Beer Review: Lexington Brewing & Distilling Co’s Kentucky Coffee Barrel Cream Ale

Name: Kentucky Coffee Barrel Cream Ale
Brewing Company: Lexington Brewing & Distilling Company
Location: Lexington, KY
Style: Cream Ale
ABV: 5.5%

An extremely interesting beer with a balance of complementary flavors.

From Lexington Brewing & Distilling Company’s page for the beer:

The brewers at Lexington Brewing Co. took a traditional cold-conditioned cream ale brewed with flaked corn and added our own Haitian coffee to the mix. After resting in fresh bourbon barrels from some of Kentucky’s premier distillers, Kentucky Coffee Barrel Cream Ale becomes a sessionable beer packed with flavor. Big, bold notes of coffee on the nose and palate give way to a smooth finish of bourbon grains and oak. Subtle notes of vanilla and caramel complement this beer from time spent in the barrel.

Some might say the “Cream Ale” is one of the few wholly American created styles of beer, a light, easy drinking style that has some lager characteristics. Generally, Cream Ales can be sweet and refreshing. Personally, I haven’t had very many Cream Ales (most are the Coffee variants from Carton Brewing), but I find the style fairly tasty. In other words, yet another style for me to explore, oh the horror!

As for this Cream Ale from Lexington Brewing it is a very interesting beer. When I did one of my regular beer swaps with my Dad, this beer really intrigued me. From what I’ve gathered, all the beers produced by Lexington Brewing are barrel-aged and they brew across multiple styles.

Enough preamble, time for the actual beer, right?

The beer looks golden with some slight amber hints, but the wood floor where the beer is placed in the photo above is probably reflecting in the beer. Additionally, I’m guessing those reddish/amber hints are from the coffee and aging in bourbon barrels. There’s definitely a coffee aroma wafting off the beer, a welcoming aroma.

I get an immediate hit of coffee intermingled with the beer, which makes for an impressively complex initiation into the beer. Lots of coffee throughout the beer, but it isn’t extremely dominant. Complementing the coffee is the sweetness the bourbon barrel aging lends to the beer. Since a Cream Ale is made with more corn than most beers, there’s a natural sweetness to the style. Coffee is a naturally bitter flavoring component, so the two elements can potentially work against each other but actually balance each other, while the bourbon barrel characteristics brings it all together.

There’s a slight bitterness at the end that was a slightly counter to the sweetness I was getting from most of the beer. That might be the only slightly negative element of the beer.

Aside from the complex flavors, what I appreciate most about the beer is the alcohol level – 5.5% ABV where most barrel aged beers are closer to 10%. I’ve only had a few beers from barrels that were even below 7%. Lexington’s ability to coax as much barrel sweetness into the beer, while also maintaining both the beer’s original flavor and the coffee hints while keeping this beer at a lower, “sessionable” ABV is very impressive.

Hard not to compare a Coffee Cream Ale to Carton’s Regular Coffee especially as I live in New Jersey, but I’ll just say even though the styles are the same, they are different beers completely. Lexington’s Kentucky Coffee Barrel Cream Ale is flavorful and worth a try.

Recommended.

Link to Untappd 4-Bottle Cap rating, – a push from 3.75 to 4 for the interesting nature of the beer.

Beer Review: Bowcraft by Twin Elephant

Name: Bowcraft
Brewing Company: Twin Elephant Brewing Company
Location: Chatham, NJ
Style: Belgian Blonde Ale
ABV: 5.9%

“Twin Elephant has gained a stellar reputation on their IPAs, but this Belgian Blonde is equally praiseworthy.”

From the Twin Elephant’s page for Bowcraft:

The fanny pack is fastened. Snug and bedazzled functional drip glistening in a sun whipped Route 22 afternoon. Slap-bracelet…THWAP! Umbros blowing in the wind and the Reebok hi-tops pumped up on max, cheek all packed with Big League about to get quarters deep into some hadouken bursts! Space-mountain, The Cyclone, Batman the Ride…ain’t got nada’ on the legendary spot. This funnel cake is all about the sweet and grainy carousel of Franco-Belges malt flavors sliced into highlights of Belgian yeast expression and riding it all down the flaked oat coaster. Notes of plum in fruity esters, subtle lemon, light sugar-like character, subtle yet complex hot weather suds for the hatch.

Twin Elephant has gained a reputation over the past few years as a great IPA/hop forward house (spoiler, the reputation is well-earned), but more on that later in the week. I hadn’t visited in almost three years, so hitting up the brewery was well overdue. I had a flight of five (again, more in that later in the week), so when a beer named Bowcraft was on the menu, I had to at least try it. As it turns out, I really like it. Bowcraft, as many people who grew up in the North Central New Jersey area over the last 50 years know, was a small amusement park in Scotch Plains, NJ with a mini golf course, small rides, and an arcade that attempted to emulate the feel of the New Jersey boardwalk. I spent many evenings there during my high school and early college years. As it so happens, Twin Elephant is a relatively short drive from where Bowcraft once stood.

Two of the signs outside of Bowcraft, the left is probably from the 70s or 80s, the right the last sign. (Right Half of image courtesy of TapInto.net)

Bowcraft the beer is a Belgian Blonde Ale. As the style clearly states, the beer pours a golden yellow, there’s a tiny amount of haze. Just a skosh, if you will. Aroma is a little fruity from the Belgian-inspired yeast, as one might expect. Color and aroma – spot on for the style.

How about the taste? Well, the beer was absolutely on point for the day. It was very warm in the brewery, as it was extremely hot outside (one of the hottest day of the year) so the beer hit the spot perfectly. It was the third beer of the flight I had and the slight fruity sweetness was very pleasing. The beer also has a welcome crispness that hit me at the start of the beer that isn’t exactly in contrast to the fruity flavor profile at the end, but the two relatively conflicting flavor aspects work well together.

One of my favorite beers from a New Jersey brewery is Cape May’s Devil’s Reach – a near perfect interpretation of the Belgian Golden Ale/Strong Golden Ale. What I’m getting from Bowcraft is along the same lines, except turned down a notch. The yeast isn’t quite as assertive and the beer is a bit lower in alcohol. Not surprising since Bowcraft is a standard Belgian Golden and Devil’s Reach is a Belgian Strong Golden. I don’t think it would be a stretch to consider Bowcraft the younger cousin to Devil’s Reach .

While Twin Elephant’s most well known beers are their hop-forward beers and an outstanding Milk Stout, a Belgian Golden Ale Bowcraft is a testament to their skill and ability to craft beers in old-world styles.

To sum it up, I liked Bowcraft enough at the brewery that I brought some home in my mini-Growler.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4-bottle cap rating.

Beer Review: Hackensack Brewing’s Parking Lot Pilz

Name: Parking Lot Pilz
Brewing Company: Hackensack Brewing Company
Location: Hackensack, NJ
Style: Pilsner – Other
ABV: 8%

“Not just an impressive Pilsner out the gate for a new brewery, but a damned good Pilsner all around.”

From the untappd description of the beer::

A crisp, refreshing, balanced pilsner

From Hackensack Brewing’s Facebook Post

An ode to the tailgating culture we grew up with in North Jersey/NYC. Parking Lot Pilz, a super well-balanced lager made to suit all your pre-gaming needs. Pairs well with burgers, chicken, shopping cart pretzels, and nosebleed seats.

When you host a fourth of July party every year, and most of your guests know you like good beer, you tend to get plenty of beer. My uncle, who knows how much I like Pilsners, brought a crowler of this beer (among others) to the party. It was early in the day and for me, a Pilsner is always a good start so I didn’t waste too much time before I decided to pop open the crowler and share it with some of my guests (including my dad and father-in-law).

For all the beer I’ve mentioned here and had over the years, this was the first beer I had from a crowler. Pouring the beer, I didn’t get too much of an aroma that made the beer stand out. Since we were all drinking from Red Solo Cups, it wasn’t exactly easy appreciate the color of the beer in its full glory, but yeah, it was yellow and looked how you’d expect a pilsner to look. The picture below snagged from Hackensack Brewing’s Facebook page shows the beer in its glory. Looks are only a small part of the game. We all know the flavor and taste is the main thing.

Ohhh yeah…this is a very tasty pilsner. Parking Lot Pilz leans more on the Czech side of the pilsner style so there isn’t as much hoppiness to the beer. A little softer than the German style pilsners, but there’s still a nice crispiness that is the hallmark of a good pilsner. The low IBU (20) proves out the milder hop presence (I only checked the IBU as I was writing this review). The lower hop presence is by no means a value judgment…I like the beer for what it is, and how it measures up to the specific style and not for what it isn’t. In other words, stylistically, Parking Lot Pilz is on point

Because there were many people (35+) at the party, a few people had some of the pilsner from the Crowler. My dad liked it quite a bit, and he leans more towards IPAs. My father-in-law, who leans more towards the lager side of the beer spectrum, was really impressed with Parking Lot Pilz, too. My brother-in-law was impressed with the beer, too. But no sooner did I finish my full pour did the crowler come up empty. Not a bad sign for the quality of the beer.

I like when my Pilsners and Lagers (especially the Helles Lagers) have that toasty, crackery finish and Parking Lot Pilz has that. There’s a really nice malt bill in the beer that gives the beer a flavorful body. I visited the brewery this past weekend and I wanted to make sure I tried the Pilsner fresh and boy is it even better fresh from the brewery. No surprise there, really. Again, not a knock on the quality of the beer out of the crowler, because it was damned good at my house.

All told, this a an extremely flavorful Pilsner. A beer any brewery would be proud to produce at any point in that brewery’s “lifespan.” Given that Hackensack Brewing only opened up January/February 2019 and they first made this available to the public in April, I’m even more impressed with the quality of the beer. I’ve yammered on about the skill and precision required to make lagers, especially pilsners, so brewmaster Mike Jones deserves big kudos for coming out strong with such a great lager game and a beer this flavorful that proves how good a Pilsner can be.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4.25-bottle cap (fresh at the brewery) / 4-bottle caps From the Crowler after an 1-hour car ride rating.

Beer Review: Jersey Cyclone’s Beach Blonde Lager

Name: Beach Blonde Lager
Brewing Company: Jersey Cyclone Brewing Company
Location: Somerset, NJ
Style: Lager – Helles
ABV: 4.3%

“Jersey Cyclone boldly storms out of the gate with a damned fine Helles Lager.”

From the Untappd page for Beach Blonde Lager:

An awesome beach day deserves an awesome beer! We used three types of classic German malts and Loral hops to craft this malt forward yet dry beer. With a bready flavor, subtle lager yeast character and cracker dry finish, this beer is a much needed addition to every beach day cooler!

As I pointed out in my NJ Beer/Brewery Check in on Tuesday and last month’s Six Pack, Jersey Cyclone is a new brewery out of Somerset, NJ. I’ve made three visits since they opened and have enjoyed just about everything I’ve had from them. When I learned they had a lager brewing during my second visit to Jersey Cyclone, I was very excited.

I knew the Helles Lager, Beach Blonde Lager, was a beer I really wanted to try since I’ve gravitated towards the lower ABV beers, especially Pilsners and Helles Lagers of late, as I pointed out in my 2nd anniversary post. My father -in-law loves his lagers, too, so I figured getting a growler for Father’s Day would be a great opportunity to try and share the beer.

The beer pours a somewhat darker goldenrod than I’d expect from a Helles Lager. In the end, that color was the only thing a little off about the beer. The aroma hits the notes of a lager and the first sip….the first sip is nice. So that first impression is a crisp flavorful beer. There’s a little bit of maltiness, with a very nice bready/crackery finish.

This beer has a roasty or baked finish that reminds me of some of my favorite lagers, like Carton’s This Town, Cape May’s Lager, Weihenstephaner Original. Drinkability is an obvious, probably overused word to describe a good beer, but Beach Blonde Lager has this in spades. The taste is so spot on and that finish lingers enough that you don’t want it to go away so you immediately have to take another sip.

To say that I was impressed with this beer is an understatement. For a brewery’s first release of a lager, it is damned good. Hell, any brewery would be well-served to have a lager of this quality available on a regular basis. Like I said in my untappd check-in, this beer is everything you want in a lager and a fantastic representation of the style. As it turned out, my father-in-law had more of the growler than I did, he loved the beer.

Not necessarily a comment on the beer, but the brewery itself. I’ve had my growler(s) filled at many breweries, especially over the last few years. Most places do give the growler a wipe down, but I’ve received my fair share of growlers that were a little sticky from beer that overflowed. I can’t recall seeing other breweries do what Jan (owner of Jersey Cyclone) did – he gave the growler a little squirt with a water bottle to ensure the growler nice and clean and not sticky.

While this beer currently has “Beach” in the name, I hope Jersey Cyclone keeps this available year round, or at least keep one of their taps dedicated to a lager of some kind, be it a Pilsner, Amber Lager, Bock or even a Pale Lager. Most breweries stick to the Ale half of the beer family initially, faster brew times for ales and the ales lend themselves to additives that can hide “mistakes” in the brew process. A bold choice to put out a lager less than a month into the brewery’s life and one that pays off.

With people gravitating towards lagers, it is smart for a new brewery to have a lager on tap, especially a lager this good.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4-bottle cap rating.

Untapped badges earned with this beer:

Hella Delicious (Level 5)

Hell yea helles! This traditional German pale lager is typically full-bodied, mildly sweet, and light-colored, making it a perfect go to for any occasion. That’s 25 different beers with the style of Lager – Helles or Bock – Maibock / Heller (Helles) / Lentebock.

Beer Review: Czig Meister Brewing’s The Herdsman

Name: The Herdsman
Brewing Company: Czig Meister Brewing
Location: Hackettstown, NJ
Style: Bock – Single / Traditional
ABV: 6.7%

“Czig Meister’s (Matt Czigler’s) German brewing skill and knowledge are on full display in this spot on take on the classic German Bock.”

Unfortunately, my reflection makes an appearance here

I’ve made it no secret that I enjoy the beers coming out of Czig Meister in Hackettstown, NJ. I also have proclaimed my enjoyment of Bocks beers and desire to see more of the style available, in all their varieties. So, when Czig Meister announced their third anniversary party the first weekend in June (Happy Anniversary!) I was hoping they’d still have this traditional German beer still available because I knew I was going to attend. I was planning on featuring one of their beers this week as a nod to their anniversary and I’ve been wanting to feature a bock for a while. Obviously they did or else I wouldn’t be writing about it and those two things came together.

The Anniversary party was in full swing when I arrived, with Czig’s large outdoor Biergaten relatively packed and the line to get beer both inside and outside weren’t short, but they were moving. The atmosphere, on the whole, was super friendly and the weather was perfect. The party was a great showcase for what a great community the NJ Craft Brewing community is, I was chatting with a couple of folks from Twin Elephant and saw folks from Fort Nonsense. Granted, those two breweries are relatively close and Czig Meister is one of the largest in Northern New Jersey. But on to the beer…

The beer poured into the glass a brownish amber and looked just like I’d expect a Bock to look. I’d say it is a little darker than the traditional German Amber Lager (i.e. the Columbia Street Lager from Karl Strauss I reviewed a couple of weeks ago) and slightly less carbonated. I smell malt, sweetness, and maybe a little nuttiness. I like how this is shaping up for me.

The sweet malt presence is the first thing about the flavor I noticed. The traditional caramel-like flavor is very present, too, and it doesn’t go away. That is most definitely a feature for me for this beer. Some bocks have an aftertaste that is too bitter or too earthy for my tastes. That aftertaste is nowhere to be found with this beer. The caramel sweet-smooth flavor follows through to the end and picks up some nuttiness, giving the finish a nice rounded and appealing overall profile.

I had four total beers during my stay at the anniversary party, chatting with old friends and new alike. All four beers I had (three were 4oz tasters) were very good, but the delicious, sweet caramel aspect of the Herdsman lingered on my palate for quite a while after having the beer. Later in the evening when I was on my couch, I still caught hints of the caramel somewhere in my sense of taste. Again, this is a good thing.

A note on the label/can art. Czig Meister has developed a pretty consistent branding across all of their canned beers that makes their beer very identifiable, from a brand perspective, on the shelf. For The Herdsman, they went simple and to the point, featuring the iconic image of goat which has long been associated with Bock beer..

Czig Meister has a very solid reputation in the New Jersey brewing scene. Much of that reputation has been built on the vast number IPAs they brew, many which are part of their “Deep Sea Series.” The Herdsman is one of the rare Lagers they’ve brewed and have made available in cans. Sure they’ve done a pilsner and a few other lagers such as a special Dopplebock, but a “single” or traditional Bock shows the knowledge, skill, and confidence Matt and his crew have in their brewing abilities. As precise as a Pilsner can be, a Bock is just as complex a style to brew successfully and to keep dialed in with the appropriate flavor profile. That confidence is well-founded with this on-point interpretation of a Traditional Bock. I hope this beer continues to be part of Czig Meister’s portfolio.

One last Happy Anniversary to Czig Meister, a brewery that produces delicious beer and has some good people making that beer.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4-bottle cap rating.

Untapped badges earned with this beer:

I’ll Be Bock (Level 10)

Once you’ve had just one, there’s no doubt you’ll be saying “I’ll be bock” for another. That’s 50 different Bock beers.

Beer Review: Tonewood Brewing’s Freshies

Name: Freshies
Brewing Company: Tonewood Brewing
Location: Oaklyn, NJ
Style: Pale Ale – American
ABV: 5%

“The growing NJ brewery’s flavorful, hoppy take on the classic American Pale Ale is well-worth a spot in your cooler/refrigerator..”

From the Untapped page for Freshies:

Freshies – 5.0% ABV – American Pale Ale – A soft and crushable Pale Ale brewed with Wheat and hopped with Simcoe, Amarillo, and Cascade hops.

Tonewood Brewing opened up in 2015 and has been brewing well-received beer since then. Located in Oaklyn, NJ,  they aren’t exactly close to me, so I was very pleased to see a few of their beers at one of the three liquor stores at a major intersection on my commute home. Keeping to my recent trend of mostly lower ABV beers towards which I’ve been gravitating, I grabbed a six pack of Freshies with its relatively low 5% ABV.

Cracking open the can and pouring the beer into the glass, a pleasant hop aroma wafts to my nose. The beer is golden yellow and with the hints of citrus in the air, Freshies is very inviting to the senses. It is almost cloudy/hazey along the lines of the Northeast/New England style of Pale Ales, but not quite. The nose doesn’t lie with this beer, big hop presence, almost as much as an IPA. More of a pleasantly aggressive hop presence than some of the IPAs I’ve had, in fact. Lots of hops on the first taste and all the way through.

The hops used in this beer – Simcoe, Amarillo, and Cascade – are some of the most popular hops used in Pale Ales and IPAs. For example, Cascade is used in arguably the most important American Pale Ale – Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale. Tonewood’s take on the style is less malty than Sierra’s flagship ale, but that’s not a knock on the quality at all. The blend of hops gives the beer its own identity. That blend, coupled with the ample wheat used in the beer, gives the beer a softer feel and with the relatively low ABV of 5%, makes for a flavorful beer that falls into the currently overused term of “crusher” category. In other words, great flavor along with a not-bludgeoning-you ABV.

Freshies is a delicious beer that is a fine addition to the style of American Pale Ale. Perhaps the best way I can describe this beer is as follows: between the color, level of haze, and hop profile, Freshies perfectly straddles the line between a “traditional” American Pale Ale and the juicy Northeast/New England Pale Ale. It compares pretty favorably to some of the other pale ales I’ve enjoyed recently and mentioned here on the Tap Takeover including Kane’s Sneak Box and Industrial Arts’s Tools of the Trade. While it may not be as widely known as those two breweries and beers, Tonewood’s Freshies, for my drinking dollars, is no less a beer.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4-bottle cap rating.

Untapped badges earned with this beer:

Pale as the Moon (Level 21)

Ahh, the trusty pale ale; crisp, refreshing, and always a good choice in a bind.

 

Beer Review: Karl Strauss Brewing Company Columbia Street Amber

Name: Columbia Street Amber
Brewing Company: Karl Straus Brewing Company
Location: San Diego, CA
Style: Lager – American Amber / Red
ABV: 4.5%

“Every brewery should have a “workhorse” lager this good on continual rotation in their portfolio.”

From Karl Strauss’s landing page for Columbia Street Amber:

It was February 2nd 1989 when we opened our first brewery on Columbia Street in downtown San Diego. This easy drinking beer has been pouring since that very first day. Imported Munich malts give Columbia Street Amber its deep bronze color, smooth body, and crisp toasted flavor. Karl Strauss has grown, but the original brewery location remains. Raise a pint of Columbia Street Amber and join us in a cheers to San Diego’s vibrant craft beer scene.

I’ve said in the past that one of the benefits of traveling for work is the opportunity to visit breweries I wouldn’t otherwise visit. Case in point, this beer review. While there are many breweries in San Diego, only one brewery was the first and that happens to be Karl Strauss Brewing Company. They are something of a legacy brewery, as the two men who started the brewery, Chris Cramer and Matt Rattner, asked their cousin Karl Strauss to help them start a brewery. Karl Strauss was an iconic brewer in America, working at Pabst where he helped reformulate Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, which helped the beer reach iconic status. That Wikipedia link is well worth a click, as is the history section on Karl Strauss Brewing’s web site. Karl eventually served at Pabst until 1983 and was president of the Master Brewers Association of the Americas for a few years. In short, he’d probably be on a Mount Rushmore of American Brewing. That legacy carries on in the brewery that bears his name, which is why I wanted to visit the brewery.

I ordered up a flight to get an idea of what I wanted with my meal. The flight included Red Trolley Ale (an Irish Red Ale), Follow the Sun (Pilsner), Aurora Hoppyalis (IPA), and this beer, Columbia Street Amber Lager.

Sometimes (hell, like last week’s beer), a well-made lager is what really hits the spot and Columbia Street Amber certainly hits the spot. The glass is full with amber beauty, a beer that glows with invitation. There isn’t too much of an aroma, maybe a little bit of maltiness? For the most part; however, it smells like you’d expect a beer to smell.

First sip is sweetness, but not a cloying sweetness. Sweetness from the malt, that good lager flavor on the finish laced with the carbonation. The sweetness is consistent throughout the beer, but as it sits in my mouth with each successive sip, I begin to taste the lovely toasted malts that make up the body of the flavor. There’s a really nice caramel, almost toffee flavor to the beer. The elements of the toasted malt and the sweetness come together very nicely as a whole in the beer. The beer is incredibly flavorful altogether, especially given that it is a sub-5 ABV. The longer lagering process allows for flavors to develop and mature during the brewing process, which seems to be exactly what happened with this beer.

Every brewery should have a lager like this in their portfolio: a workhorse lager that can sit in the glass for every occasion and complement a meal or be enjoyed by itself. I enjoyed my pint of Columbia Street Amber while eating delicious fish tacos from Karl Strauss.

I could compare this another way. For years my go to lager and most dependable beer was Yuengling’s Lager. Some may look down upon that beer because in the Northeast, it is an inescapable mass produced beer. That said, it is a mostly well-made lager and considering the mass level on which the beer is produced, has some good flavor. It also happens to be an Amber Lager, much like Columbia Street Lager. The beer from Karl Strauss reminded me of Yuengling’s Lager, with the exception that I found Karl Strauss’s amber lager to be a more flavorful and complex beer.

While at the brewery/brewpub and enjoying my meal, I was speaking with the bartender. Apparently, Columbia Street Amber is the longest standing beer continuously being poured in San Diego, having been served since Karl Strauss opened their doors and tap handles back in 1989 when the beer was originally called Karl Strauss Lager. I could hear the pride in his voice as he told this to me.* I can understand why – it is a very well-balanced, flavorful lager that has a low enough ABV (4.5%) that it almost begs to be enjoyed in multiple pints.

*Yeah, I know it says that up in the description, but I didn’t have that in front of me when I was speaking with the bartender.

Bottom line, any brewery without a lager in their portfolio would be improved by having a lager of this quality in their regular rotation.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4-bottle cap rating.

Badge Earned:

Untapped badges earned with this beer:

Lager Jack (Level 15)

After a long day, what better way to kick back than with a crisp and refreshing lager? You’re already feeling more relaxed, aren’t you?.