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

Draught Diversions: October 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…

October, the month for Oktoberfest beers and Pumpkin Beers. A time when Porters and Stouts are becoming more prominent on the shelves. There are always many good beers to be had, but I do love porters and stouts. That’s the variety of beers I had for October, Pumpkins and Stouts, mostly.

I started the month off with an interesting beer from New Belgium, part of their Lips of Faith series of beers called Clutch. My wife picked up the beer for me since we are fans of the band Clutch, who they partnered with New Belgium for a that is a melding of styles – 80% Stout / 20% Sour. Sour beers are probably more hit or miss for me than any style since the flavor profile can vary so much, but this one worked quite well for me. Since my brother-in-law is also a big fan of Clutch, I shared the beer with him, though I think I enjoyed more than he did since I finished what I poured for him.

Next up on the new to me beer list for October was a very tasty Dunkelweizen from Veldensteiner, a German Microbrewery whose beers recently appeared in NJ. I’d get this one again for sure and will be trying the other offerings from this brewery over the next few weeks. I’ve been enjoying the majority of Flying Fish’s Exit Series of beers, so I finally got around to trying Exit 18 – Baltic Porter which was quite good. This a very dark porter with a nice hit of sweetness, though a little stronger on the licorice than I typically like. Baltic Porters tend to be a little more bitter than standard porters, but the high ABV (9.5%) in this one, I think, smoothed out the bitterness. Although this one was a 750mL bottle, I wouldn’t be surprised (and hope) that Flying Fish reissues this one in 12oz bottles either in 4-packs or part of their annual “Exit Series” Variety pack.

The monthly “Brews and Board Games” meeting at Lone Eagle was a little earlier for October, falling on the 12th. I had a few of their beers I hadn’t previously tried in the flight (from left to right, below): Belgian Pale Ale, which I thoroughly enjoyed, enough that I ordered a pint of it after the flight; ESB, which was tasty; New England Chowdah, their take on an New England IPA which didn’t quite do it for me; and Tropical Stout which was OK for what it was (a stout with some pineapple/coconut flavors), but just not for me. I may pick up a four-pack of the Belgian Ale on my next visit to the brewery.

Lone Eagle Flight: Belgian Pale Ale; ESB; Chowdah (NE IPA), Tropical Stout

I went into detail about the O’Fallon Pumpkin Pack last week as well as Blackbeard’s Breakfast a couple of weeks ago. A couple of annual releases were next to be pulled from my refrigerator: this year’s version of Two Roads’s Roadsmary’s Baby is just as tasty as it was last year. Founders’ released their Breakfast Stout in October and it is always a must-get stout for me. There were more notes of coffee than I remember from past iterations of the brew, but a solid sipping beer nonetheless. I may let one of the bottles to age for at least a year.

A beer I’ve been looking forward to trying since seeing it announced was the latest installment of Victory Brewing’s Blackboard series, Black Forest Cake with Cherries. I’ve enjoyed most of the beers I’ve had in this series to varying degrees, I think I only missed the Agave IPA and the Oatmeal Porter with Hazelnut. This one was quite good, though a tad more on the bittersweet end of chocolate than I expected. I would even say this is a tamer, sweeter version of their popular Storm King stout (a big Imperial Stout with a 95 IBU and one of the few Victory brews I don’t like too much). The chocolate and cherries really balance the bitterness in Black Forest Cake with Cherries and makes for a really tasty beer. Like the Saugatuck Blueberry Maple Stout I reviewed at the beginning of the month, I found myself enjoying the second and third beers (each days apart from each other) more than the first.

My wife stopped at a bottle shop on her way home and picked up a couple of beers I never had, but definitely style-wise are in my wheelhouse. Continuing the Pennsylvania theme, one was a beer I’ve been seeing and intending to try was Crunch from Manayunk Brewing Company, which is a peanut butter chocolate porter. Boy did the peanut butter assert itself. This beer is one that is so potent with the flavors that just one is fine for the night. I’ve been eyeing other beer quite a while, too: Skull Splitter from Orkney Brewery in Scotland. This is a fantastic, sweet, bold, and malty Scotch Ale. I may review this one in more detail, but suffice to say, a lovely Scotch Ale.

The last weekend in October, I happened to try four new beers during a Chili Cook-Off I was judging. I picked up a six pack of another beer I’d been looking forward to since I learned of its release, Mocha Merlin from Firestone Walker as my “beer to bring.” Dear lord what a sublime and perfect stout this is. All the flavor goodness of coffee without the accompanying bitterness some coffee stouts bring. I’ve had the Nitro Merlin Milk Stout and the Velvet Merlin Oatmeal Stout in years past so I had high hopes for this variant on the Velvet Merlin “brand.” Mocha Merlin is just so damned good, it really is tough for me to say which of those three I enjoy the most.

Don’t judge the red Solo cup

Since this Chili Cook Off attracts quite a few people (between 50 and 80 every year), there are a lot of different beers floating around. One of my friends’ guests happens to live 7 minutes from Victory Brewing and he brought three growlers of delicious beer from Downington, PA. The first I had was Whirlwind Witbier an excellent Witbier that, despite the growler being filled the day before, was still quite good and pretty fresh. I could swear I had this years ago, long before joining untappd, although I haven’t seen it in stores recently. The other two Victory brews were Vital IPA and Hop Devil. My aversion to IPAs is waning so I tried both and enjoyed Hop Devil much more with its maltier profile. I can definitely see why this beer helped to establish Victory’s outstanding reputation.

I closed out the month with Winter is Here, the latest Game of Thrones beer from Brewery Ommegang, but you already read about that on Tuesday. A very consistent month for new beers, there weren’t any that were drain pours and all were quite good. On to November! With November 2 (today) as Stout Day, the stout season is officially here. The best beer of the month for me was the Mocha Merlin, so I’ll probably have at least one of those on Stout Day.

Cheers!

Beer Review: Firestone Walker Nitro Merlin

Name: Nitro Merlin
Brewing Company: Firestone Walker Brewing Company
Location: Paso Robles, CA
Style: Milk Stout
ABV: 5.5%
Drank at: Revolution: A Social Brew House in Morristown, NJ

FW_NitroMerlin
From the beer’s description on Firestone Walker’s Web site:

 

Our Velvet Merlin oatmeal stout has been transformed into a mindblowing mouthful known as Nitro Merlin Milk Stout.

The new ingredient is lactose, a.k.a. milk sugar. When Velvet Merlin is brewed with milk sugar to create Nitro Merlin Milk Stout, the effect is similar to adding cream to your dark roasted coffee. The wizardry comes via “nitro,” the brewing nickname for nitrogen gas.

Exclusively on draft.

You take the sweetness of a Milk Stout, add Nitrogen to it and you have a smooth, sweet, velvety delectable beer drinking experience. Stouts are one of my favorite styles and milk stouts possibly my favorite variety of the style. I’d been wanting to try this one for a while, but with it being a draft-only beer, finding it was a bit of a challenge but find it I did. In every way imaginable, the beer exceeded my expectations.

Prior to enjoying this beer, I had and enjoyed many bottles of Firestone Walker’s Velvet Merlin Oatmeal Stout. The fine folks at Firestone Walker took an already wonderful base and embellished it to create one of the best Milk Stouts I’ve ever had. Some Milk Stouts have an underlying bitterness that takes over at the finish of the beer, not this one.

From the first sip of the freshly poured beer with its thick white head to the final sip, Nitro Merlin is a nearly perfect Milk Stout. A comforting mouthfeel is complemented with the sweet underlying roasty taste of coffee and hints of chocolate throughout.

As the description implies, the nitro injection adds a wonderful creamy, fluffiness to the beer that makes for a sumptuous beer drinking experience. Some Nitro beers are too airy or fluffy with that nitro injection drowning out the taste. Perhaps it is because those beers are bottled and not on draught, which always makes a difference. No matter how you pour it, Nitro Merlin is perfectly balanced in texture.

As both a Nitro Stout amd Milk Stout, many, if not all, others will be judged. If you see this one become available at a bar you haunt, do yourself a favor and head over to that bar and have a pint…or two.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4.5-star rating.