A Beer Journal of the Pandemic: Supporting Local NJ Beer and Breweries

The world is facing an unprecedented global pandemic, but we as a society are trying to maintain life as close to normal as possible. There’s a fairly wide margin between today’s normal and the normal of a few weeks ago.

Governmental rules being enforced to protect society at large from the spread of the pandemic are changing on a daily basis. We really don’t know how long the world, specifically the United States, is going to be adjusting to this pandemic and what the long-range impacts will be once we have this in the rearview mirror. But that could be weeks to months from now. I’m not going to speculate beyond that, I’ll just suggest going to the CDC’s website for COVID-19 for more information and heed your local and State government.

Business, especially local businesses which are seeking to live out their own American Dream, are struggling or will be struggling. Sadly, there’s a very good chance that some of these small breweries may be unable to weather the storm the coronavirus has caused. The NJ Beer Community has always been a great, well-connected community. Breweries are always trying to help each other, the people who buy and drink NJ beer are very loyal to their local purveyors of that fine beverage made from water, grain, yeast, and hops. That theme has become very evident during this pandemic.

In New Jersey many breweries have relied on Taproom sales to be successful; drawing crowds to share their beer and conversation. Well, with the Social Distancing mandates being put forth, that side of the business for these breweries is not currently really possible. Many breweries are shifting to “to-go” sales only – that means packaged goods like cans, bottles, and for some, growlers and crowlers. Other breweries are delivering their beer in the immediate area of their production facility, thanks to NJ Governor Phil Murphy’s Executive Order 104. Like everything else about this pandemic, who knows how long this will last.

While some of the larger non-macro breweries are well worth supporting in these times (breweries like Sierra Nevada, Victory, Jack’s Abby, Bell’s, etc. who have illustrated a great sense of community in addition to making great beer), now is a better time than ever to support the ultra-local breweries in your area. Go to them and buy some of their to-go options directly from the brewery. Pick up some of their beer in your local bottle shop/liquor store. Hell, if you have the means, buy some gift cards to use at a later time.

For NJ specific breweries, Mike from New Jersey Craft Beer has been working to spread the word of the breweries that are doing the TakeOut option.

The list below, borrowed from the good folks over at reddit’s NJ Beer forum highlights the breweries who are doing to-go pickups (and deliveries) of their packaged goods. The reddit thread can be found here (https://www.reddit.com/r/njbeer/comments/fjwe06/covid19_brewery_update/) and seems to be continuously updated by Matty and the other moderators over there so the list below is probably incomplete as of the time you are reading this.

Many other states are likely following suit, I’d say check in with Breweries in PA for information about breweries in the Keystone state, like this post Breweries in PA Offering Delivery Options in Response to Coronavirus.

*Disclaimer…some of the posts I’ve got ready for the next week or so were put together before the world changed as drastically as it has.

Draught Diversions: February 2020 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…

Considering February is the shortest month of the year, even in a leap year like this year, I was able to sample a good amount of new beers. In fact, it was a very tough challenge to trim the new beers I had in February down to just six beers. We’re at the usual 50%-50% split with NJ and non-NJ beers this month around. One business trip provided me with the opportunity to try a few beers I wouldn’t have otherwise had access to in NJ, one of which makes this month’s six pack post. So, enough of the chit chat, here’s my February 2020 six pack.

Back for S’More (Jersey Cyclone Brewing Company) | Stout – Milk / Sweet | 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

Jersey Cyclone keeps impressing me with their output. Every new beer from them is excellent, regardless of style. They had a NJ Craft Beer Night on the first Thursday of the month, which I of course attended. During that night, Jersey Cyclone debuted this delicious Milk Stout brewed with Cinnamon and conditioned on Cacao Nibs and Vanilla. The cinnamon was utilized perfectly to balance some of the sweetness from the other elements. They canned this one, too. Well worth grabbing a four pack.

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

This is the first “big” beer I’ve had from the great Lager brewery in Massachusetts. Yes, a Baltic porter is brewed using a cold/Lager process. I haven’t had the base non-barrel-aged beer, but this version is delectable. The bourbon is present, but not overpowering. Notes of vanilla and sweetness balance out the slightly high bitterness level associated with the style. A wonderful slow-sipper. Jack’s Abby brews several variants of this beer (S’Mores, Vanilla, Mole, etc) which I will most definitely be trying.

Flemington Fog (Lone Eagle Brewing) | IPA – New England | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

After missing a few sessions, I was able to get to Board Game night at Lone Eagle in February and I had one of their new beers, from their newish brewer and it is a dandy. Lone Eagle has brewed a few Hazy/New England IPAs (as has just about every brewery) but this one is the clear (pun half-intended) stand out in the crowd. This is a juicy beer with a pleasant bitterness on the finish. Just an overall good beer and I like the name as an homage to the city where the brewery is located.

Parabola (Firestone Walker Brewing Company) | Stout – Russian Imperial | 4.5 bottle Caps on untappd

Firestone Walker is, as I’ve noted here in the past, one of the leaders in barrel-aging and blending of beers. A beer many consider the apex of that program is Parabola, their big (13.6% ABV) Russian Imperial Stout. Like the BBA Framinghammer, the bourbon elements complement the flavors present in the beer, especially that aggressive hop finish strongly associated with Russian Imperial Stouts. This beer is simply outstanding.

Pliny the Elder (Russian River Brewing Company) | IPA – Imperial / Double | 5 bottle Caps on untappd

The very first Imperial IPA ever made and one of the best beers I’ve ever had. I was in San Francisco for business for a couple of days and I heard about this wonderful dive bar, the Toronado with 40 beers on tap, and Pliny a fixture. There was a great write-up by Jay Brooks recently for Flagship February which featured Pliny at the Toronado. Of course I had to go and have the beer, which lived up to the hype. An outstanding beer, never have hops tasted so wonderful. Quite simply, a perfect beer..

Good Morals (Conclave Brewing Company) | Farmhouse Ale – Other | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

I made my first visit to Conclave’s new facility and I was extremely impressed with the taproom. So much more space for customers, with tables and the typical old whisky/bourbon barrels. Very inviting, very spacious, and simply very nice. The beers have always been great, Carl (owner/brewer) uses hops from New Zealand so well and this Farmhouse ale has a couple of those, as well as that popular Norwegian Kviek yeast. At only 4.7% ABV, this beer is refreshing with a great amount of flavor. Just a great, great beer.

Honorable mention to a beer I haven’t had in about 4 or 5 years – Java Cask from Victory Brewing. This beer is the great Pennsylvania brewery’s take on the bourbon-barrel aged stout…not just a stout, a coffee stout. It is as good as I recall it being. To balance it out, I stopped in a few breweries in NJ at the end of the month and one really disappointed me – Magnify Brewing. Maybe I just caught some bad beers, or not the best they made (I had an English Mild, an IPA, and a Stout) but for the reputation they seem to have, I was expecting much, much more.

Draught Diversions: January 2020 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…

January, for the past couple of years, has had me traveling for work, which provides opportunities to try beers not available in my market/region. Although only one of those “out-of-market” beers made this month’s six pack, I’ll note that beers from Yazoo Bewing (TN), Gordon Biersch (New Orleans),  Little Harpeth Brewing (TN) and Yee Haw (TN) brewing impressed me. A good balance this month of NJ and non-NJ, plus three brewery visits (2 favorites, and 1 newly opened). Another odd note: this six pack makes it 2 months running without a Lager in the mix. So, without further adieu here’s my January 2020 six pack.

Chekov’s Gun (Carton Brewing Company) | Belgian Quadrupel | 4.50 bottle Caps on untappd

The tradition of a Carton Brewery visit on New Year’s Day continued in 2020, same crew, different beers including this outstanding Quadrupel. It is a style I love, a style that isn’t brewed often, but when done well as this beer was brewed – and aged in Peach Brandy Barrels – the final product is heavenly. I would have purchased a bottle, but unfortunately, Carton was only selling a 3 pack of bombers and the price tag was just out of my range that day. Still, this is a beer I’d love to share with a friend, enjoy over the course of a long movie, or while reading an immersive novel by the fireplace.

Cinnamon Roll Imperial Ale (Southern Tier Brewing Company) | Spiced / Herbed Beer | 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

It has been a while (October 2019) since a Southern Tier beer made an appearance here on the Monthly Six Pack… This is a beer I’ve seen on the shelves but was always hesitant to try. I should not have doubted since one of Souther Tier’s strengths has always been in “dessert beers” and pastry stouts. This fantastic dessert beer features a perfect (and ample) hit of cinnamon throughout with a texture (moutfheel, I hate that word) that is reminiscent of the cinnamon roll. I think that comes from the lactose. I was very pleased with this beer and at 8.6% it might be the perfect beer to finish off the night.

Touching the Sun (Icarus Brewing Company) | IPA – Triple | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

Shocker! Icarus makes an appearance in a monthly six pack. Considering I attended their 3rd Anniversary Party at the top of the month, chances were pretty good an Icarus beer would be showing up. This is only the third Triple IPA I’ve had, but it might be the best. I was a little under the weather the day of this event, but even with that, Touching the Sun was a standout beer, super hoppy, super smooth with a nice hoppy bite at the end.

Somewhere, Something Incredible is Waiting to Be Known (Tree House Brewing Company) | Stout – Milk / Sweet | 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

It is nice to have friends who visit far-away breweries like Tree House, especially when they ask if you if you’d like them to get you anything. Case in point: this delicious Milk Stout. Lots of chocolate in the taste, with elements of coffee and just a hint of vanilla. At 7.9% ABV, it wasn’t super heavy on the booziness, but it is a beer I’d recommend enjoying slowly as the flavors breathe and assert themselves. Superb stout.

Funfetti About Bucking Time (Bolero Snort Brewery) | IPA – Imperial / Double | 4.50 Bottle Caps on untappd

Bolero Snort finally opened their own brewery, and some would say it was about Bucking Time. This beer is brewed to celebrate the big facility’s grand opening. Sort of since this is a brewery-only variant of the IPA they brewed, with Funfetti cake mix used in the brewing process. This beer took me by surprise. I would almost never think of an IPA as a dessert beer, but the cake mix perfectly complemented the beer itself (I split a four pack of the base beer, “About Bucking Time” with my dad). The grand opening itself was great, my dad and my uncle attended with me.  Bolero Snort has a huge, awesome facility and I expect great things from them in 2020. A photo collage at the end of this post serves as a visual highlight of the visit.

Hefeweizen (Yazoo Brewing Company) | Hefeweizen | 4 bottle Caps on untappd

Image courtesy of Yazoo Brewing’s Website. I wasn’t able to get a good picture of my beer in the crowded bar.

Work travel landed me in Nashville for a few days and our “Networking Event” was at the FGL House, which had a nice selection of local brews. I knew of Yazoo Brewing, so I figured I try their Hefeweizen and boy was I happy I did. This is a very well made beer, reminiscent of some of my favorite takes on the classic German/Bavarian Ale. It was perfect for the night of hanging out with work friends and enjoying some live music – fairly low in alcohol (5% ABV) and very flavorful. I enjoyed the beer so much I had three pints of it.

As noted above, I made two brewery visits in January, one of which was a long time coming – the official Grand Opening of Bolero Snort Brewery in Carlstadt, NJ. It was fairly easy to get there even if the brewery is a bit of a drive from me. You can see MetLife stadium from Bolero Snort’s enormous facility (one of the largest in the state). Great beers, awesome people, and a great atmosphere. Very much worth the visit.

Draught Diversions: Book Review BEER IS FOR EVERYONE! by Em Sauter

Name: Beer is for Everyone! (of Drinking Age)
Author: Em Sauter
Publication Date: 2017
Publisher: One Peace Books

Once Peace Books landing page for the book:

It’s a great time for America’s beer drinkers. Craft beer is more popular than ever, and more breweries are cropping up every day. But you can’t tell a pilsner from a bock? An IPA from a witte? Confused by whiskey-like barrel aged beers and crisp, fruity saisons? Are you thirsty, but not sure where to start? Start Here. This book will take you through the main elements that make beer what it is, from malt to hops to water, and introduce you to fantastic brews around the country that highlight the diverse styles and ingredients of the beer world. From where to find it to what glass to put it in, you’ll learn everything you need to know (and then some!). Time to get drinking, and remember—Beer is for Everyone!

Beer is a complex beverage, it can be brewed to many styles, it can have many flavors, its ingredients can be combined to evoke many flavors. It is a true blend of science and art. But you know what else beer is? Beer is fun, be can be for everyone and that’s the ethos cartoonist, and Advanced Cicerone® Em Sauter espouses in her book, Beer is for Everyone (of drinking age). For a beverage that brings people together and can be a conversation piece, there’s sometimes a little too much analyzing of the beer (says the guy with a beer blog). Em takes a fun, straightforward approach and while she does highlight the beer geeky side of the beer in her cartoons, it is from a joyous perspective. Not an easy line to tow, but Em does so with elegance.

As one does when one first acquires a book, I thumbed through the pages to find some beers I enjoy or have had. I wanted to know if Em enjoyed some of the same beers I enjoyed. I soon stopped the quick scan and restarted the book to take my time and really absorb each comic/page.

Image courtesy of Em Sauter/Pints and Panels

The cartoons for each beer are pure enthusiasm, the joy of Victory Prima Pils, the comforting elements of a beer like Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, the discovery of a beer with unique elements like Short’s Melt My Brain. If Beer is for Everyone! was just a collection of Em’s review strips, it would be a worthy addition to a beer geek’s bookshelf. But where it transcends what could have been a pretty simple book are the illustrations/strips highlighting the styles, brew processes, and ingredients that separate one beer from another. For example, how the various kinds of malts influence the color of the beer, the flavor evocations from hops, and so forth. Depending on the beer featured, Em provides fun anecdotal bits of information about the style or from where the brewery drew inspiration for the name.

Image courtesy of Em Sauter/Pints and Panels

The book is organized smartly, too. Beers where malt is the driving factor behind flavor are grouped together, as are those where the yeast has the most influence, as well as a chapter/grouping for “Whale Beers” – those beers that have attained an almost mythical status due to the difficulty in procuring them like 3 Floyds’ Dark Lord.

Em is an extremely qualified, creative person, and supremely enthusiastic. She is an advanced Cicerone and spent time working at Two Roads Brewing Company (one of my favorites) when the book was published. Those qualities come together elegantly in this book and the work she does on a regular basis on her website and social media. What makes the book so effective, entertaining, and joyful is the enthusiastic way she presents her knowledge.

Beer is for Everyone (of drinking age) is an essential beer book for any fan of beer or comics/cartoons. It is a joyous reminder that beer is fun, can and should bring people together, and a beverage with a great, storied history.

Em is absolutely a must-follow on twitter, Instagram, or her website Pints and Panels, where she posts new artwork regularly and always offers a fantastic perspective on beer.

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