Draught Diversions: Six Pack of Favorite Breweries of 2019

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 was happy with my favorite breweries post last year, so I figured I’d put one together for 2019 – My favorite breweries for 2019, with a slight difference from last year: I’m highlighting six breweries rather than four. Some of these I visited, others I’ve had many beers from over the year, and although last year I labeled one as “rediscovery” I wouldn’t go quite that far this year for one of the breweries, but I would say my enjoyment of their portfolio was reinvigorated. It also shouldn’t be surprising that the breweries in this post made a showing with a beer in my Favorite Beers of 2019 post. Like last year, I’ll sort this alphabetically, but immediately call out Icarus Brewing and Victory Brewing Company as my two overall favorites for 2019. The combination of quantity of beers I had from them and the consistent quality are large factors in that decision.

Bolero Snort Brewery (Carlstadt, NJ) | Total “new to me” Bolero Snort beers checked in on untappd in 2018: 13

Bolero Snort is one of the more recognizable breweries in New Jersey despite not having their own facility until late in 2019, with the official grand opening set for the weekend of Martin Luther King day (January 17-20, 2020). Despite that, they managed to produce many beers, and many beers I enjoyed throughout the year. I began enjoying Bolero Snort early as their Moosaic was a standout beer for me at the 2019 Meadowlands Great Beer Expo. Much like choosing a best of Icarus, I was torn between two superb beers from Bolero Snort in 2019 when it came to picking my favorite from them, their annual Bergen County Stout release (specifically, the French Toast variant) and Moo Doo Doll, a Mardi Gras “King Cake” inspired stout with an amount of adjuncts that magically come together in lovely harmony: brown sugar, “a whisper of milk dust,” cinnamon, nutmeg, Madagascar vanilla and a pinch of lemon zest. The outstanding quality of Moo Doo Doll and French Toast Bergen County Bull Stout alone would have made Bolero Snort a standout for me in 2019.

Clockwise from top left: Mootopia, á La Mooode, Gingerbread Moochiato, Ragin Bull, OVB

One of my beer highlights of the whole year; however, came on my birthday. My wife surprised me by getting me and some friends in the car and surprising me with a Bolero Snort beer pairing dinner. Fortunately for me, my wife does not like beer, so I was able to enjoy more than just my 5oz taster of most beers. The beers included in course order: (1) Bolero’s flagship lager Ragin Bull Amber Lager which I’d had before and liked; (2) OVB Creamsicle IPA; their flagship IPA, a sweet delicious Milkshake IPA which I was pleased to enjoy again later in the month at a NJ Devils game; (3) Mootopia, a New England IPA; (4) á La Mooode one of the best hard ciders I’ve ever had; and finished it off with the star of the show for me, (5) Gingerbread Moochiato and outstanding coffee-milk stout. When my wife asked me to grab a four pack of a stout for her to gift to a colleague for Christmas, I picked up Gingerbread Moochiato.  That event was hosted by Bolero Snort’s beer ambassador Adrian who was super-friendly and was the perfect host/ambassador.

I would not be surprised if beers from Bolero Snort Brewery appears quite often on my blog throughout 2020 with the brewery now open to the public.

Cape May Brewing Company (Cape May, NJ) | Total “new to me” Cape May beers checked in to untappd in 2019: 11

Cape May Brewing Company is currently the second largest brewery in the state (Flying Fish, is still #1), but I wouldn’t be surprised to see them overtake Flying Fish in the near future. In late 2018, Cape May Brewing Company launched Cape Beverage Distribution Company so they could self-distribute throughout the state. As such, I have definitely noticed a difference as their beers are mainstays of the beer shops I visit and I think throughout the majority of the state. But good things began early in 2019 for Cape May for me, one of my first reviews in 2019 was of their Baltic Porter, King Porter Stomp. Like Icarus and Bolero Snort, I was torn between two beers standing out enough to make my top 12 list: Swinging the Lamp (Imperial NEIPA) and Bourbon Barrel Aged Concrete Ship (Russian Imperial Stout). Only one beer from Cape May didn’t quite work for me despite being a well-made beer, but every other beer I had from them was superb. Their sadly and recently discontinued Pale Lager, simply called Lager was one of the mainstays in my cooler in the summer and a beer I suggested my wife gift to a co-worker who was just “entering the world of craft beer.”

Other Cape May Brewing Standouts for me: The Bog Cranberry Shandy, Follow the Gull (IPA – American); and their annual Oktoberfest.

Icarus Brewing Company (Lakewood, NJ) | Total “new to me” Icarus beers checked in on untappd in 2019: 16

You might say this is a late addition since I visited the brewery in August with more than half of the year in the rear-view mirror, but that alone should indicate how highly I think of Icarus and the beer I had from them in 2019. I’d seen good things about their beer all over beer social media pretty much since they opened in 2017, had a couple of their beers in 2018 (one even made my best of 2018 list), but it wasn’t until August that I finally visited the brewery, then again in October (here’s my post/brewery report from October). As I alluded to in my Favorite New to Me beers of 2019, the majority of the beer I had from Icarus Brewing in 2019 was superb, so whittling it down to a single beer was challenging, but I slotted in Kalishnikov (Stout – Russian Imperial).

My other new-to-me 2019 Standouts from Icarus Brewing were were Just Wing it (Stout – Milk/Sweet); Making Whoopie (Stout – Imperial/Double Milk/Sweet); Build me Up Butternut (Porter – Imperial / Double); Life in Helles (Lager – Helles), Velvet Fjord (IPA – Milkshake); and Fruited… & Flying With Pineapple, Mango, Blackberry (Sour – Berliner Weisse).

Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers Company (Framingham, MA) | Total “new to me” Jack’s Abby Beers checked in on untappd in 2019: 6

It is always exciting when a regional brewery with a stellar reputation beings distributing in your area. Even more so for a Lager lover like me for a brewery who brews only Lagers! In 2019, Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers began distributing into NJ and I was thrilled. Granted, I only had 6 beers from Jack’s Abby in 2019, but they were all superb lagers and I found myself re-purchasing the beers from them I enjoyed. The standout for me is the one that made my favorites of 2019, their world class pilsner, Post Shift Pilsner.

Rounding out my superb six pack of Jacks Abby Lagers I enjoyed in 2019: Copper Legend (Festbier); Sunny Ridge Pilsner (Pilsner – Other), House Lager (Lager – Helles), Hoponius Union (Lager –India Pale); and Maibock Hurts Like Helles (Bock – Hell / Maibock / Lentebock).

Kane Brewing Company (Ocean Township, NJ) | Total “new to me” Kane beers checked in to untappd in 2019: 11

Kane is probably the most respected brewery in New Jersey, hands down. Their IPAs, their barrel-aging program, their big stouts, and their Quadrupels all are outstanding. Two things happened over the last year or so – Kane began self-distributing their three core beers to stores in NJ and I began enjoying and appreciating more hop-forward beer, which gave me the opportunity to enjoy Overhead (their Imperial IPA) and Sneak Box (their outstanding American Pale Ale).

There’s a local bar in Somerville, NJ I have mentioned on the blog called Project P.U.B., P.U.B. standing for Pop Up Brewery, wherein a brewery has a month long tap takeover or is essentially a “satellite” brewery for a month. In March 2019, Kane was that brewery, which gave me the opportunity to have a couple of their more limited release beers: their 2190 Anniversary Ale, a delicious Barrel Aged Quadrupel as well as Vengeful Heart, a hoppy Barleywine. I also visited Kane at the end of the summer and was even more impressed with the beers I had: Two barrel aged Quadrupels (One Thousand Eight Hundred and Twenty Five & 2555 7th Anniversary Ale), a hoppy blonde (Whale Pond), and a Chestnut Barrel-aged version of their Pilsner, Sideshore. Other standouts, thanks to friends and family visiting Kane were Half-Timbered barrel-aged Bock and vintages their superb Coffee Porter, Morning Bell and Mexican Brunch.

Victory Brewing Company (Downington, PA) | Total “new to me” Victory Beers checked in on untappd in 2019: 7 new to me, many bottles of Prima Pils “new recipe” and their Festbier for the first time in years

Victory Brewing has come up on this blog as much as or maybe more than any other brewery, I’d venture to guess. At least as much as any non-NJ brewery, that’s because I’ve always enjoyed their output. However, they rebranded in early 2019 with a consistent label design across their portfolio, introduced a handful of new beers, and tweaked their classic Prima Pils by lowering the bitterness just a smidge. I love it as much as I ever did.

I’d say there’s a good chance I bought more beer from Victory in 2019 than any other brewery, I had some form of Victory beer in my poolside cooler throughout the summer, and Prima Pils was a fixture in my refrigerator. I’ve always enjoyed their beers and that proved to be true again in 2019. New-to-me standouts in 2019 from Victory included Cloud Walker Hazy Juicy IPA, Java Latte (Stout – Milk/Sweet), Twisted Monkey (Blonde Ale – Belgian Blonde / Golden), Liberty Bell Ringer (IPA–Imperial/Double)

 

Some additional stats, via untappd’s Year in Beer:

  • 412 Unique Beers
  • Beers from 173 different breweries
  • 104 distinct styles

Top 5 Most Checked in beer styles:

  • IPA – American – 31
  • Pale Ale – American – 18
  • IPA – Imperial / Double– 17
  • Hefeweizen – 14
  • IPA – New England – 14

Top 5 Most Checked in breweries (this includes beers I’ve had prior to 2019, i.e. I had Prima Pils from Victory prior to 2019, but checked it in in 2019, too):

  • Icarus Brewing – 18
  • Kane Brewing Company – 15
  • Cape May Brewing Company– 14
  • Bolero Snort Brewery – 13
  • Victory Brewing Company – 13

Breweries I visited for the first time in 2019 (17 total)

482 Badges Earned

Draught Diversions: Favorite New Beers of 2019

The third annual roundup brings a slight change. The last two “best of the year” lists focused on the best beers – those I gave the highest ratings. For 2019, while I’ll still have beers with very high untappd ratings, I’m shifting a little bit to “Favorite” beers. What does that mean? Well, there were beers I consumed in 2019 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 2019 that one beer was enough, while some beers I may have rated at a 4.25 I would have multiple times. Or still another way – some movies are incredibly well made masterpieces, but one viewing is enough whereas some movies you love and want to watch over and over or will leave on the TV no matter where in the running time you catch it.

So, let’s get on with shall we?

Another definition for the purposes of this post: 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 2019.

It will come as no surprise that a NJ bias shines through on this list as 5 of the beers are from NJ breweries (last year featured 6 NJ breweries and 7 the first year). Considering more than half of the beer I bought & consumed in 2019 was from NJ breweries, this shouldn’t be a surprise.  I had multiple beers from many breweries and the quality was very consistent across the board for some breweries. However, I was only allowing each brewery to have one beer on the list so for some of the breweries below, the beer on this round up represents my favorite from the beers I had from them. For example, I had over a dozen beers from Icarus Brewing, so the beer on this list from them is what I enjoyed the most from them. As in years past, some of the breweries on this list will not be a surprise to readers of this blog or people who know me

Here’s a Breakdown of the Favorite Beers of 2019 12-pack:

  • 5 from NJ breweries
  • 2 from PA breweries
  • 2 from Belgian Breweries
  • 3 Stouts
    • 1 Pastry Stout
    • 1 Imperial Stout
    • 1 Russian Imperial Stout
  • 2 Belgian Quadrupels
  • 2 IPAs (both are of the New England variety, one is a Double NEIPA)
  • 1 Pilsner
  • 1 Saison
  • 1 Cream Ale
  • 1 Pale Ale
  • 1 Belgian Strong Dark Ale

Without further ado…

12. Post Shift Pilsner | Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers (Framingham, MA) | Pilsner – Other | 4.25 bottle caps

Had to show off Sully! A perfect pint of Post Shift Plisner pleases the palate and is perfect for lounging in the yard with your puppers.

I reviewed this one back in May and havethe had a few times over the year. Simply an elegant and delicious beer. From my review: “The finish has a slightly toasted bready/crackery taste that I associate with Pilsners (and some Helles Lagers, too). I like it, I want more of it. Hell, I picked up a 6 pack on a Thursday and found it hard to not enjoy one of these delicious beers every day of that weekend. When it comes to a wonderfully flavorful beer perfect for any day, a beer that will please both discerning craft beer drinkers with that flavor, while not making non-craft drinkers wary, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better beer than Jack Abby’s Post Shift Pilsner.”

11. Saison DuPont | Brasserie Dupont (Tourpes, Hainaut Belgium) I Farmhouse Ale – Saison | 4.5 Bottle Caps

Sometimes it takes a little while for one to get to the classics. Such is the case with Saison DuPont for me. But when I did finally have a bottle of it, I was supremely impressed. From my review in August: “Saison Dupont is an absolutely delicious beer that is rightfully the measuring stick for every Saison being produced today. All the qualities I’ve had in other saisons are on bold display here – strong yeast character, clean delicious taste, and a transportative element that transcends most other beers.”

10. Swinging the Lamp | Cape May Brewing Company | IPA – Imperial / Double New England 4.25 Bottle caps

Cape May’s been knocking it out of the park all year so it should be no surprise one of their beers lands on my favorite beers of the year list. This beer is a standout for many reason, the wonderful use of hops (Moutere, Raku, and Motueka) which evoke a peachy-pineapple juice bomb. The Kviek yeast (one of the “hot” ingredients nowadays) adds another layer of flavor. Quite simply, this is an outstanding IPA from a brewery for whom “outstanding” is the norm.

9. Cloud Walker Hazy Juicy IPA | Victory Brewing Company | IPA – New England | 4.25 bottle caps

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 style. Victory’s take on the style is probably the my favorite of the larger brewery’s attempts at the style 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 really came out strong in 2019 with some of their new beers to go along with their rebranding. More on that in another post.

8. Sneakbox | Kane Brewing Company | Pale Ale – American | 4.50 bottle caps


This past year, I really came to appreciate one of the icons of NJ Independent Brewing – Kane Brewing. I’ve had their beers here and there at bars, but they began self-distributing cans of their beer more widely in NJ, at least their three core beers, Head High, Overhead, and this beer, Sneakbox. This is a delicious, outstanding, juicy pale ale that highlights the full flavor of the ubiquitous Citra Hop…I’d say this could be in contention for best American Pale Ale.

7. La Trappe Quadrupel | La Trappe/Brouwerij de Koningshoeven (Berkel-Enshot, Noord-Brabant, Netherlands) | Belgian Quadrupel | 4.5 bottle caps

Another beer that is essentially the first of its style. The bottle I reviewed was, I think, from 2016 if my interpretation of the date code was correct. Based on that and having a more recently dated bottle, I’d suggest letting this beer sit before opening it. Here’s what I said in my review: “This is an outstanding, world-class beer that really is in a class its own. I’d say it would be a great interpretation of the style but as I recently discovered, La Trappe’s Quadrupel was the first beer with the Quadrupel name back in 1991. So it is the style-namer or “Ur-Quadrupel,” if you will. I know, considering the great brewing tradition in Belgium and of Belgian styles, I thought the style was a bit older than that.”

6. Kalishnikov | Stout – Russian Imperial | 4.25 Bottle Caps

I had quite a few beers from Icarus this year, but two visits to the brewery and a friend getting a job as their taproom manager will help helped to keep the number growing in 2019. I wanted to feature one of their beers on the best of list this year and the thing is – every beer I had from them was outstanding, so I’m going with their big, boozy Russian Imperial Stout. Kalishnikov is a delicious, super-boozy (14% ABV!) stout that doesn’t feel like it has that much alcohol in it. Russian Imperials can be very bitter on the finish, but the addition of honey in the brewing process gives the beer a nice hit of sweetness on the finish. I’ve had one of the barrel-aged variants of this beer, but I think I prefer the base stout more.

5. French Toast Bergen County Bull Stout | Bolero Snort Brewery (Carlstadt, NJ) | – Stout – Pastry | 4.5 Bottle Caps

Bolero Snort cranked out quite a few tasty beers by my standards in 2019 but for me, the top of that list is their delicious dessert variant annual Bergen County Bull Stout. This was a recent review, but managed to stand out very strongly over the 400+ different beers I had in 2019. From my review: “This is a complex beer…I need to put that up front. The eggy-bread aroma of French Toast is present in the taste with the bourbon hints from the barrel making their way through everything. … A beer that has the flavor components of that rich, dessert-like breakfast while still retaining the stout qualities that give the beer it’s primary character. … This beer is probably the best I’ve had from them. As their motto says, that is No BS, just ragin’ good beer.”

4. Nitro Regular Coffee | Carton Brewing Company | Cream Ale | 4.75 bottle caps

Over the past couple of years, it has become a New Year’s / Early January NJ tradition to head down to Carton Brewing in the Atlantic Highlands to get whatever variant Augie and company release of their highly coveted Regular Coffee cream ale. This year, I met up with some friends to grab some of this beer. Carton has the best deal of any brewery in NJ in terms of tasters, and I knew I had to bring this one home. Regular Coffee is an “Imperial” Cream Ale made with coffee from local roasters. Put simply, Regular Coffee is the best Coffee beer I’ve ever had. I’ve realized I don’t care for Nitro beers over the past year, but this one bucks that recent trend. I can’t think of a beer that more perfectly utilizes Nitro.

3. Quadraphonic | Barrel of Monks Brewing Company (Boca Raton, FL) | Belgian Quadrupel | 4.5 bottle caps

Quadraphonic was the first beer review I posted in 2019 and even then I had a feeling it would standout as one of my favorites of the year. From my review: “The first sip is delightful wow and does what a good beer should – encourages to you drink more. I found the typical stone fruit flavors to be present, hints of plum and raisin with some figginess, and maybe a hint of cherry too. This is a complex, extremely well-made beer. … Quadraophonic is quite simply, a delicious beer.”

2. Mad Elf Grand Cru | Tröegs Independent Brewing | Belgian Strong Dark Ale | 4.5 bottle caps

Mad Elf from Tröegs is an iconic Christmas beer and an annual tradition for me. This “Director’s Cut” version with the addition of “loads” more tart Balaton cherries was a bit daunting. I wasn’t sure how much I would enjoy a more tart version of the beer, but goddamn is this a delicious cherry-forward beer that still retains ample flavor from the yeast and base ale. Tröegs continues to prove why they are one of my favorite breweries, last year my favorite new-to-me beer was from them and this year, this one is pretty damned close.

1. So Happens It’s Tuesday | The Bruery | Stout – Imperial / Double | 5 bottle caps

Image courtesy of The Bruery’s Facebook. I wasn’t able to snap a photo of the beer in the restaurant

The Bruery is one of the premier California breweries, they specialize in complex beers, often of the barrel-aged variety. That nuance and skill with beer is showcased in this beer, the best barrel aged beer I’ve ever had. Subtle, yet potent notes of the barrel character can be enjoyed throughout finely balanced with the stout character of the base beer. The Bruery recently began releasing cans of some of their beers and I’ve seen single cans of this beer sold in my area, I may need to snag one.

Honorable Mentions – Touchdown (Lager – Munich Dunkel) and Flood (Stout – Imperial/Double) from Jersey Cyclone; 2190 Anniversary Ale (Belgian Quadrupel) and Overhead (IPA – Imperial/Double) from Kane Brewing; Haze (IPA – Imperial/Double) from Tree House Brewing; MooDoo Doll (Stout – Pastry) from Bolero Snort Brewery; Sucaba 2019 (Barleywine – English) from Firestone Walker Brewing Company; Pick Your Own (American Wild Ale) from Allagash Brewing Company; Gunner’s Daughter (Stout – Milk/Sweet) from Mast Landing Brewing Company; Java Latte (Stout – Milk/Sweet) and Twisted Monkey (Blonde Ale – Belgian Blonde / Golden) from Victory Brewing Company; Worker Drone (Cream Ale) from Twin Elephant Brewing Company; and Dunkel Lager (Lager – Munich Dunkel) from Von Trapp Brewing.

I’ll be doing a complementary post – as I did last year – that takes a look at the breweries to impress me the most in 2019, along with some more stats courtesy of untappd.

Draught Diversions: December 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 month of December began with another bottle share, but even outside of that great day, I was able to enjoy quite a few very good beers. Some Christmas/Winter-adjacent, stouts, and the usual mix of NJ, regional, and nationally available beers. .

Kalishnikov (Icarus Brewing Company) | Stout – Russian Imperial | 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

Shockingly, a beer from Icarus Brewing appears on this list. Kalishnikov is one of their annual favorites and I know why, a delicious, super-boozy (14% ABV!) Stout that doesn’t feel like it has that much alcohol in it. Russian Imperials can be very bitter on the finish, but the addition of honey in the brewing process gives the beer a nice hit of sweetness on the finish. I’ve had one of the barrel-aged variants, but I think I prefer the base stout more. .

Christmas Ale (Brouwerij St. Bernardus) | Winter Ale | 4 bottle Caps on untappd

I’ve been trying to sample at least one of the more popular and widely available Belgian Christmas beers every year and this year I landed on bottle sporting the happy monk. This beer turned out to be a really nice ale. The classic from St. Bernardus is basically a Quadrupel (10%ABV), but with more fruit character (some cherry notes, maybe?) than their standard Quadrupel. This is definitely a slow sipper and a beer you should let warm a little bit to room temperature to fully enjoy the aroma and full flavor of the beer.

Winter Cru (Flying Fish Brewing Company) | Belgian Strong Golden Ale | 3.75 / 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

Over the last year, Flying Fish continued to evolve, brew new beers, and tweak their classic beers. Winter Cru is a reboot of their Winter seasonal (Grand Cru Winter Reserve) with a great label and tweaked recipe. The original wasn’t one I cared for too much, so this change in recipe is very much welcome and the beer is more full-flavored My tagline: “A Belgian style ale w/hints of cinnamon and nutmeg will settle you in for a comforting Christmas and Winter Holiday.”

Willettized Coffe Stout (Lagunitas Brewing Company) | Stout – Coffee | 4.50 bottle Caps on untappd

This is an annual release Lagunitas that is often highly-sought after. That’s because it is a delicious, very balanced barrel-aged stout. The barrels are Willett Rye and what an excellent blend of flavors – coffee, roasted malt, rye whiskey. This is quite simply a fantastic barrel-aged stout.

Psycho Simcoe (Three 3’s Brewing Company) | IPA – New England | 4.50 Bottle Caps on untappd

I wasn’t able to snap a photo of my beer in the very crowded bar, so here’s the can art, courtesy of Three 3’s Facebook

You never know what you’ll find in a dive bar and there’s a pretty great dive bar in my town – The Royal Bar. They have a pretty standard selection of beers, but every time I’ve gone to the Royal, I’ve always found at least one gem. This most recent visit the gem would be Psycho Simcoe, a fantastic IPA from the South Jersey brewery. This is a wonderful blend of dank and juicy hops (Simcoe, obviously, but also Mandarina Bavaria for the juiciness) that make for a delicious beer – juiciness at the start with a nice dank finish.

Haunted House (Allagash Brewing Company) | Belgian Strong Dark Ale | 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

I say this every time I mention beers from Allagash, but I need to get more of their beers because this one a, “Halloween seasonal” is excellent. There’s a wonderful start to the beer with flavorful roast, then it moves to a fantastic blend of hops and then finishes with a sweet hint of coffee. Allagash brews primarily Belgian styles and there really isn’t a stout in the catalogue of Belgian styles, so this one is considered the closest to it a “Belgian Strong Dark Ale.” .Whatever you call it, the beer is really, really tasty.

My work pals and I had a Christmas “Gathering of the Fellowship of the Beer” in the beginning of December, which was fun as it is everytime we get together to share new beers with each other. The standout at that gathering was a bottle of Samuel Adams Utopias (which takes center stage below in the photo of the beers we shared), which one of our friends generously shared. The bottle was from 2017 and was unlike any other beer I’ve had. The only slight negative is that it smelled like slightly of nail polish, but the flavor … heavenly.

The Treehouse and Hill Farmstead bottles contained some delicious homebrews (a wonderful milk stout and tasty New England IPA) from our friend Brad

Draught Diversions: Christmas Six Pack 2019

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

The last two years, I’ve posted “12 Beers of Christmas” over the course of two days as an homage to the “12 Days of Christmas.” However, even last year to get to 12 I felt I was stretching my search parameters a bit. I’d rather have a super-solid six pack filled with a couple of borderline iconic beers this year. Also, in an effort to NOT exhaust all the Christmas beers available, I’m trimming it down to a single six pack of Christmas beers for 2019.

Avec Les Bons Vœux | Farmhouse Ale – Saison | Brasserie Dupont | Tourpes, Belgium | ABV 9.5%

Image courtesy of Brasserie Dupont’s Web site

I’ve seen this holiday Saison in some shops over the years but never grabbed a bottle. However, after having THE flagship Saison earlier this year, I’m even more excited  to try this beer. A spiced up and higher ABV version of a world-class Saison sounds very intriguing indeed. This might be a bottle to bring to my in-law’s since my father in law is a big fan of Belgian style ales.

What Dupont says about the beer:

Les Bons Voeux means best wishes, which is what Brasserie Dupont sends with this very special saison ale brewed for the holidays. .

Redolently aromatic, rich and velvety, rich gold color, fragrant (lemony with hints of pepper, banana and clove), as all the beers of Dupont are with a full,deep malt richness that lingers on your tongue for what seems the whole holiday season.

Considered by some the finest offering from this unparalleled Brewery. “The best Belgian beer, if ever there could be such an award…a sumptuous, seductive 9.5% beer. Because of it’s intensity, I would recommend the novice graduate to this beer. However, if a saison that is starting to lean towards being a triple appeals to you, and if its in season, don’t hesitate.

N’Ice Chouffe | Winter Ale | Brasserie D’Achouffe | Achouffe, Belgium | ABV 10%

Image courtesy of Brasserie D’Achouffe

How do I not include a beer whose label looks so Christmasy with those red-hatted gnomes? N’ice Chouffe is one of those beers I see often in the import section but never got around to trying, similar to the beer above.  At 10%, this dark beer seems like a nice sipper for a cold evening by the fire with the Christmas Tree acting as the only other light source in the room.

About the beer:

N’ice CHOUFFE is the winter beer from the Achouffe Brewery. We recommend that you enjoy it from mid-October to mid-February, preferably by the fireplace. It is a dark beer, slightly hoppy, spiced with thyme and curaçao, and made using orange peel. It has an alcohol content of 10%. N’ice CHOUFFE goes well with any winter dishes.

Winter Lager | Schwarzbier | The Brooklyn Brewery | Brooklyn, NY | ABV 5.6%

Image courtesy of The Brooklyn Brewery’s Facebook

Brooklyn has a beer for every season and their Winter seasonal is a dark lager in the vein of a German Schwarzbier. Although I’ve had only a few Schwarzbiers, I do like the style, but it isn’t a very popular/prevalent style. Of the Schwarzbiers I’ve had, I was very much reminded of porters from the ale side of the beer tree – strong roasted flavors, maybe smoky, sometimes coffee or chocolate. I haven’t had Brooklyn’s dark lager yet, but that may change.

What Brooklyn says about this beer:

Brooklyn Winter Lager is our answer to the heavy ales and stouts that emerge in wintertime. Though dark in color with a sturdy presence, our Schwarzbier-inspired lager layers notes of chocolate, roasted barley, and dark bread into a 5.6% ABV frame that finishes surprisingly light and pleasantly dry. Winter means different things depending where you live, but Brooklyn Winter Lager is ready for any chill.

Gingerbread Stout | Imperial Milk Stout | Hardywood Park Craft Brewery | Richmond, VA | ABV 9.2%

Image Courtesy of Hardywood Park Craft Brewery’s Website

This is one of those “event” beers that has specially scheduled days of release dedicated to it. Ever since I became more aware of the online beer community and more aware of regional breweries outside of NJ over the past few years, Hardywood’s Gingerbread Stout is the Christmas Beer at the top of my list to get. Unfortunately, Hardywood does not distribute into NJ so the potential for me to get this beer is not very high. Based on the description, this beer seems like the epitome of a Christmas Stout.

What Hardywood Park says about the beer:

Made with baby ginger from Casselmonte Farm and wildflower honey from Bearer Farms, Hardywood Gingerbread Stout captures the terroir of Central Virginia in a rich, creamy libation with a velvety mouthfeel and an intriguing evolution of notes from milk chocolate and vanilla, to honeycomb and cinnamon, to a snap of ginger in the finish. We hope Hardywood Gingerbread Stout contributes to your merriment this season.

Fuggly Sweater | Lager – Dark | Ithaca Beer Company | Ithaca, NY | ABV 5.7%

Image courtesy of Ithaca Beer Company’s Website

Ithaca is one of the great Northeast Breweries, their “Flower Power” IPA is iconic. With that said, it is nice to see another Lager for the Christmas season. Ginger and cinnamon, the holiday spices, seem to be on prominent display here. Plus, that is some nifty looking label design.

What Ithaca says about the beer:

‘Twill be the fuggliest time of the year, so we joyously present our gift to this year’s season… Fuggly Sweater. Fuggly Sweater is a dark lager brewed to inspire the holiday favorite, gingerbread. The wide range of specialty malts create yummy cookie and cake qualities. The presentation is dark, but not opaque, with brown hues. Ginger is at center stage, and as with traditional gingerbread, a light amount of cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon round out the spice profile.

Mad Elf Grand Cru | Belgian Strong Dark Ale | Tröegs Independent Brewing | Hersey, PA | ABV 11%

Image courtesy of Tröegs Independent Brewing’s Facebook

It just doesn’t seem like the Christmas season until I have a bottle/glass of Mad Elf. A couple of years ago, the brothers Trogner decided to play with the legendary beer by adding more tart cherries to the mix. I haven’t had this beer yet, but for Krampusnacht, The Krampus (my wife) got me a bottle of this, so I’ll be sipping from that bottle when we decorate our Christmas tree.

What Stone says about the beer:

If you know Tröegs, you know The Mad Elf, the mischievous belle of the holiday beer ball that helped put our little brewery on the map. In your hands is the Director’s Cut. Tart Balaton cherries – loads of them – make all the difference. Bottle-conditioned and flush with notes of cinnamon and clove, this beer begs to be shared. Take a bottle home, gather your friends, and cherish the cherries.

We taste: tart cherry, brown sugar, clove, subtle peppercorn

Availability: 750mL cork & cage bottles only.

There it is, a robust six pack of suggestions. For my Christmas Beers this year, I’ll be having at least one of the above.  On Christmas Eve specifically I’ll also likely bring a growler from one of the handful of breweries in my immediate vicinity, maybe Jersey Cyclone, maybe Conclave Brewing to my parents’ house. The last couple of years I’ve brought growlers from Lone Eagle Brewing and Demented Brewing (which went out of business earlier in the year). All of those growlers went over very well and were finished very quickly so I feel like I have set the bar high in the past with what I brought to share.

Have a warm and safe holiday season, Merry Christmas!

Draught Diversions: November 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…

A larger variety of new beers crossed my palate in November 2019 than usual, with the typical mix of NJ and non-NJ beers. The annual birthday beer tour took us through a portion of the Bucks County Ale Trail, with a beer from that day featured here. That proved to be a lot of fun, with a wide range of beers with an extremely wide range of quality. Outside of that day, I thought I was done with barrel-aged beers after having some earlier in the year that didn’t work for me, too much barrel flavor, adjuncts not blending well. That was a blip on the radar because three barrel-aged stouts appear on this month’s six pack. Enough with all that …here…we…GO!

So Happens It’s Tuesday (The Bruery ) | Stout – American Imperial/Double | 5 bottle Caps on untappd

The Bruery makes big beers, potent in ABV, robust flavor, and physically big for the size of their bottles. This is one of their more popular and highly rated barrel aged stouts, and a beer I’ve been wanting to try for a few years. I haven’t seen bottles of it very often and it is a pricey beer, so I was very happy to see the beer on draught when my wife and I went to dinner with my parents for my birthday at a Paragon Tap & Table. I’ll just cut to the chase and say this is the best barrel-aged stout I’ve ever had.

Pike Rd. Pils (Moss Mill Brewing Company) | Pilsner – Other | 4 bottle Caps on untappd

Continuing with the birthday theme…the first stop of the aforementioned Bucks County Ale Trail was Moss Mill Brewing. All three beers I had there were very good, but the one that started the day stood out – a clean crisp and fresh Pilsner. Did exactly what a Pilsner should do and set the mood for what turned out to be a great day. If Moss Mill was more local to me, I’d definitely be hitting them up more frequently based on the three beers I had. Speaking of “more local to me…”

Touchdown (Jersey Cyclone Brewing Company) | Lager – Munich Dunkel | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

I’ve been really enjoying dark lagers of late, one made a six pack appearance last month and I gave von Trapp’s great Dunkel the full review this past October. Jersey Cyclone started strong with their Lagers, so naturally I wanted to try their Munich Dunkel. While they did not brew an Oktoberfest this year, this Dark Lager is perfect for fall – full flavored, great finish, and overall just a fantastic beer. Jersey Cyclone recently doubled their taplist and they have this one on Nitro now.


Bourbon Barrel Aged Concrete Ship (Cape May Brewing Company)
| Stout – Russian Imperial | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

This is the second of three barrel-aged stouts to make the November list. Cape May’s stout, named for a WWI naval folly, has a boozier feel than the Bruery stout mentioned at the start of this post. That said, the beer is very good, full of flavor from the Woodford Reserve Bourbon barrels it sat in for a while. I keep saying whenever a beer of theirs appears here, but Cape May continues to brew outstanding beers and is strong contender for my top NJ brewery of at least 2019.

Java Latte (Victory Brewing Company) | Stout – Coffee | 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

Victory has been having a great year in my mind, as several of my posts here would prove. Their latest “limited release” (aka not core/year round beer) is a toned down version of their outstanding barrel aged Java Cask Stout. Java Latte is lower in alcohol, has some milk sugar added and is a delicious stout. The coffee is present but not overpowering, the lactose adds enough sweetness, and the alcohol at 8.2% is not exactly low, but a perfect stout for cool nights. My only minor complaint is the body is a little thin, but the flavor is all there. I like Victory’s trend with these limited release beers being released in 16oz 4-packs, too.

Convocation (Lone Eagle Brewing Company) | Stout – Imperial / Double | 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd


Lone Eagle brought a new head brewer aboard a few months ago and when I last mentioned them here, he was still relatively new so only a few of his beers were ready for consumption at that time. The monthly board game meetup in November gave me the chance to try 2 of his beers and both were really good, with this barrel-aged stout being a standout. What set this one apart are the heavy notes of chocolate and how well those notes played with the bourbon from the barrels. At 10%, patrons were only permitted two pours of the beer, which is understandable. This is a great beer.

Although most of what I consumed in November was good to outstanding (I could have easily added at least four more beers to this list), one big dud stands out. Not just a beer, but an entire brewery – Mad Princes Brewery, which was part of the birthday beer tour of the Bucks County Ale Trail. I got a flight and could only finish one of the beers, the other beers were just untrue to style, had very “off” flavor profiles and were simply bad beers. I didn’t like it and the group (6 people) consensus was equally negative. The brewery itself was probably the most unwelcoming brewery I’ve ever visited out of the nearly 100 breweries I’ve visited over the years.

Draught Diversions: Thanksgiving 6 Pack 2019

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…

Thanksgiving is nearing so, since I’ve done a Thanksgiving recommendation post the last two years, I figured I’d keep the tradition alive. As is often the case, these are beers with varying availability, local to NJ, to the whole Mid-Atlantic region, some available nationally. Like previous years, I’ll be featuring beers that are rich, or beers that can work as dessert beers as well as a mix of beers I’ve had and beers I’ve yet to have.

Pivo Pils | Firestone Walker Brewing Co. | Pilsner | Paso Robles, CA | 5.2% ABV

Image Courtesy of Firestone Walker’s website

If I can find a way to fit a Pilsner into the discussion, I will. Few breweries in America are as widely praised as Firestone Walker. Their pilsner is a fantastic interpretation of the style, which takes some inspiration from both the German and Czech traditions of the style. It is a little more hoppy than most pilsners, but very delicious and a very approachable beer as starter for the day.

What Firestone Walker says about the beer:

Pivo Pils is a classically rendered pilsner with a West Coast dry-­‐hopping twist, showcasing stylistic influences from Germany, Italy and the Czech Republic. Lighter beer styles like pilsner have been hijacked by industrial lager beer in the United States, and it’s time for craft brewers to take it back. Pivo Pils offers impeccable balance with floral aromatics, spicy herbal nuances, and bergamot zest and lemongrass notes from dry hopping with German Saphir hops.

Edmund Fitzgerald | Great Lakes Brewing Company | Porter – American | Cleveland, OH | 6% ABV

Image courtesy of Great Lakes Brewing’s website

In my humble opinion, this is the best porter brewed in America and I will often have some of this in my refrigerator in the colder months of the year. Thanksgiving is a very American Holiday. Porters pair well with hearty meals, with their full flavor, especially a flavorful porter like this beer. Add that all up and I’d slot this in either right before dinner or at the dinner table to complement the many roasted flavors of the food.

What Great Lakes says about the beer:

Robust and complex, our Porter is a bittersweet tribute to the legendary freighter’s fallen crew—taken too soon when the gales of November came early.

FLAVOR
Brewed in memory of the sunken freighter, with rich roasted barley and bittersweet chocolate-coffee notes.

Da’ Nile | River Horse Brewing Company | Red Ale – American Amber / Red | Ewing, NJ | 5.9% ABV

Image courtesy of River Horse’s Facebook

Red/Amber Ales are often overlooked these days, but they can pack a lot of flavor. Especially when sweetened up with vanilla and molasses like this fine ale from River Horse. I had this on draft at the brewery after I finished the River Horse 6K earlier in the year and enjoyed it quite a bit. This beer I’d maybe set with the main course and would especially pair nicely with sweet potatoes/candied yams.

What River Horse says about the beer:

A deep amber ale brewed with vanilla, lactose, blackstrap molasses, and caramel malts. A delicious and drinkable malty option with depth and balanced sweetness.

Suddenly Comfy | Dogfish Head Craft Brewery | Cream Ale | Milton, DE | 8% ABV

Image courtesy of Dogfish Head’s website

Dogfish Head does so many flavorful things with their beers and they’re mostly all very good. This beer could bridge the courses from dinner to dessert, with ingredients of Apple Pie in the mix as noted below. This beer is a little higher in ABV (8%), so having some turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes in your stomach will help absorb some of the alcohol. I haven’t had this one yet, but I’m thinking that might change as the holidays get closer.

Dogfish Head says this about the beer:

Things are suddenly getting real comfy around these parts with our latest off-centered creation – Suddenly Comfy.

Brewed with fresh apple cider, Saigon cinnamon and Madagascar vanilla beans, this Imperial Cream Ale is made with all the fixings of a great apple pie … just like grandma used to make. .

Inhale and you’ll be greeted with aromas of pie crust and brûléed sugar. Sip and you’ll find notes of fruity sweetness. Savor and you’ll venture on a fragrant flashback that has you longing for the past.

Inspired by the classically decadent dessert, Suddenly Comfy is a result of our Beer Exploration Journal – a program designed to give our fans a peek into the world of R&DFH, while sampling, evaluating and rating new beers on tap exclusively at our Milton Tasting Room & Kitchen and Rehoboth brewpub.

Gingerbread Moochiato | Bolero Snort Brewing Company | Stout – Milk / Sweet | Carlstadt, NJ | 7 % ABV

Image courtesy of Bolero Snort’s Website

Bolero Snort is one of the great contract breweries in NJ, soon to open their brewery and Taproom at the end of 2019. Hell, not just great contract brewery, great brewery period. Known for their eye-catching a labels and bovinely inspired beer names, their beers are usually a lot of fun. People like coffee at the end of the dinner to enjoy with their dessert, so a sweetened spiced coffee milk stout would fit right in with the cheesecake as it did when I thoroughly enjoyed this beer during a Bolero Snort Dinner Beer pairing on my birthday. I had my 5oz pour as well as my wife’s 5oz pour, it was my favorite of the 5 beers I had that evening.

What Bolero Snort says about the beer:

A little nip in the air…so we’re keeping our uggs on a bit longer. Gingerbread Moochiato: same great coffee laden 7% milk stout base as Moochiato with loads of Ginger, cinnamon, clove, vanilla and just a hint of maple to round things out. Holiday shopping just got better.

Dragon’s Milk Reserve: Oatmeal Cookie | Stout – American Imperial / Double | Holland, MI | 11% ABV

Image Courtesy of New Holland’s website

Finishing the day with a “pastry stout” or “dessert stout” to complement (or supplement?) the previous beer is where this whole thing finishes off. I’ve had several bottles of New Holland’s iconic Dragon’s Milk Stout over the years and they’ve brewed quite a few variants (Coffee Chocolate, Cherry Chocolate, Salted Caramel), I may have had the S’More’s version, too. This year (2019), the variant New Holland released is most definitely a big ABV dessert sipper. Cookies, in my opinion, are just as enjoyable as a slice of cake for dessert so what better big beer to share?

What New Holland says about the beer:

Dragon’s Milk Reserve: Inspired by one of our favorite treats, Dragon’s Milk Reserve: Oatmeal Cookie is carefully aged with cinnamon, oats, brown sugar, raisins, and Madagascar vanilla extract. The familiar flavors of a freshly baked oatmeal cookie make an excellent pair with the rich, warm bourbon notes of our signature barrel-aged stout.

 

2018 untappd Thanksgiving Badge

Draught Diversions: October 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…

While I had quite a few new to me beers in October, a significant portion of those beers were from Icarus Brewing, which I highlighted earlier in the month. There were still a god swath of new beers that crossed my palate in October 2019, with a less than typical mix of NJ and non-NJ beers. In other words, only 2 New Jersey beers made the six pack this month. On other hand, that visit to Icarus Brewing and meet up the next day with my friend who manages the taproom, resulted in some delicious beers.

On to the top 6 “new-to-me” beers I had in October 2019…

Julius (Tree House Brewing Company) | IPA – American | 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

The IPA that put Tree House on the beer map. I’ve been fortunate enough to have friends who happen to have some extra Tree House beers, like my neighbor across the street. He was kind enough to give me a can and I am super pleased he did. This beer is quintessential IPA in the New England vein – juicy, tropical, but it still retains a significant traditional hop flavor.

The Carriagemaker (Czig Meister Brewing Company) | Pilsner – German | 4 bottle Caps on untappd

Another month, another Czig Meister beer. I was pleased to see them release a Pilsner in cans, more pleased to grab some, and even more pleased with how the beer tasted. It hit all the notes I want a pilsner to hit – clean, crisp, refreshing with just enough of a hop presence to give the beer a full flavor.

NOKtoberfest (Rusty Rail Brewing Brewery Co) | Rye Beer | 3.75 Bottle Caps on untappd

Rusty Rail is one of many Pennsylvania breweries with distribution reach into NJ which has allowed me to enjoy a few of their beers over the years. NOKtoberfest is an interesting “anti-Oktoberfest” that has a little more spice and bit than an Oktoberfest. For starters, the beer is an ale, a Rye Ale, at that, so the style is different. Oktoberfests are typically lagers. Frankly, the only thing “Oktoberfesty” about the beer is the name. Still a good beer, which happens to feature some cool art on the label.


Dreadnought Dunkel (Tonewood Brewing)
| Lager – Munich Dunkel | 3.75 Bottle Caps on untappd

This is only the second beer I’ve had from Tonewood (I reviewed their Freshies Pale Ale earlier in the year) and I’m impressed with this lager. I’ve been seeing more of their beers in the last couple of months so it is nice to see their distribution expanding. This beer is a really nice dark lager, reminiscent of the Dunkel I reviewed from von Trapp earlier in October. Dreadnought has a nice bready, almost pretzel-like, undercurrent. Another beer with cool art on the label.

Image courtesy of Yuengling’s web site. Where I had the beer (Hub City Brew House) was too dark for a good photo.

Hershey’s Chocolate Porter (Yuengling Brewing Company) | Porter – American | 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

This is the first time I’ve really featured a Yuengling beer here in a monthly six-pack. After all, the largest craft brewery and oldest brewery in America doesn’t often brew new beers. This is a natural match; however – two of the biggest food names in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania coming together for a delicious beer. As of this writing, the beer is only available on draft, but it is worth seeking. I think Yuengling’s porter is a very under-rated interpretation on the style and this beer builds on that base beer. There’s a delicious chocolate flavor in the beer, but not overpowering by any means. Great stuff.

Cold Press Coffee Pumking (Southern Tier Brewing Company) | Pumpkin / Yam Beer | 3.75 bottle Caps on untappd


To say that Southern Tier has a significant presence in the landscape of pumpkin beers is a great understatement. Their main Pumking is iconic take on the style and they’ve got a line of Pumking-adjacent beers. Last year, I reviewed the Rum Barrel version (delicious) so this year, I wanted to give this version a try. I’m glad I did because it puts a natural spin on the pumpkin ale by adding coffee. I’d say the only pumpkin-flavored beverage more popular (or derided) than pumpkin beer in the fall is pumpkin coffee. Be that as it may, I found the blend of coffee and pumpkin spices to be a very pleasant combination.

A couple of beers weren’t that great, including Scarecrow from Free Will Brewing, which is a wheat ale with pumpkin spices. Normally, this is a style I’d enjoy during this time of year, but Scarecrow had a very unpleasant aftertaste. For the first time in a while, a Dogfish Head beer was disappointing, American Beauty, their Grateful Dead pale ale. The bottle was a few months old so that could be why.

…and that puts a bow on my October 2019 Six Pack.