Beer Review: Czig Meister Brewing’s The Herdsman

Name: The Herdsman
Brewing Company: Czig Meister Brewing
Location: Hackettstown, NJ
Style: Bock – Single / Traditional
ABV: 6.7%

“Czig Meister’s (Matt Czigler’s) German brewing skill and knowledge are on full display in this spot on take on the classic German Bock.”

Unfortunately, my reflection makes an appearance here

I’ve made it no secret that I enjoy the beers coming out of Czig Meister in Hackettstown, NJ. I also have proclaimed my enjoyment of Bocks beers and desire to see more of the style available, in all their varieties. So, when Czig Meister announced their third anniversary party the first weekend in June (Happy Anniversary!) I was hoping they’d still have this traditional German beer still available because I knew I was going to attend. I was planning on featuring one of their beers this week as a nod to their anniversary and I’ve been wanting to feature a bock for a while. Obviously they did or else I wouldn’t be writing about it and those two things came together.

The Anniversary party was in full swing when I arrived, with Czig’s large outdoor Biergaten relatively packed and the line to get beer both inside and outside weren’t short, but they were moving. The atmosphere, on the whole, was super friendly and the weather was perfect. The party was a great showcase for what a great community the NJ Craft Brewing community is, I was chatting with a couple of folks from Twin Elephant and saw folks from Fort Nonsense. Granted, those two breweries are relatively close and Czig Meister is one of the largest in Northern New Jersey. But on to the beer…

The beer poured into the glass a brownish amber and looked just like I’d expect a Bock to look. I’d say it is a little darker than the traditional German Amber Lager (i.e. the Columbia Street Lager from Karl Strauss I reviewed a couple of weeks ago) and slightly less carbonated. I smell malt, sweetness, and maybe a little nuttiness. I like how this is shaping up for me.

The sweet malt presence is the first thing about the flavor I noticed. The traditional caramel-like flavor is very present, too, and it doesn’t go away. That is most definitely a feature for me for this beer. Some bocks have an aftertaste that is too bitter or too earthy for my tastes. That aftertaste is nowhere to be found with this beer. The caramel sweet-smooth flavor follows through to the end and picks up some nuttiness, giving the finish a nice rounded and appealing overall profile.

I had four total beers during my stay at the anniversary party, chatting with old friends and new alike. All four beers I had (three were 4oz tasters) were very good, but the delicious, sweet caramel aspect of the Herdsman lingered on my palate for quite a while after having the beer. Later in the evening when I was on my couch, I still caught hints of the caramel somewhere in my sense of taste. Again, this is a good thing.

A note on the label/can art. Czig Meister has developed a pretty consistent branding across all of their canned beers that makes their beer very identifiable, from a brand perspective, on the shelf. For The Herdsman, they went simple and to the point, featuring the iconic image of goat which has long been associated with Bock beer..

Czig Meister has a very solid reputation in the New Jersey brewing scene. Much of that reputation has been built on the vast number IPAs they brew, many which are part of their “Deep Sea Series.” The Herdsman is one of the rare Lagers they’ve brewed and have made available in cans. Sure they’ve done a pilsner and a few other lagers such as a special Dopplebock, but a “single” or traditional Bock shows the knowledge, skill, and confidence Matt and his crew have in their brewing abilities. As precise as a Pilsner can be, a Bock is just as complex a style to brew successfully and to keep dialed in with the appropriate flavor profile. That confidence is well-founded with this on-point interpretation of a Traditional Bock. I hope this beer continues to be part of Czig Meister’s portfolio.

One last Happy Anniversary to Czig Meister, a brewery that produces delicious beer and has some good people making that beer.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4-bottle cap rating.

Untapped badges earned with this beer:

I’ll Be Bock (Level 10)

Once you’ve had just one, there’s no doubt you’ll be saying “I’ll be bock” for another. That’s 50 different Bock beers.

Draught Diversions: March 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…

March rolls in and maybe because February is always shorter, March seemed like an extremely long month this year. The upside is that I managed to enjoy a lot of good beer during the third month of the year. It wasn’t quite as easy to trim the new beers down to six for the monthly recap as a result. Four of these beers are from New Jersey breweries. Two beers are Belgian Quadrupels, with two stouts, too. March will make it two months in a row that I haven’t included an IPA in the monthly six pack. Onward we go…

Whiskey Barrel Stout (Boulevard Brewing Co) Stout – American Imperial / Double – 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

I don’t think I’ve had a bad beer from Boulevard. In fact, most beers I’ve had from the great Kansas City brewery have been excellent. This big boozy stout is near the top of that list. Boulevard brews a handful of barrel aged beers including their Bourbon Barrel Quad which I reviewed last year. This Whiskey Barrel Stout is sweet, complex, with a good hit of booziness. The beer has all of that going on without forsaking any of the base stout flavors of the beer. As good a barrel-aged stout as you’ll find

Blasphemy (Weyerbacher Brewing Company) Belgian Quadrupel – 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

Weyerbacher is known for brewing big, strong beers. Their standard Quad is delicious, but to kick up another notch, they let it age in bourbon barrels. This is a super boozy beer, but really complex with vanilla laced throughout the flavor profile and quite sweet overall. This 750mL is one to share, I had a tough time finishing it myself. In fact, I’d like to see this in a 500mL bottle or four packs.

Paragon of Light (Czig Meister) Belgian Tripel 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

Anytime I can sneak Sully into these photos, I will.

Czig Meister has such a diverse portfolio of beers, crafting beer in nearly every style. They have a nice and interesting barrel-aging program, which produced this beer. I typically don’t go for wine barrel aged beers, but the fruitiness of the wine barrel works really nicely with the yeast and other elements of the Belgian Tripel. I can’t say I’ve had many Tripels, or many beers overall to match the flavor profile exhibited by Paragon of Light, but I can say I liked what was going on in this beer quite a bit.

2190 Anniversary Ale (Kane Brewing Company) Belgian Quadrupel – 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

Bottle image half courtesy of Kane’s Facebook, Right half my photo

I haven’t enough beer from Kane in my life. They aren’t exactly super far, but they aren’t exactly close either at about 50 miles away from my house. So when Project P.U.B. in Somerville (less than 10 miles away vs 50+ miles away) featured Kane as their monthly brewery in March, I had to stop in at least once. Project P.U.B. is a fascinating concept, they are a bar that is essentially a month-long tap takeover. March 2019 was ALL Kane beers, in the past, they’ve featured Bell’s for a month, Founders, and Oskar Blues, among others. I was especially eager to visit when I saw one of the “rare pourings” was this Anniversary Quadrupel and oh my is this a delicious beer. Lots of booziness from the barrel-aging up front, but as the backend of the beer finishes off, none of the Quadrupel elements are lost. A nearly perfectly barrel aged quadruple if I’ve ever had one.

MooDoo Doll (Bolero Snort Brewery Company) Stout – Imperial / Double 4.5 bottle Caps on untappd

Top half my photo, bottom half courtesy of Bolero Snort

I saw Bolero posting about this beer on their social media pages and was intrigued but I was also a little hesitant to give it a try. I’ve liked a lot of their beer, but for whatever reason, when they add Madagascar Vanilla to their big stouts, I find that the Madagascar Vanilla overtakes all the other flavor components and leaves an unwelcome aftertaste. This beer…this beer is just pure delicious. Maybe the lemon zest they add to evoke the Mardi Gras King Cake flavor was the key to cutting the vanilla. Regardless, this beer was the highlight of the month for me and it just might be my favorite beer from Bolero Snort.

Cape May Lager (Cape May Brewing Company) Lager – Pale 4 bottle caps on untappd

The first widely available lager from Cape May Brewing Company and it is damned good. Good malt balance, with a great amount of Saaz hops, the classic, Noble hops. “Craft Lagers” are becoming more prevalent, especially from some of the larger regional breweries and Cape May is the second largest in New Jersey. Cape May Brewing has a great post that details this beer from conception to what you find on shelves, and it highlights how delicate it can be to make what is considered a “simple” beer. I’d slot this on the same shelf as Carton’s This Town as the two best Lagers brewed in New Jersey. I’ll likely have a couple of six packs of this one in my cooler throughout the summer.

While it may seem I loved every beer I had in March, I had a couple that weren’t so good. I had Boulder Beer Company’s Mojo IPA which was undrinkable. The date was fine, the beer is highly rated, so maybe I had a bad batch. Either way, it was just plain bad. I’ll also add that this year’s Nugget Nectar from Tröegs was absolutely delicious. I liked it the first time I had it a few years ago, but this year’s vintage was the first I had since began appreciating hop-forward beers. On draught, it was outstanding.

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…

November was a bounce-back month, at least in terms of new beers. Even outside of the 6 brewery tour, the main highlight of the month, I managed to have quite a variety of brews. Additionally, one of my favorite Pennsylvania breweries, Tröegs Independent Brewing, released a fantastic variety pack this year – Most Wonderful Beer of the Year. This 12 pack features 6 varieties, two cans of each of the following beers: Troegenator, Blizzard of Hops, Perpetual IPA, Dreamweaver, Mad Elf (A Christmas Classic, now in cans!), and the beer I’ve highlighted towards the end of the post. Now, to the beers which comprise the December 2018 Six Pack…

Fudge Machine – Porter – Imperial / Double (Demented Brewing Company) – 4.5 bottle Caps on untappd

This beer was a helluva way to start the month. I’ve written multiple times how much I enjoy Demented’s beers and this is near the top of the list of what they’ve brewed over the last few years. One of my favorite NJ beers is River Horse’s Chocolate Porter and Fudge Machine is pretty damned close. I’m not sure how long this will be available from Demented or if it was a one-shot beer, but it should be in their regular rotation. As it stands, the beer is available on draft and in cans from the brewery.

Boomsauce (Lord Hobo Brewing Company) IPA – Imperial / Double New England – 4 bottle Caps on untappd

Beers from Lord Hobo started appearing on NJ shelves maybe a year ago? Something like that. At the time, I was still a little averse to IPAs and that’s all Lord Hobo seems to brew. Be that as it may, I gave this one a try and really liked it – good hoppy juiciness. Basically, a perfect example of the New England IPA.

Falconer – Pale Ale – American (Czig Meister Brewing Company) – 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

I’ve had quite a few specialty beers from Czig Meister, but not too many of their core beers. I’d wanted to try Falconer for a while now and I’m glad I finally did. This is a clean, sweet, and refreshing take on the American Pale Ale. A great everyday beer and one that would be a great introduction to folks wary of craft beer.

Delirium Tremens – Belgian Strong Golden Ale (Huyghe Brewery [Belgium]) – 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

When it comes to iconic Belgian ales, Delirium Tremens is quite high on the list. The pink elephant is a beacon to a quality ale and with Tremens, they set the bar for a yeasty, potent golden ale. I had this on draft years and years ago (well, before untappd at least). This bottle was birthday gift from a couple of folks I manage, which was nice. This beer is very similar to Cape May’s Devil’s Reach so if you like that, you’ll like this.

Chocolate Stout Stout – Milk / Sweet (Tröegs Independent Brewing) 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

If it hasn’t become clear lately (especially the last couple of months), I’ve been on a Tröegs kick. They do a great job with their variety packs and this winter/Christmas, they produced a great one – Most Wonderful Beer of the Year. For me, the star of this variety pack is this outstanding Chocolate Stout. It does just about everything you’d want a chocolate stout to do. This beer may have begun as one of Tröegs’s Scratch beers, but it really should be a style that gets its own six pack.

Belgian Freeze – Winter Ale/Belgian Dark Ale (River Horse Brewing Company) 3.75 bottle caps on untappd

Untappd lists this as a Winter Ale, Beer Advocate calls it a “Belgian Dark Ale.” Sure it is a winter beer, but the Belgian yeast and sweet and spicy flavor it evokes sets it firmly as a Belgian Dark. Regardless of what style this beer falls under, it is a tasty beer that can warm you up on a cold winter night. This is one of the beers River Horse has been brewing the longest and I can understand why. This is in rotation from River Horse from October to December.  With an ABV of 8% it won’t completely knock you out, but it isn’t a beer you want to throw back too quickly.

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. But to be fair, and to show I don’t like every NJ beer I try, there was one beer that was a bit of a letdown – Bolero Snort’s Snickermoodle. This is a sweet porter brewed with cinnamon and Madagascar vanilla beans. I think I just don’t like vanilla as a component in my beers because in this beer, the vanilla finish completely destroys all the other flavors. Well, at least it did in this beer. I had two of the four from the four pack the second can was better, but that Madagascar vanilla is still overpowering.

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: 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: February 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…

Since today is March 1st, let’s take a look back at the February 6-pack. Again these are beers that stood out over the past month. Most are really good beers, but I’ll try to keep it somewhat balanced and include one beer that didn’t quite work for me.

As this six pack (and last month’s) are showing, I’m more strongly leaning into the whole IPA/hopped up beer side of the bottle shop. There might be another rant/post about that specifically, but I’ll go through this six pack chronologically.

Victory Mighty Things Imperial IPA – 4 bottle Caps on untappd

On the very first day of the month, I had a new Double/Imperial IPA from my favorite brewery, Victory Brewing. There’s a near perfect balance between the hops and malt in this beer with a nice citrusy undertone. I’ll admit, I was a little unsure if I should get a full six pack of the beer, but I am very glad I did. I’ve seen some chatter on beer boards that this is just a repackaged version of Hop Ranch. I can’t say, never had that one. Mighty Things, though? I’d have this again and again.

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale Pale Ale – American – 4 bottle Caps on untappd

I had to travel in February for my job and at one of the cocktail hours/receptions, the beer choices were Stella Artois (which I don’t like at all), Bud Light, and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. I of course went with the famous green labeled bottle. I haven’t had one of these in many years (at least since before I was on untappd) and never really enjoyed the beer. In fact, it was the beer from Sierra I liked the least. But since it was free, I figured I’d revisit. I’m glad I did because with my shift to enjoying IPAs and my changing (evolving?) palate, I now enjoy this beer very much and grabbed a bottle at the following night’s cocktail hour.

Weyerbacher Sunday Molé Stout Stout – American Imperial / Double – 2.75 bottle Caps on untappd

Here, we reach the drain pour. I like stouts quite a bit, spiced up stouts very much, and I enjoy much of Weyerbacher’s output, so I was expecting to enjoy this one a great deal. Especially since it is a variant on their wonderful Sunday Morning Stout. This beer didn’t work for me at all. I’m not sure why, maybe the smokiness? I couldn’t put my finger on it and couldn’t finish the beer, it just wasn’t for me.

Flying Fish Jersey Juice IPA – New England – 4 bottle Caps on untappd

Number four for the month (and the second IPA) is from New Jersey’s largest craft brewery, Flying Fish. I’ve enjoyed many of the beers I’ve had from Flying Fish’s portfolio so how could I not at least try a beer with the state’s name in it? Well, Jersey Juice is quite tasty with a good hop / malt / juicy balance. Further playing on the New England IPA craze, this beer is distributed in 16oz cans. The beer isn’t quite what it I thought it might be, in that the name, packaging, and untappd classification made me think it would be a New England IPA. The beer doesn’t have quite the level of juiciness or cloudiness most NEIPAs have, but the beer is still quite good and is one of those versatile brews that fits any occasion.

Tröeg’s First Cut IPA – American – 4 bottle Caps on untappd

I’ve always respected and liked the beers Tröegs produces, and now that I’m on-board with IPAs, I like them even more. First Cut is the first of Tröegs Hop Cycle series of seasonal IPAs. Not too highly hopped, the beer is extremely well balanced and sweet with honey and mangoes added to the brew process. This is a delicious, extremely refreshing IPA. I don’t know if I’d call it “crushable” because of the 6.2% ABV, but the beer goes down really nicely. As the first in the Hop Cycle, this is a spring seasonal, but damn would this be a perfect summer/poolside beer.

Now I’m looking forward to progressing through Tröegs Hop Cycle this year.

Samuel Adams Sam ‘76 Lager – American Light– 3.75 bottle Caps on untappd

There’s been a lot of hype for this beer and how the fine folks of Samuel Adams went through 60 different recipes before settling on the beer that is known as Sam 76. I may have to up my rating when I have a second can of the beer because this is a solidly made beer. Billed as an ale/lager hybrid, the beer is bright, crisp, and has a nice hop-pop. With a  4.7% ABV, the beer is really crushable. This is a year-round beer and I can imagine it will do very well in warm months and in people’s coolers in the summer. The beer is maybe a session lager? A hoppy Helles Lager? The flavor profile actually reminds me of Carton’s Boat Beer, if not quite as hoppy. I may have more to say about this beer at a later date, but I hope this does well for Jim Koch’s great company.

Honorable mention: Czig Meister brewery in Hackettstown had a 2-day Stoutfest (their second annual) and there were some fantastic stouts, 50 different stouts over two days! The best I had were the Caramel Macchiato Stout, Imperial Milk Stout and the Bananas Foster Stout. I’d love to see the Caramel Macchiato make it to season/full time status and put into distribution.

Draught Diversions: Czig Meister Brewing Company

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…

This week’s brewery focused post features another of the “Hackettstown Trio” of NJ Craft breweries which was part of my fall 2017 New Jersey Brewery Tour: Czig Meister Brewing Company which is literally around the block from Man Skirt Brewing (featured here: https://thetaptakeover.com/2017/12/14/draught-diversions-man-skirt-brewing/).

Image of brewery front courtesy of Czig Meister Web site

Czig Meister opened its doors and taps to the public in June 2016, but  President/CEO Matt Czigler’s beerstory began long before that. Like many brewery owners, Matt began homebrewing, but then unlike many homebrewers, formally educated himself at Siebel Institute of Brewing Technology in Chicago. Once the formal education concluded, Matt eventually found himself in about as great a gig as one could hope for in NJ Craft Beer – head brewer at NJ’s iconic Kane Brewing. As it turns out, Matt had a big impact on Kane. His recipe for A Night to End All Dawns, an Imperial Stout aged in Four Roses Bourbon Barrels, won gold at the Great American Beer Festival in 2014. He eventually left to start what is now Czig Meister Brewing. All of this happened before he was even 30 years old. Very impressive indeed. (This is a very truncated version of what appears on Czig Meister’s About Us Page.

Image courtesy of Czig Meister’s Web site

But what about the brewery, where it is, and the beers produced by Czig Meister?

The location: Czigler managed to secure himself a really great space, a big, eye-catching brick building that was once a Ford maintenance garage. The ceiling is high, with barrels stacked in some spots. Perhaps what is best about the space is how open and welcoming it is. There’s an outdoor seating area / Biergarten and I think the big old garage doors open up to allow great airflow. Of the five breweries I visited on that cool November afternoon/evening, none were as packed and hopping as Czig Meister. Granted, some space was cordoned off and rented for a party, but there were enough people milling about enjoying fine beer that I suspect it still would have been the busiest brewery that day. Because it was so packed and the schedule for the day was pretty tight, I didn’t have the opportunity to snap any photos from inside the brewery.

The beers: I did manage to get a flight during my visit and all four beers were good, with one bordering on great. One of the beers I had was one of Czig Meister’s “Forge Batch” beers, which are the single-keg, experimental, brewery only releases. In this case, it was a “Blueberry Imperial Saison” (Forge Batch 9.8) and boy did it hit the spot. A lovely beer, the tart/sweet of the blueberry balanced out the yeast and earthiness of the Saison. I’d drink this all through the spring, if I could.

Flight at Czig Clockwise from Left: Forge Batch 9.8 Imperial Blueberry Saison, Blacksmith (Oatmeal Stout), Chaos (Belgian Dubbel), and Habonde (Barrel-aged Barley Wine)

The second beer in the flight was Chaos, Czig Meister’s interpretation of a Belgian Dubbel, which was spot on from a stylistic / flavor profile standpoint. The third beer in the flight was one of their flagship brews, Blacksmith, an Oatmeal Stout that was more roasty and smokey than I’d expect from a stout, especially an oatmeal stout. Almost more like a porter than a stout to me. The final beer was Habonde, and outstanding Barley Wine aged in Wild Turkey Bourbon Barrels. I’ve seen this one in local bottle shops, too. I’d highly recommend it to folks who enjoy Barley Wines. I think this is also the Barley Wine that cemented the fact that I enjoy Barley Wines in the English, rather than American style.

Speaking of bottle shops, sometime last year, I started seeing Czig Meister beers in shops near me in Somerset, Middlesex, and Hunterdon Counties, NJ. Again, this is really impressive – having a growing production brewery (compared to some of the smaller breweries in NJ) able to crank out beers consistently enough to gain continual distribution is no small feat. It seems Czig Meister’s core beers are the aforementioned Oatmeal Stout Blacksmith, as well as The Huntsman (Kölsch), Falconer (American Pale Ale, which I suspect would be similar to Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale especially with the green can), Prospector (Amber/Red Ale and Matt’s favorite, according to the Website and my links below), and The Shipwright (American IPA).

Of course Czig Meister has some regular seasonal brews and Special Releases, too. The next one I plan to try from them will have to be either Upon the Shattered Cliffs an Imperial Milk Porter (a collaboration brew with Bolero Snort) or the Dopplebock they call Chieftans Covenant.

Between the variety of beers they produce (over 200 distinct beers as of this writing), the busy atmosphere, great location, and portfolio of beers in distribution, Czig Meister has made a great mark on the NJ Craft Beer scene in less than two years. I know I would like to visit the brewery again and at the very least, continue making my way through the variety of their beers I see at my local bottle shops.

Like many breweries are doing, such as the Brews and Board Games club that meets monthly at Lone Eagle Brewing Czig Meister has regular events at their brewery, including a regular trivia nights. Bottom line, Czig Meister is worth making the drive up to Hackettstown on its own. Add the other two breweries in the town (Man Skirt and Jersey Girl), and the trip is almost a must for people interested in sampling fine New Jersey beer.

Additional reading and resources

Wine and Craft Beverage News (July 2017)
Brew Jersey (January 2017)
The Daily Record (June 2016)
I Drink Good Beer (June 2016)

A final aside: As it turns out, the younger brother of one of my fraternity brothers works at Czig Meister and has been there since the brewery opened.