Draught Diversions: Sierra Nevada Shelf of Honor 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…

Sierra Nevada is celebrating their 40th year this year, so I figured I’d put together a shelf of honor six pack as a tribute, in addition to reviewing Barrel-Aged Narwhal earlier this week, which happened to be my 50th unique Sierra Nevada beer checked into untappd. In some respects, it is easy to take Sierra Nevada for granted in the beer landscape and to an extent, it could be easy to underestimate just how critical Ken Grossman’s brainchild is to beer in America and everything that means. Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale is iconic and ubiquitous, but it shouldn’t be overlooked either. If Jim Koch and Samuel Adams/Boston Beer are responsible for giving beer drinkers in the 1980s beer they were accustomed to drinking but much more flavorful (lagers), Ken Grossman and Sierra Nevada went in an opposite direction with their hop forward approach. Granted, their Stout was their first beer, but it is Pale Ale that woke up the American Beer palate in the 1980s.

Sierra Nevada has long been the flag-bearer for what it means to be a Craft Brewery and over the years, they’ve been leaders in nearly every way possible: styles, technology, innovation, and community. I’d argue that Sierra Nevada doesn’t just exemplify what a Craft Brewery should be, but what an American company should be. I could go on more about the history of the brewery (hell, Ken Grossman wrote a whole book about it and their website has a good primer on the About Us section), so I’ll utilize my Six Pack format to highlight a combination of my favorite beers and their most important beers. A couple of these will be no brainers, obviously.

In the event I need to state the obvious – this is all my opinion…

Pale Ale | Pale Ale – American | ABV: 5.6% | IBU: 38

I’ll get this one out of the way first since it is the most obvious, considering many beer people consider this to be the most important beer in American Beer, period. The hop-forward nature of the beer, when it first came into prominence, was unlike anything many beer drinkers knew at the time. By comparison to today’s hop bombs with IBUs in the 70 to 100 IBU range, SNPA is relatively tame. My dad has been stocking his fridge with this beer for at least 20 years, so it was always in my beer orbit. I didn’t like the beer initially because it took me a while to like, enjoy, and appreciate hop-forward beers. But now? Now I enjoy the beer, seek it out and it is a great go to because it is so widespread in bars, and always a reliable beer to order.

What Sierra Nevada says about the beer:

Heavy on hops, that was always the brewery plan. So in 1980, we loaded Pale Ale up with Cascade—a new hop at the time named after the mountain range—and the intense aromas of pine and citrus sparked the American craft beer revolution.

Craft Beer’s Turnaround

Some Restless Rebels

After prohibition, American beer declined for decades. The brewery count shrank from thousands to less than 100 by the late 1970s. The beers you could find were dull, so a few thirsty rebels out West took up their own experiments in fermentation. Among them, our founder Ken Grossman used a new US-grown hop, Cascade, to help transform stateside flavor. Today, there are more than 6,000 American breweries making the most adventurous beers in the world.

Kellerweis | Hefeweizen | ABV: 4.8% | IBU: 15

From the last time I could get this beer in NJ – 2015! Please send more to NJ Sierra Nevada!

I love a good hefeweizen, especially in the summer, but the classic style really works year round. As much as I extolled the virtues of Ramstein’s Blonde Hefe-Weizen here on the Tap Takeover, in my humble opinion, Sierra Nevada’s take is the best American interpretation of the style. The style is characterized primarily by what flavors are evoked from the yeast – some Hefeweizens will evoke a more clove-prominent flavor, while others will evoke a more banana-like flavor. Kellerweis strikes a great balance. In recent years; sadly, I haven’t seen this beer on the shelves in NJ quite as much as I did maybe four or five years ago. Regardless, it is one of Sierra Nevada’s core beers and a world-class beer.

What Sierra Nevada says about the beer:

Inspired by traditional Bavarian techniques, Kellerweis is a true artisan experience. With Kellerweis, we brew in open fermentation tanks—a process rarely seen today—to let the ingredients truly shine. The result is a hazy wheat ale—untamed, raw and alive. With a full, fruity aroma and notes of spicy clove and banana bread, Kellerweis is a truly unique brew.

Hazy Little Thing | IPA – New England | ABV: 6.7% | IBU: 35

Hazy Little Thing may be the biggest indicator of Sierra Nevada’s ability to smartly navigate the ever-changing beer landscape while delivering a great product. The Hazy IPA is most closely associated with New England, not a surprise given that many, many people call the style New England IPA, but Sierra Nevada is obviously a West Coast brewery. This is a great West Coast interpretation of an East Coast style. The beer literally changed Sierra Nevada’s fortunes, not that they were in dire straits, but Hazy Little Thing is the equivalent of a Summer Blockbuster, or even franchise. When the beer first launched in 2018, you could say it was successful.

I likened Hazy Little Thing to a Summer Blockbuster, but that’s even an understatement, to be fair. The beer is year-round and is more like a tentpole to a franchise. Consider that two other “Hazy” beers in the family have been released by Sierra Nevada over the last six months or so Fantastic Haze Imperial IPA (basically an Imperial version of Hazy Little Thing) and Wild Little Thing, which takes the Little Thing brand to a sour/tart/fruity notion appealing to the folks who enjoy or are curious about Sour/Wild beers. You might say Sierra Nevada’s “Little Thing” brand is quite the opposite of that moniker.

What Sierra Nevada says about the beer:

Some beers need a little polishing before entering the world, while others—the hop-heavy, rowdy crowd-pleasers—should just be left alone. We package Hazy Little Thing in all its raw glory: unfiltered, unprocessed, straight from the tanks and into the can. It’s a swirling cloud that likes to shake things up, a fruit-forward hop adventure for the daring. Go bold and make tonight a hazy one.

Narwhal Imperial Stout | Stout – American Imperial/Double | ABV 10.2% I IBU: 60

Vintages from top left going clockwise: 2014, 2017, 2018, 2019

Narwhal Imperial Stout is one of my favorite beers, period. Sierra Nevada first brewed / bottled / distributed this beer in 2012 and I’ve had at least one bottle of it almost every year since (except I think 2015 and 2016). What makes this beer so great is that it is basically a core four beer – water, malt, yeast, and hops. All the flavor in this beer comes from those ingredients and it is extremely potent with an ABV of 10.2%. When I enjoy the beer, I usually get bittersweet chocolate from the malt and some aggressive hops on the finish.

In 2017, in large re-branding of several beers, Narwhal’s label changed. The iconic sea creature is still on the label/branding, but the fancy and classy font was replaced by bland block lettering. Thankfully the beer hasn’t changed.

Left: Original label/packaging used through 2016
Right: Updated label/packaging as of 2017

Also in 2017, Narwhal (and their Bigfoot Barleywine) moved from 4-packs to 6-packs. That makes it much easier to allow one of those bottles to age and not consume them all in a relatively short period. Aging the beer really does improve an already great beer, the aggressiveness from the hops are mellowed (but still present). I think the oldest one I had was a bottle my dad aged for 3 years.

Bottom Line: Narwhal is one of my favorite stouts, my top Sierra Nevada beer, and one of my favorite beers, period.

What Sierra Nevada says about the beer:

Narwhal Imperial Stout is inspired by the mysterious creature that thrives in the deepest fathoms of the frigid Arctic Ocean. Rich with notes of espresso, baker’s cocoa, roasted grain and a light hint of smoke, Narwhal brims with malt complexity. Aggressive but refined with a velvety smooth body and decadent finish, Narwhal will age in the bottle for years to come.

Oktoberfest | Märzen/Festbier | 6% / 6.1% ABV (Depending on year)

All the Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest collaborations!

 

This entry is a little unique since this single entry represents five unique beers. Almost every brewery makes some kind of traditional German-style beer to celebrate the fall/Oktoberfest season. Sierra Nevada did for years, but in 2015, they started something really special, fun, and interesting. They began collaborating with German breweries (a different one every year) on the traditional malty lager. I’ve had at least a six pack every year and they’ve all been very good. From 2015 through 2019, the following breweries collaborated with Sierra Nevada: Brauhaus Riegle, Mahrs Bräu, Brauhaus Miltenberger, Weihenstephan , and Bitburger Braugruppe. I’ve enjoyed them all a great deal, reviewed the Weihenstephan collaboration in 2018 and think the 2019 version with Bitburger to be the best. As a result of the last two collaborations, Sierra Nevada did secondary collabortions with both breweries, a delicious Hefeweizen with Weihenstephan (Braupakt) and a Triple Hop’d Lager with Bitburger.

Every Oktoberfest season I try to mix up what I get, but since 2015, whatever collaboration Sierra Nevada brews is a definite stand-by in my refrigerator from mid-September to mid-October.

What Sierra Nevada says about the beer:

It’s the ultimate season of revelry, so we teamed up with Germany’s Bitburger Brewery for an Oktoberfest that turns backyards into beer gardens. Rally your friends and celebrate with a festbier whose rich amber color and smooth malty flavor bring the Munich tents to you. We brewed Oktoberfest with Bitburger’s custom yeast and secret hop blend called Siegelhopfen, meaning “Sealed Hops”—two house ingredients never shared outside their walls until now.

Resilience Butte County Proud IPA | IPA – American | 6.8% ABV | IBU: 65

This beer exemplifies the spirit of community and giving back that has long-been a cornerstone of Sierra Nevada’s ethos and why they are such a beloved brewery. In a show of solidarity across the country, many other breweries brewed a Resilience IPA based on the recipe Sierra Nevada shared, and all the proceeds went to the Camp Fire Relief Fund. In 2020, as a result of the Australian Bushfires, breweries once again took up the charge to do their part and brew a beer whose proceeds would go to Bushfire relief, the Australian version is a Pale Ale.

When I had the Butte County version in early 2019, I had this to say: Sierra Nevada is really the standard bearer for the full definition of what it means to be an American Craft Brewery. They make superb beers and are a fixture in their community. Those two ideals come together perfectly in this beer, 100% proceeds of which go to the Camp Fire Relief Fund for the disastrous Camp Fires in California late last year. It doesn’t hurt that this is a delicious IPA, an IPA the embodies everything a modern West Coast IPA should be. I can see myself grabbing multiple six packs of this beer.

What Sierra Nevada says about the beer:

Butte County roots run deep. Forested hills, winding rivers, towering pines, mighty oaks, and even mightier people—it’s our home. And in the aftermath of the Camp Fire, the most destructive wildfire in California history, we will rebuild. More than 1,400 craft breweries joined us in brewing Resilience IPA, a fundraiser beer with 100% of sales going to Camp Fire relief. The overwhelming support helped inspire the Butte Strong Fund, a partnership devoted to the long recovery ahead.

There are, of course, many other Sierra Nevada beers that could qualify in something like an Ultimate Six Pack. I didn’t even touch on the Beer Camp event and lines of beer in this post though I did review the last version of the mixed twelve pack in 2017.  Psst, Sierra Nevada…any chance of something like that variety pack returning?

Anyway, Happy 40th Anniversary Sierra Nevada! Thanks for the delicious beers and for inspiring so many other breweries to make delicious beers of their own!

Beer Review: Sierra Nevada’s Barrel-Aged Narwhal

Name: Barrel-Aged Narwhal
Brewing Company: Sierra Nevada Brewing Company
Location: Chico, CA
Style: Stout – American Imperial/Double
ABV: 11.9%

An outstanding base stout aged in Kentucky Bourbon Barrels makes for a perfect beer.

From Sierra Nevada’s page for the beer:

Deep in our barrel room, out of light’s reach, our legendary Narwhal Imperial Stout rests in bourbon barrels for nearly a year. After aging, it emerges anew: rich with notes of oak, vanilla and coconut layered onto the Stout’s malt flavors of dark chocolate and espresso. Enjoy this beast of a beer.

This is a beer I’ve been hunting down for quite some time, basically since I knew it existed, because the annual big stout from Sierra Nevada is one of my top 10 beers of all time. Sometimes, the timing of things lead to serendipitous posts like this one: 2020 is Sierra Nevada’s 40th Anniversary, Sierra Nevada recently made this beer a year-round offering, and this beer is my 50th unique Sierra Nevada beer checked into untappd, so how could I *not* review this beer?

As much as I was looking forward to this beer for years, I’ve also come to realize not all barrel-aged beers are blended/created equal. Additionally, I hadn’t had anything barrel-aged from Sierra Nevada. In short, I was worried that anticipation would lead to disappointment

It did not.

This beer pours motor-oil black, with a khaki/heavily creamed coffee head. As for the body of the beer, I’d even say there’s something about this beer that’s so black, it’s like how much more black could this beer be? And the answer is none. None more black.

The aroma is largely from the bourbon barrels, but I do detect the hoppy/malty aromas I would typically associate with the non-Barrel Aged Narwhal. I thought to myself, “I’ve got a good feeling about this.”

That first sip is everything I hoped it would be. The barrel elements are very prominent and assertive, but far from everything this beer is. The base beer doesn’t typically have an overbearing carbonation and the carbonation is even less present on Barrel Aged Narwhal. In addition to the barrel character, the beer is largely the character I’d come to expect from the base Narwhal stout – big malt imparting sweetness, prominent hops imparting a bitter bite with subtle vanilla hints for a warm, balanced, grin-inducing finish that lingers wonderfully.

The flavor elements imparted by the Kentucky Bourbon Barrels **perfectly** enhance and complement the flavor elements of the base beer – the hops which can be relatively aggressive on a fresh in-year* bottle, are tamed and smoothed by the beer having been aged in the barrel. The hops are definitely present, but the lingering bitterness is softened. The barrel aging also complements the sweetness from the malt with hints of vanilla, oak, and maybe coconut.

* By “in-year” bottle I mean drinking a 2019 vintage of the beer in 2019, as opposed to a bottle that has sat for months to a year. I’ve had a couple bottles of Narwhal that were aged 2 and 3 years.

Something that makes this beer such a fun beer to enjoy is that the base beer Narwhal is fairly readily available for comparison. I’ve had Bourbon County Stout from AB InBev Chicago (A.K.A. Goos Island) but there’s no base beer available, same goes for So Happens Its Tuesday from the Bruery or even Parabola from Firestone Walker. In other words, you have a pretty good idea that you’re starting with in this beer.

I’ve always loved the label and font Sierra Nevada used for the beer for Narwhal, I was unhappy with the change they made in 2017 so I was pleased to see the same font treatment from the old label of the non-barrel aged version reappear on this canned version (and box of the 4-pack). I was especially pleased to see this beer go from the 22oz bomber to 16oz cans, a much easier single-sitting consumption.

Barrel-Aged Narwhal is an outstanding, world-class barrel-aged stout that I’d stand up against any other barrel-aged stout I’ve had or that is available. Given that price point, you will not find a better beer of this style (Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout, or even Imperial Stout) for this price point.

For further reading, there’s a great post on Sierra Nevada’s Blog about their barrel-aging program.

Highly, highly recommended, link to 5 bottle-cap Untappd check in.

Draught Diversions: February 2020 Six Pack

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

Considering February is the shortest month of the year, even in a leap year like this year, I was able to sample a good amount of new beers. In fact, it was a very tough challenge to trim the new beers I had in February down to just six beers. We’re at the usual 50%-50% split with NJ and non-NJ beers this month around. One business trip provided me with the opportunity to try a few beers I wouldn’t have otherwise had access to in NJ, one of which makes this month’s six pack post. So, enough of the chit chat, here’s my February 2020 six pack.

Back for S’More (Jersey Cyclone Brewing Company) | Stout – Milk / Sweet | 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

Jersey Cyclone keeps impressing me with their output. Every new beer from them is excellent, regardless of style. They had a NJ Craft Beer Night on the first Thursday of the month, which I of course attended. During that night, Jersey Cyclone debuted this delicious Milk Stout brewed with Cinnamon and conditioned on Cacao Nibs and Vanilla. The cinnamon was utilized perfectly to balance some of the sweetness from the other elements. They canned this one, too. Well worth grabbing a four pack.

Bourbon Barrel-Aged Framinghammer (Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers) | Porter – Baltic | 4.5 bottle Caps on untappd

This is the first “big” beer I’ve had from the great Lager brewery in Massachusetts. Yes, a Baltic porter is brewed using a cold/Lager process. I haven’t had the base non-barrel-aged beer, but this version is delectable. The bourbon is present, but not overpowering. Notes of vanilla and sweetness balance out the slightly high bitterness level associated with the style. A wonderful slow-sipper. Jack’s Abby brews several variants of this beer (S’Mores, Vanilla, Mole, etc) which I will most definitely be trying.

Flemington Fog (Lone Eagle Brewing) | IPA – New England | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

After missing a few sessions, I was able to get to Board Game night at Lone Eagle in February and I had one of their new beers, from their newish brewer and it is a dandy. Lone Eagle has brewed a few Hazy/New England IPAs (as has just about every brewery) but this one is the clear (pun half-intended) stand out in the crowd. This is a juicy beer with a pleasant bitterness on the finish. Just an overall good beer and I like the name as an homage to the city where the brewery is located.

Parabola (Firestone Walker Brewing Company) | Stout – Russian Imperial | 4.5 bottle Caps on untappd

Firestone Walker is, as I’ve noted here in the past, one of the leaders in barrel-aging and blending of beers. A beer many consider the apex of that program is Parabola, their big (13.6% ABV) Russian Imperial Stout. Like the BBA Framinghammer, the bourbon elements complement the flavors present in the beer, especially that aggressive hop finish strongly associated with Russian Imperial Stouts. This beer is simply outstanding.

Pliny the Elder (Russian River Brewing Company) | IPA – Imperial / Double | 5 bottle Caps on untappd

The very first Imperial IPA ever made and one of the best beers I’ve ever had. I was in San Francisco for business for a couple of days and I heard about this wonderful dive bar, the Toronado with 40 beers on tap, and Pliny a fixture. There was a great write-up by Jay Brooks recently for Flagship February which featured Pliny at the Toronado. Of course I had to go and have the beer, which lived up to the hype. An outstanding beer, never have hops tasted so wonderful. Quite simply, a perfect beer..

Good Morals (Conclave Brewing Company) | Farmhouse Ale – Other | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

I made my first visit to Conclave’s new facility and I was extremely impressed with the taproom. So much more space for customers, with tables and the typical old whisky/bourbon barrels. Very inviting, very spacious, and simply very nice. The beers have always been great, Carl (owner/brewer) uses hops from New Zealand so well and this Farmhouse ale has a couple of those, as well as that popular Norwegian Kviek yeast. At only 4.7% ABV, this beer is refreshing with a great amount of flavor. Just a great, great beer.

Honorable mention to a beer I haven’t had in about 4 or 5 years – Java Cask from Victory Brewing. This beer is the great Pennsylvania brewery’s take on the bourbon-barrel aged stout…not just a stout, a coffee stout. It is as good as I recall it being. To balance it out, I stopped in a few breweries in NJ at the end of the month and one really disappointed me – Magnify Brewing. Maybe I just caught some bad beers, or not the best they made (I had an English Mild, an IPA, and a Stout) but for the reputation they seem to have, I was expecting much, much more.

Draught Diversions: December 2019 Six Pack

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

The month of December began with another bottle share, but even outside of that great day, I was able to enjoy quite a few very good beers. Some Christmas/Winter-adjacent, stouts, and the usual mix of NJ, regional, and nationally available beers. .

Kalishnikov (Icarus Brewing Company) | Stout – Russian Imperial | 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

Shockingly, a beer from Icarus Brewing appears on this list. Kalishnikov is one of their annual favorites and I know why, a delicious, super-boozy (14% ABV!) Stout that doesn’t feel like it has that much alcohol in it. Russian Imperials can be very bitter on the finish, but the addition of honey in the brewing process gives the beer a nice hit of sweetness on the finish. I’ve had one of the barrel-aged variants, but I think I prefer the base stout more. .

Christmas Ale (Brouwerij St. Bernardus) | Winter Ale | 4 bottle Caps on untappd

I’ve been trying to sample at least one of the more popular and widely available Belgian Christmas beers every year and this year I landed on bottle sporting the happy monk. This beer turned out to be a really nice ale. The classic from St. Bernardus is basically a Quadrupel (10%ABV), but with more fruit character (some cherry notes, maybe?) than their standard Quadrupel. This is definitely a slow sipper and a beer you should let warm a little bit to room temperature to fully enjoy the aroma and full flavor of the beer.

Winter Cru (Flying Fish Brewing Company) | Belgian Strong Golden Ale | 3.75 / 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

Over the last year, Flying Fish continued to evolve, brew new beers, and tweak their classic beers. Winter Cru is a reboot of their Winter seasonal (Grand Cru Winter Reserve) with a great label and tweaked recipe. The original wasn’t one I cared for too much, so this change in recipe is very much welcome and the beer is more full-flavored My tagline: “A Belgian style ale w/hints of cinnamon and nutmeg will settle you in for a comforting Christmas and Winter Holiday.”

Willettized Coffe Stout (Lagunitas Brewing Company) | Stout – Coffee | 4.50 bottle Caps on untappd

This is an annual release Lagunitas that is often highly-sought after. That’s because it is a delicious, very balanced barrel-aged stout. The barrels are Willett Rye and what an excellent blend of flavors – coffee, roasted malt, rye whiskey. This is quite simply a fantastic barrel-aged stout.

Psycho Simcoe (Three 3’s Brewing Company) | IPA – New England | 4.50 Bottle Caps on untappd

I wasn’t able to snap a photo of my beer in the very crowded bar, so here’s the can art, courtesy of Three 3’s Facebook

You never know what you’ll find in a dive bar and there’s a pretty great dive bar in my town – The Royal Bar. They have a pretty standard selection of beers, but every time I’ve gone to the Royal, I’ve always found at least one gem. This most recent visit the gem would be Psycho Simcoe, a fantastic IPA from the South Jersey brewery. This is a wonderful blend of dank and juicy hops (Simcoe, obviously, but also Mandarina Bavaria for the juiciness) that make for a delicious beer – juiciness at the start with a nice dank finish.

Haunted House (Allagash Brewing Company) | Belgian Strong Dark Ale | 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

I say this every time I mention beers from Allagash, but I need to get more of their beers because this one a, “Halloween seasonal” is excellent. There’s a wonderful start to the beer with flavorful roast, then it moves to a fantastic blend of hops and then finishes with a sweet hint of coffee. Allagash brews primarily Belgian styles and there really isn’t a stout in the catalogue of Belgian styles, so this one is considered the closest to it a “Belgian Strong Dark Ale.” .Whatever you call it, the beer is really, really tasty.

My work pals and I had a Christmas “Gathering of the Fellowship of the Beer” in the beginning of December, which was fun as it is everytime we get together to share new beers with each other. The standout at that gathering was a bottle of Samuel Adams Utopias (which takes center stage below in the photo of the beers we shared), which one of our friends generously shared. The bottle was from 2017 and was unlike any other beer I’ve had. The only slight negative is that it smelled like slightly of nail polish, but the flavor … heavenly.

The Treehouse and Hill Farmstead bottles contained some delicious homebrews (a wonderful milk stout and tasty New England IPA) from our friend Brad

Beer Review: Firestone Walker’s Old Man Hattan

Name: Old Man Hattan
Brewing Company: Firestone Walker Brewing Company
Location: Paso Robles, CA
Style: Strong Ale – American
ABV: 9.6%

A potent beer evoking two popular potent bourbon-based cocktails makes for a complex and tasty slow-sipping dark ale.

From Firestone Walker’s landing page for this beer:

A barrel-aged mashup of two classic cocktails: the Old Fashioned and the Manhattan.

This inaugural Proprietor’s Vintage release features a blend of five notable Firestone Walker beers, including select lots of Parabola and Helldorado aged in cherry, orange and aromatic bitters barrels.

The result is a barnstorming beer that exhibits pronounced whiskey notes while artfully expressing essences of both the Old Fashioned and the Manhattan cocktails.

Originally conceived as a brewery-only Black Friday release, Old Man Hattan now makes its Proprietor’s Vintage debut due to popular demand.

I’ve been wanting to feature a beer from Firestone Walker on here for a while. Granted, one of their beers (Nitro Merlin Milk Stout) was the second beer I ever reviewed here at the Tap Takeover, but their barrel aging program and blending programs are arguably the best/most respected in the country, whether those beers are on the sour side or on the big stout/dark ale side.

The beers in this “Proprietor’s Vintage” aren’t always the most widely distributed or easiest to find, and when they do appear on shelves they don’t last for long. I’d been hoping to get a bottle of this one specifically given that part of the aim of Firestone Walker in brewing this beer is to evoke the classic “Old Fashioned” drink, my favorite cocktail. So, let’s get into it, shall we?

The beer pours dark, maybe a very deep brown, maybe black, maybe even dark burnt sienna. In one of the lights in my house, I can almost see a deep reddish brown. The aroma is strongly of beer, strongly of the bourbon, and of the bitters. At least from the aroma perspective, I’m getting the evocation of the Old Fashioned and Manhattan Firestone was aiming to evoke. So far, so good.

That first sip sure is interesting, I don’t quite think I’ve had a beer like this before. That’s good, by the way, because I like what I’m tasting. More of the beer proves the same. The beer elements remind me of a stout, but not quite as heavy on the roasted malts as a stout. I’d expect some roasted malts from a Russian Imperial Stout (Parabola) and maybe hops from a Barleywine (Helldorado), the two styles of beer which comprise this blend. Again, the absence of the strong roasted malts isn’t bad. The hop presence is mild, too. I get a little bit of hops, but not overpowering. The beer elements are there, bottom line.

What does come through are the whiskey/bourbon elements from the aging of the two base beers. I also strongly get fruit elements from the bitters barrels, cherry and orange most strongly. The beer finishes its journey through my palate with the same little pep that an Old Fashioned does. A great flavor finish that encourages careful and thoughtful consumption, rather than quickly throwing back the beer.

This beer is a great example of how complex flavors can be coaxed into beer through innovative brewing, blending, and barreling methods. I’ve had two of these boxed barrel aged beers from Firestone Walker and now I want to give more of them a try, particularly the beers blended to make this beer. Ten bucks for a 12oz beer, but you’re getting a beer bottled in very limited quantities (3,000, I think) and a beer that has undergone an extensive aging/blending process to get to what is in the bottle. It is also clocking in at just under 10% ABV, so the price is more than justified and well worth trying.

Highly recommended, link to 4.25 bottle-cap Untappd check in.

Untapped badges earned with this beer:

Iron Man(Level 8)

You don’t have to be a superhero to enjoy a strong beer. Boasting a higher than average ABV, these styles really do pack a punch, so be ready for it. That’s 40 different beers with style of Strong Ale – American, Strong Ale – English, Strong Ale – Other, Belgian Strong Dark Ale, Belgian Strong Golden Ale or Lager – Euro Strong.

Draught Diversions: June 2019 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 brought some good beers to me, but what else is new? There’s an abundance of good beer to be had, the toughest part is figuring out which new beers to try. As for this month, it was a return to the usual mix of IPAs and other styles with half of the beers from NJ breweries. What can I say, I’m drinking from local breweries more and more as of late. I wouldn’t be surprised if two of the beers this month make an appearance in my Year End round-up/Favorite beers of 2019.

Weissbier (von Trapp Brewing Company) | Hefeweizen | 3.75 bottle Caps on untappd

von Trapp is one of the premier brewers of German-style beers. While most of their output is on the Lager side of the beer family, a brewery focusing on the German styles has to brew a Hefeweizen, that most German of ales. This is a pretty good interpretation of the style and worth a try.

Beer Geek Breakfast (Mikkeller Brewing San Diego) | Stout – American Imperial / Double | 4 bottle Caps on untappd

I think this was the first beer I had from one of the Mikkeller Brewing companies (there’s a few around the world) and it is just about everything you’d want form an oatmeal stout. Following the now accepted rules of breakfast stouts, this one also has some coffee in the mix, making for a very pleasant bittersweet hit that balances well with the smooth oatmeal elements.

Maibock Hurts Like Helles (Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers) | Bock – Hell / Maibock / Lentenbock | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

A couple of reviews back I featured a tasty bock and I am very pleased I was able to snag this somewhat seasonal bock from Jack’s Abby because it might just be the best Maibock/Helles Bock I can recall having. There’s a beautiful caramel feel to the beer with a slight touch of hops that provides for that ever-overused phrase of balance but damn does this beer provide great balance.

More Cowbell Saison with Pear (Lone Eagle Brewing) | Saison / Farmhouse Ale | 3.75 bottle Caps on untappd

June was the first time in a few months I was able to make it to Lone Eagle for the Monthly Board Game night and I’m glad I did. Always a good time with the group of games. Lone Eagle recently hired a new brewer, Brad Adelson who has experience at two of my favorites, Founders and Victory. This Saison was one of his new beers featured that night. The Saison base beer is good, but I really liked what the addition of the pear to the show brought – a pleasant, sweet, rounded finish. I’m looking forward to trying more of Brad’s beers.

Follow the Gull (Cape May Brewing Company) | IPA – American | 4 bottle Caps on untappd


Cape May Brewing Company consistently impresses me with every beer I have from them. Their IPA game is super strong and the style they are best known for producing. Follow the Gull was initially a one-off for Cape May County’s 325th anniversary but it proved so popular it is now in regular rotation. The Citra and Azacca hops shine most strongly in this one. Not quite a New England style IPA, but definitely more East Coast juiciness than West Coast piney-ness. Delicious.

Overhead (Kane Brewing Co.) | IPA – Imperial / Double | 4.5 bottle Caps on untappd


I’ve said quite a bit about Kane in some of these six pack posts but in all the years I’ve been enjoying NJ beer, I hadn’t had Overhead before this past Sunday. It, along with Head High are the two IPAs that helped but them on the map. This is probably the best Imperial IPA from a NJ brewery I’ve had and I think quite a few people agree. In all the best ways, it reminds me of Dogfish Head’s 90-Minute, but there’s something different enough in the hops used or maybe the malt that sets Overhead apart. It is simply put, an outstanding beer.

Like last month, there were a couple of clunkers, a couple not worth mentioning. However, one really bad beer was Sprecher’s take on a Scotch Ale, a style I normally like quite a bit. This one; however, is the epitome of a drain pour for me and one of the worst beers from a brewery of this size and longevity (founded in 1985) I ever head. There was a very unpleasant smokiness to the beer that was flat out gross.

Draught Diversions: May 2019 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…

May turned out to be a stronger month for new beers than I expected. I was able to visit three new to me breweries while returning to a couple of local favorites throughout the month. An interesting mix of beers for sure, and another monthly six pack without an IPA. I had a few IPAs in May (as last week’s review can testify as will this week’s review) but a few of the styles represented here don’t often get as much attention as they should. On to the six pack.

A Quarter of Kölsch (Jersey Cyclone Brewing Company) | Kölsch | 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

Jersey Cyclone is one of the newest breweries to open in New Jersey, they began serving beer to the public from their brewery on May 4. I visited and was very pleased with what I had and the brewery in general. The standout for me was this Kölsch, a style I’ve really come to appreciate. A very easy drinking German ale that is sort of the ale equivalent of a Pilsner. This is a beer perfect for warm weather and a beer I hope will be in constant rotation at the brewery around the corner from where I work. I can see myself getting growler fills of this on Fridays to share with friends by my pool in the summer.

World Wide Stout (Dogfish Head Brewing Company) | Stout – American Imperial / Double | 4.50 bottle Caps on untappd

It has been a couple of months since Dogfish Head showed up here at the Tap Takeover, but with the recent release of World Wide Stout, their appearance in a six pack shouldn’t be a surprise. This is one of their biannual releases, and this year’s version is the first I had. Well, the I had the variant of Oak Aged World Wide Vanilla Stout a couple of years back and this one is just as good. I don’t think I’ve had a beer this high in ABV (18%) that was so deceptive in its booziness. This is a sweet beer for sure, but delicious all the way through. Even the 12oz bottle might be worth sharing, or for me, enjoyed over the course of an hour.

Hefeweizen (Wet Ticket Brewing Company) | Hefeweizen | 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

I’ve been talking up Wet Ticket quite a bit lately, haven’t I? Well, they make really good beer. There happened to be a NJ Craft Beer “Beer Up” / meet up at Wet Ticket in early May, which turned out to be a great event I attended with my Dad (who lives the next town over). I had the chance to talk with owner Tim Pewitt, Mr. NJCB himself Mike Kivovitz, and Al Gatullo of the AG Craft Beer Cast. This Hefeweizen was my first beer of the night and it is a really good interpretation of a classic German style. Tim’s version leans more towards banana than clove and was fantastic way to get the night rolling.

Peril & Perish (Conclave Brewing) | Saison / Farmhouse Ale | 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

Usually if I visit Conclave, chances are one of their beers will appear on the monthly six pack. Such is the case with this lovely, elegant Saison they brewed/released in Mid-May. There’s a really good balance of sweetness, almost citrusy in nature, and earthiness in the beer, just what I hope to taste in a Saison. The hops used in this one, Hallertau, brings a very nice, pleasant bitterness throughout the beer.

Hefeweizen (Mission Brewery) | Hefeweizen |  4 bottle Caps on untappd


Two new hefeweizens in the month, which is a rarity. I love the style, but it isn’t hugely popular. I recall having some Mission beer a few years ago here in NJ (pre-untappd) so when I had a San Diego business trip on my calendar, I knew I wanted to visit them. I did and this beer was great, just what I want in a Hefeweizen, like Wet Ticket’s this one is a little more on the fruity side with maybe even hints of pear. Regardless, this was a very pleasant beer and a welcome refreshment after a long day flying (two flights added with the layover amounted to about 11 hours of travel) from NJ to CA.

Gumballhead (3 Floyds Brewing Co.) | Pale Wheat Ale – American | 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd


I’ve been wanting to try a beer from the vaunted Indiana brewery for years so when my wife and I stopped in one of our favorite restaurants (and one of the best beer bars I’ve ever visited) Isaac Newton’s and saw this on the beer list, I was thrilled. There were a few beers from 3 Floyds, but I wasn’t in an IPA mood and I’m glad I wasn’t. This is one of the best “Pale Wheat Ales” I can remember enjoying. There’s a wonderful sweet, lemony finish to the beer that was absolutely perfectly balanced. This is a very simple straight-forward beer whose excellence and craftsmanship pushes it far above the taken-for-granted style. Great stuff.

There were a lot of good beers in May, but there were a couple of not so great and one really terrible, un-finishable beer. That awful beer has a name that is the complete antithesis of the liquid itself, Stone Delicious IPA. I had it at the Stone bar at the San Diego Airport, one of the biggest wastes of money on beer I ever spent, especially considering how much more expensive beer is at an airport.

Beer Review: Karl Strauss Brewing Company Columbia Street Amber

Name: Columbia Street Amber
Brewing Company: Karl Straus Brewing Company
Location: San Diego, CA
Style: Lager – American Amber / Red
ABV: 4.5%

“Every brewery should have a “workhorse” lager this good on continual rotation in their portfolio.”

From Karl Strauss’s landing page for Columbia Street Amber:

It was February 2nd 1989 when we opened our first brewery on Columbia Street in downtown San Diego. This easy drinking beer has been pouring since that very first day. Imported Munich malts give Columbia Street Amber its deep bronze color, smooth body, and crisp toasted flavor. Karl Strauss has grown, but the original brewery location remains. Raise a pint of Columbia Street Amber and join us in a cheers to San Diego’s vibrant craft beer scene.

I’ve said in the past that one of the benefits of traveling for work is the opportunity to visit breweries I wouldn’t otherwise visit. Case in point, this beer review. While there are many breweries in San Diego, only one brewery was the first and that happens to be Karl Strauss Brewing Company. They are something of a legacy brewery, as the two men who started the brewery, Chris Cramer and Matt Rattner, asked their cousin Karl Strauss to help them start a brewery. Karl Strauss was an iconic brewer in America, working at Pabst where he helped reformulate Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, which helped the beer reach iconic status. That Wikipedia link is well worth a click, as is the history section on Karl Strauss Brewing’s web site. Karl eventually served at Pabst until 1983 and was president of the Master Brewers Association of the Americas for a few years. In short, he’d probably be on a Mount Rushmore of American Brewing. That legacy carries on in the brewery that bears his name, which is why I wanted to visit the brewery.

I ordered up a flight to get an idea of what I wanted with my meal. The flight included Red Trolley Ale (an Irish Red Ale), Follow the Sun (Pilsner), Aurora Hoppyalis (IPA), and this beer, Columbia Street Amber Lager.

Sometimes (hell, like last week’s beer), a well-made lager is what really hits the spot and Columbia Street Amber certainly hits the spot. The glass is full with amber beauty, a beer that glows with invitation. There isn’t too much of an aroma, maybe a little bit of maltiness? For the most part; however, it smells like you’d expect a beer to smell.

First sip is sweetness, but not a cloying sweetness. Sweetness from the malt, that good lager flavor on the finish laced with the carbonation. The sweetness is consistent throughout the beer, but as it sits in my mouth with each successive sip, I begin to taste the lovely toasted malts that make up the body of the flavor. There’s a really nice caramel, almost toffee flavor to the beer. The elements of the toasted malt and the sweetness come together very nicely as a whole in the beer. The beer is incredibly flavorful altogether, especially given that it is a sub-5 ABV. The longer lagering process allows for flavors to develop and mature during the brewing process, which seems to be exactly what happened with this beer.

Every brewery should have a lager like this in their portfolio: a workhorse lager that can sit in the glass for every occasion and complement a meal or be enjoyed by itself. I enjoyed my pint of Columbia Street Amber while eating delicious fish tacos from Karl Strauss.

I could compare this another way. For years my go to lager and most dependable beer was Yuengling’s Lager. Some may look down upon that beer because in the Northeast, it is an inescapable mass produced beer. That said, it is a mostly well-made lager and considering the mass level on which the beer is produced, has some good flavor. It also happens to be an Amber Lager, much like Columbia Street Lager. The beer from Karl Strauss reminded me of Yuengling’s Lager, with the exception that I found Karl Strauss’s amber lager to be a more flavorful and complex beer.

While at the brewery/brewpub and enjoying my meal, I was speaking with the bartender. Apparently, Columbia Street Amber is the longest standing beer continuously being poured in San Diego, having been served since Karl Strauss opened their doors and tap handles back in 1989 when the beer was originally called Karl Strauss Lager. I could hear the pride in his voice as he told this to me.* I can understand why – it is a very well-balanced, flavorful lager that has a low enough ABV (4.5%) that it almost begs to be enjoyed in multiple pints.

*Yeah, I know it says that up in the description, but I didn’t have that in front of me when I was speaking with the bartender.

Bottom line, any brewery without a lager in their portfolio would be improved by having a lager of this quality in their regular rotation.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4-bottle cap rating.

Badge Earned:

Untapped badges earned with this beer:

Lager Jack (Level 15)

After a long day, what better way to kick back than with a crisp and refreshing lager? You’re already feeling more relaxed, aren’t you?.

Draught Diversions: 12 Beers of Christmas (2018 Part 2)

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…

Here’s part two of the 12 Beers of Christmas 2018 I promised on Tuesday. Like that post (and all similar posts this year), this follows the six pack format. There’s a mix of beers I haven’t had, haven’t had in a few years, and a recent favorite.

Old Jubilation Ale – Avery Brewing Company (Boulder, CO)

This beer is one of the modern American Christmas classics. Though not technically a winter warmer like many Christmas beers, this one is more along the lines of an Old Ale/English Strong Ale. A high ABV of 8.3% makes this a long sipper and without having had this one yet (by the time I was looking for it in early December, stores had already sold out of their annual allotment), I imagine it would be similar to Founders’ Curmudgeon. I’ll have to keep my eyes open a little earlier next year if I want to grab some of this one.

What Avery says about the beer:

Our winter strong ale has a gorgeous mahogany hue, a hint of hazelnuts, and a finish reminiscent of mocha and toffee. No spices, just a perfect blend of five specialty malts.

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!

Corsendonk Christmas Ale – Brouwerij Corsendonk – (Antwerpen, Belgium)

Here’s the Obligatory Belgian Christmas beer for this list. I had this one for the first time last year and thoroughly enjoyed it so I may have to grab some again before the Christmas season ends. I received a gift pack of this beer last year for Christmas, which included the glass in the picture above. Again, like many of the Belgian Christmas Ales, this one is categorized as “Belgian Strong Dark Ale.” I remember being really surprised that the ABV on this was 8.5%, but on the other hand, that could be a reason why the bottles are a little smaller (I think 8 or 9 oz).

About the beer:

Brewed with Pale, Munich and Caramunich malts; Kent Goldings hops. This is a rich, dark, joyous brew with which to celebrate the holiday season. It’s aroma of chocolate malt and spiciness is reminiscent of the wonderfull smells of holiday baking in Mom’s kitchen. Silky smooth on the palate, it’s predominantly malty, with smoky, spicy and citrusy notes and a long, lingering finish that is lightly tart and malty. Bottle conditioned for a fresh, lively taste. Round and well balanced, it’s a welcome addition for holiday tables and beyond.

Santa!! I Know Him! – Evil Genius Beer Company (Philadelphia, PA)

Image courtesy of Evil Genius’s Facebook page

A Saison is not your typical style of beer for Christmas, but Evil Genius (at least going by the clever the names) aren’t your typical brewery. I’ve enjoyed some of Evil Genius’s tasty beers over the years, but haven’t had a chance to give this one a try. Yet. The name for this beer is in homage to the modern classic of Yuletide films, Elf. Some interesting components are utilized in the brew process for this beer.

What Evil Genius says about this beer:

Festive Saison -Santa!! I Know him! is our holiday saison brewed with rose hips, chamomile, black currants and dark Belgian candi syrup. Deep, complex and intriguing, this bone-dry Belgian-style ale is sure to seduce you, or the one you’re with. Roses, chamomile, and currants have long been considered powerful aphrodisiacs, so we decided to combine them with mysterious and beguiling Belgian saison yeast. The result is something very special and sure to help spice up nights spent at home during the cold winter months. Have you been Naughty or Nice this year – or both?

Chrismukkah – 902 Brewing (Hoboken, NJ)

Image courtesy of 902 Brewing’s Facebook page

This is probably the newest beer in this post as I think 902 is debuting the beer this holiday season (December 4, according to their Facebook page, where I snagged the photo above). That said, it looks like it fits the bill with all the holiday spices and brownish hue. I’ve had only 2 beers from 902 Brewing and both were very good so hopefully, this beer continues that trend should I come across it.

What 902 Brewing says about the beer:

It’s the holiday season! What better way to warm up than this 7.6% winter ale? Brewed with cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger, it’s hitting distro today. Well in time for your holiday needs! A nice treat for when the big man drops by on Christmas Eve, too!

2XMAS – Southern Tier Brewing Company (Lakewood, NY)

I haven’t had this one in a few years and the last time I had it, the beer was very spicy. Other times; however, I recall really enjoying it. I might have to locate some and give it a try this year, but the figs, cinnamon, and cloves in the brew process are flavor components I enjoy.

What Southern Tier says about the beer:

Spiced double ale with fig paste, orange peels, ginger root, cardamom, cinnamon and cloves

Swedish flags are a fairly common sight in our part of the country. Holiday parties often have warm concoctions of spices and booze at the ready to knock the ice off of toes while raising spirits. We were inspired by a “Glögg” party, deciding on the spot to brew a beer that pays tribute to this Nordic tradition.

2XMAS ale combines traditional brewing ingredients with figs, orange peels, cardamom, cinnamon, clove and ginger root. It’s a holiday addition to the 2X line and another reason to toast to the season, but unlike Glögg, we recommend serving this one chilled.

Xocoveza – (Stout –Imperial Milk/Sweet) – Stone Brewing (Escondido, CA)

I had this beer for the first time last year and really enjoyed it, .I said at the time this beer is the closest beer I’ve had to one of my local favorites, Conclave’s Mexican Morning Stout. The beer emulates Mexican Hot Chocolate with peppers and cinnamon and if any beverage says Christmas morning then it would have to be Hot Chocolate. For 2018, Stone released the beer in cans.

What Stone says about the beer:

This is a beloved stout. When first introduced as a limited special collaboration release with San Diego homebrewer Chris Banker (after his recipe won our annual homebrew competition) and Cerveceria Insurgente, it was an instant hit and fans began clamoring for its return. Seeing as how its amazing flavor profile is evocative of Mexican hot chocolate, featuring coffee, pasilla peppers, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and a generous amount of our own in-house made chocolate, we concluded it was the perfect stout to re-release in celebration of the Holidays and the entire winter season. This is now a highly anticipated yearly tradition that we are pleased to present from us to you, and makes a perfect wintry gift from you to your friends, loved ones, or simply to yourself. Cheers!

So, 12 Christmas beers over the course of two posts this week here at The Tap Takeover. Any favorites out of these or any I missed?

Beer Review: Bruery Terreux’s Beret

Name: Beret
Brewing Company: Breuery Terreux
Location: Orange County, CA
Style: Sour – Ale
ABV: 9%

From Breury Terreux’s landing page for the beer:

Beret is as artistic as those who wear its namesake cap. Our brewers developed a silky, full-bodied wheat ale which we began fermenting with a Belgian-style witbier yeast strain. To finish the fermentation, we added our collection of barnyard bacteria, intended to slowly sour the ale, bringing out a slight funk and refreshing piquancy. Finally, a small dose of pureed raspberries were added for just a hint of fruity tannins, putting the berry in Beret.

I’ve had a few of the big beers from The Bruery, but before enjoying Beret, I think I only had a taste of Bruery Terreux beer at a beer festival. As their twitter profile inidicates, Bruery Terreux is “The sour & wild side of Famille Rue. Crafting wildly traditional bière alongside The Bruery.” After enjoying Beret, I will be having more of their beers. As I’ve come to enjoy sour beers more and more, I wanted to try one of these big sour beers from California. The range of styles within Sour beers is quite wide and Bruery Terreux seem to brew them all. In the end, I was drawn to Beret were the approachable price of about $15 (some of their 750ml beers range well above $20) and the fruited flavor of raspberry.

The beer pours a cloudy/hazy yellowish-pink. It looks a bit like a fruited hefeweizen/witbier to me, which I suppose makes sense since the beer began as a wheat ale. It has that spongy aroma most Goses do for me. I’m not sure why I use the word spongy, but that imagery pops up in my head. I like Goses so on the whole, and Berliner Weisses as well, so I like where this beer is going on looks and aroma alone.

That first taste is slightly sweet with lots of that spongy sour-tartness. There’s a lot of funkiness, too, the flavor moves around a bit from sweet to tart, but settles down once the raspberry joins in the flavor party. I had this beer on ice to get it cold, which turned out to be too cold. The complexities of the flavor from the chemistry that happens with the ingredients from the wheat to the yeast to the raspberry become more prominent as the beer warmed up.

For my palette’s sensibilities, I would have enjoyed the beer a little bit more if the raspberry was a more assertive and pronounced. A little more sweetness would have been welcome. I wonder how the same beer would taste with a slightly sweeter fruit like peach.

On the whole, Beret is a fairly approachable sour ale – it would be a good beer for people unsure of whether they enjoy sours to try. That, coupled with the lower price point compared to many offerings from The Breury or Bruery Terreaux, makes Beret one to potentially share with a friend who is curious about sour beers.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4-star rating.

Untapped badges earned with this beer:

Pucker Up (Level 11)

Right about now you’re feeling your face tighten and your taste buds explode. The full pucker is quickly setting in and you can’t get enough. This is the wonder of the sour. That’s 55 different Sour Beers.

Hopped Down (Level 67)

One cannot live on dank hops alone. Tone down the bitterness and enjoy some smooth flavor. That’s 335 different beers with an IBU of 20 or below.