Draught Diversions: Fantasy, Science Fiction, Horror 6-pack

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

As I have mentioned many times, I’m a big science fiction, fantasy, and horror fan. After all, writing about those genres led me to writing about beer. There’s a pretty big overlap between craft beer fans and SF, Fantasy, and Horror geeks, especially in my untappd friends list. In today’s “Six Pack,” I’m looking at six beers with a science fiction, fantasy, or horror theme. Some may be familiar, some may not. I’m highlighting three beers I’ve had/enjoyed and three beers I haven’t yet and hope to try some day.

Brief preface: Don’t expect any of the Game of Thrones beers in this post, I wrote up a post completely dedicated to those fine brews from Brewery Ommegang last year as well as a review of the last 2017 release in the series, Winter is Here. There are enough beers out there to make more than a six pack, but I’ll start with the following six beers. As I usually do, I’ll order them alphabetically by brewery.

Oberon Ale Pale Wheat Ale Bell’s Brewery (Comstock, MI)

Oberon is the King of the Fairies, so of course there’s a fantastical element to this beer. The beer is also a damned fine brew, as I extolled its delicious virtues in one of my early reviews here on the Tap Takeover. In a Google search for “Oberon,” the Wikipedia entry is the first result and this beer is the second result, which shows how popular/well known the beer is. I am extremely excited that Bell’s beer will finally be distributed into NJ in the near future as this will be my new summer go-to beer (especially since Yuengling ceased production on their Summer Wheat). I just hope distribution hits NJ in time for me to fill up my cooler with a case of this for my big Fourth of July party.

Oberon is a wheat ale fermented with our signature house ale yeast, mixing a spicy hop character with mildly fruity aromas. The addition of wheat malt lends a smooth mouthfeel, making it a classic summer beer. Made with only 4 ingredients, and without the use of any spices or fruit, Oberon is the color and scent of sunny afternoon.”

Blaecorn Unidragon Russian Imperial Stout – Clown Shoes Brewing Company (Ipswich, MA)

Clown Shoes has some of the more interesting label art, including this beer, a delicious Russian Imperial Stout I had on tap over three years ago. What I recall most strongly about the beer is how smooth the beer was, especially for a Russian Imperial with 75 IBU. I haven’t seen it since, but would pick up the beer if I saw a bottle of it. When one fantastical creature isn’t enough, Clown Shoes mashed up two of the most well-known for this big beast of a beer.

“Brewed with a monstrous amount of malt and combined with aggressive American hops, this beer is powerful and complex and designed to age. Smokiness is subtle but present and blends nicely with the rich, dark flavors.”

Kujo Imperial Coffee Stout – Flying Dog Brewing Company (Frederick, MD)

The spelling on this one may be tricky, substituting a “K” for the “C” but most folks know the big rabid Saint Bernard from Stephen King’s early novel and the movie. I’m assuming the letter change is so the brewery doesn’t get sued, but you’d have to figure a brewery with “dog” in its name might eventually call a beer they brew Cujo… or Kujo. Like the dog, this is a fairly big beer clocking in at 8.9%ABV pushing it to “Imperial” Stout status.

I had this one on draft a couple of years ago at what was then a World of Beer bar in New Brunswick, NJ. I recall enjoying the beer thoroughly and that the coffee was present, but not overpowering and balanced by a hit of sweetness.

“Kujo is the savage spawn of two brewing worlds – coffee and beer – colliding. But in that collision, there’s a balance between rich and roasted stout characteristics and the deep, dark coffee notes. The result is an 8.9% ABV brew made with locally-roasted coffee from Black Dog Coffee out of Summit Point, West Virginia.”

Innsmouth Old Ale – Narragansett Brewing Company (Pawtucket, RI)

Based out of Rhode Island, Narragansett is one of the historical northeast brewing companies, founded in 1890. H.P. Lovecraft is arguably the most famous writer from Rhode Island, born in 1890. Naturally, Narragansett has a whole line of H.P. Lovecraft inspired brews, including the Lovecraft Honey Ale which I had a few years ago and enjoyed. I really enjoyed Founders’ Old Curmudgeon and the Innsmouth Old Ale is the same style so I’m hoping I can find this one near me. Hell, I’d love to try all the Lovecraft Ales.

“Chapter 2 in the Lovecraft Series draws its inspiration from “The Shadow Over Innsmouth,” one of our favorite Lovecraft stories which chronicles one man’s ominous visit to the fictional sea town of Innsmouth, Massachusetts. The dark, malty Innsmouth Olde Ale represents the shadow that hangs over the blighted town of Innsmouth and its strange inhabitants that spawn from the “Deep Ones.”

The Innsmouth Olde Ale draws its balanced, robust, and slightly toasted features from a complex blend of Two-Row Pale, Crystal, Cara, Dark Munich, and Chocolate malts, Chocolate rye and finishes with just a touch of Summer and East Kent Goldings hops.

Quality Supreme: Brewed in collaboration with Sean Larkin, Head Brewmaster for Narragansett and owner of Revival Brewing, Innsmouth Olde Ale is made with a complex blend of malts and rye followed by just a touch of hops, producing a bold yet balanced English-style Olde Ale. The Innsmouth Olde Ale won both the Gold Medal at the Tastings World Beer Championships and a Silver Medal at the Great American Beer Festival!”

Imperial Stout Trooper – New England Brewing Company (Woodbridge, CT)

What would a list like this be without some kind of Star Wars beer? Local NJ/Gypsy brewer Bolero Snort has some homages to Star Wars (or their Steer Wars line of brews including Bullennium Falcon which I recently enjoyed), but those are of limited availability. This stout from the New England Brewing Company has been around for a few years. Lucasfilm actually forced the brewery to change the label a bit to include the jokey sunglasses on the helmet. I enjoy Imperial Stouts so I’ll be on the hunt for this beer.

“Nearly a dozen types of malts and grains go into this FORCE-full, American Imperial Stout. Hints of coffee, tastes of dark fruit, and a subtle chocolate background make this Stout the perfect brew to welcome the Winter months. Brewed solely during the onset of the colder months, this one-time-a-year release will make you come over to the dark side… of beer.”

Klingon Imperial Porter – Shmaltz Brewing Company (Clifton Park, NY)

I knew when I was thinking of this post I would definitely include one of the Star Trek beers from iconic NY craft brewery Shmaltz Brewing. There are about a six-pack’s worth of Star Trek beers already from Shmaltz, but this one stood out for two reasons. (1) Porters are one of my favorite styles and (2) most of the other Trek beers leaned on the Golden Ale/Pale Ale end of the spectrum. I saw this beer in a few places over the past few years and now I’m kicking myself for not grabbing a 4-pack.

“Raise a goblet of Klingon Imperial Porter to the strongest warriors in the Galaxy. Discover the ruby undertones that pay homage to Klingon Bloodwine and fallen warriors who hold honor above life. “There is no honor in attacking the weak,” so take pleasure in besieging this 7.3% ABV Imperial Porter. But like this mighty elixir, Klingons also have a sweet side: Witness the wedding ritual where the gods forge two hearts so strong that once joined together cannot be opposed. (Just ignore the part of the ceremony where the groom swings his bat’leth at the bride!) A Klingon proverb states: “Death is an experience best shared,” and so is the first Star Trek limited release of 2017. Qapla’!”

Draught Diversions: A Wishlist 6-pack for New Jersey

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 week, the Brewer’s Association released two lists:
Top 50 Craft Brewing Companies
Top 50 Overall Brewing Companies

There is, of course, some overlap on the two lists as the Association’s definition of Craft Beer/Craft Brewery allows for such overlap. For example, much as I enjoy a Yuengling Summer Wheat, I don’t know that I (or many hop-heads like myself) would consider Yuengling a craft brewery in the same way (for example) Allagash or Treehouse are craft breweries. Be that as it may, it got me thinking. There are quite a few breweries on the Top 50 Craft list who brew a significant amount of beer and who don’t (yet) distribute into NJ. As a result, I’ve come up with a brief, relatively plausible, “wish list” of breweries whose beers I’d love to see on shelves in NJ bottle shops and liquor stores. Also, just to clarify, not all of my wish list breweries are on this list.

Like some of my past features, I’ll do this as a 6-pack. I could probably make a “case” (or 24) breweries I’d like to see distribute their beers into NJ, but for now, I’ll go with 6. These are breweries with some combination of iconic beers, beers I see friends from outside NJ checking into untappd, a brewery whose beers I had by chance, plus one brewery I visited many, many years ago. I’m not including smaller breweries like the Alchemist and Treehouse who largely sell their beers only at the brewery or within the state where they are located.

As with most of these types of posts, I’ll go alphabetical.

August Schell Brewing Co in New Ulm, MN

Images courtesy of Schell’s Web site

When the opening statement on the main website is “We are German Craft Beer” how could I not want their beers available to me? From what I’ve gathered (Hi Joe!), their Hefeweizen is extremely well-regarded. My favorite style, especially in summer months, isn’t the most popular of craft beer styles, so it would be nice to have a solid go-to of the style available consistently. Much as I love the German brewers traditional Hefeweizens I do enjoy a well-constructed homage to the style, too.

Bell’s Brewery in Comstock, MI

Images courtesy of Bell’s Web site

I’ve had two beers from the great, renowned Michigan craft brewery and loved them both. If they were both available here in NJ, I’d have them in my refrigerator regularly, especially Oberon Ale in the summer. I was lucky enough to get a couple bottles of Oberon’s Ale last year in a bottle trade with a former co-worker.

When I had Two Hearted Ale for the first time, it blew me away. I couldn’t believe how much I enjoyed the IPA. The other brews from Bells can be found here, those in the image above I cobbled from the beer images on Bell’s Web site look especially appealing to me.

I’m fairly close to the Pennsylvania border (about 30 minutes away) do I can probably grab some of their beer if I cross the Delaware river, but it sure would be nice to be able to go to my local Gary’s and grab a 12 pack of Oberon’s Ale in the summer.

Deschutes Brewery (Bend, OR)

Images courtesy of Deschutes’ Web site

Deschutes is one of the early American Craft Beer pioneers, founded in 1998 in Oregon, a state renowned for craft beer. Their flagship beer is one that is squarely in my wheelhouse: Black Butte Porter. Deschutes is also near the top of American Craft Breweries (#10 on the list of 50) so they are quite large and the possibility for their appealing brews appearing on NJ shelves is quite plausible. Especially since they are building an East Coast production facility in Virginia with beers set to roll out in 2021. I think I just need to be patient for these beers.

Peak Organic Brewing (Portland, ME)

Photo courtesy Peak Organic Brewing’s Facebook page

I’ve written about this brewery twice already and both times I lamented the fact that they don’t distribute into New Jersey. I’m not sure how a can of their Happy Hour snuck into Wegmans, though I suspect that may have something to do with Wegman’s being based in New York.

Having enjoyed three of their beers a great deal, I’d really love to try more of their lineup, including a Ginger Saison, Sweet Tart Blueberry Sour Ale, Super Fresh Pilsner, and a Maple Porter.

Pike Brewing (Seattle, WA)

Image courtesy of Pike Brewing’s Web Site

Pike is probably the most westerly of any brewery in today’s post. About 20 years ago or so, I went on a business trip to Seattle and I really adored the city. I liked the wharf area, the great seafood and I spent a happy hour or two at Pike Brewing and I remember really enjoying the stout I had, which was probably the Extra XXXXX Stout. I still have the pint glass from my visit. I suspect this brewery hitting New Jersey shelves might be the biggest longshot.

Three Floyds Brewing Company in Munster, IN

Bottle images courtesy of 3 Floyds Facebook page

Three Floyds is one of the most renowned craft brewers in the Midwest. Their Dark Lord Imperial Stout is a brewery only release and is one of the most well-received beers in the country. Of course, that specific beer would likely NOT be in distribution, but their Zombie Dust Pale Ale probably would be, as would Robert the Bruce, a wonderfully appealing Scotch Ale. I’d love to try Alpha Klaus, which is their winter porter.

Their beer labels are really cool, too. They appeal to the lifelong comic book/science fiction/fantasy/horror geek that I am. Not only that, a comic book series from Image comics was even published in honor of the brewery!

A quick look through their beers on untappd, has their full line-up of beers at a 4.03 bottle cap average and of the beers some of my unappd friends have had, I don’t think anything was below a 4.25.

Between these six breweries, I would have many beers to explore and enjoy. Take a moment and let me know in the comments (or email or twitter) what breweries I mention from NJ or the area you’d like to see and try.

Draught Diversions: I’m Now an IPA Believer

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…

Well, it finally happened. I never thought it would come to pass, but alas, I have succumbed to the masses of craft beer. I not only enjoy IPAs now, I seek them out.

For years I avoided IPAs like they were a communicable disease. I hated high-hopped beers and even disliked many Pale Ales (like Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale). I’d get that bitter beer face when I did have IPAs and would drink water if an IPA was the only beer option.

When I first joined untappd about 4 years ago, I did so with a good friend and it turned into a little competition. For a while we were neck in neck with check-ins to unique beers, badges and the like. The primary difference, he was (and is) an IPA guy and I was (and still am) primarily a stouts & porters guy. The whole time we were switching places in the “race to most check ins” he would be at, for example, level 30 on his “I Believe in IPA” badge and level 8 on “Heavyweight” badge and I would be on level 30 on my “Heavyweight” Badge and level 8 of my “I Believe in IPA” badge.

Then, something happened. Something that supposedly happens to people every seven years or so. Just do a google search on “palate changes every 7 years” and a plethora of scientific, semi-scientific, and conjectural results are returned. My palate changed and evolved. I became more open to trying different styles, and part of it started with a beer I reviewed here last year: Two Roads Honeyspot IPA. The beer was from a brewery I trusted implicitly: Two Roads Brewing Company and it had wheat as a malt ingredient.

From there I became more open and curious to trying the occasional IPA. Another IPA that really wowed me and had me eager to try juice bomb and New England IPAs came from the Sierra Nevada Beer Camp pack last year: the Sierra Nevada/Treehouse collaboration East Meets West IPA which was one of the best beers I ever had. I knew I might be willing to try more IPAs at this point.

I also began to doubt myself. Was I just folding under the pressure of the overwhelming imbalance of IPAs vs other styles in the beer market? I hoped that wasn’t the case, but the more IPAs I had, the more I enjoyed them. I am also not the only person to have an aversion to IPAs. Just like the wide variety of stouts available on the market, I’ve learned IPAs are just as diverse. In learning that, I realize I prefer the East Coast IPAs and a lot of what makes me enjoy a specific IPA comes down to the specific Hop used in the brew. For example, Conclave’s “Hop Ritual with Vic Secret” is a delicious beer because of the strand of hop in the beer. Yeah, I know it is technically a Pale ale, but it is one of those Pale Ales that blurs the line and well, Hop is in the name.

Another Hop that works well for my palate is Citra, which imparts a citrusy flavor to the beer. Another that worked wonders for my palate is the Centennial Hop. I learned this when I had Two Hearted Ale for the first time, which is hopped 100% with Centennial Hops. Centennial also imparts a citrus flavor profile. I’ll again make the obligatory plea that Bell’s begin distributing in New Jersey.

Just take a look at my first two monthly six packs for 2018 and how prominently IPAs are featured in the six highlight beers of each month. The beer that really sealed my fate with regard to IPAs and hopped up beers, though not an IPA, is Sierra’s Nevada Pale Ale, arguably the most important hop-forward beer in American Craft beer over the last thirty plus years.

I could probably go to great lengths about the varieties of hops. In fact there are several books on the subject with For The Love of Hops: The Practical Guide to Aroma, Bitterness and the Culture of Hops by Stan Hieronymus considered by many to be the standard book on the subject. I haven’t personally read it, but I threw out a question on twitter about the best book on Hops and multiple trusted beer folks tweeted back with this book.

So what does this all mean? Well, I’m excited to explore more IPAs and Pale Ales. Beers that are hop-forward and maybe feature a single hop. There’s now a shelf or fridge section of beers I don’t need to skip over any longer.

Or, to put it another way, just like the untappd badge, I Believe in IPA!

Draught Diversions: January 2018 Six Pack

Time for another slight change in protocol here at The Tap Takeover. With my first Monthly recap post for 2018, I’m going to trim back from writing about the majority (90%) of the beer I had in the previous month and go with six beers. Ideally, I’ll try to keep mention at least one beer that didn’t quite work for me. Also, this list of beers excludes any that have been featured as a single beer review. For this post, at least, I’ll go chronological from what I had early in the month to what I had most recently.

I’ve found myself drawn to more NJ breweries over the recent past, rather than nationally distributed brands, so two of the beers in this post are from NJ Breweries.

Café Con Leche Stout – Milk / Sweet – 3.25 bottle Caps on untappd

First up is the very first beer I had in 2018. Café Con Leche from Cigar City Brewing is a beer whose style is strongly in my wheelhouse, but the execution left a lot to be desired. Cigar City started distributing into NJ last year so I was looking forward to trying some of their beers. Especially their interpretation of a Milk Stout. While it wasn’t bad, and relatively true to style there was something unpleasant on the finish of the beer. An odd aftertaste made the beer, on the whole, not something I’d want to try again. This was one of the bombers I received for Christmas so I didn’t feel too guilty about not finishing the whole bottle.

Han Shot First IPA – Imperial / Double – 4 bottle Caps on untappd

Next up is an IPA, or rather, Imperial/Double IPA from a fairly local brewery in Pennsylvania, Evil Genius Beer Company. I’ve had a few of their beers, the quality is good and the names are very clever, including this one, Han Shot First. This beer surprised me, it did not have nearly the level of hop bitterness I expected considering it is a Double. While the ABV is 8%, the IBU is 30, making this a very juicy, drinkable IPA. I’d definitely have this one again and not just for the name.

Collaboration No. 6 – Barrel-Aged Blend Other – 4.50 bottle Caps on untapped

The third beer in the January Six Pack is one of two beers I had at one of my favorite Mexican restaurants, Sol Mexican Cantina. Very good food combined with one of the best selections of beers in Somerset County, NJ are why I like this place so much. The first beer I had that night was Collaboration No. 6 – Barrel-Aged Blend, a collaboration between Boulevard Brewing Co. and Firestone Walker. I’ve only had a couple of Boulevard’s beers and liked them fine, I need to seek out more from them. This beer is listed on untappd as “Other” likely because it is a blend of four heavy styles, two from each brewery: Bourbon Barrel Quad (45%) & Imperial Stout X Tart Cherry (10%) from Boulevard and Stickee Monkee Belgian Quad (35%) & Velvet Merkin Oatmeal Stout (10%) from Firestone Walker. It probably will not come as a surprise that the Belgian Quad flavors come through the most, but the sweetness of the stouts is there, too. This quite simply an outstanding beer

It looks like this one was brewed in 2016 so I don’t know if it was a one-time beer or has been brewed again more recently. Either way, if you see this one, get it because it is a fine example of experimental, collaborative brewing.

IPA IPA – American – 4 bottle Caps on untapped

Number four is the first of two beers from New Jersey and the other beer I had at Sol Mexican Cantina: a straightforward IPA from Brotherton Brewing. This is the first beer I’ve had from the South Jersey brewery and boy was I impressed. This is a borderline juice-bomb; a hazy Citra-hopped unfiltered IPA. I could drink this all day and hope I can find some of this in cans near me. Like I said, this is just simply a tasty, well-made IPA. Sometimes a well-made standard style is just the beer you need.

Sunday Brunch Porter – Imperial / Double – 4.75 bottle Caps on untapped

The second New Jersey beer was probably the best beer I had in January and one of the best porters I’ve ever had. One of our (my wife and I) favorite restaurants is the Stirling Hotel – amazing food, great beer, and excellent beer events like the one I attended in the middle of the month. Essentially a Tap Takeover, Stirling Hotel hosted a “Kane Brewing Brewer’s Lunch,” which featured six beers from Kane and a unique menu. My meal was fantastic, waffles topped with a roasted duck leg and fig syrup. One of beers I had was Kane’s Sunday Brunch, an Imperial Milk Porter made with coffee, maple syrup, and cinnamon. At 9.5% this is a potent beer, but so smooth and sweet. This is one of Kane’s once per year beers and seems to only be available at special events like this and in 750ml bottles at the brewery.

Some people may be wary of anything with cinnamon, but the spice is used perfectly in this beer and compliments the flavor profile rather than overpowering everything else that went into the beer. This is a must have beer, especially if you live in or near New Jersey.

Two Hearted Ale IPA – American – 4.25 bottle Caps on untapped

Finishing off the six pack for January is one of the iconic American craft beers: Two Hearted Ale from the great Bell’s Brewery in Michigan. I have lamented in the past that Bell’s doesn’t (yet?!?!) distribute to NJ. I happened to see this one on draught at the Houston Airport. Considering I had some time to kill before my flight departed, I ordered a pour and was satisfied. I now know why this beer has the reputation it does, this is one of the best, most drinkable IPAs I’ve ever had. As I plead when I reviewed Bell’s other iconic beer, Oberon Ale, if folks from Bell’s are reading this, please get your beer into NJ. You’d make an entire state of craft beer consumers extremely happy.

There you have it – six beers, five of which were excellent and one that just didn’t work for me.

Beer Review: Bell’s Brewery Oberon Ale

Name: Oberon Ale
Brewing Company: Bell’s Brewery
Location: Galesburg, MI
Style: Pale Wheat Ale
ABV: 5.8%

Glass Logo: Tor.com

From the beer’s description on Bell’s Brewery’s Web site:

Oberon is a wheat ale fermented with our signature house ale yeast, mixing a spicy hop character with mildly fruity aromas. The addition of wheat malt lends a smooth mouthfeel, making it a classic summer beer. Made with only 4 ingredients, and without the use of any spices or fruit, Oberon is the color and scent of sunny afternoon.

 

There are Summer Beers and there are beers best suited to summer or associated with Summer. Bell’s Oberon Ale is one of the latter and one of the iconic craft beers in the industry. Oberon is the medieval Faerie King and is Consort of Queen Titania in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream which is (I’m assuming) where the fine folks of Bell’s Brewery drew the name for this light, delicious beer.

Some of my friends on untappd check this in throughout the summer months and I’ve been trying to get myself a bottle/can/pour of the beer for quite a while. Unfortunately for the New Jersey Craft Beer community, Bell’s isn’t yet distributed in New Jersey. Fortunately for me, a co-worker/friend who lives in Pennsylvania, where Bell’s is distributed, did a bottle-share with me and gave me two bottles.

The first thing that stands out to me is the color of the beer. Where the summer beers I’m accustomed to drinking pour a hazy yellow, Oberon pours more of an orange-yellow, a very inviting beer on looks alone but there’s not too much different in the aroma compared to other pale wheat ales like Sam’s Summer.

What is most striking in the flavor profile of the beer is the kick of spice towards the end of the beer. Not quite clove like a Hefeweizen, not quite the characteristic finish other Pale Wheat Ales, but something of its own almost-citrusy design. The bright color and bold spice set this one apart from most other summer beers.  I can now see why this is such a landmark beer in the craft beer community. While not flashy like a high ABV bourbon barrel aged stout, or super hoppy like a New England IPA, Oberon Ale is a straight-forward, thirst-quenching beer that is very welcoming in color, balanced in taste, and low-enough in ABV that a couple of these won’t get you too silly.

My only complaint about this beer is one I will re-iterate: Bell’s doesn’t distribute into NJ. Over the past year or two, we’ve seen some of the larger craft breweries enter the NJ market like New Belgium, so hopefully Bell’s is on the way to the Garden State.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4-star rating.

(The book in the background is Staked by Kevin Hearne, the eighth book in his Iron Druid Chronicles series, which features a 2,000-year old Druid named Atticus who comes into conflict with all sorts of supernatural creatures. As fate would have it, my coworker gave me the bottles of Oberon while I was reading this book. The series features an Irish Wolfhound named Oberon as Atticuss’s best friend and companion. Obviously if I’ve made it to book 8 in the series I enjoy the books a great deal, so check out the first one, Hounded if you so choose.)