Draught Diversions: December 2019 Six Pack

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

The month of December began with another bottle share, but even outside of that great day, I was able to enjoy quite a few very good beers. Some Christmas/Winter-adjacent, stouts, and the usual mix of NJ, regional, and nationally available beers. .

Kalishnikov (Icarus Brewing Company) | Stout – Russian Imperial | 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

Shockingly, a beer from Icarus Brewing appears on this list. Kalishnikov is one of their annual favorites and I know why, a delicious, super-boozy (14% ABV!) Stout that doesn’t feel like it has that much alcohol in it. Russian Imperials can be very bitter on the finish, but the addition of honey in the brewing process gives the beer a nice hit of sweetness on the finish. I’ve had one of the barrel-aged variants, but I think I prefer the base stout more. .

Christmas Ale (Brouwerij St. Bernardus) | Winter Ale | 4 bottle Caps on untappd

I’ve been trying to sample at least one of the more popular and widely available Belgian Christmas beers every year and this year I landed on bottle sporting the happy monk. This beer turned out to be a really nice ale. The classic from St. Bernardus is basically a Quadrupel (10%ABV), but with more fruit character (some cherry notes, maybe?) than their standard Quadrupel. This is definitely a slow sipper and a beer you should let warm a little bit to room temperature to fully enjoy the aroma and full flavor of the beer.

Winter Cru (Flying Fish Brewing Company) | Belgian Strong Golden Ale | 3.75 / 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

Over the last year, Flying Fish continued to evolve, brew new beers, and tweak their classic beers. Winter Cru is a reboot of their Winter seasonal (Grand Cru Winter Reserve) with a great label and tweaked recipe. The original wasn’t one I cared for too much, so this change in recipe is very much welcome and the beer is more full-flavored My tagline: “A Belgian style ale w/hints of cinnamon and nutmeg will settle you in for a comforting Christmas and Winter Holiday.”

Willettized Coffe Stout (Lagunitas Brewing Company) | Stout – Coffee | 4.50 bottle Caps on untappd

This is an annual release Lagunitas that is often highly-sought after. That’s because it is a delicious, very balanced barrel-aged stout. The barrels are Willett Rye and what an excellent blend of flavors – coffee, roasted malt, rye whiskey. This is quite simply a fantastic barrel-aged stout.

Psycho Simcoe (Three 3’s Brewing Company) | IPA – New England | 4.50 Bottle Caps on untappd

I wasn’t able to snap a photo of my beer in the very crowded bar, so here’s the can art, courtesy of Three 3’s Facebook

You never know what you’ll find in a dive bar and there’s a pretty great dive bar in my town – The Royal Bar. They have a pretty standard selection of beers, but every time I’ve gone to the Royal, I’ve always found at least one gem. This most recent visit the gem would be Psycho Simcoe, a fantastic IPA from the South Jersey brewery. This is a wonderful blend of dank and juicy hops (Simcoe, obviously, but also Mandarina Bavaria for the juiciness) that make for a delicious beer – juiciness at the start with a nice dank finish.

Haunted House (Allagash Brewing Company) | Belgian Strong Dark Ale | 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

I say this every time I mention beers from Allagash, but I need to get more of their beers because this one a, “Halloween seasonal” is excellent. There’s a wonderful start to the beer with flavorful roast, then it moves to a fantastic blend of hops and then finishes with a sweet hint of coffee. Allagash brews primarily Belgian styles and there really isn’t a stout in the catalogue of Belgian styles, so this one is considered the closest to it a “Belgian Strong Dark Ale.” .Whatever you call it, the beer is really, really tasty.

My work pals and I had a Christmas “Gathering of the Fellowship of the Beer” in the beginning of December, which was fun as it is everytime we get together to share new beers with each other. The standout at that gathering was a bottle of Samuel Adams Utopias (which takes center stage below in the photo of the beers we shared), which one of our friends generously shared. The bottle was from 2017 and was unlike any other beer I’ve had. The only slight negative is that it smelled like slightly of nail polish, but the flavor … heavenly.

The Treehouse and Hill Farmstead bottles contained some delicious homebrews (a wonderful milk stout and tasty New England IPA) from our friend Brad

American Craft Beer Classic: Allagash White

I realized it has been far too long since I did an American Craft Beer Classic post, but like the most recent one back in January, this post features a Belgian-inspired beer. Perhaps the most well-regarded and well-known Belgian-inspired beer. It is the beer that is easily the most accessible of American Craft/Independent beers, and despite the ubiquitous nature of the beer, an absolute delight to drink. I think many will agree: Allagash White is the standard bearer for Belgian Witbiers. Full stop.

It was 1995 and American Craft/Independent Brewing was in its infancy. Samuel Adams’ Boston Lager, Pete’s Wicked Ale (that’s a whole story in and of itself), Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, and Widmer Brothers were probably the most prominent non-macro beers in stores and in bars: a Vienna Lager, a Brown Ale, a hoppy Pale Ale, and  a Hefeweizen. Breweries like New Belgium, Yards, and Dogfish Head were still in their infancy and Bell’s Brewery hadn’t yet reached their current size. Victory Brewing, Stone Brewing, Tröegs Brewing had yet to open. Breweries were focusing on beers more along the Germanic and British branches of the brewing tree. Enter Rob Tod and Allagash Brewing with their focus on Belgian inspired styles, something very few breweries outside of Cooperstown, NY were doing at the time.

Let’s just quickly look at that again: This beer has been part of the beer landscape for nearly 25 years and it has remain largely unchanged. That is one clear indicator of the beer’s quality even if the beer itself is not exactly clear. Out of the bottle, it pours a very bright, but hazy straw yellow. Not exactly white, granted, but compared to a golden yellow pilsner, an amber-hued lager or IPA, or a stout, the beer is as close to white as a beer can get. Like many wheat beers, this one is unfiltered and the instructions on the bottle and can indicate that you swirl and dump the sediment, which adds to the cloudy straw color. The look of the beer, with a white head, pops wherever it sits and the look combined with the aroma seductively whispers to the beholder, “Drink me.”

Image courtesy of Allagash Brewing’s website

From a style perspective, the Witbier itself is a very versatile beer.  Like a pilsner, a Witbier is fairly straightforward and when done well, is extremely flavorful. That flavor profile won’t conflict with many foods and compliments just about any meal. Yet there’s a beautiful balance to Allagash’s take on the style from the hints of clove, a bit of coriander, and the all-important wheat that puts the Wit in Witbier.

At 5.2% ABV, the “versatility” of Allagash White is even more evident. That relatively lower amount of alcohol allows the beer to be a sessionable ale you can enjoy throughout the day at a pool party, barbeque, a cool fall festival and through the night by the fire pit. Allagash says this about the beer on their web site:

Our interpretation of a Belgian-style wheat beer is brewed with oats, malted wheat, and unmalted raw wheat for a hazy, “white” appearance. Spiced with our own special blend of coriander and Curaçao orange peel, Allagash White is both complex and refreshing.

Though it’s brewed in Maine, the recipe sticks to its Belgian roots. We’ve worked hard to make sure that the Allagash White in your hand tastes the same as it did back in 1995, when Rob Tod brewed the first batch.

Most breweries will include a Witbier in their portfolio, it is a classic style and a style that has been elevated to one of the standards largely because of Allagash White. Over the last 5 years or so, I’ve had close to 100 different Witbiers and few come close to the delicious elegance of the American progenitor of the style. So many people who write about beer, work in beer, and love beer have espoused the greatness and elegance of the beer. On a great list on FoodandWine.com, Allagash White was listed as the fourth most important American Craft Beer ever brewed. Numbers 3 to 1 on that list being Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout, Samuel Adams Boston Lager, and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. Honestly, I’d be hard pressed to argue those slots except maybe I’d swap Bourbon County and Allagash White largely because White is a more approachable and far more readily available. Noted Beer writer Josh Noel gave the beer a great write up a few years back and even recently said on Twitter that Allagash White is the beer he’d hand somebody to introduce said person to Craft Beer.

According to this Vine Pair article from September 2017, about 80% of Allagash’s output is White and I doubt that number has shifted significantly in two years. It is the beer that pays the bills, the beer most associated with the brewery, it is the flagship beer. Allagash White is absolutely delicious. One could argue that Allagash White is more than just the brewery’s flagship, it is a flagship for American Craft Beer as a whole. Most bars around me in NJ have it available, either on draft or in bottles. EVERY beer shop carries it. Maybe for that reason, I sort of overlooked the beer for a little while. But earlier in the year, I was out at dinner and the selections on tap were very limited, a few macro beers and Allagash White and a Dogfish 60 Minute. Opting for a less hoppy beer, I went with White. It was a re-revelation. Sure I’d had the beer a few times over the years, but since I last had it and that instance, I’d had many different beers. Taking a long sip of the beer brought me back, made me realize how elegant the beer is.

Allagash has often set their own trends, they’ve helped the beer community to embrace Belgian inspired ales across that particular spectrum. However, Allagash succumbed to a trend themselves when they finally decided to put White into 16oz cans. To say it was a bit of news in the beer world and was met with excitement, is an understatement. Especially in their location (New England) which is where arguably the most popular style at the moment was born (Hazy IPAs, packaged in 16oz cans).

Image courtesy of Allagash Brewing’s website

Although I mentioned this in my August post about breweries to visit, it is worth mentioning again. Rob Tod was recently awarded the prestigious James Beard Award, specifically, the 2019 Outstanding Wine, Spirits, or Beer Producer. He’s only the 4th beer person to receive the award. It all started with Allagash White and persistence.

Like Josh Noel, I don’t know that I can think of a singular beer to hand to a person as their introduction to complex, elegant possibilities of craft beer. 20+ years of an unchanged recipe and you’ve got a masterpiece that should absolutely not be overlooked because of how easy it is to find.

More than any of the other beers I’ve mentioned in these “American Craft Classics” posts (or on this blog as a whole), Allagash is objectively an inarguable definitive classic of American brewing.

Draught Diversions: 4 Breweries to Visit, Part 4 of a Series

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…

It has been a little over a year since I cobbled together one of these posts highlighting breweries I’d like to visit so I figured it was time to add to the growing list of breweries on my bucket list of breweries to visit.  A lot can happen in a year, like a brewery gaining entry into NJ giving me (and many lucky consumers) exposure to their beer for the first time. Last year, Bell’s Brewery entry into NJ was one of those breweries and as such, they made the list of breweries I’d like to visit last year. Same case for one of the breweries on today’s list. All that said, like the last few times I’ve made one of these posts, I’m going alphabetically with this list.

Allagash Brewing Company | Portland, ME | Established 1995 | Total # of Allagash beers checked in on untappd: 7
Allagash Beers reviewed at The Tap Takeover: Black and Pick Your Own

Images courtesy of Allagash’s Web site

If one were to carve out a Mount Rushmore of American Breweries, then Allagash would be an immediate and unanimous choice. Only one other brewery in the US has embraced the Belgian art and science of brewing near to the extent that Allagash has and I mentioned that brewery in a previous “breweries to visit” post. One of the differences: Allagash is largely the outgrowth of one man’s vision and still a fiercely independent brewery.

Rob Tod started Allagash in 1995 at a time when few breweries were producing Belgian style beers. Belgian beers weren’t nearly as present as they are today outside of maybe Chimay and Saison du Pont. Allagash’s Belgian Witbier, simply White is a nearly perfect beer and one of the Independent/Craft Beers you’ll see on tap nearly everywhere. It is a beer that tows the fine line of mass appeal and beer geek appeal. Their Saison is one of the best, widely available American interpretations of the style, and their Tripel is a clean, delicious interpretation of the style.

Where Allagash manages to elevate their game is in how they embrace barrel aging and wildly fermented beers. Barrel Aging is a storied process, some would say art, of beer brewing, and Allagash’s Curieux, their barrel-aged Tripel, is a sublime beer. Allagash’s Coolship is the largest open fermentation facilitation devices in the country. A coolship allows the ingredients of the beer to play with the environment and produce some very unique beers. I’ve only had one of those complex, delicious beers, but I need to get my hands on some more.

Image courtesy of Allagash Brewing’s Web Site

Rob Tod was recently awarded the prestigious James Beard Award, specifically, the 2019 Outstanding Wine, Spirits, or Beer Producer. He’s only the 4th beer person to receive the award. That and the brewery’s legendary status are reason enough to encourage a visit to the brewery in Portland, Maine.

The Bruery | Placentia, CA, | Established 2008 | Total Bruery / Bruery Terreaux beers checked in on untappd: 12
Bruery Beers reviewed at The Tap Takeover: Autumn Maple (The Bruery) and Beret (Bruery Terreaux)

Images courtesy of The Bruery’s Web site

One of the craftier and “artisanal” of breweries, the Bruery focuses on Barrel Aged and high end beers. Only recently did they sell beer in anything other than 750ml bottles, for example. Big stouts with flavorful adjuncts on the one side of the Breury, with the Terreaux side focusing on sours and more Belgian inspired open fermentation wild ales on the other side. Both sides of Patrick Rue’s brainchild offer complexly flavored and extremely potent beers.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the 12 Beers of Christmas series of beers they’ve released every year, with each annual release inspired by one of the days of Christmas, my favorite being the 8 Maids-A-Milking Imperial Milk Stout, which is also the first beer I had from The Bruery.

Like many breweries, The Bruery has some beers available only on site. Additionally, they have a bottle program Society that is available to folks who live close enough to pick up their bottles at the brewery.

For some really great insight into The brewery, John Holl interviews owner and founder Patrick Rue on the Craft Beer and Brewing podcast .

Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers | Framingham, MA | Established 2011 | Total Jack’s Abby beers checked in on untappd: 4
Jack’s Abby Beer reviewed at The Tap Takeover: Post Shift Pilsner

Images courtesy of Jack’s Abby’s Web site

A brewery focused largely on Lagers? Count me in. I didn’t know too much about this brewery before 2019 began seeing as they are in Massachusetts. I’d heard and seen talk about them around Beer Web and Social Media ©, but that’s about it until I saw them with a tent at the Meadowlands Beerfest in February announcing they’d be entering NJ Distribution.

I’ve been really drawn to my Germanic roots when it comes to beer as of late, really appreciating the elegance of a well-crafted pilsner and how good a low ABV (“crusher”) of a tasty lager can be. Take their Hoponius Union, an India Pale Lager. A hop-forward lager that is one of the best lagers I’ve ever had and was recently named the best Lager by Beer Advocate. The beer has the lovely floral/fruity hop finish you’d expect from a classic IPA, but it is most definitely a lager. Jack’s Abby has a few variants on this one I need to try.

For quite a few years in the early 2000s, my wife and I would follow my cousin’s travel hockey team. Specifically, his team played annual tournaments in Massachusetts and we always stayed in Framingham, which is where Jack’s Abby is located. Unfortunately, our “hockey groupie” days were both before Jacks Abby existed and before I had this deep an understanding and enjoyment of Craft Beer. Jack’s Abby may be the Massachusetts brewery, in a state rich with iconic breweries, I want to visit most.

Owner Jack Hendler chatted with Jamie Bogner on episode 59 of the Craft Beer and Brewing podcast .

Schneider and Weisse/G. Schneider & Sohns | Kelheim, Bayern German | Established 1872 | Total Schneider & Sohns beers checked in to untappd: 6

Schneider’s lineup with new labels. Image courtesy of G. Schneider & Sohns

I took a look at the German breweries whose beers I’ve enjoyed and every one of the six beers I had from Schneider Wesse have been absolutely outstanding. Wheat beers (Hefeweizen, Dunkelweizen, Dopplebock, Eisbock, and Weizenbock primarily) are a German specialty and quite a few of the more well known German breweries (and likely double the amount of lesser known German breweries) brew wheat-only beers. From what I’ve consumed and  enjoyed, it is hard to argue few, if any, do it better than Schneider & Sohns.

Schneider & Sohns uses a numbering system for most of their beers, TAP 7, for example is their classic Hefeweizen, while TAP 3 is their designation for the alcohol-free beer.

It wasn’t too long ago when I first had their “Original” Hefeweizen, but it still stands out as one of the best Hefeweizens I’ve ever had. I wasn’t too familiar with the brewery at the time, but I saw an authentic German Hefeweizen on draught and I was extremely eager to get a pour. Their Weizenbock (TAP6) is maybe the best Weizenbock I can remember having. They also collaborated on a more hopped up Weizenbock with Brooklyn Brewery – Meine Hopfenweisse which is also delightful. Schneider & Sohns will brew a once a year specialty, barrel-aged Weizenbock beer they designate TAP X. I only had one of those, the one called “Marie’s Rendezvous” but I’m keeping an eye out for the next iteration.

Perhaps their crown jewel, in my opinion, is Aventinus Eisbock, one of the most unique styles of beer, the accidental beer. I touched up on the Eisbock style in my overview of Bocks, highlighting this beer specifically.

Image courtesy of Schneider & Sohns’s Web site

Here’s what G. Schneider & Sohns says about the beer:

Unfathomably sensuous

Magic and a black soul – the mahogany coloured, almost black “Eisbock” for sensuous indulgence, best served in a balloon glas. Matured in a special freezing process following a special recipe, with a soft, elegant body, but still intensive. Spicy flavours of plum, banana and clove reveal themselves along with a hint of bitter almond and marzipan. Tempting as digestif, to crepes, dark chocolate, Tiramisu and fully ripe parmesan cheese.

It is still one of the best beers I’ve ever had. A Top 10 all time for me. I’ve seen different vintages of this beer in stores, too, so I’m going to have to pick up some more soon.

That said, a trip to Germany would most likely include a trip to these fine purveyors of wheat beer

Beer Review: Allagash Brewing’s Pick Your Own

Name: Pick Your Own
Brewing Company: Allagash Brewing Company
Location: Portland, ME
Style: American Wild Ale (Beer Advocate’s description American Wild Ale is at the end of the review)
ABV: 6%

“A complex, flavorful fruit forward beer that is artfully delicious.”

From Allagash’spage for the beer:

Pick Your Own begins as a sour red ale that’s aged in an oak foudre with Lactobacillus and Pediococcus for two years. After adding fresh, local raspberries, cherries, strawberries, and blueberries, we age it for an additional three months. The finished beer is a vibrant, ruby red with an aroma of ripe berries and vanilla. As you might expect, berries fill the flavor. Pick Your Own finishes dry with notes of bread crust and a lingering, tart juiciness.

Allagash has done more to push the Belgian art/science of brewing in America than just about any brewery that doesn’t rhyme with dome-nang. But seriously, from their White, Triple, and Saison, to their more “high-end” barrel-aged beers, Allagash is synonymous with quality and Belgian-inspired brewing, which brings me to Pick Your Own, one of their many wood-aged, funky beers I’ve been intending to try for a while.

The first, most noticeable element of the beer is the color. It is a red bordering on purple, or a blue with hints of red, or a deep red edging over into purple. No matter what you call the color, a beer this color is pretty damned intriguing to me. The second, and more overpowering element is the aroma. This beer has a funky aroma to it. As I’ve come to appreciate sour beers over the past couple of years, this aroma, with hints of berry underlying the funk, is very, very appealing. (An anecdotal point – I did *not* like Victory’s Sour Monkey when I first had it a few years ago. I revisited it last year and enjoyed it quite a bit.)

Back to Pick Your Own

The nose leads the taste and I get some funkiness initially that is immediately overtaken by the abundant berry flavors from blueberries, cherries, raspberries, and strawberries. For me, the raspberry and blueberry stand out initially with a wallop of sweet tartness – just a lovely blend of those fruits. I don’t get much strawberry in the fruit flavors, but I’m guessing the strawberry brings it all together since the natural sweetness of the strawberry probably balances out the tartness of both the blueberries and raspberries. I get maybe a hint of cherries on the finish because there’s a welcome smoothing/rounding of the beer on the backend that is absolutely divine.

I don’t know if I get much “bread-crust” on the finish (per the description above), but it is a fantastic smoothness that might be the vanilla hinted at in the description. While the complex beer has such a movement of flavors – all delicious – there’s something about that finish I found my palate chasing each time I drank from my glass. A finish I enjoyed, but was gone too quickly. Stouts are typically thought to taste better as they warm, but the last few sips of this beer were sitting in my glass for a while and were closer to room temperature and the complex flavors came more alive at that point.

Pick Your Own is a delightful beer – one of the most complex beers I’ve had in a while. Readers of this blog know I love a straight-forward pilsner and how deceptively complex a great pilsner can be. There’s nothing deceptive about a beer like Pick Your Own – it is aged for two years in a foudre (barrel), it has multiple potent fruits added, it has beneficial/good bacteria working magic for two years in that foudre before those fruits are added. And you know what? You can taste all of those elements in a progression as it seeps into your palate. In short, it is a wonderful beer to experience.

I know sour beers can be an acquired taste or even a turn-off to some. Hell, I’m living proof. But this is a beer that proves just how complex a consumable liquid classified as beer can be, how so many flavors can amalgamate into a singular goblet of deliciousness. Pick Your Own is a wonderful beer to enjoy as the night winds down, a fantastic summer desert beer. Flat out, it is a sublime and wonderful beer.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4.50-bottle cap rating.

An American Wild Ale, is something like an Americanized version of the Belgian Lambic. According to Beer Advocate: Sometimes Belgian influenced, American Wild Ales are beers that are introduced to “wild” yeast or bacteria, such as Brettanomyces (Brettanomyces Bruxellensis, Brettanomyces Lambicus or Brettanomyces Anomolus), Pediococcus, or Lactobacillus. This introduction may occur from oak barrels that have been previously inoculated, pitching into the beer, or gained from various “sour mash” techniques. Regardless of the method, these yeast and/or bacteria leave a mark that should be noticeable to strong, and often contribute a sour and/or funky, wild note. Mixed-fermentation examples will display a range of aromatics, rather than a single dominant character.

 

Draught Diversions: Thanksgiving 6 Pack 2018

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…

Thanksgiving is a week away, so why not some recommendations for beers? Beers I think would work well on the day of the year dedicated to a big, multi-course meal. Last year, I did a broad “recommendation” for beers to enjoy with the family on Thanksgiving. Since doing these types of posts over the past year have been in the “Six Pack” format, I’ll continue that format for Thanksgiving 2018 and as usual, I’ll go alphabetical by brewery

Dubbel – Allagash Brewing Company (Portland, ME)

Image Courtesy of Allagash’s Web site

A well-made dubbel can be a rich, sumptuous beer that is exploding with flavor. It is a style I really enjoy and one of the premiere breweries of Belgian styles in America is Allagash. I haven’t had their take on the classic style yet, but based on how incredible their Saison and Tripel is as well as their iconic White, I think I need to track it down. This one should be fairly easy to find. I could work during the meal and after the meal as well.

What Allagash says about the beer:

Allagash Dubbel hews close to the Abbey ale tradition. Its combination of 2-row malted barley, Victory, Carapils, malted red wheat, Munich, and black malt imbue it with a rich, copper color and complex, malty taste. Despite its full flavor, it finishes dry with subtle hints of chocolate and toffee. Not to be outmatched, our house yeast asserts itself by lending the beer undertones of classic Belgian fruitiness..

Snow & Tell (Scotch Ale) – Boulevard Brewing Company (Kansas City, MO)

Image Courtesy of Boulevard’s Facebook page

Boulevard has been making frequent appearances here on the Tap Takeover, whether I’ve had or have been seeking their beers. Snow & Tell is a beer I’ve been intending to try for a couple of years. The sweet, malty goodness of a Scotch Ale is a perfect accompaniment to the cornucopia of flavors present at the Thanksgiving Day table. I’m not sure how available this one is or will be (at least by me), but I know if I see it, I’ll be snagging a six pack. If you’ve had it, let me know what you think.

What Boulevard says about the beer:

A perfect winter beer for curling up by the fireplace, this malt blanket features prominent toffee and caramel notes with just a hint of smoked malt. A subtle spiciness is provided by hopping with Magnum, Chinook and Styrian Goldings.

Devil’s Harvest – Ironbound Hard Cider/Jersey Cider Works (Asbury, NJ)

Image Courtesy of Ironbound’s Facebook page

Ciders are an adult beverage that shouldn’t be overlooked and quite a few people enjoy them in the fall. I’ve had my fair share of ciders and an Apple/Cranberry Cider would be a great start for Thanksgiving. This one is (I think) available only in New Jersey, but beer drinkers shouldn’t rule out cider as a good option. Outside of a few big nationals like Angry Orchard, Woodchuck, and Strongbow, cideries seem even more local than nano/craft breweries so chances are, a smaller, local/independent cidery may have their ciders available where you live.

What Ironbound says about the cider:

Devil’s Harvest marries the fresh apple taste of Ironbound Hard Cider with the tart bite of blood-red cherries, bright acidity of wild cranberries, and soothing warmth of white pepper. The result is a deep-rose tinted cider that is fragrant with the sublime aroma of fresh-pressed cherries. Dry harvested cranberries from the New Jersey Pine Barrens lend an herbaceous note to this complex cider. Finishing with a flash of tart cherry and a lingering warmth, Devil’s Harvest is the ultimate food friendly, cool-season cider.

Cranberry Gose – Long Trail Brewing Company (Bridgewater Corners, VT)

Image courtesy of Long Trail’s twitter

A gose may not be the thick, dark style that comes to mind for Thanksgiving, typically. But if you really want to capture one of the fruits most associated with the holiday, one of the more American fruits, then this tasty, light tart ale could be a great start to the Thanksgiving gathering. The low ABV makes it perfect for that predinner drink as opposed bock or stout you may have with the meal. I had this gose when Long Trail first launched the beer a couple of years ago and recall really enjoying it. This is a year round beer for Long Trail so should be fairly easy to locate.

What Long Trail says about the beer:

Brewed with freshly pressed cranberries, coriander and a splash of salt. The result is a refreshingly tart and effervescent cranberry concoction built to fuel your warm weather-inspired wanderlust.

Transport your senses from bog to barrel with just one sip!

Neshaminator (Weizenbock) – Neshaminy Creek Brewing Company (Croydon, PA)

Image courtesy of Neshaminy Creek’s twitter

I briefly mentioned this beer back in my Bock post, but it really is worth a second mention, at the least. I’d suggest well-made bocks as a beer to have any time, but the big often sweet and malty flavor is great for Thanksgiving. The added sweetness from the honey, for me, would be a great accompaniment to the traditional sweet potatoes most folks have as a side dish on Thanksgiving. When I first had the beer a couple of years ago, it was in a 22oz bomber. Breweries seem to be phasing out those bottles and the beer is now available, I think, in 16oz canned four-packs. This should be available throughout the Northeast, or at least the NJ/NY/PA/DE region.

What Neshaminy Creek says about the beer:

This is our take on a German wheat bock, but with a small twist. We brew this 8.5% ABV holiday offering with orange blossom honey, malted wheat and dark Munich malt, a hint of Chocolate malt, and German Hallertau and Tettnanger hops. While most German bock beers named with the ‘-or’ ending are traditional double bock lagers, we decided to break from tradition a bit with not only the name of this beer, but the use of orange blossom honey as well. Prost!

Hazelnut Brown Nectar – Rogue Ales – (Newport, OR)

Image courtesy of Rogue’s web site

Brown Ales are great, fairly easy drinking brews. Not as heavy or potent as stouts, they can have a good flavor profile and this hazelnut sweetened brown ale from Rogue is a great one to bring to Thanksgiving. At 5.6% ABV, it won’t knock you on your ass and with Rogue’s fairly large distribution footprint in the US, should be fairly easy to locate.

What Rogue says about the beer:

From the hazelnut capital of the United States, this nutty twist on a European brown ale was originally crafted by Rogue Brewmaster John Maier’s good friend and avid home-brewer, Chris Studach. Hazelnut Brown Nectar offers a hazelnut aroma with rich nutty flavor and a smooth malty finish.

Another suggestion that always works: pick up a growler or half growler at your local brewery. I may wind up getting something filled up at Conclave (hopefully, their outstanding Espresso Milk Stout is available for growlers.

 

Draught Diversions: October 2018 Six Pack

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

For whatever reason, I didn’t have quite as many new beers in October compared to previous months and I found myself going back to favorites from the past. As a result, there are more repeat breweries (who’ve appeared on past monthly six packs) than usual.

Hop Explosion (Fegley’s Brew Works) IPA – American – 2 bottle Caps on untappd

Fegley’s has been brewing beer for over 20 years and are distributed here in NJ fairly widely. I’ve had a few beers I liked from them, but unfortunately, this was not one of them. The beer was in my fridge since July (a guest to our Fourth of July party brought me a mixed six pack and the beer drifted to the back of the fridge) so the beer may have been dated well before that. Not sure if that led to the lack of taste in the beer, but the beer did almost nothing for my palate. The hops were mild and not assertive. This was just a really bland beer that wound up being a drain pour for me.

Master of Pumpkins (2018) Pumpkin / Yam Beer (Tröegs Independent Brewing) – 4 bottle Caps on untappd

I didn’t snap a photo of the beer, this is Tröegs’s stock photo of the beer. Courtesy of Tröegs’s Web site

Two months in a row for Tröegs appearing on a monthly six pack. I nearly mentioned this in my Pumpkin 6 Pack earlier in the month, but figured I’d save it for here. Lots of pumpkin in this one with a really nice spice balance. The beer description says honey is added and I guess that accounts for the sweetness. I had the beer on draft, but I think it is available as one of Tröegs cork & cage four packs. This is definitely worth trying when in season.

ChewBocka the Masticator Bock – Dopplebock (Icarus Brewing Company) 4 bottle Caps on untappd

I enjoy the hell out of a well-made Dopplebock and that’s what I had with this wonderfully named malty, dark lager from Icarus. Everything I expect and want from a dopplebock was in the glass of this beer – sweet maltiness and a slightly higher ABV (7.7%). I’d love to have this one a little more readily available. I’ve only had a few beers from Icarus, but those few have been impressive and shows their ability to play in both the ale and lager styles of beer.

Sour Raspberry Blackberry Sour – Ale (Edmund’s Ost Brewing Company) – 4 bottle Caps on untappd

Purple Beer is cool…and this one was very tasty

I think this brewery just got a distribution deal for NJ because I had dinner at The Plank Pizza Co. Beer Parlor and it was a launch night for the brewery. My wife and I received a gift card for this place last Christmas and finally made our way up to the restaurant after watching our godson play hockey. A really good pizza beer bar and this beer was a great start to the night. Not too overly sour, the raspberry and blackberry imparts enough sweetness and tartness to give the beer an well-balanced profile. I wouldn’t have minded if the beer were a little more sour. My uncle got a flight of IPAs and those tasted pretty good too, so welcome to New Jersey Edmund’s Ost!

Curieux Belgian Tripel (Allagash Brewing Company) 4 bottle Caps on untappd

Since we had the gift card to Plank Pizza to play with, I figured I’d level up a little bit on my second beer. I haven’t had nearly enough of Allagash’s offerings, but few breweries in the US can match what they do in terms of Belgian style beers. Couple that with their extensive barrel-aging program and here you have a barrel-aged tripel. This was delicious beer; the barrel hints were just that: hints and enhancements of the great base beer of a Belgian Tripel.

Best Brown Ale Brown Ale – American (Bell’s Brewery) 3.75 bottle caps on untappd

Two months in a row for Bell’s is partially due to the relatively low number of new-to-me beers, partially because Bell’s simply makes good beer. Sometimes you just want a straight-forward ale that hits the style perfectly, doesn’t overpower with fancy adjuncts or barrel aging. During the cooler months, a Best Brown Ale from Bell’s is perfect for that. Simply a well-made enjoyable ale.

Despite starting the month with an extremely subpar beer, the last weekend of October really made up for it with three standouts.

Draught Diversions: April 2018 Six Pack

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

April closes out, thank goodness. It was not a fun month with travel I had and awful weather. But, there were some good beers for sure. Deciding on a final six-pack for the month was tough because April started out strongly with a few classics I hadn’t previously enjoyed. In fact, a good portion of the highlight beers for me for April can be considered Craft Beer Classics.

There are some definite Belgian leanings in this month’s six pack, whether a brewery from Belgium, American breweries known for Belgian-inspired ales, or a great, modern interpretation of a Belgian classic.  Let’s start with the most Belgian of American breweries…

Saison (Allagash Brewing Company) Saison / Farmhouse Ale – 4 bottle Caps on untappd

Allagash has built a great reputation on brewing American interpretations of classic Belgian ales and few are more classic than a Saison. As it has turned out, the last few years I’ve been enjoying a different Saison on Easter Sunday. This was the perfect beer for Easter Sunday and a nice prelude to brunch. Light, sweet and well-rounded, I’ll be returning to this one in the future, for sure.

Candi Stout (Brewery Ommegang) Stout – Other – 3 bottle Caps on untappd

The other American brewery who built their reputation on Belgian inspired ales is Cooperstown, NY’s Brewery Ommegang. I enjoy much of their output, but when they stray too much from their wheelhouse – like this stout (or their Nirvana IPA) – then the results are mixed. I guess I get what they were aiming for with this beer, unfortunately, it didn’t work for me.

Tripel Karmeliet (Brouwerij Bosteels) Belgian Tripel – 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

Proper Glassware from a proper Belgian bar

This ale is an absolute world-class, and classic, beer. I loved the sweetness and overall flavor profile with the magic produced by Belgian yeast. Although I would likely enjoy this beer *anywhere*, enjoying it on draught in a bar that serves only Belgian beer (25 on tap, 50 in bottles) didn’t hurt the experience. I had this on my business trip in the Austin, TX bar Mort Subite. I’ll likely need to go to Austin again for business and I’ll be hitting up Mort again.

90 Minute IPA (Dogfish Head Brewing Company) IPA – Imperial / Double – 4.50 bottle Caps on untappd

Why did it take me so long to come around to IPAs!?!

I’m all in on IPAs now and found one that can be a steady go-to, the beer Esquire Magazine once called “the best IPA in America.” Perfect, absolutely perfect balance of malt and hops, with a pleasant hop bite and great hit of citrus sweetness. The reputation is well-earned because this beer does EVERYTHING a perfectly crafted IPA should do: it is true to style, innovative, and just plain delicious.

Devil’s Reach (Cape May Brewing Co.) Belgian Strong Golden Ale – 4.5 bottle Caps on untappd

Belgian yeast = magic.

Cape May Brewing Company, the 2nd Largest NJ Craft Brewery, has a great reputation, they brew across the board, with a somewhat greater focus on IPAs. But this beer? This beer is outstanding, a delicious, sweet explosion of flavor that is deceptively high in ABV (8.6%) but so easy drinking. In some of my reviews I mention “an iconic shelf of NJ Beers” and I would definitely make room for this one. Not many NJ breweries make a “Belgian Strong Golden Ale” (as far as I know) so there honestly isn’t too much competition in the State for this style. Regardless, this is an absolute stand-out ale.

G.O.R.P. (Carton Brewing Company) Porter – Imperial / Double 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

I’ve professed my enjoyment of Carton’s beers often on this blog. The fact that some of Carton’s long-time brews are now hitting distribution in cans pleases me immensely. Especially when I’ve been wanting to try Good Old Raisins and Peanuts for a couple of years now and the beer largely lived up to what I was hoping it would be. The quality I was expecting because the Carton logo is on the can, but the flavors were a little less expected. Some beers that have peanuts or peanut butter can be too cloying in the PB sweetness. Here with G.O.R.P.; however, the sweetness of the raisins and roasted peanuts come together deliciously on the finish, especially as the beer warms a bit.

Honorable mention to an annual April Favorite: Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout. This is a beer that absolutely lives up to its reputation and the 2018 vintage is outstanding.

Draught Diversions: Spring Fling 6 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…

Spring doesn’t exactly align with beer in the same way that Fall/Oktoberfest does, but there are two styles that signify spring in the beer world: Maibock (lager) and Saison/Farmhouse Ale. Spring officially began about a week or so ago, but with Easter this coming Sunday, I figured now would be a good time to assemble a Six Pack of Spring Beers. Seeing how this is one of my Six Pack posts, I’ll feature three beers of each style. I’ve only had half of the beers from today’s post so for the other three beers, I’m highlighting beers based on a combination of reputation and what appeals to me.

I’ll start with Saisons, one of the classic Belgian ales. I’ve only had a limited amount of saisons and that includes samples at breweries or beer festivals, so I am far from an expert on the style. However, one of my summer go-to beers is Flying Fish Farmhouse Summer Ale. Basically, I’d like to sample more of this traditional style which  was made for farmworkers to enjoy as a refreshment during their days toiling out in the farmlands. Only one of the three I’m listing have I had more than once (and I really enjoyed it), so I’ll start there.

Worker’s Comp Saison – Two Roads Brewing Company (Stratford, CT)

How could I not include this beer from Two Roads? Especially considering head-brewer/owner Phil Markowski (as I may have mentioned in the past) literally wrote the book on Farmhouse Ales – Farmhouse Ales: Culture and Craftsmanship in the Belgian Tradition. I’ve had this offering from Two Roads a few times and it is always a dependable Ale. Workers Comp is a year-round beer and should be available through Two Roads’ (growing) distribution footprint but it is especially timely right now. At 4.8% ABV this beer is a sessionable ale, which is what a Farmhouse Ale/Saison should be considering the roots of the style.

Saison Dupont – Brasserie Dupont (Leuze-en-Hainaut, Belgium)

I’d be remiss if I didn’t include a Belgian Saison considering the style was invented in Belgium. If I’m going to go with a Belgain Farmhouse Ale, then I have to include Saison Dupont, from Brasserie Dupont. This is essentially the Farmhouse Ale that started it all and touted in a few places as the best beer in the world. I think this one is available in both 750ml bottles and 4-packs.

I haven’t had this one yet, but with how much I’ve been enjoying not just Belgian-style ales, but beers from Belgium lately, I may have to try it this spring.

Saison – Allagash Brewing Company (Portland, ME)

Trying to whittle down the enumerable saisons available in the market down to one last interpretation of the beer is a difficult task, to be sure. There are two breweries in the Northeast whose brewing portfolio is in a distinctly Belgian tradition, so I’ll go with one of those, specifically Allagash. I’ve had a couple beers from the Maine brewery so I’d really like to try this most Belgian of beers.

Allagash describes the beer quite nicely: Citrus and peppery spice are balanced by a pleasant malt character. Saison is full bodied with a rustic, dry finish. Made for enjoying, no matter which type of work you’re returning from. That description makes me want to grab a bottle right now.

Like Two Roads’ Saison, this beer is available year-round and with Allagash’s relatively large distribution footprint, this ale should be easy to find.

On to the Maibocks…

Bocks, specifically Maibocks, are one of the less common lager styles. I see more dopplebocks and weizenbocks than the lighter, spring variety so selecting three for this post proved more challenging than the saison half of my 2018 Spring Fling 6 pack. Granted, we are still in March as of the date of this post, but I’ve been seeing Maibocks (especially the first one) on shelves already.

Hofbräuhaus Hofbräu Maibock (München, Germany)

Of course I would go with at least one German brewery, right? This is a beer style and brand filled to the mug with tradition: “By tradition, the first barrel of Maibock is tapped at the Hofbräuhaus in the last week of April, in time for the merry month of May. The success story of Munich’s oldest bock beer goes back as far as 1614.”

I had a six pack of this last spring and enjoyed it. There’s a really nice malty, caramel feel to the beer overlaying the crispness of the lager. This beer is a prime example of German brewing tradition.

Dead ‘N’ Dead Rogue (Newport, OR)

Dead ‘N’ Dead is whiskey barrel-aged version of Rogue’s year-round flagship beer, Dead Guy Ale. I really like Dead Guy and if it is on a beer menu, I’ll usually order it to get the night going. I like most barrel-aged beers so if you take a beer I already like and throw it in a whiskey barrel for a while, chances are high that I’ll really like it.

I’ve seen this one in stores and shelves but haven’t yet tried it. Like many of Rogue’s special brews, this beer is available in 22oz bombers so I imagine you’d want to take your time with this beer given the potential complex tastes and the 8.2% ABV.

Cultivator Helles Bock – (Hershey, PA)

It has been quite a while since I had a bottle of this beer because unfortunately, I think it might be a brewery-only release now. Once part of Tröeg’s Hop Cycle, it was replaced last year in that cycle by First Cut. Cultivator, however, was a very good example of the style. Malty and bready, it was quite a bit like Hofbräuhaus Hofbräu Maibock.

This was a solid offering from the always dependable brewers at Tröegs so I’d love to see it again, maybe in one of their seasonal variety packs.

Six beers worth trying this spring if you can find them. What are some saisons, maibocks, or other spring seasonal beers that are worth checking out?

Beer Review: Allagash Black

Name: Black
Brewing Company: Allagash Brewing Co.
Location: Portland, Maine
Style: Belgian Style Stout / Belgian Strong Dark Ale
ABV: 5.2%

From the beer’s description on Allagash Brewing Company’s Web site:

Technically, there is no such thing as a traditional Belgian stout, but we went ahead and made one anyway. In creating the beer, we took the aspects we loved in Belgian beers and used them to craft a stout. Allagash Black is brewed with 2-row barley, torrified wheat, oats, roasted barley, chocolate malt, black malt and hopped with Northern Brewer and Glacier. A generous portion of dark caramelized candi sugar produces a hint of raisin in the finished beer. The addition of oats lends Black a silky mouthfeel, which is enhanced by rich flavors of coffee and dark chocolate.

Allagash is another American Craft Beer pioneer located in the Northeast, and like Victory, because of their tenure and reputation in the industry, their beers are available throughout a majority of the United States. Their most famous beer is White, the standard bearer for the American interpretation of a Belgian Witbier (despite what you may hear under a blue moon). This beer is it’s opposite? Or cousin? However you would like to map the relationship between the two beers, the simply titled Black is a fantastic and unique brew in the American Craft Beer landscape.

But wait, aren’t there thousands of stouts (which is probably not too much of an exaggeration) on shelves? Aren’t Belgian beers and beers brewed with ingredients and in the Belgian style almost as prevalent? Sure, but as founder Rob Tod posited when he first brewed this beer, there really aren’t any Belgian stouts, so he created this mainstay masterpiece.

The beer pours, in a shocking turn of events, black. There’s a little lightening of the color as the head develops, but the cocoa and roasty aromas mingle in a very inviting way. There might be a hint of the Belgian yeast floating under current of at all in the aroma.

The first up front sip gives the classic stout flavors we’ve all come to expect, dark, roasted malt with a smooth mouthfeel. There’s a slight taste of cocoa and coffee that complement each other nicely; one doesn’t overpower the other.

At the back end of the taste; however, is where this beer stands apart from other stouts and dark, malty brews. The Belgian yeasts come into prominence, transforming those expected stout flavors into something more robust and unexpected.

I’ve been well aware of Allagash’s respected, Belgian-inspired output for years and now I’m kicking myself for not giving this one a try earlier. Although Black is part of Allagash’s year-round portfolio, this one will now be a stout return to regularly; a dependable, well-above average beer that is a nice outside-the-box stout.

The beer’s reputation precedes itself so my endorsement can be added to the many who count this among their favorites. There’s a bourbon barrel aged version of Black I *need* to try.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4-star rating.

Untapped badges earned with this beer:

Iron Man (Level 3):
You don’t have to be a superhero to enjoy a strong beer. Boasting a higher than average ABV, these styles really do pack a punch, so be ready for it. That’s 15 different beers with style of Strong Ale – American, Strong Ale – English, Belgian Strong Ale, Belgian Strong Dark Ale, Belgian Strong Golden Ale or Lager – Euro Strong.

The Dark Side (Level 5):
At first taste, dark ales can be overwhelming for even the most skilled of beer drinkers, but your will is weak and with time you will eventually turn to the dark side. That’s 25 different beers with the style of Dark Ale, Belgian Strong Dark Ale, Lager – Euro Dark, Lager – Dark or IPA – Black / Cascadian Dark Ale or IPA – Imperial / Double Black.