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?.

Beer Review: Wet Ticket Brewing’s Trolley Hopper

Name: Trolley Hopper
Brewing Company: Wet Ticket Brewing Company
Location: Rahway, NJ
Style: IPA – New England
ABV: 7.7%

“The flagship IPA from the Rahway brewery is a stellar interpretation of the popular Hazy/New England IPA.”

Wet Ticket Trolley Hopper Draught

Not the best picture, I admit but it provides a decent shot of that perfect pour and the Wet Ticket logo.

From Wet Ticket’s our beer page:

We’ve blended six hops to create an explosion of JUICY tropical fruit flavors and aromas in this New England style IPA. Vic Secret hops from Australia take the lead here, with Citra, Mosaic, Columbus, Amarillo and Simcoe all doing their part to create a maelstrom of hoppy refreshment. The chassis for this resinous hop bomb is mostly Pale 2-row malt, and just enough oats to contribute to the haze that is the signature of this style.

From the untappd description of the beer:

This beer is all about the hops, and is our interpretation of a New England IPA. With more than 3 pounds of hops per barrel, you will be engulfed in a resinous, juicy, tropical hop experience that lets you savor the hop flavors without being overcome by bitterness. Savor the aromatics of this beer as you will be hit by an intense wave of citrus, peach and tropical fruit aromas. The flavor will be ever so slightly dank and will match the expectations created by the aroma. Named after the long lost Rahway Trolley line, jump aboard the “Hopper,” and enjoy the ride.

Wet Ticket is about the same age as this beer blog, so it is about time I got around to reviewing one of their beers. On a recent visit (more on that later this week), I figured I’d go with their flagship IPA, Trolley Hopper. As the description above indicates, this beer is a Hazy/New England IPA. Most of the beers I’ve reviewed here have been consumed at my house out of the can or bottle. As you can see from the picture above, I had a pint of this at the brewery. A beer like this, with the kind of hops that evoke a citrus juiciness are best consumed fresh, and what’s more fresh than a beer straight from the keg at the brewery?

Visually, the beer exhibits the beautiful characteristics of a New England IPA perfectly. Hazy, orange-juice like appearance in the glass with a frothy white head. A quick pass of the beer under my schnozz gives off the pleasant hoppy aromas of the style I would expect. After a long day of work, and a frustrating drive during rush hour to the brewery, the first sip of the beer was a delicious remedy.

For a beer at 7.7% ABV it drinks a little lower in alcohol than I’d expect. A refreshing blast of hops catapults the flavors through the palate, hitting all the right buttons. Wet Ticket indicates Vic Secret and Centennial as two of the hops used in this beer, those happen to be two of my favorite hop varieties.

Wet Ticket first canned the beer a little over a year ago, in March 2018 and it has been available in cans in NJ since. While March 2018 was about the one year mark for Wet Ticket, Trolley Hopper is currently the most “checked in” beer on untappd. In other words, it is their most popular and most consumed beer. There’s really no surprise for that, in my humble opinion. Plain and simple, Trolley Hopper is a delicious, on-point interpretation of arguably the most popular style of IPA being made today.

You might say, sure the beer tasted good at the brewery, but how did it taste in cans? Well, I can answer that for you, I liked the beer so much I brought some home. I split a four pack with my dad, as it so happens. A couple of days after visiting the brewery, I poured the beer into my brand new Wet Ticket pint glass and the beer looked just as inviting as it did out of the tap handle in the brewery. There’s virtually no difference in taste. The same blast of juicy hops and clean flavor profile pervade. In other words, it was delicious.

There you have it, Trolley Hopper from Wet Ticket Brewing is what I’d hand somebody if they asked, “Give me a solid juicy IPA that does New Jersey craft brewing proud.”

Recommended, link to Untappd 4-bottle cap rating.

Beer Review: Boulder Beer Company’s Shake Porter

Name: Shake Chocolate Porter
Brewing Company: Boulder Beer Company
Location: Boulder, CO
Style: Porter – American
ABV: 5.9%

From Boulder Beer’s Web site:

Our twist on the traditional robust American Porter, Shake Chocolate Porter is dark black in color with rich, sweet aromatics and flavors of dark chocolate, coffee and caramel. This unique brew blends five different grains, including Chocolate Wheat, that along with cacao nibs create a devilishly delicious chocolate finish with a velvety mouthfeel.

Boulder Beer Company is one of the earliest independent craft breweries, having begun forty years ago back in 1979! This is a beer I first had nearly 5 years ago (in fact it was one of the first porters I checked into untappd), but in the intervening years, Boulder pulled NJ distribution so I haven’t had it since. As it so happens, I have some good friends who gifted me two installments of the Beer of the Month Club, which included this beer. When the package arrived, I had no idea what would be included so much to my delight, I saw a few bottles of this delicious Porter from Boulder Beer Company.

OK, what about the beer, you may ask. As expected, the beer pours a thick black with an appealing khaki/chocolate milk head. Appropriate given the name of the beer. A whiff of roasted chocolate sweetness comes off as I pass the beer under my nose.

Smooth sweetness is my first impression. Or rather, my second impression five years later.

In my review of River Horse’s delicious Chocolate Porter, I compared that beer to a liquid baked brownie. There’s a similar chocolate here of course, but with a profile that is slightly more bitter as Boulder may have added more hops. Not surprising since western breweries like those from Colorado and California tend to have a more assertive hop presence. Whatever hops were used; however, very much compliment the bountiful amounts of cocoa nibs and Chocolate Wheat Boulder uses in the brewing of the beer.

Shake is a wonderfully balanced beer that is as much beer as it is chocolate shake. The elements you’d expect from a non-chocolate porter are definitely present so this is more than just drinking carbonated chocolate syrup. This beer is much more complex, yet elegant than may of the “pastry stout” style beers that have come on the market since Shake was first brewed about five or so years ago. Not saying this is a pastry stout by any means, but adjacent in that it works great as a dessert beer.

Bottom line: Shake is a perfect dessert beer. If you like your porters a little on the sweet side, this is well-worth seeking out. Just don’t expect to find it in New Jersey at the moment.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4-star rating.

Beer Review: Victory Brewing’s Twisted Monkey

Name: Twisted Monkey
Brewing Company: Victory Brewing Company
Location: Downingtown, PA
Style: Blonde Ale – Belgian Blonde / Golden
ABV: 5.8%

Though still cool in early spring, Twisted Monkey is the type of beer that has you yearning for warmer days

From Victory Brewing’s page for the beer:

Belgian-Style Blonde Ale with Mango

Born into a family of mystical monkeys, this light-hearted sibling brings a twisted spin to the bunch. Hearing about the flavorful excitement that the overgrown jungle had to offer, he set out to explore. It was a sensory overload, and he had to try it all. His favorite – the mango. Introducing hints of his favorite fruit to the same imported malts and Belgian yeast favored by the family, this magical ale results in big flavor refreshment that only the Monkey can deliver.

The great Victory Brewing company (a member of Artisanal Brewing Ventures) is beginning their 23rd year with a re-branding of their whole line of beers. Part of that unified branding is, of course, the launch of some new beers. Building on the success and quality of what is arguably their flagship or bestselling beer, Golden Monkey, Ron and Bill have brewed Twisted Monkey. Twisted Monkey is the latest in the Monkey family, following Sour Monkey, Sour Monkey Remix, and White Monkey. A smart move, if you ask me – build on something successful but with a twist, if you will.

A disclaimer of sorts: Aside from maybe 2 or 3 out of the three dozen or so beers I’ve had from Victory, I’ve enjoyed them all. I don’t know if that’s a bias going into trying this beer, but I figured I’d put it out there to be transparent. I’ve also come to realize beers that are simply “Golden Ales” rarely work for me, “Blonde Ales” usually do work, but if the beer is a “Belgian Golden” or “Belgian Blonde,” chances are I will enjoy it.

As the style would imply, the beer pours a deep golden from bottle to glass. The beer looks really pleasing. I get the strong hints of the Belgian-style yeast from the beer, maybe a little sweetness, but not mango specifically.

I get a hit of sweetness to start and through most of the beer. The finish has a slight sour edge and then a very similar spicy finish to the great Golden Monkey. The mango is definitely present, no doubt. More mango than the aroma would lead you to believe, but fortunately, I really like mango (I have a glass of mango juice every day). For me, the mango wasn’t overpowering.

Belgians have been utilizing various fruits in the brewing process as long as they’ve been brewing beer, the Lambic style of beer almost always features some kind of fruit component, for example. Not sure how many beers made in Belgium used mangoes, but this Belgian style golden from Victory uses the fruit generously; the sweetness from the mango complements the yeast very nicely. I had two more bottles of the beer in the days after first having the beer and I liked it better each time I had it.

The first Victory beer I featured here was Blackboard Series #6 Peach Belgian Blonde with Coriander, a beer I enjoyed a great deal and miss now that it is gone. I would argue that Twisted Monkey can be seen as a cousin to that beer while also sitting firmly in the growing Monkey family Victory is establishing. This is a great beer to hand to somebody who is put off by the aggressive hoppiness of many of the IPAs being brewed today. This is also a beer that I think would please people who enjoy  Belgian Golden/Belgian Blondes, especially if they enjoy that style on the sweeter side.

Where would I drink this? Rather, where wouldn’t I drink this beer? I can see this beer working really well in the summer – refreshing, sweet, and relatively low in alcohol (5.8% ABV) so having a couple won’t go to your head too quickly. You may want to give this one an initial try/taste not alongside a dinner, but on its own. Sweetness can be subjective, so for some palates, this beer could potentially overpower any other tastes in your mouth or just be too sweet in general. If, like me, you enjoy mango this beer should work nicely for you.

Some of the comments I saw on untappd and on other sites like Beer Advocate had me a bit worried, that the beer might be just a full on mango-bomb. The beer tastes as good as I hoped it would and not as sweet and cloying as I worried it might so those fears and that hesitancy was largely unfounded. Like I said initially, I’ve enjoyed the majority of the three dozen beers I’ve had from Victory Brewing so I shouldn’t have been too surprised this one worked for me as well as it did.

Bottom line: I like this one a lot and can foresee this being in my refrigerator regularly and my cooler by the pool in the summer.

Untappd badges earned with this beer:

Fields of Gold (Level 9)

Sometimes you need a break from all the hops, fruits, and spices. What better way than with a crisp, smooth Blonde Ale or Golden Ale? Basic but delicious.

Recommended link to Untappd 4 Bottle Cap rating.

Image courtesy of victorybeer.com

 

Beer Review: Cape May Brewery’s King Porter Stomp

A break from the Belgians/Belgian Styles on this latest review here at the Tap Takeover…

Name: King Stomp Porter
Brewing Company: Cape May Brewing Company
Location: Cape May, NJ
Style: Porter – Baltic
ABV: 7.4%

 

From Cape May Brewing’s Web page for the beer:

The smooth notes of natural chocolate in King Porter Stomp are in perfect syncopation with the five different malts that provide the bass line of this robust beast. Medium-bodied with a chocolate aroma, King Porter Stomp is smooth as jazz.

I realize it has been less than a year since I last reviewed/highlighted a beer from Cape May Brewery here, but the calendar flipped over and this beer is considered a winter seasonal by the brewery. King Porter Stomp is one of the most important Jazz standards (per that Wikipedia link) and Cape May is home to the Exit Zero Jazz Festival. Jazz Festival, plus a jazz song with “Porter” in the title and you have this beer, which is the official beer of the Exit Zero Jazz Festival with Cape May Brewery as an official sponsor.

Over the past year, Cape May Brewery’s beers have been popping up with consistency in my area which is a very welcome addition to the beer shelves. When I learned about this beer over a year or two ago, I knew I wanted to have it since I enjoy porters so much.  This beer isn’t just a standard porter, it is one of the more unique styles of beer, the Baltic Porter. The Baltic Porter usually has a higher alcohol content than a standard porter and often have an acidic, bittersweet finish that can have hints of licorice.

The beer pours a rich black that gives off a bittersweet aroma. The chocolate is very upfront in this beer, a sweetness that is really nice. The finish, at least cold out of the can, is a little more bitter than I typically like but it balances out the early sweetness present in the beer.

This is a beer I should let warm up a little bit, is what I think after the first couple of sips. Once it settles from the cold from the fridge, the bittersweet finish softens a bit. There was always a hint of licorice, which I typically don’t like, but the sweetness from the start grows as it warms and makes the licorice and bitterness at the end very pleasing. Although the beer is 7.4% ABV, I can see myself having two cans of this over the course of a cold evening. I’d take that second can out of the fridge and let it warm just a bit before cracking open the can.

King Porter Stomp is a fantastic winter seasonal beer. A delicious desert beer, a beer to enjoy over a long night of gaming or watching an epic movie. A beer that shows helps to show the skill that the brewers at Cape May Brewery have over their range of styles.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4-bottle cap rating.

Untapped badges earned with this beer:

To The Port (Level 17)

Dating back to the 18th century, porters remain an extremely popular style to this day. That is 85 different beers with the style of Porter.

Beer Review: The Alementary’s Hackensack Lager

Name: Hackensack Lager
Brewing Company: The Alementary Brewing Company
Location: Hackensack, NJ
Style: Lager – Helles
ABV: 5.4%

As it so happens, that glass is from the final Garden State Brewfest (2016), where I first tried beer brewed by The Alementary.

From The Alementary’s landing page for the beer:

Rooted in pride and thirst, a local lager is never far. Whether you’re in Germany, Belize, or Jersey, there’s sure to be a favorite brew for wherever you’ve found yourself. Our Hackensack Lager, with its crisp golden malty goodness, reflects the diversity of our community and our love for the people who have made this place our home. Thank you, Hackensack!

Lagers are the most popular style of beer in America, specifically the Lagers in the blue, silver, and red beers cans. But there can be nuance and great taste in a lager. As there was a shift away from lagers brewed by smaller, independent breweries in the early years of the American Craft/Independent beer movement, in the recent past, the Lager has been making a comeback (Firestone’s Lager, Founders’ Solid Gold) because when done well, it can be a great style. With Hackensack Lager, the brewers at The Alementary have a flagship Lager for their brewery that is very tasty.

As the German word Helles translates into “bright” this beer is spot on for the style from a visual standpoint. A golden hued beer fills my glass, nearly matching the color of the label on the beer can. The aroma didn’t stand out to me, but that’s fine. I’m not looking for anything out of the ordinary with this beer.

This beer is quite flavorful and the type of beer that comes to mind when people think about beer. There’s a pleasant sweetness to the beer, from first impression to finish. I also enjoyed the roasted bready/biscuit elements from the malt. A sweetness from the malt is also present that balances out the potent Saaz hops that help to define the styles hopping characteristic.

With the approachable flavor profile that doesn’t lean too heavily in a hop or malt direction, the beer is quite refreshing. The relatively low ABV (though a bit higher than many Helles Lagers) makes for a very crushable beer indeed. Hackensack Lager is the epitome of an every day beer; the utility player in your beer fridge that can sit in a glass with any meal. I’ve said this before about similar beers, but it is also true of Hackensack Lager – flavorful enough for folks who are well-versed in the craft beer world and inviting enough for folks who don’t stray away from the macro-produced lagers. The perfect beer to bring to a party if you aren’t sure what other guests will like in their beer.

I’ll comment on the label, too.* All of the Alementary beers have the same atomic logo on the front which is a cool branding icon. Most of their beer labels are white on the top half with a distinct color on the bottom half, in this case the bright gold that would be associated with lager. I dig it, it stands out on its own and is identifiable very easily as a beer from The Alementary.

*Maybe I should do this more often.

The Alementary has a great post on their Web site with more details about this delicious beer:

Clean and crisp, Hackensack Lager is a beer that is simultaneously familiar and innovative in the modern craft beer scene. It’s a “gateway beer” for new craft fans, and it’s also like going back home for experience craft drinkers. It’s truly a beer for everyone, for everything. Making a great lager in a small brewery is no easy feat! We pride ourselves in the consistency and technical skill with which this beer is brewed. Making this beer is all in the details.

Recommended link to Untappd 4 Bottle Cap rating.

Beer Review: Asbury Park Brewery’s Roasted Stout

Name: Roasted Stout
Brewing Company: Asbury Park Brewery
Location: Asbury Park, NJ
Style: Stout – Irish Dry
ABV: 4.9%

From Asbury Park Brewery’s beer page:

A dry Irish style stout with mild sweetness and notes of coffee and chocolate imparted by roasted malts and flaked oats.

There’s something almost quaint about naming a beer with the simple descriptor of “Roasted Stout” in this day and age of independent/craft brewing. The brewers at Asbury Park Brewing Company may have been thinking along those lines, I would venture to guess. Simple, straightforward, and to the point. That isn’t always a bad thing. Rather, in the case of this beer, that’s a good thing.

Like a stout should, Asbury Park’s Roasted Stout pours a deep black. Not too much of an aroma, so a quick sip tells me much of what I need to know. This tastes like a stout, shockingly. I’d even say this could be the ideal stout to give somebody who wants to know what a stout should taste like.

But why would I say this is an “ideal stout?” Well, first off is that aforementioned color. Second, the balance of roast, sweet, and bitter is quite even. Flavors of roasted malts are expected from a stout. Sometimes that roasty flavor can turn to burnt flavor, but not here with Asbury Park’s Roasted Stout. The sweetness from those malts evokes chocolate, some coffee, maybe even a hint of toffee and just a wonderful flavor that finishes slightly dry. Functionally, at least for me, the flavor profile was effective in that it encouraged me to drink more and more. If anything, the beer exceeded my expectations and was more flavorful than I expected it to be.

This is almost a session stout, given the low ABV which is only a little higher than Guinness Stout. Much as I enjoy Guinness, I found the Roasted Stout from Asbury Park Brewery to be a little more flavorful and maybe a little sweeter. As more and more breweries pop up in the US in general, and in the US specifically, locals will gravitate to those breweries. Having a clean, tasty stout is a must and Asbury Park Brewery have solid, dependable stout in their portfolio. Quite simply, Asbury Park Brewery’s Roasted Stout delivers exactly what you’d want in a roasted stout.

As the badge I earned indicates, I had this beer on Stout Day (which is in its 8th year and usually falls on the first Thursday of November) and this was an absolute perfect beer to have on the day. I’d say that’s as about as good a recommendation as one could get for a stout.

Recommended link to Untappd 4 Bottle Cap rating.

Untapped badges earned with this beer: Stout Day (2018)

Stout Day (2018)

International Stout Day is dedicated to this namesake bold, malty, and historically rich style of beer. First brewed in the late 1600’s, this style has a long history well worth raising a toast to!