Beer Review: Ghost Hawk Lager

Name: Lager
Brewing Company: Ghost Hawk Brewing
Location: Clifton, NJ
Style: Kellerbier/Zwickelbier
ABV: 5%

 An impressive self-appointed Flagship Lager that is compatible with every kind of food or situation.

Great label, great logo for the brewery, and a fine beer.

From Ghost Hawk Brewing’s “What’s on Tap” Page:

Brewed according to the German Beer Purity Law of 1516 using imported malts and American noble hops, this golden export lager is balanced and satisfying. It’s the perfect beer to wash down a Ripper or enjoy with your favorite pizza.

Ghost Hawk Brewing Company is Passaic County NJ’s first independent/craft brewery and they’ve made a name for themselves in quick order after opening in April 2019. Not surprising when you launch a brewery whose brewmaster has nearly 30 years of experience. Less than a year later, cans of their beer have been popping up in beer shops in the state, which leads to their flagship lager, simply titled Lager. It was, perhaps, fortuitous that I was able to enjoy this beer in time to slot this review in February, specifically Flagship February, which is a movement in the craft beer world over the past couple of years:

Our thinking is that flagship beers have much to teach new drinkers and remind older drinkers, and if they fall off the radar so far that they disappear completely, we will all be that much poorer for it 

This one is classified as a “Kellerbier” which is not the most common beer style in the world (especially America) or even a word with which many people are familiar, but it is a style that has been around for many years. So while Ghost Hawk Brewing Company is a new brewery, the fact that they’ve positioned such an old-world style as their “Flagship Lager” is worth note. The word, shockingly, is German for “cellar” because of how they are stored, but most importantly because Kellerbiers are neither pasteurized nor are they filtered. Imagine that, an unfiltered, somewhat hazy beer? But I digress. Most kellerbiers are essentially unfiltered Helles Lagers or pale lagers. With that starting point….

From the 16oz can, this Lager pours a golden hue with a bit of cloudiness. There’s not the overwhelming haziness of say, a New England IPA, but the beer is by no means clear. The beer looks the part of an unfiltered lager.

I don’t get much off of the aroma outside of the cliched it is a beer that smells like a beer. Trite, I know, but also true. 😊 That said, I find the aroma and the look of the beer very inviting and pleasing.

The taste… oh boy was this a nice Lager. I found it a little reminiscent of Carton Brewing’s This Town (a Helles Lager), there’s a nice crackery/breadiness to the beer from the malts, but unlike This Town I’m tasting a little bit of fruitiness from the hops. Drinkability is another term that is thrown around quite bit, but this beer has it in spades. Very tasty and thirst quenching; each sip makes you want to have more. For a beer that is 5%, that’s a great quality to have.

For #FlagshipFebruary, this beer doesn’t exactly hew to the “beers that got us here” ethos, but it is a beer that can proudly stand up as a beer the exemplifies a brewery’s quality. Besides, shouldn’t a brewery nominate one of their beers as a Flagship? For a brewery to come out this strongly with such a good Lager as a core beer is impressive. Ghost Hawk boldly proclaims this as a “Flagship” on their label and Ghost Hawk Lager is a great beer to slap with such a status. Not sure how much it sells, but any brewery would be well-positioned with such a great beer in their portfolio and as their Flagship.

Ghost Hawk is only about a year old so their beers aren’t super widely available outside of NJ. They began canning late 2019, which is how I grabbed this beer. It was a nice surprise to see it in a relatively new liquor store so I immediately snagged a four pack, which did not last very long in my refrigerator.

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

Beer Review: Forgotten Boardwalk’s Last Brunch

Name: Last Brunch
Brewing Company: Forgotten Boardwalk Brewing
Location: Cherry Hill, NJ
Style: Porter – Coffee
ABV: 6.7%

A fine porter that hits the notes of the style well, while incorporating adjuncts in a fun way.

From Forgotten Boardwalk’s page: for the beer:

Coffee Porter with cinnamon & vanilla. Made with @maidencoffee – this beer is 6.7% and has a Smooth chocolate and coffee presence up front with an overall warming vanilla finish with a touch of cinnamon.

Forgotten Boardwalk has been a mainstay of the NJ Independent Brewing scene since 2014 and is one of the small, but growing number of women owned breweries in the state. Jamie Queli’s passion for NJ shines through in the beers and name, which is an homage to the always popular New Jersey shore. This beer is a call out to a specific event:

The SS Morro Castle mysteriously caught fire in 1934, consuming the ship, its contents, and 137 passengers and crew. The wreck burned for days off the shores of Asbury Park. Curiously, the captain was found dead in his quarters the previous night, never making his final brunch aboard ship.

I visited Forgotten Boardwalk in November 2018 as part of my birthday brewery tour, they were the first stop, and I really liked the taproom, atmosphere and most importantly, the beers. Last Brunch was a standout on draught and I’ve been seeking out cans of it since, and finally found some.

I get a little bit of coffee aroma from the can, a little more when it fills the glass. It looks like a porter, definitely – it might be a little of an extremely dark brown than black, but that’s just nitpicking.

The can & description indicates the beer is made with vanilla and cinnamon, but I get more cinnamon than vanilla. The cinnamon really pops on the flavor, the vanilla seems to be more in the background. I’d guess the vanilla may be balancing the bitter elements from the coffee and base liquid of the beer itself. The taste follows the beer description – roasted malts (porter) and coffee. I’ve taken to adding a few dashes of cinnamon in my coffee grinds when I brew my morning coffee so this beer is hitting a lot of positive notes for me. If there’s any comment on the negative side I can make is that the body of the beer is a little thin. But the flavor more than makes up for it.

Last Brunch is a very tasty beer, it does what a coffee porter should do and then some. The additions are logical additions (Coffee, Cinnamon, Vanilla) to the beer style (porter) and like many of the beers in Forgotten Boardwalk’s portfolio, Last Brunch playfully references an element of NJ history.

This one is worth picking up in cans or ordering on draft. I’ve had a handful of beers from Forgotten Boardwalks, but this one is probably my favorite.

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

Untapped badges earned with this beer:

Wake Up and Smell The Coffee! (Level 4)

Coffee has long been a flavor counterpart for stouts and porters, which means Coffee’s not just for breakfast anymore. That’s 5 different beers with the style of Porter – Coffee or Stout – Coffee.

 

Beer Review: BEE-R from Five Boroughs Brewing Co & All-Wise Meadery

Name: BEE-R
Brewing Company: Five Boroughs Brewing Co. / All-Wise Meadery
Location: Brooklyn, NY / Brooklyn, NY
Style: Lager – Helles
ABV: 5%

A complex and flavorful beer that showcases local innovation from two fine Brooklyn purveyors of adult beverages. 

From the untappd page for the beer:

This Honey Lager is our third collab with the cool cats over at All-Wise Meadery in Brooklyn. Brewed with delectable orange blossom honey, BEE-R is sessionable, smooth, and slightly sweet, powered by New York State malts and hops.

As close as I live to NYC, I haven’t had very many beers from the growing number of breweries in New York City’s five boroughs. I’ve been participating in a semi-monthly bottle share with some colleagues/friends from work and friends who once worked with all of us. On a recent bottle share, we did a Secret Santa and this was one of a handful of beers I received. To say this beer, a collaboration between a NYC brewery (Five Boroughs Brewing) and a NYC meadery (All-Wise Meadery) was a pleasant surprise is an understatement.

That’s how I received the beer. On to the beer itself…

The beer pours a beautiful golden-yellow from the 16oz can into the glass. It isn’t very clear but it isn’t also very hazy so I’m not sure how filtered the beer is. Regardless, it looks great. Aroma has a little bit of the honey, but nothing out of the ordinary….it smells like beer.

The first sip brings a smile to my lips…in a time of year when darker, heavier beers, are the norm, it is very refreshing to have such a full-flavored less-heavy* lager in my glass. I’ve only had a few different meads, not that this is mead…but I’ve had plenty of lagers and stylistically, this fits the bill very nicely. I get the crispiness of the lager, plus some bready characteristics typically associated with Lagers, Helles Lagers specifically. Underneath it all and completing the pleasant finish of the beer is sweetness from the honey.

*Blatantly avoiding the word “light” since that word brings so many negative connotations to Lager.

BEE-R has one of the most important qualities any beer needs to have – drinkability. An overused term, but a term that most definitely applies to this beer. There’s such an easy-going flavor profile to the beer, it is elegant and refreshing at the same time. Every time I put the glass down, I didn’t want to wait too long to pick it up and consume more because BEE-R is, to put it simply – a very tasty beer.

As a beer on its own merits – BEE-R is a standout. As a collaboration between a NY brewery and a NY Meadery that showcases NY ingredients, it is a home run.

I like the relatively simplistic label and the clever name, too. One of those obvious names that seems like somebody should have used it already for a beer that features honey as a prominent adjunct.

Highly recommended, link to 4 bottle-cap Untappd check in.

Beer Review: Three 3’s Blueberry Saison

Name: Blueberry Saison
Brewing Company: Three 3’s Brewing Company
Location: Hammonton, NJ
Style: Farmhouse – Saison
ABV: 5.8%

A Farmhouse beer from the Garden State featuring an iconic fruit from the State makes for a fun, flavorful beer.

From Three 3’s page for their beers:

This classic light bodied Saison is flavored with mosaic hops and then conditioned on a truckload of local Hammonton Blueberries, creating a beautifully colored farmhouse ale! Bright colored, crisp, and juicy… With just a little bit of bite! The perfect summer beer!

Few fruits are as associated with New Jersey as the tasty and tart blueberry. After all, the blueberry is the State Fruit of New Jersey. As it so happens, Hammonton, New Jersey, home of Three 3’s brewing, is the “Blueberry Capital of the World,” so when I saw this beer available in stores around me, I figured what better beer to feature/review during New Jersey Craft Beer Week. The imagery on the label evokes the “Welcome to Hammonton” sign emblazoned with “Blueberry Capital of the World,” which is a really nice touch.

Three 3’s is one of a triumvirate of breweries in Hammonton and the brewery whose beers I’ve seen most often in my area so I was especially pleased to see something this interesting on the shelf. I like blueberries quite a bit, they are one of my favorite fruits.  Adding blueberries to a Saison would be a logical pairing. Given those ideas, does the theory prove out in the beer itself?

The beer pours a bluish-reddish-purplish, as you might expect. Think a slightly lighter and hazier version of what blueberry or cranberry blueberry juice would look like with carbonation and a head, of course. Aroma is blueberry with a bit of tanginess intermingled with the earthy flavors associated with Saisons. Nothing unexpected in what is wafting from the glass of beer through my nose into my palate.

First sip leads me to think the taste follows the nose. More sips proves that out to be true. On the front end of the beer, there is a large amount of blueberry. This is great because as I said, I like blueberries. I think the yeast and bready elements inherent in the beer evoke thoughts of blueberry pie in my palate memory. Because blueberries are a tangy and sweet fruit, the beer has nice amount of zing, too. Not sour like a gose, but the pleasant tartness natural to blueberries.

This saison leans a bit on the earthier side, with a bit of an aftertaste. That’s about my only issue with the beer, but that’s more of a personal preference on saisons that exhibit this kind of aftertaste. In that sense, my instinct tells me this is a well-made beer. Before posting this review, I wanted a second take on the beer. The first can, I enjoyed all by itself, with no food accompaniment. The following night, I had the beer with the usual pizza my wife and I get on Fridays and I was surprised that I enjoyed the beer even more. It seemed like more blueberry was present, or my palate was in a slightly different place a day later. Either way, Blueberry Saison from Three 3’s is a top notch saison that is made more flavorful with the local fruit shining as a smart additive.

This is a great beer to represent NJ and NJ’s claim as the Garden State that puts the Official State Fruit on full display. Saisons, with the moniker of Farmhouse Ale is a logical beer to be brewed in Garden State, throw in a fruit (Blueberry) that 100% exemplifies the region of the fruit and few beers may as deliciously shout New Jersey as much as Three 3’s Blueberry Saison. In short, a beer well-worth trying.

Recommended, link to Untappd post. I initially gave this beer 3.75 rating, which translates to a beer I’d want again and happily buy again. After the second can the following night, I’d give this one a 4-bottle cap rating.

Untapped badges earned with this beer:

Trip to the Farm (Level 9)

You have a keen taste for this Belgian masterpiece. Did you know the Saison style beer was invented by Belgian farms, brewed in the Winter and served the Spring / Summer to all their workers? Well now you do! That’s 45 different Saisons.

 

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.