Draught Diversions: Favorite New Beers of 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some other notes:

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

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

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

Draught Diversions: December 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…

The Final Six Pack of 2020…contains the usual mix of NJ and non-NJ beers and stouts and IPAs. A couple of new-to-me breweries in with the usual suspects.

All Out Stout (Athletic Brewing Company) | Non-Alcoholic Beer/Stout – Oatmeal | 3.75 Bottle Caps on untappd

Non-Alcoholic beers are one of the growing trends in beer and Athletic is producing them exclusively. My wife did a trail run (where she kicked ass!) and Athletic Brewing was a sponsor, which afforded me the opportunity to sample this very tasty stout. There’s no hint in the flavor/taste that this stout doesn’t have alcohol. A slightly roasty, tasty oatmeal stout is all that I get, which is a good thing…and better than some stouts I’ve had with alcohol in them!

Morning Breeze (Untied Brewing Company) | Pilsner – Other | 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

I wrote about Untied Brewing in the fall and visited them again because I wanted to get a bottle of their Russian Imperial Stout and to try this beer. I was very impressed with their take on a dry-hopped pilsner. It has the bready/crackery elements I like in a Pilsner and yet the dry-hopping doesn’t come through too strongly on the finish. This is simply a well-made lager, which is a great thing in my book.

Bourbon Barrel-Aged Imperial Porter (Boulevard Brewing Co) | Porter – Imperial / Double | 4.5 Bottle Caps on untappd

One of the last of Boulevard beers from a work colleague is a dandy! The roasted elements that can sometimes be too dominant for my palate are subdued, I’m guessing, from the bourbon barrel aging. There’s a perfect blending of elements of the beer and barrel in this bottle (and subsequently, my glass), that I most certainly took my time and savored each sip. The beer was delicious and my only regret is it is gone.

Bang Kitty (Icarus Brewing Company) | IPA – Imperial / Double New England | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

This was one of the more strange and interesting IPAs (in a good way) that I’ve had. Grassy, citrusy, with a little kick from chili on the end, these ingredients worked really well together. Then again, I shouldn’t be surprised at anything less than extremely good coming out of the brewery in Lakewood, NJ,

Christmas Morning (Hardywood Park Craft Brewery) | Stout – Imperial / Double Milk | 4.5 Bottle Caps on untappd

In my Christmas Six Pack last year, I wrote about Hardywood’s Gingerbread Stout, this beer is a variant on that renowned beer. Christmas Morning sees the addition of coffee to the standard vanilla, ginger, and honey for a savory sipper. This was one of the best milk stouts I’ve ever had, absolutely delicious.

Abyss Series – Shadowsphere (Czig Meister Brewing) | IPA – Imperial/Double New England | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

My wife and I stopped in at Czig Meister after dropping off some Christmas presents at a family member who lives nearby and decided on a flight rather than a full pour. Czig has been doing really nice things on the beers in their Abyss series and this one is no exception. The Citra and Strata hops give the beer a wonderful tropical hoppy taste and there’s no lingering aftertaste.

I also want to give a little shout out to Grains & Taps brewing in Lees Summit, MO. One of the companies I work with for my day job sponsored a virtual happy hour and the featured brewery was Grains & Taps. We had four beers to sample, all of them quite good: Wheat Told you So, tasty Wheat Ale; Jet Chip Wasp, a malty Amber Ale; Dry Stout, their take on an Irish Stout; and Raspberry Sherbet a fruited Gose.

Draught Diversions: Christmas (in NJ) 2020 Six Pack

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

As I’ve been doing since I started The Tap Takeover, I’m presenting an assortment of interesting looking Christmas beers in my six pack format. Since I’ve been focusing more attention on local/NJ breweries since the Pandemic than in previous years, the Christmas 2020 Six Pack is all NJ beers. I’ve only had one of these beers, but they all look really tasty to me. Also, I’ve had beer from all six of these breweries and enjoyed them all. As is most often the case, I’m putting these in alphabetical order by brewery.

Figgy Pudding | Barleywine – English | The Alementary | Ithaca, NY | ABV 5.7%

Image courtesy of The Alementary’s Facebook

Figgy Pudding is a traditional British Christmas dessert and that’s what the Alementary is looking to emulate with this beer. At 9.1%, this beer would seem to me to be a dessert sipper to enjoy while opening the Christmas gifts after dinner. I like figs and many barleywines already evoke fig flavors, so this beer seems a natural concoction for Christmas enjoyment. I think the beer changes slightly from year to year, ao here’s The Alementary’s write-up from 2019.

What Alementary says about the beer in 2020:

Big sweet bready malt, with a full range of supporting characters from light toffee to low chocolate. Fruit aromas of apricot, date, significant fig. Flavors of holiday fruitcake with massive malt structure. Figs for days, with supporting apricot. Date and Prune are secondary.

Cheer | Brown Ale – American | Bonesaw Brewing Co | Glassboro, NJ | ABV 7.4%

Image courtesy of Bonesaw Brewing’s Facebook

Bonesaw has been open a couple of years and I’ve seen only great things about the South Jersey brewery. Some of their cans have been popping up here in Somerset County so hopefully this joyful looking ale makes it to shelves near me. Looks like a classic American take on a dark/brown ale but with some added spices, the way I read the description.

What Bonesaw Brewing says about the beer:

Now that the leaves have turned and fallen and the days are getting shorter and colder, we see the holiday season is here again. We made for you this Christmas ale to wrap up all the warm, familiar flavors and aromas into your cup of Cheer: a brown ale stuffed with orange, cocoa and winter spices.

Boughs of Barley | Cape May Brewing Company | Barrel Aged Quadrpel | Cape May, NJ | ABV 12.6%

Image courtesy of Cape May Brewing Company’s Facebook

”Boughs of Barley” is an annual release from Cape May Brewing Company, but it changes every year. Last year was a Baltic Porter, the year before an Imperial Stout. For 2020, There are two releases, each a Quadrupel, but they are aged in different barrels. I’m a big fan of Quads so I may try to snag one of these if I see them, I’d probably lean towards the Grand Marnier barrel.

About the beer:

It’s the most wonderful time of the year: it’s time to deck the halls with Boughs of Barley! Our annual holiday offering, this year we’ve taken our insanely delectable Belgian quad and laid it to rest in some gigantic Portuguese sherry puncheons and a few incredible Grand Marnier barrels, each lending its own character to the base beer, adding layers and layers of complexity.

For this year’s Boughs of Barley, we took our rich and robust Belgian-style quadrupel ale and laid it to rest for many moons in barrels previously aging a well-known orange liqueur. A carefully layered grain bill fermented with our favorite fruity Belgian yeast, we’ve created a robust brew for your holiday season. Ample conditioning time in the orange liqueur barrels yields a well-rounded body with strong notes of orange peel and toasted marshmallows, making this orange liqueur barrel-aged Boughs of Barley our holiday treat for you.

Ginger Snap Cookie | Cream Ale | Forgotten Boardwalk Brewing | Cherry Hill, NJ | ABV 5.5%

Image courtesy of Forgotten Boardwalk Brewing’s Facebook

Forgotten Boardwalk does a very smart thing…they’ve got their popular Funnel Cake Cream Ale and they use it for multiple variants. The Christmas version is this appealing beer, Ginger Snap Cookie with all the holiday spices in the mix. I may need to snag a 4 pack.

What Forgotten Boardwalk Brewing says about this beer:

Bright and zesty, smooth yet not too sweet. Ginger Snap Cookie is a simple vanilla cream ale brewed with ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, orange peel and clove to evoke the spicy savory flavor of the classic holiday cookie.

Malus | Belgian Strong Dark Ale | Kane Brewing Company | Ocean, NJ | ABV 9.5%

Malus is the only beer in this six pack I had and I thought it was very good. I had it a few years ago on draft and there’s enough of the beer elements to keep it a beer, but there’s a lovely apple cider flavor to the beer, too. Well worth seeking out.

What Kane says about the beer:

Malus, our 10% Belgian-style dark ale was the first beer we bottled back in 2012. We wanted to create an alternative to pumpkin beers, so we chose a warm spiced apple cider as inspiration. We source locally pressed cider from Delicious Orchards that we boil down and reduce into a syrup to replace the dark candi syrup we typically use. We then added orange zest, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove and allspice to the kettle and fermented it with our house Belgian yeast. Malus is one of our more unique and interesting beers and is ideal for this time of year as it will warm you up with every sip.⠀

Winter Ale | Cider – Graff | Untied Brewing Company | New Providence, NJ | ABV 7.3%

Image courtesy of Untied Brewings’s Facebook

Untied has been brewing a “Winter Ale” each of the last three years since they’ve opened and this one seems the most interesting. Previously, they’ve brewed a straightforward Winter Ale and a Saison, but this one, as a cider ale blend, could hit the holiday spot perfectly.

What Untied says about the beer:

Wassail(Hot mulled Cider) inspired Graff (Cider/Ale Blend) brewed with Apple Juice, Nelson Sauvin hops, Chardonnay grape must, apple juice, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla bean, orange peel, molasses, and brown sugar.

It is an apple and cider forward Ale with notes of winter spices.

Not a bad, varied selection of beers, if I do say so myself.

Draught Diversions: November 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…

November brought a copious amount of new beers, thanks in part the annual Birthday Beer Tour my wife took me on this year in Northeast New Jersey. I’ve already written about Four City Brewing in Orange, NJ but we also visited Brix City in Little Ferry, NJ (one of their beers I reviewed earlier in November); Seven Tribesmen in Wayne, NJ; ate dinner at the Gaslight Brewpub, and finished our journey at Ashton Brewing. I’ve had several delicious beers from Ashton over the last year, but that day was the first time I enjoyed a beer in their outdoor biergarten.

Even in addition to that, I was fortunate enough to have a wide variety of beers thanks to some work colleagues and my dad. Enough of a prologue, let’s dive into what I had and enjoyed.

Campfire Amplifier (Dogfish Head Craft Brewery) | Stout – Milk / Sweet | 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

It has been quite a while since I had a new to me Dogfish Head beer (almost 2 years ago), but 90 and 60 minute are good ubiquitous beers I’ve enjoyed throughout the year. When I saw they were brewing and bottling a milk stout with cinnamon, graham crackers, and marshmallow, I knew I wanted it. I’m glad I grabbed a six pack because this is a fine beer. I enjoyed the second bottle a couple of nights later and liked it even more. The marshmallows bring sweetness while there’s a little kick from the cinnamon (I would have even liked more of a kick) makes this a nice beer.

Hollow Sea (Kane Brewing Company) | Lager – Euro Dark (Tmavé Pivo/Czech Dark Lager) | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

 

Although primarily known for barrel-aged ales and IPAs, Kane brews across all styles so when I saw a Dark Lager I’d wanted to try in the past finally hit cans and distribution, I wasn’t going to miss out on this beer. As readers of the Tap Takeover might know, I love lagers, but  Ihaven’t had too many of the Czech Dark variety (or Tmavé Pivo as known across the pond). This beer is delicious with the bready malts evoking toasted pumpernickel (and that may be a visual connection because the beer’s color) with a low ABV of 5.5% Not many American breweries are producing and packaging Czech Dark Lagers, but more should.

Berry Noir (Boulevard Brewing Co) | Sour – Fruited | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

Boulevard is a brewery whose portfolio of beers is impressively diverse, but getting their delicious beers in NJ is a game of hit or miss. Fortunately, a work associate who lives near Kansas City was kind enough to send me a box of beers from them, including this absolutely delicious fruited sour. For all the sweet and tart berry flavors in the beer, there’s a crisp apple element, as well. In addition to the outstanding taste, it is always cool to have a purple beer.

Toasted Coconut Flood Stoud (Jersey Cyclone Brewing Company) | Stout – Imperial / Double | 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

Last year, I had Jersey Cyclone’s Flood Imperial Stout (and I have it every time I visit the brewery and it is on tap), it is a stout using only the core four ingredients and is comparable to Sierra Nevada’s Narwhal. Earlier this year, Jersey Cyclone bottled two variants, a chocolate cherry version, and this bottle which is fantastic. The toasted coconut is mild, but present and is a nice balance to the extremely potent hop presence. I’m hoping the Chocolate Cherry version is still available because I think I need to try that.

Unfiltered Pilsner (Jester King Brewery) | Pilsner – German| 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

Jester King is one of the more well-known breweries out of Texas so when my Dad was able to procure a can of their Unfiltered Pilsner, I was intrigued because I’ve never had a Jester King beer and I like Unfiltered Pilsners. This beer is a well-crafted Pilsners, very flavorful and makes me wish more breweries would release/package unfiltered Pilsners. This one is crisp and bready and does what a Pilsner should do.

Welcome to Jersey City 2020 (902 Brewing) | Stout – Imperial/Double| 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

After about 5 years in the business of brewing beer, 902 Brewing opened their facility (production plus tasting/tap room) earlier this year. To commemorate their opening,  902 brewed this delicious Imperial Stout. I got a bottle of this for my dad for his birthday in September and he spoke highly of it and one of my friends who snagged a bottle also enjoyed it, so with my proverbial arms twisted, I figured I just had to grab a bottle for myself. I was extremely impressed with this beer, the malt brings a very sweet flavor profile with hints of chocolate and there’s a lesser hop presence than I would have expected. I’m looking forward to visiting their taproom in Jersey City and enjoying more beers from 902 Brewing

Only one really bad beer, and it was one of the worst I can remember having in quite a while. Even More Coco Jesus from Evil Twin was a mess of a beer, too many flavors blended very poorly. There’s maple syrup in the beer and it tasted like sour, bad, maple syrup. This was one of the most undrinkable beers I’ve ever had. I had one of their “More Jesus” beers last year and it tasted like burnt olives mixed with nail polish remover, so I think I’m done with that line of beers.

Until next month, Cheers!

Draught Diversions: Four City Brewing (Orange, NJ)

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

Four City Brewing in Orange, NJ has been generating some positive buzz since opening their doors for business about a year ago (2019). Their average beer rating on untappd is about 3.75 / 5, with many beers landing above a 4-bottle cap rating and a few friends rating their beers quite higher than that. Four City Brewing is one of three black-owned breweries in New Jersey (the other two are Montclair Brewing Company and Hackensack Brewing Company), too.

Four City Badge from Untappd

Four City is in a pretty good location, close to the downtown area of Orange and across the street from the Orange NJ Transit train station. Orange also has a history of brewing; Rheingold Beer, once one of the most popular beers in the NY/NJ area, brewed beer in Orange, but shut its doors in 1980. The beautiful building, once a warehouse and coal facility, is now a mixed use space developed by L+M Partners with the brewery just one element in the revitalization of the Downtown Orange. The space is very simply, a beautiful brewery. A very inviting exterior, a welcoming interior, as well as the friendly staff, help to make this brewery look so good.

Before the brewery opened, a lot of passion, work, and effort went into its creation. Like the origin story for many breweries, owners Roger Apollon Jr., Jeff Gattens, and Anthony Minervino were homebrewers who unofficially (or really, I suppose officially) called themselves “The Brew Council.” For about fifteen years, Roger sought out different beers wherever he went, before meeting Anthony and Jeff. As the brewery ramped up, they hired a full time head brewer, Joe Vitale. That was all about a year ago. They all settled on Orange as the location because they are all from the area and in addition to Rheingold once calling Orange home, way back in 1901, the Winter Brothers’ Orange Brewery was in the Township. The name, “Four City” honors the four Oranges of NJ (West, East, South, and Orange). As will become evident, many of the beer names are homages/tributes to the local diversity and history of the area. The design of the brewery, the design of the logo, and most of the can labels are very consistent. In other words, Four City has established a very strong brand identity.

The taproom is fairly large at 4,700 square feet and the tanks are visible, but I don’t recall what brewery’s barrel capacity is. What Jeff Gattens told me during our conversation was that Four City has a canning line and they have enough capacity to allow them to brew and can beer for their friends at Hoboken Brewing. The day of my visit, 11 beers were available in cans and 21 beers available on draught. There is some overlap there, for example, their flagship Pale Ale Citrus City was available in both Cans and on draught. In other words, Four City has a great set up to be a production facility that also can house patrons on site.

Four City’s Beer Menu, November 7, 2020

The day was unseasonably warm for November (I was wearing shorts). When we arrived, we were seated at a table inside, with all the tables amply spaced out for social distancing. The door was open and the coolish breeze was blowing through the brewery. The extremely friendly beertender greeted us and took our orders. While Four City wasn’t doing flights, they were pouring “medium” pours, which I think were about 8oz.

“Medium” Pour of Citrus City Pale Ale

I went with the flagship, Citrus City, the Belgian Dubbel, St. Cloud (reviewed Tuesday, 11/17) and Quad City, the Quadrupel. It isn’t often I see both a Dubbel and a Quadrupel (one of my favorite styles) on draught, so I felt very compelled to get Four City’s interpretation of these two styles that tend not to be uber-prevalent. I was very impressed with Citrus City, to the point I regret not bringing home a four pack of the beer especially since it has three of my favorite hops: Citra, Simcoe, and Centennial hops. It was everything I hope to enjoy a Pale Ale…hints of citrus, with hops and malt expertly balanced. The beer was very clean and would be a great beer for the cooler. I reviewed St. Cloud, so that leaves Quad City to discuss, albeit briefly. Wow. Simply, wow. There is so much flavor to this beer, hints of dates and figs from the potent yeast, a very sweet beer whose 10.2% ABV is dangerously masked. This is a fantastic Quadrupel.

“Medium” Pour of the delicious Quad City Quadrupel

As I noted above, many of the beers pay tribute to the history/diversity of the region. Citrus City is a fairly obvious homage to the nickname of the brewery’s home town. A series of IPAs, Hedison’s Phonograph are named in honor of West Orange’s Thomas Edison, inventor of the phonograph. The Miseducation of Loral Hops pays tribute to megastar Lauryn Hill of South Orange, NJ, Sak Pasé (a fruited Berliner Weisse) is a Haitian Creole greeting for “What’s Up?” and there’s a sizeable Haitian contingent in the Oranges; Brewellyn Park is an IPA named for West Orange’s Llewellyn Park; Eagle Rocktoberfest (a Märzen) takes its name from the Eagle Rock landmark; Brick Church is a dark wheat ale takes its name from the eponymous landmark minutes from the brewery, and 55 Sour Essex Ave is a Berliner Weisse named for the brewery’s address, and so on.

Four City Can Collage, images courtesy of Four City’s Facebook

Talking about the pandemic is unavoidable at this point, but Four City was in a decent position to pivot. The aforementioned canning line in the facility allowed them to package their beer for the home delivery now being allowed in the State of New Jersey. Also during the pandemic, Four City celebrated their 1st anniversary with four different beers: Hedison’s Medison with three different hops rather than the standard single hop; Darker than Blue, a pastry stout with cacao nibs, maple syrup, and raspberries; You Down Wit FCB, a witbier (the name is an homage to 90s rapgroup Naughty by Nature’s song “O.P.P.” and if you are humming that song as you read this then I suspect we’re about the same age); and It’s Better Than Yours, a Milkshake IPA who takes its name from the lyrics of the song “Milkshake.”

Four City Anniversary Beers, courtesy of Four City’s Facebook

Although Four City is just over a year old, they’ve already garnered some national recognition. Being a Black-owned brewery is one way they’ve stood out, not just in New Jersey, but nationally. There’s been a beer festival in Pittsburgh the last few years called Fresh Fest, which features Black-owned breweries. In 2020, Four City collaborated with Shu Brew of Zelienople, PA on a Dark Ale with Oreos, cacao, vanilla, coffee, and lactose they’ve called Brewers Gonna Work it Out. That sounds like a beer I want yesterday. Some of their beer has become available on Tavour, as well.

Four City/ShuBru Brewers Gonna Work it Out courtesy of hopculturemag via Four City’s Facebook

Prior to the Pandemic, Four City hosted onsite events, including Halloween parties, a night for a meet and greet with local artists, a Holiday Beerzar, a “Brews and Culture” night of local music, a cornhole tournament, and the requisite yoga nights. These events, along with the owners’ deep roots in the region, deep respect they have for the community, and honor they show with their beer names adds up to one thing in my mind. Just over one year into their existence, Four City Brewing is something of a template, or ideal of what a community Craft Brewery should be.

The goodies I brought home from my visit to Four City

Since Four City was part of a tour of a few breweries fairly close together (a tradition for my birthday over the last few years), there are obviously a handful in the area that could comprise a similar tour. Montclair Brewery is the closest at 4 miles away, and we tried to visit, but they were extremely packed and because of the social distancing rules of the Pandemic, we couldn’t stick around because we had reservations at other places during the day. Also very close is the Gaslight Brewpub, which is where we went after Four City for dinner, they’ve got really good food. Melovino Meadery is about 5 miles away, Ghost Hawk Brewing, Magnify Brewing, and Cricket Hill Brewing (the latter two of I’ve visited) are relatively close at about 11 miles away.

The Kegstand, a delicious American Lager

I’ve written quite a bit about Four City Brewing at this point. One thing should be very clear – I like the brewery a lot. Between supporting local independent businesses, supporting black-owned breweries, and supporting breweries that make super beer, Four City is a must visit for those reasons. Four City Brewing is comfortably near the top of the 50 or so “new to me” breweries I’ve visited over the last few years and I look forward to visiting again.

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

Four City Brewing’s Web site | Instagram | Facebook | Twitter | Four City Brewing on NewJerseyCraftBeer.com | Four City Brewing on Beer Advocate | Four City Brewing on Untappd

Draught Diversions: October 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…

Shorter days, darker nights, and cooler temperatures arrive in October. Bigger beers begin to dominate the shelves in October although seasonal creep for Christmas Beers is also the norm now as favorites like Tröegs Mad Elf began appearing in the middle of the month. October 2020’s six pack includes beers from long time favorites, one new brewery, and a brewery I should be seeking out more often. A variety of styles this October; a couple of IPAs, a couple of dark beers, and a barleywine. Let’s dive in, shall we?

I Voted (Troon Brewing Company) | IPA – American | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

Troon brews some of the most sought-after beers in the State of New Jersey, with a reputation for big stouts, kettle sours, and hazy hoppy ales. (They rarely call their beers “IPA”) So when I took my wife on a wonderful socially-distanced tour of Sourland Mountain Spirits (on the same large farm complex), I had a pour of this beer at the Brick Farm Tavern (also on the big farm complex). This beer is a delicious, hazy IPA with a magnificent blend of hops. Now that I know how close Brick Farm Tavern is (which is a person’s best shot at getting a Troon beer), I’ll have to stop there in the future.

HopCyclone Hazy DIPA (Tröegs Independent Brewing) | IPA – Imperial / Double New England | 4.25 bottle caps on untappd


It has been far too long since I had a new beer from Tröegs and I haven’t had a new IPA in my fridge for a while. HopCyclone ticked off both of those boxes and is an outstanding New England style IPA. There’s a blend of four hops in this beer, Citra, Sabro, Sultana, and Simcoe, which are a great combination. I like Simcoe quite a bit and that seems to shine through really nicely, overall the beer has pleasant hints of citrus, peach, and pineapple. Plain and simple, HopCyclone is a great beer.

Workingman’s Dublin Porter (Toms River Brewing) | Porter – Other | 3.75 Bottle Caps on untappd

Tom’s River Brewing keeps impressing me. This is an Irish-inspired Dublin porter, which isn’t a surprise considering the brewery’s roots. Madagascar Vanilla beans and local honey add another layer of flavor to the beer. What those adjuncts do in this beer is soften the bitterness of the coffee, for an overall tasty beer.

Whip (Carton Brewing Company) | Pilsner – Other | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

Sully photobombing this shot. Pilsners, especially great ones, are perfect for sitting on the porch relaxing while your dog keeps watch over the yard.

Carton has been brewing and canning a series of Pilsners over the past few months, this one they are calling an “American Pilsner.” I call it a delicious Lager/Pilsner. There’s a very clean flavor profile with the core four elements of beer working in harmony. This maybe the lightest yellow pilsner I can remember having, but damn if it isn’t a fine beer.

Chocolate Caramel Cookie Sharing Size (Free Will Brewing Co.) | Stout – Imperial / Double Oatmeal | 4.5 bottle caps on untappd

Free Will Brewing has a taproom in Peddler’s Village in Lahaska, PA and during the month of October, there was a socially distanced haunted walking ghost tour called Murder Mystery: Homicide and Hauntings from Without a Cue, which was a blast. Of course I grabbed a beer from Free Will, this is their Hallowe’en beer, four different stouts inspired by popular Hallowe’en candy. This one is inspired by the famous “right cookie” and “left cookie” brand and was an outstandingly balanced sweet stout, brewed in collaboration with Breweries in PA. Cool label art, too

Helldorado (2017) | Firestone Walker Brewing Company | Barleywine – American | 4.5 bottle caps on untappd

Firestone Walker calls this a “Blonde Barleywine,” I call it an outstanding barrel-aged big beer. Firestone Walker has such skill with barrel aging so when I noticed a local shop had a 3-year old barrel aged barleywine from these masters of blending and barrel aging, there was no way I was NOT getting myself a bottle, especially at a $9 price tag. This is one of the best barleywines I’ve ever had. The beer has a strong bourbon aroma and the flavors that emerge include vanilla, chewy hops, toffee, and caramel. Simply an outstanding beer.

Another solid month overall for new beers, I could have easily highlighted 8 to 10 beers this month. Only one real drainpour, a Salted Caramel Pumpkin Ale, which was disgustingly oversweet.

Draught Diversions: September 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…

September brings the hints of cooler weather and the season of darker beers. September is also when Oktoberfest traditionally begins. Despite the celebration not happening, the Märzen and Festbiers have still been on the shelves since August of this year. One of each is featured in the September 2020 Six Pack. Those two beers happen to be the only non-New Jersey beers in this month’s six pack. One brewery in the six pack will not be the least bit surprising to regular readers of this here beer blog.


Your Lips are Juicy (Ashton Brewing Company) | IPA –Imperial / Double | 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

This is the first hop-forward beer I’ve had from Ashton and I’m very impressed. Great hop blend to give the beer the qualities of a big Imperial IPA balanced out with noticeable, and balanced malt character for an overall flavor profile that is delicious. The can says “India Pale Ale,” untappd says “IPA – Imperial/Double,” I say this is a very flavorful, hop forward beer.


Shield Oath (Czig Meister Brewing Company) | Belgian Tripel | 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

This is what I assume is the base beer for Paragon of Light, their wine-barrel aged Tripel and is a very solid interpretation of the Belgian style. It is hard for me not to compare any Tripel brewed in the North East, specifically New Jersey, to River Horse’s classic Tripel and this one stands up just fine. I wouldn’t necessarily say it needs to warm in the glass, but the beer should breathe a little before you dive in and drink it. Once it does, the beer is great with some hints of pear in the fruit evocations from the yeast and mild hops.


Rugged Snuggle (Twin Elephant Brewing) | Porter – Other | 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

I believe Twin Elephant has expanded their production capacity over the last year because they are releasing cans of their beer on a more regular basis. Rugged Snuggle has been in their portfolio for a couple of years so it was nice to see this roasty coffee adjacent porter available in cans. In addition to that fantastic can art by Tom Schmitt, the beer inside is really tasty. Like always with dark beers, a little warmer than fridge temperature is the way I’d recommend enjoying this one to get the best coffee notes.


Oktoberfest (Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.) | Festbier | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

One of the side effects of the pandemic is that Sierra Nevada, for the first time since 2015, did not collaborate with a German brewery for their annual Oktoberfest release. However, the 2020 version is great. This one leans on the lighter side of the Fall German Lager style as a Festbier, but it is supremely balanced and perfectly delicious. This is no surprise to me because Sierra Nevada does everything very well.


Octoberfest (Bell’s Brewing) | Märzen | 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

After a couple of years in the NJ market, I finally tried Bell’s take on the fall classic. My only regret is that I hadn’t tried it earlier. Bell’s takes a lighter approach with their Märzen than some of the others I’ve had, but the beer is extremely flavorful. A hint of sweetness and just a very smooth beer that goes down very, very easily. This beer was featured on the untappd podcast recently and was spoken of very highly, a few of my untappd friends had checked the beer in over the last couple of years and the consensus rating was 4 out of 5 bottle caps and I’m happy to say this beer completely lived up to those expectations.


Aw Raspberries aged in Heaven Hill Bourbon Barrels (Icarus Brewing) | Stout – Russian Imperial | 4.5 Bottle Caps on untappd

Shocker of shockers, another beer from Icarus. I’ve been sitting on this one for a few months and I wanted to share it for a special occasion. My dad’s birthday fit the bill perfectly and we both thoroughly enjoyed the beer. The maple element in the beer is blended perfectly, as are the fresh raspberries. Those otherwise potent flavors don’t dominate the profile of the beer, which shows how well-made the beer is because raspberries can be very tart and maple can dominate everything.  Not to mention the fact that this beer was barrel aged, adding another complex flavor to the beer. Not here, the maple and raspberries are both in harmony with the malt from the base beer as well as the Heaven Hill barrels.

This was a month where it was difficult to trim the amount of good new beers I enjoyed down to only six and no stinkers at all.

Draught Diversions: Untied Brewing (New Providence, NJ)

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

What’s this? Another brewery feature just over a month since the last brewery feature? It sure is, and this time I’m highlighting a brewery that is 1) slightly closer to home, 2) close to my parents, and 3) the next town over from my in-laws. With that, I finally visited Untied Brewing Company in New Providence, NJ, which opened in early 2019. Untied joins breweries Wet Ticket in Rahway, Two Ton Brewing in Kenilworth, and Climax Brewing in Roselle Park, NJ as breweries who call Union County, NJ their home as well as long-standing brewpub Trap Rock in neighboring Berkeley Heights.

I’ve seen and heard varying opinions about Untied Brewing when they opened in January 2019 (My father,, friends, and commenters in the Beer Advocate 2019 Thread). However, any new business needs a little bit of time to settle into who they are to work out the kinks and whatnot. Over the past six months, since about Untied’s first anniversary, the things I’ve been hearing (from friends on untappd and in those Beer Advocate forums (Beer Advocate 2020 Thread) are that Untied is making good beer, so I had mixed expectations. That’s just a peek into where my headspace was about the brewery before visiting on a warm, late summer afternoon in September 2020.

Partial Taplist, 09-11-2020

New Providence, for many years, was a semi-dry town with no liquor stores until 2015, so why did Matthew and Kim Green settle on New Providence? Matthew and Kim had a vision to open a brewery in the town they had been calling home for the 6 years prior to Untied’s opening and they really like the community. Although they explored other locations in towns neighboring Untied, the location, space, rent, and support of New Providence convinced Matt and family company to launch the brewery in New Providence.

Matt and co-owner Mark were home brewing as a hobby and like may breweries I’ve highlighted here, had the notion of pivoting this passion into a business. In speaking to Matt during my visit, he said he also wanted to have a full time, experienced brewer on board, which led to Untied hiring Tim Stumpf before the brewery opened. More on Tim later.

The brewery is located on a dead end street in an industrial park setting, which isn’t too far from a strip mall with some food options. Many of the independent breweries in NJ are in very similar locations. The facility has ample room for a production brewery as well as seating for onsite consumption. Matt also opted this location which allowed for a little more freedom in the build-out compared to a main-street type of setting. While that main street type of setting allows for potential walk up patrons, the higher rent and stricter rules around build out can prove to be difficult.

Matt attributes canning their beer early on as something that set Untied apart. They built a relationship with a local mobile canning company, Tripod Canning in nearby Mountainside, NJ, which helped, too. The pandemic brought challenges, but Untied was able pivot fairly easily and perhaps more easily than some of their brewing peers in NJ. The majority of their beer labels were approved by the TTB and their set up with serving tanks rather than kegs made transitioning to canning their beer a fairly seamless transition. Home delivery was fairly consistent during the stay at home and the outdoor space afforded Untied the opportunity to serve on premises once NJ opened up outdoor dining/consumption. Untied was also able to take advantage of the PPP relief program.

Matt spoke very highly about Tim Stumpf’s ability and experience, especially with Lagers, which is why Untied will always have at least one Lager available. Tim has a resume of awards from his time at the renowned Northeast Brewpub chain, Iron Hill. (I’ve visited a couple of their brewpubs and found the beer quite tasty). Untied opened with 24 Taps proving out Matt and Tim’s philosophy of having styles and varieties for everybody – multiple IPAs, stouts and porters, a range of Lagers (from their flagship Vienna Lager People Pleaser to Jurmala, a Baltic Porter) as well as a variety of Sour Ales.

Quite a bit of thought went into the name and branding of the brewery. Untied, as Matt said (and I’m paraphrasing), is a mindset; relax, untie yourself from being at work, stress. The name is branded extremely well, the flight paddle (pictured below) is a slightly crooked necktie, as if it is loosened around one’s neck. Beer names like File This (a New England IPA); Behind Schedule (a Sour Ale); First Point of Contact (German Pilsner); Content is King (New England IPA); Milking the Clock (Milkshake IPA); Take it Offline (Saison); Climbing the Corporate Ladder (Belgian Tripel); and Morning Meeting (Imperial Porter) are all names that evoke that business theme or even that corny corporate speak. Those are just some of the beer names, too. The cans are immediately recognizable – with the businesslike courier font emblazoned on a large “U,” Untied Brewing’s cans stand out on the shelves.

 

Images in collage courtesy of Untied Brewing’s Facebook. Clockwise: “Milking the Clock” Milkshake IPA, “Morning Meeting” Milk Porter, “Behind Schedule” Sour Ale; “First PoINT of Contact” Pilsner, and “File This” IPA

I knew I wanted to try a couple of their lagers, so the Helles Lager, Long Days Short Years was first on the paddle, you can read more about that in my review. Next up was Turkey Town Lager, Untied’s interpretation of Märzen/Oktoberfest. Good stuff, nice malt with a low-level of sweetness. Beer number three was one of the beers that brought some positive attention to Untied, Knucklehead Hall of Fame, a double New England IPA. The beer has a great hop balance between tropical sweetness and hop bitterness, I think I liked it so much because there was no Mosaic hops in it. Last on the paddle was Pioneer Ale, an Extra Special Bitter, which was OK. Not my favorite of the bunch (one of a group always has to fit that role), but I’m not the best judge of that particular style.

Flight Left to Right: Long Days Short Years Helles Lager, Turkey Town Märzen, Knucklehead Hall of Fame NE IPA, Pioneer Ale ESB

Matt spent some time speaking with me about the brewer Tim Stumpf, as I noted above and specifically saying how their best-selling lager is People Pleaser. This beer is a Vienna Lager – the two best known beers in this style are Samuel Adams Boston Lager and Brooklyn Lager so it is a style of lager rather ubiquitous even if many people may not know those beers by their style as Vienna Lagers. It is typically my least favorite Lager style. However, Matt talked up the beer enough, and Brewer Tim’s abilities and recognition for brewing the style in his previous brewing roles, I had to give the beer a try. I’ll be damned if People Pleaser isn’t my favorite Vienna Lager. I can understand why the beer is their top lager, patrons visiting who only  know “Craft Beer” because of Sam Adams Boston Lager will gravitate to this beer out of familiarity and I’d say the name fits because Untied’s Vienna Lager is a very tasty, pleasing Lager.

Image courtesy of Untied Brewing’s Facebok

I also had a small pour of their Russian Imperial Stout, Left in the Dark. I’ll preface this with another conversation point from Matt. When we were discussing Tim Stumpf’s brewing skills, in addition to brewing great lagers, Tim has a proclivity when it comes to brewing Russian Imperial Stouts, not an easy style. His skill shows beautifully in this sweet, potent, dark ale. Untied is bottling the beer in the near future so I’m going to have to grab a bottle.

Label Art, courtesy of Untied Brewing’s Facebook

Like many small, independent breweries, Untied Brewing has sought to foster ties to the community. That can be done through beer names; Pioneer Ale, their fall ale is a reference to the mascot of New Providence High School; Turkey Town Lager gets its name from the city which Untied calls home, New Providence, which was originally called “Turkey” or “Turkey Town,” due to the presence of wild turkeys in the area but was changed around 1750.

Image courtesy of Untied Brewing’s Facebook

One of their beers, Untied Cares is an IPA brewed to honor the struggle COVID-19 and was offered at $9 a 4-pack, an extremely low price for 4-pack of 16oz cans. Untied wanted to give back somehow and they were initially going to raise funds for a good cause. In the end, they wanted to give back to the people who had been supporting Untied through all the tough times. Selling the beer at cost is a way to thank their supporters who have been buying Untied’s beers during the Pandemic, with the profits normally going towards donation simply taken out of the price to customers. With the large space Untied has hosted several gatherings for a wide range of audiences. They’ve hosted multiple meetings of B.I.G. Girls Night Out, several Yoga nights as well as a few comedy nights.

Images courtesy of Untied Brewing’s Facebook

Two beer names brought a great deal of attention to Untied, both of which drew inspiration for their names from NJ Governor Phil Murphy. The first one, Data Determines Dates was something Murphy said about when things in NJ would open up, in terms of social gatherings. The second beer, Knucklehead Hall of Fame is what Murphy said people should avoid becoming a part of in his warning that we should all be wearing masks and practice social distancing. Matt told me Governor Murphy called the brewery when word started making the rounds about Data Determines Dates. Untied also happened to be one of the breweries who attended and poured beer The Governor’s Craft Beer Event at Drumthwacket in October 2019.

From left, Tammy Murphy, Untied Brewing Company part owner Mark Russo, Untied Brewing president Matthew Green and Gov. Phil Murphy pose at The Governor’s Craft Beer Event this past October 2019. (Photo courtesy of Matthew Green & NJ.com)

Untied Brewing, in my opinion, is doing some really good things in New Providence. They are brewing good beer, which is first an foremost what any brewery needs to do. Matthew and Kim Green, Mark Russo, and Tim Stumpf are adjusting quite well to the changing beer landscape and adjusting to customer desires. Getting the governor of the State is a pretty good way to garner some attention, too.  I know I’ll be seeking out more of their beer in the future.

New Providence is fairly centrally located in Northern New Jersey, the brewery is a short drive off of Route 78, which is a major highway bisecting the State and connecting to other major highways – The Garden State Parkway, the New Jersey Turnpike, and Route 287. One could easily do a tour of a half-dozen breweries with Untied as part of that tour. Although in Morris County, Twin Elephant is only a few miles away, Four City in Orange (Essex County) is a short drive, the aforementioned Union County breweries Wet Ticket in Rahway and Two Ton in Kenilworth could round out the tour.

If you find yourself in thr New Providence area, Untied Brewing is well worth the visit.

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

Untied Brewing’s Web site | Instagram | Facebook | Twitter | Untied Brewing on NewJerseyCraftBeer.com | Beer Advocate | untappd

Draught Diversions: Oktoberfest 2020 Six Pack

This is the third annual Oktoberfest Six Pack (and fourth Oktoberfest feature overall), but clearly, Oktoberfest 2020 is unlike any we’ve experienced. For starters, the annual celebration of Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese’s marriage was cancelled due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, much like the majority of social gatherings have been since March 2020. However, breweries are still churning out Festbiers and Märzens since the styles are a popular staple of many a brewery’s portfolio. Three years into “constructing” these six-packs and I’m still able to find new malty, amber lagers to highlight every year. I’m going more local this year than I have in the past, with a focus on four NJ breweries and 2 PA breweries. I’ve had three of these (one of them just this past week).

A note on the difference between Festbiers and Märzens. Festbiers are generally lower in alcohol and more “sessionable” in the 5% to 6% ABV range. Märzens are typically slightly higher in ABV starting at 6% ABV. The story goes that the beers served at Oktoberfest in Bavaria were dropped in ABV slightly to sell more beer without making the attendees too inebriated. Festbiers are a less malty, less intense and lighter in body compared to the Märzen. For me, whatever style a particular brewery calls the amber lager they sell as “Oktoberfest” or some variant of the name, is a highlight of the beer year for yours truly. Most of the beers you’d find in Germany during the festival would actually be Festbiers, while those with the “Oktoberfest” moniker are mostly the American-ized versions or what the German breweries market and sell in the U.S. as their fall, amber Lager.

On to the Six Pack!

Fest | Asbury Park Brewing Company | Asbury Park, NJ | 5.9% ABV

Image courtesy of Asbury Park Brewing’s Facebook

Asbury Park Brewery is one of a few in the Asbury Park area (Kane is a only about a mile away and Dark City is squarely in Asbury Park). I’ve only had one beer from Asbury Park Brewery, but I enjoyed it. Asbury Park is also home to a huge German Biergarten, so there’s some German in the air down there. APB is sporadically distributed through the State and based on how much I enjoyed their stout, I’d give this one a try.

What Asbury Park Brewery says about the beer:

A Märzen Lager brewed in the Oktoberfest tradition. Deep caramel in color with a complex malt body.

Festy | Carton Brewing Company | Atlantic Highlands, NJ | 5.5% ABV

Image courtesy of Carton Brewing’s Facebook

 

Carton’s Festy is hitting cans for the first time in 2020 largely due to the Pandemic. In past years, this beer was served at local beer festivals, but with social gatherings severely limited, Augie and his crew made a great decision to can and distribute the beer. I’m really hoping cans make it near me because Carton has such a strong Lager game. My impression of the beer is that it is flavorful with a spicy hop slap at the finish of the beer.

What Carton says about the beer:

Under the festival tents there are the Oktoberfest Marzens made “in honor of the fest” and the Festbiers made “for drinking at the fest”. As more and more quality Marzens show up at Autumn-fests around NJ, we decided that the drift off the beaten craft opportunity here was to make the “drinking beer of the fest” as traditionally as possible. A floor-malted German-pils malt bill picks up a Festbier touch of autumnal richness through the addition of light Munich and Victory. Then hop spiciness comes in the form of Tettnanger and Strisselspalt for both the kettle and late-hop additions. Drink Festy because these days a commitment to tradition is as far off the path’s trend as can be.

My Favorite Märzen / Märzen Style Lager | Lone Eagle Brewing | Flemington, NJ | 5% ABV

Image courtesy of Lone Eagle Brewing’s Facebook

Lone Eagle has been releasing an Oktoberfest annually since (I think) 2017, I’ve had it most years and enjoyed it, regardless of what they call it. I remember being very pleasantly surprised with the beer when I had it on draught at one of the Board Game nights back when those were still a thing. With their new brewer joining late last year, I don’t know if he tweaked the recipe at all, but they did slap a new label on the beer that evokes the traditional German bierhall.

What Lone Eagle says about the beer:

Märzen is a German style of beer traditionally brewed in March and lagered until Oktoberfest. This beer has a nice rich malt character with a slightly dry finish. It’s full flavored and easy to drink. Prost!

Lederskirten Oktoberfest | Manskirt Brewing Company | Hackettstown, NJ | 6% ABV

Image courtesy of Man Skirt Brewing’s Facebook

I had Manskirt’s take on the classic Oktoberfest when I first visited a few years ago. If I recall, I think it was the beer I enjoyed the most during that visit. Last year was the first year they canned it so I’m hoping I’ll be able to grab some cans this year to enjoy at home.

What Manskirt says about the beer:

Our take on a traditional German Marzen, or Oktoberfest lager. Lots of Munich and Pilsner malts make a solid backdrop for the German hops used here. A long, cold lagering process makes this beer clean and crisp.

Creekfestbier Lager | Neshaminy Creek Brewing Company | Croydon, PA | ABV 5.2%

Image courtesy of Neshaminy Creek Brewing Company’s Facebook

Neshaminy Creek is one of the closer PA breweries to me, I’ve visited a couple of times and I’ve enjoyed most of their output especially their beers with Germanic leanings. However, I haven’t sampled their annual Märzen yet. They’ve gone through something of a label rebranding over the last year or so and this beer is now available in 4-packs of 16oz cans. I think it was originally a 22oz bomber offering, but that particular beer vessel has all but gone the way of the dinosaur

Neshaminy Creek Brewing Company says this about the beer:

Our seasonal traditional German-style Märzen Lager brewed with German Pilsner and Munich malts, and hopped with German Hallertau and Tettnanger hops. Fermented with a traditional Bavarian monastery Lager yeast.

Unter Dog | Yards Brewing Company | Philadelphia, PA | 5.6% ABV

Image courtesy of Yards Brewing Company’s Facebook

Yards, traditionally known as an Ale-house, introduced their first year-round lager to their lineup last year. With the success of that beer, it makes sense for them to finally put a Märzen into packaging and distribution. I think this is available in both cans and bottles, so hopefully I’ll be able to grab some in the next month or so because I did enjoy Loyal Lager.

What Yards says about the beer:

This Oktoberfest, we’re celebrating the city that never gives up with our new Märzen-style beer. Fetch a 6-pack today, sit back, and roll over with joy. Good boy!

Draught Diversions: August 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…

Summer was still in full swing in August, which turned out to be a very trying month. The pandemic continues to impact our lives and a hurricane swept through NJ causing loss of power to much of the State for multiple days, including yours truly. Through it all, there was still plenty of beer to enjoy, which is why you are all here anyway.

Half of this six pack could have very easily been beers from Icarus Brewing since I had 3 different (outstanding) beers from them, but I try not to feature multiple beers from one brewery in these posts.

This month brings mostly local (4 NJ, 1 NY, and 1 CT) beer.

Black Chocolate Stout [2013] (Brooklyn Brewery) | Stout – Russian Imperial | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout is an iconic beer if the independent/craft beer world, one of the earlier interpretations (first brewed in 1994!) of a Russian Imperial Stout and the first recipe Garrett Oliver wrote for The Brooklyn Brewery. I’ve had this beer in the distant past of the days before I was writing this blog and I remember liking it. A friend in town found this old bottle from 2013 in his basement and decided to let me have it. This is one of the oldest beers I’ve had (7 years of age) and it was delicious. The hops settled down a bit from what I remember but enjoying this version from 7 years ago has me eager to grab a six pack once the cold weather hits us.

French Torost (Bolero Snort Brewery) | Stout – Imperial / Double | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd


Two months in a row for a Bolero Snort appearance in the monthly Six Pack. This beer speaks to what I consider their wheelhouse, or at least the beers I’ve enjoyed the most from Bolero – big stouts. When I saw the description, I was immediately reminded of French Toast Bergen County Bull Stout, a beer I thoroughly enjoyed last year. This beer, Torost, seems to be an un-barrel aged version with all those adjuncts: Maple, Cinnamon, and Madagascar Vanilla, so I would bet a considerable sum of money this beer is the base stout that was barrel-aged for BCBS. What a delicious beer this is, a pastry/dessert stout in the truest sense with a perfect blend of all those adjuncts.

Synopsis Dark Sour Cherry (Area Two Experimental Brewing) | Sour – Fruited | 3.75 Bottle Caps on untappd

Area Two Experimental Brewing is the sour, barrel-aging, experimental arm of Two Roads Brewing. They brew/blend/age in fairly limited quantities and I’ve been eager to sample one of their beers for a while. This sour ale is really nice; very funky upfront, but the cherry was milder than I expected or hoped it would be. Nonetheless, I liked this one and I will definitely be seeking out more beers with the Area Two label on it.

Lawn Boi (Tonewood Brewing) | Pilsner – German | 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

I continue to be impressed with Tonewood’s output. This Pilsner is an excellent interpretation of the style with German leanings. Cold, fresh, and delicious. The beer was canned two days before I picked up in the store. This is a perfect cooler beer and is very refreshing. Fits the “beer flavored beer” moniker, but at a very high level.

Tan Limes (Cape May Brewing Co.) | Lager – Pale | 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

Admittedly, I reluctantly made my way to this beer because I was quite upset when Cape May Brewing ceased production/distribution of the delicious Cape May Lager, a Pale Lager they launched last year only to be replaced this year with Tan Limes. I know one of the big trends in independent beer is to make a craft lager that fits the same profile as Corona/Modelo/Pacifico. I don’t like 2 of those 3 beers, so I would never try any brewery’s take on the style, but my curiosity won out. I’m glad I got over my bias for this beer because it is a nearly perfect summer lager. The lime isn’t too overpowering, the salt comes into play. I dropped a six pack in the cooler for a party at our house and drank 3 myself in one day, my wife even commented “You really like that one, don’t you!” Yes, yes I do.

Drinking Strawberries for Breakfast (Icarus Brewing) | Sour – Fruited Berliner Weisse | 4.5 Bottle Caps on untappd

Last and most certainly not least is another beer from Icarus, this is one of their many Berliner Weisse beers. With “copious amounts of strawberries, Acai, and Toasted Coconuts,” the beer is outstanding. The funk of the Berliner Weisse style is definitely present, but the sweetness from the fruit and coconut provide a perfect balance. This is easily one of my favorite of the 25+ Berliner Weisses I’ve had.

A great month overall for new beers, so let’s leave it at that.