Draught Diversions: Christmas (in NJ) 2020 Six Pack

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

As I’ve been doing since I started The Tap Takeover, I’m presenting an assortment of interesting looking Christmas beers in my six pack format. Since I’ve been focusing more attention on local/NJ breweries since the Pandemic than in previous years, the Christmas 2020 Six Pack is all NJ beers. I’ve only had one of these beers, but they all look really tasty to me. Also, I’ve had beer from all six of these breweries and enjoyed them all. As is most often the case, I’m putting these in alphabetical order by brewery.

Figgy Pudding | Barleywine – English | The Alementary | Ithaca, NY | ABV 5.7%

Image courtesy of The Alementary’s Facebook

Figgy Pudding is a traditional British Christmas dessert and that’s what the Alementary is looking to emulate with this beer. At 9.1%, this beer would seem to me to be a dessert sipper to enjoy while opening the Christmas gifts after dinner. I like figs and many barleywines already evoke fig flavors, so this beer seems a natural concoction for Christmas enjoyment. I think the beer changes slightly from year to year, ao here’s The Alementary’s write-up from 2019.

What Alementary says about the beer in 2020:

Big sweet bready malt, with a full range of supporting characters from light toffee to low chocolate. Fruit aromas of apricot, date, significant fig. Flavors of holiday fruitcake with massive malt structure. Figs for days, with supporting apricot. Date and Prune are secondary.

Cheer | Brown Ale – American | Bonesaw Brewing Co | Glassboro, NJ | ABV 7.4%

Image courtesy of Bonesaw Brewing’s Facebook

Bonesaw has been open a couple of years and I’ve seen only great things about the South Jersey brewery. Some of their cans have been popping up here in Somerset County so hopefully this joyful looking ale makes it to shelves near me. Looks like a classic American take on a dark/brown ale but with some added spices, the way I read the description.

What Bonesaw Brewing says about the beer:

Now that the leaves have turned and fallen and the days are getting shorter and colder, we see the holiday season is here again. We made for you this Christmas ale to wrap up all the warm, familiar flavors and aromas into your cup of Cheer: a brown ale stuffed with orange, cocoa and winter spices.

Boughs of Barley | Cape May Brewing Company | Barrel Aged Quadrpel | Cape May, NJ | ABV 12.6%

Image courtesy of Cape May Brewing Company’s Facebook

”Boughs of Barley” is an annual release from Cape May Brewing Company, but it changes every year. Last year was a Baltic Porter, the year before an Imperial Stout. For 2020, There are two releases, each a Quadrupel, but they are aged in different barrels. I’m a big fan of Quads so I may try to snag one of these if I see them, I’d probably lean towards the Grand Marnier barrel.

About the beer:

It’s the most wonderful time of the year: it’s time to deck the halls with Boughs of Barley! Our annual holiday offering, this year we’ve taken our insanely delectable Belgian quad and laid it to rest in some gigantic Portuguese sherry puncheons and a few incredible Grand Marnier barrels, each lending its own character to the base beer, adding layers and layers of complexity.

For this year’s Boughs of Barley, we took our rich and robust Belgian-style quadrupel ale and laid it to rest for many moons in barrels previously aging a well-known orange liqueur. A carefully layered grain bill fermented with our favorite fruity Belgian yeast, we’ve created a robust brew for your holiday season. Ample conditioning time in the orange liqueur barrels yields a well-rounded body with strong notes of orange peel and toasted marshmallows, making this orange liqueur barrel-aged Boughs of Barley our holiday treat for you.

Ginger Snap Cookie | Cream Ale | Forgotten Boardwalk Brewing | Cherry Hill, NJ | ABV 5.5%

Image courtesy of Forgotten Boardwalk Brewing’s Facebook

Forgotten Boardwalk does a very smart thing…they’ve got their popular Funnel Cake Cream Ale and they use it for multiple variants. The Christmas version is this appealing beer, Ginger Snap Cookie with all the holiday spices in the mix. I may need to snag a 4 pack.

What Forgotten Boardwalk Brewing says about this beer:

Bright and zesty, smooth yet not too sweet. Ginger Snap Cookie is a simple vanilla cream ale brewed with ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, orange peel and clove to evoke the spicy savory flavor of the classic holiday cookie.

Malus | Belgian Strong Dark Ale | Kane Brewing Company | Ocean, NJ | ABV 9.5%

Malus is the only beer in this six pack I had and I thought it was very good. I had it a few years ago on draft and there’s enough of the beer elements to keep it a beer, but there’s a lovely apple cider flavor to the beer, too. Well worth seeking out.

What Kane says about the beer:

Malus, our 10% Belgian-style dark ale was the first beer we bottled back in 2012. We wanted to create an alternative to pumpkin beers, so we chose a warm spiced apple cider as inspiration. We source locally pressed cider from Delicious Orchards that we boil down and reduce into a syrup to replace the dark candi syrup we typically use. We then added orange zest, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove and allspice to the kettle and fermented it with our house Belgian yeast. Malus is one of our more unique and interesting beers and is ideal for this time of year as it will warm you up with every sip.⠀

Winter Ale | Cider – Graff | Untied Brewing Company | New Providence, NJ | ABV 7.3%

Image courtesy of Untied Brewings’s Facebook

Untied has been brewing a “Winter Ale” each of the last three years since they’ve opened and this one seems the most interesting. Previously, they’ve brewed a straightforward Winter Ale and a Saison, but this one, as a cider ale blend, could hit the holiday spot perfectly.

What Untied says about the beer:

Wassail(Hot mulled Cider) inspired Graff (Cider/Ale Blend) brewed with Apple Juice, Nelson Sauvin hops, Chardonnay grape must, apple juice, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla bean, orange peel, molasses, and brown sugar.

It is an apple and cider forward Ale with notes of winter spices.

Not a bad, varied selection of beers, if I do say so myself.

Draught Diversions: NJ Shelf of Honor Six Pack #2

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

With the state of the Country being what it is and the social distancing requirements we are living under, I figured now would be as good a time as any to keep the focus on local breweries and beer. As you all know, that means New Jersey for me. So, with that in mind, I wanted to put some more NJ beers in my personal NJ Hall of Fame beers/Shelf of Honor for NJ. Some of the beers in these posts will have been featured in a monthly Six Pack or a full review. I’ve tried to focus on NJ beers that are fairly readily available, although one of these beers happens to be a one-time only beer (which I hope changes!).

In the event I need to state the obvious – this is all my opinion and the beers I enjoy. As per usual, beers are listed alphabetically by brewery

Hackensack Lager | Lager – Helles | The Alementary | Hackensack, NJ | 5.5% ABV | Reviewed in December 2018 on the Tap Takeover | Personal Untappd Rating: 4 Bottle Caps

The Alementary has been brewing beer out of Hackensack, NJ for a few years (since 2016, I think). They were the second Brewery in Bergen County, which over the past couple of years has become a beer destination of sorts in NJ with Bolero Snort and Hackensack Brewing opening nearby (and Ghost Hawk Brewing in neighboring Passaic County). Alementary’s outstanding Helles Lager, named after their home, is their flagship and a beer to be proud of. When I visited the Alementary about a year ago, they had recently completed the build-out of a facility because of how big a seller Hackensack Lager is for them.

Also about a year ago, The Alementary redesigned the label (the picture on the right) to give a very nice 3-D map/overview of the city of Hackensack. During the COVID-19 Pandemic, The Alementary is also promoting “Buy a beer for a healthcare worker” with this beer specifically, which is a prime example of local giving back to the community.

As I said in my review of the beer, “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 ever 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.

What the Alementary says about 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!

Bergen County Bull Stout | Bolero Snort Brewery (Carlstadt, NJ) | – Stout – Pastry | 4.5 Bottle Caps | Reviewed at the Tap Takeover December 2019

I knew I had to include a beer from Bolero Snort in a Shelf of Honor, but I’ve enjoyed many of their beers over the recent past. OVB may be their best known beer, and I like it, but there are other beers from Bob Olson and Scott Wells (and company) I enjoy more. So…that led me to Bergen County Bull Stout the big annual barrel-aged stout they release, usually with a few variants. Over the years, they’ve been releasing a big stout around Thanksgiving with the initials of BCBS (sound familiar beer geeks?). I can only speak to one of the variants, but that alone makes it a worthy entrant for me and is one of those “event beers” that seems to satisfy quite a lot of people, with most of the variants over the years maintaining an untappd rating over 4 bottle caps.

This was a very limited release as was the full complement of Bergen County Bull Stout variants, so I was happy to get a bottle. Most stores were permitting only one bottle per customer. Nice label, cool font for the beer name, with the newly fashioned and stylized “BS” logo front and center. One last note on the packaging, I really appreciate that this is a 500ml bottle as opposed to what was once a standard, the 750ml bottle. 500ml is just over a pint and just enough for one person to consume on their own.

The full “herd” of 2019 Bergen County Bull Stout variants

 From my review: “This is a complex beer…I need to put that up front. The eggy-bread aroma of French Toast is present in the taste with the bourbon hints from the barrel making their way through everything. … A beer that has the flavor components of that rich, dessert-like breakfast while still retaining the stout qualities that give the beer it’s primary character.

This beer is full-flavored, full bodied and boozy. Some of the character of the bourbon barrel seeps through the whole of the beer, it isn’t intrusive but rather complements all the other additives Bob Olson and crew have thrown in the mix for this beer.

What Bolero Snort’s Says about the beer:

🍁 🥞 French Toast Bergen County Bull Stout 🥞🍁 a brand new variant for 2019 Barrel Aged Imperial Stout with Maple, Cinnamon, Cocoa and Madagascar Vanilla 🤤.

Double Nickel Pilsner | Pilsner – German | Double Nickel Brewing Company | Pennsauken, NJ | ABV 5.6% | Personal Untappd Rating: 4 Bottle Caps | Reviewed at the Tap Takeover December 2017

Proper glassware with the older label showing the “Double Nickel Bridge” a.k.a. the Tacony–Palmyra Bridge

Pilsners…one of the classic styles of beer the world around. Many brewers and “beer connoisseurs” will say a well made Pilsner is a beer that shows the mark of a good brewer. A well crafted, fresh Pilsner is one of my favorite styles of beer and this one in particular is the first Pilsner to make it to my “Shelf of Honor.”

Double Nickel’s Pilsner is an extremely approachable beer and tastes, note for note, exactly like you’d expect a Pilsner to taste minus the mass-produced elements from the Big Beer makers with a little bit of citrus overtone throughout. The hops aren’t overpowering at all, but are present as an integral element of the beer. Balanced, crisp, refreshing. What makes the beer so good is that it is just simply a delicious beer that hits all the notes a classic Pilsner should hit and will also please seasoned craft beer drinkers who’ve been enjoying Victory’s Prima Pils or Tröegs’ Sunshine Pils. Double Nickel have made a beer that easily sits in the fridge with those classic American Craft interpretations of the classic German style.

The only slight downside for me is that I’m just outside of Double Nickel’s distribution radius so I can’t grab this beer as frequently as I would like.

What Double Nickel says about the beer:

A classically styled clean and crisp option for the lite beer drinker and beer geek alike. Our modern take on a traditional German pilsner is golden in color and perfectly balanced.

Exit 17 – Russian Imperial Stout | Stout – Russian Imperial | Flying Fish Brewing Company | Somerdale, NJ | 10% ABV | Personal Untappd Rating: 4.75 Bottle Caps

Flying Fish is one of the original craft/independent breweries in the State of New Jersey and one of, if not still, the largest brewery in the State of New Jersey. Over the years they’ve gone through some re-brandings, but perhaps their most acclaimed contribution to beer in New Jersey was the Exit Series of beers. These were beers that honored the exits of the NJ Turnpike, with each beer emblematic to that exit. For Example, Exit 9 was honoring Rutgers University, home of the Scarlet Knights so the beer was a delicious Scarlet Ale.

The beer I’m talking about here; however, was Exit 17 Russian Imperial Stout. In my humble opinion, this is the best beer in the Exit series, and maybe even the best beer Flying Fish ever brewed, and one of the best stouts ever to come out of the state of New Jersey, which is why it gets a spot on my Personal Shelf of Honor.

Here’s what I said about the beer when I first mentioned it here on the Tap Takeover back at the end of 2017:
Not content with brewing a Russian Imperial Stout, Flying Fish aged this one in Dad’s Hat Rye Whiskey bottles. Although I’ve come to love beers aged in bourbon barrels, allowing this beer to sit in Rye Whiskey bottles helps to set it apart from its barrel-aged brethren. Flying Fish’s description says this is a “one of a kind” beer and I’d be hard-pressed to dispute the claim. Not content with brewing a Russian Imperial Stout, Flying Fish aged this one in Dad’s Hat Rye Whiskey bottles. Although I’ve come to love beers aged in bourbon barrels, allowing this beer to sit in Rye Whiskey bottles helps to set it apart from its barrel-aged brethren. Flying Fish’s description says this is a “one of a kind” beer and I’d be hard-pressed to dispute the claim.

I would love to see Flying Fish bring back this, or any of the Exit beers in some capacity.

What Flying Fish says about the beer:

Richly complex stout features roasted malts, toffee, dark chocolate, caramel, espresso and cocoa. We then aged the beer for two months in Dad’s Hat Rye Whiskey barrels, which infuses rye, oak and vanilla into this one-of-a-kind beer.

Yacht Juice | IPA – New England | Icarus Brewing Company | Lakewood, NJ | 8% ABV | Personal Untappd Rating: 4.25 Bottle Caps | Reviewed at the Tap Takeover July 2018

Icarus has been getting a lot of love here at the Tap Takeover because they make outstanding beers across all styles. (Full disclosure: a friend works at the brewery.) While many breweries in NJ make IPAs, one of the State’s standouts of the New England variety is Icarus’s Yacht Juice, which, continues the trend of Jersey Shore breweries (started by Carton) of giving at least one beer a nautically-themed name. Aside from bearing nautical names and being somewhat hop-forward, the two beers are quite different and excellent. Enough about the name, more about the liquid in the glass.

When this beer started making waves (no pun intended) in the NJ Beer community in 2017, I didn’t give it much consideration since I thought it was “just another hazy IPA.” I was certainly wrong about that, this is a beer that really lives up to the hype. Like Hackensack Lager, Yacht Juice is Icarus’s flagship IPA.

Some of the hops that emulate fruit flavors give you a really distinct fruit profile, some orangey, but this one is almost like a tropical punch with a heavy dose of orange juice. That said, I would not call Yacht Juice a carbonated glass of orange juice. Oh no no no. This is a beer through and through and the hop finish on this one latches on to your taste buds and makes it really tough to drink this slowly.

What Icarus says about the beer:

North East style IPA filled with Citra, Mosaic, and Columbus leaving it with a combination of citrus and dank aroma and flavor. We may not own a Yacht, but at least we can enjoy the Juice.

Porter Aged on Palo Santo Wood | Porter – American | Spellbound Brewing | Mount Holly, NJ | 6.9% ABV | Reviewed in December 2017 on the Tap Takeover | Personal Untappd Rating: 4.75 Bottle Caps

This beer is the second porter to make it to the Shelf of Honor, but that shows (1) How much I enjoy the style and (2) how good this beer is. Additionally, this beer received two medals at the Great American Beer festival (including Gold!) so I’m not the only one who thinks highly of this beer and a beer with multiple GABF medals at least deserves consideration for any kind of honor status. The taste of the beer cements its place on a Shelf of Honor.

As with many dark beers, allowing the beer to warm from fridge temperature to room temperature is advisable as the beer can breathe and the flavors can unleash. 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. 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.

This is easily one of the best porters I’ve ever had (I know, I said that about River Horse’s Chocolate Porter in my first NJ Shelf of Honor post), but two beers can qualify as “one of the best ever!” Since I initially reviewed this book back in 2017, Spellbound’s distribution footprint has expanded and I’ve seen this and some of those other beers in select stores around me. This beer is undoubtedly worth seeking out – it is wood aged in a unique way, provides some different flavors when compared to the barrel/wood aging, and is a beer that truly stand out among the crowd of porters.

What Spellbound says about the beer:

PALO SANTO WOOD AGED PORTER – GABF SILVER MEDAL 2015, GABF GOLD 2017 IN THE WOOD AGED CATEGORY

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.

So there you have it, another six beers made in New Jersey that stand on my personal “Top Shelf” of beer.

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.