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: 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.