Flagship February/Beer Review: Ross Brewing’s Shrewsbury Lager

It is officially Flagship February in the beer world, a “movement” started by beer writers Stephen Beaumont and Jay Brooks a couple of years ago and it is wonderful idea. Basically, we as beer drinkers should remember the beers that helped to lay the foundation for craft beer. Beers like Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale or, as I posted a couple of years ago, as part of my American Craft Beer Classic series of posts, Allagash White.

For the 2020 iteration of this “celebration,” I featured two of the NJ beers that helped to establish the craft beer landscape in New Jersey. The creators of Flagship February decided to shift slightly with their focus to highlighting breweries and what they see as their Flagships in 2021 given the drastic changes the COVID Pandemic has forced upon the world. As such, I thought I’d similarly shift with a newer brewery who is set to open their doors during these turbulent times: Ross Brewing and the beer they are announcing as their Flagship Lager, Shrewsbury Lager. So the beer sort of eschews the traditional historical component of the “foundational” idea of Flagship February, but it is the beer the brewery calls their Flagship.

Ross Brewing Company has been around for a couple of years, contract brewing small batches for distribution in New York, but late 2020/early 2021, they made a big push into the NJ Craft Beer scene, their home state. After a few setbacks prior to the COVID Pandemic, then the COVID Pandemic, Ross Brewing is looking for a mid-2021 opening in Middletown, NJ. Like every brewery, they’ve got an IPA as one of their top beers, at least by number of Check Ins in untappd. But I’m featuring one of the more “taken for granted” styles, the Amber Lager. Here are the stats for the beer, in the standard Tap Takeover format.

Name: Shrewsbury Lager
Brewing Company: Ross Brewing Company
Location: Port Monmouth,NJ
Style: Lager – American Amber / Red

From Ross Brewing’s landing page for Shrewsbury LagerOur flagship lager is inspired by the river that runs to the south of our hometown of Red Bank—the scenic Shrewsbury. Low in bitterness and high in malt character and complexity, the subtle use of hops makes a balanced, refreshing lager with a crisp, dry finish, perfect for drinking on a boat, a beach, a deck, or just about anywhere!

Let’s take a look at this beer, or rather, here is what I think of Shrewsbury Lager.

In the Northeast (and more of the US recently), one beer epitomizes the American Amber Lager and it is the beer that can simply be ordered at the bar as “Lager.” That beer, of course is Yuengling’s Lager. It is a beer everybody knows and everybody has had. Ross Brewing’s Shrewsbury Lager is of the same style.

The look test: a pour into the glass reveals a deep amber beer, which is exactly what it says on the can. I’d say this is a bit darker than Yuengling’s take on the style, which is a hint to me that this beer might be more flavorful.

The first sip test: this beer is flavorful, refreshing, and whispers: “there’s more, don’t stop there.” I listen to that whisper and continue, realizing Shrewsbury Lager has some pleasant and subtle sweetness from a nice malt profile. The beer has just enough substance that it has great flavor, but it isn’t overpowering, making for a beer that lends itself to enjoying a couple to few pints in a row. In other words, this beer is a crusher.

There’s also a slightly toasted element to the malt profile of the beer, with hints of caramel. Those elements come together very harmoniously making for a very altogether flavorful beer floating at 5% ABV level. The longer lagering process allows for flavors to develop and mature during the brewing process, which seems to be exactly what happened with this beer.

What does this all mean? The fact that Shrewsbury Lager is both a launch beer and the flagship Lager for Ross Brewing is very impressive.

This beer works as an everyday beer that could sit in the cooler, sit at the dinner table with just about any meal that asserts enough flavor on its own, but won’t overwhelm whatever meal with which you pair the beer. With each can I had over the course of a few days, I found myself enjoying the beer more each time, appreciate the elegance of the beer and finally, with the fourth can in that four pack, wishing I had more.

Back to the Yuengling Lager comparison…I think it is a very smart move for a brewery to brew / can / sell a beer that is comparable to the most ubiquitous non-Macro Lager because it works perfectly as a beer to introduce craft-wary consumers (admittedly, a shrinking group of people) to more flavorful, local options especially folks who may be averse to “hoppy beers.”

Bottom line, if Shrewsbury Lager is any indication of Ross Brewing’s abilities, then they are definitely on the right track to success. It most definitely is a beer worthy of “Flagship” status.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4-bottle cap rating.

Untappd badges earned with this beer:

Paint the Town Red (Level 10)

Get out there and raise a ruckus with your favorite Amber or Red Ale. That is 45 different beers with the style American Amber / Red Ale, American Amber / Red Lager, Irish Red Ale, Imperial / Double Red Ale, Red Ale – Other or IPA – Red.

Beer Review: Source Farmhouse Brewery’s Winter Saison

Name: Winter Saison
Brewing Company: Source Farmhouse Brewery /
Location: Colts Neck, NJ
Style: Farmhouse Ale – Saison / “Super Farmhouse Saison”
ABV: 10%

An outstanding Farmhouse Ale from the Garden State’s premier Farmhouse Brewery.

From the untapped page for the beer:

This elegant, dark brown beauty will glimmer with deep garnet hues and quickly form a long-lasting head of fine, khaki-colored foam.

We sourced local NJ Pine Barrens honey to boil along with a wort composed primarily of sugars from Pilsner, Munich, and rye malts, and gave it a touch of herbal and spicy hop character.

The nose is first greeted with spicy Belgian yeast character and an abundance of dark fruits, followed by sweet honey, toasty malt, and caramelized sugars. Despite its sweeter aroma and flavors this brew has a light body and finishes quite dry.

We get notes of black cherry, honey, prune, raisins, toasted bread, candied figs, scorched brown sugar, black pepper, clove, bananas foster, and cranberry chutney.

Source Brewing is one of the hottest, newer breweries in NJ. They release their canned beers through an online purchasing portal that tend to sell out in moments. The people behind the brewery have a great pedigree, owner Phil Petracca is the man behind Fizzics, head brewery Greg Taylor has multiple brewing degrees, and one of the brewers, Jeremy Watts, gained experience at Carton Brewing. Source typically releases only direct from the brewery, so I was very pleased to see a couple of their beers in a local bottle shop. That’s a very small snapshot of the brewery, what about the beer?

It makes sense that a brewery who labels themselves as a “Farmhouse Brewery” would make a few Farmhouse Ales, including this Dark Saison.

The beer pours dark brown/black with a slightly khaki head. Most saisons are a bright yellow, often slightly cloudy so right off the bat this beer is set apart from the crowd. Aroma…I get mostly the yeast which is often the strongest component of Saisons and most Belgian-inspired ales.

This beer passes the first sip test with flying colors. While it may not look like a typical saison, the aforementioned yeast elements firmly establish this beer as a Saison.

But wait, there’s more!

On the finish, the presence of the honey is most welcome and balances out the beer so well. Saisons can lean towards the earthy side, with a slight aftertaste, but the honey eliminates that and enhances the spice and clove character that comes from the yeast. Fruity elements intermix as well, not sure about the cherries mentioned in the description, but perhaps some figginess and definitely hints of banana. In other words, there is such a magnificent complexity to this beer in the flavor, aroma, and look that I can only be impressed with the delicious dark liquid that sat in my glass. Source calls this a “Super Saison” and I can’t argue that moniker, it is delicious and it does not drink like the 10% ABV listed on the can.

To that point, saisons were typically brewed for warmer months as something of a reward for farm workers (thus the name, Farmhouse Ale), but typically did not have an alcohol content more than 7% ABV and used grains and ingredients grown on said farm. After all, the farmers didn’t want their workforce to get too inebriated and hungover for their next days of work. Or, as stated in a great Beer Connoisseur article:

They have a low ABV, and quite the correct bitterness. They are designed to refresh.

This beer is most definitely refreshing, but 10% ABV is not exactly low. In fact, the second can I enjoyed was after a 3 hour shoveling session thanks to nearly two feet of snow (see picture above) and I could think of almost no better beverage reward for that hard work. While I typically go for a big stout on cold winter nights, this beer definitely works in that regard – big bold flavor, slightly higher alcohol, and a dark hue to match the darkest nights.

Outside of Saison Dupont, Source’s Winter Saison is the best saison I’ve ever enjoyed. It may not look the part of a typical saison nor does it hew to the lower ABV of a typical saison, but the flavor elements are very traditional and the fact that a farmhouse brewery created this beer speak to this beer’s identity as a true Farmhouse Ale/Saison.

Highly Recommended, link to 4.5 bottle cap untappd rating check in.

Untapped badges earned with this beer:

Trip to the Farm (Level 11)

 

You have a keen taste for this Belgian masterpiece. Did you know the Saison style beer was invented by Belgian farms, brewed in the Winter and served the Spring/Summer to all their workers? Well now you do! That’s 55 different Saisons.

 

Draught Diversions: January 2021 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…

 

The first six pack of 2021 brings some of the usual suspects (specifically, a brewery who appeared on every January Six Pack so far. In addition to that, some interesting beers, including one from an old favorite, all of which amount to the usual mix of NJ and non-NJ beer.

And a Jelly (Carton Brewing Company) | Cream Ale | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

New Year’s Day in the world of NJ Craft Beer means Carton Brewing and their annual release of their latest “Irregular Coffee” variant. Augie and his crew take their famous Regular Coffee Cream Ale and make a variant, this time around they decided to add some raspberry purree, making the standard convenient breakfast fare of a coffee and jelly doughnut amalgamated into one beer. I liked this one quite a bit, but I wouldn’t have minded if the raspberry was a little more assertive.

UDDR: Our Princess Is In Another Cowstle (Bolero Snort Brewery) | Sour – Fruited | 3.75 Bottle Caps on untappd

As I noted in my review of Bolero Snort’s Mele Kalikimakow, the brewery has considerably upped their game in Sour beers and this beer is a an example of that. Peach, Cherry, and Lactose make for an extremely sweet beer, but a beer that also maintains an appreciable level of tart/sour. This beer is part of Bolero’s “Video Game” series of Sour beers, UDDR.

Nitro Crème Brûlée (Southern Tier Brewing Co) | Stout – Imperial / Double Milk | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

For many years, Southern Tier was one of my go to breweries, especially their Blackwater series of big beers. I’ve had the non-nitro version of Crème Brûlée and it is one of the most decadent beers I’ve ever had. The nitro works well in this beer, those flavor elements are nicely complemented by the nitro. I need to get myself more of their big beers, because Southern Tier is really accomplished on this front.

Peanut Butter Yeti (Great Divide Brewing Company) | Stout – Imperial / Double | 3.75 Bottle Caps on untappd

This is the second variant of Great Divide’s legendary Imperial Stout Yeti and like the regular and Mexican variety, it is an extremely well-made beer. Peanut Butter is a tricky adjunct because it is so potent and can be overpowering. Great Divide does a really nice job because the Peanut Butter is very assertive, but it isn’t a bludgeon to the palate.

3288 Anniversary Ale – Barrel-Aged German Chocolate Stout (Kane Brewing Company) | Stout – Other | 4.75 Bottle Caps on untappd

Special occasions call for special beers, so when I received a very nice promotion at work to start of 2021, I knew I was going to celebrate with Kane’s 9th Anniversary Stout (3288). I was fortunate enough to get this beer (and their other anniversary beer, a Quadrupel/Strong Ale also excellent) on the Eventbrite sale in November. So what is this beer? It is Kane’s (extremely successful) attempt emulating German Chocolate Cake in Beer form, a blend of barrel-aged stouts conditioned on Madagascar-bourbon vanilla beans, cacao nibs, toasted coconuts and pecans. This stout is one of the most decadent, richest, thickest, delicious barrel-aged stouts I’ve ever enjoyed. All those aforementioned elements are expressed in the beer both as a blend and individually – or another way, perfectly. Kane has a reputation as the NJ best brewery for many categories, including Barrel Aged beers and this beer just proves that to be true, an outstandingly crafted ale.

Uncharted Waters – Blueberry and Cinnamon (Jersey Cyclone Brewing Company) | Sour – Fruited | 4.5 Bottle Caps on untappd

 

I’ve been a fan of Jersey Cyclone Brewing since they opened a couple of years ago, their lagers and stouts are superb and they make tasty IPAs. However, this Blueberry/Cinnamon sour ale, Uncharted Waters, might be the best I’ve had from them. Lactose is added to balance out the tartness and sour elements for an outstanding beer. The beer reminds me of a blueberry crumble or blueberry cinnamon pie in beer form. Simply a delicious beer. Jersey Cyclone brews a few different fruited variants of Uncharted Waters, which I must now try.

 


There was one letdown of a beer; however. The beer is from a brewery’s whose beer I’ve enjoyed, but this one was a miss, Forgotten Boardwalk’s Dark Ride a “Black Chocolate Stout.” I like stouts, chocolate, and salted chocolate, but something tasted off in this beer or the beer interpretation of the sweet and salty candy just didn’t work for me.

Beer Review: Lakefront Brewery’s Eastside Dark Lager

Name: Eastside Dark
Brewing Company: Lakefront Brewery
Location: Milwaukee, WI
Style: Lager – Dark / Bavarian Dark Lager
ABV: 5.6%

“A flavorful, every-day, easy drinking lager. What’s not to like?”

From Lakefront Brewery’s landing page for the beer:

Honoring the eclectic East Side of the city, this Bavarian dark lager is a blend of three specialty grains, creating a rich, smooth, dark beer that anyone can enjoy. Our most award-wining beer of all time!

ABOUT THE BREW

Pours a clear, dark color with an off-white head. Hints of roasted malts find their way into the aroma, and form a pleasant background to the dark, rich flavor. The German lager yeast rounds out this brew with a smooth, complex finish. Winner of the 2014 and 2016 European Beer Star Gold Medal for Bohemian-Style Schwarzbier.

What is the most common image conjured for the word “lager?” I would guess in America, that image would be fizzy, yellow liquid. While understandable, that idea undermines the fact that long before Pilsners came to dominate the world, dark lagers were far more prevalent. In their Eastside Lager, legacy Wisconsin Craft brewer Lakefront Brewery looks to evoke that classic, old-world style. This beer would seem to land somewhere between a Schwarzbier and a Munich Dunkel, both of which are styles I like. How does the final result match up?

The beer pours a translucent brown, looking more the part of a Munich Dunkel than a Schwarzbier. Aroma doesn’t stand out too much, it smells like a bready lager.

There’s a very pleasant malt element in this beer that gives me bready hints. The malt gives a very balanced sweetness, it is far from cloying, but is definitely present. I don’t know if it is the color of the beer that has me down this path, but pumpernickel bread comes to mind as what the bready malts evoke in my palate.

While this beer does indeed remind me of a Munich Dunkel, I’m also finding similarities to an English Brown Ale. If you put this beer next to an English Brown, it might not be easy to correctly pinpoint the style of the beers from a visual standpoint. Some of the flavor elements are similar, but the lager yeast in this beer would be where the differences would be noticeable. This is not to knock Eastside Lager but what I’m saying, more or less, is if you enjoy English Brown Ales, you’d likely enjoy this beer.

One of the important characteristics of a beer is how it finishes in one’s palate. For me, Eastside Dark has a strong finish – the pleasant flavor makes me want more. The sweetness and refreshing elements often associated with lagers is on point here, I want to enjoy more of the beer..

Eastside Dark is a flavorful, easy drinking lager that would work well alongside any meal or anytime you’re in the mood for a no-nonsense tasty beer.

Recommended, link to Untappd 3.75-star rating.

Untapped badges earned with this beer (one of the cooler looking badges, in my opinion):

Schwarz-buckler (Level 3)

Ahoy schwarz-buckler! Beware of the evil Black Beerd, as you sail the dark sea of suds matey. That’s 15 different beers with style of Schwarzbier, Lager – Dark, or Lager – Euro Dark.

 

Beer Review: Conclave Brewing’s Sable

Name: Sable
Brewing Company: Conclave Brewing Company
Location: Flemington, NJ
Style: Stout – Imperial / Double
ABV: 11.3%

“A big flavorful stout from one of the brewing gems of the Great Garden State.”

From the description of the beer on untappd:

Ever since we moved to the new brewery we wanted to brew a big stout – Sable is it! Formulated with a Maris Otter base, a lot of flaked oats and a bevy of roasted malts, we came pretty close to maxing out the system. On top of that we conditioned it on the most amazing vanilla beans from Vanuatu. It’s a rich intense brew with big complex flavors and a warming finish.

Just before the Pandemic took hold of the world in early 2020, Conclave Brewing moved one building over to a larger facility that allowed for ramped up production. They doubled their tap list and started more crowler and can releases. Many of those have been IPAs, but I was hoping they’d release a new stout and or dark beer. Sable is that beer, as they state in the description, this beer needed the larger capacity to brew and as such, Sable my first new beer review of 2021. Conclave has proven that their measured approach to brewing pays off in this big stout.

Conclave’s IPAs are popular and beloved and while I’ve enjoyed just about every IPA I’ve had from them, as readers of this blog are aware, I have always been more of a dark beer drinker. Conclave’s stouts and porters are outstanding; Mexican Morning, Mexican Evening, and Espresso Morning Stout are just superb and their Vanilla Porter, Grey Havens from a couple of years ago was delightful. In other words, I was very excited to get a growler fill of this beer

I opened the growler the day after I bought the beer but it still held up with some carbonation for a thin head. Overall, the blackness of the beer screams Imperial Stout. Aroma? Check…I get some of that vanilla overlaying the roasted malt.

My first thought about this beer is how it resonates with one of my favorite stouts, Sierra Nevada’s Narwhal Imperial Stout. The big roasted malt element and the potent hops are similar in a lot of good ways. Then that vanilla slides into the flavor profile, and brings a welcome element to balance out the big dose of hops. I imagine if Sierra Nevada made a Vanilla variant of Narwhal (maybe they have), it might taste similar to Sable from Conclave.

Most of the beer I’ve been seeing and enjoying with Vanilla highlights the island of Madagascar as origin of the Vanilla . I’d never heard of Vanuatu before this beer, but it is an island in the South Pacific. That factoid doesn’t really have too much play on the taste of the beer, just more of an anecdote. Anyway, what I appreciate most about the Vanilla component is that it comes through just a shade more potent than subtle. What does that mean? The Vanilla doesn’t scream at you the way I’ve experienced in some beers, but rather a natural element of the beer.

I managed to enjoy the full 32oz half-growler over the course of the evening and would welcome more of this beer in the future.

Sable is a bold, potent announcement of a beer from Conclave that proclaims, “Yeah, we do great IPAs, but don’t forget our Stouts are as equally delicious!”

Recommended, link to Untappd 4-bottle cap rating.

Draught Diversions: Favorite New Beers of 2020

The fourth annual roundup keeps up the trend from the 2019 12-pack, while I’ll still have beers with very high untappd ratings, this post features “Favorite” beers of the 328 unique beers I checked into untappd in 2020. What does that mean? Well, there were beers I consumed in 2020 which I awarded a high 4.75 rating, but I may be including a 4.25/5 beer that I enjoyed more. Put it another way, there were some highly rated (4.5) beers I enjoyed in 2020 that in one beer I could recognize the quality, but one was enough , while some beers I may have rated at a 4.25 I would have multiple times.

As with my previous Annual 12-packs, New means “New to Me” because a few beers on this list have been around for many, many years, but I had the beer for the first time in 2020.

The usual NJ bias shines through on this list as 6 of the beers are from NJ breweries. I’d say 75% of the beer I bought & consumed in 2020 were from NJ breweries, which shouldn’t be a surprise to people who’ve been reading this blog. This list could have easily been comprised of 3 or 4 breweries, but the one rule I’ll stick to from past years is allowing only one beer per brewery to appear. Essentially, what that means is even though I had multiple “new to me” beers from many breweries, that brewery’s beer on this list is the beer I enjoyed the most from that brewery.

Here’s the standard breakdown I’ve been providing:

  • 6 from NJ breweries
  • 3 from CA breweries
  • 4 from “New to me Breweries”
  • 4 Lagers
    • 2 Pilsners
    • 1 Dark Lager
    • 1 Baltic Porter
  • 1 Belgian Quadrupel
  • 2 IPAs
    • 1 American
    • 1 Imperial / Double
  • 2 Stouts
    • 1 Imperial / Double
    • 1 Imperial / Double Pastry
  • 1 Porter
  • 1 Sour
  • 1 Barleywine

12. Jersey Dreamin’ | Ashton Brewing Company | Pilsner – Czech | 4.25 bottle caps

Ashton Brewing is one of the newest New Jersey breweries, but they had the unfortunate timing to have had their grand opening scheduled when the COVID-19 Pandemic shut down public gatherings. Fortunately, they forged on full-steam ahead with canning their beer, including this supremely impressive Pilsner. While Ashton’s first canned beer was their IPA, the fact that their second was a Pilsner – a style that has zero wiggle room for mistakes that can be hidden by adding more hops or adjuncts – is impressive. Some Pilsners lean towards a breadiness/cracker element from the malt, some have a floral/fruity finish and some strike a balance between the two. Jersey Dreamin strikes that balance really nicely. It isn’t as “crackery” as some pilsners I’ve had – which is by no means a slight – but it has a full flavor whose elements come together really cleanly.

11. The Miner | Czig Meister Brewing Company I Lager – Dark | 4.25 Bottle Caps

This beer surprised me, I’ll admit and is one of the dark lagers I’ll be adding to my regular rotation because Matt Czigler and his crew coaxed such great flavors from the roasted malt in this beer for great complexity and easy drinking at 4.8%. When Czig Meister released the beer in December, I made sure to get a 6-pack. This beer is very reminiscent of a Czech Dark Lager or a German Schwarzbier, and is just plain delicious.

10. Bourbon Barrel-Aged Framinghammer | Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers | Porter – Baltic | 4.5 bottle Caps on untappd

Framinghammer is the Baltic porter brewed by Jack’s Abby. Yes, a Baltic Porter is brewed using a cold/Lager process. It is the beer Jack’s Abby throw in bourbon barrels as their barrel-aged dark beer. This delectable version is the standard, but there many variants (Mole, S’Mores’, Coffee, Vanilla, etc). The bourbon is present, but not overpowering and just one part of the great flavor profile. Notes of vanilla and sweetness balance out the slightly high bitterness level. A wonderful slow-sipper.

9. Helldorado (2017) | Firestone Walker Brewing Company | Barleywine – American | 4.5 bottle caps

Firestone Walker is probably the non-NJ brewery that drew my attention the most this year as I was able to find and enjoy about a half-dozen beers from their amazing barrel aging program, including this 3-year old Barrel Aged Barleywine. Helldorado is one of the best barleywines I’ve ever had. The beer has a strong bourbon aroma and the flavors that emerge include vanilla, chewy hops, toffee, and caramel. Simply an outstanding beer..

8. Chekov’s Gun | Carton Brewing Company | Belgian Quadrupel | 4.50 bottle caps


Carton remains a top NJ brewery for me (I had about a dozen new & unique beers from them in 2020), but this one stood the test of the year and remained my favorite from them. This beer was on draft (and available in a 3-pack of bombers) when I and a few friends made our annual New Year’s Day Pilgrimage, so this was technically the 4th beer I had in 2020. This outstanding Quadrupel is a style I love, a style that isn’t brewed often, but when done well as this beer was brewed with Pomegranate Molasses – and aged in Peach Brandy Barrels – the final product is heavenly.

7. Fuego | Tonewood Brewing Company | IPA – American | 4.5 Bottle Caps

Tonewood is the NJ Brewery who everybody seems to love and they’ve begun to broaden their distribution footprint over the last year or so. I finally had their Flagship IPA and it is one of the top 2 or 3 IPAs I’ve had from a NJ brewery. There’s an absolutely perfect hop blend giving the beer both a citrus and juicy component, but also the hallmark bittering and slightly piney components often associated with West Coast IPAs along with a nice malt bill to balance the hop bitterness. Fuego is a beer that proves just how great the IPA game is in the State of New Jersey.

6. La Roja (Boysenberry & Guava Edition) | Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales | Sour – Flanders Red Ale | 4.5 Bottle Caps

For our 20th Anniversary, my wife got me 20 Beers for 20 years of marriage from Tavour. This beer – Flanders Red – is astyle I thought I didn’t like. Granted I’ve only had two others and they were two vintages of the same beer. Then I had this outstanding beer. Flanders Red Ales are traditional Belgian sour ales, but the masterminds at Jolly Pumpkin added Boysenberries and Guava to the mix for sweetness to balance out the vinegary sourness that is a hallmark of the style. This is one of the most complex beers I’ve had of any style and is a masterpiece of the art of craft brewing and a very strong contender for my favorite sour beer of all time.

5. Cathedral Tree | Fort George Brewing Company | Pilsner – Other | 4.5 bottle caps

Another beer from the 20th Anniversary Box makes the cut, this was probably my favorite of those 20 beers, so I reviewed it. Here’s some what I had to say: “The beer pours a perfect golden-yellow with a fluffy white head into my Pilsner glass. As it turns out, the glass from which I enjoyed the beer was a wedding gift from my coworkers of 20 years ago… The first full taste of the beer was extremely pleasing. Cathedral Tree has the classic German Pilsner elements – bready/crackery malt and a pleasant hop finish. … Cathedral Tree is a superb pilsner and one I’d happily have again and seek out should I ever have the opportunity to visit Oregon.

4. BA Making Whoopie (2020 Buffalo Trace + Maple) | Icarus Brewing Company | Stout – Imperial / Double Pastry | 4.75 bottle caps

Icarus Brewing Company out of Lakewood, NJ was my top brewery of 2020, both in quantity and quality. (Probably not a shock to regular readers of the Tap Takeover) I had more unique beers from them than any brewery, which made narrowing down my favorite new to me beer of 2020 from them very challenging indeed, As it turned out, the last beer of the year I had from any brewery was the best beer I had from Icarus. I bought the beer with the intention of enjoying on New Year’s Eve, but I didn’t expect it to be the best Barrel Aged beer from my favorite brewery. The beer could be a mess of flavors, but the chocolate, malt, vanilla, maple syrup, marshmallows, and barrel character are amalgamated wonderfully. This is a sinful, delectable, unbelievable sweet dessert stout.

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

Kane is probably the brewery whose beers I came to appreciate the most over the last couple of years and I had a decent amount form them in 2020, so like Icarus, it was difficult to land on my favorite from them. This variant on their coffee porter was one of the earliest beers I enjoyed from Kane in 2020 and it was not topped in 2020. Here’s what I said in my March 2020 Six Pack: “Morning Bell is Kane’s highly acclaimed year-round coffee porter and is outstanding. Once a year, they do a few special releases of Bell variants, Morning Mocha is one of those in 2020. In addition to rich coffee flavors from their local coffee roastery Rook Coffee, this beer was conditioned on Ugandan and Haitian cacao nibs. I thought I died and went to heaven when I drank this beer. There is an absolutely perfect blend of coffee and chocolate in the flavor profile, which complements and doesn’t overtake the base porter.”

2. Pliny the Elder | Russian River Brewing Company | IPA – Imperial / Double | 5 bottle caps

When I visited San Francisco earlier this year before the Pandemic really affected things, I sought out this beer and it did not disappoint. What I said in my February 2020 Six Pack: “The very first Imperial IPA ever made and one of the best beers I’ve ever had. I was in San Francisco for business for a couple of days and I heard about this wonderful dive bar, the Toronado with 40 beers on tap, with Pliny a fixture. Of course I had to go and have the beer, which lived up to the hype. An outstanding beer, never have hops tasted so wonderful. Quite simply, a perfect beer.”

1. Barrel-Aged Narwhal | Sierra Nevada Brewing Company | Stout – Imperial / Double | 5 bottle caps

Last year I thought I had the best barrel-aged stout I’ve ever had, that title lasted a few months until I had a pint of this amazing beer. From my review: “The flavor elements imparted by the Kentucky Bourbon Barrels **perfectly** enhance and complement the flavor elements of the base beer – the hops which can be relatively aggressive on a fresh in-year* bottle, are tamed and smoothed by the beer having been aged in the barrel. The hops are definitely present, but the lingering bitterness as softened. The barrel aging also complements the sweetness from the malt with hints of vanilla, oak, and maybe coconut. … Barrel Aged Narwhal is an outstanding, world-class barrel-aged stout that I’d stand up against any other barrel-aged stout I’ve had or that is available. Given that price point, you will not find a better beer for this price point.”

Honorable Mentions – Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Porter from Boulevard Brewing, Persian Lime Gose (Sour – Fruited Gose) from Two Roads Brewing, Cosm of Darkness (Stout – Imperial/Double) a Timber Ales/Eight State Brewing Collaboration, Quad City (Belgian Quadrupel) from Four City Brewing Company, Gaffel Kölsch (Kölsch) from Privatbrauerei Gaffel Becker, Chocolate Caramel Cookie Sharing Size (Stout – Imperial/Double) from Free Will Brewing, and Victory Classic Easy Drinkin’ Lager (Lager – Helles) from Victory Brewing plus too many from Icarus Brewing and Kane Brewing to list here

Some other notes:

Although the pandemic made visiting breweries a little more challenging for much of 2020, I was able to visit the following breweries for the first time in 2020:

Breweries whose beer I checked in/enjoyed the most, which should be a shock to nobody reading this blog:

  • Icarus Brewing (20 unique/new to me beers)
  • Bolero Snort Brewery (19 unique/new to me beers)
  • Czig Meister Brewery (13 unique/new to me beers)
  • Carton Brewing (11 unique/new to me beers)
  • Ashton Brewing (10 unique/new to me beers)

Draught Diversions: December 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…

The Final Six Pack of 2020…contains the usual mix of NJ and non-NJ beers and stouts and IPAs. A couple of new-to-me breweries in with the usual suspects.

All Out Stout (Athletic Brewing Company) | Non-Alcoholic Beer/Stout – Oatmeal | 3.75 Bottle Caps on untappd

Non-Alcoholic beers are one of the growing trends in beer and Athletic is producing them exclusively. My wife did a trail run (where she kicked ass!) and Athletic Brewing was a sponsor, which afforded me the opportunity to sample this very tasty stout. There’s no hint in the flavor/taste that this stout doesn’t have alcohol. A slightly roasty, tasty oatmeal stout is all that I get, which is a good thing…and better than some stouts I’ve had with alcohol in them!

Morning Breeze (Untied Brewing Company) | Pilsner – Other | 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

I wrote about Untied Brewing in the fall and visited them again because I wanted to get a bottle of their Russian Imperial Stout and to try this beer. I was very impressed with their take on a dry-hopped pilsner. It has the bready/crackery elements I like in a Pilsner and yet the dry-hopping doesn’t come through too strongly on the finish. This is simply a well-made lager, which is a great thing in my book.

Bourbon Barrel-Aged Imperial Porter (Boulevard Brewing Co) | Porter – Imperial / Double | 4.5 Bottle Caps on untappd

One of the last of Boulevard beers from a work colleague is a dandy! The roasted elements that can sometimes be too dominant for my palate are subdued, I’m guessing, from the bourbon barrel aging. There’s a perfect blending of elements of the beer and barrel in this bottle (and subsequently, my glass), that I most certainly took my time and savored each sip. The beer was delicious and my only regret is it is gone.

Bang Kitty (Icarus Brewing Company) | IPA – Imperial / Double New England | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

This was one of the more strange and interesting IPAs (in a good way) that I’ve had. Grassy, citrusy, with a little kick from chili on the end, these ingredients worked really well together. Then again, I shouldn’t be surprised at anything less than extremely good coming out of the brewery in Lakewood, NJ,

Christmas Morning (Hardywood Park Craft Brewery) | Stout – Imperial / Double Milk | 4.5 Bottle Caps on untappd

In my Christmas Six Pack last year, I wrote about Hardywood’s Gingerbread Stout, this beer is a variant on that renowned beer. Christmas Morning sees the addition of coffee to the standard vanilla, ginger, and honey for a savory sipper. This was one of the best milk stouts I’ve ever had, absolutely delicious.

Abyss Series – Shadowsphere (Czig Meister Brewing) | IPA – Imperial/Double New England | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

My wife and I stopped in at Czig Meister after dropping off some Christmas presents at a family member who lives nearby and decided on a flight rather than a full pour. Czig has been doing really nice things on the beers in their Abyss series and this one is no exception. The Citra and Strata hops give the beer a wonderful tropical hoppy taste and there’s no lingering aftertaste.

I also want to give a little shout out to Grains & Taps brewing in Lees Summit, MO. One of the companies I work with for my day job sponsored a virtual happy hour and the featured brewery was Grains & Taps. We had four beers to sample, all of them quite good: Wheat Told you So, tasty Wheat Ale; Jet Chip Wasp, a malty Amber Ale; Dry Stout, their take on an Irish Stout; and Raspberry Sherbet a fruited Gose.

Beer Review: Tröegs Independent Brewing’s Double Blizzard

Name: Double Blizzard
Brewing Company: Tröegs Independent Brewing
Location: Hershey, PA
Style: IPA – Imperial/Double
ABV: 8.3%

A superb Imperial IPA that is smartly blends the elements of East and West Coast IPA.

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

This is Blizzard of Hops … turned up to 11. For Double Blizzard, we used a cooler temperature for the kettle hop additions, softening the character of the Centennial, Chinook and El Dorado. On the cold side, we dry-hopped with four pounds per barrel of Chinook and Galaxy. At 8.3% ABV, we’re into semi-hazy Double IPA territory, and we like it here.

It took 9 months for me to post another review of an Imperial IPA, but damn was this one worth it!

Like many of the “newer” beers to emerge into wider distribution and seasonal rotation from Tröegs Independent Brewing, Double Blizzard began as a “Scratch” beer, the brewery’s experimental, small-batch beer available in only at the Tröegs’s Brewery in Hershey, PA. Soon after, that “Scratch” beer (#233) was re-branded as an imperial version of Tröegs’s delicious, popular “Winter” IPA, Blizzard of Hops. Finally, this year in 2020, the good people at Tröegs decided to add Double Blizzard throughout their distribution footprint, and here we are.

Based on how much I enjoyed Blizzard of Hops, I knew I’d want to try Double Blizzard so when it showed up locally, I immediately grabbed a four pack.

After a pop of the top and a pour into the glass, I get a strong hop aroma of some citrus and a high level of pine. Into the glass the beer goes and it is a bright yellow golden beer (which doesn’t quite show in the lighting of my picture). A full quaff of the aroma, coupled with the look, sets this beer in the realm of a promising, quality Imperial IPA.

Hops…lots of them. That’s my first impression of the beer. But I knew that going in given the name and the style. But the blend of hops in this one? It works really well for me: Centennial, Chinook, El Dorado, and Galaxy hops. Centennial is one of the classic C-Hops and is perhaps the most potent hops lending the citrusy pine notes that dominate the beer. The Galaxy hops bring a softening presence of some tropical fruit evocations for an extremely balanced IPA.

Double Blizzard is a true coming together of IPA styles – the tropical elements associated with New England/Northeast IPAs along with the bitter, piney, resinous character of classic West Coast IPAs. First is that color, the traditional West Coast IPA and Imperial IPA is more translucent than its East Coast brethren. Double Blizzard is indeed brighter and is more clear, like the West Coast IPAs, but there’s a slight haziness that sets the balance. As I said of the hop blend, it leans ever so slightly more in the West Coast direction, but the Galaxy hops in particular tug at the flavor strings towards the East Coast variety.

For my preferences, there’s a slightly stronger aftertaste from the hops than I typically care to experience. However, that slightly bitter/piney aftertaste is true to the style of the West Coast IPA to which the beer is hewing, so I can’t really say this is a mark against the beer’s quality. Because one thing is true of nearly every beer crafted by the Trogner Brothers and their brewery, quality is of the highest order.

In the end, Double Blizzard is an excellent Imperial IPA that plays very well with the two primary American variations of the tried and true style.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4-bottle cap rating.

Beer Review: Bolero Snort’s Mele Kalikimakow

Name: Mele Kalikimakow
Brewing Company: Bolero Snort Brewery
Location: Carlstadt, NJ
Style: Sour – Fruited
ABV: 6.1%

Bolero Snort’s growing sour beer program produces a tasty and delightful non-standard Holiday beer.

From Bolero Snort’s blog entry for the beer:

Here’s the island greeting that we send to you, from the land where palm trees sway. This lava flow cocktail inspired sour is loaded with fruit! Sweep the winter blues under the Holiday table and drift away to warmer, poolside days with this blend of Strawberry, Pineapple, Banana and Coconut! Mele Kalikimakow is ideally sipped out of some bull shaped glassware to toast the holiday season right!

This is the third beer I’ve reviewed from Bolero Snort and the third style. Since Scott and Bob opened their gorgeous, enormous facility in the shadow of the Meadowlands Sports Complex late 2019/early 2020, they’ve increased their production output significantly. One area in particular that has seen growth (quantity/variety. sales, and in what people are saying) is their sour beer “program” and this beer is a great example of that.

When thinking of Christmas beers, Belgians and Stouts come to my mind. But with the name of this beer a bovinely inspired play on the Hawai’ian Christmas Song (and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation), the style and elements of the beer – a fruited sour evoking a Lava Flow cocktail – make a little more sense.

The beer pours very thick with a pinkish hue. It sure looks like a beer playing with the idea of a Lava Flow* cocktail! I get those fruity tropical aromas mixed with the funk of the yeast from the beer, too. So far, seems on point for what the beer is trying to do.

My wife and I went to Hawai’i for our honeymoon and when we landed in Hawai’i after a 10 hour flight plus a 2 hour layover, I had a delicious Lava Flow. Because I was so tired from the 10+ hours travel, it took just one drink to get me a little tipsy!

I’ll admit, the thickness and look of the beer had me questioning my decision. But a sip eroded those doubts.

The beer feels almost as thick as it looks, but fruited sours like this often do. What do I get from the copious flavors outlined above and on the can? While the strawberries lend much of the color and I assume the bananas help with the texture, the pineapple is the front-most flavor out of the cocktail fruits. Fortunately, I thoroughly enjoy pineapple so that works just fine by me.

This isn’t a beer you can our should chug, but it you don’t want to let it warm too much either. As I was continuing to drink through the pint of the beer, the coconut in particular emerged a little more with the strawberries dancing in the background. Carbonation was minimal, but present reminding me that this was indeed a beer.

It seems Bolero Snort accomplished what they set out to do with this beer – it put me in the mindset of enjoying a Pina Colada in beer form. I’ve also been singing Mele Kalikimaka for the past few days.

I will also point out the great can art that captures a scene from the holiday classic National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. The Bolero Bull is dressed up like Clark Griswold (with added Mariner Moose Egg Nog Glass) during the scene when he’s daydreaming about the pool he’s going have installed thanks to his expected Christmas Bonus.

I suppose the best way for me to describe this beer is that is a fun, playful Christmas inspired beer that is a nice alternative to the traditional Christmas Stouts and Belgian Holiday ales.

Recommended, link to 4 bottle-cap Untappd check-in

Draught Diversions: Christmas (in NJ) 2020 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…

As I’ve been doing since I started The Tap Takeover, I’m presenting an assortment of interesting looking Christmas beers in my six pack format. Since I’ve been focusing more attention on local/NJ breweries since the Pandemic than in previous years, the Christmas 2020 Six Pack is all NJ beers. I’ve only had one of these beers, but they all look really tasty to me. Also, I’ve had beer from all six of these breweries and enjoyed them all. As is most often the case, I’m putting these in alphabetical order by brewery.

Figgy Pudding | Barleywine – English | The Alementary | Ithaca, NY | ABV 5.7%

Image courtesy of The Alementary’s Facebook

Figgy Pudding is a traditional British Christmas dessert and that’s what the Alementary is looking to emulate with this beer. At 9.1%, this beer would seem to me to be a dessert sipper to enjoy while opening the Christmas gifts after dinner. I like figs and many barleywines already evoke fig flavors, so this beer seems a natural concoction for Christmas enjoyment. I think the beer changes slightly from year to year, ao here’s The Alementary’s write-up from 2019.

What Alementary says about the beer in 2020:

Big sweet bready malt, with a full range of supporting characters from light toffee to low chocolate. Fruit aromas of apricot, date, significant fig. Flavors of holiday fruitcake with massive malt structure. Figs for days, with supporting apricot. Date and Prune are secondary.

Cheer | Brown Ale – American | Bonesaw Brewing Co | Glassboro, NJ | ABV 7.4%

Image courtesy of Bonesaw Brewing’s Facebook

Bonesaw has been open a couple of years and I’ve seen only great things about the South Jersey brewery. Some of their cans have been popping up here in Somerset County so hopefully this joyful looking ale makes it to shelves near me. Looks like a classic American take on a dark/brown ale but with some added spices, the way I read the description.

What Bonesaw Brewing says about the beer:

Now that the leaves have turned and fallen and the days are getting shorter and colder, we see the holiday season is here again. We made for you this Christmas ale to wrap up all the warm, familiar flavors and aromas into your cup of Cheer: a brown ale stuffed with orange, cocoa and winter spices.

Boughs of Barley | Cape May Brewing Company | Barrel Aged Quadrpel | Cape May, NJ | ABV 12.6%

Image courtesy of Cape May Brewing Company’s Facebook

”Boughs of Barley” is an annual release from Cape May Brewing Company, but it changes every year. Last year was a Baltic Porter, the year before an Imperial Stout. For 2020, There are two releases, each a Quadrupel, but they are aged in different barrels. I’m a big fan of Quads so I may try to snag one of these if I see them, I’d probably lean towards the Grand Marnier barrel.

About the beer:

It’s the most wonderful time of the year: it’s time to deck the halls with Boughs of Barley! Our annual holiday offering, this year we’ve taken our insanely delectable Belgian quad and laid it to rest in some gigantic Portuguese sherry puncheons and a few incredible Grand Marnier barrels, each lending its own character to the base beer, adding layers and layers of complexity.

For this year’s Boughs of Barley, we took our rich and robust Belgian-style quadrupel ale and laid it to rest for many moons in barrels previously aging a well-known orange liqueur. A carefully layered grain bill fermented with our favorite fruity Belgian yeast, we’ve created a robust brew for your holiday season. Ample conditioning time in the orange liqueur barrels yields a well-rounded body with strong notes of orange peel and toasted marshmallows, making this orange liqueur barrel-aged Boughs of Barley our holiday treat for you.

Ginger Snap Cookie | Cream Ale | Forgotten Boardwalk Brewing | Cherry Hill, NJ | ABV 5.5%

Image courtesy of Forgotten Boardwalk Brewing’s Facebook

Forgotten Boardwalk does a very smart thing…they’ve got their popular Funnel Cake Cream Ale and they use it for multiple variants. The Christmas version is this appealing beer, Ginger Snap Cookie with all the holiday spices in the mix. I may need to snag a 4 pack.

What Forgotten Boardwalk Brewing says about this beer:

Bright and zesty, smooth yet not too sweet. Ginger Snap Cookie is a simple vanilla cream ale brewed with ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, orange peel and clove to evoke the spicy savory flavor of the classic holiday cookie.

Malus | Belgian Strong Dark Ale | Kane Brewing Company | Ocean, NJ | ABV 9.5%

Malus is the only beer in this six pack I had and I thought it was very good. I had it a few years ago on draft and there’s enough of the beer elements to keep it a beer, but there’s a lovely apple cider flavor to the beer, too. Well worth seeking out.

What Kane says about the beer:

Malus, our 10% Belgian-style dark ale was the first beer we bottled back in 2012. We wanted to create an alternative to pumpkin beers, so we chose a warm spiced apple cider as inspiration. We source locally pressed cider from Delicious Orchards that we boil down and reduce into a syrup to replace the dark candi syrup we typically use. We then added orange zest, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove and allspice to the kettle and fermented it with our house Belgian yeast. Malus is one of our more unique and interesting beers and is ideal for this time of year as it will warm you up with every sip.⠀

Winter Ale | Cider – Graff | Untied Brewing Company | New Providence, NJ | ABV 7.3%

Image courtesy of Untied Brewings’s Facebook

Untied has been brewing a “Winter Ale” each of the last three years since they’ve opened and this one seems the most interesting. Previously, they’ve brewed a straightforward Winter Ale and a Saison, but this one, as a cider ale blend, could hit the holiday spot perfectly.

What Untied says about the beer:

Wassail(Hot mulled Cider) inspired Graff (Cider/Ale Blend) brewed with Apple Juice, Nelson Sauvin hops, Chardonnay grape must, apple juice, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla bean, orange peel, molasses, and brown sugar.

It is an apple and cider forward Ale with notes of winter spices.

Not a bad, varied selection of beers, if I do say so myself.