Draught Diversions: Christmas Six Pack 2019

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 last two years, I’ve posted “12 Beers of Christmas” over the course of two days as an homage to the “12 Days of Christmas.” However, even last year to get to 12 I felt I was stretching my search parameters a bit. I’d rather have a super-solid six pack filled with a couple of borderline iconic beers this year. Also, in an effort to NOT exhaust all the Christmas beers available, I’m trimming it down to a single six pack of Christmas beers for 2019.

Avec Les Bons Vœux | Farmhouse Ale – Saison | Brasserie Dupont | Tourpes, Belgium | ABV 9.5%

Image courtesy of Brasserie Dupont’s Web site

I’ve seen this holiday Saison in some shops over the years but never grabbed a bottle. However, after having THE flagship Saison earlier this year, I’m even more excited  to try this beer. A spiced up and higher ABV version of a world-class Saison sounds very intriguing indeed. This might be a bottle to bring to my in-law’s since my father in law is a big fan of Belgian style ales.

What Dupont says about the beer:

Les Bons Voeux means best wishes, which is what Brasserie Dupont sends with this very special saison ale brewed for the holidays. .

Redolently aromatic, rich and velvety, rich gold color, fragrant (lemony with hints of pepper, banana and clove), as all the beers of Dupont are with a full,deep malt richness that lingers on your tongue for what seems the whole holiday season.

Considered by some the finest offering from this unparalleled Brewery. “The best Belgian beer, if ever there could be such an award…a sumptuous, seductive 9.5% beer. Because of it’s intensity, I would recommend the novice graduate to this beer. However, if a saison that is starting to lean towards being a triple appeals to you, and if its in season, don’t hesitate.

N’Ice Chouffe | Winter Ale | Brasserie D’Achouffe | Achouffe, Belgium | ABV 10%

Image courtesy of Brasserie D’Achouffe

How do I not include a beer whose label looks so Christmasy with those red-hatted gnomes? N’ice Chouffe is one of those beers I see often in the import section but never got around to trying, similar to the beer above.  At 10%, this dark beer seems like a nice sipper for a cold evening by the fire with the Christmas Tree acting as the only other light source in the room.

About the beer:

N’ice CHOUFFE is the winter beer from the Achouffe Brewery. We recommend that you enjoy it from mid-October to mid-February, preferably by the fireplace. It is a dark beer, slightly hoppy, spiced with thyme and curaçao, and made using orange peel. It has an alcohol content of 10%. N’ice CHOUFFE goes well with any winter dishes.

Winter Lager | Schwarzbier | The Brooklyn Brewery | Brooklyn, NY | ABV 5.6%

Image courtesy of The Brooklyn Brewery’s Facebook

Brooklyn has a beer for every season and their Winter seasonal is a dark lager in the vein of a German Schwarzbier. Although I’ve had only a few Schwarzbiers, I do like the style, but it isn’t a very popular/prevalent style. Of the Schwarzbiers I’ve had, I was very much reminded of porters from the ale side of the beer tree – strong roasted flavors, maybe smoky, sometimes coffee or chocolate. I haven’t had Brooklyn’s dark lager yet, but that may change.

What Brooklyn says about this beer:

Brooklyn Winter Lager is our answer to the heavy ales and stouts that emerge in wintertime. Though dark in color with a sturdy presence, our Schwarzbier-inspired lager layers notes of chocolate, roasted barley, and dark bread into a 5.6% ABV frame that finishes surprisingly light and pleasantly dry. Winter means different things depending where you live, but Brooklyn Winter Lager is ready for any chill.

Gingerbread Stout | Imperial Milk Stout | Hardywood Park Craft Brewery | Richmond, VA | ABV 9.2%

Image Courtesy of Hardywood Park Craft Brewery’s Website

This is one of those “event” beers that has specially scheduled days of release dedicated to it. Ever since I became more aware of the online beer community and more aware of regional breweries outside of NJ over the past few years, Hardywood’s Gingerbread Stout is the Christmas Beer at the top of my list to get. Unfortunately, Hardywood does not distribute into NJ so the potential for me to get this beer is not very high. Based on the description, this beer seems like the epitome of a Christmas Stout.

What Hardywood Park says about the beer:

Made with baby ginger from Casselmonte Farm and wildflower honey from Bearer Farms, Hardywood Gingerbread Stout captures the terroir of Central Virginia in a rich, creamy libation with a velvety mouthfeel and an intriguing evolution of notes from milk chocolate and vanilla, to honeycomb and cinnamon, to a snap of ginger in the finish. We hope Hardywood Gingerbread Stout contributes to your merriment this season.

Fuggly Sweater | Lager – Dark | Ithaca Beer Company | Ithaca, NY | ABV 5.7%

Image courtesy of Ithaca Beer Company’s Website

Ithaca is one of the great Northeast Breweries, their “Flower Power” IPA is iconic. With that said, it is nice to see another Lager for the Christmas season. Ginger and cinnamon, the holiday spices, seem to be on prominent display here. Plus, that is some nifty looking label design.

What Ithaca says about the beer:

‘Twill be the fuggliest time of the year, so we joyously present our gift to this year’s season… Fuggly Sweater. Fuggly Sweater is a dark lager brewed to inspire the holiday favorite, gingerbread. The wide range of specialty malts create yummy cookie and cake qualities. The presentation is dark, but not opaque, with brown hues. Ginger is at center stage, and as with traditional gingerbread, a light amount of cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon round out the spice profile.

Mad Elf Grand Cru | Belgian Strong Dark Ale | Tröegs Independent Brewing | Hersey, PA | ABV 11%

Image courtesy of Tröegs Independent Brewing’s Facebook

It just doesn’t seem like the Christmas season until I have a bottle/glass of Mad Elf. A couple of years ago, the brothers Trogner decided to play with the legendary beer by adding more tart cherries to the mix. I haven’t had this beer yet, but for Krampusnacht, The Krampus (my wife) got me a bottle of this, so I’ll be sipping from that bottle when we decorate our Christmas tree.

What Stone says about the beer:

If you know Tröegs, you know The Mad Elf, the mischievous belle of the holiday beer ball that helped put our little brewery on the map. In your hands is the Director’s Cut. Tart Balaton cherries – loads of them – make all the difference. Bottle-conditioned and flush with notes of cinnamon and clove, this beer begs to be shared. Take a bottle home, gather your friends, and cherish the cherries.

We taste: tart cherry, brown sugar, clove, subtle peppercorn

Availability: 750mL cork & cage bottles only.

There it is, a robust six pack of suggestions. For my Christmas Beers this year, I’ll be having at least one of the above.  On Christmas Eve specifically I’ll also likely bring a growler from one of the handful of breweries in my immediate vicinity, maybe Jersey Cyclone, maybe Conclave Brewing to my parents’ house. The last couple of years I’ve brought growlers from Lone Eagle Brewing and Demented Brewing (which went out of business earlier in the year). All of those growlers went over very well and were finished very quickly so I feel like I have set the bar high in the past with what I brought to share.

Have a warm and safe holiday season, Merry Christmas!

Beer Review: Brooklyn Brewery’s Defender IPA

Name: Defender IPA
Brewing Company: Brooklyn Brewery
Location: Brooklyn, NY
Style: IPA – American
ABV: 5.5%

From Brooklyn Brewery’s landing page for the beer:

DEFEND BEER with Brooklyn Defender IPA, our heroically hopped golden IPA featuring strong notes of tropical fruit, well-muscled hop bitterness, and an incredibly dry finish. Cape not required.

Brooklyn Defender IPA is forged in collaboration with our sidekicks at New York Comic Con as the official beer of the convention. 

Brooklyn Brewery is one of the early leaders of the American Craft Beer scene having begun back in 1988. Their flagship beer, Brooklyn Lager is an iconic and very well-made Vienna Lager (think Sam Adams Boston Lager but more flavorful). When New York Comic Con was looking for an “official beer” about seven years ago, they probably thought what better brewery than Brooklyn? One can’t really argue that logic considering the quality of the brewery’s output under legendary Brewmaster Garrett Oliver and the brewery’s iconic status in New York (and the country for that matter).

I’ve been going to New York Comic Con every year for about the last five or six years (2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018) and in all that time, I’ve never had the beer. Chalk that up to an aversion to IPAs, but since I came round to IPAs over the last year, I knew I had to give this beer a try. Every year, Brooklyn changes up the label, but I don’t know if they change up the recipe. For the 2018 release, they crafted a very tasty beer.

2018 bottle and six pack art for Defender IPA. Courtesy of Brooklyn Brewery’s web site

The label calls this a “Golden IPA” and sure enough, the beer pours a bright gold/yellow. From the look, one could maybe mistake the beer for a Helles Lager. Well, until the aroma of the hops wafts off the glass.

First sip is a nice inviting burst of hops which matches up with what the aroma led me to expect. The hops aren’t overpowering, but they are definitely present. They let you know they are there and the major flavor component of the beer, but those hops aren’t shouting at you with aggressive assertiveness. There’s a dry finish to the beer, too. I found that to be a little unexpected, but not unwelcome.

I think the word I can use that best describes the beer is approachable. IPAs are the most popular style of “craft beer.” On the other hand, the style is what many folks who stick with the macro-produced lagers say keeps them away from craft beer. What Brooklyn has done with this beer is brew an extremely balanced beer that highlights the most prominent aspect of the IPA without it being too overpowering. Given the large attendance at New York Comic Con and the Geek Community in general, it is hard to argue with the formula Brooklyn used to brew this tasty beer.

All told, Defender IPA is a flavorful, approachable beer that works almost like a Session IPA. At 5.5% ABV, a couple of these would go well while you read or reread your favorite run of The Flash, Saga, WatchmenWonder WomanLocke & Key, or Monstress. I think this will be in regular rotation every October for me as a celebration of New York Comic Con.

Recommended link to Untappd 3.75 Bottle Cap rating.

Draught Diversions: November 2017 Beer Pours

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…

A great variety of beer passed across my palette in November 2017 due, in large part, to the North Jersey Brewery tour my wife took me on for my birthday in the middle of the month. I’ve already highlighted one of those breweries, Angry Erik, and I’ll briefly touch on the four other breweries later in the post as I may wind up doing a feature/full Draught Diversion on at least one of those breweries. That, combined with visiting a couple of my very local breweries and some other assorted beers throughout the month really shine the focus on New Jersey breweries for November. Since the last day of November was on a Thursday (when Draught Diversions normally posts), I figured I’d hold the post for an extra day to squeeze in that one last new beer.

Proper Glassware x2, snifters with the iconic Brooklyn brand

The first new beer I had in November was from craft beer stalwart Harpoon, specifically the new fall offering from their popular UFO Hefeweizen line, Cranbeery. I’ve enjoyed most of the UFO beers a great deal but this one didn’t quite do it for me, it was more tart and sour than I expect from a Hefeweizen. Next up and a couple of days later was an outstanding beer I shared with my father. Well, I gave him the bottle for his birthday in September, but we shared it for my birthday: Brooklyn Black Ops, a delicious Russian Imperial Stout which comes in at 11.6% ABV and tasted better as it settled into the glass. The bourbon barrel aging came through nicely in both the aroma and taste.

Sadly, I broke this glass after only using it twice.

The season of stouts continued with Sierra Nevada’s annual Imperial Stout release, Narwhal. I’ve had this in year’s past so was looking forward to having the beer and was not disappointed. Like most stouts, this got better as it warmed. For whatever reason, this was a tough beer to find in my area of New Jersey, with the closest liquor store to me listing it on beermenus about 25 miles away. Fortunately, the store is close to my parents so my dad picked up a six pack for me. Sierra’s been changing some of their labels, over the past year or so including this one. While the new label is nice, I loved the previous label. Keeping with the annual release theme, Founders released Backwoods Bastard and like last year’s vintage, this year’s vintage was outstanding. As I’ve said, I think I like this one more than I like KBS.

Hop Ritual w/ Vic Secret

As I’ve been doing with more regularity, I stopped into my local brewery, Conclave in November since they released a couple of new beers, both of which were very good. The first was a fall porter, Transcendent Leaf Peeping. The other new beer was a variation on their Hop Ritual Pale Ale. This one is called Hop Ritual with Vic Secret, so named for the strain of New Zealand hops used in the beer. I wasn’t expecting to be as blown away by this beer as I was, but it was so delicious I had to bring home at least a half-growler for myself.

Next was the big Birthday Brewery Tour, courtesy of my wife. Last year was a handful of Jersey Shore breweries, this year was North Jersey breweries. We started out at the venerable brewers of high-quality German style beers, Ramstein / High Point Brewing. As it so happened, that day was when Ramstein was releasing their famous Winter Wheat beer. I had the equivalent of a pint since my wife gave me her free samples. What a phenomenal beer, an absolutely outstanding dopplebock that has rightly earned a reputation that draws people from far and wide to fill their growlers with this delicious beer. The other new-to-me beer I had at Ramstein was the outstanding Imperial Pilsner. I just wish Ramstein’s distribution reached a little more into Somerset County because this is one of the beers they bottle and I’d have this in my house regularly.

The second brewery was Angry Erik, which I wrote about a couple of weeks ago, with the final leg of the journey being the triumvirate of breweries in Hackettstown, NJ. The first of those was Man Skirt Brewing, the highlight (and surprise beer there) was Better than Pants, a tasty excellent English Bitter that earned me the “You’re Extra Special” badge on untappd. All five beers I had were good. From there, we walked around the block to Czig Meister Brewery which was insanely packed, in part, because a portion of the brewery was cordoned off for a party. The standout here was Habonde a barrel-aged barely wine. I may have to pick up a bottle since Czig is now distributing cans and bottles throughout New Jersey. The last of the Hackettstown Trio was Jersey Girl Brewing. The beers in the flight were extremely consistent in quality with their King Gambrinus Belgian Tripel standing out to me the most. I’ll most likely be dedicating an entire Draught Diversions post to some (maybe all) of these breweries where I’ll give some more details on each beer I had.

A deep, dark, roust Imperial Stout from Lone Eagle

At the monthly Brews and Board Games at Lone Eagle, I tried their Imperial Breakfast Stout, a malty stout aged on coffee beans then aged in Buffalo Trace Bourbon barrels with some blood orange puree added on the finish. All the characteristics of an excellent stout along with hints of an Old Fashioned thanks to the Bourbon and Orange. The other beer I had was a juicy Pale Ale they call Local Pale Ale.

Possibly the best beer in Flying Fish’s Exit Series – Exit 17

Tröegs Mad Elf is a seasonal favorite and the 2017 batch might be the best yet. Then came Thanksgiving weekend. The first beer is one I’ve been holding onto for a couple of weeks, a beer I was fortunate enough to snag because only 750 were bottled, the final beer (for now?) in Flying Fish’s Exit SeriesExit 17 – Russian Imperial Stout, which might be the best beer of the month for me. This is probably the best beer in the Exit series, too. Not content with brewing a Russian Imperial Stout, Flying Fish aged this one in Dad’s Hat Rye Whiskey bottles. Although I’ve come to love beers aged in bourbon barrels, allowing this beer to sit in Rye Whiskey bottles helps to set it apart from its barrel-aged brethren. Flying Fish’s description says this is a “one of a kind” beer and I’d be hard-pressed to dispute the claim. I also had the new version of Southern Tier’s Warlock, which they changed from previous years and unfortunately, not for the better. They dropped the ABV from 10% to 8.6% and the whole flavor is different, it doesn’t taste too much different than Pumking, which isn’t bad, just not what I was hoping to have. The last beer on Thanksgiving is the beer I reviewed earlier in the week, Stone’s Xocoveza Imperial Milk Stout.

The last Saturday of the month of new brews  were enjoyed at Revolutions a fine Craft Brew bar Morristown, NJ. I met up with a friend who lives in Morristown. We’d visited the bar before and were impressed with the beer list and menu, with its heavy focus on German brats. That night I had two very good beers: Malus from Kane Brewing, in Ocean. This is a Belgian Strong Dark Ale, but the flavor is sweetened by the addition of apple cider. The beer went down very easily for a 9.5% ABV. The other brew I had was one of the best Pilsners I’ve ever had, which was unsurprisingly, from a German Brewery. The beer is Rothaus Pils / Tannen Zäpfle from Badische Staatsbrauerei Rothaus in Baden-Württemberg, Germany. The crispness, freshness and underlying roastiness makes this, in my humble opinion, a world-class Pilsner.

Lastly, the final new beer of November 2017 was last night’s Moo Thunder Milk Stout from Butternuts brewery, which was a little thin and flat for a Milk Stout. I’d seen this on the shelf in area liquor stores for a few years now, it is hard to miss or forget with the big fat cow on the can. Unfortunately, that label is the most appealing element of the beer for me.

I’d have to say the two best beers of the month for me were Exit 17 – Russian Imperial Stout from Flying Fish and the Rothaus Pils / Tannen Zäpfle.