton Brewing entry @ Beer Advocate | untappd

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Draught Diversions: March 2021 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…

The Ides of March…have passed and I’ve assembled my March 2021 Six Pack. For the first time in a very long time (maybe ever), all the beers here are from NJ breweries. I didn’t necessarily plan that, but I’m not upset about it either, because there’s some really good beers here. Mostly from the usual suspects and frequent breweries, but one brewery I haven’t mentioned in a very long time (years).

Upside Downside (Icarus Brewing Company) | Schwarzbier | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

Yet again, the folks at Icarus make a beer that I need to talk about. This beer makes two consecutive months with a Schwarzbier and damn if this isn’t an outstanding take on the style. Extremely flavorful with elements of sweet malt, hints of smoke, and the nice crisp lager finish. This could be an all-day drinker for me.

Beach Badges (Ashton Brewing) | Lager – Dark / Czech Dark Lager | 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

Another dark lager? Yes! Apparently, over the last few months I’ve really been taken with dark lagers, as the posts on this blog may attest. Ashton’s take on the Czech Dark Lager is fantastic, which isn’t surprising given the quality of the lagers I’ve had from them. This beer has a sweet breadiness, I’d almost say toasted, fluffy, buttered pumpernickel bread not unlike Kane’s Hollow Sea which made a Six Pack appearance in November 2020. As soon as I learned of this beer, I had to have it and I’m damned glad I picked up a six pack.

Port Omna – Blended Stout & Bourbon Barrel-Aged Stout 2021 (Kane Brewing Company) | Stout – Imperial / Double Milk | 4.75 Bottle Caps on untappd

For St. Patrick’s Day, Kane releases Port Omna, their take on the Irish Dry Stout (which I’ve enjoyed in the past), they also release some variants. I grabbed two of the variants and this one was not just the better one (not that the other was bad), but it quickly climbed the list of my top barrel-aged beers. Granted this beer is a blend of milk stout and Barrel-Aged stout, but it is truly divine, with hints of maple syrup, coffee, and chocolate.

Thunder in the Distance (Jersey Cyclone Brewing Company) | Barleywine – American | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

A trip to Jersey Cyclone led me to this beer, a really nice barleywine with hints of sweet toffee intermingled with the strong hop presence. This beer reminds me of Sierra Nevada’s iconinc Bigfoot Barelywine, but with a more mellow hop presence, which is fine by me. In talking with owner Jan, he hinted that there might be some of this beer sitting in bourbon barrels for a future release. Sign me up for a bottle now, please!

Peitsche (Carton Brewing Company) | Pilsner – German | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

When Carton Brewing expanded their production facility, it coincided with more lagers, specifically Pilsners. Augie and his crew have been brewing regional takes on the style, with the Whip American Pilsner as the base, they’ve brewed and canned an Italian, Czech, and now this German Pilsner which is just great. There’s a slight slap of hops on the end that reminds me of Victory’s Prima Pilsner which is not a bad thing by any means.

The Imperial: Freedom Toast (Cypress Brewing Company) | Stout – Imperial / Double Oatmeal | 3.75 Bottle Caps on untappd

It has been quite a long time since a beer from Cypress Brewing made an appearance (December 2018), but this one was worth mentioning. This beer, as the name implies, is Cypress’s take on what a French Toast inspired beer might taste like and this beer mostly succeeds. I like the maple and cinnamon, but I’ve come to realize I don’t care for nutmeg. Aside from how thin the beer was, it was quite good.

So there you have it, a really good selection of beers this month. There were a few clunkers, too, but they weren’t offensive enough to mention.

Draught Diversions: A Video Conversation with NJ Craft Beer Members

On Monday Night (03/29/21), the great Mike Kivowitz founder/owner/patriarch of New Jersey Craft Beer invited me, along with Leah Griffin-Bibby (owner of Craft Brew Candle Company) and Eric Dengelegi (from Source Brewing) to spend some time talking NJ Beer. Mike’s been hosting a series of video conversations (video podcasts? video blogs?) on Monday nights over the past few months. Most of those conversations have involved brewery owners or their head brewers (Carton Brewing, Ross Brewing, Beach Haus Brewery, Melovino Meadery to name a few).

However, for this past Monday’s conversation, Mike wanted to speak members of the NJ Craft Beer community who have a similar passion for craft beer, were involved in the beer community some way, but not necessarily making the beer. Leah owns a business (the aforementioned Craft Brew Candle Company) that makes candles from the empty beer bottles and beer cans, with a focus on NJ breweries (i.e. lots of Kane, Source, and Three 3s candles for sale at her site); Eric is a beertender at Source Brewing in Colts Neck, NJ, and is certified Cicerone® beer server; while I’m the guy behind this here blog. That’s how it all came together.

We had a very good time so if you want to get a peek at and hear the guy behind The Tap Takeover (along with the cool people who are Leah and Eric), check out the YouTube video below.

 

Draught Diversions: February 2021 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…

Here I am with my monthly six pack, the beers (outside of the feature reviews), I enjoyed the most the previous month. For the first time in probably well over a year or two, this six pack does not include at least half of the beers from NJ breweries. Granted, much of what I enjoyed this month came from NJ breweries as I still had plenty from my Carton trip on New Year’s Day and I made a big Icarus Brewing purchase. Still, a pretty good selection of beers, at least I think.

Let’s crack open the cans and bottles, shall we?

Bristlecone Brown Ale (Uinta Brewing Company) | Brown Ale – American | 3.75 Bottle Caps on untappd

Brown Ales are one of the more overlooked styles, but like any style, when crafted well, can be just as enjoyable and flavorful as any style. Uinta’s take on the style ticks off all of those boxes in a nice way. A solid every-day beer.

Barrel & Bean (Allagash Brewing Company) | Belgian Tripel | 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

I enjoy Tripels. I enjoy Barrel Aged beers. I enjoy beers brewed with Coffee. I don’t know that I would ever think to have one beer with those three elements, but here we are with Allagash’s Barrel & Bean. Most barrel-aged Tripels I’ve enjoyed have been aged in some kind of wine barrel, but the bourbon elements and coffee work well here. Frankly, Allagash can really do no wrong, so the quality of this beer wasn’t really too much of a surprise to me.

DDH Power Juice (Azacca) (Icarus Brewing Company) | IPA – Imperial / Double New England | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

Icarus makes their usual monthly appearance on the Six Pack. Like many breweries, Icarus crafts variants of popular IPAs, this is a variant on their Power Juicer New England IPA featuring Azacca hops. This one is very juicy with citrus elements and an overall great beer, but the original base Power Juicer works just a little better for me. Still, this beer is worth seeking out.

Blackbird (Tonewood Brewing Company) | Schwarzbier | 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

The lagers coming out of Tonewood Brewing are some of the best in NJ, and Blackbird is no exception. This is a Schwarzbier, a very traditional style, dating back to the 1300s! Blackbird is a Dark German Lager with fantastic roasted and sweet elements that are similar to a porter. At 4%ABV, this beer won’t knock you out but is very flavorful. I found that I enjoyed the second can I had the night after the first can even more, maybe because I had a better idea of what to expect from the beer. As lagers have continued to gain popularity/momentum in craft brewing, I’ve been seeing more Schwarzbiers pop up, which is a very good thing.

Grand Cacao (Tröegs Independent Brewing) | Stout – Milk / Sweet | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

When the brothers behind Pennsylvania’s Tröegs Independent Brewing release a new year round beer, it is worthy of note. When the beer is as good as Grand Cacao is, it is even more noteworthy. This beer is an outstanding Milk Stout with heavy chocolate overtones making for a nearly perfect dessert beer. This is similar to the Chocolate Stout released in the Most Wonderful Beer of the Year variety pack in 2018, but maybe amped up more. This beer may have begun as one of Tröegs’s Scratch beers, but I’m very happy this is now a year-round offering. Grand Cacao has immediately become a top Milk Stout for me.

Morning Shakeout (Timber Ales in collaboration with Marlowe Artisanal Ales) | Stout – Coffee | 4.5 Bottle Caps on untappd

Timber Ales has been contract brewing small batches, I reviewed one their beers (Cosm of Darkness) a few months back and wanted to try another beer from them. To say I was pleased with this beer is an understatement… this is in the top tier of Coffee Stouts I’ve ever had, especially of the non-barrel-aged variety. What makes this beer so damned good is the simplicity – nothing fancy, just one adjunct in the form of the coffee, but it is outstanding. Even moreso as the beer warmed a little bit and the flavors had a chance to breathe. Worth seeking out.

No real clunkers like last month, but also not quite as many new to me beers this month either.

Draught Diversions: January 2021 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…

 

The first six pack of 2021 brings some of the usual suspects (specifically, a brewery who appeared on every January Six Pack so far. In addition to that, some interesting beers, including one from an old favorite, all of which amount to the usual mix of NJ and non-NJ beer.

And a Jelly (Carton Brewing Company) | Cream Ale | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

New Year’s Day in the world of NJ Craft Beer means Carton Brewing and their annual release of their latest “Irregular Coffee” variant. Augie and his crew take their famous Regular Coffee Cream Ale and make a variant, this time around they decided to add some raspberry purree, making the standard convenient breakfast fare of a coffee and jelly doughnut amalgamated into one beer. I liked this one quite a bit, but I wouldn’t have minded if the raspberry was a little more assertive.

UDDR: Our Princess Is In Another Cowstle (Bolero Snort Brewery) | Sour – Fruited | 3.75 Bottle Caps on untappd

As I noted in my review of Bolero Snort’s Mele Kalikimakow, the brewery has considerably upped their game in Sour beers and this beer is a an example of that. Peach, Cherry, and Lactose make for an extremely sweet beer, but a beer that also maintains an appreciable level of tart/sour. This beer is part of Bolero’s “Video Game” series of Sour beers, UDDR.

Nitro Crème Brûlée (Southern Tier Brewing Co) | Stout – Imperial / Double Milk | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

For many years, Southern Tier was one of my go to breweries, especially their Blackwater series of big beers. I’ve had the non-nitro version of Crème Brûlée and it is one of the most decadent beers I’ve ever had. The nitro works well in this beer, those flavor elements are nicely complemented by the nitro. I need to get myself more of their big beers, because Southern Tier is really accomplished on this front.

Peanut Butter Yeti (Great Divide Brewing Company) | Stout – Imperial / Double | 3.75 Bottle Caps on untappd

This is the second variant of Great Divide’s legendary Imperial Stout Yeti and like the regular and Mexican variety, it is an extremely well-made beer. Peanut Butter is a tricky adjunct because it is so potent and can be overpowering. Great Divide does a really nice job because the Peanut Butter is very assertive, but it isn’t a bludgeon to the palate.

3288 Anniversary Ale – Barrel-Aged German Chocolate Stout (Kane Brewing Company) | Stout – Other | 4.75 Bottle Caps on untappd

Special occasions call for special beers, so when I received a very nice promotion at work to start of 2021, I knew I was going to celebrate with Kane’s 9th Anniversary Stout (3288). I was fortunate enough to get this beer (and their other anniversary beer, a Quadrupel/Strong Ale also excellent) on the Eventbrite sale in November. So what is this beer? It is Kane’s (extremely successful) attempt emulating German Chocolate Cake in Beer form, a blend of barrel-aged stouts conditioned on Madagascar-bourbon vanilla beans, cacao nibs, toasted coconuts and pecans. This stout is one of the most decadent, richest, thickest, delicious barrel-aged stouts I’ve ever enjoyed. All those aforementioned elements are expressed in the beer both as a blend and individually – or another way, perfectly. Kane has a reputation as the NJ best brewery for many categories, including Barrel Aged beers and this beer just proves that to be true, an outstandingly crafted ale.

Uncharted Waters – Blueberry and Cinnamon (Jersey Cyclone Brewing Company) | Sour – Fruited | 4.5 Bottle Caps on untappd

 

I’ve been a fan of Jersey Cyclone Brewing since they opened a couple of years ago, their lagers and stouts are superb and they make tasty IPAs. However, this Blueberry/Cinnamon sour ale, Uncharted Waters, might be the best I’ve had from them. Lactose is added to balance out the tartness and sour elements for an outstanding beer. The beer reminds me of a blueberry crumble or blueberry cinnamon pie in beer form. Simply a delicious beer. Jersey Cyclone brews a few different fruited variants of Uncharted Waters, which I must now try.

 


There was one letdown of a beer; however. The beer is from a brewery’s whose beer I’ve enjoyed, but this one was a miss, Forgotten Boardwalk’s Dark Ride a “Black Chocolate Stout.” I like stouts, chocolate, and salted chocolate, but something tasted off in this beer or the beer interpretation of the sweet and salty candy just didn’t work for me.

Draught Diversions: Favorite New Beers of 2020

The fourth annual roundup keeps up the trend from the 2019 12-pack, while I’ll still have beers with very high untappd ratings, this post features “Favorite” beers of the 328 unique beers I checked into untappd in 2020. What does that mean? Well, there were beers I consumed in 2020 which I awarded a high 4.75 rating, but I may be including a 4.25/5 beer that I enjoyed more. Put it another way, there were some highly rated (4.5) beers I enjoyed in 2020 that in one beer I could recognize the quality, but one was enough , while some beers I may have rated at a 4.25 I would have multiple times.

As with my previous Annual 12-packs, New means “New to Me” because a few beers on this list have been around for many, many years, but I had the beer for the first time in 2020.

The usual NJ bias shines through on this list as 6 of the beers are from NJ breweries. I’d say 75% of the beer I bought & consumed in 2020 were from NJ breweries, which shouldn’t be a surprise to people who’ve been reading this blog. This list could have easily been comprised of 3 or 4 breweries, but the one rule I’ll stick to from past years is allowing only one beer per brewery to appear. Essentially, what that means is even though I had multiple “new to me” beers from many breweries, that brewery’s beer on this list is the beer I enjoyed the most from that brewery.

Here’s the standard breakdown I’ve been providing:

  • 6 from NJ breweries
  • 3 from CA breweries
  • 4 from “New to me Breweries”
  • 4 Lagers
    • 2 Pilsners
    • 1 Dark Lager
    • 1 Baltic Porter
  • 1 Belgian Quadrupel
  • 2 IPAs
    • 1 American
    • 1 Imperial / Double
  • 2 Stouts
    • 1 Imperial / Double
    • 1 Imperial / Double Pastry
  • 1 Porter
  • 1 Sour
  • 1 Barleywine

12. Jersey Dreamin’ | Ashton Brewing Company | Pilsner – Czech | 4.25 bottle caps

Ashton Brewing is one of the newest New Jersey breweries, but they had the unfortunate timing to have had their grand opening scheduled when the COVID-19 Pandemic shut down public gatherings. Fortunately, they forged on full-steam ahead with canning their beer, including this supremely impressive Pilsner. While Ashton’s first canned beer was their IPA, the fact that their second was a Pilsner – a style that has zero wiggle room for mistakes that can be hidden by adding more hops or adjuncts – is impressive. Some Pilsners lean towards a breadiness/cracker element from the malt, some have a floral/fruity finish and some strike a balance between the two. Jersey Dreamin strikes that balance really nicely. It isn’t as “crackery” as some pilsners I’ve had – which is by no means a slight – but it has a full flavor whose elements come together really cleanly.

11. The Miner | Czig Meister Brewing Company I Lager – Dark | 4.25 Bottle Caps

This beer surprised me, I’ll admit and is one of the dark lagers I’ll be adding to my regular rotation because Matt Czigler and his crew coaxed such great flavors from the roasted malt in this beer for great complexity and easy drinking at 4.8%. When Czig Meister released the beer in December, I made sure to get a 6-pack. This beer is very reminiscent of a Czech Dark Lager or a German Schwarzbier, and is just plain delicious.

10. Bourbon Barrel-Aged Framinghammer | Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers | Porter – Baltic | 4.5 bottle Caps on untappd

Framinghammer is the Baltic porter brewed by Jack’s Abby. Yes, a Baltic Porter is brewed using a cold/Lager process. It is the beer Jack’s Abby throw in bourbon barrels as their barrel-aged dark beer. This delectable version is the standard, but there many variants (Mole, S’Mores’, Coffee, Vanilla, etc). The bourbon is present, but not overpowering and just one part of the great flavor profile. Notes of vanilla and sweetness balance out the slightly high bitterness level. A wonderful slow-sipper.

9. Helldorado (2017) | Firestone Walker Brewing Company | Barleywine – American | 4.5 bottle caps

Firestone Walker is probably the non-NJ brewery that drew my attention the most this year as I was able to find and enjoy about a half-dozen beers from their amazing barrel aging program, including this 3-year old Barrel Aged Barleywine. Helldorado is one of the best barleywines I’ve ever had. The beer has a strong bourbon aroma and the flavors that emerge include vanilla, chewy hops, toffee, and caramel. Simply an outstanding beer..

8. Chekov’s Gun | Carton Brewing Company | Belgian Quadrupel | 4.50 bottle caps


Carton remains a top NJ brewery for me (I had about a dozen new & unique beers from them in 2020), but this one stood the test of the year and remained my favorite from them. This beer was on draft (and available in a 3-pack of bombers) when I and a few friends made our annual New Year’s Day Pilgrimage, so this was technically the 4th beer I had in 2020. This outstanding Quadrupel is a style I love, a style that isn’t brewed often, but when done well as this beer was brewed with Pomegranate Molasses – and aged in Peach Brandy Barrels – the final product is heavenly.

7. Fuego | Tonewood Brewing Company | IPA – American | 4.5 Bottle Caps

Tonewood is the NJ Brewery who everybody seems to love and they’ve begun to broaden their distribution footprint over the last year or so. I finally had their Flagship IPA and it is one of the top 2 or 3 IPAs I’ve had from a NJ brewery. There’s an absolutely perfect hop blend giving the beer both a citrus and juicy component, but also the hallmark bittering and slightly piney components often associated with West Coast IPAs along with a nice malt bill to balance the hop bitterness. Fuego is a beer that proves just how great the IPA game is in the State of New Jersey.

6. La Roja (Boysenberry & Guava Edition) | Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales | Sour – Flanders Red Ale | 4.5 Bottle Caps

For our 20th Anniversary, my wife got me 20 Beers for 20 years of marriage from Tavour. This beer – Flanders Red – is astyle I thought I didn’t like. Granted I’ve only had two others and they were two vintages of the same beer. Then I had this outstanding beer. Flanders Red Ales are traditional Belgian sour ales, but the masterminds at Jolly Pumpkin added Boysenberries and Guava to the mix for sweetness to balance out the vinegary sourness that is a hallmark of the style. This is one of the most complex beers I’ve had of any style and is a masterpiece of the art of craft brewing and a very strong contender for my favorite sour beer of all time.

5. Cathedral Tree | Fort George Brewing Company | Pilsner – Other | 4.5 bottle caps

Another beer from the 20th Anniversary Box makes the cut, this was probably my favorite of those 20 beers, so I reviewed it. Here’s some what I had to say: “The beer pours a perfect golden-yellow with a fluffy white head into my Pilsner glass. As it turns out, the glass from which I enjoyed the beer was a wedding gift from my coworkers of 20 years ago… The first full taste of the beer was extremely pleasing. Cathedral Tree has the classic German Pilsner elements – bready/crackery malt and a pleasant hop finish. … Cathedral Tree is a superb pilsner and one I’d happily have again and seek out should I ever have the opportunity to visit Oregon.

4. BA Making Whoopie (2020 Buffalo Trace + Maple) | Icarus Brewing Company | Stout – Imperial / Double Pastry | 4.75 bottle caps

Icarus Brewing Company out of Lakewood, NJ was my top brewery of 2020, both in quantity and quality. (Probably not a shock to regular readers of the Tap Takeover) I had more unique beers from them than any brewery, which made narrowing down my favorite new to me beer of 2020 from them very challenging indeed, As it turned out, the last beer of the year I had from any brewery was the best beer I had from Icarus. I bought the beer with the intention of enjoying on New Year’s Eve, but I didn’t expect it to be the best Barrel Aged beer from my favorite brewery. The beer could be a mess of flavors, but the chocolate, malt, vanilla, maple syrup, marshmallows, and barrel character are amalgamated wonderfully. This is a sinful, delectable, unbelievable sweet dessert stout.

3. Morning Mocha (Kane Brewing Company) | Porter – Coffee | 4.75 Bottle Caps on untappd

Kane is probably the brewery whose beers I came to appreciate the most over the last couple of years and I had a decent amount form them in 2020, so like Icarus, it was difficult to land on my favorite from them. This variant on their coffee porter was one of the earliest beers I enjoyed from Kane in 2020 and it was not topped in 2020. Here’s what I said in my March 2020 Six Pack: “Morning Bell is Kane’s highly acclaimed year-round coffee porter and is outstanding. Once a year, they do a few special releases of Bell variants, Morning Mocha is one of those in 2020. In addition to rich coffee flavors from their local coffee roastery Rook Coffee, this beer was conditioned on Ugandan and Haitian cacao nibs. I thought I died and went to heaven when I drank this beer. There is an absolutely perfect blend of coffee and chocolate in the flavor profile, which complements and doesn’t overtake the base porter.”

2. Pliny the Elder | Russian River Brewing Company | IPA – Imperial / Double | 5 bottle caps

When I visited San Francisco earlier this year before the Pandemic really affected things, I sought out this beer and it did not disappoint. What I said in my February 2020 Six Pack: “The very first Imperial IPA ever made and one of the best beers I’ve ever had. I was in San Francisco for business for a couple of days and I heard about this wonderful dive bar, the Toronado with 40 beers on tap, with Pliny a fixture. Of course I had to go and have the beer, which lived up to the hype. An outstanding beer, never have hops tasted so wonderful. Quite simply, a perfect beer.”

1. Barrel-Aged Narwhal | Sierra Nevada Brewing Company | Stout – Imperial / Double | 5 bottle caps

Last year I thought I had the best barrel-aged stout I’ve ever had, that title lasted a few months until I had a pint of this amazing beer. From my review: “The flavor elements imparted by the Kentucky Bourbon Barrels **perfectly** enhance and complement the flavor elements of the base beer – the hops which can be relatively aggressive on a fresh in-year* bottle, are tamed and smoothed by the beer having been aged in the barrel. The hops are definitely present, but the lingering bitterness as softened. The barrel aging also complements the sweetness from the malt with hints of vanilla, oak, and maybe coconut. … Barrel Aged Narwhal is an outstanding, world-class barrel-aged stout that I’d stand up against any other barrel-aged stout I’ve had or that is available. Given that price point, you will not find a better beer for this price point.”

Honorable Mentions – Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Porter from Boulevard Brewing, Persian Lime Gose (Sour – Fruited Gose) from Two Roads Brewing, Cosm of Darkness (Stout – Imperial/Double) a Timber Ales/Eight State Brewing Collaboration, Quad City (Belgian Quadrupel) from Four City Brewing Company, Gaffel Kölsch (Kölsch) from Privatbrauerei Gaffel Becker, Chocolate Caramel Cookie Sharing Size (Stout – Imperial/Double) from Free Will Brewing, and Victory Classic Easy Drinkin’ Lager (Lager – Helles) from Victory Brewing plus too many from Icarus Brewing and Kane Brewing to list here

Some other notes:

Although the pandemic made visiting breweries a little more challenging for much of 2020, I was able to visit the following breweries for the first time in 2020:

Breweries whose beer I checked in/enjoyed the most, which should be a shock to nobody reading this blog:

  • Icarus Brewing (20 unique/new to me beers)
  • Bolero Snort Brewery (19 unique/new to me beers)
  • Czig Meister Brewery (13 unique/new to me beers)
  • Carton Brewing (11 unique/new to me beers)
  • Ashton Brewing (10 unique/new to me beers)