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: 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: 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: 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.

Draught Diversions: July 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…

July, of course, features one of the most beer-centric holidays, Independence Day. Celebrating our country in this day and age is not exactly and easy thing, but for about 35 years, my family has had a Fourth of July party. It has always more of a family gathering, and even though COVID has drastically changed things, we were still able to have a handful of family at our house. As such, there is an abundance of beer.

This month brings mostly local (5 NJ and 1 PA) beer.

Lil Yacht Juice (Icarus Brewing Company) | IPA – Session / India Session Ale | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

It has been a bit since I featured an Icarus beer here at the Tap Takeover. “Lil Yacht Juice” is the scaled down version of Icarus’s flagship IPA, “Yacht Juice.” Whereas Yacht Juice is 8%, “Lil” is 4.9%. Despite the lower ABV, “Lil” doesn’t sacrifice any of the flavor with its blend of Mosiac, Citra, and Columbus hops. The beer is cloudy like most New England IPAs and is probably the best “Session IPA” I’ve ever had (not that I’ve had all that many of the style) and a beer that was a perfect start to our annual Fourth of July party.

Bulliner Vice – Passionfruit, Papaya, and Peach (Bolero Snort Brewery) | Sour – Fruited Berliner Weisse | 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

Bolero Snort has a series of fruited Berliner Weisse beers under this obvious bull-punned name, this is the only one I’ve had and I like it quite a bit. A good beer to finish off the night with the various fruit adjuncts and the overall tartness of the beer. However, this is the second “sour” beer I’ve had with passionfruit and the initial aroma is extremely potent – it is stanky. But thankfully that aroma transfers more pleasantly in the beer with the help of the peach and papaya.

Haze Charmer (Tröegs Independent Brewing Company) | Pale Ale – New England | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

This a new year-round addition to the Tröegs portfolio and it is indeed a very welcome beer. It is light but flavorful with a burst of lovely tropical, fruity hops. Tröegs has long been one of my favorite breweries and this beer captures a hot style very well, low ABV and very flavorful. This is a great anytime, pairs with anything kind of beer that should appeal to everyone.

Lilting Grace (Conclave Brewing Company) | IPA – Imperial / Double | 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

I took a ride down to Conclave to check out their outdoor biergarten in their new space (which they moved into shortly before the pandemic) and the outdoor area is really nice. As always, the beer was really tasty, too. This one has one of my favorite hops, Vic Secret, which seems to be a favorite of Conclave’s too. Good tropical fruity elements in the beer with a slightly bitter hop finish. Good stuff.

Raspberry Radler (Beach Haus Brewery) | Shandy / Radler | 3.75 Bottle Caps on untappd

Radlers/Shandys are the refreshing German style that blends fruit juice and beer (often lemonade and beer). Beach Haus’s take on the style with Raspberry is really nice and a perfect post-yardwork summer beer. This is the exactly the kind of a beer I’d expect from a brewery walking distance from the beach with great outdoor seating…and it is quite good, too!

Eye of the Storm w/Citra (Jersey Cyclone Brewing Company) | IPA – American | 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

Although Jersey Cyclone has been open for more than a year, this is my first time trying their flagship IPA. This is a flavorful almost Hazy/New England IPA. It is a little more bit grassy than most IPAs I’ve had, but very tasty nonetheless. The Citra hops shine in this beer, evoking the citrus profile which lends the hop the name.

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

Draught Diversions: June 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…

June has rolled in and out, the pandemic continues, as does my focus on local/New Jersey beers. One non-NJ beer in this six pack, but some of the usual suspects from NJ made an appearance in June. A pretty decent mix, style-wise, with two IPAs. Despite my recent Lager Leanings, most of the lagers I’ve been enjoying (outside of those I’ve recently reviewed) have been past favorites.

Here in NJ, restaurants and breweries have opened for outdoor consumption, which accounts for the last beer in this six pack. Hopefully I’ll have the opportunity to visit some breweries in July for outdoor communal consumption.

Fuego (Tonewood Brewing Company) | IPA – American | 4.5 Bottle Caps on untappd

In the few beers I’ve had from Tonewood, I’ve yet to have a bad beer. This straight up IPA may be the best I’ve had from them yet. There’s an absolutely perfect hop blend giving the beer both a citrus/juicy component, but also the hallmark bittering and slightly piney components often associated with West Coast IPAs. I brought a six pack to a socially distanced poker game and wound up drinking three of them myself the beer was so damned good. I know Kane is considered the IPA King of NJ (and rightly so), but Tonewood’s Fuego is outstanding and probably one of the best IPAs brewed in The State of New Jersey, at least that I’ve had the pleasure of drinking.

Picture in Reverse (Kane Brewing Company) | Old Ale | 4.75 Bottle Caps on untappd

Speaking of Kane, this is a beer I picked up at the brewery when I visited in September 2019. Old Ales are an interesting style in that they are often a blend of beers with strong malt and molasses character – those two elements are on prominent and delicious display in this beer. I’ve noted many times that Michael Kane and his crew are masters of the art of barrel-aging beer and that refined craftsmanship is the highlight of this beer. The bourbon-barrel notes are in elegant, perfect harmony with the big malt character of this potent ale. I think Picture in Reverse is an annual release for them so I’m hoping to get a bottle of it this year.

4th Anniversary (Czig Meister Brewing Company) | IPA – Imperial / Double New England | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

Unfortunately, the pandemic prevented Czig Meister from having their 4th Anniversary party, but they still brewed a potent and delicious Imperial New England IPA to celebrate. This is a fantastic beer with wonderful tropical fruit notes all over the place and a nice hop bite to balance out the sweetness. What was most surprising is how easily it went down for a beer at 10% ABV.

Köastal Kölsch Style Ale (Tom’s River Brewing Company) | Kölsch | 3.75 Bottle Caps on untappd

Toms River Brewing (f/k/a Rinn Dunn) is a brewery whose beers I’ve been wanting to try more of, and a brewery I’m looking forward to visiting. My neighbor decided to have us over one evening for some beers and conversation. Much to my pleasure, he grabbed a four pack of this crusher. I liked it so much I had two cans that evening. This is a really nice beer for the summer lounging.

Light & Sweet (Carton Brewing Company) | Cream Ale | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

To say that Regular Coffee is one of Carton’s most beloved beers is an understatement. It is a “franchise” or “brand” within the portfolio, or as Augie says of the variants, the “Regular Coffee” Game. This one is about half the ABV at 6% and there seems to be more sweetness than the standard “Regular Coffee.” This version is Nitro which gives the beer some good body and is simply delicious. Almost as good as the original Regular Coffee, except this one won’t sneak up on you and smack you on the back of the head with a baseball bat with a high ABV. In other words, you can have a couple and still be relatively OK.

Tanker Truck Sour Series: Persian Lime Gose (Two Roads Brewing Company) | Sour – Fruited Gose | 4.5 Bottle Caps on untappd

This was the first beer I had at a bar/restaurant since the pandemic. In NJ, outdoor dining was permitted and fortunately, one of our favorite places, The Stirling Hotel, has ample outdoor dining. As for the beer, this Persian Lime Gose might be one of the best Goses I’ve ever had and one of the best I’ve had from the consistently excellent folks at Two Roads Brewing. The lime was perfectly tart and sweet, the touch of salinity brought it all together. I could drink 50 o of these on a hot day as it is eminently refreshing.

Plenty of good beers, the only one that really didn’t work for me was Cowfee Break from Bolero Snort, a coffee porter. The taste was off and it was rather thin for the style. .

Draught Diversions: May 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…

Social Distancing continues through May and so does the focus on NJ / Local Breweries. Two of the beers in this post are from a brewery who had a beer as a featured review over the past month, which is something I’ve tried avoid. I have mostly been able be a little more robust in my selections for two reasons: (1) I didn’t usually limit my purchases to just New Jersey and (2) I’ve also returned to some old favorites over the past month, so there weren’t as many new beers this past month compared to previous months. Enough with the reasons, here are the beers

Porter (Spellbound Brewing Company) | Porter – Other | 3.75 Bottle Caps on untappd

This was the other beer I picked up on my visit to Spellbound during the first weekend of the month. This is a straight-forward, malty, and roasty porter. I liked the chocolate hints and especially the coffee finish; the beer does exactly what a porter should do. This beer serves as the base porter for Spellbound’s outstanding, award winning Porter Aged on Palo Santo Wood.

Malachor (Conclave Brewing Company) | IPA – Black / Cascadian Dark Ale | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

Conclave has been doing curbside crowler releases (and quickly selling out) for much of the pandemic, this one is the first opportunity I’ve had to enjoy one of those releases. I haven’t had a Cascadian Dark Ale in a very long time but this one really took me by surprise. It doesn’t look like an IPA, but the hops evoke a tropical flavor that works really nicely with the roasted malt. This is a standout beer for sure.

White (Cape May Brewing Company) | Wheat Ale – Other | 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

Cape May had a summer witbier in their lineup for a few years which was OK. This year they removed that beer and added White as a year-round beer, but it works so well for the summer. This is basically Cape May’s take on a Witbier, and per CMBC, White has more wheat and less hops and that combination for me works a lot better than Summer Catch did. White compares favorably to Kane’s Cloud Cover (reviewed earlier in the month) and the standard, Allagash White. In other words, it is an excellent Belgian Style Witbier.

Snowtober (Jersey Cyclone Brewing Company) | Porter – Imperial/Double | 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

Yeah, yeah I know I have two beers in this six pack from breweries already in a feature review this month. Snowtober is one of the launch beers from Jersey Cyclone and is a superb milk porter, with additions of coffee and vanilla to embolden the flavor even more. I found the beer to be incredibly smooth with a very nice roasty and sweet finish. For their first anniversary, Jersey Cyclone let some Snowtober sit in barrels. I thought that was good, too, even if it was a little too bourbony.

Monkey Chased the Weasel (Carton Brewing Company) | Sour – Berliner Weisse | 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

Monkey Chased the Weasel has long been a part of Carton’s portfolio, I see untapped checkins going back to 2014, but this is the first time I had it. This is a mildly sour/tart ale, but the flavor is really nice making for a perfect, refreshing beer for the summer. I can’t say I’ve had a mulberry and only know of it from the song to which this beer pays homage, but I assume the pleasant sweetness comes from that berry. Bottom line: this is a great take on the Berliner Weisse.

Hazy Bones (Flying Fish Brewing Company) | IPA – New England | 3.75 Bottle Caps on untappd

This is the third major take on a New England IPA from Flying Fish and it is a spot on interpretation. I’ve only had Jersey Juice but I found this one to be closer to style and more flavorful. The beer has all the juicy/tropical elements typically associated with the style along with a noticeable bite of hops on the finish.

Some good stuff, but not much more variety of breweries for May 2020. I will call out one beer I had that wasn’t so great – Brewberry which is a blueberry coffee stout collaboration between Cape May Brewing and Night Shift Brewing in MA. I got almost no coffee notes and all tart blueberry notes. Brewberry was the only beer from Cape May that I flat out didn’t like.

Draught Diversions: April 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…

Another mostly NJ six pack for April, although a couple of beers lingered from before the Social Distancing began in March. One of the new beers comes Ashton Brewing Company a brand new brewery in New Jersey, whose “grand opening” coincided with the big lockdown. After months of preparation and remodeling the old Demented facility in Middlesex, NJ, Ashton rolled with the punches and did Crowlers and pre-filled growlers to go, as well as local home delivery. More on that, and the six pack for April 2020 below.

Wild Little Thing (Sierra Nevada Brewing Company) | Fruit Beer | 3.75 Bottle Caps on untappd

An offshoot of the “Little Thing” brand I mentioned last month, this beer is sweet and tart. There are a few different fruits in this one, but I get a great deal of strawberry. Almost like if Strawberry Jam were added to a beer, which isn’t a bad thing. This would be a really nice beer to enjoy in the summer.

Firestone 23 (XXIII) Anniversary Ale (Firestone Walker Brewing Company) | Strong Ale – American | 4.5 Bottle Caps on untappd

It seems that whenever I get one of the Firestone Walker Barrel Aged beers, it makes an appearance on the Tap Takeover. This one is no exception and is an extremely boozy, but wonderfully flavored beer. I haven’t had any of the previous Anniversary beers, but I’ve been very happy to see these special, single-bottle releases in my local shops in recent months. A definite slow sipper, which I enjoyed during a work virtual happy hour.

Billy Two Hats (Ashton Brewing Company) | English Mild Ale | 3.75 Bottle Caps on untappd

Ashton Brewing is New Jersey’s newest brewery and they started in an interesting time, but fortunately, they make interesting beer. Steve Ashton has been in the beer/brewing world for years and his craftsmanship shows in this tasty beer. I’ve had very few English Milds, but what impressed me was the complex flavor given the very low ABV (3.5). I’ll be visiting Ashton more in the future and I cannot wait to spend some time in the revamped former Demented Brewing tap room. Based on this beer (and the other I had) Ashton Brewing is off to a great start.

Blue Hotel (Kane Brewing Company) | IPA – American | 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

One of the few positive outcomes of COVID is that some breweries are making more of their beer available to stores and through home delivery. Case in point: Kane Brewing’s Blue Hotel was previously only available at the brewery. This is a delicious, tropical IPA whose potent flavors come from a single hop – Galaxy Hops.

Revolution (Tonewood Brewing) | Porter – Other | 3.75/4 Bottle Caps on untappd

This is the third Tonewood beer for me and third time their beer appears on the Tap Takeover. That’s one way to say they make really good beer. This is a really solid coffee-infused porter with great roast flavor that one expect from a Porter complemented with the roast of coffee flavors. There’s a bit more hoppiness to the beer than I would have expected, but the beer settles nicely. I found myself enjoying the second can of beer more than the first, which I enjoyed a few days apart. Glad I still have a few in the fridge, because this is just simply a well-made porter.

Variabull 010 (Bolero Snort Brewing Company) | Stout – Milk/Sweet | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

I’ve had quite a few beers from Bolero this year and I have to say, this is my favorite so far and maybe the best beer I’ve had since they opened their brewery. I’ve always enjoyed their dark beers more than anything else they brewed and this Tiramisu-inspired stout is outstanding. I like Tiramisu as a desert and the flavors translate so well into a Milk Stout. Layered flavors from Coffee/Espresso, Cocoa, Vanilla, and touch of Lemon at the end make for a beer to enjoy slowly as it is a sumptuous, decadent dessert. At 8% it works really well as a nice night cap to enjoy while (as I did) watching an engrossing movie (The Invitation). Bolero released two other Variabull Stouts at this time, a “dirty banana” version and a mint chocolate version. I only had the banana (not a mint fan) and this one worked far better for me..

Not too much other new beers in April as I was sticking with some older favorites, but some good beers nonetheless.

Draught Diversions: March 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…

Very heavy on the NJ beers this month, I visited Kane Brewing. in Ocean to start the month and wound up enjoying a few different beers from them throughout March. I usually try to drink as much local as I can, compared to other breweries, but even more so once COVID-19 forced social distancing upon us and I wanted to support local even more. I usually get some mixed six packs from my local Wegman’s, but this month, the six pack proved to be one of the best I’d picked up in quite a while, three of the beers form the six pack stood out to a large degree and show up in this month’s Six Pack

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

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 addition to rich coffee flavors from their local coffee roastery Rook Coffee, this beer was conditioned on Ugandan and Haitian caco 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. Next year when this is released, I’m going to make sure to get at least one bottle.

Kalishnikoffe (Icarus Brewing) | Stout – Russian Imperial | 4.5 Bottle Caps on untappd


I called out Kalishnikov last year as a standout beer from Icarus so I was very much looking forward to that beer with coffee added. What a perfectly balanced beer this is, great coffee flavor with some bitterness from the coffee. Like the base beer, there’s a good amount of honey to offset the inherit bitterness of a Russian Imperial Stout, but the aggressive bite at the end is still present, if softened. Another outstanding beer from Jason and crew at Icarus Brewing.

Easy Ringer (Victory Brewing Company) | IPA – Session / India Session Ale | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

This one surprised me. Ever since Founders All Day IPA became such a mega hit basically helping to invent a style, coupled with the drive for low calorie (less than 100 calories) breweries have been looking to brew a beer to fit those two elements. Victory’s Easy Ringer is the latest to hit that sweet spot and it sure is tasty. Much more flavorful than I would have expected, sweet, slightly bitter hops with a complexity that belies the sub 100 calories and low ABV (4.3%). I can see this beer filling coolers this summer and then football season (if those things actually happen).

Craic (River Horse Brewing Company) | Stout – Irish Dry | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

This is a beer I’ve been wanting to try for a few years. River Horse has been part of the Jameson Caskmates program since it started a couple of years back and this has been the primary mainstay. It wasn’t until late 2019 that I saw it stores and I’m damned glad I picked up a bottle. The whiskey elements accentuate the roasted stout elements as well as the coffee and vanilla flavors, each component complimenting the other very harmoniously. I enjoyed this on St. Patrick’s Day, if you’re going with a whiskey element in your beer, you can’t really get more traditional than Jameson.

The Miner (Czig Meister Brewing Company) | Lager – Dark | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

Czig Meister’s lager game continues to prove its strength. Dark Lagers aren’t the most prevalent style in the US, but Schwarzbiers, Munich Dunkels, and Czech Darks are popular in Europe. Czig’s take is extremely full flavored, good roast, slightly creamy, a decent amount of sweetness especially given the lower ABV of 4.8%. I’m not sure if this is closer to a Schwarzbier or a Czech Dark Lager in style, but I do know that it was a beer I thoroughly enjoyed.

Moonjumper (Destihl Brewing Company) | Stout – Milk/Sweet | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

 

Another fortuitous pick from a Wegman’s mixed six pack. I’m always up for a good milk stout and trying a new brewery to me. Well, this beer fit the bill on both counts. Destihl has only been distributing in NJ for less than a year, so this was the first I had from them. I was extremely impressed with this beer, despite being initially worried about the canned-on date of September 2019 when I opened the beer in March. The beer was a wonderfully, full flavored beer that gave off flavors of chocolate and sweetness.