Draught Diversions: Four Pack Favorite Breweries 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…

As a companion piece to my 12-pack of favorite beers of 2018, here’s a four pack of favorite breweries for 2018. Some of these I visited, others I’ve had many beers from over the year, and a couple are relative “rediscoveries.” Going alphabetical this time around.

Bell’s Brewery
Total “new to me” Bells’ beers checked in on untappd in 2018: 9

I’ve written quite a bit about Bells over the last year and shortly after I featured Bells on my wishlist of breweries for NJ, it was announced that Bells struck a deal to begin distributing into NJ. I suspect that was a deal years in the making, but I’ll just say it didn’t actually happen until after I published that wishlist post. Just sayin’. I reviewed one of their beers as a welcome to NJ and had 9 beers altogether from Bell’s in 2019. Granted, I had Oberon Ale in 2017  which is a standout summer/warm weather beer. The most well known and beloved beer in their portfolio is probably Two Hearted which I had at an airport in Houston in January. Other standouts being Double Cream Stout and Poolside. Each beer has been quite good and I expect I’ll be buying more of their beer in the future. I’m really looking forward to Hopslam, which should be hitting NJ shelves a week or two after this post publishes.

 

Conclave Brewing
Total “new to me” Conclave beers checked in on untappd in 2018: 9

Probably the least surprising thing to a appear on this blog is me stating that Conclave is a favorite brewery, they are indeed my favorite New Jersey brewery. Everything I have from this brewery is outstanding, with nothing less than 3.75 rating, and most over 4.25. Their best beer, Process Pils made my best of 2018 list earlier in the week, while Grey Havens was probably the best use of Vanilla I’ve had in a beer outside of Dogfish Head’s Oak Aged Vanilla World Wide Stout. Conclave continues to brew what many in NJ rank among the best IPAs in the state. Other 2018 standouts for me include Intuitive Function IPA, Moon Door IPA and new twist on their spicy stout, Mexican Evening.

Dogfish Head Craft Brewery
Total “new to me” Dogfish Head beers checked in on untappd in 2018: 13

One of the classic American Craft breweries I wrote about last year and one that would probably be on the Mount Rushmore of American Independent/Craft Breweries. Considering much of their output aligns on the IPA side of the beer style chart and I’ve come to not just drink but seek out and enjoy IPAs over the past year, my appreciation for the wizardry of Sam Calagione has only grown. Everything I had from Dogfish Head in 2018 was excellent, including a new summer go-to SeaQuench which I had for the first time this year. Other standouts are Burton Baton, Fruit-Full Fort, and 75 Minute IPA. I’m really looking forward to what they’ll be brewing and selling in 2019 especially Raison D’Extra.

Tröegs Independent Brewing
Total “new to me” Tröegs beers checked in to untappd in 2018: 10

Continuing to appreciate the classics of American Craft brewing with the brewery I’d probably consider my favorite of 2018, in terms of the quality of the beers I had over the range of styles I had. I’d say a beer from Tröegs made it to one of my monthly six packs more frequently than any other brewery. Earlier in the week, I anointed Bourbon Barrel-Aged Troegenator my favorite new to me beer of 2018, but outside of that beer, many of those “new to me beers” all were superb like the Chocolate Stout which (as of now) is an exclusive to their Most Wonderful Beer Of The Year Sampler. Other standouts are First Cut IPA, Nimble Giant, and Blizzard of Hops.

Image courtesy of MyBeerBuzz

Some additional stats, via untappd’s Year in Beer if you feel inclined…

373 Unique Beers
155 different breweries
101 distinct styles

Top 5 Most Checked in beers (I usually don’t check in the same beer multiple times unless I’m having it at multiple locations or I really really like it):

  • Two Hearted Ale (Bell’s Brewery) – 5
  • This Town (Carton Brewing) – 4
  • Centennial IPA (Founders Brewing) – 3
  • Pale Ale (Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.) – 3
  • Wobbly Cow Coffee Milk Stout (Flying Fish Brewing Co) – 3

Top 5 Most Checked in beer styles:

  • IPA – American – 52
  • Pale Ale – American – 24
  • IPA – Imperial / Double– 19
  • Stout – Milk / Sweet – 12
  • Saison / Farmhouse Ale – 11 (This surprised me the most)

Top 5 Most Checked in breweries:

  • Carton Brewing – 23
  • Dogfish Head Craft Brewery – 27
  • Lone Eagle Brewing– 16
  • Bell’s Brewery – 14
  • Tröegs Independent Brewing – 12

459 Badges Earned

Draught Diversions: December 2018 Six Pack

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

December 2018 was pretty heavy on the NJ Beers and Holiday/Christmas beers. Even if all the beers on today’s post aren’t NJ beers, much of what I bought and consumed in December was from a New Jersey brewery.  There were a couple of duds during the month, too but more good than bad. The good thing about bad beer? It helps you to appreciate the really good beers even more!

Christmas Ale (Bell’s Brewery) Scotch Ale / Wee Heavy – 4 bottle Caps on untappd

I nearly included this beer on one of my Christmas recommendation lists, but I liked it so much I wanted to highlight the beer here. Scotch Ales aren’t the most prevalent style, but damn if it doesn’t work well as a Christmas/Winter season. The big malts and sweetness are good accompaniments to what could be a sumptuous holiday meal or just an enjoyable beer on its own.

Big Cabin Coffee (2nd Act Beer) Bock – Maibock/Heller (Helles) 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

2nd Act is a relatively new brewery in NJ, I think they only got their start in 2017 or 2018. I haven’t seen anything from them in bottles or cans, but I’ve seen their beers popping up on taps (via untappd and beermenus), with this beer in particular being the most frequent. I like bocks quite a bit and coffee beers, too. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a bock with coffee as part of the flavor profile but damn does it work really nicely. You get the malty/sweet caramelly flavors of the bock with a really nice hit of coffee on the finish. This beer was a very nice surprise.

Grey Havens Porter – Imperial / Double (Conclave Brewing) – 4.50 bottle Caps on untappd

Conclave makes it impossible for me to use anything but superlatives when describing their beers. Every style they approach and brew is at worst, good and most often outstanding. This imperial porter is simply elegant. Vanilla is a flavor component I like, but I’ve come to realize some breweries employ far too often across their beers and for too much in each single beer. This porter has the perfect amount of vanilla and makes for a smooth, delightful beer consumption experience – porter roastiness at the start with a sweet, subtle vanilla finish. Also a really cool name that references The Lord of the Rings.

Naughty 2018 Stout – Imperial Milk / Sweet (Cypress Brewing Company) 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

A milk stout that has Krampus on the can? A milk stout that has a very similar profile to one of my favorite beers (Conclave’s Mexican Morning)? I knew I had to give this one a try and I am VERY glad I did. This is a (pardon my French) fucking huge beer: 13% ABV with a plethora of adjuncts so the $15/4pack price for a fairly limited production beer isn’t tough to swallow. Thankfully, the beer itself is easy to swallow, too. The chocolate, vanilla, coffee, cinnamon, and Jersey Chili peppers come together so well that the beer smoothly changes flavor profiles as you’re drinking it. I took an hour to drink the 16oz can and I can’t imagine taking any less time to consume it. This might be my favorite Christmas beer of 2018.

Rye Pale Ale (Vault Brewing Company) Pale Ale – American 4.25 bottle caps on untappd

I’ve been hearing good things about Vault, seeing friends check into beers from Vault recently, and the consensus is that the beers are good. Judging from the malty, rye pale ale, I agree. As I mentioned in my overview of Village Idiot, I’ve come to enjoy Rye Beers a great deal. Somebody brought this to the family’s Christmas Eve celebration and even though it wasn’t completely chilled down when I poured the beer, it was still very tasty. I loved the way the rye malt and hops intermingled for a clean tasting beer. This is a more traditional take on the pale ale, it is more amber in color and not hazy at all. More please.

11 Pipers Piping (The Bruery) Scotch Ale / Wee Heavy –4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

A bomber at 11% ABV is one to take your time drinking by yourself. Good thing I had an excellent novel I was reading (and finished) while enjoying the beer.

I’ve enjoyed every beer in The Bruery’s “12 Days of Christmas” and this one is no exception. This is big and boozy and is well worth enjoying over the course of an hour, if you’re enjoying by yourself, because the flavors really do come alive once the beer warms up a bit. There’s a very prominent lingering flavor of coriander, too. I expect that in a Belgian Wit, not as much in a Scotch Ale. But The Bruery seems to specialize in mashing up flavor profiles and from my experience, including this beer, they do it quite well. That makes two Christmas themed Scotch Ales on this month’s list.

There were quite a lot of standouts this month, so there isn’t a real dud I want to call out above in great detail. I will say that I was very disappointed in Ommegang’s King of the North, the last of the four “Royal Reserve” Game of Thrones beers. This is a Russian Imperial Stout that is just short of a few things that I like in RISs, which made for an overall disappointment. I’ll just say that I think Ommegang’s strongest beers are those that hew much closer to their Belgian roots. I have to also admit major disappointment with Founders’ Canadian Breakfast Stout, I don’t know if it was the maple flavor taking over the beer, or the beer going bad, but something about it gave off an almost sour tang. The most disappointing beer of the year for me, as it turned out especially given the hype and price. Make mine Curmudgeon’s Better Half any day.

Draught Diversions: October 2018 Six Pack

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Purple Beer is cool…and this one was very tasty

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

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

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

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

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

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

Draught Diversions: September 2018 Six Pack

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

September should be the start of cooler weather, with stouts on the horizon. September is most definitely the start of Oktoberfest and this month’s post features one prominently. For the September 2018 Six Pack, three New Jersey beers are featured.

I found myself going for more NJ beers this past month in general. For the first time in a couple of months, one beer really disappointed me.

Always Ready (Cape May Brewing Company) Pale Ale – American – 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

I continue to be impressed with the output from Cape May Brewing Company. I’d seen a few posts about this beer on untappd, Twitter, and Instagram and was intrigued especially when I learned Always Ready was brewed in honor of the United States Coast Guard as Cape May has been home to the USCG’s sole training center since 1982. CMBC offers a $1 discount off pints for active-duty and retired USCG members, year-round. As it so happens, Myke Cole is one of my favorite authors and one of the best human beings I have the privilege of knowing. Among the many things Myke has done was serving in the USCG. I toast this beer to Myke and recommend you all get and read his books. Click on his profile and that shall lead you to some great, powerful fiction to read while enjoying an Always Ready, or any time for that matter. (Gemini Cell might be his best, IMHO).

Here There Be Monsters IPA – American (Demented Brewing Company) – 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

It has been far too long since I had a beer from Twin Elephant and this juicy IPA just about made up for it. They’ve brewed this beer in the past, but decided to can it with some gorgeous can art. The beer inside, which evokes those juicy citrus and tropical notes that so many IPAs do nowadays, lives up to the dark and lovely can art. Bottom line: a great IPA from a relatively young brewery with a reputation for brewing great hop-forward ales.

30th Anniversary Imperial Oyster Stout (Great Lakes Brewing Company) Stout – Oyster 3 bottle Caps on untappd

This one is disheartening because nearly every other beer I’ve had from Great Lakes Brewing has been very good. More to the point, I liked them all and consider a few of their beers classics, so I was happy to see a nice big stout as their anniversary beer. You might think oysters in a stout would be bad, but they can be an interesting adjunct (as in Flying Fish’s Exit 1 Bayshore Stout). Unfortunately, this one didn’t work too well for me and I could barely finish it, there was a very strange aftertaste I found displeasing.

Marzen German Style Lager Märzen (Lone Eagle Brewing) – 3.75 bottle Caps on untappd

I had the beer on draught, but Lone Eagle was selling it in 4packs of 16oz cans.

I has been a few months since I last visited Lone Eagle for board game night, but as it so happened, the night I went was shortly after their Oktoberfest debuted. I enjoyed last year’s batch a great deal and this year’s was almost as good. A really tasty, straightforward lager that does exactly what an Oktoberfest lager should.

Bourbon Barrel Aged Troegenator Dopplebock (Tröegs Independent Brewing) 4.75 bottle Caps on untappd

I’ve been wanting to try this bee for a few years now and I was never able to find it near me, but this year I saw it my local bottle shop. I figured this was a great beer to share with my dad for his birthday and he liked it just about as much as I did. The base beer, Troegenator is a classic and probably the most readily available doppelbock on the East Coast of the US. The Trogner brothers took a great beer and leveled it up considerably. What makes this beer so special is how the barrel aging doesn’t sacrifice any of the bock character of the beer. Some of the characteristics are enhanced – the sweetness (but not too much), the caramel hints, and the maltiness. The aroma is inviting and the beer is nearly perfect. This is one of the five or ten best beers I’ve ever had, probably.

Special Double Cream Stout (Bell’s Brewery) Stout – American 4.25 bottle caps on untappd

I continue to be extremely pleased Bell’s is now distributing their delicious beers into New Jersey. There isn’t anything flashy about this stout – no adjuncts, no flavor additives like coffee or barrel aging. Nope, just 10 malts that beautifully evoke notes of coffee and chocolate, for a sweet stout that is pure delicousness.

So, September is in the book and October is here. Will I dive into some pumpkin beers in October? Only time will tell.

Draught Diversions: Oktoberfest 2018 Six Pack

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

The longest, largest, and lager-est beer holiday is nearly upon us. Of course, I am referencing Oktoberfest – the time of year when German beers and German inspired beers are celebrated. Well, when they should be celebrated since some Oktoberfest beers begin hitting shelves late July and August. There are many, many, interpretations of the style from which to choose as nearly every brewery seeks to capitalize on the season and take the chance to brew a lager. Since we’re about a week and a couple of days away from the official start of Oktobefest (September 22, 2018), what better time to highlight a few I may try this year.

The Kaiser Avery Brewing (Newport, OR)

Image courtesy of Avery Brewing’s Web site

How do I *not* at least mention an Oktoberfest named The Kaiser? Avery, like many Colorado breweries, has a tendency to lean into Ales, particularly hopped up ales. Much of what they brew can be considered over the top so of course they push the limit on the Oktoberfest beer by brewing an “Imperial” Oktoberfest with nearly double the ABV.

What Avery says about the beer:

Just in time for fall and its most notable Fest, this limited release Imperial Oktoberfest Lager is our emboldened Prost! to one of the world’s most recognized styles. The Kaiser weaves together rich, toasted Vienna and Munich malts with the floral spiciness of Hersbrucker and Bravo hops to create a bold and brazen dry Imperial Oktoberfest.

Octoberfest Beer – Bell’s Brewing Company (Comstock, MI)

Image courtesy of Bell’s Brewing’s Web site

With Bell’s hitting NJ earlier in the year coupled with how much I’ve enjoyed the half-dozen beers I’ve had from them, I do want to give their Märzen a try. Everything I’ve had from them has fallen into the Ale half of the brewing divide so I’d like to see what they can do with a Lager.

Bell’s says this about the beer:

Crafted as a flavorful session beer and perfect for autumn, Octoberfest spends a full six weeks fermenting.

With herbal hop aromas, this balanced amber lager focuses on lightly toasted malt that lends body without too much sweetness. Perfect for a week-long wedding celebration in Germany or the start of the Michigan autumn.

Oktoberfest – Cigar City Brewing (Tampa, FL)

Image courtesy of Cigar City Brewing’s Web site

Cigar City made a decent splash when they first started distributing in NJ a couple of years ago, especially with their highly acclaimed Jai Alai IPA. Skimming through untappd, this one seems to connect correctly with folks looking for a quality Oktoberfest. That said, there is a bit of a contradiction for a brewery based in a state with temperatures averaging 80 degrees brewing a beer primarily associated with cooler autumn weather.

What Cigar City Says about the beer:

In Florida the changing of seasons is decidedly more subtle than in most other places. Palm fronds rarely turn brilliant red and orange the way leaves do in the rest of the country, and for Floridians sweaters exist only as rumor. We at Cigar City rely heavily on our seasonal beers to mark the passing of each month and few beers are better at heralding the arrival of autumn than our Oktoberfest Lager.

Our Festbier nods firmly toward the style’s history with it’s amber color, bready malt complexity and restrained hop flavor and bitterness. At the heart of this beer is a malt bill of six different German malt varieties, including a generous helping of Munich malt. After adding Hallertauer Mittlefruh hops we ferment the beer with an authentic Bavarian lager yeast, resulting in a clean, dry and complex lager that’s at once intriguing and drinkable.

Oktoberfest (Marzen Style) – (Hackettstown, NJ )

Image courtesy of Jersey Girl’s Facebook page

I had to include at least one NJ brewery in this post since quite a few around me brew a version of the style. Of the half-dozen beers I’ve had from Jersey Girl, I’ve really enjoyed them all. I like that these are 16oz cans, as is all of Jersey Girl’s canned beer. Also, I’m not going to lie, I really like the label on this one.

What Jersey Girl says about the beer:

With an ABV of 5.9%, it’s a delicious Copper Hued Märzen. Oktoberfest started as a festival where the citizens of Munich were invited to attend the festivities held on the fields in front of the city gates to celebrate the royal wedding of King Ludwig I and Princess Therese. In honor of this celebration we have brewed a medium bodied, Copper Hued lager.

Oktoberfest – Lakefront Brewery (Milwaukee, WI)

Image courtesy of Lakefront Brewery’s Web site

I’ve seen good things about Lakefront’s interpretation of the style (3.90 bottle caps on untappd) and I’ve had a handful of pretty good brews from the Milwaukee regional brewery. I don’t see their beers everywhere near me, but in enough of the liquor stores in my travel radius that snagging some shouldn’t be a problem. At the least, maybe I’ll throw a mix-six pack together at Wegmans and try to grab this one.

What Lakefront says about the beer:

The radiant copper-orange hue and rocky, off-white head of our traditional Märzen-style lager comes from generous amounts of Munich malt. Caramel malt aromas complement the German lager yeast’s slightly floral aroma. Mt. Hood hops balance the substantial malt body, while the lager yeast adds a subtlety to the flavor, making this a great rendition of a classic German lager. Prost!

Oktoberfest – von Trapp Brewing (Stowe, VT)

Image courtesy of von Trapp Brewing’s Web site

From one of the most Germanic of all breweries in America, von Trapp’s Oktoberfest one I’d like to try. I’ve enjoyed their Bock and their Helles Lager quite a bit, so I’m interested in tasting their take on the iconic style.

What von Trapp says about the beer:

The Bronze Medalist at the Great International Beer Festival and Attitash Oktoberfest “Best Brew Award” in both 2015 and 2016.

Oktoberfest is brewed with a blend of light and dark Munich Malts, which not only adds to its depth but delivers a residual sweetness. Carmel and toffee notes linger but are balanced by the subtle hops additions in this beer. We use hallertau and Tettnang hops which adds a floral yet peppery aroma to this beer. It’s our take on this traditional fest beer.

So there it is, my 2018 Oktoberfest Six Pack. I hope to try at least one or two of these over the next few weeks. Perhaps as you head into the coming weekend and prepare for next weekend’s (09/22/18) official start to Oktoberfest 2018, you’ll give one of these a try.

Draught Diversions: June 2018 Six Pack

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

June…the start of summer and the prevalence of lighter, more “crushable beers. Light lagers, Helles Lagers, Pilsners, Shandys/Radlers, Wheat bears, maybe some beers with a fruit component. All beers to enjoy by the pool, outside lounging about, or just after finishing yard work.

June’s beers included quite a few of these, but probably the least number of New Jersey beers in a month since I started this blog. Of course I did manage to squeeze in one (in addition to visiting Fort Nonsense the first Saturday in June).

UFO Pink Lemonade Shandy (Harpoon Brewery) Shandy / Radler – 2.50 bottle Caps on untappd

Not a good start to June with this one

Harpoon is one of the great American Craft breweries and I’ve enjoyed many beers in their portfolio over the years. A couple of years back, they spun off their UFO beers into a separate line, almost like Stone did with Arrogant Bastard. I’ve liked the core UFO beers (Hefeweizen, White, and Raspberry), but this one is definitely not for me. I’m not a fan of Pink Lemonade in general and mixed in with beer, I like it even less. This beer is one reason the mixed six pack is great, I didn’t have to get a full six pack just to try this beer.

Firestone Lager (Firestone Walker Brewing Company) Lager – Helles – 3.75 bottle Caps on untappd

I was very pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this one.

Firestone Walker is jumping on the bandwagon of Light Craft Lagers, or rather the bandwagon is catching up with them. This is a beer the brewery produced many years ago, but only recently with the craft market wanting the light lagers, has this beer been released on a larger level. I’ve really come to enjoy Helles Lagers over the past year and this is a really nice example of the style: refreshing, delicious, crushable, and perfect for cooler filling. (I also had their flagship IPA Union Jack for the first time this month and loved it.)

Nimble Giant (Tröegs Brewing) IPA – Imperial / Double 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

Tröegs seems to make an appearance here regularly and this is their big, once-per-year double IPA release. A year ago, I would have avoided this one. This is a fantastic IPA with citrus notes and a little piney-ness. The hop level is high, but it isn’t all that bitter. A bright, potent IPA that is another must have from Tröegs.

Pooltime Ale Pale Wheat Ale (Bell’s Brewery) – 4 bottle Caps on untappd

I may get slack for saying this, but I think I enjoy Pooltime more than Oberon

I’ve been quite excited about Bell’s entry into NJ distribution. Two-Hearted (IPA) is a Great American beer, but this sweet wheat ale is slightly under the radar. Pooltime Ale is *almost* a Witbier with some of the Belgian notes, but not quite. The additional of “Michigan Cherries” to the base beer make for a supremely refreshing all that is perfect for what it says it is right on the can – a pooltime (or poolside) summer ale. This is a new summer favorite for me.

Kölsch (Sierra Nevada Brewing) – 3.75 bottle Caps on untappd

Always nice to see a selection of Sierra Nevada beers when you arrive at a party

Sierra Nevada needs no introduction to the craft beer world. In addition to their iconic Pale Ale, Sierra distributes variety seasonal 12 packs and this spring/summer, one of the beers included is a relabeled classic from their line-up: a Kölsch. Kölsch ales are German-style ales that are light and easy drinking. In other words, perfect for warm weather. I enjoyed the heck out of this beer and could see grabbing a six for the cooler I keep by my pool.

Dune Fruit (Carton Brewing Company) Berliner Weisse 3.75 bottle Caps on untappd

I had this on draft, but the beer is available in NJ stores in cans

June seems to be all about Berliner Weisses here at the Tap Takeover, but damn are they great ales for warm weather. Augie Carton and his cadre of brewers delivered a very tasty one in this take on the classic German style. The fruit is fairly subtle compared to some other Berliner Weisses I’ve had, but pears don’t quite explode with flavors the way raspberries do, for example. This one hit the spot perfectly.

Honorable mention to an annual Summer Favorite: Sierra Nevada Summerfest. This is Sierra’s take on the Czech pilsner and is always a welcome beer in the summer.

Beer Review: Bell’s Amber Ale

Name: Amber Ale
Brewing Company: Bell’s Brewery
Location: Comstock, MI
Style: Red Ale – American Amber / Red
Style: 5.8%

From the beer’s description on Bell’s Brewery landing page for the beer:

The beer that helped build our brewery; Bell’s Amber Ale features both toasted and sweet caramel notes from carefully selected malts, balanced with herbal and citrus hop aromas. Capped by a clean bitterness, it’s incredibly versatile with food, but very tasty on its own.

Bell’s Brewery, Michigan’s largest independent Craft Brewery, has finally arrived in New Jersey and many of the State’s residents (including myself) are quite excited. Their Two Hearted IPA, which I tried and loved earlier in the year, is rightfully one of the most renowned IPAs in the country. I reviewed Oberon Ale last year, so I decided to celebrate Bell’s arrival with a second review of one of their beers and went with the beer they peg as their foundational ale Amber Ale

Amber Ales are one of those staple styles that don’t get much attention especially compared the hottest DDH IPA or Barrel Aged Stout, but seem to be part of almost every brewery’s profile. Hell, two of the most widely available craft beers in the country are New Belgium’s Fat Tire (Amber Ale) and Yuengling’s Lager (an Amber Lager). Often not quite as hoppy as an IPA, but with a similar, though less aggressive hop profile, Amber Ales are good everyday ales and perfect starter, approachable or “entry” ales for folks looking for more flavorful than the  “Adjunct Lagers” produced by Big Beer. Bell’s Amber Ale fits that bill perfectly.

Not too much of a distinctive aroma rises from the beer poured into the glass. The color is indeed Amber and if I were to guess what the beer is without knowing, I’d probably guess one of the two beers I mentioned in the first paragraph – Yuengling Lager or New Belgium Fat Tire.

The beer tastes…really good. There’s nothing flashy about the beer, but that’s fine. There are pleasing hop notes with a very nice level of maltiness to give the beer some substance. Between the roast and the malt, there’s a bit of caramel to the taste, too. The ale is very drinkable, relatively thirst-quenching and just overall, what you’d want in a flavorful beer.

I had a second bottle a couple of nights later and I liked it even more. I’ll admit that I was anxious to try a beer from Bell’s I hadn’t previously tasted and probably didn’t let the six pack sit in the fridge long enough. The beer is approachable enough that it will complement most meals and not overpower what you’re eating the way big, roasty stout might or a hoppy double IPA could. For me, this is a great beer to have with your pizza and for me that means having the beer available in my fridge very regularly since I have pizza every Friday night.

If you want to bring something to a party where many people with mixed tastes will be attending, Bell’s Amber Ale would be perfect – an ale that strikes a great balance for those who are wary of “Craft Beer” and those like myself who appreciate flavorful Craft beer from Independent Breweries.

Recommended, link to Untappd 3.75-star rating.