Beer Review: Cape May’s Crushin’ It

Name: Crushin’ It
Brewing Company: Cape May Brewing Company
Location: Cape May, NJ
Style: IPA – American
ABV: 8%

A delicious, fan favorite, taproom exclusive beer from one of the largest brewery in New Jersey hits full distribution.

From Cape May Brewing’s Web site:

Refreshing and great for the beach, Crushin’ It is soon to be your summer staple. With Citra, Mosaic, and Azacca hops blending together to accentuate the fresh flavors of orange juice, Crushin’ It is dry, approachable, and perfectly balanced. Relax in the sand. Enjoy a no shower happy hour. This beer is best paired with good friends, sunshine, and SPF 30.

Cape May Brewery needs little introduction to my New Jersey readers, Cape May Brewing Company is one of the largest breweries in the State of New Jersey. Over the past couple of years, their distribution footprint has grown to encompass the entire State (as well as portions of DE and PA), but they still do quite a few brewery-only releases, which frustrates people like me who live 3 hours away and can’t easily get to the brewery for something like, say, the barrel-aged Barleywine they just released. For a time, that was the case for the beer under review today, Orange Crushin’ It. But that has changed as of April 2020, when Cape May scaled up production of the beer.

Crushin It began life as part of a Homebrewing competition at Cape May Brewery, a competition to brew a beer that mimicked the popular shore mixed drink Orange Crush. The hops in the beer, Citra, Azacca, and Mosaic evoke citrus fruit and the beer is made with a great deal of orange juice. That sounds fun and refreshing, so I was very pleased when I did a beer run to find that my local liquor store had just received a shipment of the beer. So, how does it live up to that build up?

Out of the wonderfully designed can, the beer pours a bright, slightly translucent orange-yellow. Shocking, right? One could be forgiven for thinking the beer was orange juice, on quick glance.

Aroma from the beer is of orange juice with citrusy hops, which seems spot on for a beer called an “Orange India Pale Ale.” The first sip is bursting with orange juice so I didn’t waste time for a second sip. The hop profile of the three varieties utilized in the beer come into play really nicely after that first blast of orange juice. This beer is one to drink as cold as possible, as you would orange juice. As much as I’ve mentioned the big orange juice component of the beer, it is still a beer. The hops aren’t extremely potent or aggressive, but the hops are definitely present, especially on the finish. That might be my only minor criticism of the beer.  I realize that comes down to Mosaic not being my favorite hop, which usually has an aftertaste of bitterness I don’t like. Fortunately, although noticeable, it is rather muted because of the other two hops and the abundant orange juice.

So what you have here in Orange Crushin’ It, ultimately, is a perfect warm weather or tailgating cooler beer. Flavorful, sweet, drinkable and appealing: a superb beer.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4.25-star rating.

Untapped badges earned with this beer:

I believe in IPA (Level 49)

We believe in IPA and you should too. You certainly have a taste for the hops! That’s 245 different IPAs. Try 5 more for Level 50!

Flagship February: Kane Brewing’s Head High

It is officially Flagship February in the beer world, a “movement” started by beer writers Stephen Beaumont and Jay Brooks a couple of years ago and it is wonderful idea. Basically, we as beer drinkers should remember the beers that helped to lay the foundation for craft beer as it exists today. Beers like Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale or, as I posted last year as part of my American Craft Beer Classic series of posts, Allagash White. These are beers that have been available to beer “enthusiasts” for quite a while and beers that helped to expand beer drinker’s palates beyond the mass produced adjunct lagers. Or, beers that helped to establish a brewery’s name, though largely for some of those reasons. We shouldn’t let the Allagash Whites, the Sierra Nevada Pale Ales, the Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgeralds, the Harpoon IPAs,  the Victory Prima Pils get lost among the event beers or the HOT! NEW! BEER! like the latest DDH Double IPA or Pastry Stout (not that I don’t enjoy those beers).

Owning/maintaining a beer blog compels me to participate, in some way, in Flagship February. While I’ve posted several reviews highlighting beers that are arguably Flaghship beers for their brewery and some posts I’ve tagged as “American Craft Beer Classics” that somewhat fit the mold, I wanted to hew completely to Stephen Beaumont and Jay Brooks’s theme. It didn’t take too much thought before I landed on a very obvious choice for my first Flagship February post, at least from a NJ Beer perspective.

The thought process leads me to a brewery many consider to be one of the Flagship Craft Breweries in NJ, a brewery who has helped to put NJ Beer on the map. This brewery, of course, is Kane Brewing Company out of Ocean, NJ who opened in 2011, almost a decade ago. Since that time Kane Brewing has been at the top of the list of NJ breweries, receiving several accolades along the lines of “Best NJ Brewery,” awards for their beers, and their reputation has broadened to national recognition. But first, a small step back in time…

NJ Craft Beer (not the great club started by Mike Kivowitz) was jump-started in 2012 with an important change to the laws governing beer consumption and sale in NJ: Breweries were finally able to allow customers to consume beer on premise and nothing would be the same in the NJ Beer scene. Kane’s opening the year before had them in a great position to take advantage of the possibilities. The beer that lead and continues leading that charge: their Flagship IPA Head High.

IPAs have been the most popular style for many years, so for an IPA to emerge as Kane’s Flagship (or any brewery starting in the 2010s) isn’t a surprise. Of course, if the beer weren’t as nearly as tasty as it is, who knows how Kane’s fortunes (or even NJ’s beer fortunes for that matter) may be now. Head High is the backbone of the brewery, the sales of the beer (at the brewery, on taps, and in cans in stores), allow Michael Kane and his coterie to work on more experimental sours, wild ales, and barrel aged beers (beers that have won awards, too). But without Head High (and Overhead, the Double IPA that can also be considered a Flagship), things might be a little different for Kane Brewing. According to Wikipedia and as of this writing, Kane is the third largest brewery in New Jersey (after Flying Fish and River Horse) although I suspect Cape May Brewing Company is somewhere in the mix, too.

Kane says this about Head High:

Head High is our interpretation of an American-style India Pale Ale (IPA). This beer is all about the hops; we use a blend of five different varieties all grown in the Pacific Northwest. A small charge of Chinook and Columbus early in the boil adds a smooth bitterness. A majority of the hops are then added late in the kettle or post-fermentation to produce a beer that is heavy on hop flavor and aroma. The combination of Cascade, Centennial, Citra and Columbus give Head High a noticeable grapefruit flavor with aromas of citrus, tropical fruits and pine. Our house American ale yeast ferments to a dry finish that accentuates the use of imported Pilsner and lightly kilned crystal malt resulting in Head High’s straw color and crisp flavor.

That’s a nice hop blend, isn’t it? Cascade is arguably the most popular hop, has been in use since early 1970s, and is the main hop of Sierra Nevada’s iconic Pale Ale. Centennial is the *only* hop in Bell’s equally iconic Two Hearted IPA, while Columbus rounds out the “Three Cs” of hops. Chinook has been in use since the mind 1980s, too. Citra is maybe the most popular hop in use today (emerging around 2007) and is most widely associated with the super popular New England IPA. What I’m saying is that this beer is a great balance of craft classic hops and a more modern hop. That all equals a delicious IPA that balances pine, citrus/tropical flavors, hoppiness, and bitterness perfectly, towing the line between the hop-forward beers of the early craft beer movement of the 1980s and the modern craft beer movement emphasizing juicier hops. Upon reflection, it is almost impossible that this beer wouldn’t be successful and emblematic of the types of IPAs and hop-forward beers to which people gravitate in droves, especially in the NJ area.

I’ll admit the first time I had the beer a few years ago, I thought it was good, but nothing beyond that. As I’ve noted many times here on the Tap Takeover, I didn’t always enjoy IPAs and hop-forward beers which is where my palate was when I first had Head High. I had the beer again a couple of years later when I came to appreciate and enjoy hop forward beers, which was after that first sampling at the brewery and my mind was immediately changed. The complexity of the hops, the welcome bitterness to balance the mild sweetness was flat out delicious. I realized that Head High was a Special Beer.

If the beer adorns the trucks you own for self-distribution, then it is likely your flagship beer. Image courtesy of Kane’s Facebook page

Go into most bars in NJ with a decent tap list and chances are you’ll find a Kane tap, and there’s a good chance that beer will be Head High. Hell, a bar atop a hockey rink where I saw my godson play a couple of months ago had Head High on tap. I found that to be a pleasant surprise and I’d venture to guess 5 years ago you wouldn’t expect to find Head High (or Kane or a NJ brewery for that matter) in such a seemingly unexpected locale. Head High is one of the primary beers (along with Overhead) keeping the fortunes in the black at Kane to the point they supposedly account for about 70% of Kane’s business. Kane has been quoted as saying that Head High is the beer upon which the brewery has built their wholesale business – if that doesn’t say Flagship Beer then I don’t know what does. The availability of the beer has grown in recent years, too. The brewery has always self-distributed, but around early 2018 Kane began self-distributing cans of one beer – you guessed it, Head High. Most Kane beers can be found throughout NJ on draught with the three core beers (Head High, Overhead, and Sneakbox) in cans in many liquor stores. Head High is a great beer that is perfect today and a reminder of where NJ Beer’s surge of growth into something special began almost a decade ago.

Some further reading:

Tara Nurin has a great profile on Kane Brewing for NJ Monthly in their NJ Beer issue in February 2019.

In that same issue, Head High was called out as NJ’s Best IPA.

Beer Review: Conclave Brewing’s Moonwater

Name: Moonwater
Brewing Company: Conclave Brewing Company
Location: Flemington/Raritan Township, NJ
Style: IPA – American
ABV: 6%

“The Central Jersey brewery creates another delicious IPA.”

About the beer:

An IPA brewed to be simple, enjoyable and drinkable. We used a blend of base malts, Mosaic and Motueka hops and then a blend of ale yeasts to make this one. While it’s clearly a hoppy one, it’s crisp minerality and finish is what we’re really psyched about. Come on by and let us know what you feel. Notes of Sauvignon blanc, grape bubblegum, lemongrass and lime.

For all the mentions Conclave gets here on the Tap Takeover, this is the first full review I’m doing for one of their beers since fall 2017. For about the past year or so, Conclave has been doing somewhat monthly releases. Moonwater was was the first can release I was able to get I’m very glad I did.

This is a beer they first brewed in late 2018 but when I picked up the 4-pack, it was both the first time they canned the beer and the first time I had the beer.

Immediately noticeable from the pour of the beer is how yellow-orange the beer is, really nailing the “Pale” of the IPA. It looks almost like orange juice, like many of the popular Hazy IPAs. There’s a strong hop aroma that, for IPA lovers, really encourages you to take a sip.

A big hit of hops on the first sip. Per the description above, they’ve used two hops: Motueka and Mosaic.  The Motueka on the start which evokes a really delicious citrus flavor. I think Conclave has used Motueka in quite a few of their beers and it is a really flavorful hop, I’m a fan. The hop I tend not to enjoy; however, is the Mosaic hop. For whatever reason, the finish of beers which feature the Mosaic hop don’t typically jive with my taste sensibilities. I didn’t notice those issues in this beer.

While the Mosaic is present and has some hop qualities I enjoy, the Motueka hop brings enough of its own flavor to give the beer a more balanced hop profile. Motueka is one of the New Zealand hops that is growing in popularity and this beer is a nice showcase as to why. There’s an extremely pleasant tropical fruit element to the beer that inspires you to have more.

So the beer has a well-crafted balance between the two hops, which is nice. Also impressive is how flavorful the beer is with a relatively low ABV at 6%. For an IPA, that’s not exactly a chugger, but lower than the 7-7.5% you’d expect from an IPA with the robust flavor this beer gives.

Conclave Brewing is extremely consistent with every beer they produce and this beer is further proof. Moonwater is a great example of the care, precision, and artistry that can come together in an IPA. Plan and simple, Moonwater is a delicious IPA.

The cans sold out early on Saturday, the brewery is open for a couple of hours on Thursday and Friday evening and Saturday afternoons. I wouldn’t be surprised to see another batch of this beer become available though maybe just for growler fills. If you’re in the Central New Jersey area, it is a beer (and brewery) worth seeking out and visiting.

Can art by Natalie Rengan, @talliedesign. Natalie has been creating some really striking designs for Conclave’s can releases, giving a nice “branding” to the brewery.

Art/Design by Natalie Rengan

Recommended, link to Untappd 4-bottle cap rating.