Draught Diversions: Favorite New Beers of 2018

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

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

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

Breakdown:

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

On to the list…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image courtesy of Icarus Brewing’s Facebok

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is, quite simply, one of the best porters I’ve ever had. Sunday Brunch is an Imperial Milk Porter made with coffee, maple syrup, and cinnamon. At 9.5% this is a potent beer, but so smooth and sweet. This is one of Kane’s once per year beers and seems to only be available at special events and in 750ml bottles at the brewery.

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

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

 

 

 

Draught Diversions: 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: 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.

Beer Review: Demented Brewing’s Silent IPA

Name: Silent
Brewing Company: Demented Brewing Company
Location: Middlesex, NJ
Style: IPA – American
ABV: 6.3%

From Demented Brewing’s beer page:

Named after a volcano in New Zealand, this beer packs an eruption of flavors without melting your palate. Expect fresh crushed citrus and tropical fruit in the nose, with no bitterness on the finish.

Here we are a year later with coming full circle back to Demented Brewing for a beer review a year after the first “pour” from The Tap Takeover. Now that I’ve come to enjoy IPAs, I wanted to dive into more brews from Demented Brewing, since some of their more highly regarded brews are their IPAs. My wife and I were having dinner with friends and family at a BYOB place before a concert, so I stopped in at Demented which is very close to my brother-in-law’s house. Their flagship IPA, Dementia is an IPA I liked before I really started to enjoy IPAs and Gallows Hill is a nice New England style IPA. But what about Silent? Well, read on.

I gave this a quick sampling before having the growler filled up and I knew it would be right up my alley from that little sip. Once I poured the beer out of the growler into the cup a couple of hours later, I could tell this was a juicy beer despite the dim light of the noodle house where I consumed the beer. It poured thick and hazy and I was excited to take that first sip.

A quick whiff of the aroma of the beer is hoppy and a little citrusy, but altogether inviting especially coupled with the look of the beer. Hops are strong, and citrusy hops at that. I wasn’t sure which hops were used in this beer when I was drinking the beer, but I guessed by the fact that the beer’s name is a nod to a volcano in New Zealand, a hop from New Zealand was used. After checking Demented Brewing’s Instagram just before posting this review, I learned that Silent is a single hop beer and yup, it is Motueka, one of the more citrusy hops from New Zealand.

Although I do appreciate beers with blend of hops, single-hopped IPAs (like Bell’s delicious Two Hearted Ale which is hopped only with Centennial Hops) really allows the single hop to shine. Here with Silent, the single hop of Motueka shines in all its citrusy glory. The short of all that is this: Silent is a juicy IPA that should please folks who like their IPAs on the hazy/juicy side of life.

Here’s a testament to how good this beer is, between three people the growler was finished in less than a half hour; and one of those consuming the beer isn’t even a fan of IPAs. Granted, I probably downed half of the growler myself, but still, the other two people sharing the growler were eager to have their cups refilled. The beer was delicious and wonderfully complemented the gigantic bowl of pork ramen I enjoyed for dinner.

Sorry demon cyclops, that’s MY growler of Silent. You can’t have any of it.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4.25-star rating.

Untapped badges earned with this beer:

I Believe in IPA (Level 21)

We believe in IPA and you should too. You certainly have a taste for the hops! That’s 105 different IPAs.

 

Draught Diversions: St. Patrick’s Day 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…

If Oktoberfest is the Fall holiday for beer, then St. Patrick’s Day, the day when everybody is Irish, is certainly the Late Winter/Spring Holiday day for beer. Not just a holiday for a specific style of beer, but a brand, some would say. Guinness, of course. Guinness is far from the only beer option (or even Irish Stout) to enjoy on and around St. Patrick’s Day, so I’ll touch on a few of those. But I’ll start with Guinness itself.

Guinness, the most popular and best selling stout in the world is still quite well regarded by many craft beer folks despite being such a global brand. When it comes to stouts, especially Irish Stouts, few compare to Guinness especially when the line from the keg to the tap is short. A nice touch is when the bartender adds a four-leaf clover to the head.

Guinness has been expanding their portfolio here in the U.S. over the past handful of years, including a Blonde Ale (the less said the better), an “Irish Wheat” that was surprisingly tasty, and several stouts. They offer up a Milk Stout as well as a Belgian-inspired Antwerpen Stout. The Guinness I’m really looking forward to trying, though, is the 200th Anniversary Export Stout, brewed in late 2017 in honor of the 200th anniversary since Guinness was first shipped to America.

The “other” Irish Stout, Murphy’s is also an excellent example of the style. It has been many, many years since I enjoyed a Murphy’s. I may have to change that soon.

Many American brewers try to evoke the style as well. This may not come as a shock to folks who read this blog regularly, but my favorite is probably Victory Brewing’s offering: Donnybrook Stout. I believe this is a draft only beer as I’ve never seen it in bottles or cans, but I recall the beer hitting the same notes as Guinness does, and to a fairly successful degree. Breckenridge Brewery has a “Nitro Dry Irish Stout” that is very much playing into the whole Guinness beer profile, too. Of course, Breckenridge is one of a growing number of American Craft Breweries purchased by Anheuser-Busch and part of its “High End” brand initiative.

It isn’t all about the Stouts on St. Patrick’s Day, though. Smithwick’s is the brand name for the Red Ale the fine folks at Guinness brew and distribute. For years this was a go-to beer for me. I even prefer a “Black and Red” or “BlackSmith” to the traditional “Black and Tan.” Smithwick’s may be the quintessential Irish Red Ale and again, many American brewers try to evoke the style.

I miss this logo from the beer. The new red logo looks like Bud and doesn’t stand out at all.

For my beer drinking dollar, the best of the American interpretations of an Irish Red Ale is – hands down, no discussion – Great Lakes Brewing’s Conway’s Irish Ale. I seem to alternate going with this or something from Guinness on St. Patrick’s Day.  Great Lakes (rightfully so) makes a big deal out of this one on St. Patrick’s Day.

I’ve only touched upon some a few of the seasonal/holiday appropriate brews to enjoy (responsibly!) during a St. Patrick’s Day celebration, I know.* Of course, some Jameson would also be perfectly appropriate or one of the caskmates brews they’ve brewed in collaboration with a few American Craft brewers, like the Craic they partnered with River Horse here in New Jersey to brew last year. This beer is really tough to find and I haven’t had much luck yet.

Some other NJ breweries are getting in on the fun, too.*

*Gotta save some for next year’s St. Patrick’s Day post, right? 

For some Irish brews to enjoy for St. Patrick’s Day, take a look at this great article by Jason Notte.

There you have it. A quick rundown of some of the more widely available and widely known seasonally appropriate brews for St. Patrick’s Day as well as a handful of beers from some NJ Breweries. I know there are many more, so drop a note in the comments to let me know of a good one I may have overlooked.

Draught Diversions: Favorite New Beers of 2017

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…

2017 has come to a close and to the surprise of nobody reading this blog, I enjoyed my fair share of beer in 2017. Many styles of beers, beers from many breweries, and beers of varying quality. With this post, I’ll go over the best of “new to me” beers in 2017. These are the beers I enjoyed the most between January 1, 2017 and December 31, 2017. A small disclaimer, I’m not including special annual releases like Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout, Weyerbacher’s Sunday Morning Stout, or Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout. First, I’ve had previous vintages of those beers so they really aren’t “new to me.” Second, I’d rather highlight beers that may not have the reputation those event beers had. Why 12 breweries? Pretty obvious since a 12-pack is a common way to purchase beer and most beer bottles hold 12oz of beer.

I’ll admit to a NJ bias on this list as 7 of the beers are from NJ breweries. Also, many of these are stouts. I did try to whittle down my list so as not to include one brewery twice on the list so there’s one spot for two beers from the same brewery. I’m going from bottom to top. Each title links to either my full review here at the Tap Takeover or my check-in for the beer on untappd. Some of these may be a surprise, mot probably won’t be.

12. Rothuas Pils Tannen Zapfle (German Pilsner) 4.5 Bottle Caps

Rothaus Pils / Tannen Zäpfle from Badische Staatsbrauerei Rothaus in Baden-Württemberg, Germany. Over the past year or so, I’ve come to really enjoy Pilsners and appreciate the history of the style of beer. While I still consider Victory’s Prima Pils the American standard for Pilsners, this authentic German Pilsner is a nearly perfect beer in many ways. Look, taste, and aroma are exactly what to expect with a Pilsner. There was a slight, slight aftertaste to this one, but I would be happy if I had on shelf consisting only of this beer in my refrigerator.

11. Conclave Brewing Hop Ritual with Vic Secret 4.5 Bottle Caps

I’ve made no secret about how much I enjoy the beer from the closest brewery to my house. With this beer, Conclave outshone themselves and produced a beer in a non-go-to style for me that makes me want this to always be in my refrigerator. Vic Secret (which lends the name to the beer) is the strain of New Zealand hops used in the beer and it really does shine. I wasn’t expecting to be as blown away by this beer as I was, but it was so delicious I had to bring home at least a half-growler for myself. I went to Conclave thinking I’d bring home a growler of their porter, which was good, but this Pale Ale may be the best “new” Pale Ale I’ve had in years.

10. Demented Brewing Gluttony (Coffee Stout) 4.5 Bottle Caps

One of the last beers I had in 2017 and possibly my favorite from Demented Brewing over the last couple of years. Every brewery making stouts seems to make some kind of coffee stout. Beer/hops and coffee are two flavor profiles that are strong and can go into opposite directions and be at odds with each other as much as they can complement each other. Some coffee stouts aren’t made the best coffee beans or the coffee can dominate the flavor and leave a lingering unpleasant aftertaste. With Gluttony, there’s a perfect balance of coffee and beer and there’s little to no bitterness on the finish.

9. Firestone Walker Nitro Merlin (Milk Stout) 4.5 Bottle Caps

I think I said all I can say about this beer as one of my first beer review at the Tap Takeover. Bottom line: probably the best Milk Stout I’ve ever had on draft. As I said in my review, “A Nitro Stout against which many, if not all, others should be judged.” Firestone recently released this in cans so I wonder how well the wonders of the beer on draught will translate to cans.

8. Ayinger Celebrator (Dopplebock) 4.5 Bottle Caps

The gold standard for Dopplebocks, plain and simple. Malty, caramelly, with a slight smokiness at the end. This is a wonderful warm weather beer and a prime example of German brewing at its peak. My only problem is that I never had the beer before. I’m going to have to grab this one in bottles in the future, I see it frequently enough in 4-packs.

7. The Alchemist Heady Topper (IPA – Imperial / Double) 4.75 bottle caps

One of the Whale beers of North America, this is the standard by which all other IPAs and double IPAs are judged. I’m slowly, slowly turning a 180 on my dislike of IPAs and maybe it is because of this beer. I shared the 16oz can with a friend and wished I had a full can to myself.

6. Carton Café Y’ Churro (Imperial Cream Ale) 4.75 bottle caps / Carton Sundae (Russian Imperial Stout) 4.75 bottle caps

I have two here from Carton because both were equally wonderful. I also wanted to avoid having two breweries on the list so decided to list these two from the same brewery at the same spot. Anyway, this is my list and blog so I can construct the list how I choose. Back to the beers. Café Y’ Churro is a variation on Carton’s popular Imperial Cream Ale, Regular Coffee with perfect amounts of vanilla and cinnamon. At 12% the beer is deceptively easy drinking and full of flavor.

 

Sundae is a spin on Cosmonaut, Carton’s annual Russian Imperial Stout. This deep burgundy/crimson brew aged in cognac barrels with walnuts and Maraschino cherries just may be the most perfect dessert beer ever brewed. From my review: “From that initial pour and inhale, I kept thinking, “What a surprise this beer is. …makes Sundae one of the more unique beers I’ve ever consumed.”

5. Sierra Nevada & Tree House Brewing Beer Camp Across the World East Meets West IPA (New England IPA) 4.5 Bottle Caps

This beer, with its citrusy and sweet profile complementing the hops was delightful. It poured a bright and inviting orange-yellow almost like orange juice, as I’ve seen quite a few of the New England IPAs on untappd. After thoroughly enjoying this beer, I think I came to the conclusion that I prefer East Coast / New England style IPAs over their West Coast cousins. The hop profile of many West Coast beers, especially the IPAs, just don’t register positively in my palate.

4. Spellbound Brewing Porter aged Palo Santo Wood 4.75 Bottle Caps

This may be familiar as it was the first beer I reviewed in 2018 and the last 2017 beer I reviewed. From that review: “What I can say is that this is the absolute best porter I had this year, an all-time best porter for me, and very, very high on the list of “New to Me” beers for 2017”

3. Ramstein Winter Wheat (Dopplebock) 4.75 Bottle Caps

Photo courtesy of Ramstein / High Point Brewing

Ramstein (High Point Brewing Company) is one of the craft beers that established NJ as a player in the scene nearly two decades ago. People drive from out of state for growler fills and tastes of this incredible dopplebock. This is a tad sweeter than the previously mentioned dopplebock from Ayinger and perhaps the best “Winter” beer I’ve ever had, possibly one of the best bock varieties I’ve ever had, and one of the best beers brewed in NJ.

2. Dogfish Head Oak Aged Vanilla Stout (Stout – American Imperial / Double) 4.75 Bottle Caps

Dogfish needs no introduction. One of their big annual releases is World Wide Stout so they decided to vary it up with some vanilla producing the best beer with vanilla I can remember having. From my review: “I was slightly nervous, I have to admit. I’ve had a couple of beers with vanilla beans or some kind of vanilla component and I was a little disappointed with those beers, the vanilla was too over powering in those beers. Knowing the quality of Dogfish’s beers, I really should not have worried. If the aroma was a hint of things to come (and it was), the vanilla here was quite present but not dominant.

…and finally, the “new to me beer” for 2017 I enjoyed the most, was a special release from a New Jersey brewery. One of NJ’s oldest and most respected craft breweries…

1. Flying Fish Exit 17 Russian Imperial Stout 4.75 Bottle Caps

This is probably the best beer in Flying Fish’s Exit series, in my humble opinion. Not content with brewing a Russian Imperial Stout, Flying Fish aged this one in Dad’s Hat Rye Whiskey bottles.  My father is a big fan of Flying Fish’s output and we’ve both been trying to have each of the beers in the Exit series, so I figured we’d share this final Exit beer over Thanksgiving. Although I’ve come to love beers aged in bourbon barrels, allowing this beer to sit in Rye Whiskey bottles helps to set it apart from its barrel-aged brethren. Flying Fish’s description says this is a “one of a kind” beer and I’d be hard-pressed to dispute the claim. Supposedly, only 750 bottles were put into distribution so if you’re in the NJ/PA area, grab this because it will not be .around long.

So, there you have it. A 12-pack of the 13 beers I enjoyed the most in 2017

Draught Diversions: December 2017 Beer Pours

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…

With December, the Winter Ales and Stouts are filling the shelves. Many filled my glasses and comprise a majority of the new beers I enjoyed this December.

As has been tradition with my wife and I the last decade or so, on the first Saturday of December, we tag our Christmas Tree at a local farm with our friends and celebrate with brunch and adult beverages. This year, my friend had a Six Point variety pack, including Resin, their Double IPA and Sweet Action their blonde. I’ve come to realize I’m just not a fan of much of Six Point’s output. Later in the week, at a work dinner, I had a fine New Jersey brew: Philoso-Rapper, a Belgian Strong Golden Ale from Departed Soles out of Jersey City, NJ.

I stopped at Flounder and picked up a growler of Delta House Stout, their tasty interpretation of a Milk Stout, to bring to a gaming session. At that same session I had some Viking Blood mead, also quite good. I need to explore the world of mead more thoroughly. One of the pleasant surprises of the month was a solid Pilsner from Industrial Arts Brewing, Metric, which was part of a recent Wegman’s Craft Your Own 6 Pack.

I dove fully into the Christmas/Winter Ales having this year’s version of Anchor’s Anchor’s Christmas Ale beer and Rogue’s Santa’s Private Reserve. Anchor’s was good, but I enjoyed previous recipes/iterations more, the 2017 batch was stronger on some spices that didn’t quite work for me. Rogue’s revamped Santa beer, on the other hand, I found to be excellent. A sweet cherry Dark Strong Ale, the beer was perfect as a dessert beer and reminded me of Ommegang’s Rosetta, but without the sourness. Also from my 6 Beers of Christmas Future (2017) was  Two Roads’ Holiday Ale one of the more unique holiday / Christmas beers I’ve had. There’s an interesting malt/sweetness to the beer that really sets it apart.

The Thursday before Christmas was the monthly Brews and Board Games at Lone Eagle. This brewery continues to impress me with how the beer has been getting better and more consistent over the past year. First up was their Abbey Road Dubbel, a fantastic interpretation of the classic Belgian style. The second beer I had was one of their staple brews, 007 Golden Rye Pale Ale, the first Rye beer I’ve had in a while and the first one I can remember enjoying this much. I think I need to reassess this style, particularly the German interpretation known as Roggenbier.

Abbey Road Dubbel on the left, 007 Golden Rye on the right

Finally, Christmas arrived. Well, Christmas Eve, which is when we get together with my side of the family. Christmas Day is spent with the In-laws. Fortunately, I’m not the only person who enjoys craft beer either day, so for years I’ve been bringing special beers to share on both days. I started off sharing possibly the best beer I’ve had all year with my dad, Goose Island’s 2017 Bourbon County Brand Stout. As I have the past few years, I brought a local growler to share with everybody, in this case it was Demented Brewing’s Gluttony and incredible coffee stout that is perfectly balanced. Just as good (if not better) than Firestone Walker’s Mocha Merlin. Unsurprisingly, the growler did not survive the night. My dad also brought out a bomb of Founders Doom the IPA entry in their Barrel Aged series. This is one of the best, smoothest, most balanced IPAs I’ve ever had.

On Christmas Day, I had the Corsendonk Christmas Ale my folks gave to me as a gift the night before. I can taste why this is such popular, traditional beer around Christmas Time. This is a very solid interpretation of a Belgian Strong Dark Ale. The other Christmas beers I brought was 10 Lords a Leaping from the Bruery. This beer tasted like the best parts of a Witbier and a stout amalgamated into one beer with lots of spice complexities.

The final week of 2017 brought still more beers. I had a bottle of Chimay Blue, the Belgian Trappist brewery’s Strong Dark Ale which is a wonderful World Class ale. As I said in my Tuesday review, one of my team members at work got me a 4-pack of Spellbound’s Porter aged on Palo Santo Wood as well as their fantastic IPA. Spellbound’s IPA had the perfect balance of hops and malt. I continued my trek through Flying Fish’s Exit Series with Exit 7 Pork Roll Porter at Hub City Brewhouse, a local tap house in New Brunswick, NJ. Unlike another pork infused beer from a NJ brewery I had earlier in the week, Flying Fish’s beer was really well balanced with the right amount of spice and flavor from the pork roll. The other beer was a fantastic Belgian Brown ale from Leffe.

Lastly, New Year’s Eve for the last beers of 2017. The last few years, my wife and have been going to our friend’s house and just about everybody brings their own beer, but everybody winds up sharing. In addition to a six-pack of Victory’s Prima Pils, I’d been holding a Chocolate Bock from Samuel Adams for a couple of weeks and figured New Year’s Eve the right time to have it. I’ve had the beer in the past, but not in a very long time, long before joining untappd. It was as good as I remembered it. I also had a Wet Dream from Evil Twin Brewing, a brown ale with coffee and Flower Child IPA, a well balanced brew from Cambridge Brewing Company.

So there you have it. The “new to me” December 2017 beers. If I’m calling out the best, the top would definitely be Spellbound’s Porter aged on Palo Santo Wood, Founders’ Barrel-Aged IPA Doom and Demented Brewing’s Coffee Stout Gluttony. I’m excluding Bourbon County Brand Stout since I’ve had a previous year’s version.

Coming next week, my top 12 new to me beers of 2017.