Draught Diversions: Oktoberfest 2017

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…

Oktoberfest…is there any time of year that is more of a beer holiday? I don’t think so. Sure there are beers for every season and every occasion, but few times throughout the year does beer, across the world, have such a spotlight shone upon it. As with many great beer-related traditions, this one goes back to Munich, Bavaria, Germany in 1810. What began as a celebration of the marriage of then Prince and soon King Ludwig to Princess Therese expanded to something that is a global celebration of German culture and Gemütlichkeit two hundred years later. With Okoberfest 2017 beginning this weekend, September 16 [ends October 3], what better time for a little post about the great German celebration?

From Wikipedia:

Only beer conforming to the Reinheitsgebot, and brewed within the city limits of Munich, can be served at the Munich Oktoberfest. Beers meeting these criteria are designated Oktoberfest Beer. The breweries that can produce Oktoberfest Beer under the aforementioned criteria are:
Augustiner-Bräu
Hacker-Pschorr-Bräu
Löwenbräu
Paulaner
Spatenbräu
Staatliches Hofbräu-München

Oktoberfest Beer is a registered trademark by the Club of Munich Brewers, which consists of the above six breweries.

From those breweries, the only Oktoberfest beer I haven’t had is the one brewed by Augustiner-Bräu.

I suppose one way you could view this is similar to sparkling wine and Champagne in that only the sparkling wine from Champagne, France can truly be considered Champagne. Only those six brewers make “True Oktoberfest” beer.

There are many, many more Märzen/Oktoberfest/Festbiers available, brewed by German breweries and American breweries alike. Last year (in 2016) the Oktoberfest that I enjoyed the most was Ayinger’s so I’m probably going to get some of that this year. I almost always get at least a six pack of the Hacker-Pschorr and really want to pick up some of Weihenstephaner’s Festbier since I haven’t had theirs in a couple of years.

Then we get to the American Oktoberfest beers and boy is there a variety as it seems most mid level craft brewers have a fall Oktoberfest offering and even some of the local nano-breweries in New Jersey are brewing up the traditional Lager style of the beer.

As of this writing, I’ve only had two Oktoberfest beers so far in 2017 and I usually try to push off having any until after Labor Day. I may have ranted about that in the past.

The first I had was Sierra Nevada’s collaboration with Brauhaus Miltenburger, which was quite good. I like this annual tradition, you get a new version of the Oktoberfest every year, but with the Sierra Nevada brand, chances are it will be a good Oktoberfest.  This was the third year Sierra Nevada collaborated with a German brewery on an Oktobefest, rthe first was in 2015 with Brauhaus Riegele and last year’s (2016) was Mahrs Bräu.

The other was Two Roads’ offering, Ok2berfest which was a great interpretation of the style. I was not surprised considering I’ve enjoy just about everything from Two Roads, but I’d never had theirs in the past.

Annual American Favorites

The best Oktoberfest from an American brewery, for my drinking dollar every year, is Great Lakes Oktoberfest. The great Cleveland brewery doesn’t make a bad beer and their portfolio of beers is one of the most consistent in the American craft brew landscape Their Oktoberfest is an annual must for me, as it perfectly captures the malty, caramelly essence of a Märzen lager. Despite their size and distribution reach, Yuengling is still considered a micro brewery and their Oktoberfest is usually a very dependable, solid offering. It is ubiquitous this time of year in the Northeast and family and friends usually have this one in their fridge.

Victory Brewing’s Festbier is worth getting every year, too. That shouldn’t be a surprise coming from me at this point, if you’ve been reading The Tap Takeover every week. Local NJ Craft Brewer Ramstein / High Point Brewing makes a very good Oktoberfest, considering the strong German roots and basis for their approach to brewing, this is a natural beer for them to make.

Oktoberfest Beers to Try in 2017 for the First Time

From NJ breweries there are three I’d like to try. My friends at Flounder are brewing up an Oktobefest I’m hoping to sample in the next couple of weeks. Czig Meister in Hackettstown released an Oktoberfest this year and they’ve really been making a big push with cans into distribution so hopefully that’ll show up locally. Lone Eagle has one they’ve named “My Favorite Marzen” which on the name alone seems worth trying.

Outside of breweries in NJ, I really want to try Firestone Walker’s Oaktoberfest. I’ve only had excellent beers from the popular California craft brewery so I’ve got high hopes for this beer. Unfortunately this will only be a limited draft offering in 2017. With von Trapp’s beers entering the NJ Market, I would like to try theirs as well, considering the German brewing tradition behind the brewery.  For all the beers I’ve enjoyed over the years from Harpoon, I’ve never had their Oktoberfest.  I haven’t seen their beers as widely available in NJ as I did a few years ago.

I usually try to get to at least one Oktoberfest celebration every year.  A local restaurant has a big outdoor celebration every year, but it seems to get earlier and earlier every year. This year, I’m likely going to a mountain retreat for a big outdoor Oktoberfest celebration.

So, with that, a safe and enjoyable Oktoberfest to you all. Or as my ancestors say (mom was born in Germany!),

Ein prosit und Gemütlichkeit!

Draught Diversions: Conclave Brewing

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

The brewery visit posts I’ve published here at the Tap Takeover have all been New Jersey breweries. When I first started the Tap Takeover, my goal was to feature more brewery visits and brewery focus posts than just the breweries of the 70 currently in New Jersey, but that’s easier said than done. There’s also a nice selection of breweries very close to my house, so featuring those first seems quite logical. None of those breweries are as close to my house as the brewery featured today, Conclave Brewing in Raritan Township, NJ, which is only about five miles from me. The brewery has another added appeal, my fraternity’s annual meeting is called Conclave. While I’ve enjoyed the majority of the beers I’ve had from those other breweries I’ve featured, from the top to the bottom of their list, Conclave makes the best beers. Last year for my Birthday, my incredible wife got me in the car and took me to a handful of breweries within driving distance (Twin Elephant, Kane, Beach Haus, Carton, and Conclave). Conclave’s beers were at the top of those I visited that day.

Carl and Tim are the two guys behind the brewery, high-school friends who had a passion for great beer. Although they are originally from Northern New Jersey, life coincidentally brought their careers and lives to proximity once again to Hunterdon County. They eventually decided to open Conclave, which according to them got its name thusly:

The name comes from a secret society of brewers. The myth we created is that they merged old world techniques with new world craft beer styles.”

Conclave is also the smallest of the breweries I’ve highlighted here, but every single beer I’ve had from them has been top shelf and excellent representations of the style. I’ve only had 9 of their beers and the lowest rating I’ve given one of their beers on untappd was 3.75 bottle caps, everything else was 4 or higher. Conclave Brewing is also relatively new, they opened up in 2015, but their reputation has grown very nicely in that time with those honed and focused brewing efforts. The picture below illustrates just how small the brewery is, they typically offer only 6 beers on tap. But that small quantity means that the focus on quality is spread across 6 magnificent beers. Not on the list, technically, are the cans of Gravitational Waves (Conclave’s highly rated and much-loved IPA) being sold that day.

The tap list at Conclave on September 2, 2017

In their two years brewing beer, Conclave has gained a well-earned reputation as smart artisans of craft brewing. Last summer, NJ.com posted an article which touted Conclave as the highest rated NJ brewery on untappd (with one of the highest rated beers, Gravitational Waves). The current average on untappd by all users for all Conclave beers is 4 bottle caps. A majority of their beers on Beer Advocate have average ratings above 4 (out of 5) and all of their beers with over 15 community reviews are cumulatively rated above 4.25 (out of 5) and have a lively discussion thread in the Beer Advocate forums which illustrates their local, dedicated fan base. Just couple of weeks ago, Conclave was ranked highest in the “Philadelphia Metro Area.” So yeah, well-earned recognition which drives people make to make out-of-state trips just to sample their beer and fill their growlers.

What those two paragraphs above prove is that perfecting a smaller number styles is a smart way to build a brewery, dedicated customers, and a reputation that spreads beyond the borders of the state. The only reason I gave one of the beers a lower than 4 rating is that it is typically not my go-to-style of beer. It was still a very good beer.

The first time I visited the brewery in November 2015, I sampled and filled one of my growlers with Espresso Milk Stout. To this day, it is one of my favorite Milk Stouts and one of my favorite beers brewed in New Jersey. The beer is brewed with lactose and coffee beans from local roaster Benfatto Roasters. With Conclave starting to occasionally can beers, this seems like a perfect candidate for 16oz four-packs.

From a growler fill last November. Such a lovely, dark stout. If you squint enough, you can see the black Conclave logo on the glass.

As if the Espresso Milk Stout weren’t good enough, this beer has a delicious spicier cousin Mexican Morning. Few beers I’ve ever consumed produced such a cacophony of wonderful flavors that came together in a symphony of delicousness. Carl, Tim, and Bryan take their wonderful Espresso Milk Stout and: “kick it up with dried red chile de arbol peppers, vanilla bean, cinnamon and cocoa nibs. Sweet and complex, it brings just enough heat to invite one sip after another.” The process for making this beer is timely and more complex due to the peppers (among other things), so only once that I know of did Concalve offer this in growlers, and only 320z growlers. When it is on tap at the brewery, they usually only offer 4oz pours. For me, it is a mandatory pour every visit to Conclave when on the menu. Sadly, as my picture of the tap list above indicates, Mexican Morning was not available during my most recent visit.

Photo of Mexican Morning from Conclave’s Website

As much as I love Mexican Morning (and most people who have had it seem to love it, too (a cumulative review of 1,244 untappd users rates it at 4.27 as of this writing), Tim and Carl upped a beer which is already an amped up beer. At the Garden State Brewfest in September 2016, Conclave was pouring a Barrel aged version of this beer. They used bourbon barrels from Four Roses (one of the premier bourbon distillers). I feel lucky to have had a sample of the beer, it was sublime and elegant. They’ve done a couple of brewery pourings of this one, too. Hopefully this one will be available again, as B.A.M.M was easily the best beer I had at that Brewfest and probably one of the best beers I ever head.

From Garden State Brewfest 2016

Like a lot of breweries in NJ (and across the country) have been doing lately, Conclave began canning some of their beers. I think the first was Hop Ritual Pale Ale and the release was smashing successes. When they released the cans, they did a special release and the brewery was very, very crowded with all the cans going quickly. The next release in cans was (and is) Gravitational Waves. Again, when they announced it, the beers flew off the shelves. What they’ve done more recently in these can releases is not announce it, and simply have it available at the brewery in a “soft release,” but the 4-packs still sell. As I said, I think Espresso Milk Stout would be a great beer to go in cans, but something tells me either Gravitational Pull or Tyrion might be next. Regardless I’ll be buying if they are for sale. Conclave’s plan may be to go with the “soft release” of the cans which ensures the regular visitors will have first shot at the 4-packs.

I had the chance to chat briefly with Bryan and Matt this past weekend, who were working the growlers and taps in the back room where the brewing equipment and seating was located. Bryan is one of the brewers and when I asked what Conclave has on the horizon, I was happy to hear three of my favorites from would soon be returning: Gravitational Pull (A New England IPA), Equinox Brown (the best brown I’ve ever had), and the main Espresso Milk Stout. Bryan mentioned more than one of their customers who always returns for fills of Equinox Brown when I told him how delicious I think the beer is. I got a growler fill of that one New Year’s Eve two years ago and couldn’t have been happier with the beer. It was a smooth, tasty beer that was much cleaner than many browns I’ve had, the beer had a sweet almost caramel finish.

Despite what was probably a frozen glass and not the best pour from the bartender, Gravitational Pull was fantastic.

My only regret with regard to Conclave is that it has been so long since my last visit. With the brewery so close, I’m going to make a point of returning more often, for small growler fills, sampling, and to check to see what cans are available. Two years into their existence, Conclave has proven to be a great brewery and I look forward to seeing what they brew next. I certainly feel lucky to live so close to the brewery where these fine folks make and pour their beer.

Resources for this post and additional reading about Conclave Brewing:
Best brewery in Philly region (August 2017)
Brew Jersey (May/July 2017)
NJ.com June 2016
Hops and Horns beer blog (April 2016)
Courier News (Hunterdon County, December 2015)
NJ Monthly July 2015
Hunterdon Happenings (no date, probably July 2015)

Draught Diversions: August 2017 Beer Pours

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

The variety of new beers I consumed and enjoyed in August was lower than the new beers in July. Partly because there were still quite a few leftover beers in the fridge from July; I finished off the Sierra Nevada Beer Camp pack in July; and several people brought a variety of beer to my house in July. There were still quite a few new ones I enjoyed, though.

The first new beer of the month was Smuttynose’s Summer IPA, a beer that surprised me. A refreshing, low-hopped IPA that had a nice citrus flavor component. I picked up a single can but if it returns to shelves in summer 2018, then I’ll likely get a full six pack at the least.

One of my favorite breweries, Victory, launched a new beer recently. A beer they are positioning as an every-day beer and I think that goal was achieved with Home Grown New American Lager. Low in ABV with a refreshing hop component, this is a crisp, tasty Lager that has some elements of citrus in the hops. I liked the single bottle my friend brought over enough to pick up a full six pack to share with friends while we sat poolside later in the month. I shouldn’t be surprised by how much I enjoyed the beer largely because the big red “V” on the label.

An excellent “non-summer” poolside brew

Von Trapp (yes, that Von Trapp family) has been brewing beer since 2010 and their bottled beer has recently been distributed in NJ. I tried the Bohemian Pilsner and thought it to be a good representation of the style. I may have to try some of the other Von Trapp styles, too. For the first time in a while, or since joining untappd, I had a bottle of Ommegang’s Three Philosphers, a wonderful, rich Belgian Quad. It is easy to know why, after drinking this beer, why the beer has such a great reputation. This is a big beer at over 9% ABV so it should be enjoyed slowly.

 

I covered in detail what I had during my first visit of the month to Flounder, the Dinkelweiss was definitely the highlight. Such a fantastic interpretation of the light style. On my second visit, I had the Dinkelweiss again, but with Raspberry syrup and it was just as good as it was with the Elderflower. I also tried the Milkshake Genevieve IPA on a later visit in the month, which was delicious. The addition of lactose really calmed down the hops in the beer. That weekend, my neighbor brought over a six pack of Tröegs HopBack Amber Ale, a Red Ale with a nice malt/hop balance. Of the dozen or so brews I’ve had from the Trogner brothers, I can only think of 1 that didn’t quite do it for me.

As has become clear by now, I love Bavarian Hefeweizens especially those brewed in Germany by a German brewery. I’ve seen Andechs Weissbier Hell at my local beer shop for years and finally picked up a 500mL bottle, I was very pleased, as I have been by the 3 or 4 other brews I’ve had from Andechs. This was a great interpretation of the style. I just wish more German breweries would distribute their beer in 6-packs rather than big 500mL bottles.

In a proper, large Hefeweizen glass

Every year, at least one day in the summer, my wife, brother-in-law, and whomever else can join take a day trip down to Long Beach Island an go to The Chicken or the Egg (Chegg’s) for wings and other great food. This year, I skipped the wings and went for Cinnamon Bun French Toast, which is just as decadent and delicious as you might guess. Last year, we added a stop at the then newly opened Ship Bottom brewery to the itinerary. When we visited the brewery last year, they were open for only about a week and only had one beer remaining from their launch party. This year, their brewery was a year older, there was a relatively lively atmosphere for the middle of the day, and many more beers were on tap. I had a flight including their Beach Patrol Hefeweizen (the best of the bunch), the Blueberry Bikini Bottom Wheat (which reminded me of Leinenkugel’s Sunset Wheat as both beers reminded me of Fruity Pebbles), the Barnegat Lager (a red lager) and NYD 2017, a Russian Imperial Stout. A decent group of beers, I’d definitely go for the Hefeweizen again. NYD 2017 was a solid Russian Imperial, too, though more bitter than I like.

From L to R: Barnegat Lager, Blueberry Bikini Bottom Wheat Ale, Beach Patrol Hefeweizen, NYD 2017 (Russian Imperial Stout)

The Sunday ritual of Game of Thrones and a big beer continued with the last two episodes of the season. One of which will get a full review next week, the other was Westbrook’s 6th Anniversary Hazelnut Chocolate Imperial Stout which was delicious. This beer has a lot of flavors that balance and complement each other very well, not surprising since Chocolate and Hazelnut typically work well together. In the beer, they are almost one flavor and they mask the high 10% ABV nicely. This was a great beer.

I stopped at a local bar (The Royal) on the last Friday of August with a friend and was pleasantly surprised to find Tröegs, Founders, Three 3’s, and Conclave on taps alongside the typical “local watering hole/neighborhood bar” staples. I had a Three 3’s S.S. Tide Pool, a crushable delicious session IPA and a Conclave Gravitational Pull, which blew me away. Such a juice-bomb of an IPA, the bitterness was balanced perfectly with the juiciness of the fruit evocation. This is an IPA I would drink again and again. Conclave is close enough to my house that I need to head down there again as it has been far too long since I stopped in for a growler and the requisite 4oz pour of Mexican Morning.

The last beer to make it into this post is Dogfish Head’s Oak-Aged Vanilla World Wide Stout, but I’ll have more about that beer on Tuesday September 5 for my next beer review.

Ein Prosit!

Draught Diversions: Underappreciated Styles – Dunkelweizen

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…

Here’s a potential recurring theme … Overlooked & underappreciated styles. This time around, I’ll focus on a traditional German/Bavarian Style – Dunkelweizen.

I can only guess at the reasons why this rich, classic style gets overlooked. One of those is the prevalence of Hop-forward beers in the US craft beer market place, you know, the ever present IPA and all the derivations of the style. Similarly, the popularity and abundance of stouts and their various styles may draw drinkers who prefer darker beers away from Dunkelweizens.

But back to the Dunkelweizen…a wonderful, yeasty, bready, clovey beer which is a dark cousin of the classic Hefeweizen. If Hefeweizen is a beer that can be associated with summer, then Dunkelweizen may be an early fall beer or late spring beer. Days when the warmth is comfortable enough to don shorts or cool enough to go long pantsed, evenings cool enough to throw a hooded sweatshirt on while still wearing your shorts from the day.

While the low hop bitterness of the style is likely one reason, another is that not that many American breweries make Dunkelweizens. Neshaminy Creek in Pennsylvania brews one annually (Dunks Ferry Dunkelweizen) as a fall seasonal, Samuel Adams occasionally releases a dunkelweizen, and Shiner brews one around Christmas. I’d suspect the smaller breweries that lean more towards traditional German brewing styles would be brewing a Dunk on occasion.

Three microbreweries I’ve visited in New Jersey brew Dunkelweizens regularly: Demented in Middlesex brews a Dunkelweizen (Der Wolf) as a fall seasonal. I had it in a flight not long after Demented opened its doors so I’d like to revisit it again. Jughandle brewed one in their first year, which was pretty good. Ramstein / High Point Brewing, one of the stalwarts, or “five O.G. New Jersey craft breweries,” has a Dunkelweizen (or Dunkel Hefe-weizen as they call it) as part of its regular line up of beers. This makes sense considering the Germanic foundation of the brewery. I really need to get up to that brewery and sample all of their beers, I’ve only had the Hefeweizen and liked it a lot.

One anecdotal indication of the lack of Dunkelweizens in the beer market is doing a quick Google search of “Dunkelweizen.” The search returns more results that pertain to home-brewing Dunkelweizens than breweries who brew Dunkelweizen.

Another guess is that perhaps one of the issues with a lack of Dunkelweizens is the delicate brewing process? I recall picking up a six pack almost two years ago and the beer was skunked, it tasted more like a sour beer than a Dunkelweizen. A little googling at the time returned some results that the process can allow for souring if not monitored properly. That having been said, I would think any brewery making a Hefeweizen would (or maybe even should?) brew up a Dunkelweizen for their line-up.

As for some of the better Dunkelweizens I’ve had, unfortunately, I’ve only had a small handful of Dunkelweizens although I would most definitely welcome more on the market and in my refrigerator. As I sad last week, the wheat base and clovey/banana-y flavor profile hits my taste-buds so well. One of the best Dunkelweizens I had was from the venerable German brewer who brews only wheat beers, Erdinger. About a year ago, my wife and I went to one of our favorite restaurants going back to our Rutgers University days, Stuff Yer Face. To my pleasant surprise they had Erdinger Dunkel on tap and it was delicious. It had been a few years since I went there and I was was pleased with impressive beer menu. Since going there with my wife, and I returned recently again in part because of that beer menu. But I digress. Erdinger’s take on the style was probably the best Dunkelweizen I’ve had in years, or at least since joining Untappd. Of course, the classic German brewery Weihenstephaner makes a great Dunkelweizen, which was just about as good as Erdinger’s. I think the main difference is how fresh the Erdinger was since I had it on draught.

Photo courtesy of Erdinger’s web site. The dark color of the beer just says fall beer.

Another great and more recent Dunkelweizen I enjoyed was the “Dunkle Weisse” from Sierra Nevada’s Beer Camp Across the World variety pack this year.  This was a collaboration between Sierra Nevada and the great German Brewery, Ayinger.

 

Who knows. Only a few years ago even some of the more vocal and “experienced” craft beer drinkers didn’t know what a Gose (another German wheat-based beer) was and that style is extremely popular now, with many breweries creating at least one Gose beer for continual rotation in their lineup. Although the Dunkelweizen isn’t quite as obscure as a Gose once was, I’d like to see Dunkeweizen come back to even half the popularity that Gose now enjoys.

Draught Diversions: Flounder Brewing Company

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

It has been over a month since I last focused on a single brewery here and as promised last Tuesday, I’d be giving an overview of Flounder Brewing in Hillsborough, NJ. I’ve been enjoying their beer for a few years now and living in the neighboring town, it has been very nice to see the brewery grow over the past few years since opening in Hillsborough in 2013 as the twelfth licensed NJ brewery. Part of that is seeing their line-up of tasty beers evolve along with that growth.

I could go on about the history of the brewery and how Jeremy Lees started homebrewing, which is how a majority of nano/microbreweries begin, but that is fairly well documented in the Craft Beer community, specifically the NJ Craft Beer community. Flounder’s history is probably best captured in “Catching the Big One: The Story of Flounder Brewing Company,”  created by film students at Rider University. I’ve embedded the video at the bottom of this post (running time is about 15 minutes) which does a great job of giving a historical perspective to Jeremy Lees brewing venture known as Flounder Brewing.

A brewery starts with the beer and Flounder’s flagship beer is “Hill Street Honey Ale,” a great, easy-drinking every day beer that Jeremy’s friends enjoyed and the beer upon which the foundation of Flounder’s great line up of beers is built.

Hill Street Honey American Ale possesses the nice golden color of a classic ale. While starting out as a hybrid American Pale-Amber ale, over time and tweaking it has rounded out to fall more into the blonde ale family, a little hop forward with a pleasantly smooth finish that will let you keep enjoying them as you relax. Hill Street Honey’s bitterness is complimented by a whole bunch of New Jersey harvested honey that we add in during key parts of the brewing process.

These separately timed additions help spread out and layer the honey sweetness and citrus aromas throughout the brew thanks to the honey from the orange blossom. All of this complemented with smooth, slight biscuit flavors from the several types of grains we add in there. All this is brewed up then the magic of yeast takes over and we exclusively use yeast from Jersey’s own yeast company that just helps meld all of the flavors together into a wonderful American Ale.

It is a simple, delicious anytime-of-year session beer, yet it has a whole bunch of complex layers to it if one breaks it down. Great citrus and floral aromas, smooth and creamy head and mouthfeel, and a nice finish of citrus in the aftertaste. 

The brewing facility and tasting room, situated in an office / industrial park in Hillsborough, NJ, might not seem an ideal place for a brewery. As I’ve come to learn over the past year or so, it isn’t uncommon especially in NJ. NJ Craft Beer giant Kane is located in a similar type of environment though their brewery is considerably larger, while Conclave Brewing, another local favorite is located in a similar office park. But back to Flounder. When they first opened their doors, they were in a relatively small unit and although their brewing capacity was relatively small, the quality was excellent.  They were doing great things for a few years, continually winning awards at local brewfests, selling out of their beer when they were open for growler fills. Flounder was also one of the early nanobreweries in the state of New Jersey and New Jersey’s 12th Limited Brewery license.

A few years after launching, something special happened to Flounder Brewing. The Boston Beer Company, A.K.A. Samuel Adams has a special program they call the National Brewing and Business Experienceship Award, which is something like an apprenticeship for smaller breweries and Flounder Brewing was the recipient of the award in 2016. As a result of this experience, Samuel Adams and Flounder collaborated on a beer – Devil’s Nectah, a Helles Lager brewed with Cranberries and Honey. Helles meaning bright in Germany, Helles Lager is intended to be light refreshing beer that is similar to a Pilsner. I had the chance to sample some of it and was wowed by how delicious the beer was. The tart of the cranberry came together perfectly with the sweetness of the honey. The collaboration between Flounder and Samuel Adams was a very limited brew and I hope Flounder is able to bring back this tasty treat in some similar fashion.

In the approximate year since the Samuel Adams collaboration and “Experienceship,” Flounder Brewing has expanded, Jeremy Lees and crew doubled their rental space and have expanded the amount of beer and variety they brew. Perhaps most importantly for consumers, they expanded their hours of operation as well. Initially, they were only pouring growlers for patrons once or twice a month. They first expanded to once per week and are now open every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. The tap room has a couple of bar tables set up where folks can chat and enjoy delicious, freshly made beer. On a cool fall or spring evening, Flounder Brewery is a nice place to stop for a pint and good conversation. I’ve stopped in the brewery for growler fills quite a few times, the place is always full and there have been lines to fill the growlers or pick up the limited bottle releases.

Brewer Brad Polinski, T.O.B (The Other Brewer) of Flounder, as he calls himself on untappd, shared some time with me over a few of the delicious beers he, Doug Duschl, and Jeremy have been brewing. One thing that stood out in our discussion was just how great the folks at Samuel Adams were and continue to be in supporting Flounder’s growth. Not just from a brewing perspective, but from a business perspective and growth perspective. Even now, a year later, Samuel Adams has been open to provide Flounder great advice and insight even from a phone call away.

Brad has been brewing with Flounder for almost four years now. While Hill Street Honey Ale is the beer that helped gain Flounder their initial notoriety, Brad’s Genevieve’s IPA is probably the number two beer in Flounder’s line up. The beer is named in honor Brad’s grandmother:

A humble dedication to Brad’s Grandmother, our staple IPA showcases a blend of five American hops that lend to it’s hazy, and juicy grapefruit character.

Flounder brews about twice per week to meet the demands of the customers who visit on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays as well as the local restaurants and bars where Flounder’s beer can be found on tap. They’ve built up very strong relationships with quite a few local restaurants including The Landing in Hillsborough and the Bound Brook location of the Chimney Rock Inn where at least one of their beers can always be found on tap. The demand at local restaurants, coupled with the lines and a filled brewery on the three days per week Flounder is open to the public has them primed for even more expansion in the near future.

Flounder’s growth has attracted more people to work and assist, including Doug Duschl who was brewing his own beer under the Brooks Brewery brand. He’s got some interesting recipes on the horizon that would appeal to folks who enjoy their beer with a strong bready profile. Doug has an Oktoberfest and an Imperial Pumpkin brewing which should be ready for Oktoberfest at the end of September. Doug poured a small cup of Oktoberfest in its current state and it smelled wonderful. It wasn’t in a tasting condition, but I’m looking forward to trying it in about a month.

Brad said he’s brewing a Double IPA version of his popular Genevieve IPA. Additionally, he’s got ideas for a more fall related beers, a pumpkin saison, and a Pumpkin Spice Latte beer named “Breakfast Ale” with Cold Brewed Coffee. This isn’t necessarily pumpkin beer because there’s no pumpkin in it, rather a beer brewed with Pumpkin Spices, lactose, and coffee. I had some of it last year at Thanksgiving and enjoyed it a great deal, so I’m looking forward to how the cold brewed coffee will enhance the flavor.

Brad said his favorite beer to brew isn’t always the same, it is determined by his mood and is often experimental. He’s got a Saison/Sour hybrid in process now. When not enjoying the product of his brewing labors, he goes for Firestone Easy Jack, a session IPA. Doug is a beer drinker after my own heart. Although he didn’t say what his favorite was, from what he was saying he enjoyed and what he’s brewing, he seems to gravitate towards the bready, maltier beers, beers on the opposite end of the spectrum from IPAs.

Many brewers consider what they do, brewing beer to be the convergence of art and science. You have to know the science; the water is the most important ingredient, the appropriate temperature to add ingredients for nuanced flavors, and similar ideals in order to brew properly. Important things like that. The creativity is what a great brewer adds to the ingredients, what only the brewer can add. Along those lines, Brad has a wonderful saying:

“Drink my beer and you know how I was feeling.”

What Brad means is this: you’ll know how he was feeling that day when he created that beer. If he needed a pick-me-up and was craving coffee, he wanted to make a coffee beer. If he wanted a cup of OJ, he wanted to make an IPA that was juicy. The thoughts on the recipe itself revolved around what season it was, and his cravings/moods.

As Brad and I were chatting, I could see the small tasting room of the brewery fill up and a line forming at the bar/cashier. People were there for the great beer and for the community. It was easy enough to strike up a conversation with the folks sitting near us, regulars at the brewery. It made for a very welcoming and relaxing experience. One thing that also came across both in my conversations with Brad, Jeremy, and Doug as well as a couple of the other patrons was the NJ Beer community as a whole. The beer community in the Garden State has been growing rapidly over the past few years, going from a small handful of breweries in 2013 to nearly 70 now. The strength of community is that most breweries and brewers know they are in it together, they know if one of them grows, the others grow. They help each other out and work together to make beer in NJ a true community. A lot of that can be attributed to Mike K.’s NJ Craft Beer program/community which is a great resource for breweries and craft beer consumers alike.

On to some of the other beers I’ve had from Flounder. I’ve already covered in detail the delicious Iced Coffee Stout Brad concocted. The very first beer I recall having from them was when I attended the “Big Brewfest” in Morristown, NJ in February 2014, their flagship beer “Hill Street Honey Blonde Ale.” As I said, a wonderful, “everyday” beer. When I say everyday beer, I mean the beer I want on Fridays with my pizza. The beer that received the fan favorite or People’s Choice award back in 2014 is what seems to be another staple of Flounder’s line-up – the “Saison du Flounder.” This is a lovely farmhouse ale that I’ve had around Easter-time the past couple of years.

Flounder brews a Dark Ale, “Espresso Brown” that also has coffee beans in the brewing process with a nice malt body for a full, rich beer. Similarly, the “Murky Brown” is a take on a classic Brown ale. .One of their newer beers is a refreshing Pale Ale, “Jersey Fresh Honey Pale Ale” similar to the Hill Street Honey, but with a bit more hoppiness.

A glass of delicious Flounder Hefeweizen

On my most recent visit to Flounder, I tried three beers I’ve been wanting to try for a while. I’ve been wanting to try their take on the classic Bavarian Hefeweizen and I was not disappointed. A light brew that leaned more on the banana flavor than clove, this was a good beer to start the evening. Next up was “Dinkelweiss,” Flounder’s take on a Berliner Weisse. I’m relatively new to enjoying sour beers and this style specifically, but I do enjoy the light, tart ale quite a bit. This style typically has a fruit syrup added, either in the bottle or when at a brewery, you can add your own. The beer stands very well on its own, but in this case, I added Elderflower syrup and it was even better. Surprisingly, as it warmed up a bit, the syrup and beer combined with the slight warming to room temperature allowing the syrup to enhance the already strong base flavor of the beer. I say surprisingly because I usually only like higher ABV stouts and dark ales as they warm up. Lastly, I had the “Sourlands Wheat,” a hoppy pale wheat ale brewed to commemorate the annual Sourlands Music Festival in Hillsborough.

I suppose the bottom line is this – Flounder Brewing exemplifies what great craft brewing in America is all about. People passionate about their craft, a community that embraces them, and a brewery that is a welcoming community of its own. Local, fresh ingredients, keeping their patrons satisfied, and growing successfully. I’m very pleased to have seen Flounder start out with great beers, earn the “experienceship” with Samuel Adams, and to see the growth of the brewery continue. The liquid is the ultimate determination of quality, and by the reviews on untappd and the people filling the brewery, Jeremy, Brad, and Doug are doing things extremely well.

I’m looking forward to watching Flounder grow, enjoying their staple beers, and trying whatever those brewing wizards concoct next.

Draught Diversions: Seasonally Inappropriate Beers

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…

Time for me to get a little ranty here at the Tap Takeover. Most of my posts have been positive so this is a bit of a heel turn. However, based on some conversations with other hop-heads, I don’t think I’m alone in what I’m about to rant about.

Seasonally appropriate beers. I’ve written quite a bit about summer beers, largely because I began this blog in May. I enjoy all the seasonally appropriate beers – especially Oktoberfest beers (in September and October), as well as the pumpkin beers and Christmas/Winter beers (From September through January, there’s overlap between pumpkins and winter warmers). But what frustrates me is seeing Pumpkin Beers on the shelf in July. Or seeing Summer Beers on shelves in March and April. Hell, my own father had a six pack of Oktoberfest in his fridge this past weekend!

This is just a sad bunch of pumpkins. They know they shouldn’t be in a pool, just like pumpkin beer shouldn’t be on shelves in July & August.

Like I said, I enjoy Pumpkin beers quite a bit. After all, I’ve had close to 50 different Pumpkin beers S.J.U.* But there’s a cognitive dissonance when it comes to sitting in my pool and drinking a pumpkin beer. It just shouldn’t be.

S.J.U.* is my short hand for Since Joining Untappd. I joined in February 2014.

What I’ll call Seasonally Inappropriate Beer is something that’s been going on for years, it seems. Each brewery wants to get their seasonal beers on shelves a little earlier, driving other brewers to push out their seasonal beers earlier. If you look at the release calendars of some brewers, they have July as their Pumpkin release! There are a couple of problems with this, aside from the whole cognitive dissonance issue. It is one thing to do a “Christmas in July” type of thing, a few bars not too far from me did special tappings of Tröeg’s Mad Elf in July. But that is a one-time event.

NO PUMPKIN BEERS BEFORE SEPTEMBER!!!

For starters, this early release creates an excess of one thing drowning out all other varieties. First one brewery puts out a pumpkin beer in July, then in early August another Pumpkin beer will appear. Before Labor Day, a shelf that should still have Summer/warm weather beers*, is half full of pumpkin beers.

*Oh I don’t know it is still warm and people’s pools are open and pumpkin is a fall and post-Labor Day food thing.

Second, by putting out the seasonally inappropriate beer too early, the beers may not last as long on the shelves and saving them until the season syncs up with the beer may allow the beer to taste less fresh. Again, I’ll call out pumpkin beers largely because I think there are too many pumpkin beers now, even though I do enjoy them. Pumpkins aren’t just a fall flavor/food, as far as I and I think many people are concerned. Pumpkin Pie goes just as well on a Christmas dessert table as it does on a Thanksgiving dessert table. As would Pumpkin beer, but with the pumpkin beers being released so early (July!!!), pumpkin fatigue can hit. While I always try to wait until *at least* September to enjoy pumpkin beer, by the time November rolls around, stores and breweries are already pushing Christmas Ales. Oktoberfest beers are a slightly different story, largely because they don’t seem to be quite as prevalent now as pumpkin beers are. I’ll usually pick up several Oktoberfest six packs…when mid September rolls around.

I don’t think this is just one craft beer drinker’s opinions. So, what are we to do? Boycott something we enjoy? Then we’re depriving ourselves. It is a frustrating thing, just like seeing commercials for Summer beers in March was earlier this year. What really set it off for me this year was seeing a 2017 pumpkin beer in my local liquor store a week or two after the Fourth of July.

Right. I know this is a silly thing to be ranting about, because I can (and do) easily reach past the Pumpkin beers to grab other beers I’d rather have that are more seasonally appropriate.

I’ll end this with a confession…as much as I’ve ranted about seeing the pumpkin beers now, writing about these pumpkin beers has me looking forward to trying a few new ones in month and a half and returning to some old favorites. I’m looking at you Southern Tier Warlock, Two Roads Roadsmary’s Baby, Schlafly Pumpkin Ale, and River Horse Hipp O Lantern.

Draught Diversions: July 2017 Beer Pours

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 had quite a few different beers during the month of July, to say the least. Some of those I highlighted in great detail in my weekly single beer reviews, a few more were featured in my last two Draught Diversions focusing on Sierra Nevada’s Beer Camp 2017 Variety Pack (Stateside, Overseas)

July began just as June ended, with selections from the aforementioned Beer Camp variety pack, both of which were excellent, especially the Thai-Style Iced Tea. Outside of that variety pack, the beers of July began with a 22oz bomb from one of NJ’s “gypsy” breweries, Bolero Snort Brewery. I’ve had a few of their beers, most have been good, including the one I had early in July – Strawbully Fields a Saison style Farmhouse ale with a nice hint of Strawberry. I had it on a warm Sunday evening and it hit the spot really nicely after dinner.

Then came July 4th/Independence Day. As I mentioned in my post about Summer beers, my wife and I have been hosting my family’s annual 4th of July BBQ/Pool party for the past few years and there’s always a lot of beer to be had. Even though I bought plenty of beers in my coolers (River Horse Summer Blonde, Flying Fish Farmhouse Summer, and Yuengling Summer Wheat), friends/family always bring beer. Boy did they bring beer. Somebody brought a Leinenkugel Variety pack and the biggest surprise for me out of that pack was Canoe Paddler, their take on the Kölsch, which hit the spot perfectly for the hour or so while I was grilling.

Double cup for insulation

A good friend and fellow craft beer enthusiast (who occasionally brews his own beer) brought a few beers, including Carton Brewing’s fantastic summer brew Beach, which is reminiscent of their flagship beer Boat but with a nice addition of orange zest that sweetens up the beer. This also helped me at the grill. You know, drinking beer while grilling is good for you because the beer helps to combat the carcinogens in the smoke from the grill. Every time I have a Carton beer, I’m reminded that I need to head down to the brewery.

This same friend, Scott, recently returned from a trip up to New England and was kind enough to bring back some great New England beers to share. A few of us split the famous Heady Topper from The Alchemist, an Imperial/Double IPA that was wonderful. With a whopping IBU of 100, the bitterness of the hops was balanced so well with a strong malt presence which made the beer a welcoming taste to this typically non-IPA drinker. The same can be said for the other two Vermont beers Scott brought,  the Sip of Sunshine and Second Fiddle from Fiddlehead Brewery the few of us shared.

Another highlight from early July was a classic Belgian Pale Ale, Palm, which for a pale ale has a nice and low IBU of 18, which made for a perfect dinner beer. I can see myself returning to this beer in the future, especially since it seems to always be on draught at a local, popular eatery.

One of the other variety packs leftover from the big Fourth of July bash was the Samuel Adams Summer Variety Pack. This year’s summer variety included (of course) their popular Summer Ale, a Helles Lager they are now calling Golden Hour, a tasty Hefeweizen (the best of the pack and a solid interpretation of the style), A Pale Wheat Ale with Yuzu fruit, Tropic of Yuzu which was very bland, a Berliner Weisse which I haven’t yet had and the beer nobody ever wants in the variety pack, their Boston Lager. Golden Hour was somewhat bland, but that Hefeweizen was pretty good.

I stopped over at Lone Eagle Brewing for the July monthly Brews and Board Games meet up. I was hoping to have their wonderful Hefeweizen again, but that was all tapped out so I tried their Witbier which was excellent and perfect for the warm day it was. I followed that up with their Nitro Oatmeal Stout. I’d had the non-nitro version of the Stout and it was delicious. While the Nitro version was good, but I think I prefer the standard version.

That perfect looking pint is Lone Eagle’s Nitro Oatmeal Stout

Sunday Nights when I watch Game of Thrones, I have a ritual. I like to try a new beer, usually a “big” beer, something with a higher ABV or a beer that only comes in larger bottles (like Neshaminy Creek’s Mudbank Milk Stout). I wanted to try another mead, so I saw B. Nektar’s Zombie Killer on the shelf which appealed to me for the ingredients and the name. Technically this one is considered a “Cyser” according to untappd, which is essentially a blend of Mead (A.K.A. honey wine) and cider. This particular version was sweetened with cherries, which made for a pleasant Sunday evening drink. This one, coupled with the wonderful Exit 3 Blueberry Braggot from Flying Fish I had in the middle of the month, makes me want to try more meads. There’s a meadery here in NJ – Melovino Meadery so I don’t have too much of an excuse not to try more.

Couldn’t quite hide the logo of that other beer on the glass. That would be Sully flopped out in the background

The beer that probably surprised me the most, was Schöfferhofer Grapefruit. Well, second most since the East Coast IPA from the Beer Camp pack surprised me the most and was probably the “new to me beer” I enjoyed the most in July. As I have said, even in my most recent beer review, grapefruit and I just don’t get along. But, this beer was another leftover from the 4th of July so I figured, it was in the fridge, I’ll give it a try. I’m glad I did because this popular German Radler / Shandy was extremely thirst quenching and it seemed only the sweetness of the grapefruit came through in the beer with very little of the bitterness. Between this and the 3 Citrus Peel Out I reviewed a couple of days ago, I may have to re-examine my thoughts on grapefruit and beer.

So, there you have it, a plethora of “new to me” beers in July, which are edging me closer to 1,000 unique beer check-ins on untappd. There were definitely a few beers I’ll be consuming again, and a couple I hope will become more widely available.

Ein Prosit!