Draught Diversions: Ashton Brewing (Middlesex,NJ)

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…

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“Let’s launch our brewery when our State shuts down thanks to a pandemic,” said nobody ever. Well, that’s the situation Steve and Donna Ashton found themselves in March 2020 when they wanted to open Ashton Brewing Company. Considering the planning for the brewery was going back as early as summer 2019, Steve and Donna could not foresee what they’d be up against in March 2020. But persist, they did.

Steve and Donna have been making beer for over 25 years, Steve is a BJCP Master Judge and a member of the highly respected MASH (Morris Area Society of Homebrewers), and Steve has won awards for his homebrewing skills. In other words, when it comes to making beer, they really know what they are doing. When Steve retired from his finance career, it made sense for him to look to beer, which helped bring him and Donna together nearly 30 years ago.

Steve and Donna initially set their sights on an old roller rink in Roxbury, NJ, but that didn’t pan out. However, one door closing isn’t the end especially when another door opens. The location they settled on turned out to be a great spot, since it once housed a brewery, Demented Brewing Company in Middlesex, NJ. The demise of Demented is fairly well document in NJ beer circles, including my post from April 2019. The location is already a known brewery destination and was set up as a brewery, which made the build out a little bit easier. That doesn’t necessarily mean there was no work to be done, because the new tenants understandably wanted to ensure the location is completely branded with Ashton Brewing and remnants of the former tenants no longer present. Personally speaking, that location is about a mile from where I work and not too far from home, so I was very happy to learn of a new brewery taking over the location.

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Speaking of that branding, Donna Ashton was and is a freelance graphic designer. Those skills come in quite handy when it comes to giving a business a visual identity, and she’s done a really nice job with the branding. The company’s logo incorporates an Ash tree and many of the beers have an Ash tree in the background or worked into the label in some fashion. For example, their Barleywine, Fraxinus takes its name from the genus name of the Ash family of trees. Throughout the post, I’ve included some of the cans Ashton has produced over the last year, which shows the potent brand identity Donna helped to establish for Ashton Brewing Company.

Shortly after Ashton officially opened for business, I was hoping to try their beer. That first weekend in April 2020, my wife and I were doing some errands (i.e. food shopping) and she got me in the car and surprised me when we arrived Ashton to pick up a couple of crowlers, their English Mild (Billy Two Hats) and their stout (Velvet Elvis). I was pretty impressed with the beers and had a good feeling that Ashton Brewing was off to as good a start as possible, given the state of the world. Steve and Donna had to pivot to a model that did not rely on taproom and on-site consumption sales even before they opened, and the crowlers proved to be a pretty good start for them.

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Another way Ashton Brewing was able to pivot successfully was in their canned beers. The majority of canned beer for the past couple of years has been in the pint/16oz cans popularized by the growth of Hazy/New England IPAs. When Steve and Donna brought in a canning line, they went with 12oz cans. That alone sort of sets them apart from the crowd of NJ canned beer. I’d guess Carton, Bolero Snort, and Spellbound are part of the minority of the post 2012 breweries regularly canning their beer at the 12oz size. What they couldn’t have foreseen was that a can shortage was going to hit. A combination of tariffs and resources was making it difficult for breweries to keep crowlers and 16oz cans in stock, but in speaking with Steve when I visited the brewery for their First Anniversary recently (more on that later), he said because Ashton decided to go with 12oz cans as their can of choice, they were not as affected by that shortage.

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Images courtesy of Ashton Brewing’s Facebook

Because of the pandemic and social distancing requirements, getting a peek proved a challenge. During the annual birthday brewery tour my wife takes me on, we were able to partake in outdoor seating. Although it was the first weekend in November, it was unseasonably warm and made for a lovely outdoor, socially distanced experience. However, my most recent trip to Ashton was during their 1 year anniversary and with social distancing somewhat relaxed, a limited number of occupants were permitted indoors for consumption. And what struck me most, compared to how the previous tenants had the interior laid out, is that Steve and Donna opted for a much brighter look. More well-lit, not as much dark imagery (not that I’m against dark imagery, I’m a horror junkie after all), but the overall feel and tone of the taproom is very, very welcoming. Of course during my visit for that First Anniversary, we felt very welcomed because we were sitting on one of the most comfortable leather couches upon which I’ve ever sat…which was wiped down with disinfectant before we took our seats.

Another element that sets Ashton Brewing apart from many of their peers is the breadth of styles which they brew and make available. Of course IPAs and Pale Ales are part of their portfolio, but the second beer the canned was the fantastic Pilsner, Jersey Dreamin (a top new beer to me in 2020). Two of the first styles Ashton brewed were an English Mild (Billy Two Hats) and an Altbier (Red Baron), both very traditional styles, but styles you don’t see very often. I’ve had both and enjoyed both. Other early brews included a Dutch, a Patersbier (the Belgian Trappist style with lowest ABV); ’Aina, a Farmouse/Saison; and Aura a Witbier, among other beers/styles. Ashton set out to brew beers of a drinkable ABV (around the 6% mark) and with a draught capacity of 18 beers, they certainly have a wide variety of styles available most of the time, maybe one of the more diverse tap lists in the State.

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March 2021 Taplist, courtesy of Ashton Brewing’s Facebook page

What I especially appreciate is how well-crafted Ashton Brewing’s lagers are. I mentioned Jersey Dreamin’ and I will again because it is that damned good. Recently, I had their Czech Dark Lager (Beach Badges), which was a wonderful beer. Their Schwarzbier, Black Orpheus is a delicious collaboration with Sunken Silo Brew Works in nearby Lebanon, NJ; during my November visit, I thoroughly enjoyed their Festbier (Festus Haggen) and their Maibock/Helles Bock, Cellar Hellar.

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L to R: Cellar Hellar (Maibock/Helles Bock); Stella Blue (Saison); Mashed Up (Porter); Festus Haggen (Festbier)

Back to their Anniversary celebration on March 27. Ashton was pouring quite a few barrel-aged beers, in addition to their standard taplist. In briefly speaking with owner Steve, he said he was able to procure used barrels from Jersey Spirits in Fairfield, NJ (which is in the same complex as Magnify Brewing Company). I started my day out with the aforementioned Schwarzbier before diving into the bigger beers. My second beer was the Rye Barrel Aged Barleywine, Fraxinus. Fraxinus is an English style Barleywine, which leans more on malt than hops, compared to the American version. With the Rye Barrel aging, the beer is extremely balanced. There was a nice spice from the rye, but the toffee-caramel-malt elements from the base Barleywine were still present. The third beer that day, and perhaps one of the most interesting barrel-aged beers I ever had was the Grappa-barrel aged Farmhouse ale Aina. I remarked to Steve that I’d never think to age anything in Grappa, but he said when he was getting the barrels from Jersey Spirits, a small Grappa barrel was available, so he figured he’d give it a shot. I had Grappa once many years ago, and found it to be very unpleasant and what I expected kerosene to taste like. However, the elements of the Grappa played nicely with the Farmhouse Ale, for a somewhat crisp, but pleasant and effervescent beer. The last barrel-aged beer was perhaps the most straight-forward in its premise, a Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Stout, Midnight Moonlight. Although this was probably the barrel aged beer I liked the least of the three, it was still a good beer with huge chocolate notes.

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Clockwise from top left: Black Orpheus Schwarzbier; Fraxinus Barleywine (Rye Barrel); Aina Farmhouse (Grappa Barrel); Midnight Moonlight (Bourbon Barrel)

Between the straight-forward styles (IPA, Pilsner), somewhat less prevalent styles (Altbier, Schwarzbier, Czech Dark Lager), and barrel-aged beers, Ashton Brewing has demonstrated a very high level of expertise in craft brewing. They started strongly with a delicious IPA and what is turning out to be one of my favorite Pilsners. Over the past year, the beers they’ve been churning out have each been extremely flavorful and very well-crafted. The majority of the beers are the recipes Steve has been refining over the past couple of decades as a homebrewer, that refinement and elegance is really easy to taste.

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Images courtesy of Ashton Brewing’s Facebook

Ashton Brewing has already established themselves as a significant presence in the NJ Craft Beer community. Steve has been a member of MASH (Morris Area Society of Homebrewers) and because of that, Ashton collaborated on a beer with brewers who have connections to MASH. All Mashed Up is a collaboration between Ashton, Seven Tribesmen (Wayne, NJ), and Untied Brewing in New Providence. Each brewery tweaked the base recipe slightly, Ashton added marshmallows and Cacao Nibs to their version. Ashton was a fairly early contributor to the Brewery Strong Philanthropy as well.

Given their ability to successfully pivot during the most challenging of times, and the quality of the liquid they produce, I expect that Ashton Brewing will be a staple of the NJ Craft Brewery scene for a very long time. I know I’ll be keeping their beer in my regular rotation

Some other links of interest and sources of information for this post:

Ashton Brewing Company’s Web site | Instagram | Facebook | Ashton Brewing on NewJerseyCraftBeer.com | Ashton Brewing entry @ Beer Advocate | untappd

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Draught Diversions: March 2021 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 Ides of March…have passed and I’ve assembled my March 2021 Six Pack. For the first time in a very long time (maybe ever), all the beers here are from NJ breweries. I didn’t necessarily plan that, but I’m not upset about it either, because there’s some really good beers here. Mostly from the usual suspects and frequent breweries, but one brewery I haven’t mentioned in a very long time (years).

Upside Downside (Icarus Brewing Company) | Schwarzbier | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

Yet again, the folks at Icarus make a beer that I need to talk about. This beer makes two consecutive months with a Schwarzbier and damn if this isn’t an outstanding take on the style. Extremely flavorful with elements of sweet malt, hints of smoke, and the nice crisp lager finish. This could be an all-day drinker for me.

Beach Badges (Ashton Brewing) | Lager – Dark / Czech Dark Lager | 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

Another dark lager? Yes! Apparently, over the last few months I’ve really been taken with dark lagers, as the posts on this blog may attest. Ashton’s take on the Czech Dark Lager is fantastic, which isn’t surprising given the quality of the lagers I’ve had from them. This beer has a sweet breadiness, I’d almost say toasted, fluffy, buttered pumpernickel bread not unlike Kane’s Hollow Sea which made a Six Pack appearance in November 2020. As soon as I learned of this beer, I had to have it and I’m damned glad I picked up a six pack.

Port Omna – Blended Stout & Bourbon Barrel-Aged Stout 2021 (Kane Brewing Company) | Stout – Imperial / Double Milk | 4.75 Bottle Caps on untappd

For St. Patrick’s Day, Kane releases Port Omna, their take on the Irish Dry Stout (which I’ve enjoyed in the past), they also release some variants. I grabbed two of the variants and this one was not just the better one (not that the other was bad), but it quickly climbed the list of my top barrel-aged beers. Granted this beer is a blend of milk stout and Barrel-Aged stout, but it is truly divine, with hints of maple syrup, coffee, and chocolate.

Thunder in the Distance (Jersey Cyclone Brewing Company) | Barleywine – American | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

A trip to Jersey Cyclone led me to this beer, a really nice barleywine with hints of sweet toffee intermingled with the strong hop presence. This beer reminds me of Sierra Nevada’s iconinc Bigfoot Barelywine, but with a more mellow hop presence, which is fine by me. In talking with owner Jan, he hinted that there might be some of this beer sitting in bourbon barrels for a future release. Sign me up for a bottle now, please!

Peitsche (Carton Brewing Company) | Pilsner – German | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

When Carton Brewing expanded their production facility, it coincided with more lagers, specifically Pilsners. Augie and his crew have been brewing regional takes on the style, with the Whip American Pilsner as the base, they’ve brewed and canned an Italian, Czech, and now this German Pilsner which is just great. There’s a slight slap of hops on the end that reminds me of Victory’s Prima Pilsner which is not a bad thing by any means.

The Imperial: Freedom Toast (Cypress Brewing Company) | Stout – Imperial / Double Oatmeal | 3.75 Bottle Caps on untappd

It has been quite a long time since a beer from Cypress Brewing made an appearance (December 2018), but this one was worth mentioning. This beer, as the name implies, is Cypress’s take on what a French Toast inspired beer might taste like and this beer mostly succeeds. I like the maple and cinnamon, but I’ve come to realize I don’t care for nutmeg. Aside from how thin the beer was, it was quite good.

So there you have it, a really good selection of beers this month. There were a few clunkers, too, but they weren’t offensive enough to mention.

Draught Diversions: Favorite New Beers of 2020

The fourth annual roundup keeps up the trend from the 2019 12-pack, while I’ll still have beers with very high untappd ratings, this post features “Favorite” beers of the 328 unique beers I checked into untappd in 2020. What does that mean? Well, there were beers I consumed in 2020 which I awarded a high 4.75 rating, but I may be including a 4.25/5 beer that I enjoyed more. Put it another way, there were some highly rated (4.5) beers I enjoyed in 2020 that in one beer I could recognize the quality, but one was enough , while some beers I may have rated at a 4.25 I would have multiple times.

As with my previous Annual 12-packs, New means “New to Me” because a few beers on this list have been around for many, many years, but I had the beer for the first time in 2020.

The usual NJ bias shines through on this list as 6 of the beers are from NJ breweries. I’d say 75% of the beer I bought & consumed in 2020 were from NJ breweries, which shouldn’t be a surprise to people who’ve been reading this blog. This list could have easily been comprised of 3 or 4 breweries, but the one rule I’ll stick to from past years is allowing only one beer per brewery to appear. Essentially, what that means is even though I had multiple “new to me” beers from many breweries, that brewery’s beer on this list is the beer I enjoyed the most from that brewery.

Here’s the standard breakdown I’ve been providing:

  • 6 from NJ breweries
  • 3 from CA breweries
  • 4 from “New to me Breweries”
  • 4 Lagers
    • 2 Pilsners
    • 1 Dark Lager
    • 1 Baltic Porter
  • 1 Belgian Quadrupel
  • 2 IPAs
    • 1 American
    • 1 Imperial / Double
  • 2 Stouts
    • 1 Imperial / Double
    • 1 Imperial / Double Pastry
  • 1 Porter
  • 1 Sour
  • 1 Barleywine

12. Jersey Dreamin’ | Ashton Brewing Company | Pilsner – Czech | 4.25 bottle caps

Ashton Brewing is one of the newest New Jersey breweries, but they had the unfortunate timing to have had their grand opening scheduled when the COVID-19 Pandemic shut down public gatherings. Fortunately, they forged on full-steam ahead with canning their beer, including this supremely impressive Pilsner. While Ashton’s first canned beer was their IPA, the fact that their second was a Pilsner – a style that has zero wiggle room for mistakes that can be hidden by adding more hops or adjuncts – is impressive. Some Pilsners lean towards a breadiness/cracker element from the malt, some have a floral/fruity finish and some strike a balance between the two. Jersey Dreamin strikes that balance really nicely. It isn’t as “crackery” as some pilsners I’ve had – which is by no means a slight – but it has a full flavor whose elements come together really cleanly.

11. The Miner | Czig Meister Brewing Company I Lager – Dark | 4.25 Bottle Caps

This beer surprised me, I’ll admit and is one of the dark lagers I’ll be adding to my regular rotation because Matt Czigler and his crew coaxed such great flavors from the roasted malt in this beer for great complexity and easy drinking at 4.8%. When Czig Meister released the beer in December, I made sure to get a 6-pack. This beer is very reminiscent of a Czech Dark Lager or a German Schwarzbier, and is just plain delicious.

10. Bourbon Barrel-Aged Framinghammer | Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers | Porter – Baltic | 4.5 bottle Caps on untappd

Framinghammer is the Baltic porter brewed by Jack’s Abby. Yes, a Baltic Porter is brewed using a cold/Lager process. It is the beer Jack’s Abby throw in bourbon barrels as their barrel-aged dark beer. This delectable version is the standard, but there many variants (Mole, S’Mores’, Coffee, Vanilla, etc). The bourbon is present, but not overpowering and just one part of the great flavor profile. Notes of vanilla and sweetness balance out the slightly high bitterness level. A wonderful slow-sipper.

9. Helldorado (2017) | Firestone Walker Brewing Company | Barleywine – American | 4.5 bottle caps

Firestone Walker is probably the non-NJ brewery that drew my attention the most this year as I was able to find and enjoy about a half-dozen beers from their amazing barrel aging program, including this 3-year old Barrel Aged Barleywine. Helldorado is one of the best barleywines I’ve ever had. The beer has a strong bourbon aroma and the flavors that emerge include vanilla, chewy hops, toffee, and caramel. Simply an outstanding beer..

8. Chekov’s Gun | Carton Brewing Company | Belgian Quadrupel | 4.50 bottle caps


Carton remains a top NJ brewery for me (I had about a dozen new & unique beers from them in 2020), but this one stood the test of the year and remained my favorite from them. This beer was on draft (and available in a 3-pack of bombers) when I and a few friends made our annual New Year’s Day Pilgrimage, so this was technically the 4th beer I had in 2020. This outstanding Quadrupel is a style I love, a style that isn’t brewed often, but when done well as this beer was brewed with Pomegranate Molasses – and aged in Peach Brandy Barrels – the final product is heavenly.

7. Fuego | Tonewood Brewing Company | IPA – American | 4.5 Bottle Caps

Tonewood is the NJ Brewery who everybody seems to love and they’ve begun to broaden their distribution footprint over the last year or so. I finally had their Flagship IPA and it is one of the top 2 or 3 IPAs I’ve had from a NJ brewery. There’s an absolutely perfect hop blend giving the beer both a citrus and juicy component, but also the hallmark bittering and slightly piney components often associated with West Coast IPAs along with a nice malt bill to balance the hop bitterness. Fuego is a beer that proves just how great the IPA game is in the State of New Jersey.

6. La Roja (Boysenberry & Guava Edition) | Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales | Sour – Flanders Red Ale | 4.5 Bottle Caps

For our 20th Anniversary, my wife got me 20 Beers for 20 years of marriage from Tavour. This beer – Flanders Red – is astyle I thought I didn’t like. Granted I’ve only had two others and they were two vintages of the same beer. Then I had this outstanding beer. Flanders Red Ales are traditional Belgian sour ales, but the masterminds at Jolly Pumpkin added Boysenberries and Guava to the mix for sweetness to balance out the vinegary sourness that is a hallmark of the style. This is one of the most complex beers I’ve had of any style and is a masterpiece of the art of craft brewing and a very strong contender for my favorite sour beer of all time.

5. Cathedral Tree | Fort George Brewing Company | Pilsner – Other | 4.5 bottle caps

Another beer from the 20th Anniversary Box makes the cut, this was probably my favorite of those 20 beers, so I reviewed it. Here’s some what I had to say: “The beer pours a perfect golden-yellow with a fluffy white head into my Pilsner glass. As it turns out, the glass from which I enjoyed the beer was a wedding gift from my coworkers of 20 years ago… The first full taste of the beer was extremely pleasing. Cathedral Tree has the classic German Pilsner elements – bready/crackery malt and a pleasant hop finish. … Cathedral Tree is a superb pilsner and one I’d happily have again and seek out should I ever have the opportunity to visit Oregon.

4. BA Making Whoopie (2020 Buffalo Trace + Maple) | Icarus Brewing Company | Stout – Imperial / Double Pastry | 4.75 bottle caps

Icarus Brewing Company out of Lakewood, NJ was my top brewery of 2020, both in quantity and quality. (Probably not a shock to regular readers of the Tap Takeover) I had more unique beers from them than any brewery, which made narrowing down my favorite new to me beer of 2020 from them very challenging indeed, As it turned out, the last beer of the year I had from any brewery was the best beer I had from Icarus. I bought the beer with the intention of enjoying on New Year’s Eve, but I didn’t expect it to be the best Barrel Aged beer from my favorite brewery. The beer could be a mess of flavors, but the chocolate, malt, vanilla, maple syrup, marshmallows, and barrel character are amalgamated wonderfully. This is a sinful, delectable, unbelievable sweet dessert stout.

3. Morning Mocha (Kane Brewing Company) | Porter – Coffee | 4.75 Bottle Caps on untappd

Kane is probably the brewery whose beers I came to appreciate the most over the last couple of years and I had a decent amount form them in 2020, so like Icarus, it was difficult to land on my favorite from them. This variant on their coffee porter was one of the earliest beers I enjoyed from Kane in 2020 and it was not topped in 2020. Here’s what I said in my March 2020 Six Pack: “Morning Bell is Kane’s highly acclaimed year-round coffee porter and is outstanding. Once a year, they do a few special releases of Bell variants, Morning Mocha is one of those in 2020. In addition to rich coffee flavors from their local coffee roastery Rook Coffee, this beer was conditioned on Ugandan and Haitian cacao nibs. I thought I died and went to heaven when I drank this beer. There is an absolutely perfect blend of coffee and chocolate in the flavor profile, which complements and doesn’t overtake the base porter.”

2. Pliny the Elder | Russian River Brewing Company | IPA – Imperial / Double | 5 bottle caps

When I visited San Francisco earlier this year before the Pandemic really affected things, I sought out this beer and it did not disappoint. What I said in my February 2020 Six Pack: “The very first Imperial IPA ever made and one of the best beers I’ve ever had. I was in San Francisco for business for a couple of days and I heard about this wonderful dive bar, the Toronado with 40 beers on tap, with Pliny a fixture. Of course I had to go and have the beer, which lived up to the hype. An outstanding beer, never have hops tasted so wonderful. Quite simply, a perfect beer.”

1. Barrel-Aged Narwhal | Sierra Nevada Brewing Company | Stout – Imperial / Double | 5 bottle caps

Last year I thought I had the best barrel-aged stout I’ve ever had, that title lasted a few months until I had a pint of this amazing beer. From my review: “The flavor elements imparted by the Kentucky Bourbon Barrels **perfectly** enhance and complement the flavor elements of the base beer – the hops which can be relatively aggressive on a fresh in-year* bottle, are tamed and smoothed by the beer having been aged in the barrel. The hops are definitely present, but the lingering bitterness as softened. The barrel aging also complements the sweetness from the malt with hints of vanilla, oak, and maybe coconut. … Barrel Aged Narwhal is an outstanding, world-class barrel-aged stout that I’d stand up against any other barrel-aged stout I’ve had or that is available. Given that price point, you will not find a better beer for this price point.”

Honorable Mentions – Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Porter from Boulevard Brewing, Persian Lime Gose (Sour – Fruited Gose) from Two Roads Brewing, Cosm of Darkness (Stout – Imperial/Double) a Timber Ales/Eight State Brewing Collaboration, Quad City (Belgian Quadrupel) from Four City Brewing Company, Gaffel Kölsch (Kölsch) from Privatbrauerei Gaffel Becker, Chocolate Caramel Cookie Sharing Size (Stout – Imperial/Double) from Free Will Brewing, and Victory Classic Easy Drinkin’ Lager (Lager – Helles) from Victory Brewing plus too many from Icarus Brewing and Kane Brewing to list here

Some other notes:

Although the pandemic made visiting breweries a little more challenging for much of 2020, I was able to visit the following breweries for the first time in 2020:

Breweries whose beer I checked in/enjoyed the most, which should be a shock to nobody reading this blog:

  • Icarus Brewing (20 unique/new to me beers)
  • Bolero Snort Brewery (19 unique/new to me beers)
  • Czig Meister Brewery (13 unique/new to me beers)
  • Carton Brewing (11 unique/new to me beers)
  • Ashton Brewing (10 unique/new to me beers)

Draught Diversions: September 2020 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…

September brings the hints of cooler weather and the season of darker beers. September is also when Oktoberfest traditionally begins. Despite the celebration not happening, the Märzen and Festbiers have still been on the shelves since August of this year. One of each is featured in the September 2020 Six Pack. Those two beers happen to be the only non-New Jersey beers in this month’s six pack. One brewery in the six pack will not be the least bit surprising to regular readers of this here beer blog.


Your Lips are Juicy (Ashton Brewing Company) | IPA –Imperial / Double | 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

This is the first hop-forward beer I’ve had from Ashton and I’m very impressed. Great hop blend to give the beer the qualities of a big Imperial IPA balanced out with noticeable, and balanced malt character for an overall flavor profile that is delicious. The can says “India Pale Ale,” untappd says “IPA – Imperial/Double,” I say this is a very flavorful, hop forward beer.


Shield Oath (Czig Meister Brewing Company) | Belgian Tripel | 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

This is what I assume is the base beer for Paragon of Light, their wine-barrel aged Tripel and is a very solid interpretation of the Belgian style. It is hard for me not to compare any Tripel brewed in the North East, specifically New Jersey, to River Horse’s classic Tripel and this one stands up just fine. I wouldn’t necessarily say it needs to warm in the glass, but the beer should breathe a little before you dive in and drink it. Once it does, the beer is great with some hints of pear in the fruit evocations from the yeast and mild hops.


Rugged Snuggle (Twin Elephant Brewing) | Porter – Other | 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

I believe Twin Elephant has expanded their production capacity over the last year because they are releasing cans of their beer on a more regular basis. Rugged Snuggle has been in their portfolio for a couple of years so it was nice to see this roasty coffee adjacent porter available in cans. In addition to that fantastic can art by Tom Schmitt, the beer inside is really tasty. Like always with dark beers, a little warmer than fridge temperature is the way I’d recommend enjoying this one to get the best coffee notes.


Oktoberfest (Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.) | Festbier | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

One of the side effects of the pandemic is that Sierra Nevada, for the first time since 2015, did not collaborate with a German brewery for their annual Oktoberfest release. However, the 2020 version is great. This one leans on the lighter side of the Fall German Lager style as a Festbier, but it is supremely balanced and perfectly delicious. This is no surprise to me because Sierra Nevada does everything very well.


Octoberfest (Bell’s Brewing) | Märzen | 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

After a couple of years in the NJ market, I finally tried Bell’s take on the fall classic. My only regret is that I hadn’t tried it earlier. Bell’s takes a lighter approach with their Märzen than some of the others I’ve had, but the beer is extremely flavorful. A hint of sweetness and just a very smooth beer that goes down very, very easily. This beer was featured on the untappd podcast recently and was spoken of very highly, a few of my untappd friends had checked the beer in over the last couple of years and the consensus rating was 4 out of 5 bottle caps and I’m happy to say this beer completely lived up to those expectations.


Aw Raspberries aged in Heaven Hill Bourbon Barrels (Icarus Brewing) | Stout – Russian Imperial | 4.5 Bottle Caps on untappd

Shocker of shockers, another beer from Icarus. I’ve been sitting on this one for a few months and I wanted to share it for a special occasion. My dad’s birthday fit the bill perfectly and we both thoroughly enjoyed the beer. The maple element in the beer is blended perfectly, as are the fresh raspberries. Those otherwise potent flavors don’t dominate the profile of the beer, which shows how well-made the beer is because raspberries can be very tart and maple can dominate everything.  Not to mention the fact that this beer was barrel aged, adding another complex flavor to the beer. Not here, the maple and raspberries are both in harmony with the malt from the base beer as well as the Heaven Hill barrels.

This was a month where it was difficult to trim the amount of good new beers I enjoyed down to only six and no stinkers at all.

Beer Review: Ashton Brewing’s Jersey Dreamin’

Name: Jersey Dreamin’
Brewing Company: Ashton Brewing Company
Location: Middlesex, NJ
Style: Pilsner – Czech
ABV: 5.7%

“Ashton’s second canned beer is a superb interpretation of the classic lager.”

From Ashton Breiwng’s forpage for beers:

Jersey Dreamin’ is our Czech style Pilsner. It pours with a rich creamy white head and a burst of floral/spicy Saaz hops. Honey, cracker and spice all pop in the flavor and it finishes clean and balanced and says let’s have another!

Ashton Brewing is one of the newest New Jersey breweries (as of the date of this post, June 9, 2020), but they had the unfortunate timing to have had their grand opening scheduled when the COVID-19 Pandemic shut down public gatherings. They took over the former Demented Brewing facility in Middlesex, NJ, redid the interior and launched their brews. Despite the challenge they faced in the current times Ashton pushed forward, sold crowlers and growlers of their beers to what I’ve seen to be positive response. Shortly after they opened, Ashton began canning their beer, including this delightful Pilsner which is the second beer they canned.

Pilsners are one of my favorite styles and I’m always excited when a smaller brewery decides to craft any kind of lager, especially when a new brewery does their second canning run as a Pilsner. As soon as it was available I placed on online order and picked up a six pack at the brewery. As a result, I was check in number three to this beer in untappd, so I was also very happy to be one of the first to try the beer. Good thing the beer was delicious!

Visually, if you were to put this beer side-by-side with the last Pilsner I reviewed (also a Czech Pilsner), you’d be forgiven for thinking it was the same beer. That’s a good thing because this clear and clean, golden yellow beer is largely what I would expect a pilsner to look like. The aroma gives off some hops and maybe some crackery/breadiness from the malt. More good signs for Jersey Dreamin’.

That first sip immediately becomes a gulp. Simply put, Jersey Dreamin’ is a delicious Pilsner.

Some Pilsners lean towards a breadiness/cracker element from the malt, some have a floral/fruity finish and some strike a balance between the two. Jersey Dreamin strikes that balance really nicely. It isn’t as “crackery” as some pilsners I’ve had – which is by no means a slight – but it has a full flavor whose elements come together really cleanly.

I spent a long Saturday afternoon in the sun doing yardwork the weekend after getting the six pack. My reward was this beer and it hit the spot perfectly, the beer was extremely flavorful, abundantly refreshing – an elevated “lawnmower” beer, if you will.

Many breweries who start up, at least in New Jersey, launch their canning program with multiple IPAs or some dark beers like porters & stouts. While Ashton’s first canned beer was their IPA, the fact that their second beer to be canned was a Pilsner – a style that has zero wiggle room for mistakes that can be hidden by adding more hops or adjuncts – is impressive. It shows confidence in the quality of the product they are sharing with consumers. Steve Ashton has a long history of brewing and working in the brewing industry in some capacity and that knowledge and confidence in his ability shows in this elegant and delicious Pilsner. This beer is good enough that it could be their flagship beer and a Pilsner that Lager-enthusiasts should definitely seek out. I for one can’t wait to have fresh draught of this Pilsner once the Pandemic concludes.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4.25-bottle cap rating.

Ashton is accepting online orders for local delivery and pick up

Draught Diversions: April 2020 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…

Another mostly NJ six pack for April, although a couple of beers lingered from before the Social Distancing began in March. One of the new beers comes Ashton Brewing Company a brand new brewery in New Jersey, whose “grand opening” coincided with the big lockdown. After months of preparation and remodeling the old Demented facility in Middlesex, NJ, Ashton rolled with the punches and did Crowlers and pre-filled growlers to go, as well as local home delivery. More on that, and the six pack for April 2020 below.

Wild Little Thing (Sierra Nevada Brewing Company) | Fruit Beer | 3.75 Bottle Caps on untappd

An offshoot of the “Little Thing” brand I mentioned last month, this beer is sweet and tart. There are a few different fruits in this one, but I get a great deal of strawberry. Almost like if Strawberry Jam were added to a beer, which isn’t a bad thing. This would be a really nice beer to enjoy in the summer.

Firestone 23 (XXIII) Anniversary Ale (Firestone Walker Brewing Company) | Strong Ale – American | 4.5 Bottle Caps on untappd

It seems that whenever I get one of the Firestone Walker Barrel Aged beers, it makes an appearance on the Tap Takeover. This one is no exception and is an extremely boozy, but wonderfully flavored beer. I haven’t had any of the previous Anniversary beers, but I’ve been very happy to see these special, single-bottle releases in my local shops in recent months. A definite slow sipper, which I enjoyed during a work virtual happy hour.

Billy Two Hats (Ashton Brewing Company) | English Mild Ale | 3.75 Bottle Caps on untappd

Ashton Brewing is New Jersey’s newest brewery and they started in an interesting time, but fortunately, they make interesting beer. Steve Ashton has been in the beer/brewing world for years and his craftsmanship shows in this tasty beer. I’ve had very few English Milds, but what impressed me was the complex flavor given the very low ABV (3.5). I’ll be visiting Ashton more in the future and I cannot wait to spend some time in the revamped former Demented Brewing tap room. Based on this beer (and the other I had) Ashton Brewing is off to a great start.

Blue Hotel (Kane Brewing Company) | IPA – American | 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

One of the few positive outcomes of COVID is that some breweries are making more of their beer available to stores and through home delivery. Case in point: Kane Brewing’s Blue Hotel was previously only available at the brewery. This is a delicious, tropical IPA whose potent flavors come from a single hop – Galaxy Hops.

Revolution (Tonewood Brewing) | Porter – Other | 3.75/4 Bottle Caps on untappd

This is the third Tonewood beer for me and third time their beer appears on the Tap Takeover. That’s one way to say they make really good beer. This is a really solid coffee-infused porter with great roast flavor that one expect from a Porter complemented with the roast of coffee flavors. There’s a bit more hoppiness to the beer than I would have expected, but the beer settles nicely. I found myself enjoying the second can of beer more than the first, which I enjoyed a few days apart. Glad I still have a few in the fridge, because this is just simply a well-made porter.

Variabull 010 (Bolero Snort Brewing Company) | Stout – Milk/Sweet | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

I’ve had quite a few beers from Bolero this year and I have to say, this is my favorite so far and maybe the best beer I’ve had since they opened their brewery. I’ve always enjoyed their dark beers more than anything else they brewed and this Tiramisu-inspired stout is outstanding. I like Tiramisu as a desert and the flavors translate so well into a Milk Stout. Layered flavors from Coffee/Espresso, Cocoa, Vanilla, and touch of Lemon at the end make for a beer to enjoy slowly as it is a sumptuous, decadent dessert. At 8% it works really well as a nice night cap to enjoy while (as I did) watching an engrossing movie (The Invitation). Bolero released two other Variabull Stouts at this time, a “dirty banana” version and a mint chocolate version. I only had the banana (not a mint fan) and this one worked far better for me..

Not too much other new beers in April as I was sticking with some older favorites, but some good beers nonetheless.