Draught Diversions: April 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…

April 2019 started off with a bang, I did a bottle share with some friends/co-workers then had a big blast of different beers in the middle with the second annual (and somewhat disappointing) Bridgewater Beerfest. Quite a few very good beers at the bottle share, but since I only had a 2oz pour of each, I hesitate to include them in full detail aside from pointing out the highlights right here: a 2016 batch of Russian River’s Consecration (an American Wild Ale) and Grimm Artisanal’s Chocolate Cherry Icing on the Cake. One of the participants (a former boss of mine), brought vintages of Kane’s Sunday Brunch and Mexican Brunch. My contribution, Conclave’s Moonwater, seemed to be well-received.

From the April 4th Bottle Share

On to the main six pack, which is a little different this month…

Balinator (Carton Brewing Co) Bock – Dopplebock – 4 bottle Caps on untappd

As soon as I saw that one of my favorite breweries was brewing one of my favorite, least made styles (Dopplebock), I was going to buy the beer. So this beer is made with a great deal of coffee, specifically, per the video Carton put out explaining the beer, coffee beans are added during the brewing process where hops would normally be added. Carton plays a nice coffee beer game and this beer is a really interesting example of the skill they have in blending elements of the two most popular beverages on the planet. This beer is what you’d have if you made a perfect blend of iced coffee and a malty, sweet dopplebock.

Sneakbox (Kane Brewing Company) Pale Ale – American – 4.50 bottle Caps on untappd

The other NJ Independent brewing giant/legend, Kane makes it two months in a row here at the Tap Takeover. This is a beer I’ve been wanting to try for quite a while, especially since coming to enjoy hop forward beers over the last year. However, like most of Kane’s beers, this one was available only on draft only outside of the brewery, while cans could always be purchased at the brewery. As of this month (April 2019), Kane started to softly distribute this to Wegman’s stores throughout New Jersey. As soon as I saw it available at my local Wegman’s I picked up 4 pack. This has a damned near perfect hop profile from the Citra hop and is probably my favorite American Pale Ale. A beer that is perfect for any occasion or any time.

Sucaba 2019 (Firestone Walker Brewing Company) Barleywine – English – 4.50 Bottle Caps on untappd

Few breweries in the United States have as respected a barrel-aging program as does Firestone Walker. This beer is their annually released barrel aged Barleywine and is an outstanding beer. At 11.3% this is a complex, hot beer to sip over the course of an hour or so. Like most big beers, the flavors come alive as the beer settles to room temperature. I enjoyed this rich, sumptuous beer while watching the first episode of the final season of Game of Thrones, a perfect pairing. The beer has hints of vanilla, cherry, and a little toffee with a pleasant hop bite at the end.

Da’ Nile (River Horse Brewing Co.) Red Ale – American Amber / Red – 3.75 bottle Caps on untappd

Each runner received a beer and a “medal” in the shape of River Horse’s mascot Brewtus, which doubles as a bottle opener.

Although I haven’t been running much lately due to back issues, when a brewery run comes up, I’ll make the sacrifice. In 2016 when I was running 3 or 4 times per week, my wife and I ran the first River Horse 6K. Three years later, the great NJ brewery finally did their second 6K and as part of the race fees, each runner gets a pint of beer at the finish. Since my wife does not drink beer, I had two pints and this was the best of the two. I wouldn’t typically think a Red Ale would work as well with Vanilla and Molasses as this beer does, but here we are. This is about a notch away from being a porter and is quite tasty. A very sweet beer that seems a little better suited to cooler months, but a nice post-race beer nonetheless.

Moment of Clarity (Tree House Brewing Company) Stout – Milk / Sweet – 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

This is the first beer I had 100% brewed by Treehouse. I say 100% because I had the outstanding IPA they collaborated with Sierra Nevada to brew in Sierra’s 2017 Beer Camp pack. Back to this beer and all I can say is holy sweet breakfast Batman! Take the flavors that comprise the wonderful breakfast of chocolate chip pancakes doused with maple syrup and topped with a shake of cinnamon and blend it with a delicious milk stout. That’s my guess as to what the alchemists at Tree House Brewing did when they made this beer. Although the ABV isn’t a bomber in double digits, the potent sweetness of the beer makes it best suited as a slow sipper.

A Selection of Tasters from the 2019 Bridgewater Beerfest

Top Left: Worker Drone (Twin Elephant)
Top Right: Triple Power Bomb (Brix City/Barrier)
Bottom Left: Wrench (Industrial Arts)
Bottom Right: Ex Cathedra (The Lost Abbey)

I was excited to attend the Bridgewater Beerfest this year since I enjoyed it so much in 2018 (as that link indicates). While there was a good selection of beer, the fest was a disappointment. There are two reasons, the first is is that 6 breweries listed as appearing (with 5 of them being NJ breweries) did not appear or have any of their beer available. If it was just one brewery who did not appear, I could lay the blame at the brewery’s proverbial feet. However, when at least a half dozen breweries listed end up not attending, I have to think the event organizers posted the list of breweries without getting final confirmation from those breweries. The other frustration was that for the beers that were there, most of the people pouring the beer knew very little about the beer they were pouring for us. I will not be attending this beerfest again, I think.

So, kudos to the breweries who did appear and provide their beer, which is worth highlighting, with the four below as the standouts:

Sure this was a bit of a cheat for the six pack by adding a four pack to the six pack, but given the size of the tasters, these four beers equal – in volume – one full beer. There was another beer that stood out head and shoulders above all the others, but I’ll be reviewing that all by itself in the near-ish future.

So there it is, another monthly six pack in the proverbial books.

Draught Diversions: Chocolate/Valentine’s Day Six Pack 2019

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 seemed to work well last year, so why not again? There are quite a few “dessert / pastry” stouts out there and many of these beers have some flavor element that would lend themselves to Valentine’s day. Only one brewery from last year’s Valentine’s Day/Chocolate Beer post reappears here.

Rosetta | Brewery Ommegang | Cooperstown, NY | Sour – Flanders Oud Bruin | 5.4% ABV

Image courtesy of Ommegang’s Facebook

A departure from most of the other beers on this post since it isn’t a chocolate stout or stout of any kind. What flowers are most associated with Valentine’s Day? Roses. Well, this beer has “Rose” as part of its name (I know it is a stretch), but it doesn’t quite have roses in it. Rather, the color of the beer is a beautiful deep red evocative of a rose and is one of the very best beers with cherry I’ve ever had. A blend of two beers in one bottle, it is truly an artistically inspired beer. When Ommegang creates beers in its Belgian wheelhouse, wonderful things like this are produced. This is one of two beers in this post I’ve had (and thoroughly enjoyed).

What Ommegang says about the beer:

Rosetta kriek is a little sweet and a little tart, and now pops in cherry red with a bold, black logo. An homage to Rosa Merckx, the first female brewmaster in Belgium, Rosetta is blended for us at our sister brewery Leifmans, where Rosa worked for 46 years.

Ommegang Rosetta pays homage to time-honored Belgian methods of aging and blending fruit beers. Ommegang brewmaster Phil Leinhart partnered with Belgian sister brewery, Liefmans – legendary brewers in the world of sour fruit beers – to create a truly unique blend for Ommegang and U.S. craft beer lovers. Pouring a mahogany-brown with a hint of red, Rosetta offers elegance, depth, complexity, and an intriguing interplay of tartness and sweetness. This is derived from Phil’s perfectly balanced blend of Oud Bruin (a tart Flemish brown ale) with Cuvee Brut (a fruity and lively Kriek Beer)

Cupid | Carton Brewing Company | Atlantic Highlands, NJ | Stout – Other | ABV: 6.6%

Image courtesy of Carton’s Facebook

Perhaps the most on-point beer for Valentine’s Day comes from my NJ favorite, Carton Brewing. Augie and his band of brewers go beyond the confines of standard brewing ingredients for many of their beers, especially one-offs or seasonal beers like this one. How many other beers are made with roses? I’ll let Augie give you the lowdown..

What Carton says about the beer:

Simple truth is we wanted to make something taste like roses, and a stout reminiscent of the simple flavors of boxed chocolates seemed to make sense. The path became clear once we embraced honesty, no need for chocolate additions, just a malt bill built around chocolaty roasts. After that it was just some roses on the way home. Drink Cupid because that’s all there was to it, really, we swear, a straightforward inkling for boxed chocolates and some roses. Nothing else was going on.

Velvet Merkin | Firestone Walker Brewing Company | Paso Robles, CA | Stout – Imperial Oatmeal | 8.5% ABV

Image courtesy of Firestone Walker’s Web site

I’ve had the regular Velvet Merlin, which is a delicious Oatmeal Stout and Mocha Merlin, one of the best coffee stouts I’ve ever had. I’ve yet to have this elusive beer, which is part of their “Proprietor’s Vintage Series” of barrel-aged beers. I’ve not had the opportunity to sample any of their barrel-aged beers, but this is the one I think I’d want to try the most.

What Firestone Walker says about the beer:

Velvet Merkin is the beer that almost wasn’t…Indeed, this vintage oatmeal stout’s comical (or is it scandalous?) name went off the grid for several years, but now it’s back due to popular demand. Velvet Merkin is aged for a full year in retired spirits barrels from Heaven Hill, Woodford Reserve and others, yet manages to offer mind-­boggling balance and restraint. You will wig out when you taste Velvet Merkin’s rich milk chocolate, bourbon and espresso flavors, preceded by aromas of vanilla, coconut, toasted oak and mocha.

Chocolate Cherry Yeti | Great Divide Brewing Company | Denver, CO | Stout – American Imperial / Double 9.5% ABV

Image courtesy of Great Divide’s Facebook

The Yeti from Great Divide is one of the great Colorado stouts and has become a brand within Great Divide. I’ve had the Yeti and it is a big, flavorful beer. This variant, with Cherry added, seems like a delightfully delicious dessert beer perfect for Valentine’s Day. So of course it is logical that Great Divide releases it in February.

What Great Divide says about the beer:

CHOCOLATE CHERRY YETI is the newest version in our revered Yeti Series. We’ve tweaked the hop bitterness for this special release and then added sweet and sour cherries and cacao. The roasty malt backbone of Yeti melds perfectly with the cherries and cacao to make this one smooth sipper. A Yeti in a cherry orchard can be a great thing.

Double Chocolate Milk Stout | Lancaster Brewing Company | Lancaster, PA | Stout – Milk / Sweet 6.8% ABV

Image courtesy of Lancaster’s Web site

Lancaster’s Milk Stout was maybe the first Milk Stout I recall seeing called out specifically as a Milk Stout many moons ago. I liked it quite a bit and it was a regular winter beer for me. Then I tried this version of the beer which is a level up in taste, flavor, and all around quality as a beer.

Hell, Lancaster suggests pouring a can of this with their Strawberry Wheat Ale (a solid summer beer) for a chocolate covered strawberry.

What Lancaster says about the beer:

Don’t miss out on the intense roasted malts, silky smooth mouth feel, subtle sweetness and velvety chocolate goodness of our 2X Chocolate Milk Stout. We went over the top, with more malt, the infusion of cacao nibs and pure chocolate for a truly otherworldly chocolate stout experience.

Cherry Cordial | Southern Tier Brewing Company | Lakewood, NY | Stout – Imperial / Double | 10% ABV

Image courtesy of Southern Tier’s Facebook

Southern Tier is one of the leaders (at least in my region/distribution footprint) of the dessert / pastry stout, which is why they are appearing two years a row for this post. Frankly, I could probably include a beer in this themed post from Southern Tier for a few years. Like most of their big stouts, this is part of the “Blackwater” Series. Anyway, this one is a beer that evokes that most iconic of chocolate candies, the chocolate candy with cherry and cherry syrup filling. I think this is available in both 12oz 4 packs and 500ml bottles.

What Southern Tier says about the beer:

Big, juicy cherries covered in rich chocolate? Yes! Not overly sweet, with just enough contrast between the fruit and chocolate, Cherry Cordial is every bit as tempting as it sounds.

<We’re well known for our affection for decadent, flavorful, dessert-like beers which has put us on an endless quest to brew the ultimate indulgence. Our dessert beers are a fusion of flavors, making each of them a perfect pairing when one craves an exceptional stout all of personality.

Draught Diversions: August 2018 Six Pack

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

I still had plenty of summer beers leftover from the Fourth of July party, but there was definitely room for some new beers, too. As always, the beers I feature here weren’t part of any other post. In other words, while I loved the Steam Whistle Pilsner, I featured the brewery and the beer in a post last week. As is often the case, half of the beers called out are NJ beers.

Luponic Distortion: Revolution No. 010 (Firestone Walker Brewing Company) IPA – American – 3.75 bottle Caps on untappd

I’ve been enjoying Firestone’s beers over the past couple of months, this is the 10th in their series of IPAs featuring “flavors through hops” and the bottle is pretty accurate on the evocative flavors of peach and citrus. Oh, there’s still that bitter hop profile, but this is a solid IPA. In fact, when my wife makes chicken wings using the recipe from Cooking with Beer, the recipe calls for brining the chicken in a pale ale or IPA. For the most recent batch of those wings, we used this beer and the wings were delicious.

Wrath Aged In Bourbon Barrels With Coffee And Vanilla (2018) Stout – Russian Imperial (Demented Brewing Company) – 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

When I mentioned NJ breweries celebrating anniversaries a few weeks ago, I neglected to call out Demented. Well, they had their 3rd anniversary party on August 19th and released 3 variants of their popular Russian Imperial Stout – Wrath. For me, the standout was the variant aged in bourbon narrels with coffee and vanilla. A delicious, full flavored stout.

Fruit-Full Fort (Dogfish Head Craft Brewery) Strong Ale – Other 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

Again, Dogfish shows up here on a monthly six-pack. I’ve been really digging the old-school craft breweries like Dogfish and Firestone as of late. This beer is bordering on wine territory or even a drinkable boozy fruit jam with the level of alcohol and fruit, but still has the qualities of a beer. Four berries (Blue-, Boysen-, Rasp-, and Elder-) provide the fruit profile. I really was able to discern the four berries and enjoyed this beer as a lovely dessert sipper. At 18% ABV, this isn’t something to chug. If anything, maybe it is something to split with a friend.

Process Pils Pilsner – German (Conclave Brewing) – 4.75 bottle Caps on untappd

 

I’ve made no bones about Conclave being my favorite local brewery. Like I said about Carton, I don’t think it is possible for Carl, Tim, and Bryan to make a bad beer. Much of their output has been Ales (IPAs, Pales, and Stouts) so it was nice to see the lager-loving Bryan produce a Pilsner/Lager. This beer is sublime, elegant, beautiful, and delicious. Easily one of my favorite NJ beers and a top pilsner for me. (I stopped in the following week and had their tasty Hefeweizen (Sommer) and Session Ale (Paper Castles).

Curmudgeon’s Better Half Old Ale (Founders Brewering Company) 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

This is a beer I’ve heard about for years. Last brewed in 2012, Curmudgeon’s Better Half is one of Founders’ legendary barrel aged beers. Curmudgeon is a malty, molasses heavy Old Ale and this version takes the beer and ages in Maple Syrup Bourbon Barrels. I enjoyed Curmudgeon quite a bit. The esters from the beer are smoothed out a bit from the sweet Oak Aging. The flavor was outstanding, the body was a little thin. I’m going to let one of these sit for about a year, I think..

Smash the Golds (&telier – Carton Brewing Company/Barrier Brewing Company) Lager – Pale 4.25 bottle caps on untappd

Made an impromptu visit to Carton Brewing on the last day of the month, which is always a smart move. Over the past few months, Carton has been playing the collaboration game under the &telier name and this is their (second?) collaboration with Barrier Brewing out of Oceanside, NY. This lager is unlike most lagers I’ve had, there’s a fruity, almost buttery finish to the beer that makes this real pleasing. It drinks mostly a lager, but that finish threw me off in a good way.

So, not a terrible beer in this group like last month, but a couple of mediocre beers this past month. In past months, I’ve featured at least one beer that wasn’t great so for fairness sake, I’ll mention two disappointing beers: Samuel Adams’ Raspberry Gose (barely any sour/tartness from the beer) and Pabst’s new beer, American Pale Ale which is far less tasteful than their flagship PBR, which is a solid mass-produced Lager.

Draught Diversions: 5 More Breweries to Visit, Part 3 of a Series

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…

It has been a while (October of 2017) since I did one of these “Breweries I’d like to visit” posts and since then, I think my taste in beer has evolved. I’m seeking out IPAs, enjoying sours and really starting to appreciate beers from some of the more established Craft Breweries/Craft Beer Brands. The first couple of these posts were fairly easy, as I had dozens of beers from many of those breweries. So this time around, I’m ordering these alphabetically.

Bell’s Brewery in Comstock, MI (1983)
Total Bell’s beers checked in on untappd: 4
Bell’s Beers reviewed at The Tap Takeover: Oberon Ale and Amber Ale.

Seems like I find new reasons to talk about Bell’s Brewery every month, doesn’t it? Well, that alone should be an indicator of what a big deal this brewery is and how happy many folks in New Jersey are that their beers are available to us. Just about everybody I know who had Two Hearted for the first time within the last couple of months loves the beer and folks are pleased Oberon was here in time for the summer.

Image courtesy of Bell’s Brewing’s Web site

In addition to those beers, I’ve had and enjoyed the Amber Ale and Pooltime Ale. Their Eccentric Café looks extremely inviting, doesn’t it?

With 20+ draught options, a full-service restaurant, a luscious Beer Garden, comfortable patio and a state-of-the-art music venue, Bell’s Eccentric Café is the premiere craft beer destination in Michigan.

Our kitchen offers inspired fare, made with locally sourced, primarily non-GMO and sustainable ingredients, made from scratch to complement our beer.

All of that adds to Bell’s reputation as not just one of the Great Midwestern Breweries, but one of the Great American Breweries.

Boulevard Brewing Beer Company Kansas City, MO (1989)
Total Boulevard beers checked in on untappd: 11
Boulevard Beer reviewed at The Tap Takeover: Bourbon Barrel Quad

Boulevard is another Midwest/Southwest brewing institution. With nearly 30 years of brewing history based out of Kansas City, Boulevard has been pleasing fans in the Missouri and Kansas region for years. One of the beers that helped to build the Boulevard name is their renowned Saison, Tank 7. I had the beer years ago and liked it, but over the past year or so, I’ve come to really enjoy saisons even more so I think I need to revisit this beer. This past Fourth of July, I had the chance to sample two of their most popular beers thanks to the variety back my brother-in-law brought: Unfiltered Wheat (touted as the best-selling beer in the Midwest) and American Kolsch. These two beers were perfect for a warm fourth of July.

Image courtesy of Boulevard’s Facebook page

Probably the best beer I had from Boulevard was the one I reviewed earlier in the year: Bourbon Barrel Quad. This beer part is of their Smokestack Series, “A collection of bigger, bolder, more complex beers, these delicious, higher alcohol offerings are perfect for sipping or sharing.” Other beers in the series include a Double IPA, an Imperial Stout, a Whiskey Barrel-Aged Stout and the aforementioned Tank 7.

Image courtesy of Boulevard’s Web site

While the story of Boulevard’s growth is a great American story, the brewery was purchased by Duvel Moortgat in 2014. This is not like the other craft beer purchases in recent years. Boulevard seems to remain true to its original roots and continues to produce beer as an independent brewer would – pushing the definition of beer.

For some really great insight into Boulevard, I highly recommend listening to the Craft Beer and Brewing podcast featuring Boulevard’s brewmaster Steven Pauwels.

My wife and I took a trip out to Kansas City and Saint Louis about 8 years ago. At the time, I didn’t know nearly as much about Craft Beer as I did now, though I did manage to visit Schalfly. Unfortunately, we did not visit Boulevard but we were barely in Kansas City for 24 hours. Next time.

Cape May Brewing Company, Cape May, NJ (2011)
Total Cape May beers checked in on untappd: 3
Cape May Beer reviewed at The Tap Takeover: Coastal Evacuation Double IPA

A New Jersey brewery? Really? Well, Cape May is at the southern tip of the state and not exactly a day trip for me. Cape May is one of the great Jersey Shore vacation destinations, my parents spend a weekend or two there every year. Every year, they visit the brewery and this past year, they brought me back what is now one of my favorite NJ beers: Devil’s Reach, a delicious, nearly perfect Belgian Strong Golden Ale. That beer is far from the only beer they brew; many of their IPAs are highly regarded including their Double IPA Coastal Evacuation.

About a year or so ago (May 2017), they redid their label art and “brand design” and for my eyes, their cans and overall design aesthetic is some of the strongest of any brewery in the State.

Cape May’s 3 flagship beers, DEVIL’S REACH is one of my favorite NJ beers

Currently, Cape May Brewing Company is the second largest brewery in NJ (by capacity, I think) which combined with the beer community’s high regard for many of their beers, are reasons enough to visit and sample some of their beers. Additionally, where I live (Somerset County) is just outside of Cape May’s current distribution footprint. I’m really hoping as their capacity ramps up, I’ll begin seeing their beers (especially Devil’s Reach) on shelves at my local Gary’s, Wegman’s, or Petrock’s.

Firestone Walker Brewing Company, Paso Robles, CA (1996)
Total Firestone Walker Beers checked into untappd: 8
Firestone Walker Beer reviewed at The Tap Takeover: Nitro Merlin Milk Stout

California has many, many breweries. I mentioned one I’d like to visit in the first installment of this “series,” in fact. I haven’t had many of their beers largely because much of their core line up is hop-forward (IPAs and the like). I’ve come to appreciate IPAs recently and in my greater appreciation of some of the more storied American Craft Breweries, just how great an impact Firestone Walker had on the craft beer scene.

The first beer I remember having from them was Pivo Pils, a great Pilsner. Every beer I’ve had since that Pivo Pils has been of very high quality. In fact, two of the best beers I had last year came from Firestone Walker: Nitro Merlin Milk Stout and Mocha Merlin, one of the best coffee stouts I ever had.

Image courtesy of Firestone Walker’s Twitter feed

Like Boulevard, Firestone Walker was purchased by Duvel Moortgat in 2016. I can’t speak to the quality of the beer too much prior to the sale (except for maybe Pivo Pils), but it seems the purchase has afforded Firestone the ability to grow even more – in addition to the core lineup (Lion & Bear series), they’ve initiated two different IPA “series:” Leo v. Ursus and the Luponic Distortion series of IPAs that rotates about every 120 days. Their barrel aging program is some of the most robust of any brewery: The Proprietors Vintage series focuses on darker brews like Stouts, Browns, and Barleywines. The Barrelworks Wild Ales are barrel-aged sours.

Image courtesy of Firestone Walker

I had Union Jack their flagship IPA for the first time recently and really enjoyed it. This has me wanting to explore the bulk of their IPA line-up. What is really surprising to me is that their flagship beer, the beer upon which their name was initially built – Double Barrel Ale – is tough to find here in New Jersey. As for visiting? Well, their production facility, from what I’ve seen on line, seems to be a marvel.

Harpoon Brewery, Boston, MA (1986)
Total Harpoon beers checked in on untappd: 17

Samuel Adams isn’t the only craft brewery to emerge in Boston, the other brewery, often referred to as “Boston’s Brewery” is the great Harpoon Berwery.

Image courtesy of Harpoon

Harpoon began in a very grass roots manner, distributing their own beer and being the first brewery to obtain a permit to brew and sell alcohol in Massachusetts in more than 25 years. Their IPA, a beer upon which the brewery’s foundation was built, is still their most popular beer according to untappd. While Anchor may have been the first American Craft Brewery to brew an annual Christmas beer, Harpoon’s Winter Warmer is one of the more longstanding Winter beers available every season, and one of the brewery’s more popular offerings.

Other early offerings, included UFO Hefeweizen and UFO White, two wheat beers (Hefeweizen and Belgian Witbier respectively). The UFO brand is now its own entity with a continuing schedule of releases with various fruits added or seasonals, like the Pumpkin/Fall UFO, the Winter/Coffee UFO, or Pineapple UFO. I’ve enjoyed some more than others, to be completely honest. I still think the original UFO Hefeweizen is one of the better American Hefeweizens on the market.

Image courtesy of Harpoon’s twitter

One of their more popular seasonal beers in recent years is Camp Wannamango, a Pale Wheat Ale with (as the name implies) notes of mango. On a hot day, this is one of the more refreshing beers on the market.

As good as the beer is from Harpoon, The Harpoon Beer Hall itself has long been a Boston destination for hop heads. Fresh beer, pretzels, and limited release beers are available in addition to the many festivals held at the brewery/beer hall including an annual Octoberfest that I’d love to attend.

Not a bad group of breweries this time around, I think.

Draught Diversions: June 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…

June…the start of summer and the prevalence of lighter, more “crushable beers. Light lagers, Helles Lagers, Pilsners, Shandys/Radlers, Wheat bears, maybe some beers with a fruit component. All beers to enjoy by the pool, outside lounging about, or just after finishing yard work.

June’s beers included quite a few of these, but probably the least number of New Jersey beers in a month since I started this blog. Of course I did manage to squeeze in one (in addition to visiting Fort Nonsense the first Saturday in June).

UFO Pink Lemonade Shandy (Harpoon Brewery) Shandy / Radler – 2.50 bottle Caps on untappd

Not a good start to June with this one

Harpoon is one of the great American Craft breweries and I’ve enjoyed many beers in their portfolio over the years. A couple of years back, they spun off their UFO beers into a separate line, almost like Stone did with Arrogant Bastard. I’ve liked the core UFO beers (Hefeweizen, White, and Raspberry), but this one is definitely not for me. I’m not a fan of Pink Lemonade in general and mixed in with beer, I like it even less. This beer is one reason the mixed six pack is great, I didn’t have to get a full six pack just to try this beer.

Firestone Lager (Firestone Walker Brewing Company) Lager – Helles – 3.75 bottle Caps on untappd

I was very pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this one.

Firestone Walker is jumping on the bandwagon of Light Craft Lagers, or rather the bandwagon is catching up with them. This is a beer the brewery produced many years ago, but only recently with the craft market wanting the light lagers, has this beer been released on a larger level. I’ve really come to enjoy Helles Lagers over the past year and this is a really nice example of the style: refreshing, delicious, crushable, and perfect for cooler filling. (I also had their flagship IPA Union Jack for the first time this month and loved it.)

Nimble Giant (Tröegs Brewing) IPA – Imperial / Double 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

Tröegs seems to make an appearance here regularly and this is their big, once-per-year double IPA release. A year ago, I would have avoided this one. This is a fantastic IPA with citrus notes and a little piney-ness. The hop level is high, but it isn’t all that bitter. A bright, potent IPA that is another must have from Tröegs.

Pooltime Ale Pale Wheat Ale (Bell’s Brewery) – 4 bottle Caps on untappd

I may get slack for saying this, but I think I enjoy Pooltime more than Oberon

I’ve been quite excited about Bell’s entry into NJ distribution. Two-Hearted (IPA) is a Great American beer, but this sweet wheat ale is slightly under the radar. Pooltime Ale is *almost* a Witbier with some of the Belgian notes, but not quite. The additional of “Michigan Cherries” to the base beer make for a supremely refreshing all that is perfect for what it says it is right on the can – a pooltime (or poolside) summer ale. This is a new summer favorite for me.

Kölsch (Sierra Nevada Brewing) – 3.75 bottle Caps on untappd

Always nice to see a selection of Sierra Nevada beers when you arrive at a party

Sierra Nevada needs no introduction to the craft beer world. In addition to their iconic Pale Ale, Sierra distributes variety seasonal 12 packs and this spring/summer, one of the beers included is a relabeled classic from their line-up: a Kölsch. Kölsch ales are German-style ales that are light and easy drinking. In other words, perfect for warm weather. I enjoyed the heck out of this beer and could see grabbing a six for the cooler I keep by my pool.

Dune Fruit (Carton Brewing Company) Berliner Weisse 3.75 bottle Caps on untappd

I had this on draft, but the beer is available in NJ stores in cans

June seems to be all about Berliner Weisses here at the Tap Takeover, but damn are they great ales for warm weather. Augie Carton and his cadre of brewers delivered a very tasty one in this take on the classic German style. The fruit is fairly subtle compared to some other Berliner Weisses I’ve had, but pears don’t quite explode with flavors the way raspberries do, for example. This one hit the spot perfectly.

Honorable mention to an annual Summer Favorite: Sierra Nevada Summerfest. This is Sierra’s take on the Czech pilsner and is always a welcome beer in the summer.

Draught Diversions: January 2018 Six Pack

Time for another slight change in protocol here at The Tap Takeover. With my first Monthly recap post for 2018, I’m going to trim back from writing about the majority (90%) of the beer I had in the previous month and go with six beers. Ideally, I’ll try to keep mention at least one beer that didn’t quite work for me. Also, this list of beers excludes any that have been featured as a single beer review. For this post, at least, I’ll go chronological from what I had early in the month to what I had most recently.

I’ve found myself drawn to more NJ breweries over the recent past, rather than nationally distributed brands, so two of the beers in this post are from NJ Breweries.

Café Con Leche Stout – Milk / Sweet – 3.25 bottle Caps on untappd

First up is the very first beer I had in 2018. Café Con Leche from Cigar City Brewing is a beer whose style is strongly in my wheelhouse, but the execution left a lot to be desired. Cigar City started distributing into NJ last year so I was looking forward to trying some of their beers. Especially their interpretation of a Milk Stout. While it wasn’t bad, and relatively true to style there was something unpleasant on the finish of the beer. An odd aftertaste made the beer, on the whole, not something I’d want to try again. This was one of the bombers I received for Christmas so I didn’t feel too guilty about not finishing the whole bottle.

Han Shot First IPA – Imperial / Double – 4 bottle Caps on untappd

Next up is an IPA, or rather, Imperial/Double IPA from a fairly local brewery in Pennsylvania, Evil Genius Beer Company. I’ve had a few of their beers, the quality is good and the names are very clever, including this one, Han Shot First. This beer surprised me, it did not have nearly the level of hop bitterness I expected considering it is a Double. While the ABV is 8%, the IBU is 30, making this a very juicy, drinkable IPA. I’d definitely have this one again and not just for the name.

Collaboration No. 6 – Barrel-Aged Blend Other – 4.50 bottle Caps on untapped

The third beer in the January Six Pack is one of two beers I had at one of my favorite Mexican restaurants, Sol Mexican Cantina. Very good food combined with one of the best selections of beers in Somerset County, NJ are why I like this place so much. The first beer I had that night was Collaboration No. 6 – Barrel-Aged Blend, a collaboration between Boulevard Brewing Co. and Firestone Walker. I’ve only had a couple of Boulevard’s beers and liked them fine, I need to seek out more from them. This beer is listed on untappd as “Other” likely because it is a blend of four heavy styles, two from each brewery: Bourbon Barrel Quad (45%) & Imperial Stout X Tart Cherry (10%) from Boulevard and Stickee Monkee Belgian Quad (35%) & Velvet Merkin Oatmeal Stout (10%) from Firestone Walker. It probably will not come as a surprise that the Belgian Quad flavors come through the most, but the sweetness of the stouts is there, too. This quite simply an outstanding beer

It looks like this one was brewed in 2016 so I don’t know if it was a one-time beer or has been brewed again more recently. Either way, if you see this one, get it because it is a fine example of experimental, collaborative brewing.

IPA IPA – American – 4 bottle Caps on untapped

Number four is the first of two beers from New Jersey and the other beer I had at Sol Mexican Cantina: a straightforward IPA from Brotherton Brewing. This is the first beer I’ve had from the South Jersey brewery and boy was I impressed. This is a borderline juice-bomb; a hazy Citra-hopped unfiltered IPA. I could drink this all day and hope I can find some of this in cans near me. Like I said, this is just simply a tasty, well-made IPA. Sometimes a well-made standard style is just the beer you need.

Sunday Brunch Porter – Imperial / Double – 4.75 bottle Caps on untapped

The second New Jersey beer was probably the best beer I had in January and one of the best porters I’ve ever had. One of our (my wife and I) favorite restaurants is the Stirling Hotel – amazing food, great beer, and excellent beer events like the one I attended in the middle of the month. Essentially a Tap Takeover, Stirling Hotel hosted a “Kane Brewing Brewer’s Lunch,” which featured six beers from Kane and a unique menu. My meal was fantastic, waffles topped with a roasted duck leg and fig syrup. One of beers I had was Kane’s Sunday Brunch, 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 like this and in 750ml bottles at the brewery.

Some people may be wary of anything with cinnamon, but the spice is used perfectly in this beer and compliments the flavor profile rather than overpowering everything else that went into the beer. This is a must have beer, especially if you live in or near New Jersey.

Two Hearted Ale IPA – American – 4.25 bottle Caps on untapped

Finishing off the six pack for January is one of the iconic American craft beers: Two Hearted Ale from the great Bell’s Brewery in Michigan. I have lamented in the past that Bell’s doesn’t (yet?!?!) distribute to NJ. I happened to see this one on draught at the Houston Airport. Considering I had some time to kill before my flight departed, I ordered a pour and was satisfied. I now know why this beer has the reputation it does, this is one of the best, most drinkable IPAs I’ve ever had. As I plead when I reviewed Bell’s other iconic beer, Oberon Ale, if folks from Bell’s are reading this, please get your beer into NJ. You’d make an entire state of craft beer consumers extremely happy.

There you have it – six beers, five of which were excellent and one that just didn’t work for me.

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