Draught Diversions: Six Pack of Favorite Breweries of 2019

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Top 5 Most Checked in beer styles:

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

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

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

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

482 Badges Earned

Draught Diversions: NJ Shelf of Honor Six Pack #1 (Draught Diversion #100!)

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 we are at the end of my “celebration” of New Jersey Craft Beer Week with the 100th Draught Diversion post. I was planning on doing this specific post – the first of my personal Shelf of Honor for NJ beers as my 100th Draught Diversion so it was very serendipitous that the numbers aligned so I could present this post during New Jersey Craft Beer Week. In some of my reviews of NJ beers, I’ve mentioned a Shelf of Essential NJ Beers or that the beer under review would be in my personal NJ Hall of Fame beer. Now that I’m actually starting a six pack of those beers, I’m officially labeling it the “NJ Shelf of Honor” for beers that are essential or deserve a shelf in everybody’s fridge at some point. I will probably be putting together Shelf of Honor six packs in the future, maybe even a “Shelf of Honor” specific to a style or a brewery so consider this first of a series. Some of the beers in these posts will have been featured in a monthly Six Pack or a full review.

In the event I need to state the obvious – this is all my opinion about the beers I enjoy. I’m sure if you ask a dozen people in NJ what they’d consider a “first ballot for their NJ Shelf of Honor” there would be plenty of different beers in those six packs with only a little bit of overlap and maybe only at the brewery level and not at the specific beer level. As per usual, beers are listed alphabetically by brewery

Devil’s Reach | Belgian Strong Golden Ale | Cape May Brewing Company | Cape May, NJ | 8.6% ABV | Featured in the April 2016 Six Pack on the Tap Takeover

Over the last couple of years of drinking their beers, I’ve come to realize Cape May Brewing Company can do almost no wrong in my book. I’m sure regular readers of my blog are weary of reading my words expounding the virtues of the second largest brewery in NJ. The majority of what they brew is on the hoppier Pale Ale/IPA side of the beer spectrum, but this beer is, in my opinion, a world class ale. Like the best of Belgian inspired beers, the delicious magic of Devil’s Reach comes from the Belgian-style yeast so critical to the beer’s flavor. According to this blog post from CMBC, the beer is virtually unchanged since it was first brewed. I find it extremely impressive that they were able to brew this good of a beer on their first batch. This beer is most similar to the world-renowned Delirium Tremens. I’ll say I like Devil’s Reach more.

Regular Coffee | Imperial Cream Ale | Carton Brewing Company | Atlantic Highlands, NJ | 12% ABV

Two of the “Irregular” Coffee family members in the back

I’ve probably mentioned Carton on this blog as much as any other brewery (and more than most) and when mulling over what beer from the brewery to include I wavered between a few. Of course Boat was one (a nearly style defining beer), their fantastic Helles Lager This Town was another, and this one, Regular Coffee. I settled on Regular Coffee for a few reasons. One, it is the first Carton beer I had. Second, it is a beer that has become nearly synonymous with the brewery. Not as readily available as some of the other beers on this list (or even their own flagship Boat), but is a beer that has become a brand family within the brewery and something of an iconic beer of NJ Craft/Independent Brewing. Around New Year’s Day every year, Carton releases this beer and/or a variant with some flavors added, one year was Irish Coffee, meant to emulate the whiskey and/or mint infused coffee with maybe the best being Café Y. Churro which emulates Mexican Coffee. But Regular Coffee is the beer that started it all for the brand within a brand and my experience and dedication to the beers made by Augie Carton and crew.

Mexican Morning | Stout – Milk / Sweet | Conclave Brewing Company | Raritan/Flemington Township, NJ | 5.5% ABV

Conclave having a beer on this list is probably not a surprise to readers of the Tap Takeover and this beer is one that has attained some national recognition for its uniqueness. Conclave is the smallest brewery on this six pack and this beer is associated with the brewery the same way Regular Coffee is with Carton. Mexican Morning starts as Milk Stout but during the brewing process cinnamon, vanilla, cacao, coffee, and chili peppers are added. This beer deliciously evokes spicy Mexican coffee and is a beer I will have every single time it is available at Conclave when I visit. It isn’t brewed often enough to be on draft year round, largely because of the price of the ingredients and complexity of the brewing process, but it is absolutely delicious. When it is brewed, it is usually only available for pours at the brewery and not for growler fills. Once or twice Conclave has barrel aged the beer and that version is even more rare, but just maybe the best barrel-aged beer I can recall enjoying.

Overhead | India Pale Ale – Imperial / Double | Kane Brewing Company | Ocean, NJ | ABV 8.2% | Featured in the June 2019 Six Pack on the Tap Takeover

Kane has consistently been ranked as the best brewery in New Jersey for the past half-decade or so. This is a brewery that does EVERY style it attempts with a level of quality unparalleled by few other breweries. I knew I’d have to include one of their beers on this list, but I wasn’t sure which one, initially. Despite their amazing Quadrupels, I wanted to include a beer that is a little more accessible and this beer is probably the most accessible and easiest to find of all their beers – Kane started self-distributing 4-pack cans of this beer over the last year or so. The quality of the beer, oh boy oh boy.

As has been documented, only in the last year and half have I come to appreciate, enjoy, and seek out IPAs so I sort of avoided this beer for a long time. Now that I enjoy the hop heavy beers, I truly appreciate the outstanding nature of this beer. I’d say this is not just the best Imperial IPA out of NJ, but you maybe a top Imperial IPA in the country (Disclaimer, I haven’t had Pliny the Elder, for example). But this beer reminds me very much of Dogfish Head’s 90-Minute IPA, the nationally available standard bearer for Imperial/Double IPAs. Kane’s take is at least as good and an outstanding beer.

Blonde Hefe-Weizen | Hefeweizen | Ramstein/High Point Brewing Company | Butler, NJ | 5.5% ABV | Review on the Tap Takeover (May 2019)

I’d be hard pressed not to include a beer from Ramstein on a list like this one – I love German style beers and Ramstein is one of the originals of NJ Beer and Brewing. Good thing they make an absolute World-Class Hefeweizen – one of my favorite styles – in their line up. This beer is arguably one of the best American Hefeweizens and undoubtedly the best Hefeweizen brewed in New Jersey. Although I reviewed it very recently, this was a beer I’ve had quite a few times even before I joined untappd.

I would recommend this beer without hesitation as a great, flavorful example of a beer brewed with German ingredients (most of the hops, malt, and yeast used by High Point Brewing( are imported from Germany), in German tradition and process (Greg honed his brewing technique in Germany), with some American flare.

Chocolate Porter | Porter – Other | River Horse Brewing Company | Ewing, NJ | 6.5% ABV | Review on the Tap Takeover (February 2018)

River Horse is another one of the Originals of NJ Craft Brewing, having brewed beer for over 20 years. Some changes about a decade ago and a greater push in recent years to brew more beers and more eye-catching labels have kept the brewery a constant. Their Chocolate Porter isn’t the oldest beer in their lineup, nor is it one of the new ones, and it isn’t their flagship, (that would be their award winning Tripel Horse) but it is one of the more well-received beers and has been around for about five years. It is my favorite beer they brew and one I will always grab when I see on shelves. Stylistically, the beer sits right on the edge of the “Pastry Stout” craze: it is sweet, but it is still most definitely a beer. I reviewed it back in February 2018.

From my review: some porters are a little on the smoky side, this one is not. The “one pound of chocolate per barrel” sweetens the beer and eliminates some of that bitter smoke/roast flavor. If anything, the roast/smoke is akin to the edges of a freshly baked brownie, but the overall flavor, if we’re continuing with the brownie analogy, is like the gooey, slightly underbaked deliciousness of the center of the brownie but still retaining all the elements of a beer.

So, there you have it, six beers I feel Honorably represent the State of New Jersey and what the Garden State has to offer in beer. There are over 100 breweries in the state now so six beers is just the start of what could be a long and filled shelf of delicious beer.