Beer Review: Ashton Brewing’s Shore de Garde

Name: Shore De Garde
Brewing Company: Ashton Brewing
Location: Middlesex, NJ
Style: Farmhouse – Bière de Garde
ABV: 7.8%

A fantastic take on a relatively obscure Farmhouse Ale demonstrates the high quality beer I’ve come to expect from Ashton Brewing.

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From Ashton Brewing’s landing page for beers:

The 2021 Motown MASH Best of Show winner, Erik Shore, created this delicious country ale. It is a Bière de Garde, which is a French Farmhouse Ale. This beer is malty, clean, dry and smooth. Truly a keeper.

I’ve been really enjoying the beers coming out of Ashton Brewing over the last couple of years, regardless of style. I happened to stop in recently and saw this beer on draught, a style I don’t see often – Bière de Garde, a French Farmhouse Saison-type of ale which translates as “beer for keeping.” Whereas a Farmhouse Ale of the Saison variety is lighter in color, like straw, a Bière de Garde is a little more malty and darker in color. As such, I don’t have too much to compare Shore de Garde against, with the exception of Two Roads’s tasty Holiday Ale.

Before getting the full pour, Donna (one of the owners) kindly allowed me a sip/small taste of this beer and the Saison/Farmhouse they had on draught that day. Both were good, but this one was different enough that I wanted the full pour.

The beer I’m given is a relatively clear golden-burnt umber color. It looks relatively unique, which is enticing. Aroma…I didn’t get anything out of the ordinary on the aroma portion of the show, so I dive in for my first sip.

First taste…is both unique and somewhat familiar. I think the yeast elements give the beer some familiarity, kind of what I’d expect from a Saison or Farmhouse Ale. But the malt character…that’s what is unique, at least what I expect in this style of beer. There’s a sweetness that is rather different from most Farmhouse Ales I’ve enjoyed. The fruitiness is more earthy, maybe figginess and dates? Whereas the Saison side of Farmhouse evokes more of a banana flavor.

This is a very surprising, pleasant beer. The more I drink, the more I enjoy it. It is a fun beer in many ways, in terms of trying to determine what flavors are coming from the yeast and malt combination, and quite delightful.

As the description calls out, this beer is a product of MASH. As I noted in my Brewery Spotlight for Ashton Brewing, Steve is a member of MASH (Morris Area Society of Homebrewers) and I think this is the second beer (at least) that is a product a MASH contest and it is a damned fine one at that. Donna mentioned to me that the batch on draught that day was essentially a test batch and that it did well enough that Ashton will be canning this beer with the next full batch. This is a unique style, a flavorful, well-crafted ale that is worth seeking out.

Recommended, link to 4 bottle cap untappd rating check in.

Draught Diversions: February 2022 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…

Sixpack_2022_Feb

Another Six Pack that was somewhat difficult to construct. For one reason, I had multiple beers from a couple different breweries so deciding which beer from those breweries would be represented made the list of “new to me” beers I had this month somewhat long. I also had a vast range of styles this month, with multiple Belgian styles part of the overall group. I settled on a very tasty six pack with a pretty decent variety of styles even if at least one of the breweries in the pack will NOT be a shock.

Without further adieu, here is the February 2022 Six Pack…

Barrel Aged Bullhala (Bolero Snort Brewery) | Porter – Baltic | 3.75 Bottle Caps on untappd

Bolero_BA_Bullhalla

It has been quite a while since I had a new-to-me Bolero beer, but this one called out to me. I’ve been seeking out Baltic porters and this beer, aged in Bourbon barrels, hit the spot. Good flavor profile, the bourbon was more potent than I’d expect from a beer with a 9.5% ABV. On the other hand, it was a little thinner than I’d expect. Despite those two slights, the beer was still quite tasty.

Evermore (Readington Brewery & Hop Farm) | Wheat Beer – Dunkelweizen | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

Readington_Evermore

Here’s a first for the lineage of the Six Pack posts at The Tap Takeover…back-to-back months featuring Dunkelweizens! I made a second visit to Readington Brewery and Hop Farm, the newest brewery in my area (less than 2 miles away) and was very pleased to see an improvement in the beers. Not that they were undrinkable that first visit, but needed some work. I was very impressed with this Dunkelweizen, Evermore, which was dialed in quite nicely to the style. I wouldn’t be surprised if Reading Brewery will be appearing in the six packs in the future.

Wolfe’s Neck (Maine Beer Company Brewery) | IPA – American | 4.50 Bottle Caps on untappd

MainBeerCo_WolfCreek

Maine Beer Company makes outstanding IPAs and Wolfe’s Neck is another delicious example. A fantastic blend of hops with a dialed-in hop flavor, great malt character, and overall, perfectly balanced. This is one of the cleanest IPAs I’ve ever had, completely dialed-in and elegant.

Decimate (Icarus Brewing Company) | Lager – Japanese Rice | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

Icarus_Decimate

A visit to Icarus means I had a few new Icarus beers from which to choose for this six pack. I went with the new Lager they canned (although I thoroughly enjoyed their Altbier, Thee Points). Decimate is a Japanese Rice Lager, where the Rice makes up a significant portion of the grain bill. Into that, Jason and his crew of brewers added Lemongrass for a nice refreshing finish. Another example how awesome Icarus Brewing’s low ABV lagers are.

Jovial (Tröegs Independent Brewing) | Belgian Dubbel | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

Troegs_Jovial

I’ve said it before (or at least hinted at it), but Tröegs might be my favorite Pennsylvania brewery. They brew across every style and do so with impressive quality. This Dubbel, originally brewed for co-owner Chris Trogner’s wedding, is a year-round release and a damned fine interpretation of the classic Belgian dark ale. Wonderful sweetness, hints of raisin and bananas makes this as good a Dubbel as you’ll find from even a brewery from Belgium.

La Trappe Tripel (Bierbrouwerij De Konigshoeven) | Belgian Tripel | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

LaTrappe_Tripel

One of my favorite meals (Pork Chops marinated/brined in Tripel) is from this cookbook, Cooking with Beer. Not a lot of the Tripel is required so I was delighted when I saw a 750ml bottle of this in one of my local bottle shops since I love La Trappe Quadrupel. Their Tripel, this beer, is almost as good which is to say that it is a world class, outstanding beer. Perfect elements from the yeast imparting sweetness and fruitiness, just a perfectly rounded beer.

There you have it, the February 2022 Six Pack.

Beer Review: Jack’s Abby’s Lagerness Monster

Name: Lagerness Monster 
Brewing Company: Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers
Location: Framingham, MA
Style: Porter – Imperial / Double Baltic
ABV: 14%

A complex, rich, delicious beer that marvelously upends the expectations of Lager beer.

JacksAbby_LagernessMonster
A sleeping Dusty makes a cameo appearance in the background

From the Jack Abby’s landing page for the beer:

Something monstrous has surfaced. Lagerness Monster is an Imperial Baltic Porter aged in bourbon barrels. Last spotted years ago, this strong dark lager features deep flavors of chocolate, vanilla, and coffee. Grab one while you can, this one won’t lurk long.

Jack’s Abby is one of the premier lager breweries in the United States. Jack Hendler and his crew have pushed the boundaries of what a lager can be across the many styles that can be produced with bottom-fermented yeast. Lagers are traditionally thought to be yellow or yellowish-golden in color, though many people who enjoy beer know that Bocks (usually dark brown) are lagers, too. What many people may not realize (and I didn’t initially know years ago) is that Baltic Porters are actually lager beers. Some of the most highly rated beers from Jack’s Abby are their “Framinghammer” series of Baltic Porters, which are often barrel-aged. But the rarest Baltic Porter from Jack’s Abby is this one, Lagerness Monster. (what a great name!)

So is the beer as good as the name?

Pouring a deep black reminiscent of an 8-ball into the glass, there’s a slight head. With the high ABV (14%!), I’m not too surprised at the thin head, but the beer pours fairly thick, which is nice. The aroma is strong on the bourbon, but it doesn’t drown out the malty elements of the beer or the slight licorice elements associated with the style.

The first sip impresses me. I like the beer quite a bit from that first taste and I have a feeling I’m going to enjoy this 500ml bottle over the next hour or so. Moments later, I have a second sip and it is stellar. I start to get a pleasant tingly feeling in my belly when the beer hits, a familiar feeling I associate with good beer.

The more I acquaint myself with the beer, the more I enjoy it. I’m not a licorice fan and many Baltic Porters have that flavor element in them. The hints of licorice are here in Lagerness Monster, but mild and far more pleasant than any hints of licorice I’ve ever tasted. The barrel elements soften that strong element, balancing out the flavor with some oak and bourbon, along with very welcome hints of vanilla and maybe even toffee.

About halfway through the beer, as I’m sitting on my couch, I can feel my legs becoming slightly heavier. That’s when I know I’ve had a beer with a high ABV and it isn’t a bad feeling. It just reminds me that I’m glad I had no real plans that night other than maybe watching a movie or reading a book and enjoying this beer.

What impresses me the most is the balance in this beer. The Baltic Porter elements are omnipresent, the barrel character wraps itself around the malty core of the beer and gives Lagerness Monster one of the cleaner flavor profiles I’ve enjoyed in a barrel-aged beer. Jack’s Abby is pushing the boundaries of craft, pushing the boundaries of what to expect from Lager, and doing so marvelously and deliciously.

As I was finishing up this beer and thinking of how I’d rate it in the end, I came to a slight crossroads. I initially landed on a 4.5 bottle caps on the untappd rating meter but the more I thought about it, the more I realized the beer had almost no flaws. I upped my rating to a 4.75 because it was nearly perfect. The only minor slight: I wouldn’t mind if it was slightly lower in ABV, but that’s it. Even at that high ABV, the booziness isn’t the punch to the face you might expect. The beer is incredible.

Jack’s Abby distributes fairly widely along in the Northeast but I’m not sure how widely they’ve put Lagerness Monster into distribution. If you see it, grab a bottle. At the $11 I paid for it, it was practically a steal especially taking into account the quality of the beer and what I’ve paid (and prices I’ve seen) for other barrel-aged dark beers.

Highly Recommended, link to 4.75 bottle cap untappd rating check in.

Untapped badges earned with this beer:

To The Port (Level 16)

Dating back to the 18th century, porters remain an extremely popular style to this day. That is 130 different beers with the style of Porter.

JacksAbby_LagernessMonster

Beer Review: Cigar City’s Marshal Zhukov’s Double Envelopment

Name: Marshal Zhukov’s Double Envelopment
Brewing Company: Cigar City Brewing
Location: Tampa, FL
Style: Stout – Double / Imperial
ABV: Tennessee Avenue Beer Hall in Atlantic City, NJ
ABV: 11.8%

An outstanding, unique barrel-aged stout that should be on every stout lovers “to find” list.

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From the Cigar City’s landing page for the beer:

This Russian Imperial Stout is dedicated to Georgy Zhukov, arguably one of the finest generals of World War II, and to the double envelopment maneuver he utilized to trap the German army at the Battle of Stalingrad in 1942. This beer was divided between rum and sherry barrels, with the final blend being skewed just a bit heavier on the rum barrels. Rum barrels have added a pronounced spiciness and texture to the beer, while sherry barrel-aging has imparted flavors of dark cherry and blackberry. The base beer’s recipe has been tweaked a bit over the last few years, with some of the roastiness taking a back seat to dark chocolate flavors and sweetness. Other than that, it’s a straightforward barrel-aged version of Zhukov’s. .

Marshal Zhukov’s is Cigar City’s flagship Stout, a Russian Imperial Stout as it so happens. Like many breweries tend to do for special releases, they take this stout and age it some oak barrels. But not the typical Bourbon barrels, the folks at Cigar City decided blend two versions, the rum barrel-aged and sherry barrel-aged to create something unique. Or at least I suppose that is the aim of such a brewing and blended stout.

What are the results?

The beer is very dark, as is expected. The aroma is very pleasant and inviting, I smell a sweet booziness with the sherry a little more prominent than the rum. I’m not a sherry drinker by any means, but I really like the aroma of this beer.

The first taste blows me away. The roasted malt elements of the stout are potent and pleasing, but the barrel character emerges very pleasantly. The rum brings the added sweetness. With rum being fermented and distilled from sugar, that makes sense. Then the sherry element comes in, which brings maybe a hint of dryness, a little bit of a sweet almost sour tang? Not unpleasant by any means, quite the opposite!

Since this is an 11.8% stout, I take my time with the beer. Being in a cool bar with a good friend and good food on the way, I was real happy to just relax and enjoy this complex beer. As it warms, the barrel characteristics become more prominent, but they don’t drown out the base elements of the stout. The barrel elements blend into one, dynamic flavor adjunct that is extremely pleasing, the sweetness from the rum barrel is complemented by some of the dried fruit elements in the sherry character.

This beer is one of the more unique barrel-aged stouts I’ve ever had. If I can have any slight on the beer, and it is minor, it is that the body was slightly thin. Not what I’d expect from such a high ABV stout.

I haven’t had too many brews from Cigar City (I’ve liked what I’ve had), and only a beer or two aged in these kinds of barrels and definitely not a blend of beers aged in these kinds of barrels. In other words, I don’t have a beer to compare this against, in exacting terms, so I’ll just say this. Marshal Zhukov’s Double Envelopment is a dynamite stout, it possesses the great elements of a high ABV stout, but the two barrels used in the construction of the final beer bring something new and unique to the liquid. This is a beer well-worth seeking out.

Bottles of the beer are available only through Cigar City’s El Catador Club, which is their Members Only barrel-aged beer club. Somehow, a keg of the beer made its way to the Tennessee Avenue Beer Hall in Atlantic City, NJ, where I enjoyed the beer before enjoying a night of All Elite Wrestling Dynamite with a good friend over at Boardwalk Hall.

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

Beyond a Shadow of a Stout (Level 81)

We all love Stouts, and now we have a dedicated badge to celebrate your dedication to these dark, top-fermented beer in multiple variations, like Oatmeal, Milk and more! Which one will you start with? That’s 405 different beers with the style of Stout.

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Beer Review: Ross Brewing’s Bockenator

Name: Bockenator
Brewing Company: Ross Brewing Company
Location: Port Monmouth, NJ
Style: Bock – Dopplebock
ABV: 8%

A tasty, dark lager with a sweet, chocolate twist.

From the Ross Brewing’s Facebook post announcing the beer:

𝗕𝗢𝗖𝗞𝗘𝗡𝗔𝗧𝗢𝗥 is our 𝟴% 𝗚𝗲𝗿𝗺𝗮𝗻-𝘀𝘁𝘆𝗹𝗲 𝗖𝗵𝗼𝗰𝗼𝗹𝗮𝘁𝗲 𝗗𝗼𝗽𝗽𝗲𝗹𝗯𝗼𝗰𝗸! The beer style that inspired us to start brewing way back when finally sees a release under the Ross pennant!

Our tribute to all of the amazing German Doppelbocks we’ve had over the years, Bockenator has the 𝘀𝘄𝗲𝗲𝘁 𝗳𝗹𝗮𝘃𝗼𝗿 𝗮𝗻𝗱 𝘁𝗼𝗮𝘀𝘁𝗲𝗱 𝗺𝗮𝗹𝘁𝘀 𝘁𝗵𝗮𝘁 𝗱𝗲𝗳𝗶𝗻𝗲 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗕𝗼𝗰𝗸 𝘀𝘁𝘆𝗹𝗲, which in turn are only accentuated by the 𝗮𝗱𝗱𝗶𝘁𝗶𝗼𝗻𝘀 𝗼𝗳 𝗰𝗵𝗼𝗰𝗼𝗹𝗮𝘁𝗲 𝗶𝗻 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗺𝗮𝘀𝗵 𝗮𝗻𝗱 𝗮𝗴𝗮𝗶𝗻 𝗶𝗻 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗳𝗲𝗿𝗺𝗲𝗻𝘁𝗲𝗿. Maintaining balance without being too sweet, with the 𝘀𝘁𝗿𝗼𝗻𝗴𝗲𝗿 𝗳𝗹𝗮𝘃𝗼𝗿 𝗮𝗻𝗱 𝗔𝗕𝗩% 𝘁𝘆𝗽𝗶𝗰𝗮𝗹 𝗼𝗳 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗗𝗼𝗽𝗽𝗲𝗹, this is the beer 𝘄𝗲 𝗵𝗮𝘃𝗲 𝗯𝗲𝗲𝗻 𝗹𝗼𝗼𝗸𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝗳𝗼𝗿𝘄𝗮𝗿𝗱 𝘁𝗼 𝗯𝗿𝗲𝘄𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝗳𝗼𝗿 𝘆𝗼𝘂 𝘀𝗶𝗻𝗰𝗲 𝘄𝗲 𝗹𝗮𝘂𝗻𝗰𝗵𝗲𝗱 𝗥𝗼𝘀𝘀! Enjoy at your next feast or special occasion, or any other time you’d like an amazing beer. Prost!

I’ve been happy to see Ross Brewing’s growth over the past year despite launching their brand without a taproom and during a pandemic. When I learned they had a doppelbock in the works I knew I’d have to grab some. This beer is brewed with chocolate, so I was even more intrigued.

The beer is adorned with cool label consistent with the clean branding of Ross Brewing along with the iconic goats symbolizing the bock style of beer on the can. But the contents of the can are always more important, aren’t they? Let’s dive in, shall we?

Yep, that looks like a doppelbock. Dark brown, slightly translucent, and a thin khaki head. I don’t get too much of an aroma outside of what I’d expect. It smells like a malty beer.

First sip…I get some sweet malt and a crispy/snappy lager finish. I like this first impression of Bockenator. The chocolate comes through more each time I go back to my glass. Not coincidentally, the beer is warmer with each sip I take which, as we all know, allows the flavors to breathe and express themselves more.

That chocolate wakes up more the closer the beer gets to room temperature and consequently, I’m finding myself enjoying the beer that much more. The chocolate also helps to smooth out the starkly crisp finish.

The folks behind Ross Brewing have continued to show their mettle, especially on a style like Dopplebock. Given one of their launch beers was a somewhat dark lager, I shouldn’t be surprised they brewed a tasty Dopplebock, another dark lager.

Recommended, link to 3.75 bottle cap untappd rating check in.

Draught Diversions: January 2022 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…

A new year brings some new beers, but that happens every month here at the Tap Takeover. For the first Six Pack of 2022, there’s the usual half NJ half non-NJ mix with a few styles I don’t have often enough. It was a little tough to whittle down the list to just 6 because I was enjoying a tasty variety of new beers throughout the entire month.

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Enough preamble, here is the first Six Pack of 2022…

Grimm Weisse Dunkel (Grimm Artisanal Ales) | Wheat Beer – Dunkelweizen | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

Grimm_WeisseDunkel

Many people have praised Grimm for their hop-forward Ales and rightfully so. But I’m here praising one of the most under-appreciated styles, the Dunkelweizen. Grimm’s take on this classic German wheat ale is as good as I’ve had, and better than most. Probably the only Dunkelweizen I think I’ve had that tops this one is the Erdinger’s Dunkelweizen.

Kentucky Christmas Morning (Hardywood Park Craft Brewery) | Stout – Imperial / Double Milk | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

Hardywood_KentuckyMorning

I reviewed the barrel-aged Gingerbread Stout and had the un-barrel-aged version of Christmas Morning in 2020 (an instant favorite Christmas beer), so of course I had to try the barrel aged Christmas Morning. This is a beautiful, flavorful, and balanced stout. All the flavors I loved about Christmas Morning (Coffee, Gingerbread, Cinnamon, and Maple Syrup) are enhanced and supported by the bourbon barrel aging.

Triple Sunshine (Lawson’s Finest Liquids) | IPA – Triple | 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

Lawsons_TripleSunshine

When I was offered a can of this, I couldn’t refuse. I’ve had the standard Sip of Sunshine and liked it and was equally impressed with the Triple-amped up version. Smooth, slightly boozy, and hoppy, this beer is dynamite. I get some of the hop oil texture and flavor, which is something I really like in these hop bombs. I need to explore more of Lawson’s beers.

Translucent Dusk (Jersey Cyclone Brewing Company) | Schwarzbier | 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

JerseyCyclone_TranslucentDusk

Schwarzbier is one of the oldest styles of German lager, dating back to the 1500s! Jersey Cyclone Brewing, who has been brewing great lagers from the start, recently brewed “Translucent Dusk,” their Schwarzbier for a second time. I missed the first batch, so I had to get a crowler of the beer since I’m a lager leaning lad and I’ve been drawn to dark lagers over the last few years. As expected, the beer is delicious and a fantastic interpretation of the style, slightly sweetness in the roasted malt character with hints of chocolate from that malt, pleasant hints of roasty smoke, and a pleasant, lingering aftertaste..

Lumberyard Lager (Tonewood Brewing Company) | Lager – Helles | 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

Tonewood_LumberyardLager

Tonewood recently opened their new facility in Barrington, NJ and this beer is a shout-out to their original location, which was formerly a lumberyard. The fine brewers of Tonewood used all German ingredients – specifically the malt an hops, to brew this tasty, crushable lager. Tonewood impresses me with each lager I have from them and this continues that trend.

Good King VIII (Icarus Brewing & Source Brewing) | Pilsner – Czech | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

IcarusSource_GoodKingVIII

Clean, crisp, and perfectly balanced, this collaboration between two of the higher profile NJ breweries is totally on point for the style. I’ve had excellent Pilsners from Icarus, an outstanding Kölsch and Maibock from Source, so I’m not surprised this collaboration is as good as it is. What surprises me the most is how immensely flavorful the beer is with a super-low ABV of 3.8%

No real stinkers this time around, just a couple of mediocre beers not worth mentioning.

Draught Diversions: Hunterdon County Beer Trail

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…

HCBT_roadway_logo-01

Beer Trails” or promotional efforts for breweries located in a county or region aren’t new. For one of my Birthday Beer Tours, my wife took me on the Bucks County Ale Trail in neighboring PA. With the maturation, growth, and evolution of the beer scene in New Jersey Beer over the past decade, and most importantly over the last 5 years or so. As of this writing (according to New Jersey Craft Beer), New Jersey can boast are over 100 breweries, and 150 including brewpubs. In other words, the time is ripe for some official “Beer Trails” in New Jersey to be promoted.  Laws and bills are being enacted to relax some of the stringent laws in New Jersey. Specifically relating to this post: Bill A-1091, which requires “the state Division of Travel and Tourism to advertise and promote tours of breweries in New Jersey.”

According to the language of the bill, the Division of Travel and Tourism is to identify a series of breweries to be a part of a brewery trail. The division would create no less than three brewery trails to be identified for the program and special consideration will be taken for those who are geographically close to other breweries or have a specific theme or are surrounded by the arts, cultural, historical, entertainment, or other tourism destinations.

Enter the Hunterdon County Beer Trail.

The NJ Tourism site, VisitNJ.org now has a dedicated page to the breweries, wineries, and distillers of New Jersey and proves that yes, Central Jersey does indeed exist even if the tourism website doesn’t exactly have their regions divided correctly! I live in Somerset County and Hunterdon County is one of our neighboring counties. In fact, one of the breweries on the Hunterdon County Beer Trail is less than two miles from my front door.

VistNJ_Breweries

Spearheaded by Bob King, one of Lone Eagle Brewing’s Co-owner’s, The Hunterdon County Beer Trail is a partnership between local brewers and the Hunterdon County Economic Development to highlight these small business and obviously drive patrons to visit. One of the things I’ve always appreciated about Lone Eagle (and pointed out in one of early brewery spotlights here at the Tap Takeover) is their commitment to the community. Bob spread that commitment from the Flemington community out to his colleagues and peers across Hunterdon County.

I’d visited a few of these breweries over the last few years before the Beer Trail kicked off, but I was more than happy to visit them once again to complete the “Passport.” Although I’ve done full features on a few of these breweries, I’ll do a brief summary of each brewery in alphabetical order.

Conclave Brewing, established 2015 | Raritan Township, NJ | Facebook | Instagram | twitter | Conclave on NewJerseyCraftBeer.com | Beer Advocate | untappd | Tap Takeover Profile

HCBT_Conclave
Clockwise L to R: Clearly Pils, Blueberry Frukt (Farmhouse Ale), Hop Ritual with Vic Secret (Pale Ale), Moonwater IPA , Gravitational Pull (IPA) and Mexican Morning Stout

Conclave was the first brewery of this group to be established in Hunterdon County back in 2015, and for quite a while, they were the brewery closest to me so were effectively my local brewery. They’ve proven great expertise at all styles, particularly IPAs, which are highly acclaimed and sought after in the New Jersey beer community. Shortly before the pandemic struck, Conclave moved just down the road to a much larger location. This new location allowed an expansion of their tap list, and much more room for seating both indoors and out. Enough room, in fact, to host music acts fairly regularly. Favorite beers (of the 35+ I’ve had from Conclave): Clearly Pils (German Pilsner), Espresso Morning Stout (Coffee Milk Stout), Mexican Morning Stout (Spicy Milk Stout), Sable (Imperial Stout), Gravitational Pull IPA, Moonwater IPA, and Hop Ritual with Vic Secret (Pale Ale) .

Descendants Brewing at the Old Ship Inn, established 1995, 2021 | Milford, NJ | Facebook | Instagram | Descendants on NewJerseyCraftBeer.com | Beer Advocate | untappd

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Descendant’s Best Better (Cask)

When Descendants opened in 1995 as The Ship Inn, it was the first brewing company to open in New Jersey since prohibition. The business renamed and launched as Descendants Brewing Company in May 2021. Located a short walk away from the Delaware River, the brewpub is housed in an old Victorian Home. I only had one beer that day, the ESB, but the beers brewed on site are a nice mix of American, German, British, and Belgian inspired styles in addition to an impressive list of several bottles, draughts, and cans from “guest breweries.” Descendants is the only brewpub in Hunterdon County and I intend to get a full meal during my next visit because the menu looks outstanding.

Highrail Brewing Company, established 2019 | High Bridge, NJ | Instagram | Facebook | Twitter | Highrail Brewing Co on NewJerseyCraftBeer.com | Beer Advocate | untappd

HCBT_Highrail
Clockwise L to R: Tart & Thankful, PITA Pumpkin Ale, Stayin ‘ Local (Wheat Ale), and Saewert’s Oatmeal Stout

Highrail Brewing opened in July 2019 in downtown High Bridge, NJ. The brewery is situated on a small, yet quaint and charming main street with a pizzeria and a coffee shop across the street among other local businesses. I visited in August 2019 for the first time shortly after the brewery opened and I was quite impressed with the two beers I had at the time, the first was Stayin’ Local, a wheat ale with peach that was perfect for summer. The other beer I had at that time was Saewert’s Oatmeal Stout, which was a smooth and tasty Oatmeal Stout. When the beer trail was announced, it was reason enough for a second visit, plus I wanted to try the NJ Craft Beer collaboration Tart & Thankful. This beer is a Cranberry Fruit/Fruited Sour Beer, which I reviewed late 2021 and a beer I thoroughly enjoyed. I also had their pumpkin ale, PITA Pumpkin ale, one of the more flavorful and balanced pumpkin beers I’ve had in a while. High Rail makes clean, tasty beers on the whole and are well worth visiting.

Lone Eagle Brewing Company, established 2016 | Flemington, NJ | Instagram | Facebook | Twitter | Lone Eagle Brewing Co on NewJerseyCraftBeer.com | Beer Advocate | untappd | Tap Takeover Feature

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Clockwise L to R: Jubileum V Eisbock, Blueberry Gusher, Nitro Oatmeal Stout, Russian Imperial Stout, Flemington Fog (NEIPA), and King Kölsch

Lone Eagle was the second brewery to open up in Hunterdon County since the big law change of 2012 and they’ve seen some impressive growth. I outlined the beginnings of the brewery in my feature back in 2017, but since then, Lone Eagle has increased capacity with a new purpose-built brewing facility and some brewer changes. Of the breweries on the trail, I’ve had more beers (55 as of this writing) from Lone Eagle than the others (and more than most breweries in general). For a few years prior to the pandemic, the brewery hosted a Board Game night in their spacious loft. In addition to playing some fun games and making new friends, Board Game Night afforded me the opportunity to sample a vast array of beers, often a flight or two a night. It has turned out that every other year I’ve brought a growler of their beer to Christmas Eve (most recently, Grandma’s Cookie) and it was always a hit. I’ve reviewed three beers from them (Belgian Strong Dark, King Köslch, and their 5th Anniversary Barrel-Aged Eisbock), in addition to those beers, their Russian Imperial Stout is quite tasty, their Märzen is always good and their Hefeweizen is top notch. The brewery is in an excellent location, spacious, inviting, and the people pouring your beer are super friendly.

Odd Bird Brewing Co. established 2020 | Stockton, NJ | Instagram | Facebook | Twitter | Odd Bird Brewing Co on NewJerseyCraftBeer.com | Beer Advocate | untappd | Tap Takeover Feature

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Clockwise L to R: Extra Stockton Bitter, Oddsbodikins Lager, Prallsville Pils, and Fields Saison

Odd Bird Brewing was the first brewery I visited after the launch of the Hunterdon County Beer Trail and I visited a second time when my wife took me on the annual Birthday Beer Tour. She didn’t realize I visited (she usually tries to go to breweries I haven’t visited), but I was more than happy to visit Adam and Karen once again because they make terrific beers. Since my feature on Odd Bird Brewing was posted only a few months ago, I’ll excerpt some of that here. The location is rather unique, especially compared to the other breweries I’ve visited in NJ. Risler Avenue/NJ State Route 29 parallels the Delaware River at the southwestern end of County Road 523 – a lovely drive to be had on a late summer/early fall day. Odd Bird is located in an old auto body shop, which is in the same building/location as the Stockton Eagle gas station, and that building is next to a restaurant, Cravings. That set up/location does sort of fit in with the name of the brewery. Odd Bird Brewing is, in my mind, what a quintessential local brewery should be. Great people who own it, who make delicious beer, with a unique taplist of beers that will attract more than just the immediate locals. The brewery has such a wonderful character and ambiance that is more than complimented by the classic styles brewed to near perfection. I had four beers from them, including one that made my favorites of 2021, their cask conditioned ESB, Extra Stockton Bitter, as well as a tasty Amber Lager, a Pilsner, and a Saison.

Readington Brewery and Hop Farm established 2022 | Readington, NJ | Instagram | Facebook | Readington Brewery and Hop Farm on NewJerseyCraftBeer.com | Beer Advocate | untappd

ReadingtonBrewery_OpeningWeekend
Opening Weekend @Readington Brewery and Hop Farm

The newest brewery on this Beer Trail, and as of this writing in January 2022, one of the newest breweries in the State of New Jersey. I’ve been driving past this location regularly for a couple of years as they are very close to my house. I went opening weekend when they were still getting settled into their rhythm and had a few samples. At the time, only 2 were beers on untappd and they were probably the two I liked the most, The Churchill, an ESB, and Jack the Tripel a Belgian Tripel. I also had a brown ale that was fairly tasty. Given how close they are, I really should make another few visits in the near future because the facility is beautiful, the people were very nice, and they grow their own hops! How cool is that? I think the only other brewery who grows their own hops is Screamin’ Hill in Cream Ridge.

Sunken Silo Brew Works established 2019 | Lebanon, NJ | Instagram | Facebook | Sunken Silo Brew Works on NewJerseyCraftBeer.com | Beer Advocate | untappd

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Wystouti Nitro (L) and Deemed Essential Czech Pils (R)

Like other breweries on the HCBT, I’d visited Sunken Silo previously, shortly after they opened in February 2020. I like that they call themselves “Brew Works” as opposed to “Brewing Company” or “Brewery.” I recall the brewery being quite busy that chilly Friday evening during my first visit in 2020. The brewery was equally busy on my visit in January 2021. However, I was able to strike up a nice conversation with Christian, the Beertender working that day. I learned that Sunken Silo managed to weather the pandemic pretty well, thanks in large part to crowler and to-go sales. The brewery is next door to the popular Metropolitan Seafood Gourmet, a thing that sets the brewery apart and provides a great opportunity for patrons of one business to patronize the other business. The brewery’s name is an homage to the Round Valley Reservoir, a.k.a. NJ’s Bermuda Triangle:

The Round Valley Reservoir in Clinton Township, Hunterdon County, was formed in 1960 when the New Jersey Water Authority constructed two large dams and flooded a large valley, which had formerly been occupied by a farming community.”

Quirky name and history are neat, but fortunately, the folks at Sunken Silo (owner Jeff Donlon, Brewer Production Manager/Brewer Fred Mattrey, and head brewer Matt Harrison) make tasty beer, including their Wystouti American Stout I enjoyed and reviewed earlier this week. I know I’ll be visiting the brewery again.

This was a fun campaign and the folks behind the Hunterdon County Beer Trail have promoted it quite well. They’ve mentioned a “second season” and future seasons, which I’m eagerly anticipating. The first “prize” for completing season one of the trail passport is the glass pictured above, I wonder what will be next. If it is a shirt, I’ll just make a small suggestion to the organizers: please make them in XXXL! I’ll be looking to finish the next season either way because there are a lot of new and different beers for me to try, right?

Hunterdon County Beer Trail

Beer Review: Wystouti from Sunken Silo Brew Works

Name: Wystouti
Brewing Company: Sunken Silo Brew Works
Location: Lebanon, NJ
Style: Stout – American
ABV: 6.8%

A well-made American stout that doesn’t rely on adjuncts for its tasty flavor profile.

SunkenSilo_Wystouti

From the Sunken Silo’s Our Beers page:

We honor Joe senior with a riff on his name. A whiff of coffee and chocolate with a silky-smooth mouthfeel. ON NITRO

Sunken Silo Brew Works has been open for about 2 years, I visited just before the pandemic and given how close they are to me, I figured it was about time I made another visit. They are also part of the Hunterdon Beer Trail, which might be a feature post later this week. As for this beer, they only had it on a nitro tap, which I often feel drowns out the flavor of the beer, but I was in the mood for a stout. So how did Wystouti work for me?

After a slightly slow pour, the beer placed in front of me looks very inviting. The creamy looking khaki head topping off the dark stout is a picture-perfect beer.

Diving in, I get the mouthfeel of the Nitro immediately. The fluffiness is pleasant. Then the taste follows, which is what I expect from a Stout, mostly. Roasted malts. But wait, there’s more!

I’m getting some other flavors, unexpected flavors, but good nonetheless. There’s the expected evocation of coffee and hints of chocolate from the roasted malts. But there’s a berry-like sweetness on the backend of the beer. More of a hint of berries, I’d say, a nice surprise and pleasant overall.

Maybe the thing I most appreciate about this beer is how straight-forward it is. It seems there are far more stouts with some kind of adjunct (chocolate, peanut butter, marshmallow, lactose, coffee, etc), so a stout that gains its flavor from the core four ingredients? Seems like a novel concept these days, but you can count me in. Especially if the beer is as well-made and tasty as Wystouti is.

Wystouti is a terrific stout, although ’d like to try the non-Nitro version. Sunken Silo let a batch sit in bourbon barrels for 9 months to celebrate their 2nd birthday. Next time I visit the brewery, I may have to grab a bottle of it.

Recommended, link to 4 bottle cap untappd rating check in.

Untapped badges earned with this beer:

Smooth as Silk (Level 2)

That extra smooth mouth-feel you just experienced is all thanks to the thousands of tiny bubbles created by infused nitrogen. Yum! Check-in 10 times with the serving style of Nitro.

SunkenSilo_Wystouti

Beer Review: Victory Brewing’s Hop’Hazer

Name: Hop’Hazer
Brewing Company: Victory Brewing Company
Location: Downington, PA
Style: IPA – New England/Hazy
ABV: 6%
Location Consumed: The Alchemist & Barrister

Victory’s latest (as of Winter 2021/2022) Hazy IPA is a well-crafted and flavorful take on the immensely popular style.

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From Victory Brewing’s landing page for the beer:

With cooler weather on the horizon, the HOP’HAZER transports you straight to an enchanting fantasy land with its juicy, citrus, and hop-forward characteristics. The use of innovative hops amplifies the flavor and brings light to the longest, darkest days of the year

HOPS: Mosaic, Citra, Citra Cryo, Citra Incognito®, HBC 586

It has been quite a while since Victory made an appearance here at the Tap Takeover, at least in the form of new beers I’ve had from them. That doesn’t necessarily mean I haven’t been enjoying their beer. Prima Pils is a regular rotation beer for me. Victory has been on board the Hazy IPA bandwagon, having released quite a few in this style over the past couple of years. Hop’Hazer is a beer they are considering a winter seasonal. Not sure why or how this evokes winter, but more importantly, is it a good beer?

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Image courtesy of Victory Brewing’s Facebook.

The beer I’m given 100% looks the part of the style. Aroma is juicy hoppiness. So far, Victory has the style keyed in.

First sip…thirst quenching. Juicy hops abound in this beer, is my first thought. My second thought is just how drinkable this beer is. For me, sometimes some IPAs can have a bitter, off-putting finish, but not Hop’Hazer. I find myself wanting to drink this one relatively quickly because it is so tasty and refreshing.

I had a burger with this beer for my lunch and it was a perfect pairing. Most beers pair well with burgers, but this beer enhanced everything about the burger.

Victory_Hop'HazerLabel

I wasn’t sure what hops were in the beer, I had it on draught. When I looked up the description to include in this review, I was very surprised to see Mosaic hops as one of the hops in the mix. I typically don’t like Mosaic to the point that it taints everything else it touches, at least for my palate. But the Citra is definitely present, and I’m guessing the other hops listed above help to mute what I typically don’t like about beers with Mosaic hops.

Hop’Hazer is an extremely tasty beer and a nice take on the Hazy/New England style of IPA. I think I like their Cloud Walker Hazy IPA just a little bit more, but this beer is still very good.

Plus, I’m a sucker for a beer with a wizard on the label.

Recommended, link to 4 bottle cap untappd rating check in.

Untapped badges earned with this beer:

Haze for Days (Level 17)

You may not be able to see through the haze, but that juicy, hoppy goodness goes down smooth. What started as a trend is here to stay. That’s 85 different beers with the style of IPA – New England (Imperial or Single), Pale Ale – New England or IPA – Milkshake.

Hop'HazerCollage

Beer Review: Carton Brewing’s Cafe Revolver

Name: Cafe Revolver
Brewing Company: Carton Brewing Company
Location: Atlantic Highlands, NJ
Style: Cream Ale | Imperial Cream Ale
ABV: 12%

Another outstanding entry in Carton Brewing’s “Regular Coffee Game” – A Must Try

Carton_CafeRevolver

From Carton Brewing’s landing page for the beer:

Imperial Cream Ale Aged In Bourbon Barrels w/ Orange Bitters: 12% | IBU: 20 | SRM: 5

Café Revolver is a continuation of the Regular Coffee game. Our golden imperial coffee cream ale has been finished on Bourbon barrels with orange bitters. Much like Regular Coffee looks to evoke an amusing version of the acidic bitter coffee curbed by milk and sugar that starts a day in a paper cup, Cafe Revolver addresses it on the other end of the day. A beer rendition of a modern Revolver cocktail, sweet coffee and bourbon’s richness defined by a dash of aromatic orange bitters, lending a subtle brightness to the darker tones. Drink Cafe Revolver and take your best shot.

Carton Brewing becomes the first brewery with a 4th feature review here at the Tap Takeover with a version of one of their more highly sought after offerings. Every New Year’s Day (or thereabouts) Augie Carton and his crew release cans of an “Irregular Coffee,” a variant of their flagship cream ale, Regular Coffee. Regular Coffee is their interpretation of morning coffee in the form of a Cream Ale – milk sugar and coffee are added to the base beer of a cream ale. One of the 2021 versions of Irregular Coffee is Café Revolver, the beer interpretation of the Revolver cocktail, which is Bourbon, orange bitters, and coffee liqueur. For this beer, Carton aged Regular coffee in bourbon barrels along with orange bitters with the goal of evoking that evening, sipping cocktail. Or a “coffee on the other end of the day.”

I like bourbon quite a lot (my favorite spirit), I like the flavor of coffee, and I’ve enjoyed 7 versions of “Regular Coffee” including the original prior to Café Revolver, but this one is the first I’ve had that has a barrel aging element.

IrregularCoffe
The only variant not pictured is Irish Coffee, I had a few tasters of it years ago at the 2015 Garden State Brewfest, but haven’t been fortunate enough to have it since then.

Pouring the beer into my Carton glass, I get some aromas of bourbon. The beer is a little murkier looking than other Irregular Coffee variants I’ve enjoyed, which is neither negative or positive. Just the way I see it. There are more flavor elements so the beer’s murkiness makes sense.

The first sip gives me the sweetness from the lactose, but the bourbon soon envelopes everything. The orange bitters are an assertive flavor component, but that element plays extremely well with the bourbon. As it should considering bitters are part of many, many bourbon-based cocktails. The coffee elements are the underlying flavor holding all the elements together. Halfway through the 12oz can, I’m thoroughly enjoying this fun and tasty beer, all those elements come together in a very cohesive, elegant fashion.

I’ve always been impressed by how many of Carton’s beers are inspired by food or other non-beer things like cocktails. What’s even more impressive is how despite this beer emulating a bourbon cocktail (or a doppelbock brewed with coffee beans substituting the hops, for another example) yet the beer remains undeniably, well, a beer.

Café Revolver does just that. It is undeniably a beer, but the elements of the cocktail play the base beer extremely well. Specifically, the elements of Regular Coffee are distinct and give the beer its dominant character. The cocktail elements are damned fine complement to what fans of Regular Coffee like myself, have come to expect. I can’t rank this one against the original, but my favorite variant is Café Y’ Churro. In speaking to Augie during our visit, he said a lot of people consider that their favorite, because people love cinnamon. He isn’t wrong. I’d say Cafe Revolver is in the top half of the Irregular Coffee beers I’ve had, but again, they are all spectacular beers.

To paraphrase the Carton motto that closes out the beer description on the cans of most of their beers, drink Cafe Revolver because it is a delicious, fun, and playful beer.

Highly Recommended, link to 4.25 bottle cap untappd rating check in.

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