Draught Diversions: Four Pack Favorite Breweries 2018

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image courtesy of MyBeerBuzz

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

373 Unique Beers
155 different breweries
101 distinct styles

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

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

Top 5 Most Checked in beer styles:

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

Top 5 Most Checked in breweries:

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

459 Badges Earned

Draught Diversions: December 2018 Six Pack

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Draught Diversions: 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: Happy Anniversary Conclave, Cypress, Czig, & Icarus

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…

Over the past couple of weeks, a few New Jersey breweries celebrated anniversaries. I’ve visited one of them (multiple times), and have had beer from all four. As it works out, of the four, the brewery I’ve visited the most often is also the first alphabetically, so I’ll go down that path and start off with Conclave Brewing.

Little Creature – Grisette (L) Intuitive Function – IPA – Imperial / Double (R)

I wrote about Conclave Brewing last fall and I’ve visited a few times since then. The trend of excellence continues – from fantastic IPAs, to robust, flavorful dark ales (stouts, porters, brown ales) to Belgian inspired ales, everything is excellent. A skim through the Mid Alantic states forums of Beer Advocate will often show the thread dedicated to Conclave one of the more active and praise for the brewery throughout that sub forum.

When I visited this past weekend, Conclave had just released their Third Anniversary Ale, a Double / Imperial IPA they called Intuitive Function. Like all of the IPAs I’ve had from them since becoming an IPA convert, this beer is filled with flavor. Brimming with wonderful hops that evoke citrus and melon, the finish gives a really nice hop bit that remains … without the bitterness.

What has been promising is that Conclave has been releasing cans more regularly over the past year. Let’s hope that frequency increases so more folks can enjoy their beers.

Gong down the alphabet, Cypress Brewing in Edison celebrated their third anniversary as well. I’ll go into more history about the brewery after I eventually visit them and do a full write-up, but at minimum, their beers have a fairly solid reputation in the state. Their capacity has been increasing over the three years they’ve been selling their beers – cans are getting into stores through distribution more regularly. They’ve collaborated with both Bolero Snort and Icarus Brewing.

The two beers I had from them were delicious, a Vanilla Porter that has since been re-worked and a Brown Ale. I recall having those beers at the 2016 Garden State Brewfest (the last one, sadly) and that porter being one of only two beers of which I wanted 2nd and 3rd pours.

Cypress is located in a fairly easy to find location in the big Raritan Center industrial park in Edison, NJ. Hopefully in the next couple of months I’ll be able to make my way to get down the “fun” highway of Route 287 to the brewery.

Another brewery to recently (June) celebrate an anniversary is Czig Meister in Hackettstown. I wrote about them in January after visiting them as part of my birthday brewery tour. I visited the brewery again a couple of months later for the second annual Stout Fest and was even more impressed. In two years, Czig Meister has made a big name for themselves in terms of respect for their beers and how widely they’ve been distributing. I see more and more of their cans and bottles every week and see good things about the beer they are brewing. That’s a pretty good combination, I think – availability and repuation.

Few breweries in New Jersey over the last half decade have made as quick and big an impact as has Icarus Brewing in Lakewood, NJ. Lakewood is a large NJ Shore community and Icarus is helping to make the NJ Shore (along with Carton Brewing and Kane Brewing) a destination for finely crafted beer. This past Saturday, Icarus celebrated one year with a One Year Canniversary

Like Cypress Brewing, I only had their beers at a beer festival, The Bridgewater Beerfest back in May, but boy howdy was I impressed. As I said in that post, I found myself getting 2nd and 3rd pours of their IPA, DDH Not a Schooner. In less than a year Icarus has been dropping their cans as far north as where I live (about 70 miles away). That said, the cans go extremely fast – my favorite beer store generally sells out of their Icarus stock within hours of getting it delivered. Their flagship (no pun intended) beer is Yacht Juice a New England IPA

I know a few other breweries likely hit milestones over the past couple of months, but honestly, keeping up with all of them is a pretty big task especially since this is more of a hobby for me and there are so many in South Jersey that I’ve yet to visit or sample. Bottom line…New Jersey really is growing a strong brewing reputation.

Draught Diversions: May 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…

May was a long 31 days, with business travel overtaking much of the month. However, that travel did expose me to some beers I otherwise would not have been able to enjoy as those breweries don’t distribute into NJ. Despite that, I managed to have a few good NJ brews, too. The trek through the IPA section of the beer landscape continues as the style dominates this month’s post once again.

Bock Bier (von Trapp Brewing) Bock – 3.75 bottle Caps on untappd

I wrote about Bocks in April and have been on the hunt for this bock specifically since then as it I’ve seen good things about the Vermont brewery’s interpretation of the style. The beer is quite tasty, has a lot of the lager characteristics, but with an added caramelly flavor that was really pleasing.

Floridian Hefeweizen (Funky Buddha Brewery) Hefeweizen – 4 bottle Caps on untappd

I was in the Miami area for business in early May and was really, really hoping I could actually get out to the Floridian brewing institution that is Funky Buddha. The schedule didn’t allow, but the hotel did have their flagship Hefeweizen on tap and I was extremely pleased (despite the overpriced $11 cost of pint!). That being said, Floridian Hefeweizen is a really delicious interpretation of the classic German wheat ale. I’d have this in my fridge in regular rotation if Funky Buddha distributed into New Jersey.

Punk in Drublic (Stone Brewing) India Pale Lager – 4.00 bottle Caps on untappd

Of the beers I had in May, this one might be the most surprising. Stone’s beers generally don’t align with my palate as I stray away from West Coast IPAs, but this was in a cooler at a friend’s party so I figured I’d try it. Boy was I pleased. I thought it tasted like a Pilsner with a pleasing malt roast so the beer went down really easily. I haven’t had too many IPLs outside of this one and the IPL Yuengling produced a few years back, but I’ll go for more now if I see them.

Fresh Squeezed IPA IPA – American – 3.50 bottle Caps on untappd

On draft at Holsteins Shakes and Buns Las Vegas in the Cosmopolitan Hotel

Sometimes a beer just isn’t right for you. With the name of this beer, I was expecting more of a citrusy/juicy profile, but the beer had more of a West Coast piney flavor. It wasn’t a bad beer, just not to my taste and probably the “new” beer of May I enjoyed the least. That said, a 3.50 rating on untappd is still a decent beer.

Moon Door (Conclave Brewing)– 4.5 bottle Caps on untappd

Conclave’s logo for the beer on top, the beer freshly poured from a growler filled hours prior

Conclave has yet to disappoint me with any of the more than dozen beers I’ve had from them. This IPA features a more experimental hop (007Golden Hop) as well as Mosaic hops for a beautiful, citrusy IPA that is a perfect summer IPA. When I filled up the growler, I was chatting briefly with co-owner Carl and he said that’s one of the things they try to do with their IPAs, take a hop they haven’t used and brew it along with a familiar hop and Mosiac is a fairly prevalent, versatile hop. This is a beer I could drink all afternoon long. I brought a full growler to a small Memorial Day party at my parents’s house and the growler was finished in about 15 minutes. So. Damned. Good. Easily my favorite new beer of May.

Queen Genevieve. (Flounder Brewing Company) IPA – Imperial / Double 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

Flounder is one of the smaller NJ breweries, one of the earliest microbreweries and one of the breweries closest to me, all of which I laid out in my post featuring the brewery. I also know a few of the folks who work and brew there. Since coming around on IPAs I’d been looking forward to trying this beer, the first the brewery canned and boy howdy is it a delicious, juicy IPA. All the great citrusy flavors and hop notes are present as the beer is a great example of an IPA in the “New England” style. Plus it has a great can design and is brewed in honor of brewer Brad’s grandmother. You’ll want this one if you see it on tap near you in New Jersey.

Draught Diversions: Bridgewater Beerfest 2018

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’ve been to several Beer Festivals, including all five of the past Garden State Brewfests and a few in Philadelphia. Those beer festivals ranged from small with only a few hundred attendees to some with over a thousand attendees. There are benefits to both types of festivals, and the Bridgewater Beer Festival (April 28 at the Bridgewater Jewish Community Center) falls in the smaller more intimate end of festivals which helped to reinforce the sense of Community around New Jersey beer.

There were many things to like about the Bridgewater Beer Fest, or at least many things that *I* enjoyed about the Bridgewater Beer Fest. I’m not going to lie, the fact that this Beer Fest was only a few miles from my house was a big reason why I decided to attend.

Two other plusses? The price…as a member of New Jersey Craft Beer, a $25 discount was available. Related, the “Designated Driver” ticket was only $10, which is fair, I suppose. Well, significantly better than past Garden State Brewfests which was $25 for the designated driver plus parking fee. If you are charging somebody to be responsible and herd the cats that are drunk people, the $25 fee is enough, throw on the parking fee and it is almost like responsibility (having a sober driver) is being punished. It was also nice that there was no parking fee at the Bridgewater Beer Fest.

Another reason that became stronger as the event drew closer was the list of breweries and beers that were to be poured including a focus on barrel-aged brews. Or that Dogfish Head was pouring a vintages of some of their classic brews. Or that Weyerbacher was pouring their 20th Anniversary Ale, a delicious Belgian Strong Dark Ale I missed when it was in stores a couple of years ago. Or that a not too-easy to find (and relatively pricey) barrel-aged weizenbock collaboration between Stone Brewing and the Bruery called Fahrt die Zeige was being poured. Not bad, right?

Another great feature of this beer festival was the predominance of NJ breweries, I’d say well over 50% of the beer and breweries were NJ based. I was especially happy that breweries I haven’t yet had the chance to visit, like Backward Flag (Forked River, NJ), Brotherton Brewing (Shamong, NJ), Icarus Brewing (Lakewood, NJ), Double Nickel (Pennsauken, NJ), 902 Brewing (Jersey City, NJ), Brix City Brewing (Little Ferry, NJ), and Three 3’s Brewing (Hammonton, NJ) were pouring beer since those breweries aren’t exactly close to me. Before the festival, I never had any of Backward Flag’s beers (Oak Armored Ale), and only one each from the some of other breweries so it was great to have new great beers from Backward Flag and three new, tasty beers, from Brotherton Brewing (Cedar Wudder Amber Ale), Double Nickel (DNA Batch #3, Cascara IPA), 902 Brewing (Kürtoskalács, a cinnamony coffee milk stout), Brix City Brewing, (Gloria [Belgian] Blonde Ale), and Three 3’s (Pulpitations IPA).

I was also looking forward to meeting and chatting with Mike Kivovitz, the head honcho of New Jersey Craft Beer and one of the most important folks in the New Jersey beer community. I was chuffed (as the Brits say) when Mike recognized me from my ramblings about beer here on the Tap Takeover, Twitter, and Facebook. Mike is a cool guy and helped bring into focus how connected the beer community is. Talking with Mike also made me realize what great connections exist between the Craft Beer community and the Geek community (aka, much of what I have been writing about for years at places like SFFWorld, SF Signal and my other blog). I hope to share some beers with Mike in the future at the various breweries and bars in New Jersey. It as also nice to chat with some of my friends from Flounder Brewing as well as Tim from Conclave Brewing and Matt from Czig Meister as well as making new acquaintances at all the breweries, which only added to the sense of community in NJ Beer.

On to the beers themselves, I checked into about two dozen on untappd, with about ¾ of those being NJ beers. Most were very good with a a few of them being outstanding. That said, I’ll stick to my 6-pack format and touch on the six beers that stood out the most for me. I generally try to have beers I’ve never had before at these festivals. For example, much as I enjoy beer from Demented Brewing, they were pouring a couple of beers I had prior to the fest so I didn’t go for them. Also, this six pack is primarily NJ brews with the exception of one major, phenomenal beer.

Brewer Choice Hefeweizen (Hefeweizen)
Backward Flag Brewing (Forked River, NJ)

As I said, Backward Flag is a brewery I’ve wanted to visit for a while now, since hearing about them around 2016. Unfortunately, they are about an hour and half one-way trip. Backward Flag is a veteran/woman owned brewery and I think the veteran portion of that is unique, at least in NJ. They were pouring two beers and for me the standout was their Brewer Choice Hefeweizen, a damned fine example of the classic Bavarian Wheat Ale. This is a delicious brew and better than a couple of German Hefeweizens I’ve had.

Deep Sea Series: Tropics (IPA – New England)
Czig Meister Brewing Company (Hackettstown, NJ)

In two visits to Czig Meister Brewing Company, I never had any of the many IPAs they brew. I always stuck to Stouts and non-IPAs. Well, I sure was missing out because their Deep Sea Series of IPAs, if this beer is any indication, is a solid, dependable line of IPAs. Hell, the Deep Sea Series – Galactic 7 was awarded Best IPA at the Atlantic City Beer Festival about a month ago (March 2018).

Wolves Among Sheep (Stout – American Imperial / Double)
Angry Erik Brewing (Lafayette, NJ)

Although I visited Angry Erik back in November, I missed out on Wolves Among Sheep at that time. I was *very* pleased to see this beer was being poured at the beer festival. Some barrel-aged stouts can take on too much of the oak/barrel characters and wipe out the taste of the base stout. The brewers at Angry Erik avoided this common pitfall and produced a very balanced beer with enough booziness, enough stoutiness, enough sweetness, and enough bitter-sweetness.

Mexican Evening (Stout – American Imperial / Double)
Conclave Brewing – Raritan Township, NJ

My favorite stout of the day was Mexican Evening from Conclave Brewing, which is an imperial/double variation on their popular Mexican Morning Milk Stout. Cinnamon hits first, followed by sweetness from chocolate and vanilla with a spiced hit from the chili de árbol peppers. Even though the ABV is higher in this beer than it is in Mexican Morning, I think that heightened ABV calms down the peppery finish making for a fantastic, complex, delicious dessert beer.

DDH Not a Schooner (IPA – New England)
Icarus Brewing (Lakewood, NJ)

“There is NO Easter Bunny!”

DDH Not a Schooner from Icarus Brewing was my favorite IPA of the day. Icarus is out of Lakewood, NJ and for their relative youth in the NJ Beer landscape, their reputation of a purveyor of tasty beers started pretty strong and has grown from there. This beer is a Double Dry Hopped version of their popular Not a Schooner New England IPA. This beer just exploded with juiciness and I enjoyed it so much it was the only beer I of which I had two samples.

Olde School 2014 vintage (Barleywine – American)
Dogfish Head Brewery (Milton, DE)

It is almost not fair to compare a four-year old Barleywine to anything else, but here we are. Dogfish Head’s Olde School Barleywine from 2014 was the standout pour of the day for me. This was one of the brews I had high on my list to get and it exceeded what I hoped it would be. For me, the hops can come across too assertively in some Barleywines, but maybe because this Barleywine aged for four years, everything smoothed out. At 15% ABV, even a 12 oz bottle of this beer is something you should share…or sip extremely slowly while watching a long movie. What I know is this – I’ll be getting some more of this in the future.

All told, I couldn’t have been happier with the Bridgewater Beer Fest. I hope the festival returns next Spring because I hope to attend again.

Draught Diversions: I’m Now an IPA Believer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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