Draught Diversions: 12 Beers of Christmas (2018 Part 1)

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…

Last year, I did two broad Twelve Beers of Christmas posts, so why not do it again? There are certainly enough choices out there in the Christmas Beer realm to warrant an annual Twelve Beers of Christmas post. I’ll do one six pack today, and another six pack on Thursday.

Krampus – Beach Haus Brewing Company (Belmar, NJ)

How could I not go with a beer named in honor of the legendary Germanic “anti-Santa Claus?” Especially since, being half German, I’ve been hearing stories about Krampus since I was a little kid. I’ve visited Beach Haus a few times, they make good beer and have one of the best locations of any NJ brewery, in downtown Belmar not far from the beach. They’ve been making a Krampus beer for the majority of the time they’ve been brewing beer and I think they’ve tweaked it a bit every year. Unfortunately, I haven’t had the chance to try it yet, but perhaps that will change this Chistmastime. . .

What Beach Haus says about the beer:

Beach Haus® Krampus is a welcome visitor to any holiday home with its blend of spices, fruitiness and malt.

Our most limited of limited releases that is brewed a li’l different each year.

For 2018 we used light brown sugar, raisins and figs to bring out caramelized sugar and dried fruit flavors. Also added to the boil is star anise, clove, cardamom and cinnamon. The spices balance and play nice with the caramelized sugars.

A 9.4% ABV gives this year’s Krampus an extra bite!

Scaldis Noël Brasserie Dubuisson – (Pipaix, Belgium)

If you’ve got a Christmas beer list, you’ve got to include one from Belgium and Scaldis Noël is one that is held in pretty high regard. I haven’t had this one yet, but I’ve been enjoying a different Belgian Christmas beer every year. Like many of the Belgian Christmas Ales, this one is categorized as “Belgian Strong Dark Ale.”

What Brasserie Dubuisson says about the beer:

The Scaldis Noël was introduced in 1991 to respond to consumer demands for the ideal beer to add lustre to their end-of-year celebrations.

The Scaldis Noël is brewed solely from malts, hops, candy sugar and water. It is a filtered, top-fermented beer with an alcohol volume of 12%. The use of caramel malts produces a copper-coloured beer with a full, rounded taste. The Scaldis Noël owes its fruity taste and subtle hop aromas to the well-thought out choice of hops in this brew.

The Scaldis Noël is brewed in limited volumes but has already achieved the status of a classic beer for the end-of-year celebrations.

Rude Elf’s Reserve – Fegley’s Brew Works (Bethlehem, PA)

For a few years, I was grabbing this beer every year at Christmas time. It was initially a bomber (I think 750ml) back about 8 years ago or so and I remember having it when the beer was called Rudolph’s Reserve, which changed for obvious reasons. In recent years, I haven’t seen the beer as regularly or as widely so I haven’t had it SJU (Since Joining Untappd) but I’ve been hoping to find it again. The beer is very similar to Tröegs’ iconic Mad Elf from a stylistic perspective of the beer (and the name).

What Fegley’s says about this beer:

A BELGIAN STYLE HOLIDAY ALE WITH ATTITUDE! –  After being harassed by elves in the toy workshop and the reindeer in the stables, Rudy found his true calling in Santa’s brew house. Keeping his edge and focusing his talents, this elf created a spicy holiday brew that became a Christmas legend of its own.

HISTORY OF THE RUDE ELF’S RESERVE –  This fabulous holiday ale was first developed and brewed in 1999 at the Bethlehem Brew Works under original head brewer (and co-owner) Jeff Fegley. The Fegley family thought it was appropriate to create a spiced beer to help us celebrate in the City.

TASTING NOTES –  Pours a deep chestnut ruby with a creamy tan head. The aroma is sweet with harmonic spices led by clove, then cinnamon and nutmeg. The rich body has a fine carbonation that smooths and hides the high ABV, wrapping up oh, so much holiday spice. Finishes very dry, leaving a lingering gingerbread cookie note.

Gnoel de Abbey – The Lost Abbey (San Marcos, CA)

The Lost Abbey is one of the California breweries whose beers I’ve not had the opportunity to try yet. Their beers are well-regarded and often of the big variety – Imperial Stouts, Quads, etc. This is their take on a Winter Warmer and with hints of coffee and spice (a “Holiday Brown Ale,” as The Lost Abbey’s web site references it ) I’d really like to get my hands on a bottle.

What The Lost Abbey says about the beer:

The Lost Abbey’s newest seasonal, Gnoel de Abbey is a winter warmer brewed to be lighter in body while maintaining nuanced notes of oak.

TASTE Beginning with aromas of freshly brewed espresso, Gnoel has hints of cocoa, vanilla and holiday spice, finishing with a crisp coffee bitterness.

Christmas BOMB! – Prairie Artisan Ales (Tulsa, OK)

Image courtesy of Prairie Artisan Ales’s Facebook page

Prairie’s beer have only recently begun appearing here in NJ (as far as I know), and their beers are of the big stout variety, including the Bomb! Beers. I like most of the spices in this one, especially when beers have chocolate and chili in them. This could be an interesting beer to share, although it seems they are only sold in single 12oz bottles about $9 per bottle.

What Prairie says about the beer:


The Bomb! that we all know and love, with the addition of Christmas spices – cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg.

Here’s the standard Bomb! Bomb! is an imperial stout aged on coffee, chocolate, vanilla beans, and ancho chili peppers. The peppers add just the right amount of heat to complement the intense coffee and chocolate flavors.

Winter Cheers Victory Brewing Company (Downington, PA)

Victory decided to do some counter-programming with their Christmas beer. Typically, and as the other beers on this list will support, Christmas beers are a bit darker and weighty. With Winter Cheers, Victory has been producing a tasty, spicier Hefeweizen every year at Christmas time as a tasty alternative to those darker beers. It has been a couple of years since I had one, but I remember enjoying it quite a bit.

What Victory says about the beer:

Winter weather may drive us indoors but cannot dampen our spirits when hearth, home and hops meet in jubilation. Hoisted high in its golden glory, Winter Cheers lives up to its name, fueling festive times and chasing winter’s chill. Glowing and glimmering, frothy and shimmering, our celebratory wheat ale features luscious fruity and spicy notes, making it a perfect brew to brighten spirits even on the deepest of nights.

Check back here on Thursday for another half-dozen beers to seek out this Christmas!

Draught Diversions: St. Patrick’s Day 2018

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

If Oktoberfest is the Fall holiday for beer, then St. Patrick’s Day, the day when everybody is Irish, is certainly the Late Winter/Spring Holiday day for beer. Not just a holiday for a specific style of beer, but a brand, some would say. Guinness, of course. Guinness is far from the only beer option (or even Irish Stout) to enjoy on and around St. Patrick’s Day, so I’ll touch on a few of those. But I’ll start with Guinness itself.

Guinness, the most popular and best selling stout in the world is still quite well regarded by many craft beer folks despite being such a global brand. When it comes to stouts, especially Irish Stouts, few compare to Guinness especially when the line from the keg to the tap is short. A nice touch is when the bartender adds a four-leaf clover to the head.

Guinness has been expanding their portfolio here in the U.S. over the past handful of years, including a Blonde Ale (the less said the better), an “Irish Wheat” that was surprisingly tasty, and several stouts. They offer up a Milk Stout as well as a Belgian-inspired Antwerpen Stout. The Guinness I’m really looking forward to trying, though, is the 200th Anniversary Export Stout, brewed in late 2017 in honor of the 200th anniversary since Guinness was first shipped to America.

The “other” Irish Stout, Murphy’s is also an excellent example of the style. It has been many, many years since I enjoyed a Murphy’s. I may have to change that soon.

Many American brewers try to evoke the style as well. This may not come as a shock to folks who read this blog regularly, but my favorite is probably Victory Brewing’s offering: Donnybrook Stout. I believe this is a draft only beer as I’ve never seen it in bottles or cans, but I recall the beer hitting the same notes as Guinness does, and to a fairly successful degree. Breckenridge Brewery has a “Nitro Dry Irish Stout” that is very much playing into the whole Guinness beer profile, too. Of course, Breckenridge is one of a growing number of American Craft Breweries purchased by Anheuser-Busch and part of its “High End” brand initiative.

It isn’t all about the Stouts on St. Patrick’s Day, though. Smithwick’s is the brand name for the Red Ale the fine folks at Guinness brew and distribute. For years this was a go-to beer for me. I even prefer a “Black and Red” or “BlackSmith” to the traditional “Black and Tan.” Smithwick’s may be the quintessential Irish Red Ale and again, many American brewers try to evoke the style.

I miss this logo from the beer. The new red logo looks like Bud and doesn’t stand out at all.

For my beer drinking dollar, the best of the American interpretations of an Irish Red Ale is – hands down, no discussion – Great Lakes Brewing’s Conway’s Irish Ale. I seem to alternate going with this or something from Guinness on St. Patrick’s Day.  Great Lakes (rightfully so) makes a big deal out of this one on St. Patrick’s Day.

I’ve only touched upon some a few of the seasonal/holiday appropriate brews to enjoy (responsibly!) during a St. Patrick’s Day celebration, I know.* Of course, some Jameson would also be perfectly appropriate or one of the caskmates brews they’ve brewed in collaboration with a few American Craft brewers, like the Craic they partnered with River Horse here in New Jersey to brew last year. This beer is really tough to find and I haven’t had much luck yet.

Some other NJ breweries are getting in on the fun, too.*

*Gotta save some for next year’s St. Patrick’s Day post, right? 

For some Irish brews to enjoy for St. Patrick’s Day, take a look at this great article by Jason Notte.

There you have it. A quick rundown of some of the more widely available and widely known seasonally appropriate brews for St. Patrick’s Day as well as a handful of beers from some NJ Breweries. I know there are many more, so drop a note in the comments to let me know of a good one I may have overlooked.

Draught Diversion: NJ Brewery Tour November 2016

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…

This Draught Diversion is something of a #ThrowbackThursday post. A little over a year ago, my wife got me in the car with my brother-in-law and his girlfriend and visited a bunch of NJ Breweries on a mini tour. In the weeks leading up to my birthday, my wife asked me what I wanted to do for my birthday, I said I’d like to visit a some of the many breweries which have sprung up in New Jersey over the past few years, in particular Carton and Kane since they are both so well-regarded and relatively close. Keep in mind that this was months before I began the Tap Takeover and the bulk of this post is written from memory, aside from telling a friend at work (who hits up local breweries on his birthday) what I had at each brewery.

Because things with us tend to go out of order, we went North before coming back down and landed at Twin Elephant Brewing in Chatham, NJ. At the time, Twin Elephant was only open a few months, we’d even attended their “launch” at the Stirling Hotel (one of the best beer bars in NJ, great tap selection and wonderful food) in Gillette in July 2016. There were a great variety of styles on tap in the beautiful newly opened tap-room. A really nice wood interior made for a great gathering place for local patrons. Unfortunately, the Diamonds and Pearls Milk Stout I had in July was not on tap but there were some tasty beers to be had.

The Flight from Twin Elephant

The beer that stood out the most for me was Chingas, a Black IPA which had the best elements of a stout and IPA in one beer. Rounding out the flight was the New Found Friends IPA, Faja Bod, a fruity, Abbey ale; Pucker Cup, an odd but interesting sour Coffee ale; and a citrusy ale called Dux. I’d definitely like to return to this brewery, hopefully to get in on their limited can releases of either Diamonds and Pearls.

The second visit had us come back down basically to my house to go to – Conclave Brewing in Raritan Township/Flemington. My wife hadn’t realized I stopped there a few times over the past couple of years. Fortunately, their wonderful Mexican Morning stout was on tap. I’ve written extensively about this fine brewery in the past (click the link to see what I have to say about them), this was the shortest stop since I’d been there previously and their tap list was the smallest, so on to Brewery #3.

As I said at the opening of this post, high on the list of breweries I wanted to visit was what turned out to be our third stop – Kane Brewing in Ocean, NJ. Unfortunately, there always has to be one of any kind of list that is the bottom and that day it was Kane. I know, I know, I’ll catch a lot of flack from hop heads, especially the folks who hang out in the Beer Advocate Forums. Despite about 10 or 12 beers on tap, the variety was quite limited, a lager and a blonde were on the list, but the great majority of what was on tap was either an IPA or a Pale Ale of some sort. I was very disappointed that no stouts or porters were on tap considering it was November, prime season for dark, roasty, malty ales. Put it this way, if I enjoyed IPAs half as much as I enjoy stouts, then chances are Kane would have been my favorite stop of the day. At the time we visited Kane, I still had a strong aversion to IPAs. Despite that, I couldn’t deny what a good beer their flagship beer, Head High is.

The tap room; however, was really impressive. With barrels stacked high, the room felt very busy (in a good way) and I got a sense that a lot of people knew each other. Very much a feel of a lot of “regulars” sharing some good time over highly-hopped Ales. I’d like to visit them again, although this time I’ll take a peek at beermenus to make sure the list isn’t just high-hopped ales. Then again, since I’ve come appreciate IPAs a little more over the past few months, I might find more to enjoy from their tap list on any given visit.

Beach Haus Flight: Herb’s Rye, Station 2 Station, Toast (Black IPA), Pumptoberfest

Next up was Beach Haus Brewery in Belmar, NJ which is only about 4 miles away from Kane. What I liked best about Beach Haus was the overall variety of styles available for sampling and consumption. Beach Haus has been bottling their beers and distributing them in New Jersey for quite a few years and I recall trying a couple of their beers at Garden State Brewfests in the past, but what I had last year was all new to me. I really enjoyed Herb’s Rye which is a Pale Wheat Ale that reminded me a bit of Samuel Adam’s Summer Ale. The Black IPA they call Toast was interesting, Pumptoberfest, an Oktoberfest with Pumpkin spices, was a tasty fall beer and the Station 2 Station Porter was a roasty porter. The tap-room was wide open and felt like a great place to hang out. A similar set up to the second floor of Lone Eagle. You could say the brewing approach seem similar, too. A good bunch of styles with a focus on pleasing a wade variety of palettes rather than focusing the majority of their brewing on only one style.

The final brewery was the best of the day and the brewery I had on the top of my to-visit list: Carton Brewing in Atlantic Highlands. Everything about Carton put it at the top of the list that day. The tour, the gregarious tour guide, and the wonderful ambiance of the welcoming tap room which felt like the attic of a friend’s house, set the foundation for a great experience. What about the beers? They were, of course, delicious and interesting.

As part of the tour, you pay six bucks for a few tokens, which you exchange for a 4 oz taster. This works out to about $0.83 per taste and every tour includes a taste of their flagship beer, Boat, essentially a session IPA that is often ranked as one of the best beers in NJ. In addition to Boat, I had Unjunct, a wonderful stout which was so good I walked out with a 4-pack of pint cans. Although I’ve had the beer previously, I couldn’t pass up Carton of Milk, a superb Milk Stout. Next up was To Wong Brew, Thanks for Everything! Julie Brewmar! an “American Wild Ale” that was a damned interesting stout/sour hybrid. I also had The Wit Whale, a Witbier with more hops than most Witbiers. I rounded out the samples with one of the famous “O-Dub” variants, 077-7006 Sorachi Ace. I really need to get down to Carton again.

So, a couple of breweries I’d gladly visit again one and one I go to with some regularity since it is so close.