Draught Diversions: Four Pack Favorite Breweries 2018

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image courtesy of MyBeerBuzz

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

373 Unique Beers
155 different breweries
101 distinct styles

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

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

Top 5 Most Checked in beer styles:

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

Top 5 Most Checked in breweries:

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

459 Badges Earned

Draught Diversions: Favorite New Beers of 2018

Welcome to the second annual best of the year here at the Tap Takeover! I drank a lot of beer in 2017, a lot of different beers. According to untappd, I had 373 unique beers in many styles (101 distinct styles), many breweries (155) and of varying quality.

Like last year, these beers are “new to me” beers, even if the beer was brewed in the past or a regular rotation offering for a given brewery. I’m not including special annual releases I’ve had in the past like Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout, Sierra Nevada Summerfest, or Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout. First, I’ve had previous vintages of those beers so they really aren’t “new to me.”  Some of these beers have received full reviews at the Tap Takeover, some were mentioned in a monthly six pack, and some weren’t ever mentioned before.

Once again, a NJ bias shines through on this list as 6 of the beers are from NJ breweries (last year featured 7 NJ breweries), but considering about half of the beer I bought & consumed in 2018 was from NJ breweries, this shouldn’t be a surprise. Unlike last year, there are zero stouts on this list. Like last year, no brewery appears on this list, twice. Also like last year, some of the breweries on this list will not be a surprise,

Breakdown:

  • 6 from NJ breweries
  • 3 IPAs (all three are Double/Imperials)
  • 2 Porters (both Double/Imperials)
  • 2 Pilsners
  • 1 Belgian Strong Golden Ale
  • 1 Belgian Tripel
  • 1 Bock (Dopplebock)
  • 1 Lager
  • 1 Old Ale

On to the list…

12. Steam Whistle Plisner Unfiltered (Plus) – Steam Whistle Brewing – Pilsner – Other – 4.25 bottle caps

If you would have told me one of my favorite beers of the year was a Canadian pilsner I would have laughed in your face. But, like last year’s list, the #12 beer on my list is indeed a pilsner. I had this on a business trip to Toronto, which I wrote about at the end of the summer. I don’t recall having an unfiltered pilsner before this, but this beer was pure deliciousness. The atmosphere at the brewery was great, which may have helped me enjoy the beer a little bit more.

11. This Town – Carton Brewing Company – Lager – Helles 4.25 Bottle Caps

Of course a Carton Beer makes the list and this Helles Lager (a cousin to the Czech Pislner) is a perfect everyday beer. Everything that makes Lagers so great is embodied by this beer. Augie Carton has said this beer won’t be sold in cans outside of Monmouth County, following this beer’s credo (much like the ethos of German beer) that every town should have their own lager. But everytime I visit Carton, I know I’ll be walking out with at least a six pack of this beer.

10. Curmudgeon’s Better Half – Founders Brewing Co. – Old Ale 4.5 Bottle Caps

This one probably doesn’t come as a surprise, either given how much I’ve expressed my enjoyment of beers from Founders. I like the base beer – Curmudgeon, a malt bomb of a beer, but this beer, with the added sweetness from maple syrup barrels makes for yet another enjoyable entry in Founders’ Barrel Aged series. I had two bottles of this, I picked up the 4 pack in August had one then and let another bottle site for a few months. While the first bottle was quite good, aging it a little helped and I’m looking forward to seeing how that final bottle of the 4 pack sits in a year or so.

9. Fudge Machine – Demented Brewing Company – Porter – Imperial / Double 4.5 bottle caps

I hadn’t visited Demented quite as much over 2018 compared to the year before, but this beer really surprised me with how much I enjoyed it. I like porters and chocolate porters, but this is a potent beer that delivers everything you could want out of a chocolate porter. At the time, I think this was a relatively limited release available only at the brewery, but this is so good it really needs to be in regular rotation or an annual release for Demented

8. DDH Not A Schooner – Icarus Brewing – IPA – New England 4.5 bottle caps

Image courtesy of Icarus Brewing’s Facebok

I would typically not include a beer for which I only had a taster, but when I attended the 2018 Bridgewater Beerfest, I went back for multiple samples of this beer it was so delicious and amounted to probably a full pour of the beer. DDH Not a Schooner was one of the best IPAs out of New Jersey I had all year. This beer, plus many of their IPAs, have made Icarus a MAJOR player in the growing NJ Beer Scene.

7. Devil’s Reach – Cape May Brewing Company – Belgian Golden Strong Ale 4.5 bottle caps

One of the best beer things to happen in NJ this year was the expansion of Cape May Brewing Company’s distribution footprint. This is one of their flagship beers and is an outstanding, delicious, sweet explosion of flavor that is deceptively high in ABV (8.6%) but so easy drinking. In some of my reviews I mention “an iconic shelf of NJ Beers” and I would definitely make room for this one. Not many NJ breweries make a “Belgian Strong Golden Ale” (at least about which I’m aware) so there honestly isn’t too much competition in the State for this style. Regardless, this is an absolute stand-out ale.

6. 120 Minute Imperial IPA – Dogfish Head Craft Brewery – IPA – Imperial / Double 4.5 bottle caps

Few breweries are as iconic as Dogfish Head and this is one of the beers that helped them to earn that reputation. One of the biggest, booziest IPAs in wide distribution, this beer is a monster of hoppy deliciousness. This is a $8 per 12 oz bottle and I may get one or two to age for a couple of years. I’ve seen folks say this approaches barley wine levels as it ages so I may snag a bottle or two and let it/them sit for a couple of years.

5. Westmalle Trappist Tripel – Brouwerij der Trappisten van Westmalle – Belgian Tripel 4.5 bottle caps

Talk about World Class Beers, this is one of the best Tripels I’ve ever had and is a stunning, beautiful beer. The magic from the Belgian Yeast does wonders, evoking a fruity/spice flavor profile that must be sampled. The more I think about this beer, the more I want to run out and grab one again.

4. Process Pils Conclave Brewing Pilsner – German 4.75 Bottle Caps

Yeah, another unsurprising brewery for the list, but like I said back in August when I first had the beer, I don’t think it is possible for Carl, Tim, and Bryan to make a bad beer. Much as I loved This Town as a great lager, this pilsner is the best pilsner I had all year and one of the best American pilsners I’ve ever had. Conclave has been canning more of their beers this year, I’d love to see this one in cans.

3. Crusher The Alchemist IPA – Imperial / Double 4.75 bottle caps

I went into a lot of detail in my review of the beer, but here’s the gist: Such a delicious hop profile that is one of the most perfect citrusy hopped profiles I’ve ever had in a beer. I couldn’t believe what a bouquet of flavors was in just a sip of the beer so, of course, I took another taste, though more than a sip. I let the beer sit in my mouth a bit to get the full flavor and my goodness does this beer do so many things perfectly well. I wanted to drink this one quickly because it was so delicious, but I didn’t want it to be gone quickly.

2. Sunday Brunch Kane Brewing Porter – Imperial / Double 4.75 bottle caps

Bottle Image in background courtesy of Kane’s Facebook. Glass pour mine.

This is, quite simply, one of the best porters I’ve ever had. Sunday Brunch is 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 and in 750ml bottles at the brewery.

1. Bourbon Barrel-Aged Troegenator Tröegs Independent Brewing Bock – Dopplebock 4.75 Bottle caps

I’ll go into more detail about Tröegs in my next post, but this beer is one of the best bocks I’ve ever had, and one of my favorite beers of all time now. The base of this beer, Troegenator, is itself something of a craft classic and a delicious beer. Throw an already potent, complex beer into barrels and you have this delightful beer worthy of World Class Status. Everything that makes the base beer delicious – hints of chocolate and caramel are turned up to 11 for a sublime experience.

 

 

 

Draught Diversions: August 2018 Six Pack

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

I still had plenty of summer beers leftover from the Fourth of July party, but there was definitely room for some new beers, too. As always, the beers I feature here weren’t part of any other post. In other words, while I loved the Steam Whistle Pilsner, I featured the brewery and the beer in a post last week. As is often the case, half of the beers called out are NJ beers.

Luponic Distortion: Revolution No. 010 (Firestone Walker Brewing Company) IPA – American – 3.75 bottle Caps on untappd

I’ve been enjoying Firestone’s beers over the past couple of months, this is the 10th in their series of IPAs featuring “flavors through hops” and the bottle is pretty accurate on the evocative flavors of peach and citrus. Oh, there’s still that bitter hop profile, but this is a solid IPA. In fact, when my wife makes chicken wings using the recipe from Cooking with Beer, the recipe calls for brining the chicken in a pale ale or IPA. For the most recent batch of those wings, we used this beer and the wings were delicious.

Wrath Aged In Bourbon Barrels With Coffee And Vanilla (2018) Stout – Russian Imperial (Demented Brewing Company) – 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

When I mentioned NJ breweries celebrating anniversaries a few weeks ago, I neglected to call out Demented. Well, they had their 3rd anniversary party on August 19th and released 3 variants of their popular Russian Imperial Stout – Wrath. For me, the standout was the variant aged in bourbon narrels with coffee and vanilla. A delicious, full flavored stout.

Fruit-Full Fort (Dogfish Head Craft Brewery) Strong Ale – Other 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

Again, Dogfish shows up here on a monthly six-pack. I’ve been really digging the old-school craft breweries like Dogfish and Firestone as of late. This beer is bordering on wine territory or even a drinkable boozy fruit jam with the level of alcohol and fruit, but still has the qualities of a beer. Four berries (Blue-, Boysen-, Rasp-, and Elder-) provide the fruit profile. I really was able to discern the four berries and enjoyed this beer as a lovely dessert sipper. At 18% ABV, this isn’t something to chug. If anything, maybe it is something to split with a friend.

Process Pils Pilsner – German (Conclave Brewing) – 4.75 bottle Caps on untappd

 

I’ve made no bones about Conclave being my favorite local brewery. Like I said about Carton, I don’t think it is possible for Carl, Tim, and Bryan to make a bad beer. Much of their output has been Ales (IPAs, Pales, and Stouts) so it was nice to see the lager-loving Bryan produce a Pilsner/Lager. This beer is sublime, elegant, beautiful, and delicious. Easily one of my favorite NJ beers and a top pilsner for me. (I stopped in the following week and had their tasty Hefeweizen (Sommer) and Session Ale (Paper Castles).

Curmudgeon’s Better Half Old Ale (Founders Brewering Company) 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

This is a beer I’ve heard about for years. Last brewed in 2012, Curmudgeon’s Better Half is one of Founders’ legendary barrel aged beers. Curmudgeon is a malty, molasses heavy Old Ale and this version takes the beer and ages in Maple Syrup Bourbon Barrels. I enjoyed Curmudgeon quite a bit. The esters from the beer are smoothed out a bit from the sweet Oak Aging. The flavor was outstanding, the body was a little thin. I’m going to let one of these sit for about a year, I think..

Smash the Golds (&telier – Carton Brewing Company/Barrier Brewing Company) Lager – Pale 4.25 bottle caps on untappd

Made an impromptu visit to Carton Brewing on the last day of the month, which is always a smart move. Over the past few months, Carton has been playing the collaboration game under the &telier name and this is their (second?) collaboration with Barrier Brewing out of Oceanside, NY. This lager is unlike most lagers I’ve had, there’s a fruity, almost buttery finish to the beer that makes this real pleasing. It drinks mostly a lager, but that finish threw me off in a good way.

So, not a terrible beer in this group like last month, but a couple of mediocre beers this past month. In past months, I’ve featured at least one beer that wasn’t great so for fairness sake, I’ll mention two disappointing beers: Samuel Adams’ Raspberry Gose (barely any sour/tartness from the beer) and Pabst’s new beer, American Pale Ale which is far less tasteful than their flagship PBR, which is a solid mass-produced Lager.

Draught Diversions: June 2018 Six Pack

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

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

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

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

Not a good start to June with this one

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Draught Diversion: Styles in Focus – Berliner Weisse

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…

Since I reviewed a Berliner Weissbier earlier in the week (White Birch Raspberry Berliner Weisse), I figured I write about the style in more detail. As the name would imply, the style originated in Germany like many styles of beer, Berlin specifically. As it so happens, the previous two styles upon which I focused originated in Germany, too (Bock and Dunkelweizen). I didn’t quite plan that, but clearly my leanings towards German styles is more evident than ever. Be that as it may, the “Weisse” is a reference to the color of the beer, often a pale white, and not the wheat. When served at breweries in Germany, the Berliner Weissebier is traditionally served with sweet syrup; (and likely still is) Raspberry and Woodruff for Red or Green respectively. Woodruff is a flower extract whose syrup is also used for brandy, jelly and soft drinks. I had a couple at local breweries (Jughandle and Flounder) and both offered Raspberry, as well as Lemon and Elderflower syrups.

 

Although some breweries have the beer as part of the year-round portfolio, the beer is a great summer style as evidenced by the seasonal nature of probably the most well-known Berliner Weisses produced in the US, Dogfish Head’s Festina Peche. It is also one of the most long-standing beers in their line-up, appearing annually in the summer since 2007. It has been too long since I’ve had this one, but I could go on about Dogfish for quite a long time.

I like to think of the Berliner Weissbier as a cousin to the (currently) more popular and prevalent Gose style ale. As I said in my review this week, both are sour ales with German roots, both have some wheat component in their malt bill and most varieties of both have some kind of fruit additive to balance out the sour and tart nature of the beer. One of the primary differences is that most, if not all, Gose beers have salt added to the brewing process where the Berliner Weisse typically does not have the salt. I like both styles quite a bit, but if I were to hand a person unacquainted with sour beers, or even wary of sour style, one to try, it would definitely be a Berliner Weisse. It is more approachable and less face-puckering than a Gose.

Dear Victory Brewing: Please bring this beer back

For the Berliner Weissbiers I’ve had and seen in bottles/cans, many have had some kind of fruit syrup/puree flavoring component. A couple of years ago, one of my favorite breweries, Victory Brewing, brewed and bottled a Berliner Weisse as part of their experimental Blackboard series which was brewed with Elderflower. I would love for this to make some kind of return from Victory. One of NJ’s iconic breweries, River Horse, brews a tasty Cherry Berliner Weisse, too.

Some other Berliner Weissbiers I’d like to try:

Like the great majority of beer from The Bruery/Bruery Terreux®, this beer is available only in 750ml bottles and draft

 

Last year and a few weeks ago, I wrote about summer beers and I touched on a couple of Gose beers, but I now realize Berliner Weisse style should have received some attention and at least one slot in the 2018 Summer Sixpack. One of the best-selling and best rated beers over the last couple of years is Dogfish Head’s SeaQuench Ale, a beer lauded for how thirst-quenching it is. Although categorized as a Gose on untappd, SeaQuench happens to be a blend of three German styles including Berliner Weisse.

For a quick reference here is a List Berliner Weissbiers on Beer Advocate and a more exhaustive overview of the style over at All About Beer.

I’ll end it with this – give a Berliner Weisse a try if you happen upon one in your local brewery, see one on draft at your favorite bar/taproom, or if you see one on the shelves of your bottle shop. It is a classic style with much appeal and with an ABV often below 5%, it shouldn’t set you off your rocker too much..

Draught Diversions: April 2018 Six Pack

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

April closes out, thank goodness. It was not a fun month with travel I had and awful weather. But, there were some good beers for sure. Deciding on a final six-pack for the month was tough because April started out strongly with a few classics I hadn’t previously enjoyed. In fact, a good portion of the highlight beers for me for April can be considered Craft Beer Classics.

There are some definite Belgian leanings in this month’s six pack, whether a brewery from Belgium, American breweries known for Belgian-inspired ales, or a great, modern interpretation of a Belgian classic.  Let’s start with the most Belgian of American breweries…

Saison (Allagash Brewing Company) Saison / Farmhouse Ale – 4 bottle Caps on untappd

Allagash has built a great reputation on brewing American interpretations of classic Belgian ales and few are more classic than a Saison. As it has turned out, the last few years I’ve been enjoying a different Saison on Easter Sunday. This was the perfect beer for Easter Sunday and a nice prelude to brunch. Light, sweet and well-rounded, I’ll be returning to this one in the future, for sure.

Candi Stout (Brewery Ommegang) Stout – Other – 3 bottle Caps on untappd

The other American brewery who built their reputation on Belgian inspired ales is Cooperstown, NY’s Brewery Ommegang. I enjoy much of their output, but when they stray too much from their wheelhouse – like this stout (or their Nirvana IPA) – then the results are mixed. I guess I get what they were aiming for with this beer, unfortunately, it didn’t work for me.

Tripel Karmeliet (Brouwerij Bosteels) Belgian Tripel – 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

Proper Glassware from a proper Belgian bar

This ale is an absolute world-class, and classic, beer. I loved the sweetness and overall flavor profile with the magic produced by Belgian yeast. Although I would likely enjoy this beer *anywhere*, enjoying it on draught in a bar that serves only Belgian beer (25 on tap, 50 in bottles) didn’t hurt the experience. I had this on my business trip in the Austin, TX bar Mort Subite. I’ll likely need to go to Austin again for business and I’ll be hitting up Mort again.

90 Minute IPA (Dogfish Head Brewing Company) IPA – Imperial / Double – 4.50 bottle Caps on untappd

Why did it take me so long to come around to IPAs!?!

I’m all in on IPAs now and found one that can be a steady go-to, the beer Esquire Magazine once called “the best IPA in America.” Perfect, absolutely perfect balance of malt and hops, with a pleasant hop bite and great hit of citrus sweetness. The reputation is well-earned because this beer does EVERYTHING a perfectly crafted IPA should do: it is true to style, innovative, and just plain delicious.

Devil’s Reach (Cape May Brewing Co.) Belgian Strong Golden Ale – 4.5 bottle Caps on untappd

Belgian yeast = magic.

Cape May Brewing Company, the 2nd Largest NJ Craft Brewery, has a great reputation, they brew across the board, with a somewhat greater focus on IPAs. But this beer? This beer is outstanding, a delicious, sweet explosion of flavor that is deceptively high in ABV (8.6%) but so easy drinking. In some of my reviews I mention “an iconic shelf of NJ Beers” and I would definitely make room for this one. Not many NJ breweries make a “Belgian Strong Golden Ale” (as far as I know) so there honestly isn’t too much competition in the State for this style. Regardless, this is an absolute stand-out ale.

G.O.R.P. (Carton Brewing Company) Porter – Imperial / Double 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

I’ve professed my enjoyment of Carton’s beers often on this blog. The fact that some of Carton’s long-time brews are now hitting distribution in cans pleases me immensely. Especially when I’ve been wanting to try Good Old Raisins and Peanuts for a couple of years now and the beer largely lived up to what I was hoping it would be. The quality I was expecting because the Carton logo is on the can, but the flavors were a little less expected. Some beers that have peanuts or peanut butter can be too cloying in the PB sweetness. Here with G.O.R.P.; however, the sweetness of the raisins and roasted peanuts come together deliciously on the finish, especially as the beer warms a bit.

Honorable mention to an annual April Favorite: Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout. This is a beer that absolutely lives up to its reputation and the 2018 vintage is outstanding.

Draught Diversions: March 2018 Six Pack

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

March has concluded, so it is time here at The Tap Takeover for me to post my March Six Pack. As always, I’ll assemble the six pack chronologically starting with the beer I had earliest in the month up to (in this case) a beer I had on the last day of the month. March was a bit darker, with a dip into some stouts/porters that are typically in my sweet spot breaking the IPA dominant trend from the previous two months.

Yeti (Great Divide Brewing Company) Stout – American Imperial / Double – 3.25 bottle Caps on untappd

I like stouts and imperial stouts, but not all are created equal and not all palates are created equal as this beer demonstrates. I realize the higher ABV stouts, like Yeti which clocks in at 9.5%, will have a high hop component (75 IBU) but for me, the hop presence was far too dominant. There’s also a strong licorice taste and I don’t like licorice. At all.

200th Anniversary Export Stout (Guinness) Stout – Foreign / Export– 4 bottle Caps on untappd

I mentioned this one in my St. Patrick’s Day post and I was very pleased with the beer. This is sweeter than the standard Guinness with a really nice chocolate and toffee thread of flavor in the beer. Like the majority of stouts, this beer became more flavorful as it warmed and the toffee/chocolate sweetness became really balanced. My wife also made outstanding Stout Chocolate cupcakes with this beer.

Wobbly Cow Coffee Milk Stout (Flying Fish Brewing Company) Stout – Milk / Sweet – 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

Flying Fish seems to be a regular on these posts. I follow Flying Fish on all their social media platforms and read about this beer which I initially thought was a brewery-only release, but I am very happy that I was proven wrong. This is perhaps the most subtle of any barrel-aged stout I’ve had, but it is wonderfully balanced. None of the many flavor components (coffee, chocolate, sweetness and rye whiskey) over power another and at 8% the beer won’t totally knock you out. The finish on this one is very clean.

Ship Wreck Porter (Carton Brewing Company) Porter – Imperial/Double – 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

 

Carton just might be my favorite NJ brewery and porters just might be one of my favorite styles, so I’m basically programmed to like this beer. I haven’t had many beers aged in rum barrel so this was a bit of a twist on the barrel aging theme for me. Of course it was delicious because those are the only kinds of beers Carton knows how to make. The porter likely would have been good on its own, but the sweetness from the rum cut any of the smokiness that some porters can exhibit.

Centennial IPA (Founders Brewing Co.) – 4 bottle Caps on untappd

Founders is one of my favorite breweries, I’ve written about them quite often here and I’d avoided the IPA section of their portfolio for a while. That won’t be happening any longer. I’ve come to realize Centennial Hops are some of my favorite hops and that’s the hop that gives this one it’s flavor. I can see many of these in my future.

Westmalle Trappist Tripel (Brouwerij der Trappisten van Westmalle) Belgian Tripel – 4.5 bottle Caps on untappd

This beer is quite simply, a world class ale. There are only 12 officially designated Trappist Breweries in the world and I’ve had two of the three ales from Westmalle. The Dubbel is really tasty, but this one is obviously more recent in my memory so it really stands out as something complex, delicious, and perhaps the epitome of what a Belgian Tripel should be. Most Trappist ales are sold in single bottles, but the approximate $4 to $6 price tag is oh so worth it. The Belgian yeast works wonders, the beer has some fruity elements as well as some spice elements that altogether make a fantastic, must-try beer.

Six beers, two from outside of the US, two from New Jersey, three stouts, one porter, one IPA, and one Belgian Tripel. Not a bad variety if I do say so myself.