Draught Diversions: NJ Shelf of Honor Six Pack #1 (Draught Diversion #100!)

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 we are at the end of my “celebration” of New Jersey Craft Beer Week with the 100th Draught Diversion post. I was planning on doing this specific post – the first of my personal Shelf of Honor for NJ beers as my 100th Draught Diversion so it was very serendipitous that the numbers aligned so I could present this post during New Jersey Craft Beer Week. In some of my reviews of NJ beers, I’ve mentioned a Shelf of Essential NJ Beers or that the beer under review would be in my personal NJ Hall of Fame beer. Now that I’m actually starting a six pack of those beers, I’m officially labeling it the “NJ Shelf of Honor” for beers that are essential or deserve a shelf in everybody’s fridge at some point. I will probably be putting together Shelf of Honor six packs in the future, maybe even a “Shelf of Honor” specific to a style or a brewery so consider this first of a series. Some of the beers in these posts will have been featured in a monthly Six Pack or a full review.

In the event I need to state the obvious – this is all my opinion about the beers I enjoy. I’m sure if you ask a dozen people in NJ what they’d consider a “first ballot for their NJ Shelf of Honor” there would be plenty of different beers in those six packs with only a little bit of overlap and maybe only at the brewery level and not at the specific beer level. As per usual, beers are listed alphabetically by brewery

Devil’s Reach | Belgian Strong Golden Ale | Cape May Brewing Company | Cape May, NJ | 8.6% ABV | Featured in the April 2016 Six Pack on the Tap Takeover

Over the last couple of years of drinking their beers, I’ve come to realize Cape May Brewing Company can do almost no wrong in my book. I’m sure regular readers of my blog are weary of reading my words expounding the virtues of the second largest brewery in NJ. The majority of what they brew is on the hoppier Pale Ale/IPA side of the beer spectrum, but this beer is, in my opinion, a world class ale. Like the best of Belgian inspired beers, the delicious magic of Devil’s Reach comes from the Belgian-style yeast so critical to the beer’s flavor. According to this blog post from CMBC, the beer is virtually unchanged since it was first brewed. I find it extremely impressive that they were able to brew this good of a beer on their first batch. This beer is most similar to the world-renowned Delirium Tremens. I’ll say I like Devil’s Reach more.

Regular Coffee | Imperial Cream Ale | Carton Brewing Company | Atlantic Highlands, NJ | 12% ABV

Two of the “Irregular” Coffee family members in the back

I’ve probably mentioned Carton on this blog as much as any other brewery (and more than most) and when mulling over what beer from the brewery to include I wavered between a few. Of course Boat was one (a nearly style defining beer), their fantastic Helles Lager This Town was another, and this one, Regular Coffee. I settled on Regular Coffee for a few reasons. One, it is the first Carton beer I had. Second, it is a beer that has become nearly synonymous with the brewery. Not as readily available as some of the other beers on this list (or even their own flagship Boat), but is a beer that has become a brand family within the brewery and something of an iconic beer of NJ Craft/Independent Brewing. Around New Year’s Day every year, Carton releases this beer and/or a variant with some flavors added, one year was Irish Coffee, meant to emulate the whiskey and/or mint infused coffee with maybe the best being Café Y. Churro which emulates Mexican Coffee. But Regular Coffee is the beer that started it all for the brand within a brand and my experience and dedication to the beers made by Augie Carton and crew.

Mexican Morning | Stout – Milk / Sweet | Conclave Brewing Company | Raritan/Flemington Township, NJ | 5.5% ABV

Conclave having a beer on this list is probably not a surprise to readers of the Tap Takeover and this beer is one that has attained some national recognition for its uniqueness. Conclave is the smallest brewery on this six pack and this beer is associated with the brewery the same way Regular Coffee is with Carton. Mexican Morning starts as Milk Stout but during the brewing process cinnamon, vanilla, cacao, coffee, and chili peppers are added. This beer deliciously evokes spicy Mexican coffee and is a beer I will have every single time it is available at Conclave when I visit. It isn’t brewed often enough to be on draft year round, largely because of the price of the ingredients and complexity of the brewing process, but it is absolutely delicious. When it is brewed, it is usually only available for pours at the brewery and not for growler fills. Once or twice Conclave has barrel aged the beer and that version is even more rare, but just maybe the best barrel-aged beer I can recall enjoying.

Overhead | India Pale Ale – Imperial / Double | Kane Brewing Company | Ocean, NJ | ABV 8.2% | Featured in the June 2019 Six Pack on the Tap Takeover

Kane has consistently been ranked as the best brewery in New Jersey for the past half-decade or so. This is a brewery that does EVERY style it attempts with a level of quality unparalleled by few other breweries. I knew I’d have to include one of their beers on this list, but I wasn’t sure which one, initially. Despite their amazing Quadrupels, I wanted to include a beer that is a little more accessible and this beer is probably the most accessible and easiest to find of all their beers – Kane started self-distributing 4-pack cans of this beer over the last year or so. The quality of the beer, oh boy oh boy.

As has been documented, only in the last year and half have I come to appreciate, enjoy, and seek out IPAs so I sort of avoided this beer for a long time. Now that I enjoy the hop heavy beers, I truly appreciate the outstanding nature of this beer. I’d say this is not just the best Imperial IPA out of NJ, but you maybe a top Imperial IPA in the country (Disclaimer, I haven’t had Pliny the Elder, for example). But this beer reminds me very much of Dogfish Head’s 90-Minute IPA, the nationally available standard bearer for Imperial/Double IPAs. Kane’s take is at least as good and an outstanding beer.

Blonde Hefe-Weizen | Hefeweizen | Ramstein/High Point Brewing Company | Butler, NJ | 5.5% ABV | Review on the Tap Takeover (May 2019)

I’d be hard pressed not to include a beer from Ramstein on a list like this one – I love German style beers and Ramstein is one of the originals of NJ Beer and Brewing. Good thing they make an absolute World-Class Hefeweizen – one of my favorite styles – in their line up. This beer is arguably one of the best American Hefeweizens and undoubtedly the best Hefeweizen brewed in New Jersey. Although I reviewed it very recently, this was a beer I’ve had quite a few times even before I joined untappd.

I would recommend this beer without hesitation as a great, flavorful example of a beer brewed with German ingredients (most of the hops, malt, and yeast used by High Point Brewing( are imported from Germany), in German tradition and process (Greg honed his brewing technique in Germany), with some American flare.

Chocolate Porter | Porter – Other | River Horse Brewing Company | Ewing, NJ | 6.5% ABV | Review on the Tap Takeover (February 2018)

River Horse is another one of the Originals of NJ Craft Brewing, having brewed beer for over 20 years. Some changes about a decade ago and a greater push in recent years to brew more beers and more eye-catching labels have kept the brewery a constant. Their Chocolate Porter isn’t the oldest beer in their lineup, nor is it one of the new ones, and it isn’t their flagship, (that would be their award winning Tripel Horse) but it is one of the more well-received beers and has been around for about five years. It is my favorite beer they brew and one I will always grab when I see on shelves. Stylistically, the beer sits right on the edge of the “Pastry Stout” craze: it is sweet, but it is still most definitely a beer. I reviewed it back in February 2018.

From my review: some porters are a little on the smoky side, this one is not. The “one pound of chocolate per barrel” sweetens the beer and eliminates some of that bitter smoke/roast flavor. If anything, the roast/smoke is akin to the edges of a freshly baked brownie, but the overall flavor, if we’re continuing with the brownie analogy, is like the gooey, slightly underbaked deliciousness of the center of the brownie but still retaining all the elements of a beer.

So, there you have it, six beers I feel Honorably represent the State of New Jersey and what the Garden State has to offer in beer. There are over 100 breweries in the state now so six beers is just the start of what could be a long and filled shelf of delicious beer.

 

Draught Diversions: July 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 first week of July is often one of the biggest month for beer sales, people want to fill their coolers for the summer or help fill their friends’ coolers for summer parties. As readers of this blog know, I’ve had a pool party/BBQ/family party for the last five years on the Fourth of July. People tend to bring beer for that, although I tend to get the cooler started with some beers I enjoy that I expect many other people will like. The “Cooler Foundation” pic is below, and the beer that proved the most popular was Sunshine Pils from Tröegs, only one from that 12 pack remained in the cooler by the end of the day. Of course, I had one or two myself.

OK, on to my Six Pack for July 2019…

SuperEIGHT (Dogfish Head Brewing Company) | Sour – Gose – Fruited | 4 bottle Caps on untappd

By now it is clear I can’t get through more than a month or two without having a really good “new to me” beer from Dogfish Head. This is something of a “sequel” beer to their smash hit SeaQuench and is equally refreshing. For all the fruit included in the making of this beer, the level of sweetness is perfect, not cloying, and balanced by a sourness/tartness. This was the first beer of the day for me and my only regret was putting just one six pack of the beer in my cooler, rather than 2 six packs because the six pack was gone early in the Fourth of July celebration..

Cloud Walker Hazy Juicy IPA (Victory Brewing Company) | IPA – New England | 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

As the New England/Hazy IPA continues to be the hottest style, especially with local/independent brewers, the larger brewers have been making attempts at the keeping up. Victory’s take on the style is probably the best of the larger brewery’s attempts at the style that I’ve had and an overall superb beer. The Citra and Mosaic are *perfectly* blended and the beer is a wonderful, juicy, hoppy delight. I hoped and expected to enjoy the beer, but I didn’t expect to love it as much as I did. Victory has really come out strong this year with some of their new beers to go along with their rebranding.

Half-Timbered (Kane Brewing Company) | Bock – Single / Traditional | 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

I’ve been managing to have more Kane as of late, and this is certainly an interesting beer. Most barrel-aged beers are stouts, and if they are bocks aged in barrels, you tend to see higher ABV dopplebocks. But Kane doesn’t always hew along such lines. The bourbon barrel aging really enhances the sweet and caramel notes naturally inherit in the bock. This is a different, but very good beer that is a classic style (bock) with the added enhancement of a relatively modern technique of barrel aging.

Clearly Pils (Conclave Brewing) | Pilsner – Czech | 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

When I realized Conclave brewed-up another Pilsner, I had to make a (very short) trip to the brewery. As it so happened, I visited on their 4th anniversary, but by the time I arrived, the 4th Anniversary IPA cans were sold out and the keg was tapped. Fortunately, the Pilsner was still available and it was a wonderful reward for a long day doing work in my yard. This beer does everything a pilsner should do and the Saaz hops so emblematic of a Pilsner are showcased beautifully.

Kristallwessbier (Bayerische Staatsbrauerei Weihenstephan)| Kristallweizen | 3.75 bottle Caps on untappd


A Kristallweizen is a filtered Hefeweizen, so there’s no particulate or haziness to the beer. Much of the flavor remains and Weihenstephaner’s version is probably the gold standard. I haven’t had too many versions of the style, but I enjoy it. However, I prefer the standard, unfiltered Hefeweizen. I figured I needed to have a German beer in the boot glass one of my work team members got me as a souvenir on his honeymoon.

India Ale (Samuel Smith Brewing Co.) | IPA – English | 3.75 bottle Caps on untappd


One of the oldest breweries in the world, I’ve got to think Samuel Smith’s IPA, or India Ale, is one of the earliest or longest continuously available India Pale Ales in the world. Some friends came over and brought me a four pack, he said he wanted to get me something I many not have had. He succeeded and I was pleasantly surprised with this beer. Very flavorful and once you realize it isn’t quite like the New England hazies or the West Coast IPAs, then you can appreciate what a good beer this is.

Of course, there were some clunkers in the month. As I said earlier, people tend to bring beer to the party on the Fourth of July and one dud happened to be from Pinelands Brewing Company, 08087 their most popular IPA. My company’s annual sales conference was in Orlando and I had a dud or two down there, particularly Bleach Blonde Ale from 3 Daughters Brewing. On the other hand, while not exactly new, I finally had the new, tweaked Prima Pils from Victory and it was fantastic. I always loved the beer and the tweaked version has a slightly lower IBU but still a wonderful, flavorful Pilsner.

Draught Diversions: NJ Brewery & Beer Check In

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…

Is the bubble bursting or is the NJ Craft Beer landscape simply maturing? Read on for my take on the subject…

That’s been a “hot topic” of discussion in beer circles, and NJ Beer circles specifically. The third NJ brewery over the last 12 months has closed its doors, in one definition of the phrase. More specifically, these are the first three breweries to open after the 2012 laws passed to have closed. Earlier in the year (April 2019), Rinn Duin brewing became Toms River Brewing. Demented Brewing in Middlesex closed at the end of April 2019 after about a month of very public drama on social media. This past week/early June 2019, Common Sense Brewing in Bordentown closed and is in the process of being purchased/taken over by Tindall Road Brewery out of Robbinsville. Tindall Road didn’t have a location but their website claims the brewery to be active “since 2017” which is probably when they established the name.

Three brewery changes in a few short months is worth noting. One is a blip, two is a little more thought provoking, but could three be a pattern? Or could it just be a coincidence. I’ll provide my perspective of these three brewery changes below.

Demented Brewing Publicly Implodes, Closes

Demented’s closure was the most visible closure in NJ Beer (Beer Advocate forum discussion), it was also one of the first to open and close since the 2012 law passed that enabled breweries to have taprooms and serve beer on premise.  Demented Brewing established themselves in 2015 in Middlesex, NJ where the closest brewery was Harvest Moon Brewpub in New Brunswick. In other words, an area without a nearby brewery. They made some good beer, with some beers that were well-above average (by my ratings, over a 4-bottle cap rating on untappd). Cypress Brewing in Edison, NJ opened around the same time and were the closest brewery, but not exactly convenient for folks looking to make a visit to both breweries. Put it this way, you’d have to get on a congested highway and drive over 10 miles to get between breweries, they weren’t close to each other like the three breweries in Hackettstown, some of the NJ Shore breweries, the breweries in Hammonton, or even the Mount Holly breweries. In short, Demented was largely successful because they were relatively uniquely located and produced better than average product. Kegs were in bars in Central New Jersey and cans and 22oz bottles could be found in bottle shops since they had a distribution deal. In other words, it seemed like they were growing naturally at a nice rate.

Personally, I liked Demented quite a bit and had a quite a few of their beers, visited Demented probably as much or more than any of the NJ breweries since they were a mile or two from where I worked, close to where a few friends live, and close to my brother-in-law’s house. My first review here on the Tap Takeover also happened to be of one of their beers. In participating a few NJ beer online circles (NJ Craft Beer, reddit/njbeer, and Beer Advocate’s “Mid-Atlantic” forums), the consensus about the beer seems to be that it was good enough that Demented could have had a relatively lengthy lifespan. NJ Food writer Pete Genovese anointed Demented the best brewery in NJ when he did his Best Brewery tour in NJ. While that selection was rather controversial, at the very least, the “win” gave Demented some attention.

Demented Brewing’s problems were financial in nature in that they had difficulty paying taxes and didn’t always pay their employees. No matter how good the product is, the government won’t let you continue if you don’t pay your taxes. The employees won’t want to keep working if they don’t get paid. Just watch Bar Rescue. Sadly, some good people were working at Demented. Demented also had two annual Bottle Clubs – one for sours, one for stouts – almost like a subscription. Many who paid up front will not see the beer they paid for and will likely not see that money again.  All told, a sad end to what was a pretty good thing.

Rinn Dúin becomes Toms River Brewing

I knew very little about Rinn Dúin brewing aside from knowing they opened in 2014 at the early stages of the NJ Craft Beer boon. This was just 2 years after the big 2012 law passed. Their focus was on English and Irish styles as the name Rinn Dúin might imply and the brewery even temporarily closed in mid-2018 at one point. Having started in 2014, their reach in the State didn’t quite expand the way some other breweries who started at the time did, or even to the extent that Demented did who started a year later. In other words, much of what I say here relative to Rinn Dúin is from a bit of a remove.

From what I was able to surmise from some online posts, it seems they went bankrupt, but made good beer, just not styles that were lighting the world on fire.

I don’t know how embedded in the local bar scene Rinn Dúin was, whether they were able to get the kegs into bars in Toms River and neighboring locals. I assume they were since they’d been in business for nearly 5 years before changing over to Toms River Brewing. They may have done some brewery-only or super-local bottle/can releases, but they didn’t seem to expand beyond Ocean County, NJ from what I was able to observe. Rinn Dúin did seem to have a nice partnership/business relationship with local minor league baseball team Lakewood Blue Claws, which is the kind of thing you’d hope to see between “small” businesses.

Scrolling through Rinn Dúin’s facebook page, it appears they were fairly active in the community, had yoga nights and musicians; many things a lot of successful breweries do. On the other hand,, not many people were talking about the brewery outside of an occasional mention in a thread like “Unspoken NJ Breweries” in the Beer Advocate discussion forums (and the updated/2019 thread). As recently as February (two months prior to the name change/takeover), this brewery was still making and pouring beer as Rinn Dúin, whichh is when I had their tasty cream ale Sweet Nothing at the Meadowlands Beer Expo.

I think the name change is good and gives the brewery more of a local flavor. There was a press release earlier in the year about the buyout that reads a bit on the corporate/business side with talk of a “vertical integration plan.” The original name, Rinn Dúin, while not bad might work in a more mature beer landscape or even a beer landscape from the early 90s. Much as I enjoy a Guinness and a good Irish Red Ale like Great Lakes’ Conway’s Irish Ale, Irish/English styles aren’t the most popular/sought after styles. I realize Rinn Dúin had a more diverse output than that. Again, my observations are from quite a distance and relatively superficial.

What I can say about the name change / re-branding / relaunch is from a similar remove, but the observations are positive. Toms River Brewing is already canning their beer with canning giant Iron Heart Canning. They’ve been relatively active on social media and it looks like there’s potential for this brewery. With Icarus Brewing in somewhat nearby Lakewood (14 miles away), visiting one of these breweries might compel people to visit both breweries.

Common Sense Brewery Closes, Purchased by Tindall Road Brewery

This is the most recent brewery closure and marks the third over the last four months. I do have some more knowledge of Commons Sense Brewing than Rinn Dúin, at least. I visited Common Sense in November 2018 as part of my birthday brewery tour. In fact, Common Sense was the last of six breweries our group visited that day. The brewery looks great from the outside, is extremely well-placed in downtown Bordentown, NJ (a very underrated downtown), and has a very nice and inviting taproom.

But then you get the beer.

I had a flight and what I had was subpar, at best. A very thin Porter that tasted on the edge of being skunked, a decent Pumpkin Ale (helped by the spice rimmed glass) and what, in hindsight, seems strange – two brown ales. Brown ales are fine, in general, but not a style that you’ll typically see more than once on a daily taplist from a brewery. One of the brown ales I had was OK, but the other was outright undrinkable. Easily the worst beers I had that day out of the six breweries, but to be fair, three of the other breweries are relatively established award-winning breweries (Spellbound, Neshaminy Creek, and Village Idiot) and one a well-respected “elder statesman” of NJ brewery (Forgotten Boardwalk) so the comparison may be a little unfair. On the other hand, bad beer is just bad beer no matter how you cut it.

Common Sense was open for less than two years. If some of the comments on social media from locals and people who claim to have relatively intimate knowledge of the brewery are to be believed, than it seems like there was almost a Bar Rescue situation going on with at the brewery. People giving beer away, monetary issues, and a lack of knowledge about making good beer and running a business.

I only learned about Tindall Road Brewery a day after I learned of Common Sense’s closure, so hopefully there’s a positive outcome for whatever this brewery ends up being called. Third State Brewing who celebrated their fourth anniversary this month (June 2019), less than 10 miles away in nearby Burlington, helps to make this area a soft destination for beer fans. Tindall Road has been posting some of the progress of their takeover on their facebook page.

Side note – interesting naming for the two closed breweries – Demented and Common Sense. Almost a harbinger of things to come.

All is Not Dire, Quite the Opposite!

Despite these three brewery closures, I would argue that the bubble is not bursting at all as some might argue. I would even suggest that the “bubble” metaphor isn’t appropriate at this point and rather landscape is appropriate. A landscape implies a longer life span while a bubble implies something not very long-lasting. Quite simply, the New Jersey Craft Beer landscape is maturing. While there have been small independent breweries and brewpubs in the state for twenty or more years like High Point/Ramstein, Cricket Hill, Harvest Moon Brewery (where I had my wedding rehearsal dinner) and so forth – the landscape was really reborn, or reseeded to continue with a landscaping metaphor, with the aforementioned 2012 law change.

What happens when things mature? Things fall off, things change, things evolve – people lose their baby teeth, caterpillars weave a cocoon around themselves and emerge as a butterfly. The independent/craft beer scene is doing just that, I’d posit. Breweries not strong enough to survive and going by the wayside could even be seen as a healthy feature of something that is maturing and evolving. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if, before the year ends, another brewery or two goes through a closure/buyout/takeover like the three I highlighted in this post did..

You could also call this a “Brewing Darwinism” of sorts – the strong breweries are surviving, breweries like Kane Brewing, Carton Brewing, Icarus Brewing, Cape May Brewery, River Horse, and Flying Fish of the NJ beer scene. Hell, Cape May split into two companies, a brewery and a distributor. What further shows the strength of the NJ Beer Landscape is how some of the breweries that have opened are from people with experience at breweries like Kane, JJ Bittings (one of the oldest brewpubs in NJ), and Flying Fish. Additionally, breweries like Lone Eagle (Flemington), Bonesaw Brewing (Glassboro), and Mudhen Brewing (Wildwood) are attracting brewers with experience at leading, respected breweries like Dogfish Head, Founders Brewing, Victory Brewing, Funky Buddha, and New England Brewing Company to brew beer in New Jersey, brewers who have received awards. With just over 100 breweries in New Jersey, that is still a relatively small number of breweries compared to the population of the State.

Just two weeks after Demented closed in Middlesex, Jersey Cyclone opened about a mile or two away in Franklin Township/Somerset, NJ. Having visited Jersey Cyclone three times since they opened on May 4, 2019, I can say that I’m pretty impressed with their output, but more about one of their beers later in the week.

It isn’t just Jersey Cyclone having recently opened. Breweries continue to open in New Jersey on an almost weekly basis. Equally as important to a maturing landscape is that existing/established breweries are expanding – Flounder Brewing in Hillsborough is moving to a barn (or group of barns) not far from the current location that will provide them far more space. Angry Erik in northwestern New Jersey just moved into a facility they built after about five years in an office park. Lone Eagle in Flemington is expanding, by constructing and another building for manufacturing on their lot. There’s been word for at least a year that Conclave Brewing in Raritan/Flemington increasing capacity. Perhaps the most exciting thing for many NJ beer fans, longtime mainstay Bolero Snort is in the middle of building their facility in Carlstadt, NJ after years of gypsy brewing.

So yeah, the New Jersey Beer landscape is maturing, evolving, and still growing and healthy DESPITE the most recent legislative roadblock thrown in front of the breweries. But that problematic legislature is another topic.

At this point in the NJ Beer/Brewery landscape’s maturation; however, breweries more than ever need to produce better than average beer, not just passable beer. They need to brew beer that makes people come back for more. This is, of course, in addition to being smart about owning a business. Because the NJ Beer Consumers palates are maturing alongside the brewery and beer landscape.

 

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: Conclave Brewing’s Moonwater

Name: Moonwater
Brewing Company: Conclave Brewing Company
Location: Flemington/Raritan Township, NJ
Style: IPA – American
ABV: 6%

“The Central Jersey brewery creates another delicious IPA.”

About the beer:

An IPA brewed to be simple, enjoyable and drinkable. We used a blend of base malts, Mosaic and Motueka hops and then a blend of ale yeasts to make this one. While it’s clearly a hoppy one, it’s crisp minerality and finish is what we’re really psyched about. Come on by and let us know what you feel. Notes of Sauvignon blanc, grape bubblegum, lemongrass and lime.

For all the mentions Conclave gets here on the Tap Takeover, this is the first full review I’m doing for one of their beers since fall 2017. For about the past year or so, Conclave has been doing somewhat monthly releases. Moonwater was was the first can release I was able to get I’m very glad I did.

This is a beer they first brewed in late 2018 but when I picked up the 4-pack, it was both the first time they canned the beer and the first time I had the beer.

Immediately noticeable from the pour of the beer is how yellow-orange the beer is, really nailing the “Pale” of the IPA. It looks almost like orange juice, like many of the popular Hazy IPAs. There’s a strong hop aroma that, for IPA lovers, really encourages you to take a sip.

A big hit of hops on the first sip. Per the description above, they’ve used two hops: Motueka and Mosaic.  The Motueka on the start which evokes a really delicious citrus flavor. I think Conclave has used Motueka in quite a few of their beers and it is a really flavorful hop, I’m a fan. The hop I tend not to enjoy; however, is the Mosaic hop. For whatever reason, the finish of beers which feature the Mosaic hop don’t typically jive with my taste sensibilities. I didn’t notice those issues in this beer.

While the Mosaic is present and has some hop qualities I enjoy, the Motueka hop brings enough of its own flavor to give the beer a more balanced hop profile. Motueka is one of the New Zealand hops that is growing in popularity and this beer is a nice showcase as to why. There’s an extremely pleasant tropical fruit element to the beer that inspires you to have more.

So the beer has a well-crafted balance between the two hops, which is nice. Also impressive is how flavorful the beer is with a relatively low ABV at 6%. For an IPA, that’s not exactly a chugger, but lower than the 7-7.5% you’d expect from an IPA with the robust flavor this beer gives.

Conclave Brewing is extremely consistent with every beer they produce and this beer is further proof. Moonwater is a great example of the care, precision, and artistry that can come together in an IPA. Plan and simple, Moonwater is a delicious IPA.

The cans sold out early on Saturday, the brewery is open for a couple of hours on Thursday and Friday evening and Saturday afternoons. I wouldn’t be surprised to see another batch of this beer become available though maybe just for growler fills. If you’re in the Central New Jersey area, it is a beer (and brewery) worth seeking out and visiting.

Can art by Natalie Rengan, @talliedesign. Natalie has been creating some really striking designs for Conclave’s can releases, giving a nice “branding” to the brewery.

Art/Design by Natalie Rengan

Recommended, link to Untappd 4-bottle cap rating.

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.