Draught Diversions: Favorite New Beers of 2020

The fourth annual roundup keeps up the trend from the 2019 12-pack, while I’ll still have beers with very high untappd ratings, this post features “Favorite” beers of the 328 unique beers I checked into untappd in 2020. What does that mean? Well, there were beers I consumed in 2020 which I awarded a high 4.75 rating, but I may be including a 4.25/5 beer that I enjoyed more. Put it another way, there were some highly rated (4.5) beers I enjoyed in 2020 that in one beer I could recognize the quality, but one was enough , while some beers I may have rated at a 4.25 I would have multiple times.

As with my previous Annual 12-packs, New means “New to Me” because a few beers on this list have been around for many, many years, but I had the beer for the first time in 2020.

The usual NJ bias shines through on this list as 6 of the beers are from NJ breweries. I’d say 75% of the beer I bought & consumed in 2020 were from NJ breweries, which shouldn’t be a surprise to people who’ve been reading this blog. This list could have easily been comprised of 3 or 4 breweries, but the one rule I’ll stick to from past years is allowing only one beer per brewery to appear. Essentially, what that means is even though I had multiple “new to me” beers from many breweries, that brewery’s beer on this list is the beer I enjoyed the most from that brewery.

Here’s the standard breakdown I’ve been providing:

  • 6 from NJ breweries
  • 3 from CA breweries
  • 4 from “New to me Breweries”
  • 4 Lagers
    • 2 Pilsners
    • 1 Dark Lager
    • 1 Baltic Porter
  • 1 Belgian Quadrupel
  • 2 IPAs
    • 1 American
    • 1 Imperial / Double
  • 2 Stouts
    • 1 Imperial / Double
    • 1 Imperial / Double Pastry
  • 1 Porter
  • 1 Sour
  • 1 Barleywine

12. Jersey Dreamin’ | Ashton Brewing Company | Pilsner – Czech | 4.25 bottle caps

Ashton Brewing is one of the newest New Jersey breweries, but they had the unfortunate timing to have had their grand opening scheduled when the COVID-19 Pandemic shut down public gatherings. Fortunately, they forged on full-steam ahead with canning their beer, including this supremely impressive Pilsner. While Ashton’s first canned beer was their IPA, the fact that their second was a Pilsner – a style that has zero wiggle room for mistakes that can be hidden by adding more hops or adjuncts – is impressive. Some Pilsners lean towards a breadiness/cracker element from the malt, some have a floral/fruity finish and some strike a balance between the two. Jersey Dreamin strikes that balance really nicely. It isn’t as “crackery” as some pilsners I’ve had – which is by no means a slight – but it has a full flavor whose elements come together really cleanly.

11. The Miner | Czig Meister Brewing Company I Lager – Dark | 4.25 Bottle Caps

This beer surprised me, I’ll admit and is one of the dark lagers I’ll be adding to my regular rotation because Matt Czigler and his crew coaxed such great flavors from the roasted malt in this beer for great complexity and easy drinking at 4.8%. When Czig Meister released the beer in December, I made sure to get a 6-pack. This beer is very reminiscent of a Czech Dark Lager or a German Schwarzbier, and is just plain delicious.

10. Bourbon Barrel-Aged Framinghammer | Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers | Porter – Baltic | 4.5 bottle Caps on untappd

Framinghammer is the Baltic porter brewed by Jack’s Abby. Yes, a Baltic Porter is brewed using a cold/Lager process. It is the beer Jack’s Abby throw in bourbon barrels as their barrel-aged dark beer. This delectable version is the standard, but there many variants (Mole, S’Mores’, Coffee, Vanilla, etc). The bourbon is present, but not overpowering and just one part of the great flavor profile. Notes of vanilla and sweetness balance out the slightly high bitterness level. A wonderful slow-sipper.

9. Helldorado (2017) | Firestone Walker Brewing Company | Barleywine – American | 4.5 bottle caps

Firestone Walker is probably the non-NJ brewery that drew my attention the most this year as I was able to find and enjoy about a half-dozen beers from their amazing barrel aging program, including this 3-year old Barrel Aged Barleywine. Helldorado is one of the best barleywines I’ve ever had. The beer has a strong bourbon aroma and the flavors that emerge include vanilla, chewy hops, toffee, and caramel. Simply an outstanding beer..

8. Chekov’s Gun | Carton Brewing Company | Belgian Quadrupel | 4.50 bottle caps


Carton remains a top NJ brewery for me (I had about a dozen new & unique beers from them in 2020), but this one stood the test of the year and remained my favorite from them. This beer was on draft (and available in a 3-pack of bombers) when I and a few friends made our annual New Year’s Day Pilgrimage, so this was technically the 4th beer I had in 2020. This outstanding Quadrupel is a style I love, a style that isn’t brewed often, but when done well as this beer was brewed with Pomegranate Molasses – and aged in Peach Brandy Barrels – the final product is heavenly.

7. Fuego | Tonewood Brewing Company | IPA – American | 4.5 Bottle Caps

Tonewood is the NJ Brewery who everybody seems to love and they’ve begun to broaden their distribution footprint over the last year or so. I finally had their Flagship IPA and it is one of the top 2 or 3 IPAs I’ve had from a NJ brewery. There’s an absolutely perfect hop blend giving the beer both a citrus and juicy component, but also the hallmark bittering and slightly piney components often associated with West Coast IPAs along with a nice malt bill to balance the hop bitterness. Fuego is a beer that proves just how great the IPA game is in the State of New Jersey.

6. La Roja (Boysenberry & Guava Edition) | Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales | Sour – Flanders Red Ale | 4.5 Bottle Caps

For our 20th Anniversary, my wife got me 20 Beers for 20 years of marriage from Tavour. This beer – Flanders Red – is astyle I thought I didn’t like. Granted I’ve only had two others and they were two vintages of the same beer. Then I had this outstanding beer. Flanders Red Ales are traditional Belgian sour ales, but the masterminds at Jolly Pumpkin added Boysenberries and Guava to the mix for sweetness to balance out the vinegary sourness that is a hallmark of the style. This is one of the most complex beers I’ve had of any style and is a masterpiece of the art of craft brewing and a very strong contender for my favorite sour beer of all time.

5. Cathedral Tree | Fort George Brewing Company | Pilsner – Other | 4.5 bottle caps

Another beer from the 20th Anniversary Box makes the cut, this was probably my favorite of those 20 beers, so I reviewed it. Here’s some what I had to say: “The beer pours a perfect golden-yellow with a fluffy white head into my Pilsner glass. As it turns out, the glass from which I enjoyed the beer was a wedding gift from my coworkers of 20 years ago… The first full taste of the beer was extremely pleasing. Cathedral Tree has the classic German Pilsner elements – bready/crackery malt and a pleasant hop finish. … Cathedral Tree is a superb pilsner and one I’d happily have again and seek out should I ever have the opportunity to visit Oregon.

4. BA Making Whoopie (2020 Buffalo Trace + Maple) | Icarus Brewing Company | Stout – Imperial / Double Pastry | 4.75 bottle caps

Icarus Brewing Company out of Lakewood, NJ was my top brewery of 2020, both in quantity and quality. (Probably not a shock to regular readers of the Tap Takeover) I had more unique beers from them than any brewery, which made narrowing down my favorite new to me beer of 2020 from them very challenging indeed, As it turned out, the last beer of the year I had from any brewery was the best beer I had from Icarus. I bought the beer with the intention of enjoying on New Year’s Eve, but I didn’t expect it to be the best Barrel Aged beer from my favorite brewery. The beer could be a mess of flavors, but the chocolate, malt, vanilla, maple syrup, marshmallows, and barrel character are amalgamated wonderfully. This is a sinful, delectable, unbelievable sweet dessert stout.

3. Morning Mocha (Kane Brewing Company) | Porter – Coffee | 4.75 Bottle Caps on untappd

Kane is probably the brewery whose beers I came to appreciate the most over the last couple of years and I had a decent amount form them in 2020, so like Icarus, it was difficult to land on my favorite from them. This variant on their coffee porter was one of the earliest beers I enjoyed from Kane in 2020 and it was not topped in 2020. Here’s what I said in my March 2020 Six Pack: “Morning Bell is Kane’s highly acclaimed year-round coffee porter and is outstanding. Once a year, they do a few special releases of Bell variants, Morning Mocha is one of those in 2020. In addition to rich coffee flavors from their local coffee roastery Rook Coffee, this beer was conditioned on Ugandan and Haitian cacao nibs. I thought I died and went to heaven when I drank this beer. There is an absolutely perfect blend of coffee and chocolate in the flavor profile, which complements and doesn’t overtake the base porter.”

2. Pliny the Elder | Russian River Brewing Company | IPA – Imperial / Double | 5 bottle caps

When I visited San Francisco earlier this year before the Pandemic really affected things, I sought out this beer and it did not disappoint. What I said in my February 2020 Six Pack: “The very first Imperial IPA ever made and one of the best beers I’ve ever had. I was in San Francisco for business for a couple of days and I heard about this wonderful dive bar, the Toronado with 40 beers on tap, with Pliny a fixture. Of course I had to go and have the beer, which lived up to the hype. An outstanding beer, never have hops tasted so wonderful. Quite simply, a perfect beer.”

1. Barrel-Aged Narwhal | Sierra Nevada Brewing Company | Stout – Imperial / Double | 5 bottle caps

Last year I thought I had the best barrel-aged stout I’ve ever had, that title lasted a few months until I had a pint of this amazing beer. From my review: “The flavor elements imparted by the Kentucky Bourbon Barrels **perfectly** enhance and complement the flavor elements of the base beer – the hops which can be relatively aggressive on a fresh in-year* bottle, are tamed and smoothed by the beer having been aged in the barrel. The hops are definitely present, but the lingering bitterness as softened. The barrel aging also complements the sweetness from the malt with hints of vanilla, oak, and maybe coconut. … Barrel Aged Narwhal is an outstanding, world-class barrel-aged stout that I’d stand up against any other barrel-aged stout I’ve had or that is available. Given that price point, you will not find a better beer for this price point.”

Honorable Mentions – Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Porter from Boulevard Brewing, Persian Lime Gose (Sour – Fruited Gose) from Two Roads Brewing, Cosm of Darkness (Stout – Imperial/Double) a Timber Ales/Eight State Brewing Collaboration, Quad City (Belgian Quadrupel) from Four City Brewing Company, Gaffel Kölsch (Kölsch) from Privatbrauerei Gaffel Becker, Chocolate Caramel Cookie Sharing Size (Stout – Imperial/Double) from Free Will Brewing, and Victory Classic Easy Drinkin’ Lager (Lager – Helles) from Victory Brewing plus too many from Icarus Brewing and Kane Brewing to list here

Some other notes:

Although the pandemic made visiting breweries a little more challenging for much of 2020, I was able to visit the following breweries for the first time in 2020:

Breweries whose beer I checked in/enjoyed the most, which should be a shock to nobody reading this blog:

  • Icarus Brewing (20 unique/new to me beers)
  • Bolero Snort Brewery (19 unique/new to me beers)
  • Czig Meister Brewery (13 unique/new to me beers)
  • Carton Brewing (11 unique/new to me beers)
  • Ashton Brewing (10 unique/new to me beers)

Draught Diversions: December 2020 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…

The Final Six Pack of 2020…contains the usual mix of NJ and non-NJ beers and stouts and IPAs. A couple of new-to-me breweries in with the usual suspects.

All Out Stout (Athletic Brewing Company) | Non-Alcoholic Beer/Stout – Oatmeal | 3.75 Bottle Caps on untappd

Non-Alcoholic beers are one of the growing trends in beer and Athletic is producing them exclusively. My wife did a trail run (where she kicked ass!) and Athletic Brewing was a sponsor, which afforded me the opportunity to sample this very tasty stout. There’s no hint in the flavor/taste that this stout doesn’t have alcohol. A slightly roasty, tasty oatmeal stout is all that I get, which is a good thing…and better than some stouts I’ve had with alcohol in them!

Morning Breeze (Untied Brewing Company) | Pilsner – Other | 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

I wrote about Untied Brewing in the fall and visited them again because I wanted to get a bottle of their Russian Imperial Stout and to try this beer. I was very impressed with their take on a dry-hopped pilsner. It has the bready/crackery elements I like in a Pilsner and yet the dry-hopping doesn’t come through too strongly on the finish. This is simply a well-made lager, which is a great thing in my book.

Bourbon Barrel-Aged Imperial Porter (Boulevard Brewing Co) | Porter – Imperial / Double | 4.5 Bottle Caps on untappd

One of the last of Boulevard beers from a work colleague is a dandy! The roasted elements that can sometimes be too dominant for my palate are subdued, I’m guessing, from the bourbon barrel aging. There’s a perfect blending of elements of the beer and barrel in this bottle (and subsequently, my glass), that I most certainly took my time and savored each sip. The beer was delicious and my only regret is it is gone.

Bang Kitty (Icarus Brewing Company) | IPA – Imperial / Double New England | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

This was one of the more strange and interesting IPAs (in a good way) that I’ve had. Grassy, citrusy, with a little kick from chili on the end, these ingredients worked really well together. Then again, I shouldn’t be surprised at anything less than extremely good coming out of the brewery in Lakewood, NJ,

Christmas Morning (Hardywood Park Craft Brewery) | Stout – Imperial / Double Milk | 4.5 Bottle Caps on untappd

In my Christmas Six Pack last year, I wrote about Hardywood’s Gingerbread Stout, this beer is a variant on that renowned beer. Christmas Morning sees the addition of coffee to the standard vanilla, ginger, and honey for a savory sipper. This was one of the best milk stouts I’ve ever had, absolutely delicious.

Abyss Series – Shadowsphere (Czig Meister Brewing) | IPA – Imperial/Double New England | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

My wife and I stopped in at Czig Meister after dropping off some Christmas presents at a family member who lives nearby and decided on a flight rather than a full pour. Czig has been doing really nice things on the beers in their Abyss series and this one is no exception. The Citra and Strata hops give the beer a wonderful tropical hoppy taste and there’s no lingering aftertaste.

I also want to give a little shout out to Grains & Taps brewing in Lees Summit, MO. One of the companies I work with for my day job sponsored a virtual happy hour and the featured brewery was Grains & Taps. We had four beers to sample, all of them quite good: Wheat Told you So, tasty Wheat Ale; Jet Chip Wasp, a malty Amber Ale; Dry Stout, their take on an Irish Stout; and Raspberry Sherbet a fruited Gose.

Beer Review: Icarus Brewing’s Kalishnikoffee: PSL

Name: Kalishnikoffee: PSL
Brewing Company: Icarus Brewing
Location: Lakewood, NJ
Style: Stout – Russian Imperial
ABV: 14.5%

A big, tasty, flavorful stout from one of NJ’s top breweries that imparts flavors of the most ubiquitous of fall beverages.

From the untappd entry for beer:

Russian Imperial Stout brewed with Wildflower Honey, Brown Sugar, Cinamon and Nutmeg. Conditioned on a blend of Fresh Coffee and Vanilla Beans.

This is not the pumpkin beer you’re looking for…. Icarus Brewing (who I’ve made no bones about being one of my favorite, maybe my top favorite, NJ brewery) is able to produce a delicious variety of beers from few base recipes for a couple of series. One of those “multitasker” (to borrow an Alton Brown phrase) recipes or series is Kalishnikov, their Russian Imperial Stout, which has seen quite a few variants, some of which I’ve had, including a delicious barrel aged version.

This version looks to emulate that ever present fall drink, the pumpkin spice latte (i.e. the “PSL” of the beer name). While there are no pumpkins in this beer, the spices associated with Pumpkin Pie – cinnamon, nutmeg, brown sugar, along with the beer having been conditioned on Coffee and Vanilla Beans – help this the beer evoke autumn, at least in name. The standard Kalishknov is brewed with honey…so yeah, a decent amount of additional flavor components in the beer.

Pouring the beer into the glass, it mostly looks the part of a big burly, Russian Imperial Stout. It isn’t pitch black, exactly, but rather a black that was mixed with a very deep brown. The aroma gives off hints of the malt and spices, so nothing out of the unexpected.

The first sip is of autumn. As I said, I’ve had and enjoyed a few different variants of this beer, in addition to a couple barrel-aged versions of Icarus’s Russian Imperial Stouts and this beer seems to match up to those expectations nicely. As I have more of the beer and it warms up, those autumnally associated spices begin to awaken, with the nutmeg asserting itself a tad more strongly than the cinnamon.

In past versions of this beer, the wildflower honey balances out the bitterness inherently associated with Russian Imperial Stout, from a style perspective. The autumnal spices mask the honey and accentuate the bitterness of the coffee adjunct, and combined with the vanilla, give the beer a very earthy overall flavors for me.

Although there is no Pumpkin in this beer, the additional spices normally associated with the gourd are and that’s where the additional flavor elements of this beer shine. Hell, pumpkin itself isn’t a all that flavorful, but it holds the spices quite nicely, as does this beer. The ever-present honey in the “Kalishnikoff” line of stouts from Icarus helps to enhance the overall potency of the spices.

Playing with a proven fan favorite beer in their Kalishnikoff Russian Imperial Stout and mixing it up with the autumnal spices of the ubiquitous coffee beverage, Icarus has yet another winning beer in their portfolio.

Highly recommended, link to 4 bottle-cap Untappd check-in

Draught Diversions: September 2020 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…

September brings the hints of cooler weather and the season of darker beers. September is also when Oktoberfest traditionally begins. Despite the celebration not happening, the Märzen and Festbiers have still been on the shelves since August of this year. One of each is featured in the September 2020 Six Pack. Those two beers happen to be the only non-New Jersey beers in this month’s six pack. One brewery in the six pack will not be the least bit surprising to regular readers of this here beer blog.


Your Lips are Juicy (Ashton Brewing Company) | IPA –Imperial / Double | 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

This is the first hop-forward beer I’ve had from Ashton and I’m very impressed. Great hop blend to give the beer the qualities of a big Imperial IPA balanced out with noticeable, and balanced malt character for an overall flavor profile that is delicious. The can says “India Pale Ale,” untappd says “IPA – Imperial/Double,” I say this is a very flavorful, hop forward beer.


Shield Oath (Czig Meister Brewing Company) | Belgian Tripel | 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

This is what I assume is the base beer for Paragon of Light, their wine-barrel aged Tripel and is a very solid interpretation of the Belgian style. It is hard for me not to compare any Tripel brewed in the North East, specifically New Jersey, to River Horse’s classic Tripel and this one stands up just fine. I wouldn’t necessarily say it needs to warm in the glass, but the beer should breathe a little before you dive in and drink it. Once it does, the beer is great with some hints of pear in the fruit evocations from the yeast and mild hops.


Rugged Snuggle (Twin Elephant Brewing) | Porter – Other | 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

I believe Twin Elephant has expanded their production capacity over the last year because they are releasing cans of their beer on a more regular basis. Rugged Snuggle has been in their portfolio for a couple of years so it was nice to see this roasty coffee adjacent porter available in cans. In addition to that fantastic can art by Tom Schmitt, the beer inside is really tasty. Like always with dark beers, a little warmer than fridge temperature is the way I’d recommend enjoying this one to get the best coffee notes.


Oktoberfest (Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.) | Festbier | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

One of the side effects of the pandemic is that Sierra Nevada, for the first time since 2015, did not collaborate with a German brewery for their annual Oktoberfest release. However, the 2020 version is great. This one leans on the lighter side of the Fall German Lager style as a Festbier, but it is supremely balanced and perfectly delicious. This is no surprise to me because Sierra Nevada does everything very well.


Octoberfest (Bell’s Brewing) | Märzen | 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

After a couple of years in the NJ market, I finally tried Bell’s take on the fall classic. My only regret is that I hadn’t tried it earlier. Bell’s takes a lighter approach with their Märzen than some of the others I’ve had, but the beer is extremely flavorful. A hint of sweetness and just a very smooth beer that goes down very, very easily. This beer was featured on the untappd podcast recently and was spoken of very highly, a few of my untappd friends had checked the beer in over the last couple of years and the consensus rating was 4 out of 5 bottle caps and I’m happy to say this beer completely lived up to those expectations.


Aw Raspberries aged in Heaven Hill Bourbon Barrels (Icarus Brewing) | Stout – Russian Imperial | 4.5 Bottle Caps on untappd

Shocker of shockers, another beer from Icarus. I’ve been sitting on this one for a few months and I wanted to share it for a special occasion. My dad’s birthday fit the bill perfectly and we both thoroughly enjoyed the beer. The maple element in the beer is blended perfectly, as are the fresh raspberries. Those otherwise potent flavors don’t dominate the profile of the beer, which shows how well-made the beer is because raspberries can be very tart and maple can dominate everything.  Not to mention the fact that this beer was barrel aged, adding another complex flavor to the beer. Not here, the maple and raspberries are both in harmony with the malt from the base beer as well as the Heaven Hill barrels.

This was a month where it was difficult to trim the amount of good new beers I enjoyed down to only six and no stinkers at all.

Draught Diversions: August 2020 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…

Summer was still in full swing in August, which turned out to be a very trying month. The pandemic continues to impact our lives and a hurricane swept through NJ causing loss of power to much of the State for multiple days, including yours truly. Through it all, there was still plenty of beer to enjoy, which is why you are all here anyway.

Half of this six pack could have very easily been beers from Icarus Brewing since I had 3 different (outstanding) beers from them, but I try not to feature multiple beers from one brewery in these posts.

This month brings mostly local (4 NJ, 1 NY, and 1 CT) beer.

Black Chocolate Stout [2013] (Brooklyn Brewery) | Stout – Russian Imperial | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout is an iconic beer if the independent/craft beer world, one of the earlier interpretations (first brewed in 1994!) of a Russian Imperial Stout and the first recipe Garrett Oliver wrote for The Brooklyn Brewery. I’ve had this beer in the distant past of the days before I was writing this blog and I remember liking it. A friend in town found this old bottle from 2013 in his basement and decided to let me have it. This is one of the oldest beers I’ve had (7 years of age) and it was delicious. The hops settled down a bit from what I remember but enjoying this version from 7 years ago has me eager to grab a six pack once the cold weather hits us.

French Torost (Bolero Snort Brewery) | Stout – Imperial / Double | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd


Two months in a row for a Bolero Snort appearance in the monthly Six Pack. This beer speaks to what I consider their wheelhouse, or at least the beers I’ve enjoyed the most from Bolero – big stouts. When I saw the description, I was immediately reminded of French Toast Bergen County Bull Stout, a beer I thoroughly enjoyed last year. This beer, Torost, seems to be an un-barrel aged version with all those adjuncts: Maple, Cinnamon, and Madagascar Vanilla, so I would bet a considerable sum of money this beer is the base stout that was barrel-aged for BCBS. What a delicious beer this is, a pastry/dessert stout in the truest sense with a perfect blend of all those adjuncts.

Synopsis Dark Sour Cherry (Area Two Experimental Brewing) | Sour – Fruited | 3.75 Bottle Caps on untappd

Area Two Experimental Brewing is the sour, barrel-aging, experimental arm of Two Roads Brewing. They brew/blend/age in fairly limited quantities and I’ve been eager to sample one of their beers for a while. This sour ale is really nice; very funky upfront, but the cherry was milder than I expected or hoped it would be. Nonetheless, I liked this one and I will definitely be seeking out more beers with the Area Two label on it.

Lawn Boi (Tonewood Brewing) | Pilsner – German | 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

I continue to be impressed with Tonewood’s output. This Pilsner is an excellent interpretation of the style with German leanings. Cold, fresh, and delicious. The beer was canned two days before I picked up in the store. This is a perfect cooler beer and is very refreshing. Fits the “beer flavored beer” moniker, but at a very high level.

Tan Limes (Cape May Brewing Co.) | Lager – Pale | 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

Admittedly, I reluctantly made my way to this beer because I was quite upset when Cape May Brewing ceased production/distribution of the delicious Cape May Lager, a Pale Lager they launched last year only to be replaced this year with Tan Limes. I know one of the big trends in independent beer is to make a craft lager that fits the same profile as Corona/Modelo/Pacifico. I don’t like 2 of those 3 beers, so I would never try any brewery’s take on the style, but my curiosity won out. I’m glad I got over my bias for this beer because it is a nearly perfect summer lager. The lime isn’t too overpowering, the salt comes into play. I dropped a six pack in the cooler for a party at our house and drank 3 myself in one day, my wife even commented “You really like that one, don’t you!” Yes, yes I do.

Drinking Strawberries for Breakfast (Icarus Brewing) | Sour – Fruited Berliner Weisse | 4.5 Bottle Caps on untappd

Last and most certainly not least is another beer from Icarus, this is one of their many Berliner Weisse beers. With “copious amounts of strawberries, Acai, and Toasted Coconuts,” the beer is outstanding. The funk of the Berliner Weisse style is definitely present, but the sweetness from the fruit and coconut provide a perfect balance. This is easily one of my favorite of the 25+ Berliner Weisses I’ve had.

A great month overall for new beers, so let’s leave it at that.

Draught Diversions: July 2020 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…

July, of course, features one of the most beer-centric holidays, Independence Day. Celebrating our country in this day and age is not exactly and easy thing, but for about 35 years, my family has had a Fourth of July party. It has always more of a family gathering, and even though COVID has drastically changed things, we were still able to have a handful of family at our house. As such, there is an abundance of beer.

This month brings mostly local (5 NJ and 1 PA) beer.

Lil Yacht Juice (Icarus Brewing Company) | IPA – Session / India Session Ale | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

It has been a bit since I featured an Icarus beer here at the Tap Takeover. “Lil Yacht Juice” is the scaled down version of Icarus’s flagship IPA, “Yacht Juice.” Whereas Yacht Juice is 8%, “Lil” is 4.9%. Despite the lower ABV, “Lil” doesn’t sacrifice any of the flavor with its blend of Mosiac, Citra, and Columbus hops. The beer is cloudy like most New England IPAs and is probably the best “Session IPA” I’ve ever had (not that I’ve had all that many of the style) and a beer that was a perfect start to our annual Fourth of July party.

Bulliner Vice – Passionfruit, Papaya, and Peach (Bolero Snort Brewery) | Sour – Fruited Berliner Weisse | 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

Bolero Snort has a series of fruited Berliner Weisse beers under this obvious bull-punned name, this is the only one I’ve had and I like it quite a bit. A good beer to finish off the night with the various fruit adjuncts and the overall tartness of the beer. However, this is the second “sour” beer I’ve had with passionfruit and the initial aroma is extremely potent – it is stanky. But thankfully that aroma transfers more pleasantly in the beer with the help of the peach and papaya.

Haze Charmer (Tröegs Independent Brewing Company) | Pale Ale – New England | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

This a new year-round addition to the Tröegs portfolio and it is indeed a very welcome beer. It is light but flavorful with a burst of lovely tropical, fruity hops. Tröegs has long been one of my favorite breweries and this beer captures a hot style very well, low ABV and very flavorful. This is a great anytime, pairs with anything kind of beer that should appeal to everyone.

Lilting Grace (Conclave Brewing Company) | IPA – Imperial / Double | 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

I took a ride down to Conclave to check out their outdoor biergarten in their new space (which they moved into shortly before the pandemic) and the outdoor area is really nice. As always, the beer was really tasty, too. This one has one of my favorite hops, Vic Secret, which seems to be a favorite of Conclave’s too. Good tropical fruity elements in the beer with a slightly bitter hop finish. Good stuff.

Raspberry Radler (Beach Haus Brewery) | Shandy / Radler | 3.75 Bottle Caps on untappd

Radlers/Shandys are the refreshing German style that blends fruit juice and beer (often lemonade and beer). Beach Haus’s take on the style with Raspberry is really nice and a perfect post-yardwork summer beer. This is the exactly the kind of a beer I’d expect from a brewery walking distance from the beach with great outdoor seating…and it is quite good, too!

Eye of the Storm w/Citra (Jersey Cyclone Brewing Company) | IPA – American | 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

Although Jersey Cyclone has been open for more than a year, this is my first time trying their flagship IPA. This is a flavorful almost Hazy/New England IPA. It is a little more bit grassy than most IPAs I’ve had, but very tasty nonetheless. The Citra hops shine in this beer, evoking the citrus profile which lends the hop the name.

A great month overall for new beers, so let’s leave it at that.

Draught Diversions: NJ Shelf of Honor Six Pack #2

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

With the state of the Country being what it is and the social distancing requirements we are living under, I figured now would be as good a time as any to keep the focus on local breweries and beer. As you all know, that means New Jersey for me. So, with that in mind, I wanted to put some more NJ beers in my personal NJ Hall of Fame beers/Shelf of Honor for NJ. Some of the beers in these posts will have been featured in a monthly Six Pack or a full review. I’ve tried to focus on NJ beers that are fairly readily available, although one of these beers happens to be a one-time only beer (which I hope changes!).

In the event I need to state the obvious – this is all my opinion and the beers I enjoy. As per usual, beers are listed alphabetically by brewery

Hackensack Lager | Lager – Helles | The Alementary | Hackensack, NJ | 5.5% ABV | Reviewed in December 2018 on the Tap Takeover | Personal Untappd Rating: 4 Bottle Caps

The Alementary has been brewing beer out of Hackensack, NJ for a few years (since 2016, I think). They were the second Brewery in Bergen County, which over the past couple of years has become a beer destination of sorts in NJ with Bolero Snort and Hackensack Brewing opening nearby (and Ghost Hawk Brewing in neighboring Passaic County). Alementary’s outstanding Helles Lager, named after their home, is their flagship and a beer to be proud of. When I visited the Alementary about a year ago, they had recently completed the build-out of a facility because of how big a seller Hackensack Lager is for them.

Also about a year ago, The Alementary redesigned the label (the picture on the right) to give a very nice 3-D map/overview of the city of Hackensack. During the COVID-19 Pandemic, The Alementary is also promoting “Buy a beer for a healthcare worker” with this beer specifically, which is a prime example of local giving back to the community.

As I said in my review of the beer, “The relatively low ABV (though a bit higher than many Helles Lagers) makes for a very crushable beer indeed. Hackensack Lager is the epitome of an ever day beer; the utility player in your beer fridge that can sit in a glass with any meal. I’ve said this before about similar beers, but it is also true of Hackensack Lager – flavorful enough for folks who are well-versed in the craft beer world and inviting enough for folks who don’t stray away from the macro-produced lagers. The perfect beer to bring to a party if you aren’t sure what other guests will like in their beer.

What the Alementary says about the beer:

Rooted in pride and thirst, a local lager is never far. Whether you’re in Germany, Belize, or Jersey, there’s sure to be a favorite brew for wherever you’ve found yourself. Our Hackensack Lager, with its crisp golden malty goodness, reflects the diversity of our community and our love for the people who have made this place our home. Thank you, Hackensack!

Bergen County Bull Stout | Bolero Snort Brewery (Carlstadt, NJ) | – Stout – Pastry | 4.5 Bottle Caps | Reviewed at the Tap Takeover December 2019

I knew I had to include a beer from Bolero Snort in a Shelf of Honor, but I’ve enjoyed many of their beers over the recent past. OVB may be their best known beer, and I like it, but there are other beers from Bob Olson and Scott Wells (and company) I enjoy more. So…that led me to Bergen County Bull Stout the big annual barrel-aged stout they release, usually with a few variants. Over the years, they’ve been releasing a big stout around Thanksgiving with the initials of BCBS (sound familiar beer geeks?). I can only speak to one of the variants, but that alone makes it a worthy entrant for me and is one of those “event beers” that seems to satisfy quite a lot of people, with most of the variants over the years maintaining an untappd rating over 4 bottle caps.

This was a very limited release as was the full complement of Bergen County Bull Stout variants, so I was happy to get a bottle. Most stores were permitting only one bottle per customer. Nice label, cool font for the beer name, with the newly fashioned and stylized “BS” logo front and center. One last note on the packaging, I really appreciate that this is a 500ml bottle as opposed to what was once a standard, the 750ml bottle. 500ml is just over a pint and just enough for one person to consume on their own.

The full “herd” of 2019 Bergen County Bull Stout variants

 From my review: “This is a complex beer…I need to put that up front. The eggy-bread aroma of French Toast is present in the taste with the bourbon hints from the barrel making their way through everything. … A beer that has the flavor components of that rich, dessert-like breakfast while still retaining the stout qualities that give the beer it’s primary character.

This beer is full-flavored, full bodied and boozy. Some of the character of the bourbon barrel seeps through the whole of the beer, it isn’t intrusive but rather complements all the other additives Bob Olson and crew have thrown in the mix for this beer.

What Bolero Snort’s Says about the beer:

🍁 🥞 French Toast Bergen County Bull Stout 🥞🍁 a brand new variant for 2019 Barrel Aged Imperial Stout with Maple, Cinnamon, Cocoa and Madagascar Vanilla 🤤.

Double Nickel Pilsner | Pilsner – German | Double Nickel Brewing Company | Pennsauken, NJ | ABV 5.6% | Personal Untappd Rating: 4 Bottle Caps | Reviewed at the Tap Takeover December 2017

Proper glassware with the older label showing the “Double Nickel Bridge” a.k.a. the Tacony–Palmyra Bridge

Pilsners…one of the classic styles of beer the world around. Many brewers and “beer connoisseurs” will say a well made Pilsner is a beer that shows the mark of a good brewer. A well crafted, fresh Pilsner is one of my favorite styles of beer and this one in particular is the first Pilsner to make it to my “Shelf of Honor.”

Double Nickel’s Pilsner is an extremely approachable beer and tastes, note for note, exactly like you’d expect a Pilsner to taste minus the mass-produced elements from the Big Beer makers with a little bit of citrus overtone throughout. The hops aren’t overpowering at all, but are present as an integral element of the beer. Balanced, crisp, refreshing. What makes the beer so good is that it is just simply a delicious beer that hits all the notes a classic Pilsner should hit and will also please seasoned craft beer drinkers who’ve been enjoying Victory’s Prima Pils or Tröegs’ Sunshine Pils. Double Nickel have made a beer that easily sits in the fridge with those classic American Craft interpretations of the classic German style.

The only slight downside for me is that I’m just outside of Double Nickel’s distribution radius so I can’t grab this beer as frequently as I would like.

What Double Nickel says about the beer:

A classically styled clean and crisp option for the lite beer drinker and beer geek alike. Our modern take on a traditional German pilsner is golden in color and perfectly balanced.

Exit 17 – Russian Imperial Stout | Stout – Russian Imperial | Flying Fish Brewing Company | Somerdale, NJ | 10% ABV | Personal Untappd Rating: 4.75 Bottle Caps

Flying Fish is one of the original craft/independent breweries in the State of New Jersey and one of, if not still, the largest brewery in the State of New Jersey. Over the years they’ve gone through some re-brandings, but perhaps their most acclaimed contribution to beer in New Jersey was the Exit Series of beers. These were beers that honored the exits of the NJ Turnpike, with each beer emblematic to that exit. For Example, Exit 9 was honoring Rutgers University, home of the Scarlet Knights so the beer was a delicious Scarlet Ale.

The beer I’m talking about here; however, was Exit 17 Russian Imperial Stout. In my humble opinion, this is the best beer in the Exit series, and maybe even the best beer Flying Fish ever brewed, and one of the best stouts ever to come out of the state of New Jersey, which is why it gets a spot on my Personal Shelf of Honor.

Here’s what I said about the beer when I first mentioned it here on the Tap Takeover back at the end of 2017:
Not content with brewing a Russian Imperial Stout, Flying Fish aged this one in Dad’s Hat Rye Whiskey bottles. 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. Not content with brewing a Russian Imperial Stout, Flying Fish aged this one in Dad’s Hat Rye Whiskey bottles. 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.

I would love to see Flying Fish bring back this, or any of the Exit beers in some capacity.

What Flying Fish says about the beer:

Richly complex stout features roasted malts, toffee, dark chocolate, caramel, espresso and cocoa. We then aged the beer for two months in Dad’s Hat Rye Whiskey barrels, which infuses rye, oak and vanilla into this one-of-a-kind beer.

Yacht Juice | IPA – New England | Icarus Brewing Company | Lakewood, NJ | 8% ABV | Personal Untappd Rating: 4.25 Bottle Caps | Reviewed at the Tap Takeover July 2018

Icarus has been getting a lot of love here at the Tap Takeover because they make outstanding beers across all styles. (Full disclosure: a friend works at the brewery.) While many breweries in NJ make IPAs, one of the State’s standouts of the New England variety is Icarus’s Yacht Juice, which, continues the trend of Jersey Shore breweries (started by Carton) of giving at least one beer a nautically-themed name. Aside from bearing nautical names and being somewhat hop-forward, the two beers are quite different and excellent. Enough about the name, more about the liquid in the glass.

When this beer started making waves (no pun intended) in the NJ Beer community in 2017, I didn’t give it much consideration since I thought it was “just another hazy IPA.” I was certainly wrong about that, this is a beer that really lives up to the hype. Like Hackensack Lager, Yacht Juice is Icarus’s flagship IPA.

Some of the hops that emulate fruit flavors give you a really distinct fruit profile, some orangey, but this one is almost like a tropical punch with a heavy dose of orange juice. That said, I would not call Yacht Juice a carbonated glass of orange juice. Oh no no no. This is a beer through and through and the hop finish on this one latches on to your taste buds and makes it really tough to drink this slowly.

What Icarus says about the beer:

North East style IPA filled with Citra, Mosaic, and Columbus leaving it with a combination of citrus and dank aroma and flavor. We may not own a Yacht, but at least we can enjoy the Juice.

Porter Aged on Palo Santo Wood | Porter – American | Spellbound Brewing | Mount Holly, NJ | 6.9% ABV | Reviewed in December 2017 on the Tap Takeover | Personal Untappd Rating: 4.75 Bottle Caps

This beer is the second porter to make it to the Shelf of Honor, but that shows (1) How much I enjoy the style and (2) how good this beer is. Additionally, this beer received two medals at the Great American Beer festival (including Gold!) so I’m not the only one who thinks highly of this beer and a beer with multiple GABF medals at least deserves consideration for any kind of honor status. The taste of the beer cements its place on a Shelf of Honor.

As with many dark beers, allowing the beer to warm from fridge temperature to room temperature is advisable as the beer can breathe and the flavors can unleash. The label even suggests you do this with the beer and I can only agree. As wonderful as the beer was on the first pour into the glass, the complexities, sweetness and sheer deliciousness of the beer only increased. The only slight I can give to the beer, and the minimal element that keeps it from getting a perfect score, is a very slight lingering bitterness after the finish. Again, it was only very minor so the fact that it gets a 4.75 out of 5 and that it won a Gold Medal at the Great American Beer Festival should let you know this is a World Class Beer.

This is easily one of the best porters I’ve ever had (I know, I said that about River Horse’s Chocolate Porter in my first NJ Shelf of Honor post), but two beers can qualify as “one of the best ever!” Since I initially reviewed this book back in 2017, Spellbound’s distribution footprint has expanded and I’ve seen this and some of those other beers in select stores around me. This beer is undoubtedly worth seeking out – it is wood aged in a unique way, provides some different flavors when compared to the barrel/wood aging, and is a beer that truly stand out among the crowd of porters.

What Spellbound says about the beer:

PALO SANTO WOOD AGED PORTER – GABF SILVER MEDAL 2015, GABF GOLD 2017 IN THE WOOD AGED CATEGORY

Our year round porter aged on palo santo wood. The palo santo brings out more of the chocolate flavor. The beer changes flavors and aromas as it warms. Most notable are chocolate, vanilla, anise, and even hints of mint.

So there you have it, another six beers made in New Jersey that stand on my personal “Top Shelf” of beer.

Draught Diversions: March 2020 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…

Very heavy on the NJ beers this month, I visited Kane Brewing. in Ocean to start the month and wound up enjoying a few different beers from them throughout March. I usually try to drink as much local as I can, compared to other breweries, but even more so once COVID-19 forced social distancing upon us and I wanted to support local even more. I usually get some mixed six packs from my local Wegman’s, but this month, the six pack proved to be one of the best I’d picked up in quite a while, three of the beers form the six pack stood out to a large degree and show up in this month’s Six Pack

Morning Mocha (Kane Brewing Company) | Porter – Coffee | 4.75 Bottle Caps on untappd

Morning Bell is Kane’s highly acclaimed year-round coffee porter and is outstanding. Once a year, they do a few special releases of Bell variants, Morning Mocha is one of those. In addition to rich coffee flavors from their local coffee roastery Rook Coffee, this beer was conditioned on Ugandan and Haitian caco nibs. I thought I died and went to heaven when I drank this beer. There is an absolutely perfect blend of coffee and chocolate in the flavor profile, which complements and doesn’t overtake the base porter. Next year when this is released, I’m going to make sure to get at least one bottle.

Kalishnikoffe (Icarus Brewing) | Stout – Russian Imperial | 4.5 Bottle Caps on untappd


I called out Kalishnikov last year as a standout beer from Icarus so I was very much looking forward to that beer with coffee added. What a perfectly balanced beer this is, great coffee flavor with some bitterness from the coffee. Like the base beer, there’s a good amount of honey to offset the inherit bitterness of a Russian Imperial Stout, but the aggressive bite at the end is still present, if softened. Another outstanding beer from Jason and crew at Icarus Brewing.

Easy Ringer (Victory Brewing Company) | IPA – Session / India Session Ale | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

This one surprised me. Ever since Founders All Day IPA became such a mega hit basically helping to invent a style, coupled with the drive for low calorie (less than 100 calories) breweries have been looking to brew a beer to fit those two elements. Victory’s Easy Ringer is the latest to hit that sweet spot and it sure is tasty. Much more flavorful than I would have expected, sweet, slightly bitter hops with a complexity that belies the sub 100 calories and low ABV (4.3%). I can see this beer filling coolers this summer and then football season (if those things actually happen).

Craic (River Horse Brewing Company) | Stout – Irish Dry | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

This is a beer I’ve been wanting to try for a few years. River Horse has been part of the Jameson Caskmates program since it started a couple of years back and this has been the primary mainstay. It wasn’t until late 2019 that I saw it stores and I’m damned glad I picked up a bottle. The whiskey elements accentuate the roasted stout elements as well as the coffee and vanilla flavors, each component complimenting the other very harmoniously. I enjoyed this on St. Patrick’s Day, if you’re going with a whiskey element in your beer, you can’t really get more traditional than Jameson.

The Miner (Czig Meister Brewing Company) | Lager – Dark | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

Czig Meister’s lager game continues to prove its strength. Dark Lagers aren’t the most prevalent style in the US, but Schwarzbiers, Munich Dunkels, and Czech Darks are popular in Europe. Czig’s take is extremely full flavored, good roast, slightly creamy, a decent amount of sweetness especially given the lower ABV of 4.8%. I’m not sure if this is closer to a Schwarzbier or a Czech Dark Lager in style, but I do know that it was a beer I thoroughly enjoyed.

Moonjumper (Destihl Brewing Company) | Stout – Milk/Sweet | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

 

Another fortuitous pick from a Wegman’s mixed six pack. I’m always up for a good milk stout and trying a new brewery to me. Well, this beer fit the bill on both counts. Destihl has only been distributing in NJ for less than a year, so this was the first I had from them. I was extremely impressed with this beer, despite being initially worried about the canned-on date of September 2019 when I opened the beer in March. The beer was a wonderfully, full flavored beer that gave off flavors of chocolate and sweetness.

Draught Diversions: January 2020 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…

January, for the past couple of years, has had me traveling for work, which provides opportunities to try beers not available in my market/region. Although only one of those “out-of-market” beers made this month’s six pack, I’ll note that beers from Yazoo Bewing (TN), Gordon Biersch (New Orleans),  Little Harpeth Brewing (TN) and Yee Haw (TN) brewing impressed me. A good balance this month of NJ and non-NJ, plus three brewery visits (2 favorites, and 1 newly opened). Another odd note: this six pack makes it 2 months running without a Lager in the mix. So, without further adieu here’s my January 2020 six pack.

Chekov’s Gun (Carton Brewing Company) | Belgian Quadrupel | 4.50 bottle Caps on untappd

The tradition of a Carton Brewery visit on New Year’s Day continued in 2020, same crew, different beers including this outstanding Quadrupel. It is a style I love, a style that isn’t brewed often, but when done well as this beer was brewed – and aged in Peach Brandy Barrels – the final product is heavenly. I would have purchased a bottle, but unfortunately, Carton was only selling a 3 pack of bombers and the price tag was just out of my range that day. Still, this is a beer I’d love to share with a friend, enjoy over the course of a long movie, or while reading an immersive novel by the fireplace.

Cinnamon Roll Imperial Ale (Southern Tier Brewing Company) | Spiced / Herbed Beer | 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

It has been a while (October 2019) since a Southern Tier beer made an appearance here on the Monthly Six Pack… This is a beer I’ve seen on the shelves but was always hesitant to try. I should not have doubted since one of Souther Tier’s strengths has always been in “dessert beers” and pastry stouts. This fantastic dessert beer features a perfect (and ample) hit of cinnamon throughout with a texture (moutfheel, I hate that word) that is reminiscent of the cinnamon roll. I think that comes from the lactose. I was very pleased with this beer and at 8.6% it might be the perfect beer to finish off the night.

Touching the Sun (Icarus Brewing Company) | IPA – Triple | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

Shocker! Icarus makes an appearance in a monthly six pack. Considering I attended their 3rd Anniversary Party at the top of the month, chances were pretty good an Icarus beer would be showing up. This is only the third Triple IPA I’ve had, but it might be the best. I was a little under the weather the day of this event, but even with that, Touching the Sun was a standout beer, super hoppy, super smooth with a nice hoppy bite at the end.

Somewhere, Something Incredible is Waiting to Be Known (Tree House Brewing Company) | Stout – Milk / Sweet | 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

It is nice to have friends who visit far-away breweries like Tree House, especially when they ask if you if you’d like them to get you anything. Case in point: this delicious Milk Stout. Lots of chocolate in the taste, with elements of coffee and just a hint of vanilla. At 7.9% ABV, it wasn’t super heavy on the booziness, but it is a beer I’d recommend enjoying slowly as the flavors breathe and assert themselves. Superb stout.

Funfetti About Bucking Time (Bolero Snort Brewery) | IPA – Imperial / Double | 4.50 Bottle Caps on untappd

Bolero Snort finally opened their own brewery, and some would say it was about Bucking Time. This beer is brewed to celebrate the big facility’s grand opening. Sort of since this is a brewery-only variant of the IPA they brewed, with Funfetti cake mix used in the brewing process. This beer took me by surprise. I would almost never think of an IPA as a dessert beer, but the cake mix perfectly complemented the beer itself (I split a four pack of the base beer, “About Bucking Time” with my dad). The grand opening itself was great, my dad and my uncle attended with me.  Bolero Snort has a huge, awesome facility and I expect great things from them in 2020. A photo collage at the end of this post serves as a visual highlight of the visit.

Hefeweizen (Yazoo Brewing Company) | Hefeweizen | 4 bottle Caps on untappd

Image courtesy of Yazoo Brewing’s Website. I wasn’t able to get a good picture of my beer in the crowded bar.

Work travel landed me in Nashville for a few days and our “Networking Event” was at the FGL House, which had a nice selection of local brews. I knew of Yazoo Brewing, so I figured I try their Hefeweizen and boy was I happy I did. This is a very well made beer, reminiscent of some of my favorite takes on the classic German/Bavarian Ale. It was perfect for the night of hanging out with work friends and enjoying some live music – fairly low in alcohol (5% ABV) and very flavorful. I enjoyed the beer so much I had three pints of it.

As noted above, I made two brewery visits in January, one of which was a long time coming – the official Grand Opening of Bolero Snort Brewery in Carlstadt, NJ. It was fairly easy to get there even if the brewery is a bit of a drive from me. You can see MetLife stadium from Bolero Snort’s enormous facility (one of the largest in the state). Great beers, awesome people, and a great atmosphere. Very much worth the visit.

Draught Diversions: Six Pack of Favorite Breweries of 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…

 

I was happy with my favorite breweries post last year, so I figured I’d put one together for 2019 – My favorite breweries for 2019, with a slight difference from last year: I’m highlighting six breweries rather than four. Some of these I visited, others I’ve had many beers from over the year, and although last year I labeled one as “rediscovery” I wouldn’t go quite that far this year for one of the breweries, but I would say my enjoyment of their portfolio was reinvigorated. It also shouldn’t be surprising that the breweries in this post made a showing with a beer in my Favorite Beers of 2019 post. Like last year, I’ll sort this alphabetically, but immediately call out Icarus Brewing and Victory Brewing Company as my two overall favorites for 2019. The combination of quantity of beers I had from them and the consistent quality are large factors in that decision.

Bolero Snort Brewery (Carlstadt, NJ) | Total “new to me” Bolero Snort beers checked in on untappd in 2018: 13

Bolero Snort is one of the more recognizable breweries in New Jersey despite not having their own facility until late in 2019, with the official grand opening set for the weekend of Martin Luther King day (January 17-20, 2020). Despite that, they managed to produce many beers, and many beers I enjoyed throughout the year. I began enjoying Bolero Snort early as their Moosaic was a standout beer for me at the 2019 Meadowlands Great Beer Expo. Much like choosing a best of Icarus, I was torn between two superb beers from Bolero Snort in 2019 when it came to picking my favorite from them, their annual Bergen County Stout release (specifically, the French Toast variant) and Moo Doo Doll, a Mardi Gras “King Cake” inspired stout with an amount of adjuncts that magically come together in lovely harmony: brown sugar, “a whisper of milk dust,” cinnamon, nutmeg, Madagascar vanilla and a pinch of lemon zest. The outstanding quality of Moo Doo Doll and French Toast Bergen County Bull Stout alone would have made Bolero Snort a standout for me in 2019.

Clockwise from top left: Mootopia, á La Mooode, Gingerbread Moochiato, Ragin Bull, OVB

One of my beer highlights of the whole year; however, came on my birthday. My wife surprised me by getting me and some friends in the car and surprising me with a Bolero Snort beer pairing dinner. Fortunately for me, my wife does not like beer, so I was able to enjoy more than just my 5oz taster of most beers. The beers included in course order: (1) Bolero’s flagship lager Ragin Bull Amber Lager which I’d had before and liked; (2) OVB Creamsicle IPA; their flagship IPA, a sweet delicious Milkshake IPA which I was pleased to enjoy again later in the month at a NJ Devils game; (3) Mootopia, a New England IPA; (4) á La Mooode one of the best hard ciders I’ve ever had; and finished it off with the star of the show for me, (5) Gingerbread Moochiato and outstanding coffee-milk stout. When my wife asked me to grab a four pack of a stout for her to gift to a colleague for Christmas, I picked up Gingerbread Moochiato.  That event was hosted by Bolero Snort’s beer ambassador Adrian who was super-friendly and was the perfect host/ambassador.

I would not be surprised if beers from Bolero Snort Brewery appears quite often on my blog throughout 2020 with the brewery now open to the public.

Cape May Brewing Company (Cape May, NJ) | Total “new to me” Cape May beers checked in to untappd in 2019: 11

Cape May Brewing Company is currently the second largest brewery in the state (Flying Fish, is still #1), but I wouldn’t be surprised to see them overtake Flying Fish in the near future. In late 2018, Cape May Brewing Company launched Cape Beverage Distribution Company so they could self-distribute throughout the state. As such, I have definitely noticed a difference as their beers are mainstays of the beer shops I visit and I think throughout the majority of the state. But good things began early in 2019 for Cape May for me, one of my first reviews in 2019 was of their Baltic Porter, King Porter Stomp. Like Icarus and Bolero Snort, I was torn between two beers standing out enough to make my top 12 list: Swinging the Lamp (Imperial NEIPA) and Bourbon Barrel Aged Concrete Ship (Russian Imperial Stout). Only one beer from Cape May didn’t quite work for me despite being a well-made beer, but every other beer I had from them was superb. Their sadly and recently discontinued Pale Lager, simply called Lager was one of the mainstays in my cooler in the summer and a beer I suggested my wife gift to a co-worker who was just “entering the world of craft beer.”

Other Cape May Brewing Standouts for me: The Bog Cranberry Shandy, Follow the Gull (IPA – American); and their annual Oktoberfest.

Icarus Brewing Company (Lakewood, NJ) | Total “new to me” Icarus beers checked in on untappd in 2019: 16

You might say this is a late addition since I visited the brewery in August with more than half of the year in the rear-view mirror, but that alone should indicate how highly I think of Icarus and the beer I had from them in 2019. I’d seen good things about their beer all over beer social media pretty much since they opened in 2017, had a couple of their beers in 2018 (one even made my best of 2018 list), but it wasn’t until August that I finally visited the brewery, then again in October (here’s my post/brewery report from October). As I alluded to in my Favorite New to Me beers of 2019, the majority of the beer I had from Icarus Brewing in 2019 was superb, so whittling it down to a single beer was challenging, but I slotted in Kalishnikov (Stout – Russian Imperial).

My other new-to-me 2019 Standouts from Icarus Brewing were were Just Wing it (Stout – Milk/Sweet); Making Whoopie (Stout – Imperial/Double Milk/Sweet); Build me Up Butternut (Porter – Imperial / Double); Life in Helles (Lager – Helles), Velvet Fjord (IPA – Milkshake); and Fruited… & Flying With Pineapple, Mango, Blackberry (Sour – Berliner Weisse).

Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers Company (Framingham, MA) | Total “new to me” Jack’s Abby Beers checked in on untappd in 2019: 6

It is always exciting when a regional brewery with a stellar reputation beings distributing in your area. Even more so for a Lager lover like me for a brewery who brews only Lagers! In 2019, Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers began distributing into NJ and I was thrilled. Granted, I only had 6 beers from Jack’s Abby in 2019, but they were all superb lagers and I found myself re-purchasing the beers from them I enjoyed. The standout for me is the one that made my favorites of 2019, their world class pilsner, Post Shift Pilsner.

Rounding out my superb six pack of Jacks Abby Lagers I enjoyed in 2019: Copper Legend (Festbier); Sunny Ridge Pilsner (Pilsner – Other), House Lager (Lager – Helles), Hoponius Union (Lager –India Pale); and Maibock Hurts Like Helles (Bock – Hell / Maibock / Lentebock).

Kane Brewing Company (Ocean Township, NJ) | Total “new to me” Kane beers checked in to untappd in 2019: 11

Kane is probably the most respected brewery in New Jersey, hands down. Their IPAs, their barrel-aging program, their big stouts, and their Quadrupels all are outstanding. Two things happened over the last year or so – Kane began self-distributing their three core beers to stores in NJ and I began enjoying and appreciating more hop-forward beer, which gave me the opportunity to enjoy Overhead (their Imperial IPA) and Sneak Box (their outstanding American Pale Ale).

There’s a local bar in Somerville, NJ I have mentioned on the blog called Project P.U.B., P.U.B. standing for Pop Up Brewery, wherein a brewery has a month long tap takeover or is essentially a “satellite” brewery for a month. In March 2019, Kane was that brewery, which gave me the opportunity to have a couple of their more limited release beers: their 2190 Anniversary Ale, a delicious Barrel Aged Quadrupel as well as Vengeful Heart, a hoppy Barleywine. I also visited Kane at the end of the summer and was even more impressed with the beers I had: Two barrel aged Quadrupels (One Thousand Eight Hundred and Twenty Five & 2555 7th Anniversary Ale), a hoppy blonde (Whale Pond), and a Chestnut Barrel-aged version of their Pilsner, Sideshore. Other standouts, thanks to friends and family visiting Kane were Half-Timbered barrel-aged Bock and vintages their superb Coffee Porter, Morning Bell and Mexican Brunch.

Victory Brewing Company (Downington, PA) | Total “new to me” Victory Beers checked in on untappd in 2019: 7 new to me, many bottles of Prima Pils “new recipe” and their Festbier for the first time in years

Victory Brewing has come up on this blog as much as or maybe more than any other brewery, I’d venture to guess. At least as much as any non-NJ brewery, that’s because I’ve always enjoyed their output. However, they rebranded in early 2019 with a consistent label design across their portfolio, introduced a handful of new beers, and tweaked their classic Prima Pils by lowering the bitterness just a smidge. I love it as much as I ever did.

I’d say there’s a good chance I bought more beer from Victory in 2019 than any other brewery, I had some form of Victory beer in my poolside cooler throughout the summer, and Prima Pils was a fixture in my refrigerator. I’ve always enjoyed their beers and that proved to be true again in 2019. New-to-me standouts in 2019 from Victory included Cloud Walker Hazy Juicy IPA, Java Latte (Stout – Milk/Sweet), Twisted Monkey (Blonde Ale – Belgian Blonde / Golden), Liberty Bell Ringer (IPA–Imperial/Double)

 

Some additional stats, via untappd’s Year in Beer:

  • 412 Unique Beers
  • Beers from 173 different breweries
  • 104 distinct styles

Top 5 Most Checked in beer styles:

  • IPA – American – 31
  • Pale Ale – American – 18
  • IPA – Imperial / Double– 17
  • Hefeweizen – 14
  • IPA – New England – 14

Top 5 Most Checked in breweries (this includes beers I’ve had prior to 2019, i.e. I had Prima Pils from Victory prior to 2019, but checked it in in 2019, too):

  • Icarus Brewing – 18
  • Kane Brewing Company – 15
  • Cape May Brewing Company– 14
  • Bolero Snort Brewery – 13
  • Victory Brewing Company – 13

Breweries I visited for the first time in 2019 (17 total)

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