Draught Diversions: NJ Shelf of Honor Six Pack #2

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…

With the state of the Country being what it is and the social distancing requirements we are living under, I figured now would be as good a time as any to keep the focus on local breweries and beer. As you all know, that means New Jersey for me. So, with that in mind, I wanted to put some more NJ beers in my personal NJ Hall of Fame beers/Shelf of Honor for NJ. Some of the beers in these posts will have been featured in a monthly Six Pack or a full review. I’ve tried to focus on NJ beers that are fairly readily available, although one of these beers happens to be a one-time only beer (which I hope changes!).

In the event I need to state the obvious – this is all my opinion and the beers I enjoy. As per usual, beers are listed alphabetically by brewery

Hackensack Lager | Lager – Helles | The Alementary | Hackensack, NJ | 5.5% ABV | Reviewed in December 2018 on the Tap Takeover | Personal Untappd Rating: 4 Bottle Caps

The Alementary has been brewing beer out of Hackensack, NJ for a few years (since 2016, I think). They were the second Brewery in Bergen County, which over the past couple of years has become a beer destination of sorts in NJ with Bolero Snort and Hackensack Brewing opening nearby (and Ghost Hawk Brewing in neighboring Passaic County). Alementary’s outstanding Helles Lager, named after their home, is their flagship and a beer to be proud of. When I visited the Alementary about a year ago, they had recently completed the build-out of a facility because of how big a seller Hackensack Lager is for them.

Also about a year ago, The Alementary redesigned the label (the picture on the right) to give a very nice 3-D map/overview of the city of Hackensack. During the COVID-19 Pandemic, The Alementary is also promoting “Buy a beer for a healthcare worker” with this beer specifically, which is a prime example of local giving back to the community.

As I said in my review of the beer, “The relatively low ABV (though a bit higher than many Helles Lagers) makes for a very crushable beer indeed. Hackensack Lager is the epitome of an ever day beer; the utility player in your beer fridge that can sit in a glass with any meal. I’ve said this before about similar beers, but it is also true of Hackensack Lager – flavorful enough for folks who are well-versed in the craft beer world and inviting enough for folks who don’t stray away from the macro-produced lagers. The perfect beer to bring to a party if you aren’t sure what other guests will like in their beer.

What the Alementary says about the beer:

Rooted in pride and thirst, a local lager is never far. Whether you’re in Germany, Belize, or Jersey, there’s sure to be a favorite brew for wherever you’ve found yourself. Our Hackensack Lager, with its crisp golden malty goodness, reflects the diversity of our community and our love for the people who have made this place our home. Thank you, Hackensack!

Bergen County Bull Stout | Bolero Snort Brewery (Carlstadt, NJ) | – Stout – Pastry | 4.5 Bottle Caps | Reviewed at the Tap Takeover December 2019

I knew I had to include a beer from Bolero Snort in a Shelf of Honor, but I’ve enjoyed many of their beers over the recent past. OVB may be their best known beer, and I like it, but there are other beers from Bob Olson and Scott Wells (and company) I enjoy more. So…that led me to Bergen County Bull Stout the big annual barrel-aged stout they release, usually with a few variants. Over the years, they’ve been releasing a big stout around Thanksgiving with the initials of BCBS (sound familiar beer geeks?). I can only speak to one of the variants, but that alone makes it a worthy entrant for me and is one of those “event beers” that seems to satisfy quite a lot of people, with most of the variants over the years maintaining an untappd rating over 4 bottle caps.

This was a very limited release as was the full complement of Bergen County Bull Stout variants, so I was happy to get a bottle. Most stores were permitting only one bottle per customer. Nice label, cool font for the beer name, with the newly fashioned and stylized “BS” logo front and center. One last note on the packaging, I really appreciate that this is a 500ml bottle as opposed to what was once a standard, the 750ml bottle. 500ml is just over a pint and just enough for one person to consume on their own.

The full “herd” of 2019 Bergen County Bull Stout variants

 From my review: “This is a complex beer…I need to put that up front. The eggy-bread aroma of French Toast is present in the taste with the bourbon hints from the barrel making their way through everything. … A beer that has the flavor components of that rich, dessert-like breakfast while still retaining the stout qualities that give the beer it’s primary character.

This beer is full-flavored, full bodied and boozy. Some of the character of the bourbon barrel seeps through the whole of the beer, it isn’t intrusive but rather complements all the other additives Bob Olson and crew have thrown in the mix for this beer.

What Bolero Snort’s Says about the beer:

🍁 🥞 French Toast Bergen County Bull Stout 🥞🍁 a brand new variant for 2019 Barrel Aged Imperial Stout with Maple, Cinnamon, Cocoa and Madagascar Vanilla 🤤.

Double Nickel Pilsner | Pilsner – German | Double Nickel Brewing Company | Pennsauken, NJ | ABV 5.6% | Personal Untappd Rating: 4 Bottle Caps | Reviewed at the Tap Takeover December 2017

Proper glassware with the older label showing the “Double Nickel Bridge” a.k.a. the Tacony–Palmyra Bridge

Pilsners…one of the classic styles of beer the world around. Many brewers and “beer connoisseurs” will say a well made Pilsner is a beer that shows the mark of a good brewer. A well crafted, fresh Pilsner is one of my favorite styles of beer and this one in particular is the first Pilsner to make it to my “Shelf of Honor.”

Double Nickel’s Pilsner is an extremely approachable beer and tastes, note for note, exactly like you’d expect a Pilsner to taste minus the mass-produced elements from the Big Beer makers with a little bit of citrus overtone throughout. The hops aren’t overpowering at all, but are present as an integral element of the beer. Balanced, crisp, refreshing. What makes the beer so good is that it is just simply a delicious beer that hits all the notes a classic Pilsner should hit and will also please seasoned craft beer drinkers who’ve been enjoying Victory’s Prima Pils or Tröegs’ Sunshine Pils. Double Nickel have made a beer that easily sits in the fridge with those classic American Craft interpretations of the classic German style.

The only slight downside for me is that I’m just outside of Double Nickel’s distribution radius so I can’t grab this beer as frequently as I would like.

What Double Nickel says about the beer:

A classically styled clean and crisp option for the lite beer drinker and beer geek alike. Our modern take on a traditional German pilsner is golden in color and perfectly balanced.

Exit 17 – Russian Imperial Stout | Stout – Russian Imperial | Flying Fish Brewing Company | Somerdale, NJ | 10% ABV | Personal Untappd Rating: 4.75 Bottle Caps

Flying Fish is one of the original craft/independent breweries in the State of New Jersey and one of, if not still, the largest brewery in the State of New Jersey. Over the years they’ve gone through some re-brandings, but perhaps their most acclaimed contribution to beer in New Jersey was the Exit Series of beers. These were beers that honored the exits of the NJ Turnpike, with each beer emblematic to that exit. For Example, Exit 9 was honoring Rutgers University, home of the Scarlet Knights so the beer was a delicious Scarlet Ale.

The beer I’m talking about here; however, was Exit 17 Russian Imperial Stout. In my humble opinion, this is the best beer in the Exit series, and maybe even the best beer Flying Fish ever brewed, and one of the best stouts ever to come out of the state of New Jersey, which is why it gets a spot on my Personal Shelf of Honor.

Here’s what I said about the beer when I first mentioned it here on the Tap Takeover back at the end of 2017:
Not content with brewing a Russian Imperial Stout, Flying Fish aged this one in Dad’s Hat Rye Whiskey bottles. Although I’ve come to love beers aged in bourbon barrels, allowing this beer to sit in Rye Whiskey bottles helps to set it apart from its barrel-aged brethren. Flying Fish’s description says this is a “one of a kind” beer and I’d be hard-pressed to dispute the claim. Not content with brewing a Russian Imperial Stout, Flying Fish aged this one in Dad’s Hat Rye Whiskey bottles. Although I’ve come to love beers aged in bourbon barrels, allowing this beer to sit in Rye Whiskey bottles helps to set it apart from its barrel-aged brethren. Flying Fish’s description says this is a “one of a kind” beer and I’d be hard-pressed to dispute the claim.

I would love to see Flying Fish bring back this, or any of the Exit beers in some capacity.

What Flying Fish says about the beer:

Richly complex stout features roasted malts, toffee, dark chocolate, caramel, espresso and cocoa. We then aged the beer for two months in Dad’s Hat Rye Whiskey barrels, which infuses rye, oak and vanilla into this one-of-a-kind beer.

Yacht Juice | IPA – New England | Icarus Brewing Company | Lakewood, NJ | 8% ABV | Personal Untappd Rating: 4.25 Bottle Caps | Reviewed at the Tap Takeover July 2018

Icarus has been getting a lot of love here at the Tap Takeover because they make outstanding beers across all styles. (Full disclosure: a friend works at the brewery.) While many breweries in NJ make IPAs, one of the State’s standouts of the New England variety is Icarus’s Yacht Juice, which, continues the trend of Jersey Shore breweries (started by Carton) of giving at least one beer a nautically-themed name. Aside from bearing nautical names and being somewhat hop-forward, the two beers are quite different and excellent. Enough about the name, more about the liquid in the glass.

When this beer started making waves (no pun intended) in the NJ Beer community in 2017, I didn’t give it much consideration since I thought it was “just another hazy IPA.” I was certainly wrong about that, this is a beer that really lives up to the hype. Like Hackensack Lager, Yacht Juice is Icarus’s flagship IPA.

Some of the hops that emulate fruit flavors give you a really distinct fruit profile, some orangey, but this one is almost like a tropical punch with a heavy dose of orange juice. That said, I would not call Yacht Juice a carbonated glass of orange juice. Oh no no no. This is a beer through and through and the hop finish on this one latches on to your taste buds and makes it really tough to drink this slowly.

What Icarus says about the beer:

North East style IPA filled with Citra, Mosaic, and Columbus leaving it with a combination of citrus and dank aroma and flavor. We may not own a Yacht, but at least we can enjoy the Juice.

Porter Aged on Palo Santo Wood | Porter – American | Spellbound Brewing | Mount Holly, NJ | 6.9% ABV | Reviewed in December 2017 on the Tap Takeover | Personal Untappd Rating: 4.75 Bottle Caps

This beer is the second porter to make it to the Shelf of Honor, but that shows (1) How much I enjoy the style and (2) how good this beer is. Additionally, this beer received two medals at the Great American Beer festival (including Gold!) so I’m not the only one who thinks highly of this beer and a beer with multiple GABF medals at least deserves consideration for any kind of honor status. The taste of the beer cements its place on a Shelf of Honor.

As with many dark beers, allowing the beer to warm from fridge temperature to room temperature is advisable as the beer can breathe and the flavors can unleash. The label even suggests you do this with the beer and I can only agree. As wonderful as the beer was on the first pour into the glass, the complexities, sweetness and sheer deliciousness of the beer only increased. The only slight I can give to the beer, and the minimal element that keeps it from getting a perfect score, is a very slight lingering bitterness after the finish. Again, it was only very minor so the fact that it gets a 4.75 out of 5 and that it won a Gold Medal at the Great American Beer Festival should let you know this is a World Class Beer.

This is easily one of the best porters I’ve ever had (I know, I said that about River Horse’s Chocolate Porter in my first NJ Shelf of Honor post), but two beers can qualify as “one of the best ever!” Since I initially reviewed this book back in 2017, Spellbound’s distribution footprint has expanded and I’ve seen this and some of those other beers in select stores around me. This beer is undoubtedly worth seeking out – it is wood aged in a unique way, provides some different flavors when compared to the barrel/wood aging, and is a beer that truly stand out among the crowd of porters.

What Spellbound says about the beer:

PALO SANTO WOOD AGED PORTER – GABF SILVER MEDAL 2015, GABF GOLD 2017 IN THE WOOD AGED CATEGORY

Our year round porter aged on palo santo wood. The palo santo brings out more of the chocolate flavor. The beer changes flavors and aromas as it warms. Most notable are chocolate, vanilla, anise, and even hints of mint.

So there you have it, another six beers made in New Jersey that stand on my personal “Top Shelf” of beer.

Draught Diversions: Sierra Nevada Shelf of Honor Six Pack

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

Sierra Nevada is celebrating their 40th year this year, so I figured I’d put together a shelf of honor six pack as a tribute, in addition to reviewing Barrel-Aged Narwhal earlier this week, which happened to be my 50th unique Sierra Nevada beer checked into untappd. In some respects, it is easy to take Sierra Nevada for granted in the beer landscape and to an extent, it could be easy to underestimate just how critical Ken Grossman’s brainchild is to beer in America and everything that means. Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale is iconic and ubiquitous, but it shouldn’t be overlooked either. If Jim Koch and Samuel Adams/Boston Beer are responsible for giving beer drinkers in the 1980s beer they were accustomed to drinking but much more flavorful (lagers), Ken Grossman and Sierra Nevada went in an opposite direction with their hop forward approach. Granted, their Stout was their first beer, but it is Pale Ale that woke up the American Beer palate in the 1980s.

Sierra Nevada has long been the flag-bearer for what it means to be a Craft Brewery and over the years, they’ve been leaders in nearly every way possible: styles, technology, innovation, and community. I’d argue that Sierra Nevada doesn’t just exemplify what a Craft Brewery should be, but what an American company should be. I could go on more about the history of the brewery (hell, Ken Grossman wrote a whole book about it and their website has a good primer on the About Us section), so I’ll utilize my Six Pack format to highlight a combination of my favorite beers and their most important beers. A couple of these will be no brainers, obviously.

In the event I need to state the obvious – this is all my opinion…

Pale Ale | Pale Ale – American | ABV: 5.6% | IBU: 38

I’ll get this one out of the way first since it is the most obvious, considering many beer people consider this to be the most important beer in American Beer, period. The hop-forward nature of the beer, when it first came into prominence, was unlike anything many beer drinkers knew at the time. By comparison to today’s hop bombs with IBUs in the 70 to 100 IBU range, SNPA is relatively tame. My dad has been stocking his fridge with this beer for at least 20 years, so it was always in my beer orbit. I didn’t like the beer initially because it took me a while to like, enjoy, and appreciate hop-forward beers. But now? Now I enjoy the beer, seek it out and it is a great go to because it is so widespread in bars, and always a reliable beer to order.

What Sierra Nevada says about the beer:

Heavy on hops, that was always the brewery plan. So in 1980, we loaded Pale Ale up with Cascade—a new hop at the time named after the mountain range—and the intense aromas of pine and citrus sparked the American craft beer revolution.

Craft Beer’s Turnaround

Some Restless Rebels

After prohibition, American beer declined for decades. The brewery count shrank from thousands to less than 100 by the late 1970s. The beers you could find were dull, so a few thirsty rebels out West took up their own experiments in fermentation. Among them, our founder Ken Grossman used a new US-grown hop, Cascade, to help transform stateside flavor. Today, there are more than 6,000 American breweries making the most adventurous beers in the world.

Kellerweis | Hefeweizen | ABV: 4.8% | IBU: 15

From the last time I could get this beer in NJ – 2015! Please send more to NJ Sierra Nevada!

I love a good hefeweizen, especially in the summer, but the classic style really works year round. As much as I extolled the virtues of Ramstein’s Blonde Hefe-Weizen here on the Tap Takeover, in my humble opinion, Sierra Nevada’s take is the best American interpretation of the style. The style is characterized primarily by what flavors are evoked from the yeast – some Hefeweizens will evoke a more clove-prominent flavor, while others will evoke a more banana-like flavor. Kellerweis strikes a great balance. In recent years; sadly, I haven’t seen this beer on the shelves in NJ quite as much as I did maybe four or five years ago. Regardless, it is one of Sierra Nevada’s core beers and a world-class beer.

What Sierra Nevada says about the beer:

Inspired by traditional Bavarian techniques, Kellerweis is a true artisan experience. With Kellerweis, we brew in open fermentation tanks—a process rarely seen today—to let the ingredients truly shine. The result is a hazy wheat ale—untamed, raw and alive. With a full, fruity aroma and notes of spicy clove and banana bread, Kellerweis is a truly unique brew.

Hazy Little Thing | IPA – New England | ABV: 6.7% | IBU: 35

Hazy Little Thing may be the biggest indicator of Sierra Nevada’s ability to smartly navigate the ever-changing beer landscape while delivering a great product. The Hazy IPA is most closely associated with New England, not a surprise given that many, many people call the style New England IPA, but Sierra Nevada is obviously a West Coast brewery. This is a great West Coast interpretation of an East Coast style. The beer literally changed Sierra Nevada’s fortunes, not that they were in dire straits, but Hazy Little Thing is the equivalent of a Summer Blockbuster, or even franchise. When the beer first launched in 2018, you could say it was successful.

I likened Hazy Little Thing to a Summer Blockbuster, but that’s even an understatement, to be fair. The beer is year-round and is more like a tentpole to a franchise. Consider that two other “Hazy” beers in the family have been released by Sierra Nevada over the last six months or so Fantastic Haze Imperial IPA (basically an Imperial version of Hazy Little Thing) and Wild Little Thing, which takes the Little Thing brand to a sour/tart/fruity notion appealing to the folks who enjoy or are curious about Sour/Wild beers. You might say Sierra Nevada’s “Little Thing” brand is quite the opposite of that moniker.

What Sierra Nevada says about the beer:

Some beers need a little polishing before entering the world, while others—the hop-heavy, rowdy crowd-pleasers—should just be left alone. We package Hazy Little Thing in all its raw glory: unfiltered, unprocessed, straight from the tanks and into the can. It’s a swirling cloud that likes to shake things up, a fruit-forward hop adventure for the daring. Go bold and make tonight a hazy one.

Narwhal Imperial Stout | Stout – American Imperial/Double | ABV 10.2% I IBU: 60

Vintages from top left going clockwise: 2014, 2017, 2018, 2019

Narwhal Imperial Stout is one of my favorite beers, period. Sierra Nevada first brewed / bottled / distributed this beer in 2012 and I’ve had at least one bottle of it almost every year since (except I think 2015 and 2016). What makes this beer so great is that it is basically a core four beer – water, malt, yeast, and hops. All the flavor in this beer comes from those ingredients and it is extremely potent with an ABV of 10.2%. When I enjoy the beer, I usually get bittersweet chocolate from the malt and some aggressive hops on the finish.

In 2017, in large re-branding of several beers, Narwhal’s label changed. The iconic sea creature is still on the label/branding, but the fancy and classy font was replaced by bland block lettering. Thankfully the beer hasn’t changed.

Left: Original label/packaging used through 2016
Right: Updated label/packaging as of 2017

Also in 2017, Narwhal (and their Bigfoot Barleywine) moved from 4-packs to 6-packs. That makes it much easier to allow one of those bottles to age and not consume them all in a relatively short period. Aging the beer really does improve an already great beer, the aggressiveness from the hops are mellowed (but still present). I think the oldest one I had was a bottle my dad aged for 3 years.

Bottom Line: Narwhal is one of my favorite stouts, my top Sierra Nevada beer, and one of my favorite beers, period.

What Sierra Nevada says about the beer:

Narwhal Imperial Stout is inspired by the mysterious creature that thrives in the deepest fathoms of the frigid Arctic Ocean. Rich with notes of espresso, baker’s cocoa, roasted grain and a light hint of smoke, Narwhal brims with malt complexity. Aggressive but refined with a velvety smooth body and decadent finish, Narwhal will age in the bottle for years to come.

Oktoberfest | Märzen/Festbier | 6% / 6.1% ABV (Depending on year)

All the Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest collaborations!

 

This entry is a little unique since this single entry represents five unique beers. Almost every brewery makes some kind of traditional German-style beer to celebrate the fall/Oktoberfest season. Sierra Nevada did for years, but in 2015, they started something really special, fun, and interesting. They began collaborating with German breweries (a different one every year) on the traditional malty lager. I’ve had at least a six pack every year and they’ve all been very good. From 2015 through 2019, the following breweries collaborated with Sierra Nevada: Brauhaus Riegle, Mahrs Bräu, Brauhaus Miltenberger, Weihenstephan , and Bitburger Braugruppe. I’ve enjoyed them all a great deal, reviewed the Weihenstephan collaboration in 2018 and think the 2019 version with Bitburger to be the best. As a result of the last two collaborations, Sierra Nevada did secondary collabortions with both breweries, a delicious Hefeweizen with Weihenstephan (Braupakt) and a Triple Hop’d Lager with Bitburger.

Every Oktoberfest season I try to mix up what I get, but since 2015, whatever collaboration Sierra Nevada brews is a definite stand-by in my refrigerator from mid-September to mid-October.

What Sierra Nevada says about the beer:

It’s the ultimate season of revelry, so we teamed up with Germany’s Bitburger Brewery for an Oktoberfest that turns backyards into beer gardens. Rally your friends and celebrate with a festbier whose rich amber color and smooth malty flavor bring the Munich tents to you. We brewed Oktoberfest with Bitburger’s custom yeast and secret hop blend called Siegelhopfen, meaning “Sealed Hops”—two house ingredients never shared outside their walls until now.

Resilience Butte County Proud IPA | IPA – American | 6.8% ABV | IBU: 65

This beer exemplifies the spirit of community and giving back that has long-been a cornerstone of Sierra Nevada’s ethos and why they are such a beloved brewery. In a show of solidarity across the country, many other breweries brewed a Resilience IPA based on the recipe Sierra Nevada shared, and all the proceeds went to the Camp Fire Relief Fund. In 2020, as a result of the Australian Bushfires, breweries once again took up the charge to do their part and brew a beer whose proceeds would go to Bushfire relief, the Australian version is a Pale Ale.

When I had the Butte County version in early 2019, I had this to say: Sierra Nevada is really the standard bearer for the full definition of what it means to be an American Craft Brewery. They make superb beers and are a fixture in their community. Those two ideals come together perfectly in this beer, 100% proceeds of which go to the Camp Fire Relief Fund for the disastrous Camp Fires in California late last year. It doesn’t hurt that this is a delicious IPA, an IPA the embodies everything a modern West Coast IPA should be. I can see myself grabbing multiple six packs of this beer.

What Sierra Nevada says about the beer:

Butte County roots run deep. Forested hills, winding rivers, towering pines, mighty oaks, and even mightier people—it’s our home. And in the aftermath of the Camp Fire, the most destructive wildfire in California history, we will rebuild. More than 1,400 craft breweries joined us in brewing Resilience IPA, a fundraiser beer with 100% of sales going to Camp Fire relief. The overwhelming support helped inspire the Butte Strong Fund, a partnership devoted to the long recovery ahead.

There are, of course, many other Sierra Nevada beers that could qualify in something like an Ultimate Six Pack. I didn’t even touch on the Beer Camp event and lines of beer in this post though I did review the last version of the mixed twelve pack in 2017.  Psst, Sierra Nevada…any chance of something like that variety pack returning?

Anyway, Happy 40th Anniversary Sierra Nevada! Thanks for the delicious beers and for inspiring so many other breweries to make delicious beers of their own!

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.