Beer Review: Czig Meister’s 6th Anniversary Imperial Stout

Name: 6th Anniversary Imperial Stout
Brewing Company: Czig Meister Brewing Company
Location: Hackettstown, NJ
Style: Stout – Double / Imperial Oatmeal
ABV: 11%

The best beer Czig Meister has brewed, the best Oatmeal Stout I’ve ever had, and a damned fine beer to represent their 6th Anniversary in business.

CzigMeister_6thAnniv

From the untappd page for the beer:

This year’s blend comprises of 5 Elijah Craig barrels ranging from 8-12 years in age. Each barrel held imperial stout for anywhere from 9-18 months. After barrel aging, the blend was furthered conditioned on nearly 1lb per bbl of Vanuatu Vanilla. Expect marshmallow, coconut, intense vanilla ice cream, bourbon, and brownie batter. Enjoyed best at 50°F.

Czig Meister is one of the breweries who makes fairly frequent appearances here at the Tap Takeover. With their 6th Anniversary a couple of weeks ago (June 11), I made the trip to the brewery since I’ve attended most of their Anniversary bashes or at least had their anniversary beer (like their 4th Anniversary when COVID cancelled the party). As it so happened, beer also put me beyond the “50 beers from the brewery” territory, which has been happening fairly frequently with my favorite breweries as of late. I’ve enjoyed just about all the beers I’ve had from the great Hackettstown brewery, but even the nearly 50 beers before this one didn’t prepare me for the beer I had that day.

The beer I’m handed is fairly thick and black as night, just what I want from a barrel-aged, blended Imperial stout. The aroma wafting into my nose is a mix of bourbon and roasted malts. Maybe there’s vanilla hiding in the aroma, too. Or maybe I was thinking that because I knew it was in the beer.

The first sip from the cup…is simply divine. A little heat, but a strong stout with barrel notes. There’s quite a bit in that sip and I’m very much looking forward to having more to explore the nuances of barrel character and addition of vanilla .

As I take further sips, that silky smooth character envelopes my palate like a luxurious blanket. The barrel character emerges more prominently, but *perfectly* accentuates the roasted malts of the beer rather than overpowers the flavor profile. Those elements by themselves would make this a world-class Imperial Stout, but then the Vanuatu Vanilla emerges. The only other beer I’ve had with Vanilla from that particular part of the world is Conclave’s Sable, I liked it in that beer and it is deployed flawlessly in this beer, too. It isn’t overpowering and like the barrel and blending portion of the show, is outstanding. What Matt Czigler has done with the gestalt of the base beer, barrel aging, blending, and Vanilla is surreal and sublime. I shouldn’t be surprised since Matt (as I noted in my spotlight on Czig Meister way back in 2018) spent time at Kane helping to develop a couple of their most highly regarded dark beers – A Night to End All Dawns and Morning Bell.

I was totally blown away by this beer, it was more than I expected to be and everything I hope to taste in a barrel-aged, blended stout. The beer is available in limited distribution in New Jersey in cans.

Congratulations to Matt Czigler, his family, and his crew on 6 years of brewing delicious beer. I haven’t had a bad beer from the brewery and this beer is a wonderful statement of their quality. If you’re within driving distance of Hackettstown, the brewery is more than worth the visit.

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

Beer Review: Revolution Brewing’s Straight Jacket Barleywine

Name: Straight Jacket
Brewing Company: Revolution Brewing Company
Location: Chicago, IL
Style: Barleywine – English
ABV: 15% (2021 canning date)

A world class Barleywine, comfortably on the  proverbial Barleywine “Mount Rushmore.”

Revolution_StraightJacket

From Revolution Brewing’s landing page for the beer:

Our Barleywine Ale features American and Belgian malts which provide the base of this extraordinary ale. After 12 months in bourbon barrels the award-winning Straight Jacket® emerges with notes of stone fruit, toasted coconut, molasses, and vanilla coming in waves as you swirl the glass. Enjoy now or store cold.

Barleywines have become one of my favorite styles over the past couple of year. #BarleywineIsLife or #BiL after all. Unfortunately there aren’t that many being brewed, packaged, and made available in my market. Occasionally, some of the local breweries will brew a barleywine in small a batch, but I don’t think I need to get beyond one hand in counting how many breweries in NJ brew barleywines in batches intended for distribution or beyond small batches.

Enter Revolution Brewing out of Chicago. Unfortunately, I’ve only really seen their IPAs in stores around me here in Central Jersey. Enter the online beer reseller Tavour. Tavour is where my wife purchased all those awesome out-of-region beers for my 20th Anniversary. Revolution has supplanted Goose Island over the last few years as the local/craft brewery of Chicago and their big booze bombs are highly regarded, including Straight Jacket, a Bourbon Barrel Aged Barleywine which is part of Revolution’s “Deep Woods” series. When I saw this pop up on Tavour, I had to have it.

The beer pours from the 12oz can into the glass smoothly. The color is murky brown, what I’d imagine liquified caramelized sugar or toffee might resemble and as I pass the snifter in front of my nose, the bourbon elements make me smile.

The first sip brings strong burnt sugar to mind, hints of toffee, and aggressive malts. The first word that comes to mind for this beer is smooth…everything about it is delightfully, sinfully, sumptuous, and smooth.

As the beer warms, the sweet elements become more prominent as does the barrel character. The bourbon elements could easily overpower the entire beer and drown out the malt and hops, but here in Straight Jacket the name of the game is accentuation. Each flavor element (hops, malt, barrel) enhances the other elements to a wonderful and delightful degree.

I haven’t had as many Barleywines as I’ve had stouts or lagers. I’m just shy of 40 Barleywines according to untappd. That said, without hesitation I can say that the 2021 canning of Revolution Brewing’s Straight Jacket is one of the best Barleywine Ales I’ve ever had.

Highest recommended possible, link to 4.75 bottle cap untappd rating check in.

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: The Alchemist’s Crusher

Name: Crusher
Brewing Company: The Alchemist
Location: Stowe, VT
Style: IPA – Imperial / Double
ABV: 8%
IBU: 110

From the back of the can:

Crusher is an American Double India Pale Ale that I started making years ago at the old pub. Hop heads were constantly asking for more hops. So in the words of Frank Zappa, “Did you say want some more? Well, here’s some more.”

While I enjoy Hops with the rest of them, I still try to maintain some semblance of balance and drinkability. This beer is oozing with hop flavor and aroma with a very dry finish. Enjoy responsibly, this one can sneak up on you.

Fans of small, independent breweries have known of the legendary Alchemist for years. It is basically the brewery that helped to give birth to the popular New England IPA style of beer. Brewer/owner John Kimmich’s most famous creation, Heady Topper, is one of those whale beers that every beer geek wants to try at least once and I was fortunate enough to share a can last Fourth of July with a friend. Fast forward a year and another friend happened to have just visited Vermont and he brought back some goodies from the Alchemist, including this Double IPA – Crusher.

You’ll notice there’s no glass of beer in the photo – the Alchemist recommends drinking most of their beers directly from the can, which I did with this beer. The 16oz can opens and out drifts an aroma of hops that is both different than other IPAs I’ve experienced, yet similar, but just more of it, if that makes sense.

I’ll admit I wasn’t sure what to expect, but that first sip is a bombastic assault of hops flavor. Crusher’s hop profile is a banging bouquet of deliciousness, one of the most perfectly citrusy hopped profiles I’ve ever had in a beer. I couldn’t believe what a cornucopia of flavors was in just a sip of the beer so, of course, I took another taste, though more than a sip. I let the beer sit in my mouth a bit to get the full flavor and my goodness does this beer do so many things perfectly well. I wanted to drink this one quickly because it was so delicious, but I didn’t want it to be gone quickly so I didn’t guzzle it.

Like a lot of DIPAs, this beer has a maltiness that balances out the hops very well. Fortunately, the bitterness of the hops is not the least bit cloying. Rather, the bitterness for me was absolutely perfect. To that point, I find it almost impossible to believe the IBU of this beer is 110, the highest IBU of any beer I’ve ever consumed and enjoyed. Perhaps the most standout element of this beer is how sweet it is compared to many other IPAs and DIPAs I’ve had. That is a virtue/feature and not a problem/bug.

What makes this such a wonderful beer is how elegant it is – sure there’s a lot going on in the hop profile, but beyond that, it is a fairly straight-forward DIPA but one crafted in an almost magical mix of water, hops, yeast, and malt.

Like the description above points out, while the name may be “Crusher” and the lovely taste may encourage you to drink a few pints of this beer in quick succession, the ABV of 8% will make you realize quite quickly that taking your time is more prudent. Especially because the beer is so damned delicious, you don’t want it to be gone too fast.

Although Heady Topper (which I had and loved) and Focal Banger (which I had and didn’t like as much) are the two beers the Alchemist is better known for producing, I thought Crusher was better than both and a nearly perfect beer in its own right. This is a beer that lives up to the hype surrounding the brewery and brewer who created the beer.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4.75-star rating

Can Art courtesy of MyBeerBuzz and The Alchemist

Beer Review: Spellbound Brewing’s Porter Aged on Palo Santo Wood

Name: Porter Aged on Palo Santo Wood
Brewing Company: Spellbound Brewing
Location: Mount Holly, NJ
Style: Porter
ABV: 6.9%

From the beer’s description about halfway down the “Our Beers” section of Spellbound Brewing’s Web site:

Our year round porter aged on palo santo wood. The palo santo brings out more of the chocolate flavor. The beer changes flavors and aromas as it warms. Most notable are chocolate, vanilla, anise, and even hints of mint.

Spellbound Brewing is one of many independent craft breweries to open in New Jersey over the past couple of years. I’d been curious about their output since learning about them. From what I’ve gathered they make well-received beers and have a fairly diverse portfolio of beers. Also, they have one of the best logos of any NJ Brewery. My interest was piqued further when the great Pete Genovose (NJ food writer) had good things to say on twitter about the brewery. Then a couple of months ago, this beer was awarded a Gold Medal at the 2017 Great American Beer Festival in the “Wood Aged Category.” I knew I had to try at least one of their beers sooner rather than later, especially this one. My only issue with the brewery is that Spellbound is a relatively long drive for me, but fortunately one of the folks on the team I began managing in November lives close to Spellbound, knows the brewers and was able to get me a four pack, as well as the IPA, which is also quite good

Two porters in a row under review here at The Tap Takeover, I know, but this is such an outstanding beer I wanted to write about it immediately. The beer has the great black look of most porters and the aroma as you crack open the can hints at chocolate and a bit of roast. The first sip is just … everything I ever wanted in a porter. Perfect mouthfeel (I almost hate typing that, if I’m still to be honest), but this one definitely feels exactly how I expect a porter to feel.

As the beer evolves over the course of drinking it, both on the sip and as it sits in the glass, sweet chocolate flavors emerge making this into something of a dessert beer. Upon finishing and getting the full array of flavors, something magical happened. Letting the beer age on Palo Santo wood gave the beer sweet, slightly bittersweet, cocoa flavors. I didn’t get the mint that the label suggested, but maybe a little bit of anise.

The drum I continue to beat about a lot of the beers I’ve reviewed here is to let them warm in the glass from fridge temperature to room temperature before finishing the beer. The label even suggests you do this with the beer and I can only agree. As wonderful as the beer was on the first pour into the glass, the complexities, sweetness and sheer deliciousness of the beer only increased as it settled to room temperature. The only slight I can give to the beer, and the minimal element that keeps it from getting a perfect score, is a very slight lingering bitterness after the finish. Again, it was only very minor so the fact that it gets a 4.75 out of 5 and that it won a Gold Medal at the Great American Beer Festival should let you know this is a World Class Beer and a “must try” if you have the opportunity.

I haven’t had Spellbound’s standard porter so I can’t compare this wood-aged version to the original version. What I can say is that this is the absolute best porter I had in 2017, an all-time best porter for me, and beer that will sit very, very high on the shelf of “New to Me” beers for 2017.

Highly Recommended, link to Untappd 4.75-bottle cap rating.

Beer Review: Dogfish Head Oak Aged Vanilla World Wide Stout

Name:Oak Aged Vanilla World Wide Stout
Brewing Company: Dogfish Head Craft Brewery
Location: Milton Delaware
Style: Stout / Imperial Stout / American Double
ABV: 16% IBU: 70

If hasn’t become clear by now by how often it appears in beer reviews, this is one of my favorite beer glasses.

From the beer’s description on Dogfish Head’s site:

Rare and often rumored about in the darkest corners of the beer community, World Wide Stout is dark, rich, roasty and complex, and lingers somewhere beyond the limits of the average beer.

Brewed with a ridiculous amount of barley, we’ve now taken this Dogfish Head classic and aged it on oak with real vanilla beans! With a little tender love and care we foster this beer from smooth, sweet wort into the big, bad blackend stout it always longed to be. Its bold, port-like complexity goes great with (or as) dessert.

With its high ABV, this is an excellent candidtate for cellaring, so grab a few bottles to enjoy now and lay the others down for a few years.

I seem to be making my way through some of the foundationial Northeastern Craft Breweries on these beer reviews without even planning it, having reviewed great beers from Tröegs and Victory in Pennsylvania and Flying Fish right here in New Jersey. Few breweries and brewers have as much respect in the world of craft beer as Dogfish Head and Sam Calagione. From experimental brews to beers that are icons in the American Craft Beer landscape, Dogfish Head has been brewing it all since 1995 and Sam even had a TV Show (Brew Masters).

One of their semi-regular releases is World Wide Stout, big 18% Stout that catches a hefty price tag. One bottle can be pricier than a six-pack of a quality beer. I was foolish when the beer was released last year, I didn’t pick up a bottle. However, I was not going to let this Oak-Aged Vanilla variant go off the shelves without picking up a bottle.

My, oh my am I glad I picked up a bottle.

The first thing I did after pouring the beer in the glass pictured above was nothing. Just look at how pitch black and beautiful that beer looks. I wanted to let it sit for a bit, come up to room temperature and breath to let the flavors come alive. Strike that, I took a big whiff of the beer and there was a great punch of vanilla.

I was slightly nervous, I have to admit. I’ve had a couple of beers with vanilla beans or some kind of vanilla component and I was a little disappointed, the vanilla was too over powering in those beers. I won’t name names, I try to focus on the positive when talking about specific beers here at the Tap Takeover. Knowing the quality of Dogfish Head’s beers, I really should not have worried. If the aroma was a hint of things to come (and it was), the vanilla here was quite present but not dominant.

The first sip was just sublime, the roasty flavor of a stout comes through, there’s a little bit of the oak, but that vanilla shines through so well. Like I said, it doesn’t hit you in the face and overpower you, but it is a noticeable, perfect blend with the stout flavors you’d expect along with a hint of the oak.

The beer is a whopping 16% ABV and isn’t too noticeable on the first sip, but the more you have of the beer, the more the potency comes through. Again, not in an overpowering way, but as a perfect element of the gestalt of this beer.

One other element of the beer that surprised me was the high IBU at 70 IBUs, when I saw that I earned another level on “Hopped Up” badge (for beers with an IBU over 65). A lot of these higher ABV stouts have a large hop presence, but there was no real bitterness to the beer, the hops were just slightly noticeable to me at least. Again, a perfectly applied component of a delicious beer.

A sipping beer to enjoy over the course of 45 minutes or so, or “slow, easy drinking” as I said on my untappd comment. This one helped me through the finale of Game of Thrones. While the show delivered some of what I expected, the beer went above and beyond to the point I was sad when there was no more.

This is an outstanding beer that I cannot recommend enough, if you are able to track down a bottle. I know I will because I want to see how this beer tastes a couple of years from now.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4.75-star rating.

Beer Review: Carton Brewing Sundae

Name: Sundae
Brewing Company: Carton Brewing
Location: Atlantic Highlands, NJ
Style: “Neapolitan” Russian Imperial Stout
ABV: 10%

From the beer’s description on Carton Brewing’s Web site:

Neapolitan Russian Imperial Stout Aged in Cognac Barrels with Walnuts and Maraschino cherries

The first stride along this path was enough Super Galena in the middle of the boil leading a strawberry hop tone in vanilla and chocolate malt notes creating a Russian Imperial Stout with a different gait. The move to “let’s throw some Neapolitan ice cream in there and see what happens” isn’t a giant leap. Going from a big bold stout with chocolate vanilla and strawberry freeze dried ice cream to “brandied walnuts and a cherry on top right?” is actually a small step. Sundae is Cosmonaut put down in cognac barrels with maraschino cherries and walnuts for a year. Drink Sundae because this one’s for you, Mr. Gorsky.

Carton Brewing has been at the forefront of NJ Craft Brewing since they’ve been brewing and selling beer in 2011 for many reasons. Carton’s range of experimental styles (adding prickly pear cactus to one beer or white truffles to another, for two examples) are akin to an artisanal chef.  The wonderful taste of their beers drive people keep seeking out those beers and making the trip to the Atlantic Highlands to get cans of their beer. They brew one of the most sought-after limited-release beers in the region,  Regular Coffee. Long story short, they are doing things smart, artistically, and with a passion and chances are I’ll be writing about more about Carton here in the future.

One of their regularly brewed beers is Cosmonaut, a Russian Imperial Stout and Sundae is a variation on that beer. I haven’t tried Cosmonaut so I can’t compare this variation to the original. Pouring Sundae from the can, what I initially took to be a black beer was actually a deep burgundy/crimson. You know, that dark tone of red that can be indistinguishable from black until the light hits it the right way and then all you see is that deep red. The aroma is a sweet rich smell that lingers nicely before drinking the beer.

From that initial pour and inhale, I kept thinking, “What a surprise this beer is.” It looks like a stout, has some of the dark rich flavor profiles of a stout, but feels a slight bit thinner than most stouts I’ve had. The combination of these characteristics makes Sundae one of the more unique beers I’ve ever consumed.

I was concerned about the addition of walnuts. I don’t mind nuts of any kind on their own so much, but I am not a fan of when they are added to brownies or ice cream. I shouldn’t have worried, the presence of the walnuts is subtle and really complemented by the beer being aged in the cognac barrels with the cherries.

Russian Imperial Stouts tend to have more of a bitter aftertaste and are sometimes slightly higher in hop presence than most stouts. Again, the cognac and cherry presence buried that bitterness and the aftertaste of the beer is more akin to a sweet aftertaste than bitter aftertaste, which makes this a perfect dessert beer, as if the name of the beer didn’t already imply that. What was also impressive is how well-hidden the relatively high ABV of 10% is. Perhaps because I sipped the beer over the course of an hour it didn’t hit me as much as I expected it would have.

What this beer reminded me of most was when you are at the end of your ice cream sundae or bowl of ice cream. You’ve got your favorite toppings, the ice cream is melted enough that when you swirl all the ingredients together you’ve got what amounts to ice cream soup. That was always the most fun part of ice cream to me and that’s what this beer evokes – sweet, tasty fun.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4.75-star rating.