Draught Diversions: July 2019 Six Pack

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

The first week of July is often one of the biggest month for beer sales, people want to fill their coolers for the summer or help fill their friends’ coolers for summer parties. As readers of this blog know, I’ve had a pool party/BBQ/family party for the last five years on the Fourth of July. People tend to bring beer for that, although I tend to get the cooler started with some beers I enjoy that I expect many other people will like. The “Cooler Foundation” pic is below, and the beer that proved the most popular was Sunshine Pils from Tröegs, only one from that 12 pack remained in the cooler by the end of the day. Of course, I had one or two myself.

OK, on to my Six Pack for July 2019…

SuperEIGHT (Dogfish Head Brewing Company) | Sour – Gose – Fruited | 4 bottle Caps on untappd

By now it is clear I can’t get through more than a month or two without having a really good “new to me” beer from Dogfish Head. This is something of a “sequel” beer to their smash hit SeaQuench and is equally refreshing. For all the fruit included in the making of this beer, the level of sweetness is perfect, not cloying, and balanced by a sourness/tartness. This was the first beer of the day for me and my only regret was putting just one six pack of the beer in my cooler, rather than 2 six packs because the six pack was gone early in the Fourth of July celebration..

Cloud Walker Hazy Juicy IPA (Victory Brewing Company) | IPA – New England | 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

As the New England/Hazy IPA continues to be the hottest style, especially with local/independent brewers, the larger brewers have been making attempts at the keeping up. Victory’s take on the style is probably the best of the larger brewery’s attempts at the style that I’ve had and an overall superb beer. The Citra and Mosaic are *perfectly* blended and the beer is a wonderful, juicy, hoppy delight. I hoped and expected to enjoy the beer, but I didn’t expect to love it as much as I did. Victory has really come out strong this year with some of their new beers to go along with their rebranding.

Half-Timbered (Kane Brewing Company) | Bock – Single / Traditional | 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

I’ve been managing to have more Kane as of late, and this is certainly an interesting beer. Most barrel-aged beers are stouts, and if they are bocks aged in barrels, you tend to see higher ABV dopplebocks. But Kane doesn’t always hew along such lines. The bourbon barrel aging really enhances the sweet and caramel notes naturally inherit in the bock. This is a different, but very good beer that is a classic style (bock) with the added enhancement of a relatively modern technique of barrel aging.

Clearly Pils (Conclave Brewing) | Pilsner – Czech | 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

When I realized Conclave brewed-up another Pilsner, I had to make a (very short) trip to the brewery. As it so happened, I visited on their 4th anniversary, but by the time I arrived, the 4th Anniversary IPA cans were sold out and the keg was tapped. Fortunately, the Pilsner was still available and it was a wonderful reward for a long day doing work in my yard. This beer does everything a pilsner should do and the Saaz hops so emblematic of a Pilsner are showcased beautifully.

Kristallwessbier (Bayerische Staatsbrauerei Weihenstephan)| Kristallweizen | 3.75 bottle Caps on untappd


A Kristallweizen is a filtered Hefeweizen, so there’s no particulate or haziness to the beer. Much of the flavor remains and Weihenstephaner’s version is probably the gold standard. I haven’t had too many versions of the style, but I enjoy it. However, I prefer the standard, unfiltered Hefeweizen. I figured I needed to have a German beer in the boot glass one of my work team members got me as a souvenir on his honeymoon.

India Ale (Samuel Smith Brewing Co.) | IPA – English | 3.75 bottle Caps on untappd


One of the oldest breweries in the world, I’ve got to think Samuel Smith’s IPA, or India Ale, is one of the earliest or longest continuously available India Pale Ales in the world. Some friends came over and brought me a four pack, he said he wanted to get me something I many not have had. He succeeded and I was pleasantly surprised with this beer. Very flavorful and once you realize it isn’t quite like the New England hazies or the West Coast IPAs, then you can appreciate what a good beer this is.

Of course, there were some clunkers in the month. As I said earlier, people tend to bring beer to the party on the Fourth of July and one dud happened to be from Pinelands Brewing Company, 08087 their most popular IPA. My company’s annual sales conference was in Orlando and I had a dud or two down there, particularly Bleach Blonde Ale from 3 Daughters Brewing. On the other hand, while not exactly new, I finally had the new, tweaked Prima Pils from Victory and it was fantastic. I always loved the beer and the tweaked version has a slightly lower IBU but still a wonderful, flavorful Pilsner.

Draught Diversions: Twin Elephant Brewing (Chatham, 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…

Bottom left image courtesy of Twin Elephant Brewing’s facebook

You might say this post is a reboot? A Retcon? A Revisiting. The brewery I’m focusing on today did get a small shout out a couple of years ago, but a minor one of about two paragraphs. Since that brief mention of my 2016 visit, Twin Elephant has grown in stature in New Jersey and even New York. Based in Chatham, NJ in the same building that houses an H&R Block office, Twin Elephant has a fairly convenient location, not far from NJ Route 24 and Interstate Route 78. Before my 2016 visit, Twin Elephant had a brewery launch event at The Stirling Hotel (one of the very best beer bars in NJ, in my opinion). That was the first brewery launch I attended and boy was it a good one. I had what would become the brewery’s “flagship” beers – Little Shimmy Ye Pale Ale and Diamonds & Pearls Coffee Milk Stout. At the time I wasn’t as into the hop-forward beers as I am now, but Little Shimmy Ye was so good I had to get a full pour after having a taster. So from my perspective, the brewery was off to a grand start.

Tap List @ Twin Elephant Brewing – 07-23-2019

But that was the public start to the brewery. Behind the scenes, founders Tim Besecker, his then-girlfriend and now-wife Cindy DeRama, and their pal Scott McLusky were home brewers for about a decade before opening their doors to share (for a very reasonable fee*) their beer with the public. To illustrate the smallness of this big world (and especially brewing in New Jersey), my brother-in-law went to school with Tim as all four of the people mentioned in this paragraph grew up in the Murray Hill/Berkeley Heights area of New Jersey. As for the brewery’s name? Well, elephants giving birth to twins is pretty rare, something special, if you will. In a little over three years Twin Elephant has proven to be something just as special.

*The brewery charges $10.50 for a flight of five 4oz tasters. That is a damned fine price for 20oz of beer. Especially because other breweries I’ve visited charge up to $12 for a flight of four or more than that.

As for the brewery itself, it has a very comforting, rustic feel. Much of the seating area is made from wood reclaimed from a collapsed barn. The material, along with the lower benches around the perimeter, as well as some high tables in the middle give a mixed, yet intimate feel. The seating gives communal feel, all told. There’s an outdoor biergarten, but the first thing you see down the hall when you walk into the brewery is a lovely mural of their brewery’s logo – an elephant with two hop cones in its trunk depicted in black on off-white background that really pops.

So what about the beers? A space can be welcoming and comforting, but if the beer is unpalatable, then those seats will not be occupied for long. Little Shimmy Ye and Diamonds & Pearls are the Twin Elephant with the most check-ins on untappd, and their hop-forward beers, i.e. their IPAs, are what bring all the drinkers to the yard, to butcher a song phrase. Twin Elephant occasionally will do a can drop of one of their beers, but be sure to arrive early because those cans go VERY quickly. They’ve been very good about announcing these can releases across social media, mainly Facebook, as well as their email newsletter.

Let’s get back to Little Shimmy Ye an absolutely outstanding American Pale Ale. Twin Elephant uses probably the most popular hops used by brewers for the citrusy profile – Citra and Mosaic, but they also utilize Belma hops, one with which I’m not as familiar. I was so impressed with the citrusy, nectary taster I had during the brewery launch I had to order a full pint. Maybe the only Pale Ale from a NJ brewery that I liked more than this one is Kane’s Sneakbox although another taste/can/pint of Little Shimmy Ye might be required to give a full accounting since I haven’t had the beer in quite a while. Little Shimmy Ye is also the beer Twin Elephant cans more than any of the other beers in their portfolio.

Image courtesy of Twin Elephant’s Facebok

The other “flagship” is one of the best Coffee Milk Stouts brewed by a NJ brewery – Diamonds & Pearls. A perfect beer and coffee marriage with just the right amount of sweetness to make for a sublime and delicious beer. Twin Elephant has canned this one multiple times, too, I was lucky enough to get 1 can during a past canning run.

From my May 2017 untappd check-in

One of the other beers they’ve canned multiple times is Here There be Monsters, but on the second canning, they redid the artwork with an absolutely stunning piece by Tom Schmitt. As I said in my September 2018 Six Pack, “The beer inside, which evokes those juicy citrus and tropical notes that so many IPAs do nowadays, lives up to the dark and lovely can art on the outside of the beer.”

Awesome can art, right? Glass from their “Brewery Launch” at the Stirling Hotel

Twin Elephant has quite a few beers that honor New Jersey. The beer I reviewed this week, Bowcraft shares its name with a recently and sadly closed amusement park in Scotch Plains, NJ. An imperial Red Ale I had during my visit to the brewery, The Bayonne Bleeder, is the nickname of Chuck Wepner, the boxer from Bayonne, NJ who went 15 rounds with Muhammed Ali and inspired Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky film and character. I couldn’t pass it up since my Mom is from Bayonne. Red Ales aren’t my go to beers, but I liked this one. Chuck’s Garage is named for the place where Tim, Cindy, and Scott refined their brewing skills, Chuck is also Scott’s dad. A porter, Old Raritan gets its name from the largest river to run through the State of New Jersey. Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey’s theme song is “On the Banks of the Old Raritan,” too. I really need to try this not just because of the name (as readers may well know, I’m a Rutgers grad), but because of the smorgasbord of ingredients in this spicy milk porter. Their brown ale, Jersey Squirrel is pretty obviously named for the ever-present tree rodent. Maybe the sibling beer to Bowcraft is Action Park a Pale Wheat Ale. Action Park is probably the most infamous “amusement park” in NJ’s history. After all, it is nicknamed “Traction Park” for all the injuries sustained at the park.

Twin Elephant lists 273 beers on untappd and a quick glance through the beers I haven’t had makes me really want to try them based on the quality of those I’ve enjoyed. In addition to the beers I’ve already mentioned, one big standout is Grimmace, probably one of the best fruit-infused beers I’ve had. This is a wheat beer conditioned on blueberries and lemon peel and is absolutely delicious. My picture doesn’t capture how great the purple beer looks. I called out the banging summer beer, “Worker Drone” as the biggest highlight of the Bridgewater Beerfest recently. Dude Maintain has elements of West Coast IPA (piny) and East Coast IPA (Juicy) for a really nice blend and a wonderful hop profile. Chingas, a Black IPA which had the best elements of a stout and IPA in one beer. Tag You’re Wit was the third beer I had back on their launch day and hit the spot as a really nice Witbier. Gathering Clouds was maybe the best single IPA I had at the Bridgewater Beerfest in 2019.

In addition to building a sense of community in their brewery and through their beer names, Twin Elephant gives back to the community. Tim, Cindy, and Scott are involved with MASH, the Morris Area Society of Homebrewers. This is a fantastic example of people giving back to something that helped them to get to their point of success. Twin Elephant holds a Toys for Tots drive during the holidays. The Twin Elephant crew is very supportive of other breweries in the region, I saw Tim at Czig Meister’s third anniversary party and had the chance to briefly chat with him and realized for as great as their beer is, Tim is just as nice of a guy. Twin Elephant has also collaborated with regional breweries on a few beers: Lost Tavern Brewing out of Pennsylvania and Five Boroughs Brewing out of Brooklyn and can be seen at beer fests in the area. Cindy is often called out as one of the relatively few (but growing number of) females in the NJ Brewing community.

Some of the cans released by Twin Elephant

In short, Twin Elephant promotes and exudes the community spirit in all facets of the idea.

Just over three years into their brewing life and Twin Elephant has made an impact and built a respected reputation for exceptional beer. Back in March 2017, they gained some good buzz when they reached the final four of NJ.com’s search for the “Best Brewery in NJ.”  and NJ Monthly had them as one of the 16 best breweries in New Jersey (out of about 100 total breweries in the state). Their cans sell out VERY quickly and their discussion thread at Beer Advocate is one of the more active threads for a NJ brewery.

Great beer, fine people, and a cozy, welcoming tap room. What other reasons do you need to visit Twin Elephant?  That’s enough for me, just make sure you get there early if they happen to be releasing cans on that day!

Twin Elephant Brewing Web site | Instagram | Facebook | twitter | Twin Elephant Brewing on NewJerseyCraftBeer.com | untappd | Twin Elephant discussion thread @Beer Advocate

Some other links of interest:

Draught Diversions: Hackensack 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…

I know I’ve said this a few times here at the Tap Takeover (and to anybody unfortunate enough to be in my presence in “real life”) but keeping up with the rapid growth of Craft / Independent Beer around the country and new brewery openings in New Jersey is not an easy task. But when family members enjoy beer almost as much as you do, you learn about breweries near them as the breweries open. Especially when that family member brings a couple of crowlers and a growler to your house for your annual family Fourth of July Party. The brewery I’m alluding to is, of course, Hackensack Brewing in Hackensack, NJ.

After having some of their beers on the Fourth of July, I made an impromptu visit to the brewery with my wife and my aunt and uncle. (My uncle is more like a brother as there’s fewer years between the two of us than there are between my wife and my brother in law, but I digress). Anyway, my wife and I were heading up to my uncle’s house and he twisted my arm and suggested we visit Hackensack Brewing. Who am I to say no to my uncle?

The brewery is a little unassuming in terms of where it is located, if you don’t know it is there, you can easily pass it. Mike Jones and his crew set up shop in an old warehouse of sorts. When we arrived, the sun was out, so the big bay doors were open with plenty of standing room visible from the parking lot. Through the main entrance, there’s a very nice and inviting taproom, with some board games and a table at one side and barrels stood up as tables throughout the taproom for plenty of standing and conversing. It was fairly early in the day, but there were already a few people in the brewery. At the center of it all seemed to be big Mike Jones, head brewer and one of the owners. That’s a good thing, because a visible owner/brewer can be a good thing for any business, especially a business like a small brewery that generates a sense of community.

Image courtesy of Hackensack Brewing’s Facebook page

Mike came across like Sam Malone of Cheers, except a little more outgoing and with a North Jersey accent. Everybody knew him, he seemed to know everybody walking into the brewery, and remembered my uncle from when my uncle grabbed the crowlers and growler earlier in the week. The two reminisced about legendary beer bar Andy’s Corner Bar in Bogota, NJ, a spot known nationally for its amazing beer selection. Many a North Jersey resident learned to appreciate great beer at Andy’s over the years. No less an authority than Michael Jackson had wonderful things to say about Andy’s. I had a few beers there over the years, too.

An affable owner/face of the brewery is great, but making beer is the name of the game, so about now is a good time to get to that. A little bit more on Mike later. I was going to go with a full pour/pint of something, but my wife convinced me to go for a flight. Smart suggestion especially with the varied selection. I appreciated that wide variety, which included the requisite IPAs and Pale Ales, as well as a stout, a Blonde Ale, a couple of lagers, a Pilsner, and a Fruit Beer.

Tap List at Hackensack Brewing Company on July 6, 2019

A four pour flight for $10 is a good price and I think they were four ounce pours. I started off with Nu Bajan Breakfast Blend, a 5.1% ABV blonde ale with vanilla and coffee. The standard Nu Bajan Blonde is a Blonde Ale with vanilla, this variant is aged on coffee beans and is a wonderful beer. Conventional wisdom with beer typically slots coffee to stouts as a flavor adjunct (outside of Carton Brewing’s Regular Coffee game). The coffee is perfectly balanced and there’s some added sweetness that makes for an extremely flavorful ale. A great start. The second in the flight was the Parking Lot Pilz, which I reviewed on Tuesday but I wanted it super fresh from the tap. The freshness was a slight improvement on an already great beer. Beer number three was another Lager, as regular readers may have noted or as I pointed out a couple of months ago, I’ve been drawn to lagers quite a bit lately. Beach Badge is a 5% ABV Pale Lager that has some fruity notes at the end thanks to the Sabro hops utilized in the beer. Very refreshing and a great summer / warm weather beer. The last of the flight was Fruit Stripe, a 5.5% ABV Fruit beer with apricot for a sweet refreshing finish.

Flight, clockwise from top left: Nu-Bajan Breakfast Blend, Parking Lot Pilz, Beach Badge, Lawn Stripes

As for the beers I had on the Fourth of July, which my uncle brought, both were IPAs of the New England/Haze variety. The first was Musket Haze, effectively Hackensack’s flagship beer. This beer is a 6.3% ABV New England IPA which poured super hazy and was a delicious juice bomb. Citra and Motueka stand out in this beer if I’m not mistaken. This is a beer that draws all the IPA and haze lovers into the brewery, it is Hackensack’s most checked-in beer on untappd. The other Hazy was It Was All A Dream an Imperial New England IPA that was even juicier and more flavorful. This one has Citra (as just about all NEIPAs do) and Idaho 7, a hop that does some nice things, too. Overall, these two beer were excellent examples of the Hazy IPA/IIPA.

Like a lot of independent, “local” breweries, Hackensack brewing pays homage to the history and culture of the area with their beer names. The aforementioned Parking Lot Pilz is “An ode to the tailgating culture we grew up with in North Jersey/NYC” i.e. The Meadowlands, a short drive from Hackensack. Musket Haze is dedicated to New Bridge Landing, a key crossing during the Revolutionary War (“The Bridge That Saved a Nation“) just up the road from the brewery. Nu Bajan Blonde hearkens back to pre-Revolutionary War days, when Hackensack was known as New Barbadoes Township. The people of Barbados are referred to as “Bajan” (pronounced “bay-jun”), hence the beer’s name. Moment’s Notice, a 5% ABV Stout, is an ode to Hackensack’s unique place in Jazz history. In the 1950’s the sound of Blue Note records, and thus the sound of Jazz globally, was defined by Rudy Van Gelder and the artists that came together in the recording studio he set up in his parent’s living room up on Prospect Avenue. Moment’s Notice is a track of off of John Coltrane’s masterpiece “Blue Train”, recorded in that Hackensack living room back in 1958. Blizzard of ’96 is a nod to the big blizzard that hit New Jersey (and the whole Northeast) in 1996. I think that was one of the few times, and maybe first, that Rutgers University cancelled classes because of the weather. I remember how bad the snow was, I was working at the Menlo Park Mall and it closed because of the storm just as I arrived for my shift at Herman’s World of Sporting Goods. Mike first brewed this Weizenbock when the brewery opened and he told me the beer went much faster than he expected. I love weizenbocks and wish it was on tap when I visited. Oh well, just an excuse to visit the brewery again if it shows up on tap.

Thought the mirror was cool, too bad I made it into the picture. But you can get a glimpse of the open area.

Let’s get back to Mike, shall we? Like Tim Pewitt and Wet Ticket, Mike (at least when I visited the brewery) was the face of the brewery. He took time to speak to me as well as all the other patrons, making sure people were happy and felt welcome at Hackensack Brewing. In chatting with Mike, I asked how long he’d been brewing beer and he said about 15 years. It shows in the quality of the beers I had and as I said on Tuesday, the fact that he brews such a delicious Pilsner is further proof of Mike’s skill. Talking to Mike a little more, the guy has passion – passion for the beer he makes, knowledge about the hops and ingredients he uses, passion for being part of the community in Hackensack, and the NJ Beer Community. In other words, like Tim, or Joe Fisher of Man Skirt Brewing, Mike is exactly the kind of person and personality who should be running a brewery. A great guy and a great brewer.

Mike also mentioned a canning line (or canning machine?) was on the horizon in the near future. I was also impressed that barely 6 months into their “life,” Hackensack Brewing has a crowler machine and a fridge full of crowlers for easy to-go beer. If my research is correct (and the articles linked below is where I found the information), Hackensack Brewing opened up with 8 taps. Again, I visited the first weekend in July, five months after they opened, and the number of taps increased from 8 taps to 12 taps. That tells me Hackensack Brewing is making beer people want to drink.

I haven’t seen beer from Hackensack Brewing near me in Somerset County yet. Then again, some of the beer in the breweries more local to me haven’t traveled up to Bergen County yet. However, with the aforementioned canning capabilities and the quality of the beer, I wouldn’t be surprised if taps and stores start selling some of Mike Jones’s delicious beers soon.

Barely a half a year into being open and Hackensack Brewing is already making a name for themselves with the quality of the beer they make. They are definitely worth the visit because they make great beer, have a fun tap room, and with The Alementary just around the corner, Hackensack is growing into a beer destination.

Cheers to Mike Jones, Alex Ferenczi, Herbert Lamont Barr III, and Irfan Qureshi to many years of great beer!

Hackensack Brewing Web site | Instagram | Facebook | twitter | Hackensack Brewing on NewJerseyCraftBeer.com | untappd

Some other links of interest:

 

Draught Diversions: June 2019 Six Pack

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

June brought some good beers to me, but what else is new? There’s an abundance of good beer to be had, the toughest part is figuring out which new beers to try. As for this month, it was a return to the usual mix of IPAs and other styles with half of the beers from NJ breweries. What can I say, I’m drinking from local breweries more and more as of late. I wouldn’t be surprised if two of the beers this month make an appearance in my Year End round-up/Favorite beers of 2019.

Weissbier (von Trapp Brewing Company) | Hefeweizen | 3.75 bottle Caps on untappd

von Trapp is one of the premier brewers of German-style beers. While most of their output is on the Lager side of the beer family, a brewery focusing on the German styles has to brew a Hefeweizen, that most German of ales. This is a pretty good interpretation of the style and worth a try.

Beer Geek Breakfast (Mikkeller Brewing San Diego) | Stout – American Imperial / Double | 4 bottle Caps on untappd

I think this was the first beer I had from one of the Mikkeller Brewing companies (there’s a few around the world) and it is just about everything you’d want form an oatmeal stout. Following the now accepted rules of breakfast stouts, this one also has some coffee in the mix, making for a very pleasant bittersweet hit that balances well with the smooth oatmeal elements.

Maibock Hurts Like Helles (Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers) | Bock – Hell / Maibock / Lentenbock | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

A couple of reviews back I featured a tasty bock and I am very pleased I was able to snag this somewhat seasonal bock from Jack’s Abby because it might just be the best Maibock/Helles Bock I can recall having. There’s a beautiful caramel feel to the beer with a slight touch of hops that provides for that ever-overused phrase of balance but damn does this beer provide great balance.

More Cowbell Saison with Pear (Lone Eagle Brewing) | Saison / Farmhouse Ale | 3.75 bottle Caps on untappd

June was the first time in a few months I was able to make it to Lone Eagle for the Monthly Board Game night and I’m glad I did. Always a good time with the group of games. Lone Eagle recently hired a new brewer, Brad Adelson who has experience at two of my favorites, Founders and Victory. This Saison was one of his new beers featured that night. The Saison base beer is good, but I really liked what the addition of the pear to the show brought – a pleasant, sweet, rounded finish. I’m looking forward to trying more of Brad’s beers.

Follow the Gull (Cape May Brewing Company) | IPA – American | 4 bottle Caps on untappd


Cape May Brewing Company consistently impresses me with every beer I have from them. Their IPA game is super strong and the style they are best known for producing. Follow the Gull was initially a one-off for Cape May County’s 325th anniversary but it proved so popular it is now in regular rotation. The Citra and Azacca hops shine most strongly in this one. Not quite a New England style IPA, but definitely more East Coast juiciness than West Coast piney-ness. Delicious.

Overhead (Kane Brewing Co.) | IPA – Imperial / Double | 4.5 bottle Caps on untappd


I’ve said quite a bit about Kane in some of these six pack posts but in all the years I’ve been enjoying NJ beer, I hadn’t had Overhead before this past Sunday. It, along with Head High are the two IPAs that helped but them on the map. This is probably the best Imperial IPA from a NJ brewery I’ve had and I think quite a few people agree. In all the best ways, it reminds me of Dogfish Head’s 90-Minute, but there’s something different enough in the hops used or maybe the malt that sets Overhead apart. It is simply put, an outstanding beer.

Like last month, there were a couple of clunkers, a couple not worth mentioning. However, one really bad beer was Sprecher’s take on a Scotch Ale, a style I normally like quite a bit. This one; however, is the epitome of a drain pour for me and one of the worst beers from a brewery of this size and longevity (founded in 1985) I ever head. There was a very unpleasant smokiness to the beer that was flat out gross.

Draught Diversions: NJ Brewery & Beer Check In

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

Is the bubble bursting or is the NJ Craft Beer landscape simply maturing? Read on for my take on the subject…

That’s been a “hot topic” of discussion in beer circles, and NJ Beer circles specifically. The third NJ brewery over the last 12 months has closed its doors, in one definition of the phrase. More specifically, these are the first three breweries to open after the 2012 laws passed to have closed. Earlier in the year (April 2019), Rinn Duin brewing became Toms River Brewing. Demented Brewing in Middlesex closed at the end of April 2019 after about a month of very public drama on social media. This past week/early June 2019, Common Sense Brewing in Bordentown closed and is in the process of being purchased/taken over by Tindall Road Brewery out of Robbinsville. Tindall Road didn’t have a location but their website claims the brewery to be active “since 2017” which is probably when they established the name.

Three brewery changes in a few short months is worth noting. One is a blip, two is a little more thought provoking, but could three be a pattern? Or could it just be a coincidence. I’ll provide my perspective of these three brewery changes below.

Demented Brewing Publicly Implodes, Closes

Demented’s closure was the most visible closure in NJ Beer (Beer Advocate forum discussion), it was also one of the first to open and close since the 2012 law passed that enabled breweries to have taprooms and serve beer on premise.  Demented Brewing established themselves in 2015 in Middlesex, NJ where the closest brewery was Harvest Moon Brewpub in New Brunswick. In other words, an area without a nearby brewery. They made some good beer, with some beers that were well-above average (by my ratings, over a 4-bottle cap rating on untappd). Cypress Brewing in Edison, NJ opened around the same time and were the closest brewery, but not exactly convenient for folks looking to make a visit to both breweries. Put it this way, you’d have to get on a congested highway and drive over 10 miles to get between breweries, they weren’t close to each other like the three breweries in Hackettstown, some of the NJ Shore breweries, the breweries in Hammonton, or even the Mount Holly breweries. In short, Demented was largely successful because they were relatively uniquely located and produced better than average product. Kegs were in bars in Central New Jersey and cans and 22oz bottles could be found in bottle shops since they had a distribution deal. In other words, it seemed like they were growing naturally at a nice rate.

Personally, I liked Demented quite a bit and had a quite a few of their beers, visited Demented probably as much or more than any of the NJ breweries since they were a mile or two from where I worked, close to where a few friends live, and close to my brother-in-law’s house. My first review here on the Tap Takeover also happened to be of one of their beers. In participating a few NJ beer online circles (NJ Craft Beer, reddit/njbeer, and Beer Advocate’s “Mid-Atlantic” forums), the consensus about the beer seems to be that it was good enough that Demented could have had a relatively lengthy lifespan. NJ Food writer Pete Genovese anointed Demented the best brewery in NJ when he did his Best Brewery tour in NJ. While that selection was rather controversial, at the very least, the “win” gave Demented some attention.

Demented Brewing’s problems were financial in nature in that they had difficulty paying taxes and didn’t always pay their employees. No matter how good the product is, the government won’t let you continue if you don’t pay your taxes. The employees won’t want to keep working if they don’t get paid. Just watch Bar Rescue. Sadly, some good people were working at Demented. Demented also had two annual Bottle Clubs – one for sours, one for stouts – almost like a subscription. Many who paid up front will not see the beer they paid for and will likely not see that money again.  All told, a sad end to what was a pretty good thing.

Rinn Dúin becomes Toms River Brewing

I knew very little about Rinn Dúin brewing aside from knowing they opened in 2014 at the early stages of the NJ Craft Beer boon. This was just 2 years after the big 2012 law passed. Their focus was on English and Irish styles as the name Rinn Dúin might imply and the brewery even temporarily closed in mid-2018 at one point. Having started in 2014, their reach in the State didn’t quite expand the way some other breweries who started at the time did, or even to the extent that Demented did who started a year later. In other words, much of what I say here relative to Rinn Dúin is from a bit of a remove.

From what I was able to surmise from some online posts, it seems they went bankrupt, but made good beer, just not styles that were lighting the world on fire.

I don’t know how embedded in the local bar scene Rinn Dúin was, whether they were able to get the kegs into bars in Toms River and neighboring locals. I assume they were since they’d been in business for nearly 5 years before changing over to Toms River Brewing. They may have done some brewery-only or super-local bottle/can releases, but they didn’t seem to expand beyond Ocean County, NJ from what I was able to observe. Rinn Dúin did seem to have a nice partnership/business relationship with local minor league baseball team Lakewood Blue Claws, which is the kind of thing you’d hope to see between “small” businesses.

Scrolling through Rinn Dúin’s facebook page, it appears they were fairly active in the community, had yoga nights and musicians; many things a lot of successful breweries do. On the other hand,, not many people were talking about the brewery outside of an occasional mention in a thread like “Unspoken NJ Breweries” in the Beer Advocate discussion forums (and the updated/2019 thread). As recently as February (two months prior to the name change/takeover), this brewery was still making and pouring beer as Rinn Dúin, whichh is when I had their tasty cream ale Sweet Nothing at the Meadowlands Beer Expo.

I think the name change is good and gives the brewery more of a local flavor. There was a press release earlier in the year about the buyout that reads a bit on the corporate/business side with talk of a “vertical integration plan.” The original name, Rinn Dúin, while not bad might work in a more mature beer landscape or even a beer landscape from the early 90s. Much as I enjoy a Guinness and a good Irish Red Ale like Great Lakes’ Conway’s Irish Ale, Irish/English styles aren’t the most popular/sought after styles. I realize Rinn Dúin had a more diverse output than that. Again, my observations are from quite a distance and relatively superficial.

What I can say about the name change / re-branding / relaunch is from a similar remove, but the observations are positive. Toms River Brewing is already canning their beer with canning giant Iron Heart Canning. They’ve been relatively active on social media and it looks like there’s potential for this brewery. With Icarus Brewing in somewhat nearby Lakewood (14 miles away), visiting one of these breweries might compel people to visit both breweries.

Common Sense Brewery Closes, Purchased by Tindall Road Brewery

This is the most recent brewery closure and marks the third over the last four months. I do have some more knowledge of Commons Sense Brewing than Rinn Dúin, at least. I visited Common Sense in November 2018 as part of my birthday brewery tour. In fact, Common Sense was the last of six breweries our group visited that day. The brewery looks great from the outside, is extremely well-placed in downtown Bordentown, NJ (a very underrated downtown), and has a very nice and inviting taproom.

But then you get the beer.

I had a flight and what I had was subpar, at best. A very thin Porter that tasted on the edge of being skunked, a decent Pumpkin Ale (helped by the spice rimmed glass) and what, in hindsight, seems strange – two brown ales. Brown ales are fine, in general, but not a style that you’ll typically see more than once on a daily taplist from a brewery. One of the brown ales I had was OK, but the other was outright undrinkable. Easily the worst beers I had that day out of the six breweries, but to be fair, three of the other breweries are relatively established award-winning breweries (Spellbound, Neshaminy Creek, and Village Idiot) and one a well-respected “elder statesman” of NJ brewery (Forgotten Boardwalk) so the comparison may be a little unfair. On the other hand, bad beer is just bad beer no matter how you cut it.

Common Sense was open for less than two years. If some of the comments on social media from locals and people who claim to have relatively intimate knowledge of the brewery are to be believed, than it seems like there was almost a Bar Rescue situation going on with at the brewery. People giving beer away, monetary issues, and a lack of knowledge about making good beer and running a business.

I only learned about Tindall Road Brewery a day after I learned of Common Sense’s closure, so hopefully there’s a positive outcome for whatever this brewery ends up being called. Third State Brewing who celebrated their fourth anniversary this month (June 2019), less than 10 miles away in nearby Burlington, helps to make this area a soft destination for beer fans. Tindall Road has been posting some of the progress of their takeover on their facebook page.

Side note – interesting naming for the two closed breweries – Demented and Common Sense. Almost a harbinger of things to come.

All is Not Dire, Quite the Opposite!

Despite these three brewery closures, I would argue that the bubble is not bursting at all as some might argue. I would even suggest that the “bubble” metaphor isn’t appropriate at this point and rather landscape is appropriate. A landscape implies a longer life span while a bubble implies something not very long-lasting. Quite simply, the New Jersey Craft Beer landscape is maturing. While there have been small independent breweries and brewpubs in the state for twenty or more years like High Point/Ramstein, Cricket Hill, Harvest Moon Brewery (where I had my wedding rehearsal dinner) and so forth – the landscape was really reborn, or reseeded to continue with a landscaping metaphor, with the aforementioned 2012 law change.

What happens when things mature? Things fall off, things change, things evolve – people lose their baby teeth, caterpillars weave a cocoon around themselves and emerge as a butterfly. The independent/craft beer scene is doing just that, I’d posit. Breweries not strong enough to survive and going by the wayside could even be seen as a healthy feature of something that is maturing and evolving. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if, before the year ends, another brewery or two goes through a closure/buyout/takeover like the three I highlighted in this post did..

You could also call this a “Brewing Darwinism” of sorts – the strong breweries are surviving, breweries like Kane Brewing, Carton Brewing, Icarus Brewing, Cape May Brewery, River Horse, and Flying Fish of the NJ beer scene. Hell, Cape May split into two companies, a brewery and a distributor. What further shows the strength of the NJ Beer Landscape is how some of the breweries that have opened are from people with experience at breweries like Kane, JJ Bittings (one of the oldest brewpubs in NJ), and Flying Fish. Additionally, breweries like Lone Eagle (Flemington), Bonesaw Brewing (Glassboro), and Mudhen Brewing (Wildwood) are attracting brewers with experience at leading, respected breweries like Dogfish Head, Founders Brewing, Victory Brewing, Funky Buddha, and New England Brewing Company to brew beer in New Jersey, brewers who have received awards. With just over 100 breweries in New Jersey, that is still a relatively small number of breweries compared to the population of the State.

Just two weeks after Demented closed in Middlesex, Jersey Cyclone opened about a mile or two away in Franklin Township/Somerset, NJ. Having visited Jersey Cyclone three times since they opened on May 4, 2019, I can say that I’m pretty impressed with their output, but more about one of their beers later in the week.

It isn’t just Jersey Cyclone having recently opened. Breweries continue to open in New Jersey on an almost weekly basis. Equally as important to a maturing landscape is that existing/established breweries are expanding – Flounder Brewing in Hillsborough is moving to a barn (or group of barns) not far from the current location that will provide them far more space. Angry Erik in northwestern New Jersey just moved into a facility they built after about five years in an office park. Lone Eagle in Flemington is expanding, by constructing and another building for manufacturing on their lot. There’s been word for at least a year that Conclave Brewing in Raritan/Flemington increasing capacity. Perhaps the most exciting thing for many NJ beer fans, longtime mainstay Bolero Snort is in the middle of building their facility in Carlstadt, NJ after years of gypsy brewing.

So yeah, the New Jersey Beer landscape is maturing, evolving, and still growing and healthy DESPITE the most recent legislative roadblock thrown in front of the breweries. But that problematic legislature is another topic.

At this point in the NJ Beer/Brewery landscape’s maturation; however, breweries more than ever need to produce better than average beer, not just passable beer. They need to brew beer that makes people come back for more. This is, of course, in addition to being smart about owning a business. Because the NJ Beer Consumers palates are maturing alongside the brewery and beer landscape.

 

Draught Diversions: May 2019 Six Pack

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

Draught Diversions: Summer 2019 6 Pack

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

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

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

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

What Cape May says about the beer:

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

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

Image courtesy of Flying Fish’s Facebook

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

What Flying Fish says about the beer:

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

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

Image courtesy of Jack Abby’s blog

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

What Jack’s Abby says about the beer:

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

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

Image courtesy of Two Roads’s facebook

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

What Two Roads says about the beer:

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

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

Image courtesy of von Trapp’s Facebook

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

What von Trapp says about the beer:

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

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

Image courtesy of Yard’s Facebok

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

What Yards says about the beer:

JUICY, MELLOW, REFRESHING

NEW IN 2019!

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

What new brews are you hoping to try this summer?