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.

Beer Review: Man Skirt Brewing’s Czechs and Balances

Name: Czechs and Balances
Brewing Company: Man Skirt Brewing Company
Location: Hackettstown, NJ
Style: Pilsner – Czech
ABV: 5%

A delicious interpretation of the classic Czech Lager. Worth seeking out if you’re in NJ.

First time I’ve seen an “Imperial Can” but I like it! The beer inside is even better!

From Man Skirt’s page for beers:

Man Skirt’s take on the original Pilsner. Classic grain flavors shine through, with just the right amount of Sterling hops. Clean, crisp, refreshing, and never boring.

Man Skirt Brewing is one of the first breweries I did a spotlight for here at the Tap Takeover (back in December 2017) and now I’ve finally come around to reviewing one of their beers. In part, I don’t see cans of their beers too often around me, and another part, Hackettstown is not super close to me. That said, I’m always happy to try a new Pilsner and after my wife got me in the car during the pandemic to go on an adventure to get out of the house, we wound up in the Hackettstown, NJ area. Naturally I grabbed some to go beers from Czig Meister and Man Skirt, two breweries in Hackettstown around the block from each other.

I’ve seen a few friends check this beer in untappd and they had good things to say about the beer, which had me looking forward to trying it myself. I was very pleased this was one of the “to go” options from Man Skirt available in an interesting “Imperial Can” which is a can with a cap, go figure. For a beer like a Pilsner, which is traditionally relatively low in ABV, this is a great size for the beer. But what about the beer already?.

What came out of that “imperial can” was clear and clean looking, though a slightly darker golden yellow than I would expect from a pilsner. The aroma is the “beer that smells like a beer” smell, I get the typical slight malt, slightly hoppy, and slightly sweet smell I’d expect from a Pilsner. In other words, based on looks and smell, I’ve got a good feeling about the beer .

As the beer passes my lips, I begin to smile. This pilsner is really what I wanted it to be. There’s the trademark enjoyable flavor of the Pilsner here – a good hint of breadiness/crackery goodness from the malt, one of the hallmarks of a great pilsner. Although the IBU is not too high at 37, it is higher than many pilsners and only slightly lower than Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale (a beer considered to be hop-forward). This is by no means a problem, I like the hop presence in Man Skirt’s take on the Pilsner – it helps to give the beer its full flavor.

Full Can Label art

More than anything, this beer has a very clean profile – the flavor elements are playing together very harmoniously. The hops complement the malt in a classic one-two punch of flavor – like a pair of championship-level Tag Team wrestlers. They bring different elements to the beer, but complement each other in a superb, unified flavor.

Czechs and Balances is as good a Czech style pilsner as you’ll find in the State of New Jersey (and easily in *at least* the top third of the 75+ pilsners I’ve had). I could easily see this beer on regular rotation in my fridge (if I were just a bit closer to Man Skirt!). As it is, this is a beer I’ll be seeking out again and probably the best beer out of the 10 or so I’ve had from Man Skirt. Joe Fisher should be very proud of this beer.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4.25-bottle cap rating.

Badge Earned:

Crisp as Day (Level 16)

bdg_pilsner_lg

Light and crisp, a Pilsner is all you need to make your day great. Though, perhaps another one would make it even better.

 

Beer Review: Cape May’s Crushin’ It

Name: Crushin’ It
Brewing Company: Cape May Brewing Company
Location: Cape May, NJ
Style: IPA – American
ABV: 8%

A delicious, fan favorite, taproom exclusive beer from one of the largest brewery in New Jersey hits full distribution.

From Cape May Brewing’s Web site:

Refreshing and great for the beach, Crushin’ It is soon to be your summer staple. With Citra, Mosaic, and Azacca hops blending together to accentuate the fresh flavors of orange juice, Crushin’ It is dry, approachable, and perfectly balanced. Relax in the sand. Enjoy a no shower happy hour. This beer is best paired with good friends, sunshine, and SPF 30.

Cape May Brewery needs little introduction to my New Jersey readers, Cape May Brewing Company is one of the largest breweries in the State of New Jersey. Over the past couple of years, their distribution footprint has grown to encompass the entire State (as well as portions of DE and PA), but they still do quite a few brewery-only releases, which frustrates people like me who live 3 hours away and can’t easily get to the brewery for something like, say, the barrel-aged Barleywine they just released. For a time, that was the case for the beer under review today, Orange Crushin’ It. But that has changed as of April 2020, when Cape May scaled up production of the beer.

Crushin It began life as part of a Homebrewing competition at Cape May Brewery, a competition to brew a beer that mimicked the popular shore mixed drink Orange Crush. The hops in the beer, Citra, Azacca, and Mosaic evoke citrus fruit and the beer is made with a great deal of orange juice. That sounds fun and refreshing, so I was very pleased when I did a beer run to find that my local liquor store had just received a shipment of the beer. So, how does it live up to that build up?

Out of the wonderfully designed can, the beer pours a bright, slightly translucent orange-yellow. Shocking, right? One could be forgiven for thinking the beer was orange juice, on quick glance.

Aroma from the beer is of orange juice with citrusy hops, which seems spot on for a beer called an “Orange India Pale Ale.” The first sip is bursting with orange juice so I didn’t waste time for a second sip. The hop profile of the three varieties utilized in the beer come into play really nicely after that first blast of orange juice. This beer is one to drink as cold as possible, as you would orange juice. As much as I’ve mentioned the big orange juice component of the beer, it is still a beer. The hops aren’t extremely potent or aggressive, but the hops are definitely present, especially on the finish. That might be my only minor criticism of the beer.  I realize that comes down to Mosaic not being my favorite hop, which usually has an aftertaste of bitterness I don’t like. Fortunately, although noticeable, it is rather muted because of the other two hops and the abundant orange juice.

So what you have here in Orange Crushin’ It, ultimately, is a perfect warm weather or tailgating cooler beer. Flavorful, sweet, drinkable and appealing: a superb beer.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4.25-star rating.

Untapped badges earned with this beer:

I believe in IPA (Level 49)

We believe in IPA and you should too. You certainly have a taste for the hops! That’s 245 different IPAs. Try 5 more for Level 50!

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!

Beer Review: Sierra Nevada’s Barrel-Aged Narwhal

Name: Barrel-Aged Narwhal
Brewing Company: Sierra Nevada Brewing Company
Location: Chico, CA
Style: Stout – American Imperial/Double
ABV: 11.9%

An outstanding base stout aged in Kentucky Bourbon Barrels makes for a perfect beer.

From Sierra Nevada’s page for the beer:

Deep in our barrel room, out of light’s reach, our legendary Narwhal Imperial Stout rests in bourbon barrels for nearly a year. After aging, it emerges anew: rich with notes of oak, vanilla and coconut layered onto the Stout’s malt flavors of dark chocolate and espresso. Enjoy this beast of a beer.

This is a beer I’ve been hunting down for quite some time, basically since I knew it existed, because the annual big stout from Sierra Nevada is one of my top 10 beers of all time. Sometimes, the timing of things lead to serendipitous posts like this one: 2020 is Sierra Nevada’s 40th Anniversary, Sierra Nevada recently made this beer a year-round offering, and this beer is my 50th unique Sierra Nevada beer checked into untappd, so how could I *not* review this beer?

As much as I was looking forward to this beer for years, I’ve also come to realize not all barrel-aged beers are blended/created equal. Additionally, I hadn’t had anything barrel-aged from Sierra Nevada. In short, I was worried that anticipation would lead to disappointment

It did not.

This beer pours motor-oil black, with a khaki/heavily creamed coffee head. As for the body of the beer, I’d even say there’s something about this beer that’s so black, it’s like how much more black could this beer be? And the answer is none. None more black.

The aroma is largely from the bourbon barrels, but I do detect the hoppy/malty aromas I would typically associate with the non-Barrel Aged Narwhal. I thought to myself, “I’ve got a good feeling about this.”

That first sip is everything I hoped it would be. The barrel elements are very prominent and assertive, but far from everything this beer is. The base beer doesn’t typically have an overbearing carbonation and the carbonation is even less present on Barrel Aged Narwhal. In addition to the barrel character, the beer is largely the character I’d come to expect from the base Narwhal stout – big malt imparting sweetness, prominent hops imparting a bitter bite with subtle vanilla hints for a warm, balanced, grin-inducing finish that lingers wonderfully.

The flavor elements imparted by the Kentucky Bourbon Barrels **perfectly** enhance and complement the flavor elements of the base beer – the hops which can be relatively aggressive on a fresh in-year* bottle, are tamed and smoothed by the beer having been aged in the barrel. The hops are definitely present, but the lingering bitterness is softened. The barrel aging also complements the sweetness from the malt with hints of vanilla, oak, and maybe coconut.

* By “in-year” bottle I mean drinking a 2019 vintage of the beer in 2019, as opposed to a bottle that has sat for months to a year. I’ve had a couple bottles of Narwhal that were aged 2 and 3 years.

Something that makes this beer such a fun beer to enjoy is that the base beer Narwhal is fairly readily available for comparison. I’ve had Bourbon County Stout from AB InBev Chicago (A.K.A. Goos Island) but there’s no base beer available, same goes for So Happens Its Tuesday from the Bruery or even Parabola from Firestone Walker. In other words, you have a pretty good idea that you’re starting with in this beer.

I’ve always loved the label and font Sierra Nevada used for the beer for Narwhal, I was unhappy with the change they made in 2017 so I was pleased to see the same font treatment from the old label of the non-barrel aged version reappear on this canned version (and box of the 4-pack). I was especially pleased to see this beer go from the 22oz bomber to 16oz cans, a much easier single-sitting consumption.

Barrel-Aged Narwhal is an outstanding, world-class barrel-aged stout that I’d stand up against any other barrel-aged stout I’ve had or that is available. Given that price point, you will not find a better beer of this style (Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout, or even Imperial Stout) for this price point.

For further reading, there’s a great post on Sierra Nevada’s Blog about their barrel-aging program.

Highly, highly recommended, link to 5 bottle-cap Untappd check in.

Draught Diversions: March 2020 Six Pack

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

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

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

Morning Bell is Kane’s highly acclaimed year-round coffee porter and is outstanding. Once a year, they do a few special releases of Bell variants, Morning Mocha is one of those. In addition to rich coffee flavors from their local coffee roastery Rook Coffee, this beer was conditioned on Ugandan and Haitian caco nibs. I thought I died and went to heaven when I drank this beer. There is an absolutely perfect blend of coffee and chocolate in the flavor profile, which complements and doesn’t overtake the base porter. Next year when this is released, I’m going to make sure to get at least one bottle.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Beer Review: Carton Brewing’s 077XX

Name: 077XX
Brewing Company: Carton Brewing Company
Location: Atlantic Highlands, NJ
Style: IPA – Imperial/Double
ABV:7.8%

One of the Classic NJ beers and a fantastic Double IPA – a must-have beer.

The beer’s description on Carton’s Landing Page for the beer:

Like all things truly Jersey, 077XX makes the most in balancing through its accentuation of extremes. Inspired by the west coast IPAs we love, we added a thump of hops to a dynamic malt profile and chose a yeast to drive these two further than they wanted to go. Throw our water into this mix and you will find dank green resinous hops popping over orange, mango and papaya aromas, with just enough sweetness of body to make the long finish a pleasure to have around. Drink O’Dub when your night matters.

With the state of the world as it is under the COVID-19 Pandemic, beer connoisseurs are unable to visit their favorite local breweries, but many breweries, like Carton Brewing here in New Jersey, continue to make beer. Some of these breweries are delivering beer within a small radius and their beer is already available in many NJ stores (some of which are also making home deliveries). These events lead to Carton being the first brewery to get a third beer the full review treatment at the Tap Takeover and what better beer than one of their most iconic of ales?

077XX is the second most popular beer Carton brews according to untappd (Boat is #1), and is probably as beloved by independent/craft beer “enthusiasts” in New Jersey. It is a double IPA so that means super hoppy, maybe dank, and fairly high in ABV. I’ve had a few of the “Dubviants” (variants on this beer, usually with a different hop, designated with two different numbers replacing “XX”), but the main beer never made it to my glass…until now.

Popping open the can, the beer pours a clear yellow orange, almost amber. In other words, “O-Dub” looks the part of a double IPA. Good start. The aroma is hoppy dankness, so two senses down, and this seems to be what I’m hoping it will be. How does it taste?

Like the description above suggests, the opening tasting notes of this beer are flavors that evoke tropical and citrus fruits. Maybe mango? Definitely a hint of orange. While those elements are very prominent, I wouldn’t quite say the tropical nature of this beer leans too hard towards a Hazy/New England IPA. The second act of the show is the hop bite of bitterness, a little piney resin, and some dankness, bringing a well-rounded balance.

The first thought I had when I was halfway through this hop-bomb of a beer is that I should not have put off trying this beer for so long. Well, my pre-IPA days make sense. But the last two years or so? This was a beer that was always there, maybe I took it for granted. That won’t be happing any longer because this is a reliable, very tasty beer that should be fairly widely available in New Jersey (and maybe New York).

What often happens with big stouts happened with this beer for me. It warmed up just a little bit and I found the hop bitterness to be softened and I enjoyed the beer after it “aired out.” The fruity elements at the start were still present, but the beer was even more balanced than those first few cold sips

077XX is a must-have New Jersey beer and a double IPA that deliciously straddles the line between the classic, malty piney IPAs and the more recent tropical Hazy/New England IPAs. In addition to delicious beer, Carton Brewing has always been true to its roots and been about the community where they are located, Atlantic Highlands, a shore town of New Jersey. Many of their beers pay homage to the region and this is maybe the biggest tribute as it set the standard for a subset of the IPAs they brew, the “Dubviants”, beers with the zip code. As such, this beer is a great homage to where Carton Brewing is situated in Monmouth County as 077 is the prefix of the Zip Code for many towns in Monmouth County.

I realize few people outside of New Jersey have access to Carton Brewing, but for folks in New Jersey, you know Carton and you likely know “O-Dub.” Drink Local during these dark times, keep these smaller, independent business thriving, especially breweries like Carton who make very high quality beer.

Highly Recommended, link to Untappd 4-bottle cap rating.