Draught Diversions: Interview with Mike Kivowitz of NJ Craft Beer

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…

Welcome to Jersey Beer Week at the Tap Takeover! A week long celebration of all things Beer in New Jersey. This is the second (or third?) year New Jersey Craft Beer is spear-heading the initiative, a week of events at NJ Breweries, bars featuring NJ Beer nights, and a week to #DrinkLocal and enjoy New Jersey beer rather beer from out of state.

To help kick off the week here at the Tap Takeover I figured I’d interview Mike Kivowitz, the main man in the New Jersey beer community who created New Jersey Craft Beer almost 10 years ago. I’ve met and chatted with Mike at a few events and breweries over the years and you won’t meet a nicer guy who has great taste in beer. Talking to him,  you get a sense of just how much he enjoys the community…and how much he enjoys seeing others take part in the New Jersey Beer Community.

Mike is one of the major reasons why the New Jersey beer community is the great place it has become over the last decade. New Jersey Craft Beer is a great resource for all things NJ Beer, whether it is information about Breweries in the state, stores that feature NJ beer, or a calendar of beer events in NJ.

The best part, for me and many members, is the Loyalty Program in the form of the NJCB Discount Card. For just $25 per year, you get an New Jersey Craft Beer card (all of mine are pictured below) which gets you discounts at liquor stores (the majority of the stores in my area offer 10% off all craft beer purchases), a range of discounts at breweries (money off flights or merchandise, for example), discounts at restaurants (anywhere between $1 off each beer you purchase to 10% off the entire bill!), and discounts at various beer events (Beer Festivals, Beer/Brewery Sponsored 5K races, etc). In short, it is the absolute best $25 I spend every year and often pays for itself by March. If you are visiting a brewery in New Jersey, there’s a decent chance you’ll run into Mike or one of his many co-conspirators.

Without further adieu, here’s a 12 pack worth of questions for our interview.

1. I’m sure most of the visitors to this blog have a passing knowledge of NJCB, but what is your TV Guide description of NJCB?

The source for beer in NJ with a loyalty program designed to explore beer all over the state.

2. What is this whole New Jersey Craft Beer Week all about, then?

Drinking in Jersey. Drinking Jersey beer.

3. New Jersey Craft Beer was founded in 2010, almost a decade later and the beer landscape has evolved. What is the biggest change to Craft Beer in NJ since you started NJCB?

The growth of local offerings. I launched NJCB with like 14 breweries on the list, now it’s 115+. Local breweries lead to bars and stores carrying more local.

Editor’s Note: The About page on New Jersey Craft Beer shows the large growth of the organization since its inception in 2010.

4. What is the most challenging and frustrating element of running NJCB?

Getting people to go to events. Everyone has events all the time. Getting support for some of them is hard. Especially when I spend like 70 hours of work on a 3 hour event and 10 people come. It’s souring but I learn and try harder next time.

5. What is the most rewarding element of being the go to guy for all things beer in New Jersey?

Meeting people and seeing how NJCB has changed their lives.

6. It might show some bias if I asked you your favorite NJ beer and brewery so I’ll ask you what your favorite style is and favorite non-NJ brewery.

West Coast IPAs will always be my favorite style. Firestone Walker is a good example of a non-NJ brewery I love.

7. What would you say is the one thing you would like people in NJ to get out of New Jersey Craft Beer?

Have fun. It’s beer. Just get moving and see what’s going on outside the keyboard you are reading this on. Ohhh, be nice too.

8. What 2 or 3 breweries in NJ deserve more attention? Everybody knows Kane, Carton, Magnify, etc. But with over 100 breweries, some are likely to fall through the cracks or not be as widely known.

Kelly Green Brewing, Vinyl Brewing, Bonesaw Brewing, Czig Meister Brewing, Hackensack Brewing and I can go on.

Editor’s Note: I wholeheartedly agree with Mike’s suggestions of Czig Meister Brewing and Hackensack Brewing Company.

9. What beer do you want to have again for the first time?

Spellbound’s Vices Porter on nitro I want everyday.

10. Do you have any correspondences or work in conjunction with similar organizations in neighboring states? Like Breweries in PA or NY Craft Beer?

I mean, yes and no. Most of the people I know that run other sites, I knew back in in and before I launched NJCB. Like Brew York New York for example. Some of the new guys like Breweries in PA started because of NJCB and reached out for input. I’ll talk to anyone, just don’t try to rip me off and steal my baby like that Instagram guy that’s now out of business. I don’t want to mention their name though.

11. Despite some of the obstacles, the number of breweries in New Jersey has grown consistently since 2012. Aside from the quality of the beer itself, what do you think are the key factors that will help a brewery succeed in New Jersey?

Quality is #1. Everything else is sort of hard to explain. See, some breweries just want to remain downtown/main street and not promote their beer on shelves but then they don’t want to do events, then when they do events, it’s like ohhh, I can only get this at one or two places around the brewery and not anywhere else. Then there’s the opposite where places only package the standard stuff and no one can get it anywhere else but the brewery but they sell kegs at every bar. Those people don’t want to leave their house. Sooo distro, labels/artwork, sales people, educated retailers. I can probably lump more into #2.

12. This question will likely generate a lengthy response, but here goes. With the evolving laws around beer in NJ, specifically the limits being placed on small, independent breweries, what can individuals do to prevent the rules from halting the great progressive growth of breweries and goodwill in the NJ Beer Community?

Editor’s Note: Visit SaveNJBeer.com for more information on the laws that could significantly impact many of the independent breweries in NJ.

Speak up. Write to your local officials and explain how you spend money and where and why. Also, get informed on the actual laws and wording. There’s 1 thing we need to do and that’s work together.

Beer Review: Great Lakes Brewing Company’s Oktoberfest

Name: Oktoberfest
Brewing Company: Great Lakes Brewing Company
Location: Cleveland, OH
Style: Märzen
ABV: 6.5%

An annual favorite from Great Lakes Brewing is a beer many consider the best American made Oktoberfest/Märzen. I would be hard pressed to argue with that notion.

The mug is the proper glassware for an Oktoberfest. Just look at the label.

From Great Lakes Brewing Company’s page for Oktoberfest:

One of our most celebrated and critically lauded brews has returned! Oktoberfest, our 3-time Gold Medal winner at the World Beer Championships, is back for another season of tailgates, cookouts, and bonfires.

Regarded as a world-class example of a timeless German style, the easy-drinking flavor of Oktoberfest is as hearty as it is approachable. With earthy hops keeping a gentle beat, rich notes of caramel and baked bread waltz together joyously, making Oktoberfest a celebration of all things malt! O’zapft is! Oktoberfest is here!

Oktoberfest will ship to all GLBC distribution markets in 6-pack, 12-pack, and draft beginning Monday, July 29. Oktoberfest is available now in the GLBC gift shop and will be on tap at the brewpub soon. Learn more about Oktoberfest below…

Über smooth with vibrant malt flavors and a festive flourish of noble hops (lederhosen not included).

I’ve mentioned Great Lakes Brewing a few times here on the Tap Takeover, but I figured what better beer from them than their World Class Oktoberfest to feature in a review. Brief disclaimer: I mentioned this beer back in my Oktoberfest 2017 post (before I had the six pack format down), but feel it deserves a full focus since it is often my favorite Oktoberfest/ Märzen every year.

On to the review…

As the beer pours from the bottle to the mug, I see perfection: a golden amber just as I’d want an Oktobefest to look like. The head is a little thinner than I’d expected or remembered, but that’s fine. I get malty sweetness from the aroma. In short, between the aroma and look, this beer is 100% on the right track.

A remembrance of quality, that’s what I feel when the first sip passes through my palate. This is one of the few beers I’ve reviewed here at the Tap Takeover that aren’t new to me for this blog. I’ve been enjoying this beer every year for the past four or five years and the 2019 version lives up to those memories. As good as previous years, but maybe the changes in my palate catch on to the sweetness from the malt more than I can remember. There’s a pleasant evocation of sweet caramel from the malts in the beer. As I have more of the beer and it progresses through my palate, I get some hints of toffee, and maybe, just maybe a little bit of breadiness.

I found this beer to be extremely consistent in its flavor from that first sip to the last at the bottom of the glass. Wonderful malt that makes up the strongest element of the beer and I was surprised at how well it tasted even at the end of the beer. I usually don’t think of lagers as styles whose flavors hold up once the beer isn’t cold out of the tap or refrigerator, but Great Lakes’s Oktoberfest bucked that trend for me – a slight bitterness I caught when I first sipped the beer was gone and the malty sweetness was more deliciously pronounced.

Given the history of German people in the Cleveland area, it should come as no surprise that Great Lakes Brewing produces one of the best Oktoberfest beers in the United States. Great Lakes also has annual Oktobefest Celebration at their brewpub. Further proof of beer’s quality is the fact that it is the #3 ranked German Märzen / Oktoberfest in the world on Beer Advocate.

If you want to try one of the best American interpretation of a classic German style, Great Lakes Brewing Company’s Oktoberfest is a must have. I think one thing above all else should speak to my feelings about the quality of this beer: I make sure to get some of it every Oktoberfest season.

Although this is a standard review here at the Tap Takeover, I would consider this American Craft Beer Classic.

Highly Recommended, link to Untappd 4.25-bottle cap rating.

Image courtesy of Great Lakes Brewing Company’s Web site

Draught Diversions: Oktoberfest 2019 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…

Oktoberfest is sort of like the Easter of beer holidays. It isn’t always on the same exact date, but it is generally the same time of year. Mid-September is when the great German celebration of the marriage of then Prince and soon King Ludwig to Princess Therese begins. In 2019, Oktoberfest spans from September 21 through October 6, but seasonal creep gets these beers on our shelves in August. We* here at the Tap Takeover try to keep things seasonally appropriate, so here about a week or so is my annual Oktoberfest 6 pack of Oktoberfest beers. (*By “we” I mean me) A mix of national and New Jersey breweries, a mix of Oktoberfest beers I’ve had and have yet to try. You know, the typical.

Oktoberfest | Cape May Brewing Co. | Cape May, NJ | 5.8% ABV

Image courtesy of Cape May Brewing’s Facebook

Cape May Brewing is slowly climbing up my list of favorite NJ Breweries. They nail IPAs, debuted a superb Pale Lager earlier this year, and seem to excel at all styles. It is a no-brainer for me to want to try their take on the classic German Lager and with their increased distribution footprint, I was easily able to find six pack. Cape May knocks it out of the park with their take on the classic Märzen. I found it to be a little sweeter than I’ve had, but that is a feature and not a bug for me. This has immediately become an annual must have for me. This beer should be available throughout NJ and some of Southeastern PA.

What Cape May says about the beer:

Rich and complex, this amber-colored lager is smooth and clean due to a cool fifty-degree fermentation, mellowing as it lagers. Well-balanced with a hint of hops presence, Oktoberfest is focused on the grain bill of Vienna, Munich, Caramunich, Pilsen, and Melanoidin malts.

Oktoberfest – Czig Meister Brewing Company | Hackettstown, NJ | 5.3% ABV

Image courtesy of Czig Meister’s Facebook

Czig Meister has been putting this beer in cans for a couple of years, but I haven’t had the opportunity to try it yet. I’ve liked most of the beer I’ve had from them, so I don’t expect that trend to cease once I try their Oktoberfest. This beer should be available throughout NJ and some of NY.

What Czig Meister says about the beer:

Medium bodied light orange color. Flavors of toasty graham crackers and light honey notes.

OktoberFish | Flying Fish Brewing Company | Somerdale, NJ | 6% ABV

First brewed waaay back in 2002, Flying Fish’s take on the classic German Lager is one of the oldest versions continuously brewed in NJ. Many of the beers from their early years incorporate “Fish” into the beer name, just like this one. For me, this has been something of a staple for nearly twenty years. It has always been a very consistent beer for the season. Over the past couple of years, Flying Fish has gone through a facelift, updating the packaging for many of their beers, including this one which plays with the traditional iconic blue diamond pattern for Oktoberfest. This one should be available throughout the NJ/PA/NY region

What Flying Fish says about the beer:

We present this German style lager in celebration of the season. To be enjoyed with the fest fare and especially when paired with lederhosen.

Copper Legend | Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers | Framingham, MA | ABV 5.7%

Image courtesy of Jack’s Abby’s Facebook

Jack’s Abby has been on the shelves in NJ for only a few months, but as my posts have indicated here at the Tap Takeover, I’m VERY impressed with their beer. With that German Brewing tradition at their heart, an Oktoberfest (in this case the slightly lighter version, Festbier) is to be expected. I’m going to make sure to grab some of this beer before Oktoberfest ends during the first week of October. This beer should be available throughout much of the Northeastern US.

What Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers says this about the beer:

Celebrate Octoberfest with this malty, smooth and exceedingly drinkable lager. Copper Legend is the perfect beer for creating legendary times with legendary people. Raise a can to Honor Today’s Legends. Brewed with noble hops. Prost!

Oktoberfest | Revolution Brewing Company | Chicago, IL | 5.7% ABV

Image courtesy of Revolution Brewing’s Facebook

I’ve seen Revolution’s beer sporadically throughout NJ over the past couple of years. I don’t know that I can think of a more appropriate image to adorn a beer meant to ring in Oktoberfest than a big burly German man wearing lederhosen and an Oktoberfest hat playing a tuba on the label. If I’m able to grab a can or two this season, I’ll certainly be happy to try it.

What Revolution Brewing says about the beer:

Our Oktoberfest Bier is a German-style lager that was brewed in the summer and “cold stored” until late August to celebrate the coming of fall! Traditional German malts such as Pilsner, Vienna, Carared and Munich lend a beautiful burnt orange color and a pleasant toasty malt flavor and aroma to this lager. Initial Magnum hopping along with multiple additions of German Saphir and Select hops throughout the boil provide a crisp balanced bitterness and spicy/earthy aroma to round out this robust beer! For fermentation we use a Bavarian Lager yeast and then lower the temperature to 32 °F and store the beer cold for 4 weeks. This cold maturation time helps provide a smooth round mouthfeel and clean crisp finish.

Oktoberfest | Sly Fox Brewing Company | Pottstown, PA | 6.1% ABV

Image courtesy of Sly Fox Brewing’s Facebook

Sly Fox is one of the many great breweries out of Pennsylvania. I haven’t had too much of their beer in recent years as it seems they’ve scaled back distribution into NJ a bit, or at least in my immediate area. I remember having this one on draught a couple of years ago and being very pleased with the overall taste and profile. If I see a sixer of it in one of the shops in my regular driving radius, I’ll likely grab some. Available in PA, NJ, DE, NY, MD, VA and Washington D.C.

What Sly Fox says about the beer:

Ein Prosit! This seasonal gem is best enjoyed under a humongous tent while you and thousands of your closest friends sing enthusiastically. Or anywhere, really. It’s all about the gemütlichkeit, baby!

Beer Review: Free Will Brewing’s Crisper

Name: Crisper
Brewing Company: Free Will Brewing Co.
Location: Perkasie, PA and Lahaska/Peddler’s Village, PA
Style: Kölsch
ABV: 4.4%

A flavorful take on the classic German Style. Every brewery should have a Kölsch like this in their lineup

A bright, clean beer looks even brighter with the sun shining on it.

From Free Will Brewing’s page for the beer:

A clean and crisp cold-fermented ale brewed in keeping with German tradition.

I think the Kölsch is one of the more overlooked and underrated styles of beer. Not exactly obscure, but not many people are out hunting for the latest Kölsch the way people hunt and gather new IPAs and Stouts. It is a style every brewery should have in their portfolio and every small brewery should have on tap – it is the beer style that “tastes like a beer” and a great style to draw people into craft beer. I’ve made the following comparison a couple of times when discussing the style in beer circles: a Kölsch is an ale that is similar to a pilsner. The comparison is apt (and I said this without initially knowing) that Kölsch ales are conditioned at colder temperatures the same way lagers are. In terms of being flavorful and enjoyable, Free Will nailed the style. Let’s start at the beginning, and answer the question, “Why did I enjoy this beer so much?”

Let’s look at the color, first. I was fortunate to get a perfect ray of sunlight to shine on this beautiful golden ale when I took my photo. Almost clear, bright golden-yellow with a nice head – you tell people to conjure up an image of “beer” and I’d bet 8 out of 10 people might have an image like the photo I snagged in their heads. I no longer have any cans of the beer in my fridge, but looking at that photo makes me wish I did.

So, like I said the beer looks inviting. Aroma is very clean and the first sip is extremely refreshing – I get a little bit of that pilsner/lager hint from the beer, but there’s some definite hints of fruitiness in the beer, too. I keep thinking to myself that this is a damned good beer with each successive sip or gulp of the beer. The most appropriate word I can think of to describe this beer is “clean.” There’s just a nice, well-rounded “beer flavor” to the beer that makes it work so well for me.

I like to have a lighter beer with my Friday pizza and this paired perfectly. Some beers pair specifically with certain types of foods, Crisper is a beer that has solid flavor of its own, but won’t intrude on any food you’re eating while enjoying the beer.

The ABV on this, like most Kölsch/ Kölsch style ales is pretty low at 4.4%. A beer for “session” drinking, a four pack you can enjoy over the course of a long afternoon or evening that will likely not dump you on your rear end. But unlike the big mass-produced beers at this ABV, this Kölsch is extremely flavorful. You’ll want to drink the beer for the flavor and not suffer through inferior taste. This beer has continued my personal trend of enjoying flavorful, low ABV beers.

If hasn’t become clear by now with many of my reviews and posts, then Pennsylvania – a neighbor state to New Jersey – has a great many breweries (the most beer produced per state) and I’ve been enjoying quite a few of those breweries. Peddler’s Village is a Buck’s County shopping destination and a couple of years ago, Free Will Brewing opened up a Tap Room in the center of the great outdoor village. A great spot that has been at maximum capacity the few times I’ve visited Peddler’s Village over the last couple of years. It doesn’t hurt that Peddler’s Village allows people to walk around with their cup of beer…and Crisper from Free Will is a damned fine beer to enjoy whilst walking around the lovely sights of Peddler’s Village. Again, flavorful with a low enough ABV that one pint won’t prevent you from driving home.

Peddler’s Village is about a half hour from my house, so when my wife had to go to one of the specialty shops while I was at work, she thoughtfully brought back a four pack of Crisper. She said she remembered me saying I like the style and figured it would be perfect for the summer. I married very well, to say the least because I couldn’t have been happier with this beer. If anything, it exceeded my expectations. Bottom Line: a Kölsch this good should be a staple in every brewery’s lineup.

Recommended link to Untappd 4 Bottle Cap rating.

Draught Diversions: August 2019 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…

August is like the Sunday of summers. You know the cooler weather is coming, but there are still some warm days and good time to lounge by the pool with some good beers. A variety of styles, but back to a split of 3 NJ beers and 3 non-NJ beers this month.

The Tiller – Blackberry Saison (Czig Meister Brewing Company) | Farmhouse Ale – Saison | 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

Czig Meister continues to rise in my personal ranks of New Jersey Breweries. Great straightforward styles, and really interesting out of the box takes on traditional styles. Saison is one of the most traditional of styles, but as the color of the beer above suggests, purple is not exactly a traditional beer color. The flavor; however, is traditional in that it hits the palate with bold flavors. The sweetness from the blackberry works extremely well with the earthy base of the saison. Great for summer, great for an anytime refreshment.

Hoponius Union (Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers) | Lager – IPL (India Pale Lager) | 4.50 bottle Caps on untappd

India Pale Lagers are far from a standard, available-everywhere style and I’ve only had a couple before trying this delicious, hoppy beer. It is the top checked in beer of Jack’s Abby, a brewery that has not disappointed in their entry to New Jersey. The hops are *perfect* in this beer, you get a burst of flavor from the hops, without overtaking everything else about the beer or knocking you over the head with hops. There’s a reason this beer is the top rated (as of this writing) Lager on Beer Advocate – it is simply outstanding.

Irish Queen (Bonesaw Brewing Co) | Cream Ale | 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

Bonesaw is one of the NJ breweries I’ve been hearing and seeing great things about since they opened. Unfortunately, they are on the far end of the state from me, so I was happy to see one of their beers available when my wife and I went to a Trenton Thunder (AA Affiliate of the New York Yankees) for Pork Roll Fridays. On those days, they team becomes the Trenton Pork Rolls. Anyway, the beer – a Cream Ale infused with Coffee – was a perfect way to start the night, clean, extremely flavorful, and light. The best parts of an iced coffee and beer in one. Think Carton’s Regular Coffee but about a third of the ABV.

Kalon (Trustworthy Brewing Co) | Schwarzbier | 3.75 bottle Caps on untappd

Las Vegas…not exactly a great beer city, but the hotel I was staying at for a work conference just opened an onsite brewbpub – Trustworthy Brewing. I knew I had to visit for at least a beer and when I saw this Schwarzbier, I latched onto it. A Schwarzbier is one of the more obscure, yet traditional German lagers. Smoky and roasty the same way a porter is, but it has a nice lager-y finish. The roast is just shy of being burnt so Trustworthy crafted this beer really well. This is basically a porter by way of a lager and really nice.

Saewart’s Oatmeal Stout (Highrail Brewing Company) | Stout – Oatmeal | 4 bottle Caps on untappd

I’m always happy to see a new brewery open in New Jersey, it seems to happen on a monthly basis. Highrail is less than a half hour from me, which is really nice so a few weeks after their opening I stopped in and had two beers, both of which were quite good, but this edged out the other just a little bit. Like the Schwarzbier on this post, this oatmeal stout is perfectly balanced with all the flavors dialed in for harmony. A little creaminess from the oatmeal, good malted roast that evoke some coffee. Head Brewer Brian said this beer was a surprisingly great seller considering the summer release but considering the quality of the beer, I’m *not* surprised at how well it is doing for Highrail.

Underground Mountain Brown (Founders Brewing Co.) | Brown Ale – Imperial / Double | 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

It has been a while since I featured a beer from Founders in a six pack and this is a really good beer. I like the base beer even before it sits in barrels – Sumatra Brown – quite a bit, so letting it sit in bourbon barrels for a year adds even more complexity to the beer. There’s a ton of coffee in this beer and aside from the flavor profile of a brown being present, the coffee is the star of the beer for me. I’m glad the bourbon was rather subtle because I think my palate has changed to the point that most barrel aged beers just aren’t doing it for me. This beer; however, is delicious and one of the better Barrel Aged Series offerings from Founders over the last couple of years.

Not necessarily new to me, but for the first time in nearly four years I had a pint of Sierra Nevada’s Kellerweis, probably my favorite American Hefeweizen. It was on draught at Gordon Ramsay’s Burger in Las Vegas. For reasons beyond my understanding, I haven’t seen this beer anywhere near me in New Jersey in about four years.

I was able to visit three new-to-me breweries in August:

  • Trustworthy Brewing Company in the Venetian in Las Vegas
  • Highrail Brewing in High Bridge, NJ (Opened late July 2019)
  • Icarus Brewing in Lakewood, NJ – I’ve had a few of their beers, but finally visited the brewery. A great brewery for sure. Also was lucky enough to run into Mike K. of NJ Craft Beer during my visit.

Beer Review: Brasserie Dupont’s Saison Dupont (Beer Review 100!)

Name: Saison Dupont
Brewing Company: Brasserie Dupont
Location: Tourpes, Hainaut Belgium
Style: Farmhouse Ale – Saison
ABV: 6.5%

The legendary template for a beer is that world class rarity – a beer that lives up to its reputation and may even exceed it.

I love the “holes” in the fluffy head.

From Brasserie Dupont’s page for the beer:

The Saison Dupont is a top fermentation beer with refermentation in the bottle. Since 1844, this beer has been brewed in our farm-brewery, during the winter time. Then this beer became a second refermentation in the barrel. During the next summer, this very thirst-quenching beer was served to the “saisoniers” which were working on the fields.

Surely therefore, our Saison Dupont is considered as “the classic” among the Belgian season beers! Coppery blond, the finest aromas and a strong bitterness transform this beer into a thirst-quenchener with no equal, just the way it was created. Our selection of yeasts is the perfect base for these typical aromas and ditto taste. A real refermentation in the bottle, which will continue for a long time in your cellar, result into this complex and particular aromatic beer..

This is something of a momentous review – Beer Review 100 at the Tap Takeover. A little over two years to get to that number, but here it is. I wanted to do something a little special for review #100, specifically a beer held in high regard by many people, one that is fairly readily available, but one I haven’t yet tried. I finally settled on what many consider the standard bearer for the Belgian Saison/Farmhouse Ale, Saison Dupont.

Another stylistic preface – Saison/Farmhouse Ales aren’t a go to for me. I don’t dislike the style, but it isn’t always my first choice. I’ve had a little over 40 over the past few years, largely because it is a fairly widely available standard style. Most of the Saisons I’ve had are American; however. The style likely originated in the 1700s in Belgian farms in Wallonia, mostly from ingredients on the farm. The beer that eventually became Saison Dupont (or a version of it) was first brewed in 1844 and with the same recipe since the 1950s. The beer gained much more popularity in the late 1970s and 1980s after Michael Jackson visited the brewery and encouraged Dupont to partner with a US importer. All About Beer has a great article on the beer, which is where I gleaned much of the information I just spouted about the beer.

The above is all well and good, but what do I think about the beer?

Anytime a beer has the cork and cage, that tells me it is special even if the science behind this capping technique is the real reason why it is capped this way. The cork pops not unlike champagne/sparkling wine (no surprise since Belgian brewing and French wine are geographic neighbors), and out flows a beautiful earthy scent. I let the beer settle after the aggravation of the cork popping and then pour the beer. It is hazy, golden yellow, and creates a very thick and fluffy head. Even tilting the glass at 45 degrees doesn’t prevent the thick head from taking up more than half of the glass. Lots of yeast and at work in the beer for sure.

More earthy, almost bready aroma from the beer as I inhale the aroma more fully. Maybe sweetness and spice, too. I wait for the head to settle before taking a sip.

That first sip is … legendary. Beautiful, complex, potent, and flavorful. Belgian ales and Belgian style ales, in my mind, are most strongly characterized by their yeast, and that is definitely the case with this beer. Dupont has been using the same yeast/yeast strain since about the 1940s so the beer has been consistently delicious, if this batch bottled in early 2019 is any indication.

The yeast evokes pure earthiness, and a saison to me is probably the most earthy style of beer – I get slight hints of lemon, some breadiness, a sweetness throughout most of the time the beer is traversing my palate. It finishes with a bit of spiciness and a pleasant dryness.

The bottle is big, 750ml so it isn’t one to drink quickly. Compared to most other styles, I probably wouldn’t let this one warm to room temperature too much. Straight out of the bottle you get so much flavor that the only real reason to wait before taking that first pleasant sip is for the head to dissipate. Once that happens, dive in and enjoy.

This is an extremely versatile beer that I can imagine pairing with just about any meal. As the global template for the style, Saison Dupont should be readily available in most liquor stores and bottle shops. I’ve seen the beer in both the big 750ml bottles and 4 packs.

Saison Dupont is an absolutely delicious beer that is rightfully the measuring stick for every saison being produced today. All the qualities I’ve had in other saisons are on bold display here – strong yeast character, clean delicious taste, and a transportative element that transcends most other beers.

Jeff Alworth over at his Beervana Blog has a great article on Saisons, which highlights Saison Dupont. It is well worth a read, as is anything Jeff has to say about beer.

Without hesitation, I can say this beer is an absolute must-have. This is a beer that absolutely lived up to the reputation it has earned over the last 70 or so years. I know, I’m really pushing the envelope here on my 100th beer review with those statements about such a revered beer.

This is a beer that is supposed to age fairly well, so I’d like to try a bottle with a little more time on it as this bottle has a 2019 bottling date.

Recommended. Link to Untappd 4.5-Bottle Cap rating.

Draught Diversions: 4 Breweries to Visit, Part 4 of a Series

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

It has been a little over a year since I cobbled together one of these posts highlighting breweries I’d like to visit so I figured it was time to add to the growing list of breweries on my bucket list of breweries to visit.  A lot can happen in a year, like a brewery gaining entry into NJ giving me (and many lucky consumers) exposure to their beer for the first time. Last year, Bell’s Brewery entry into NJ was one of those breweries and as such, they made the list of breweries I’d like to visit last year. Same case for one of the breweries on today’s list. All that said, like the last few times I’ve made one of these posts, I’m going alphabetically with this list.

Allagash Brewing Company | Portland, ME | Established 1995 | Total # of Allagash beers checked in on untappd: 7
Allagash Beers reviewed at The Tap Takeover: Black and Pick Your Own

Images courtesy of Allagash’s Web site

If one were to carve out a Mount Rushmore of American Breweries, then Allagash would be an immediate and unanimous choice. Only one other brewery in the US has embraced the Belgian art and science of brewing near to the extent that Allagash has and I mentioned that brewery in a previous “breweries to visit” post. One of the differences: Allagash is largely the outgrowth of one man’s vision and still a fiercely independent brewery.

Rob Tod started Allagash in 1995 at a time when few breweries were producing Belgian style beers. Belgian beers weren’t nearly as present as they are today outside of maybe Chimay and Saison du Pont. Allagash’s Belgian Witbier, simply White is a nearly perfect beer and one of the Independent/Craft Beers you’ll see on tap nearly everywhere. It is a beer that tows the fine line of mass appeal and beer geek appeal. Their Saison is one of the best, widely available American interpretations of the style, and their Tripel is a clean, delicious interpretation of the style.

Where Allagash manages to elevate their game is in how they embrace barrel aging and wildly fermented beers. Barrel Aging is a storied process, some would say art, of beer brewing, and Allagash’s Curieux, their barrel-aged Tripel, is a sublime beer. Allagash’s Coolship is the largest open fermentation facilitation devices in the country. A coolship allows the ingredients of the beer to play with the environment and produce some very unique beers. I’ve only had one of those complex, delicious beers, but I need to get my hands on some more.

Image courtesy of Allagash Brewing’s Web Site

Rob Tod was recently awarded the prestigious James Beard Award, specifically, the 2019 Outstanding Wine, Spirits, or Beer Producer. He’s only the 4th beer person to receive the award. That and the brewery’s legendary status are reason enough to encourage a visit to the brewery in Portland, Maine.

The Bruery | Placentia, CA, | Established 2008 | Total Bruery / Bruery Terreaux beers checked in on untappd: 12
Bruery Beers reviewed at The Tap Takeover: Autumn Maple (The Bruery) and Beret (Bruery Terreaux)

Images courtesy of The Bruery’s Web site

One of the craftier and “artisanal” of breweries, the Bruery focuses on Barrel Aged and high end beers. Only recently did they sell beer in anything other than 750ml bottles, for example. Big stouts with flavorful adjuncts on the one side of the Breury, with the Terreaux side focusing on sours and more Belgian inspired open fermentation wild ales on the other side. Both sides of Patrick Rue’s brainchild offer complexly flavored and extremely potent beers.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the 12 Beers of Christmas series of beers they’ve released every year, with each annual release inspired by one of the days of Christmas, my favorite being the 8 Maids-A-Milking Imperial Milk Stout, which is also the first beer I had from The Bruery.

Like many breweries, The Bruery has some beers available only on site. Additionally, they have a bottle program Society that is available to folks who live close enough to pick up their bottles at the brewery.

For some really great insight into The brewery, John Holl interviews owner and founder Patrick Rue on the Craft Beer and Brewing podcast .

Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers | Framingham, MA | Established 2011 | Total Jack’s Abby beers checked in on untappd: 4
Jack’s Abby Beer reviewed at The Tap Takeover: Post Shift Pilsner

Images courtesy of Jack’s Abby’s Web site

A brewery focused largely on Lagers? Count me in. I didn’t know too much about this brewery before 2019 began seeing as they are in Massachusetts. I’d heard and seen talk about them around Beer Web and Social Media ©, but that’s about it until I saw them with a tent at the Meadowlands Beerfest in February announcing they’d be entering NJ Distribution.

I’ve been really drawn to my Germanic roots when it comes to beer as of late, really appreciating the elegance of a well-crafted pilsner and how good a low ABV (“crusher”) of a tasty lager can be. Take their Hoponius Union, an India Pale Lager. A hop-forward lager that is one of the best lagers I’ve ever had and was recently named the best Lager by Beer Advocate. The beer has the lovely floral/fruity hop finish you’d expect from a classic IPA, but it is most definitely a lager. Jack’s Abby has a few variants on this one I need to try.

For quite a few years in the early 2000s, my wife and I would follow my cousin’s travel hockey team. Specifically, his team played annual tournaments in Massachusetts and we always stayed in Framingham, which is where Jack’s Abby is located. Unfortunately, our “hockey groupie” days were both before Jacks Abby existed and before I had this deep an understanding and enjoyment of Craft Beer. Jack’s Abby may be the Massachusetts brewery, in a state rich with iconic breweries, I want to visit most.

Owner Jack Hendler chatted with Jamie Bogner on episode 59 of the Craft Beer and Brewing podcast .

Schneider and Weisse/G. Schneider & Sohns | Kelheim, Bayern German | Established 1872 | Total Schneider & Sohns beers checked in to untappd: 6

Schneider’s lineup with new labels. Image courtesy of G. Schneider & Sohns

I took a look at the German breweries whose beers I’ve enjoyed and every one of the six beers I had from Schneider Wesse have been absolutely outstanding. Wheat beers (Hefeweizen, Dunkelweizen, Dopplebock, Eisbock, and Weizenbock primarily) are a German specialty and quite a few of the more well known German breweries (and likely double the amount of lesser known German breweries) brew wheat-only beers. From what I’ve consumed and  enjoyed, it is hard to argue few, if any, do it better than Schneider & Sohns.

Schneider & Sohns uses a numbering system for most of their beers, TAP 7, for example is their classic Hefeweizen, while TAP 3 is their designation for the alcohol-free beer.

It wasn’t too long ago when I first had their “Original” Hefeweizen, but it still stands out as one of the best Hefeweizens I’ve ever had. I wasn’t too familiar with the brewery at the time, but I saw an authentic German Hefeweizen on draught and I was extremely eager to get a pour. Their Weizenbock (TAP6) is maybe the best Weizenbock I can remember having. They also collaborated on a more hopped up Weizenbock with Brooklyn Brewery – Meine Hopfenweisse which is also delightful. Schneider & Sohns will brew a once a year specialty, barrel-aged Weizenbock beer they designate TAP X. I only had one of those, the one called “Marie’s Rendezvous” but I’m keeping an eye out for the next iteration.

Perhaps their crown jewel, in my opinion, is Aventinus Eisbock, one of the most unique styles of beer, the accidental beer. I touched up on the Eisbock style in my overview of Bocks, highlighting this beer specifically.

Image courtesy of Schneider & Sohns’s Web site

Here’s what G. Schneider & Sohns says about the beer:

Unfathomably sensuous

Magic and a black soul – the mahogany coloured, almost black “Eisbock” for sensuous indulgence, best served in a balloon glas. Matured in a special freezing process following a special recipe, with a soft, elegant body, but still intensive. Spicy flavours of plum, banana and clove reveal themselves along with a hint of bitter almond and marzipan. Tempting as digestif, to crepes, dark chocolate, Tiramisu and fully ripe parmesan cheese.

It is still one of the best beers I’ve ever had. A Top 10 all time for me. I’ve seen different vintages of this beer in stores, too, so I’m going to have to pick up some more soon.

That said, a trip to Germany would most likely include a trip to these fine purveyors of wheat beer