Beer Review: Ashton Brewing’s Shore de Garde

Name: Shore De Garde
Brewing Company: Ashton Brewing
Location: Middlesex, NJ
Style: Farmhouse – Bière de Garde
ABV: 7.8%

A fantastic take on a relatively obscure Farmhouse Ale demonstrates the high quality beer I’ve come to expect from Ashton Brewing.

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From Ashton Brewing’s landing page for beers:

The 2021 Motown MASH Best of Show winner, Erik Shore, created this delicious country ale. It is a Bière de Garde, which is a French Farmhouse Ale. This beer is malty, clean, dry and smooth. Truly a keeper.

I’ve been really enjoying the beers coming out of Ashton Brewing over the last couple of years, regardless of style. I happened to stop in recently and saw this beer on draught, a style I don’t see often – Bière de Garde, a French Farmhouse Saison-type of ale which translates as “beer for keeping.” Whereas a Farmhouse Ale of the Saison variety is lighter in color, like straw, a Bière de Garde is a little more malty and darker in color. As such, I don’t have too much to compare Shore de Garde against, with the exception of Two Roads’s tasty Holiday Ale.

Before getting the full pour, Donna (one of the owners) kindly allowed me a sip/small taste of this beer and the Saison/Farmhouse they had on draught that day. Both were good, but this one was different enough that I wanted the full pour.

The beer I’m given is a relatively clear golden-burnt umber color. It looks relatively unique, which is enticing. Aroma…I didn’t get anything out of the ordinary on the aroma portion of the show, so I dive in for my first sip.

First taste…is both unique and somewhat familiar. I think the yeast elements give the beer some familiarity, kind of what I’d expect from a Saison or Farmhouse Ale. But the malt character…that’s what is unique, at least what I expect in this style of beer. There’s a sweetness that is rather different from most Farmhouse Ales I’ve enjoyed. The fruitiness is more earthy, maybe figginess and dates? Whereas the Saison side of Farmhouse evokes more of a banana flavor.

This is a very surprising, pleasant beer. The more I drink, the more I enjoy it. It is a fun beer in many ways, in terms of trying to determine what flavors are coming from the yeast and malt combination, and quite delightful.

As the description calls out, this beer is a product of MASH. As I noted in my Brewery Spotlight for Ashton Brewing, Steve is a member of MASH (Morris Area Society of Homebrewers) and I think this is the second beer (at least) that is a product a MASH contest and it is a damned fine one at that. Donna mentioned to me that the batch on draught that day was essentially a test batch and that it did well enough that Ashton will be canning this beer with the next full batch. This is a unique style, a flavorful, well-crafted ale that is worth seeking out.

Recommended, link to 4 bottle cap untappd rating check in.

Draught Diversions: Favorite Beers of 2021

Somehow, I’ve rolled into a fifth annual roundup of my favorite beers. Like my previous Favorite of the Year 12-pack posts, while I’ll still have beers with very high untappd ratings, this post features “Favorite” beers of the 336 unique beers I checked into untappd in 2021, from 104 different breweries. What does that mean? Well, there were beers I consumed in 2021 which I awarded a high 4.75 rating, but I may be including a 4.25 beer that I enjoyed more in this twelve-pack (or half case). Put it another way, there were some highly rated (4.5) beers I enjoyed in 2021 that one beer was enough was enough, while some beers I may have rated at a 4.25 I would have multiple times. Or still another way – some movies are incredibly well-made masterpieces, but one viewing is enough whereas some movies you love and want to watch over and over or will leave on the TV no matter where in the running time you catch it.

As always, for the purposes of this post New means “New to Me” because a some beers on this list have been around for a few years, but I had the beer for the first time in 2021.

TTT_2021_Favorites

Before we go further down the beer road, a little plug for my old blog, which is where I write, rant, and rave about Fantasy, Horror, and Science Fiction books. Well, I can’t say “write” because I haven’t posted there too much over the last few years, but was posting multiple times per week for quite a few years. Over there, I mostly write about the books I’ve read, some of the movies and TV shows I’ve watched, and other assorted random stuff. That blog has largely been collecting virtual dust, but I decided to post about the books I enjoyed reading the most in 2021. So have a look and maybe you’ll find a good book or four to read. 

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Back to our regularly scheduled beer programming…

The standard NJ bias shines through on this list as 8 of the beers are from NJ breweries. I’d say 75% of the beer I bought & consumed in 2021 was made in a from NJ breweries, so this shouldn’t be a surprise. 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. That rule made it difficult to whittle down some breweries from whom I’ve had upwards of 10 beers in 2021.

Here’s a Breakdown:

  • 8 from NJ breweries
  • 2 from PA breweries
  • 4 Lagers
    • 2 Pilsners
    • 1 Dark Lager
    • 1 Helles Lager
  • 2 Stouts
    • 1 Milk / Sweet
    • 1 Imperial / Double
  • 1 Porter
  • 1 Sour
  • 1 Barleywine
  • 1 Extra Special Bitter
  • 1 Kölsch
  • 1 English Dark Mild

On to my 12 Favorite “New to Me” Beers of 2021

12. Grand Cacao | Tröegs Independent Brewing | Stout – Milk / Sweet | 4.25 bottle caps


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When the brothers behind Pennsylvania’s Tröegs Independent Brewing release a new year round beer, it is worthy of note. When the beer is as good as Grand Cacao is, it is even more noteworthy. This beer is an outstanding Milk Stout with heavy chocolate overtones making for a nearly perfect dessert beer. This is similar to the Chocolate Stout I thoroughly enjoyed which was released in the Most Wonderful Beer of the Year variety pack in 2018, but maybe amped up more. I even commented on when I enjoyed that beer here and on Instagram/twitter that the Chocolate Stout should be in regular rotation, it is almost as if the Trogner Brothers listed to me. :D. Grand Cacao has immediately become a top Milk Stout for me.

11. La Di Da Di: Banana, Peanut Butter & Vanilla | Twin Elephant Brewing Company I Porter – Imperial / Double | 4.25 Bottle Caps

This is a perfectly balanced dessert beer. The peanut butter is great and blends with the vanilla and banana very nicely. Too may beers with peanut butter in them use powder or the peanut butter tastes like a stale Reese’s Peanut Butter cup. Not this beer, oh no. This is delicious and worth savoring. I’m not sure if this beer is still available on tap at Twin Elephant, but I’d love to try other variants on the beer.

 

10. Extra Stockton Bitter | Odd Bird Brewing | Extra Special / Strong Bitter | 4.5 bottle Caps

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This is beer in a quintessential British style as it is meant to be. Top notch flavors from fresh ingredients crafted with care and attention. I get mild bitterness on the initial sips of Extra Stockton Bitter, which is on point. The cask delivery gives the beer an added quaff and body that enhances the flavors of the maltiness. There’s an extremely balanced and welcome sweetness on the finish of the beer. This beer, for me, exemplifies why I like craft/independent beer so much. It isn’t a style you’ll find everywhere, but it is a passion project of a beer (one might say) that delivers something really special, no pun intended. This beer alone makes it worth the trip to the brewery, in my humble opinion.

9. Polyphonic | Ashton Brewing Company | Pilsner – German | 4.5 bottle caps

Ashton_Poly

Ashton Brewing is growing into one of the best Lager brewers in the State of New Jersey. Their first Pilsner, Jersey Dreamin’ was great, so early on Ashton showed a deft hand at brewing. Polyphonic is just as good, maybe even a little bit better. Such a clean, crisp pilsner is an example of why Pilsner became such a beloved style and another winner from Ashton Brewing.

 

8. Scrag Mountain Pils Salt & Lime | Lawson’s Finest Liquids | Pilsner – Czech | 4.50 bottle caps

This the kind of beer I want cold and in my hands as soon as I’m finished yard work or sitting by the pool. In fact, the second time I had the beer I did exactly that, finished mowing the lawn and cooled off in the pool with this beer. As it turns out, the opening sentence of this paragraph was written shortly after my first experience tasting the beer. There’s something to be said for taste and timing in general. In specific for Scrag Mountain Pils Salt and Lime, this beer was *perfect* for that post lawnmower refreshment while relaxing in the pool (as in the picture above). I’d say that Scrag Mountain Pils with Salt and Lime is a must have for the summer 

7. Vanilla Maris | Barleywine – English | 4.5 Bottle Caps

What a fantastic Barleywine this beer is. The English Barleywines are more malty and sweet compared to their hoppy cousins from America and often exhibit hints of toffee in the flavor profile. This beer does indeed have that element to it, which plays wonderfully with the vanilla beans on which the beer was aged. Another standout from Timber Ales.

 

6. Boat Ramp Champ | Cape May Brewing Company | Lager – Helles | 4.5 Bottle Caps

Being on Social Media can be a good thing. You get to see beers months ahead of their release to the public, like this Helles Lager from Cape May Brewing Company. They don’t brew/can/distribute many lagers, but when they do, they do them well (Cape May Lager from a couple of years ago; my new summer go-to, Tan Limes; and their annual Oktoberfest), so I was really looking forward to trying this one and I was absolutely not disappointed. This is one of the best Helles Lagers I’ve ever had, a fantastic American interpretation of the classic German style, and it might be my favorite beer from Cape May Brewing Company.

 

5. Uncharted Waters Blueberry and Cinnamon | Jersey Cyclone Brewing Company | Sour – Fruited | 4.5 bottle caps


I’ve been a fan of Jersey Cyclone Brewing since they opened a couple of years ago, their lagers and stouts are superb and they make tasty IPAs. However, this Blueberry/Cinnamon sour ale, Uncharted Waters, might be the best I’ve had from them. Lactose is added to balance out the tartness and sour elements for an outstanding beer. The beer reminds me of a blueberry crumble or blueberry cinnamon pie in beer form. Simply a delicious beer. I’ve since had a few of the Uncharted Waters variants from Jersey Cyclone and while they’ve all been very good, this one stands a half-head taller.

 

4. Yonder | Icarus Brewing Company | Mild – Dark | 4.25 bottle caps

IcarusYonder

Icarus again was a top brewery for 2021, which made the process of determining which beer would make it to this list even more difficult. I may have had other beers over the year that were technically better than this beer, but Yonder was quite simply my favorite. The style – English Dark Mild – isn’t what I’d consider a go-to style for me. Or it wasn’t before this beer. I tried the beer and fell in love with it, and it is a beer that has become one of the few beers upon which my dad, my brother-in-law, and I agree upon since we typically lean to different styles. But this beer…there is so much flavor in a beer that has such a low ABV (4%). I buy it whenever it has become available this year and is just a damned fine beer.

 

3. Paddy’s House Kölsch | Source Brewing | Kölsch | 4.75 bottle caps

The is beer is the winner of a homebrew contest, and there’s no question of the quality. Of the 30 beers on untappd I’ve had categorized as “Kölsch,” this is at least the best American version and maybe the best period. This was slow-poured to allow the flavors to express themselves even more potently, some malt/breadiness with a crisp finish that has some hops and a wonderful mouthfeel. This is everything I want in a beer.

 

2. Czech Dark Lager | Weyerbacher Brewing Company| Lager – Dark | 4.75 bottle caps

Weyerbacher_CzechDark

Weyerbacher is one of the great Northeast breweries so I was very happy to visit on my birthday as I’d never made it across the Route 78 bridge to Easton to visit them. I saw a Czech Dark Lager on draft and knew I had to have it, despite the fact that Weyerbacher typically isn’t known for low ABV lagers. This beer was outstanding, maybe my favorite of the style and likely will be my favorite new-to-me beer of the year and maybe even the beer I’ve enjoyed the most from Weyerbacher. Yes, I’ve had Sunday Morning Stout a few times. I brought a crowler home and when I cracked it open 10 days after the canning date, it held up very nicely. Simply put, a superb beer I wish they’d bring into more of a regular rotation than a test batch. Over the last year or two, the Czech Dark Lager has emerged as a top “new to me” style and this one is simply an outstanding take on the style.

 

1. Tenth | Kane Brewing Company | Stout – Imperial / Double | 5 bottle caps

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It really shouldn’t be a surprise at this point, every year my top beer is a barrel-aged beer, and only one year was that beer not a barrel-aged stout (it was Bourbon Barrel Aged Troegenator, a doppolebock). I’ve had more beers from Kane this year than any previous year and second only to Icarus in terms of quantity of new beers in 20201. Tenth is the best beer I’ve yet to enjoy from the great NJ brewery. I’ve said it the last three years about my favorite beer of the year, but Kane Tenth has risen to be my favorite barrel-aged beer. It is absolutely perfect and with out flaw. The bourbon elements are present, but don’t overpower the malt elements from the stout. I wish I bought more than one bottle, now.

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:

Alternate Ending Beer Co (Aberdeen, NJ)
Böser Geist Brewing Co (Easton, PA)
Brewery Ommegang (Cooperstown, NY)
Bull N Bear Brewery (Summit, NJ)
Buttzville Brewing Company (Washington Township, NJ)
The Drowned Lands (Warwick, NY)
Invertase Brewing Company (Phillipsburg, NJ)
Log Tavern Brewing (Milford, PA)
Last Wave Brewing Company (Point Pleasant Beach, NJ)
Odd Bird Brewing (Stockton, NJ)
Source Breiwng (Colts Neck, NJ)
Two Rivers Brewing (Easton, PA)
Weyerbacher Brewing Company (Easton, PA)

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

Untappd_TopBreweries_2021_RB

 

Thanks to my readers for reading and to the breweries here (and everywhere) for continuing to make delicious beer! Here’s to another good year of beer in 2022!

TTT_2021_Favorites

Draught Diversions: December 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…

sixpack-2021-dec

The final Six Pack of 2021 is upon us. Well, I use “us” since it is actually incumbent upon me for sharing this six pack with my millions (insert Rock voice) and millions of readers. No IPA this month and fir the first time in a while, this six pack does not feature a beer from Icarus. What this six pack does feature: two Barleywines, a Porter, a Brown Ale, Belgian Quadrupel, and an Imperial Stout. Some familiar breweries, and a couple of breweries make a return appearance after a rather lengthy absence. I’ll likely be posting my favorite beers of the year later in the week

Without further adieu, here is the December 2021 Six Pack…

Parent Trap (Ashton Brewing Company) | Porter – Other | 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

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Ashton keeps churning out good beers and this one surprised me the most. I’ve become very cautious/hesitant when it comes to beers with Peanut Butter/PB flavoring, it can often come across like bad/stale peanut butter. Not this one, a great blend of chocolate and peanut butter which makes for nice post-dinner beer. I understand now why cans of this beer sold out so quickly at the brewery.

Third Coast Ale (Bell’s Brewery) | Barleywine – American | 3.75 Bottle Caps on untappd

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It’s been a while since Bell’s made an appearance here at the Tap Takeover, but I’ve been enjoying some of their core beers the last year or two. I hadn’t had their Barleywine prior to this, but that may change. I liked it quite a bit. It isn’t as hop forward, as say the iconic Bigfoot from Sierra Nevada, but the toffee element is more prominent. I’d love to try a barrel-aged version of this beer.

Outen the Light (Bonesaw Brewing Co) | Barleywine – American | 3.75 Bottle Caps on untappd

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I’ve had a few beers from Bonesaw and enjoyed them so I figured I’d try this big Barleywine. This might be the booziest barleywine I’ve ever had. Hell, at 15.3%, it is one of the highest ABV beers I’ve had period. There’s a ton of barrel on the beer, almost too much for me, in fact. Almost. I enjoyed it, there’s a nice hit of sweet caramel as well as dried figgy/cherry/stone fruits. Even though it was only a 500ml bottle and I was drinking it rather slowly, I still felt a little woozy about halfway through finishing the beer. Again, 15.3%.

Tenth (Kane Brewing Company) | Stout – Imperial/Double | 5 Bottle Caps on untappd

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I’ve had just over 50 beers from Kane. I’ve had over 150 Imperial Stouts (including “Coffee,” “Milk,” “Russian,” and “Oatmeal” varieties) and I’d guess at least half to two thirds of those were barrel aged. Tenth is both the best beer I’ve had from Kane and my favorite Barrel-Aged Stout I’ve ever had. This is an absolutely flawless beer.

Three Philosophers Double Chocolate (Brewery Ommegang) | Belgian Quadrupel | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

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Brewery Ommegang has all but made their “Three Philosophers” Belgian Quadrupel-Kriek blend a brand with multiple variants over the years. I’ve had the original and thoroughly enjoyed it and now I’ve had this version of the beer. While it is indeed heavy on the chocolate (the “Double” in the name gives it away), for me, it wasn’t overpowering. I let the beer warm up a bit and the potent chocolate elements took a slight step-back to the main flavors of the beer.

Grandma Cookie (Lone Eagle Brewing) | Brown Ale – Belgian | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

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When Lone Eagle makes a good beer, it turns out to be a great beer. This is the third time I’ve brought a growler of their beer to Christmas Eve and it was a hit as it was in past years. This beer is one of the better “new to me” Christmas themed beers I’ve had. Brewed with raisins, oatmeal, and cinnamon, the beer (as the name implies) evokes a delicious baked cookie you’d leave for Santa Claus. I had a feeling I’d like it, but I was surprised at just how much I did like it. I’ve had over 50 beers from Lone Eagle over the years and this one is one of their best, I hope they brew it again for the Christmas 2022 season or even can it, because I will be sure to grab some of it.

Good beers, indeed. Only one real dud this past month, Frosted Sugar Cookie from Southern Tier Brewing Company. I’ve enjoyed many of their beers over the years, but not this one. It tasted full of artificial sweetener.

Draught Diversions: August2021 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…

2021_Aug_SixPack

The last full month of summer brings an interesting mix of beers I’ve chosen to highlight. A couple are here more for their uniqueness rather than how much I enjoyed them. Frankly, a big source of my summer beer consumption is pulled from the beer brought to the house on the Fourth of July as I’ve noted in previous round-up posts for July and August. Overall, 2 Barleywines (yeah, in the summer no less!), 1 Lager, 1 Pale Ale, 1 Pilsner, 1 Berliner Weisse, with 4 NJ beers.

Stacking Casks (Kane Brewing Company) | Barleywine – English | 4.5 Bottle Caps on untappd

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They say summer is for lagers and summer crushers, but this is the 3rd new Barleywine I’ve had since memorial day and it is outstanding. The majority of barleywines I’ve consumed have been from Kane and they’ve all been great, this one might be the best. I like the subtle elements from the cognac/wine aging. There’s some hints of fruit and spice as well.

Watercolors Creamee – Raspberry, Blueberry, Cheesecake, Cream & Milk Sugar (Skygazer Brewing Company) | Sour – Fruited Berliner Weisse | no rating on untappd

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This beer is one of the rare beers I did not rate on untappd. I can’t say I enjoyed this beer, but it was interesting and worth mentioning. I like Berliner Weisses quite a bit, but this liquid…I’m not sure how it is considered beer. The only thing this seems to have in common with beer, in the Tap Takeover’s humble opinion, is that it is liquid with a percentage of alcohol content. I never thought I’d have a beer made with cheesecake, but this was a leftover from 4th of July so I figured I’d try it.

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The quote from Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum’s character in Jurassic Park) comes to mind, but apply it to brewers: “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should” These “smoothie/smoovie/smoojie” beers are very popular and some of the most sought after styles, but not with the Tap Takeover.

Ray Catcher (Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers) | Lager – American | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

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I think I found my favorite “new to me” beer for the summer because this is a superb lager. Jack’s Abby never fails to disappoint me and this beer was better than I expected it would be. Extremely refreshing and flavorful, the addition of lemongrass gives the beer a citrusy cooling finish that epitomizes what a warm-weather beer should be. I hope this one comes back in summer 2022 in a 12 pack.

Corned Beef Pale Ale (Spellbound Brewing Company) | Pale Ale – American | 3.5 Bottle Caps on untappd

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Here’s another beer making an appearance more for the novelty than the quality. It isn’t a bad beer at all, but it sure is an interesting beer not quite like any beer I’ve had before. Unlike that red thing I highlighted at the top of this post, this actually tastes like a beer. I enjoyed it, but I’m not sure I could have more than one or two of the beers. The pickling spices definitely play well with the hops and really smack the taste buds.

Fraxinus Maple Syrup Barrel Aged (Ashton Brewing Company) | Barleywine – Other | 3.75 Bottle Caps on untappd

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A fourth barleywine for the summer, courtesy of Ashton Brewing. I enjoyed the non-barrel-aged version last month and I picked up this bottle a couple of months back (along with a second bottle for Father’s Day for my dad). There’s a really nice balance between the hop bitterness and sweetness from the maple, with the maple emerging more as the beer warms. That said, I think I liked the non-barrel-aged version slightly more.

Lagerhythm (Brix City Brewing) | Pilsner – Other | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

BrixCity_Lagerhythm

Brix City is known primarily for their fruited sours and IPAs, so I was quite pleased to see this “Continental” Pilsner appear in one of my local beer shops. I was very impressed with this beer, which is extremely flavorful at such a low ABV. The beer doesn’t disappoint and shows that the of the brewers of Brix City are extremely talented across styles, especially a style whose (potential) mistakes can’t be hidden with adjuncts and more hops.

Like I said, the pickings were a bit slimmer with new beers this month. With the summer and pool open, I tend to refill the cooler with familiar beers and favorites.

Draught Diversions: July 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…

2021_July_SixPack

July has come and gone and with it, the annual family Fourth of July party, which was a contributor to this month’s six pack. It is often hit or miss with the beers my family and friends bring, but this year, there were more hits than misses. This is the first six pack in months with no lager and outside of one beer, all are hop forward (Pale Ales or IPAs).

Forever Forward (Icarus Brewing) | IPA – Imperial/Double New England | 4.75 Bottle Caps on untappd

As it so happens, this was the 50th beer I had from Icarus Brewing. As it also happens, it is the best IPA I’ve had from them and maybe one of my top IPAs of all time. I like the hop selection (Citra and Motueka) and what I appreciate is that they used wheat and oats to soften the body of the beer rather than lactose. Plus, how do you not like that Back to the Future inspired can art?

Your Lips are Bloody! (Ashton Brewing) | IPA – Sour | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

One of Ashton’s flagship beers is their IPA, “Your Lips are Juicy,” which I featured about a year ago. That was a very good beer. This is a version of the beer with Blood Oranges and is even better. This beer was originally produced for Halloween 2020, but proved so popular it was brewed and canned again. The blood oranges both accentuate the citrus element inherent in the hops and since blood oranges are even sweeter than regular oranges, that sweetness counters the hop bitterness. A delicious IPA

Blueberry Lemon Crushin’ It (Cape May Brewing Co.) | IPA – American| 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

Cue the Whitesnake song because here we go with a variant of a beer I’ve previously featured at the Tap Takeover. Blueberry is one of my favorite fruits and when balanced with lemon makes for a very refreshing flavor profile. This beer is stronger on the blueberry element than the hops element, but is very tasty. Maybe not quite as good as the original “Orange Crushin’ It,” but still a beer I enjoyed thoroughly and would enjoy poolside all summer.

Patriot (Battle River Brewing) | IPA – American | 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

When you have an annual Fourth of July party and your party-goers know you like beer, they tend to bring beer. Fortunately, there’s a gem of a beer I haven’t had like this IPA from Battle River Brewing. This is a very well-made, straight-forward, no-frills CLEAR IPA. Sometimes, the relatively simple beers are just what hits the spot, and this IPA delivers in spades. Good stuff

Subtle Symphony (Conclave Brewing Company) | Pale Ale – American | 4 Bottle Caps on untappd


I met up with a good friend to visit the two closest breweries to me, Conclave being one of them. This is a delicious, flavorful, low ABV (4.5%) pale ale that I could drink all day. Slightly hop-forward, fully refreshing. This would be a good beer for them to can.

Uncharted Waters Raspberry Gose (Jersey Cyclone Brewing Company) | Sour – Fruited Gose | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

Jersey Cyclone continues to impress me with everything the brew. They’ve been making great sour ales over the better part of the last year. Fruited sours in particular have been impressing me so I was very happy to see them finally put one of their sour ales in a four-pack of cans. Goses are maybe the sour beers I like most, the salinity on the finish works for me and it plays really nicely with the sweet and tart nature of the raspberries. A very well-crafted beer.

Draught Diversions: June 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…

SixPack_2021_06.jpg

With June completed, we are officially half-way through 2021, which is a great thing because 2021 hasn’t been the best of years for various personal reasons. Minor surgery in January, broken appliance in January, health issues with our dog Sully throughout the year who passed away after 11 wonderful years with us in May. June is already looking better since my wife and welcomed a new dog into our home to close out the month as summer is upon us. One of the constants has been good beer, so let’s have a look at my top 6 picks for the month of June 2021.

Hearthland (Conclave Brewing) | Farmhouse Ale – Saison | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

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Two consecutive months with a beer from Conclave…and in the same style! One of the great things about Conclave’s physical expansion is that they’ve been afforded the ability to play with styles, like oak-aged ales. This Farmhouse beer is a delight. Extremely refreshing with notes of lemongrass and honey, with the barrel character coming through in hints of oak and vanilla. This is a fun, tasty beer, and hopefully a sign of things to come from Conclave.

5th Anniversary Sundial – Chronosaur (Czig Meister Brewing) | IPA – Sour | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

Czig_Chronosaur

It was great to visit Czig Meister for the Fifth Anniversary party since I made it to the 3rd Anniversary. Obviously, there was no 4th Anniversary celebration due to the pandemic. I visited this time around with a great friend, which always makes these things a little better. Four anniversary beers were released and this was my favorite, it has the hoppiness of an IPA, but some fruited elements, a bit of sour pucker, and some sweetness from a hit of lactose. A “Sour IPA” is far from my chosen style, but this beer was delicious. Czig Meister brews quite a few beers in the “Sour IPA” style in their Sundial series so I may sample more in the futre

Uncharted Waters: Mango Lassi (Jersey Cyclone Brewing Company) | Sour – Fruited | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

JerseyCyclone_MangoLassi

Another Jersey Cyclone beer! One style they’ve shown exceptionally adept at crafting is fruited sours. This particular beer is a perfect example. It doesn’t hurt that I love Mango, so this beer hit many great notes for me. The mango is potent, there’s definitely a sourness, and that is all balanced with an addition of lactose. This beer is just more proof of how great Jersey Cyclone is in a variety of style.

Smoke & Dagger (Jack’s Abbey Craft Lagers) | Lager – Dark | 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

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Here’s the lone non-NJ beer and it sure is an interesting one. I’m not so much into Smoked beers, but everything I’ve had from Jack’s Abby has been superb and I really enjoy dark lagers. The smoked malt element is definitely present, but it isn’t like your breathing in a campfire. Rather, the smokiness gives off a very nice sweetness that is quite pleasant. Maybe sweet like smoked bacon? I don’t know, but I enjoy this beer the more I have it.

What About Us (Untied Brewing Company) | IPA – Imperial / Double New England | 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

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I met up with my parents at Untied for an early Father’s Day since Untied is relatively midway for us and my dad and I both thoroughly enjoy the beers from the New Providence brewery. I figured I’d go with an IPA since their IPAs have a good reputation and I’ve only had one of their hop-forward beers. Since this beer has the Vic Secret hop (a favorite hop of mine), the decision was easy and well-rewarded. This is a dynamite beer with strong hop elements on the front end and none of the unpleasant bitterness on the finish. That lack of bitterness could be due to the beer being finished on honey, but the tropical elements of the New England style IPA are on full, delicious display in this beer.

Polyphonic (Ashton Brewing Company) | Pilsner – German | 4.50 Bottle Caps on untappd

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Ashton Brewing is growing into one of the best Lager brewers in the State of New Jersey. Their first Pilsner, Jersey Dreamin’ was great, so early on Ashton showed a deft hand at brewing. Polyphonic is just as good, maybe even a little bit better. Such a clean, crisp pilsner is an example of why Pilsner became such a beloved style and another winner from Ashton Brewing.

Only one dud for the whole month, but I’ll keep that under wraps and close the post with positivity and a picture of Dusty, our new puppy! Our previous dog, Sully, was named after Sully Erna, the lead singer of one of our favorite bands, Godsmack. Dusty, is an abbreviation of one of our other favorite bands, Sevendust.

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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.