Draught Diversions: Underappreciated Styles – Dunkelweizen

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

Here’s a potential recurring theme … Overlooked & underappreciated styles. This time around, I’ll focus on a traditional German/Bavarian Style – Dunkelweizen.

I can only guess at the reasons why this rich, classic style gets overlooked. One of those is the prevalence of Hop-forward beers in the US craft beer market place, you know, the ever present IPA and all the derivations of the style. Similarly, the popularity and abundance of stouts and their various styles may draw drinkers who prefer darker beers away from Dunkelweizens.

But back to the Dunkelweizen…a wonderful, yeasty, bready, clovey beer which is a dark cousin of the classic Hefeweizen. If Hefeweizen is a beer that can be associated with summer, then Dunkelweizen may be an early fall beer or late spring beer. Days when the warmth is comfortable enough to don shorts or cool enough to go long pantsed, evenings cool enough to throw a hooded sweatshirt on while still wearing your shorts from the day.

While the low hop bitterness of the style is likely one reason, another is that not that many American breweries make Dunkelweizens. Neshaminy Creek in Pennsylvania brews one annually (Dunks Ferry Dunkelweizen) as a fall seasonal, Samuel Adams occasionally releases a dunkelweizen, and Shiner brews one around Christmas. I’d suspect the smaller breweries that lean more towards traditional German brewing styles would be brewing a Dunk on occasion.

Three microbreweries I’ve visited in New Jersey brew Dunkelweizens regularly: Demented in Middlesex brews a Dunkelweizen (Der Wolf) as a fall seasonal. I had it in a flight not long after Demented opened its doors so I’d like to revisit it again. Jughandle brewed one in their first year, which was pretty good. Ramstein / High Point Brewing, one of the stalwarts, or “five O.G. New Jersey craft breweries,” has a Dunkelweizen (or Dunkel Hefe-weizen as they call it) as part of its regular line up of beers. This makes sense considering the Germanic foundation of the brewery. I really need to get up to that brewery and sample all of their beers, I’ve only had the Hefeweizen and liked it a lot.

One anecdotal indication of the lack of Dunkelweizens in the beer market is doing a quick Google search of “Dunkelweizen.” The search returns more results that pertain to home-brewing Dunkelweizens than breweries who brew Dunkelweizen.

Another guess is that perhaps one of the issues with a lack of Dunkelweizens is the delicate brewing process? I recall picking up a six pack almost two years ago and the beer was skunked, it tasted more like a sour beer than a Dunkelweizen. A little googling at the time returned some results that the process can allow for souring if not monitored properly. That having been said, I would think any brewery making a Hefeweizen would (or maybe even should?) brew up a Dunkelweizen for their line-up.

As for some of the better Dunkelweizens I’ve had, unfortunately, I’ve only had a small handful of Dunkelweizens although I would most definitely welcome more on the market and in my refrigerator. As I sad last week, the wheat base and clovey/banana-y flavor profile hits my taste-buds so well. One of the best Dunkelweizens I had was from the venerable German brewer who brews only wheat beers, Erdinger. About a year ago, my wife and I went to one of our favorite restaurants going back to our Rutgers University days, Stuff Yer Face. To my pleasant surprise they had Erdinger Dunkel on tap and it was delicious. It had been a few years since I went there and I was was pleased with impressive beer menu. Since going there with my wife, and I returned recently again in part because of that beer menu. But I digress. Erdinger’s take on the style was probably the best Dunkelweizen I’ve had in years, or at least since joining Untappd. Of course, the classic German brewery Weihenstephaner makes a great Dunkelweizen, which was just about as good as Erdinger’s. I think the main difference is how fresh the Erdinger was since I had it on draught.

Photo courtesy of Erdinger’s web site. The dark color of the beer just says fall beer.

Another great and more recent Dunkelweizen I enjoyed was the “Dunkle Weisse” from Sierra Nevada’s Beer Camp Across the World variety pack this year.  This was a collaboration between Sierra Nevada and the great German Brewery, Ayinger.

 

Who knows. Only a few years ago even some of the more vocal and “experienced” craft beer drinkers didn’t know what a Gose (another German wheat-based beer) was and that style is extremely popular now, with many breweries creating at least one Gose beer for continual rotation in their lineup. Although the Dunkelweizen isn’t quite as obscure as a Gose once was, I’d like to see Dunkeweizen come back to even half the popularity that Gose now enjoys.

Beer Review: Trappistes Rochefort 8

Name: Trappistes Rochefort 8
Brewing Company: Brasserie de Rochefort
Location: Rochefort, Belgium
Style: Belgian Strong Dark Ale
ABV: 9.4%

Maybe not my best pour, but look at that fluffy head

From the beer’s description on Belgium Tourism’s Website :

History and provenance are readily apparent, in the taste of the 8. Ever since the 1960s, Rochefort’s own yeast culture has produced those characteristic esters in its divine brews.

Rochefort 8 is considered the ‘lad’ among the three Rochefort beers, with its green-bottle cap hat, which first saw light in 1954. This youngest member of the family straightaway received a warm welcome, after its commissioning by one particular (and rather important) client. One year on, and it was made an official addition to what is now the Rochefort trio, and marketed as a ‘spéciale’. Some still refer to it by this name.

The Rochefort 8 is a beer to be savoured at your leisure. Not too dense, it goes down easily, quietly sparkling. The alcohol in the finish never lets you forget that this is an authentic degustation beer, one that cannot be hurried along. It is sweet and chocolatey, pleasant but certainly never boring. The same can be said of the alcohol content – it makes itself known, but it never overpowers, leaving plenty of room for all the rich subtlety to be found in a glass of the 8.

If beer is said to be liquid bread, then Trappist Rochefort 8 is a great example of that ideal. Trappist beers are relatively rare, there are certain rules and regulations around what is considered a Trappist Brewery, Rochefort is one of only a eleven breweries in the world that can be called a Trappist Ale, and is a classic example of a Trappist Brewery in Belgium. The Abbey in Rochefort has been brewing since 1595 so, like last week’s beer from Weihenstephan, this beer can be considered a European Classic.

So what can one expect from a beer brewed by an Abby that’s been around for over 800 years and brewing beer for a majority of that time? A lot of complexity. The yeast in this one releases a bounty of flavors that will appeal to beer lovers who appreciate low-hopped, dark, bready beers with hints of fruit. This is a beer to enjoy over time and not one to consume quickly.

The beer pours brown from the bottle and, at least with my bottle, a very fluffy tan head. The aroma hits your nose and invites you to linger for a bit to give your taste buds an idea of what to expect. A “Belgian Strong Dark Ale” is almost like a stout, largely from the hue of the beer and the robust nature of the flavor profile, but it isn’t quite a stout either. At least this one is fairly far removed from a stout.

The first hints are of a malty, thick beer that will linger on the palate. I didn’t quite get the plum flavor evocations in the taste profile others claim to taste, but I definitely get the banana hints from the yeast. Or maybe my palate is unaccustomed to plums, especially as a flavor component in a beer. There’s also a spice flavor laced throughout the beer that isn’t quite clove, nor is it too assertive. Rather, it gives the beer a very well-rounded flavor profile. That was all on just the first couple of sips of the beer.

This beer warms up real nice. As it gets closer to room temperature, the flavors come out more prominently. Maybe the plum hints come through as the beer warms, because I get *something* that is a bit of a fruity taste, but not the banana evocation I tasted initially. Maybe something earthier like figs, I don’t know, but I like it quite a bit.

At 9.4%, this one does have a noticeable bite of alcohol. This beer has a quality similar to barrel aging that gives stouts an extra kick, but it is welcome in this beer and not too overpowering. Of course I took my time drinking this beer over the course of maybe 45 minutes to an hour. There’s not a lot of filtration going on here, so expect some yeast particulates to linger at the bottom of the glass, even thicker from this bottle than I’d come to expect from a Bavarian Hefeweizen. Some people think those particulates are the best part of the beer. I was a little wary of finishing them off, but what allowed the flavor of the beer to evolve even in the last few sips was swirling the beer with those particulates, which continued to release flavor bursts.

This is the second Belgian style brew I’ve reviewed here at The Tap Takeover and the first from an actual Belgian brewery. I’m coming to thoroughly enjoy the beer produced by the Belgian brewing methodologies and Belgian ingredients, particularly the yeast which gives the beer the robust flavor, a great deal. This is a beer worth trying once. I know I’ll be trying more of the Trappist Ales in the future.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4-star rating.

Draught Diversions: Flounder Brewing Company

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

It has been over a month since I last focused on a single brewery here and as promised last Tuesday, I’d be giving an overview of Flounder Brewing in Hillsborough, NJ. I’ve been enjoying their beer for a few years now and living in the neighboring town, it has been very nice to see the brewery grow over the past few years since opening in Hillsborough in 2013 as the twelfth licensed NJ brewery. Part of that is seeing their line-up of tasty beers evolve along with that growth.

I could go on about the history of the brewery and how Jeremy Lees started homebrewing, which is how a majority of nano/microbreweries begin, but that is fairly well documented in the Craft Beer community, specifically the NJ Craft Beer community. Flounder’s history is probably best captured in “Catching the Big One: The Story of Flounder Brewing Company,”  created by film students at Rider University. I’ve embedded the video at the bottom of this post (running time is about 15 minutes) which does a great job of giving a historical perspective to Jeremy Lees brewing venture known as Flounder Brewing.

A brewery starts with the beer and Flounder’s flagship beer is “Hill Street Honey Ale,” a great, easy-drinking every day beer that Jeremy’s friends enjoyed and the beer upon which the foundation of Flounder’s great line up of beers is built.

Hill Street Honey American Ale possesses the nice golden color of a classic ale. While starting out as a hybrid American Pale-Amber ale, over time and tweaking it has rounded out to fall more into the blonde ale family, a little hop forward with a pleasantly smooth finish that will let you keep enjoying them as you relax. Hill Street Honey’s bitterness is complimented by a whole bunch of New Jersey harvested honey that we add in during key parts of the brewing process.

These separately timed additions help spread out and layer the honey sweetness and citrus aromas throughout the brew thanks to the honey from the orange blossom. All of this complemented with smooth, slight biscuit flavors from the several types of grains we add in there. All this is brewed up then the magic of yeast takes over and we exclusively use yeast from Jersey’s own yeast company that just helps meld all of the flavors together into a wonderful American Ale.

It is a simple, delicious anytime-of-year session beer, yet it has a whole bunch of complex layers to it if one breaks it down. Great citrus and floral aromas, smooth and creamy head and mouthfeel, and a nice finish of citrus in the aftertaste. 

The brewing facility and tasting room, situated in an office / industrial park in Hillsborough, NJ, might not seem an ideal place for a brewery. As I’ve come to learn over the past year or so, it isn’t uncommon especially in NJ. NJ Craft Beer giant Kane is located in a similar type of environment though their brewery is considerably larger, while Conclave Brewing, another local favorite is located in a similar office park. But back to Flounder. When they first opened their doors, they were in a relatively small unit and although their brewing capacity was relatively small, the quality was excellent.  They were doing great things for a few years, continually winning awards at local brewfests, selling out of their beer when they were open for growler fills. Flounder was also one of the early nanobreweries in the state of New Jersey and New Jersey’s 12th Limited Brewery license.

A few years after launching, something special happened to Flounder Brewing. The Boston Beer Company, A.K.A. Samuel Adams has a special program they call the National Brewing and Business Experienceship Award, which is something like an apprenticeship for smaller breweries and Flounder Brewing was the recipient of the award in 2016. As a result of this experience, Samuel Adams and Flounder collaborated on a beer – Devil’s Nectah, a Helles Lager brewed with Cranberries and Honey. Helles meaning bright in Germany, Helles Lager is intended to be light refreshing beer that is similar to a Pilsner. I had the chance to sample some of it and was wowed by how delicious the beer was. The tart of the cranberry came together perfectly with the sweetness of the honey. The collaboration between Flounder and Samuel Adams was a very limited brew and I hope Flounder is able to bring back this tasty treat in some similar fashion.

In the approximate year since the Samuel Adams collaboration and “Experienceship,” Flounder Brewing has expanded, Jeremy Lees and crew doubled their rental space and have expanded the amount of beer and variety they brew. Perhaps most importantly for consumers, they expanded their hours of operation as well. Initially, they were only pouring growlers for patrons once or twice a month. They first expanded to once per week and are now open every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. The tap room has a couple of bar tables set up where folks can chat and enjoy delicious, freshly made beer. On a cool fall or spring evening, Flounder Brewery is a nice place to stop for a pint and good conversation. I’ve stopped in the brewery for growler fills quite a few times, the place is always full and there have been lines to fill the growlers or pick up the limited bottle releases.

Brewer Brad Polinski, T.O.B (The Other Brewer) of Flounder, as he calls himself on untappd, shared some time with me over a few of the delicious beers he, Doug Duschl, and Jeremy have been brewing. One thing that stood out in our discussion was just how great the folks at Samuel Adams were and continue to be in supporting Flounder’s growth. Not just from a brewing perspective, but from a business perspective and growth perspective. Even now, a year later, Samuel Adams has been open to provide Flounder great advice and insight even from a phone call away.

Brad has been brewing with Flounder for almost four years now. While Hill Street Honey Ale is the beer that helped gain Flounder their initial notoriety, Brad’s Genevieve’s IPA is probably the number two beer in Flounder’s line up. The beer is named in honor Brad’s grandmother:

A humble dedication to Brad’s Grandmother, our staple IPA showcases a blend of five American hops that lend to it’s hazy, and juicy grapefruit character.

Flounder brews about twice per week to meet the demands of the customers who visit on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays as well as the local restaurants and bars where Flounder’s beer can be found on tap. They’ve built up very strong relationships with quite a few local restaurants including The Landing in Hillsborough and the Bound Brook location of the Chimney Rock Inn where at least one of their beers can always be found on tap. The demand at local restaurants, coupled with the lines and a filled brewery on the three days per week Flounder is open to the public has them primed for even more expansion in the near future.

Flounder’s growth has attracted more people to work and assist, including Doug Duschl who was brewing his own beer under the Brooks Brewery brand. He’s got some interesting recipes on the horizon that would appeal to folks who enjoy their beer with a strong bready profile. Doug has an Oktoberfest and an Imperial Pumpkin brewing which should be ready for Oktoberfest at the end of September. Doug poured a small cup of Oktoberfest in its current state and it smelled wonderful. It wasn’t in a tasting condition, but I’m looking forward to trying it in about a month.

Brad said he’s brewing a Double IPA version of his popular Genevieve IPA. Additionally, he’s got ideas for a more fall related beers, a pumpkin saison, and a Pumpkin Spice Latte beer named “Breakfast Ale” with Cold Brewed Coffee. This isn’t necessarily pumpkin beer because there’s no pumpkin in it, rather a beer brewed with Pumpkin Spices, lactose, and coffee. I had some of it last year at Thanksgiving and enjoyed it a great deal, so I’m looking forward to how the cold brewed coffee will enhance the flavor.

Brad said his favorite beer to brew isn’t always the same, it is determined by his mood and is often experimental. He’s got a Saison/Sour hybrid in process now. When not enjoying the product of his brewing labors, he goes for Firestone Easy Jack, a session IPA. Doug is a beer drinker after my own heart. Although he didn’t say what his favorite was, from what he was saying he enjoyed and what he’s brewing, he seems to gravitate towards the bready, maltier beers, beers on the opposite end of the spectrum from IPAs.

Many brewers consider what they do, brewing beer to be the convergence of art and science. You have to know the science; the water is the most important ingredient, the appropriate temperature to add ingredients for nuanced flavors, and similar ideals in order to brew properly. Important things like that. The creativity is what a great brewer adds to the ingredients, what only the brewer can add. Along those lines, Brad has a wonderful saying:

“Drink my beer and you know how I was feeling.”

What Brad means is this: you’ll know how he was feeling that day when he created that beer. If he needed a pick-me-up and was craving coffee, he wanted to make a coffee beer. If he wanted a cup of OJ, he wanted to make an IPA that was juicy. The thoughts on the recipe itself revolved around what season it was, and his cravings/moods.

As Brad and I were chatting, I could see the small tasting room of the brewery fill up and a line forming at the bar/cashier. People were there for the great beer and for the community. It was easy enough to strike up a conversation with the folks sitting near us, regulars at the brewery. It made for a very welcoming and relaxing experience. One thing that also came across both in my conversations with Brad, Jeremy, and Doug as well as a couple of the other patrons was the NJ Beer community as a whole. The beer community in the Garden State has been growing rapidly over the past few years, going from a small handful of breweries in 2013 to nearly 70 now. The strength of community is that most breweries and brewers know they are in it together, they know if one of them grows, the others grow. They help each other out and work together to make beer in NJ a true community. A lot of that can be attributed to Mike K.’s NJ Craft Beer program/community which is a great resource for breweries and craft beer consumers alike.

On to some of the other beers I’ve had from Flounder. I’ve already covered in detail the delicious Iced Coffee Stout Brad concocted. The very first beer I recall having from them was when I attended the “Big Brewfest” in Morristown, NJ in February 2014, their flagship beer “Hill Street Honey Blonde Ale.” As I said, a wonderful, “everyday” beer. When I say everyday beer, I mean the beer I want on Fridays with my pizza. The beer that received the fan favorite or People’s Choice award back in 2014 is what seems to be another staple of Flounder’s line-up – the “Saison du Flounder.” This is a lovely farmhouse ale that I’ve had around Easter-time the past couple of years.

Flounder brews a Dark Ale, “Espresso Brown” that also has coffee beans in the brewing process with a nice malt body for a full, rich beer. Similarly, the “Murky Brown” is a take on a classic Brown ale. .One of their newer beers is a refreshing Pale Ale, “Jersey Fresh Honey Pale Ale” similar to the Hill Street Honey, but with a bit more hoppiness.

A glass of delicious Flounder Hefeweizen

On my most recent visit to Flounder, I tried three beers I’ve been wanting to try for a while. I’ve been wanting to try their take on the classic Bavarian Hefeweizen and I was not disappointed. A light brew that leaned more on the banana flavor than clove, this was a good beer to start the evening. Next up was “Dinkelweiss,” Flounder’s take on a Berliner Weisse. I’m relatively new to enjoying sour beers and this style specifically, but I do enjoy the light, tart ale quite a bit. This style typically has a fruit syrup added, either in the bottle or when at a brewery, you can add your own. The beer stands very well on its own, but in this case, I added Elderflower syrup and it was even better. Surprisingly, as it warmed up a bit, the syrup and beer combined with the slight warming to room temperature allowing the syrup to enhance the already strong base flavor of the beer. I say surprisingly because I usually only like higher ABV stouts and dark ales as they warm up. Lastly, I had the “Sourlands Wheat,” a hoppy pale wheat ale brewed to commemorate the annual Sourlands Music Festival in Hillsborough.

I suppose the bottom line is this – Flounder Brewing exemplifies what great craft brewing in America is all about. People passionate about their craft, a community that embraces them, and a brewery that is a welcoming community of its own. Local, fresh ingredients, keeping their patrons satisfied, and growing successfully. I’m very pleased to have seen Flounder start out with great beers, earn the “experienceship” with Samuel Adams, and to see the growth of the brewery continue. The liquid is the ultimate determination of quality, and by the reviews on untappd and the people filling the brewery, Jeremy, Brad, and Doug are doing things extremely well.

I’m looking forward to watching Flounder grow, enjoying their staple beers, and trying whatever those brewing wizards concoct next.

Beer Review: Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier

Name: Hefeweissbier
Brewing Company: Bayerische Staatsbrauerei Weihenstephan
Location: Freising, Bavaria, Germany
Style: Hefeweizen
ABV: 5.4%

From the beer’s description on Weihenstephaner’s Web Site:

Our golden-yellow wheat beer, with its fine-poured white foam, smells of cloves and impresses consumers with its refreshing banana flavor. It is full bodied and with a smooth yeast taste. To be enjoyed at any time, goes excellently with fish and seafood, with spicy cheese and especially with the traditional Bavarian veal sausage. Brewed according to our centuries-old brewing tradition on the Weihenstephan hill.

If a brewery, the world’s oldest, has been in continuous operation for nearly 900 years and the beer has remained relatively unchanged, then clearly, this brewery is doing something right. I can’t think of anything that would codify the term “classic beer” and that ethos quite as powerfully as do the brewers at Weihenstephaner and their absolute classic Hefeweizen they call “Hefe Weissbier.”

While I’ve largely been focusing these beer reviews on “Craft Beer”, I wanted to take some time and space to give some love to a classic beer style, from a classic brewery. For what it’s worth, Weihenstaphan is labeled as a Micro Brewery on untappd, despite their global reach.

Few drinks or foods hit my tastebuds so well as does a Hefeweizen beer, and the wonderful brewers of Weihenstephaner have perfected the traditional Bavarian wheat beer like few others in the world. Hefeweizen is a fairly straightforward style, a classic style, but sometimes that simplicity is what makes it such an elegant, tasty beer. This is a beer I enjoy over and over and return to with regularity.

Some Hefeweizens can lean towards more of a fruity, banana flavor evocation, while clove flavor dominates other Hefeweizens. A lot of this comes down to the yeast and the brewing process. The Weihenstephaner take is more on the banana side of things, giving the beer a profile that evokes sweetness and happiness.

One may be inclined to add a citrus slice to the beer, be it orange or lemon thanks to the brewers of Blue Moon who have made it seem a standard thing to do for European wheat beers. Do not do that with any German Hefeweizen, especially, the Weihenstephan Hefeweissbier.

Pouring a bright golden yellow from the bottle (or tap), the beer head foams up quite nicely. One thing to do with many of the unfiltered beers like the classic hefeweizen is to pour only about ¾ of the beer into the glass. Let it settle and let the foamy head grow to its potential. Swirl the last of what is in the bottle to gather all the yeast particulates and top off the beer to allow those taste bursts to float through the beer and give it the flavor profile most associated with it.

The glass in the photos here is, admittedly, not the intended glass for any Hefeweizen, but I figured I’d rather use a glass with the Weihenstephaner logo on it than the logo of another brewer (even if it is another German brewery). To the right you’ll see the classic Hefeweizen/Wheat Beer glass. I do have a few of them with various logos, but opted for the large mug with the Weihenstephaner logo, which is a good second option.

These days, brewers put so many ingredients into beer or age the beer in some type of barrel which does result in a wonderful, complex flavor profile. On the other hand, there’s definitely something to be said for the elegance of using simple, straightforward ingredients (just two grains), which results in something so incredibly tasty. All you need to do is taste the Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier and look no further than their logo with the year 1090 to know you’re drinking a great, classic beer.

Ein prosit und gemütlichkeit!

Highly Recommended, link to Untappd 5-star rating.

Draught Diversions: Seasonally Inappropriate Beers

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…

Time for me to get a little ranty here at the Tap Takeover. Most of my posts have been positive so this is a bit of a heel turn. However, based on some conversations with other hop-heads, I don’t think I’m alone in what I’m about to rant about.

Seasonally appropriate beers. I’ve written quite a bit about summer beers, largely because I began this blog in May. I enjoy all the seasonally appropriate beers – especially Oktoberfest beers (in September and October), as well as the pumpkin beers and Christmas/Winter beers (From September through January, there’s overlap between pumpkins and winter warmers). But what frustrates me is seeing Pumpkin Beers on the shelf in July. Or seeing Summer Beers on shelves in March and April. Hell, my own father had a six pack of Oktoberfest in his fridge this past weekend!

This is just a sad bunch of pumpkins. They know they shouldn’t be in a pool, just like pumpkin beer shouldn’t be on shelves in July & August.

Like I said, I enjoy Pumpkin beers quite a bit. After all, I’ve had close to 50 different Pumpkin beers S.J.U.* But there’s a cognitive dissonance when it comes to sitting in my pool and drinking a pumpkin beer. It just shouldn’t be.

S.J.U.* is my short hand for Since Joining Untappd. I joined in February 2014.

What I’ll call Seasonally Inappropriate Beer is something that’s been going on for years, it seems. Each brewery wants to get their seasonal beers on shelves a little earlier, driving other brewers to push out their seasonal beers earlier. If you look at the release calendars of some brewers, they have July as their Pumpkin release! There are a couple of problems with this, aside from the whole cognitive dissonance issue. It is one thing to do a “Christmas in July” type of thing, a few bars not too far from me did special tappings of Tröeg’s Mad Elf in July. But that is a one-time event.

NO PUMPKIN BEERS BEFORE SEPTEMBER!!!

For starters, this early release creates an excess of one thing drowning out all other varieties. First one brewery puts out a pumpkin beer in July, then in early August another Pumpkin beer will appear. Before Labor Day, a shelf that should still have Summer/warm weather beers*, is half full of pumpkin beers.

*Oh I don’t know it is still warm and people’s pools are open and pumpkin is a fall and post-Labor Day food thing.

Second, by putting out the seasonally inappropriate beer too early, the beers may not last as long on the shelves and saving them until the season syncs up with the beer may allow the beer to taste less fresh. Again, I’ll call out pumpkin beers largely because I think there are too many pumpkin beers now, even though I do enjoy them. Pumpkins aren’t just a fall flavor/food, as far as I and I think many people are concerned. Pumpkin Pie goes just as well on a Christmas dessert table as it does on a Thanksgiving dessert table. As would Pumpkin beer, but with the pumpkin beers being released so early (July!!!), pumpkin fatigue can hit. While I always try to wait until *at least* September to enjoy pumpkin beer, by the time November rolls around, stores and breweries are already pushing Christmas Ales. Oktoberfest beers are a slightly different story, largely because they don’t seem to be quite as prevalent now as pumpkin beers are. I’ll usually pick up several Oktoberfest six packs…when mid September rolls around.

I don’t think this is just one craft beer drinker’s opinions. So, what are we to do? Boycott something we enjoy? Then we’re depriving ourselves. It is a frustrating thing, just like seeing commercials for Summer beers in March was earlier this year. What really set it off for me this year was seeing a 2017 pumpkin beer in my local liquor store a week or two after the Fourth of July.

Right. I know this is a silly thing to be ranting about, because I can (and do) easily reach past the Pumpkin beers to grab other beers I’d rather have that are more seasonally appropriate.

I’ll end this with a confession…as much as I’ve ranted about seeing the pumpkin beers now, writing about these pumpkin beers has me looking forward to trying a few new ones in month and a half and returning to some old favorites. I’m looking at you Southern Tier Warlock, Two Roads Roadsmary’s Baby, Schlafly Pumpkin Ale, and River Horse Hipp O Lantern.

Beer Review: Flounder Iced Coffee Stout

Name: Iced Coffee Stout
Brewing Company: Flounder Brewing
Location: Hillsborough, NJ
Style: Stout
ABV: 4.6.%

From the beer’s description on untappd:

Iced black coffee has become sort of a staple during our morning brews. We figured, why not make a beer that tastes just like one? Perfect for desert, or a quick pick-me-up in the morning!

A 4.6% light bodied Stout conditioned on a custom cold brew roast coffee from our friends Fieldstone Coffee Roasters in Milford, NJ.

A stout? In Summer? A stout as a summer-time seasonal beer? Crazy, I know. But listen, I drink coffee every day and in the summer, like many people (and possibly a major reason Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks make so much money) I prefer Iced Coffee to the piping hot Joe in the morning. Same reason I typically won’t have soup on a hot summer day. Our friends at Flounder hit upon that idea with this beer and it was even better than I expected.

Flounder Brewing has been around for a few years now. I recall one of their beers winning the Fan Favorite beer at one of the first Brewfests I attended. I have to be up front, this brewery is the next town over from me, on the way from work (if I go one of the half dozen ways home) and I know one of the brewers from our day job together. On the other hand, I was enjoying their beers before I started working at the company where we both work so if anything, any partial “bias” here comes from the proximity and Garden State roots of the brewery but mostly from the quality of the beer they create. I will likely go into more detail about the great things Flounder has done and the accolades they’ve received in a future Draught Diversions post.

So, what about their Iced Coffee Stout?

Although I’ve said Hefeweizen is my favorite style, I’d be lying if I said Stouts weren’t a close second or even tied for that top spot. Since joining untappd in February 2014, I’ve had over 150 different stouts compared to the 50 or so different Hefeweizens. Then again, there is a far wider variety of stouts and many more flavor enhancements that can be added to stouts or variations on the style than a Hefeweizen. For example, brewing a stout to evoke the same flavor profile as one would get from Iced Coffee.

Sometimes coffee stouts can carry over the bitterness of coffee, which doesn’t always make for either a pleasing overall flavor profile, or may impart an aftertaste that could offset the initial taste of the beer. I didn’t find that to be the case with Flounder’s take on what has become a staple of the stout variety. I’ll notch that up to the beans and what seems to be more sweetness. At least when I have iced coffee, I tend to have it with more sugar than hot coffee. Whatever secrets the brewers at Flounder have put into this recipe, it works very well.

Stout, as a style, is one that sometimes tastes better as the beer warms to room temperature. This one, as the Iced Coffee name implies, doesn’t benefit quite as much as do the higher ABV barrel-aged stouts. This beer, you want fresh from the tap or just as it is poured from the growler you had in your fridge. Speaking of the ABV, this one is nice and low at 4.6% making for a nice sessionable beer, one where a couple in an hour wouldn’t unsettle you too much. Again, if you have more than that, make sure you aren’t driving anywhere and so forth.

Flounder has played with beer expectations and given craft beer drinkers lucky enough to live near the brewery the chance to enjoy a summertime stout, something that is outside of conventional beer brewing and drinking.

Flounder hasn’t yet bottled or canned their beer for store availability, so you’ll either have to go to a bar where their beer is on tap or stop in the brewery located in Hillsborough and fill up your growler. I filled up a growler on a Friday in May and it didn’t last the weekend. They tapped another keg this past weekend and the beer is just fantastic.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4.25-star rating.

Draught Diversions: July 2017 Beer Pours

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

I had quite a few different beers during the month of July, to say the least. Some of those I highlighted in great detail in my weekly single beer reviews, a few more were featured in my last two Draught Diversions focusing on Sierra Nevada’s Beer Camp 2017 Variety Pack (Stateside, Overseas)

July began just as June ended, with selections from the aforementioned Beer Camp variety pack, both of which were excellent, especially the Thai-Style Iced Tea. Outside of that variety pack, the beers of July began with a 22oz bomb from one of NJ’s “gypsy” breweries, Bolero Snort Brewery. I’ve had a few of their beers, most have been good, including the one I had early in July – Strawbully Fields a Saison style Farmhouse ale with a nice hint of Strawberry. I had it on a warm Sunday evening and it hit the spot really nicely after dinner.

Then came July 4th/Independence Day. As I mentioned in my post about Summer beers, my wife and I have been hosting my family’s annual 4th of July BBQ/Pool party for the past few years and there’s always a lot of beer to be had. Even though I bought plenty of beers in my coolers (River Horse Summer Blonde, Flying Fish Farmhouse Summer, and Yuengling Summer Wheat), friends/family always bring beer. Boy did they bring beer. Somebody brought a Leinenkugel Variety pack and the biggest surprise for me out of that pack was Canoe Paddler, their take on the Kölsch, which hit the spot perfectly for the hour or so while I was grilling.

Double cup for insulation

A good friend and fellow craft beer enthusiast (who occasionally brews his own beer) brought a few beers, including Carton Brewing’s fantastic summer brew Beach, which is reminiscent of their flagship beer Boat but with a nice addition of orange zest that sweetens up the beer. This also helped me at the grill. You know, drinking beer while grilling is good for you because the beer helps to combat the carcinogens in the smoke from the grill. Every time I have a Carton beer, I’m reminded that I need to head down to the brewery.

This same friend, Scott, recently returned from a trip up to New England and was kind enough to bring back some great New England beers to share. A few of us split the famous Heady Topper from The Alchemist, an Imperial/Double IPA that was wonderful. With a whopping IBU of 100, the bitterness of the hops was balanced so well with a strong malt presence which made the beer a welcoming taste to this typically non-IPA drinker. The same can be said for the other two Vermont beers Scott brought,  the Sip of Sunshine and Second Fiddle from Fiddlehead Brewery the few of us shared.

Another highlight from early July was a classic Belgian Pale Ale, Palm, which for a pale ale has a nice and low IBU of 18, which made for a perfect dinner beer. I can see myself returning to this beer in the future, especially since it seems to always be on draught at a local, popular eatery.

One of the other variety packs leftover from the big Fourth of July bash was the Samuel Adams Summer Variety Pack. This year’s summer variety included (of course) their popular Summer Ale, a Helles Lager they are now calling Golden Hour, a tasty Hefeweizen (the best of the pack and a solid interpretation of the style), A Pale Wheat Ale with Yuzu fruit, Tropic of Yuzu which was very bland, a Berliner Weisse which I haven’t yet had and the beer nobody ever wants in the variety pack, their Boston Lager. Golden Hour was somewhat bland, but that Hefeweizen was pretty good.

I stopped over at Lone Eagle Brewing for the July monthly Brews and Board Games meet up. I was hoping to have their wonderful Hefeweizen again, but that was all tapped out so I tried their Witbier which was excellent and perfect for the warm day it was. I followed that up with their Nitro Oatmeal Stout. I’d had the non-nitro version of the Stout and it was delicious. While the Nitro version was good, but I think I prefer the standard version.

That perfect looking pint is Lone Eagle’s Nitro Oatmeal Stout

Sunday Nights when I watch Game of Thrones, I have a ritual. I like to try a new beer, usually a “big” beer, something with a higher ABV or a beer that only comes in larger bottles (like Neshaminy Creek’s Mudbank Milk Stout). I wanted to try another mead, so I saw B. Nektar’s Zombie Killer on the shelf which appealed to me for the ingredients and the name. Technically this one is considered a “Cyser” according to untappd, which is essentially a blend of Mead (A.K.A. honey wine) and cider. This particular version was sweetened with cherries, which made for a pleasant Sunday evening drink. This one, coupled with the wonderful Exit 3 Blueberry Braggot from Flying Fish I had in the middle of the month, makes me want to try more meads. There’s a meadery here in NJ – Melovino Meadery so I don’t have too much of an excuse not to try more.

Couldn’t quite hide the logo of that other beer on the glass. That would be Sully flopped out in the background

The beer that probably surprised me the most, was Schöfferhofer Grapefruit. Well, second most since the East Coast IPA from the Beer Camp pack surprised me the most and was probably the “new to me beer” I enjoyed the most in July. As I have said, even in my most recent beer review, grapefruit and I just don’t get along. But, this beer was another leftover from the 4th of July so I figured, it was in the fridge, I’ll give it a try. I’m glad I did because this popular German Radler / Shandy was extremely thirst quenching and it seemed only the sweetness of the grapefruit came through in the beer with very little of the bitterness. Between this and the 3 Citrus Peel Out I reviewed a couple of days ago, I may have to re-examine my thoughts on grapefruit and beer.

So, there you have it, a plethora of “new to me” beers in July, which are edging me closer to 1,000 unique beer check-ins on untappd. There were definitely a few beers I’ll be consuming again, and a couple I hope will become more widely available.

Ein Prosit!