Draught Diversions: Oktoberfest 2018 Six Pack

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…

The longest, largest, and lager-est beer holiday is nearly upon us. Of course, I am referencing Oktoberfest – the time of year when German beers and German inspired beers are celebrated. Well, when they should be celebrated since some Oktoberfest beers begin hitting shelves late July and August. There are many, many, interpretations of the style from which to choose as nearly every brewery seeks to capitalize on the season and take the chance to brew a lager. Since we’re about a week and a couple of days away from the official start of Oktobefest (September 22, 2018), what better time to highlight a few I may try this year.

The Kaiser Avery Brewing (Newport, OR)

Image courtesy of Avery Brewing’s Web site

How do I *not* at least mention an Oktoberfest named The Kaiser? Avery, like many Colorado breweries, has a tendency to lean into Ales, particularly hopped up ales. Much of what they brew can be considered over the top so of course they push the limit on the Oktoberfest beer by brewing an “Imperial” Oktoberfest with nearly double the ABV.

What Avery says about the beer:

Just in time for fall and its most notable Fest, this limited release Imperial Oktoberfest Lager is our emboldened Prost! to one of the world’s most recognized styles. The Kaiser weaves together rich, toasted Vienna and Munich malts with the floral spiciness of Hersbrucker and Bravo hops to create a bold and brazen dry Imperial Oktoberfest.

Octoberfest Beer – Bell’s Brewing Company (Comstock, MI)

Image courtesy of Bell’s Brewing’s Web site

With Bell’s hitting NJ earlier in the year coupled with how much I’ve enjoyed the half-dozen beers I’ve had from them, I do want to give their Märzen a try. Everything I’ve had from them has fallen into the Ale half of the brewing divide so I’d like to see what they can do with a Lager.

Bell’s says this about the beer:

Crafted as a flavorful session beer and perfect for autumn, Octoberfest spends a full six weeks fermenting.

With herbal hop aromas, this balanced amber lager focuses on lightly toasted malt that lends body without too much sweetness. Perfect for a week-long wedding celebration in Germany or the start of the Michigan autumn.

Oktoberfest – Cigar City Brewing (Tampa, FL)

Image courtesy of Cigar City Brewing’s Web site

Cigar City made a decent splash when they first started distributing in NJ a couple of years ago, especially with their highly acclaimed Jai Alai IPA. Skimming through untappd, this one seems to connect correctly with folks looking for a quality Oktoberfest. That said, there is a bit of a contradiction for a brewery based in a state with temperatures averaging 80 degrees brewing a beer primarily associated with cooler autumn weather.

What Cigar City Says about the beer:

In Florida the changing of seasons is decidedly more subtle than in most other places. Palm fronds rarely turn brilliant red and orange the way leaves do in the rest of the country, and for Floridians sweaters exist only as rumor. We at Cigar City rely heavily on our seasonal beers to mark the passing of each month and few beers are better at heralding the arrival of autumn than our Oktoberfest Lager.

Our Festbier nods firmly toward the style’s history with it’s amber color, bready malt complexity and restrained hop flavor and bitterness. At the heart of this beer is a malt bill of six different German malt varieties, including a generous helping of Munich malt. After adding Hallertauer Mittlefruh hops we ferment the beer with an authentic Bavarian lager yeast, resulting in a clean, dry and complex lager that’s at once intriguing and drinkable.

Oktoberfest (Marzen Style) – (Hackettstown, NJ )

Image courtesy of Jersey Girl’s Facebook page

I had to include at least one NJ brewery in this post since quite a few around me brew a version of the style. Of the half-dozen beers I’ve had from Jersey Girl, I’ve really enjoyed them all. I like that these are 16oz cans, as is all of Jersey Girl’s canned beer. Also, I’m not going to lie, I really like the label on this one.

What Jersey Girl says about the beer:

With an ABV of 5.9%, it’s a delicious Copper Hued Märzen. Oktoberfest started as a festival where the citizens of Munich were invited to attend the festivities held on the fields in front of the city gates to celebrate the royal wedding of King Ludwig I and Princess Therese. In honor of this celebration we have brewed a medium bodied, Copper Hued lager.

Oktoberfest – Lakefront Brewery (Milwaukee, WI)

Image courtesy of Lakefront Brewery’s Web site

I’ve seen good things about Lakefront’s interpretation of the style (3.90 bottle caps on untappd) and I’ve had a handful of pretty good brews from the Milwaukee regional brewery. I don’t see their beers everywhere near me, but in enough of the liquor stores in my travel radius that snagging some shouldn’t be a problem. At the least, maybe I’ll throw a mix-six pack together at Wegmans and try to grab this one.

What Lakefront says about the beer:

The radiant copper-orange hue and rocky, off-white head of our traditional Märzen-style lager comes from generous amounts of Munich malt. Caramel malt aromas complement the German lager yeast’s slightly floral aroma. Mt. Hood hops balance the substantial malt body, while the lager yeast adds a subtlety to the flavor, making this a great rendition of a classic German lager. Prost!

Oktoberfest – von Trapp Brewing (Stowe, VT)

Image courtesy of von Trapp Brewing’s Web site

From one of the most Germanic of all breweries in America, von Trapp’s Oktoberfest one I’d like to try. I’ve enjoyed their Bock and their Helles Lager quite a bit, so I’m interested in tasting their take on the iconic style.

What von Trapp says about the beer:

The Bronze Medalist at the Great International Beer Festival and Attitash Oktoberfest “Best Brew Award” in both 2015 and 2016.

Oktoberfest is brewed with a blend of light and dark Munich Malts, which not only adds to its depth but delivers a residual sweetness. Carmel and toffee notes linger but are balanced by the subtle hops additions in this beer. We use hallertau and Tettnang hops which adds a floral yet peppery aroma to this beer. It’s our take on this traditional fest beer.

So there it is, my 2018 Oktoberfest Six Pack. I hope to try at least one or two of these over the next few weeks. Perhaps as you head into the coming weekend and prepare for next weekend’s (09/22/18) official start to Oktoberfest 2018, you’ll give one of these a try.

Draught Diversions: Jersey Girl Brewing Co. (Hackettstown, NJ)

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…

The final brewery of “Hackettstown Trio” of NJ Craft breweries gets the Draught Diversion treatment today. Of course, I am referring to Jersey Gril Brewing Company who just celebrated two years of being in business and selling beer in their taproom this past weekend (April 7). Unfortunately, I was not able to attend their anniversary party, but I did visit Jersey Girl back in November 2017 when I visited Manskirt and Czig Meister.

Like many breweries, owners and friends Chuck Aaron and Mike Bigger started were homebrewers, after they met in the community of Mount Olive and found they shared a passion for good-tasting beer. They wanted to provide a beer destination locals could enjoy and their involvement in the community can be seen on their Facebook page.

Jersey Girl began brewing beer and distributing in 2014, but the build-out of the tap-room took another two years. When Jersey Girl opened its doors to the public in April 2016, the brewery started fairly strongly, I think I recall seeing their great, eye-catching logo at least one (probably more) Garden State Brewfests, maybe in 2015 and definitely in 2016 when I had their well-made Amber Ale. Their brewing capabilities have expanded since the initial opening, with overall volume increasing, as well as can production, which jumped from about 2,000 for a run/month to 20,000 cans per month. Additionally, the number of employees has more than doubled, from 5 to 12.

Sun Kissed Citra and Rake Breaker (Photo courtesy of Jersey Girl Facebook)

The brewery started out fairly aggressively with canning their beers, I recall seeing cans of their two flagship IPAs, Rake Breaker and Sun Kissed Citra in stores. Those two beers are also available in cans and on tap at the Prudential Center, home of my hockey team, The New Jersey Devils. In fact, Jersey Girl is currently the top-selling craft beer at the Prudential Center, according to the Brew Jersey article linked below. Let’s face it, Jersey Girl really should be available there, considering the name of he brewery. Even before the brewery officially opened, it was being recognized as the beer was highlighted online at NJ Monthly.

This awesome diagram/map of beer styles adorned one of the taproom walls.

The view from outside is very deceiving, especially from the road where the brewery is located. Whereas Czig Meister and Manskirt are quite visible, Jersey Girl is an office park environment. Like Kane and Conclave, you have to know to look for the brewery. That outer view of the brewery is in complete contrast to the taproom inside, which is inviting and very well-constructed. It feels almost like a neighborhood bar. There’s plenty of seating at the bar, at tables, and side tables where you can view the brewing equipment.

The evening of my visit, the brewery was quite busy. Admittedly, Jersey Girl was the last of five breweries I visited that day, so my perception may be slightly skewed. But the impression that sticks in my memory is of a relaxed, welcoming atmosphere where many people were chatting and getting along quite nicely.

The tap list for the night of my visit

The most important element of any brewery; as always, is the product/liquid/beer itself. As Chuck Araron says in the Daily Record article below, “It’s all about the beer. We’re in the beer business.” During my visit I had a flight of four beers on the lovely paddle in the shape of New Jersey pictured below. The first beer of the flight was King Gambrinus, an extremely well-made Belgian Tripel. Second was a big Coffee Stout, Wake Up and Smell the Coffee which was tasty bit slightly bitter and packed quite a punch at 10% ABV. The third beer in my flight was another Belgian offering, Abbey Dubbel Trouble, also well-made. Last was a very well-rounded porter, Madagascar. As the name implies, this beer is brewed with Madagascar Vanilla and the balance is spot-on. I’ve lamented vanilla beers that have way too much vanilla and this one doesn’t commit that sin.

Flight addles come in various shapes, this one in the shape of the State of NJ is one the cleverer paddles I’ve seen.

The brewery has been receiving accolades and awards over the past two years:

Photo courtesy of Jersey Girl Brewing’s Facebook page

Having just celebrated two years in business and open to the public, Jersey Girl is proving to be a strong presence in the growing New Jersey Craft Beer landscape. Beers that seem to be well received, averaging about 3.7 on untappd for their flagship IPAs Sun Kissed Citra and Rake Breaker, 3.99 for their Coffee Stout, and 3.87 for King Gambrinus. They brew two Hefeweizens in the summer, a standard Hef and one with Elderberry and Lemon, both of  which I can’t wait to try, a Pilsner (MO Pils, the MO for Mount Olive), and many more. Overall, I hope to see this brewery grow and expand their footprint in and outside of the State.

Jersey Girl regulary hosts events at their brewery, like the current trend of yoga and beer and of course, trivia nights.

Some other links of interest follow:

Draught Diversions: November 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…

A great variety of beer passed across my palette in November 2017 due, in large part, to the North Jersey Brewery tour my wife took me on for my birthday in the middle of the month. I’ve already highlighted one of those breweries, Angry Erik, and I’ll briefly touch on the four other breweries later in the post as I may wind up doing a feature/full Draught Diversion on at least one of those breweries. That, combined with visiting a couple of my very local breweries and some other assorted beers throughout the month really shine the focus on New Jersey breweries for November. Since the last day of November was on a Thursday (when Draught Diversions normally posts), I figured I’d hold the post for an extra day to squeeze in that one last new beer.

Proper Glassware x2, snifters with the iconic Brooklyn brand

The first new beer I had in November was from craft beer stalwart Harpoon, specifically the new fall offering from their popular UFO Hefeweizen line, Cranbeery. I’ve enjoyed most of the UFO beers a great deal but this one didn’t quite do it for me, it was more tart and sour than I expect from a Hefeweizen. Next up and a couple of days later was an outstanding beer I shared with my father. Well, I gave him the bottle for his birthday in September, but we shared it for my birthday: Brooklyn Black Ops, a delicious Russian Imperial Stout which comes in at 11.6% ABV and tasted better as it settled into the glass. The bourbon barrel aging came through nicely in both the aroma and taste.

Sadly, I broke this glass after only using it twice.

The season of stouts continued with Sierra Nevada’s annual Imperial Stout release, Narwhal. I’ve had this in year’s past so was looking forward to having the beer and was not disappointed. Like most stouts, this got better as it warmed. For whatever reason, this was a tough beer to find in my area of New Jersey, with the closest liquor store to me listing it on beermenus about 25 miles away. Fortunately, the store is close to my parents so my dad picked up a six pack for me. Sierra’s been changing some of their labels, over the past year or so including this one. While the new label is nice, I loved the previous label. Keeping with the annual release theme, Founders released Backwoods Bastard and like last year’s vintage, this year’s vintage was outstanding. As I’ve said, I think I like this one more than I like KBS.

Hop Ritual w/ Vic Secret

As I’ve been doing with more regularity, I stopped into my local brewery, Conclave in November since they released a couple of new beers, both of which were very good. The first was a fall porter, Transcendent Leaf Peeping. The other new beer was a variation on their Hop Ritual Pale Ale. This one is called Hop Ritual with Vic Secret, so named for the strain of New Zealand hops used in the beer. 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.

Next was the big Birthday Brewery Tour, courtesy of my wife. Last year was a handful of Jersey Shore breweries, this year was North Jersey breweries. We started out at the venerable brewers of high-quality German style beers, Ramstein / High Point Brewing. As it so happened, that day was when Ramstein was releasing their famous Winter Wheat beer. I had the equivalent of a pint since my wife gave me her free samples. What a phenomenal beer, an absolutely outstanding dopplebock that has rightly earned a reputation that draws people from far and wide to fill their growlers with this delicious beer. The other new-to-me beer I had at Ramstein was the outstanding Imperial Pilsner. I just wish Ramstein’s distribution reached a little more into Somerset County because this is one of the beers they bottle and I’d have this in my house regularly.

The second brewery was Angry Erik, which I wrote about a couple of weeks ago, with the final leg of the journey being the triumvirate of breweries in Hackettstown, NJ. The first of those was Man Skirt Brewing, the highlight (and surprise beer there) was Better than Pants, a tasty excellent English Bitter that earned me the “You’re Extra Special” badge on untappd. All five beers I had were good. From there, we walked around the block to Czig Meister Brewery which was insanely packed, in part, because a portion of the brewery was cordoned off for a party. The standout here was Habonde a barrel-aged barely wine. I may have to pick up a bottle since Czig is now distributing cans and bottles throughout New Jersey. The last of the Hackettstown Trio was Jersey Girl Brewing. The beers in the flight were extremely consistent in quality with their King Gambrinus Belgian Tripel standing out to me the most. I’ll most likely be dedicating an entire Draught Diversions post to some (maybe all) of these breweries where I’ll give some more details on each beer I had.

A deep, dark, roust Imperial Stout from Lone Eagle

At the monthly Brews and Board Games at Lone Eagle, I tried their Imperial Breakfast Stout, a malty stout aged on coffee beans then aged in Buffalo Trace Bourbon barrels with some blood orange puree added on the finish. All the characteristics of an excellent stout along with hints of an Old Fashioned thanks to the Bourbon and Orange. The other beer I had was a juicy Pale Ale they call Local Pale Ale.

Possibly the best beer in Flying Fish’s Exit Series – Exit 17

Tröegs Mad Elf is a seasonal favorite and the 2017 batch might be the best yet. Then came Thanksgiving weekend. The first beer is one I’ve been holding onto for a couple of weeks, a beer I was fortunate enough to snag because only 750 were bottled, the final beer (for now?) in Flying Fish’s Exit SeriesExit 17 – Russian Imperial Stout, which might be the best beer of the month for me. This is probably the best beer in the Exit series, too. 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 also had the new version of Southern Tier’s Warlock, which they changed from previous years and unfortunately, not for the better. They dropped the ABV from 10% to 8.6% and the whole flavor is different, it doesn’t taste too much different than Pumking, which isn’t bad, just not what I was hoping to have. The last beer on Thanksgiving is the beer I reviewed earlier in the week, Stone’s Xocoveza Imperial Milk Stout.

The last Saturday of the month of new brews  were enjoyed at Revolutions a fine Craft Brew bar Morristown, NJ. I met up with a friend who lives in Morristown. We’d visited the bar before and were impressed with the beer list and menu, with its heavy focus on German brats. That night I had two very good beers: Malus from Kane Brewing, in Ocean. This is a Belgian Strong Dark Ale, but the flavor is sweetened by the addition of apple cider. The beer went down very easily for a 9.5% ABV. The other brew I had was one of the best Pilsners I’ve ever had, which was unsurprisingly, from a German Brewery. The beer is Rothaus Pils / Tannen Zäpfle from Badische Staatsbrauerei Rothaus in Baden-Württemberg, Germany. The crispness, freshness and underlying roastiness makes this, in my humble opinion, a world-class Pilsner.

Lastly, the final new beer of November 2017 was last night’s Moo Thunder Milk Stout from Butternuts brewery, which was a little thin and flat for a Milk Stout. I’d seen this on the shelf in area liquor stores for a few years now, it is hard to miss or forget with the big fat cow on the can. Unfortunately, that label is the most appealing element of the beer for me.

I’d have to say the two best beers of the month for me were Exit 17 – Russian Imperial Stout from Flying Fish and the Rothaus Pils / Tannen Zäpfle.