Beer Review: Kane Brewing’s Pumpkin Spice Morning Bell

Name: Pumpkin Spice Morning Bell
Brewing Company: Kane Brewing Company
Location: Ocean, NJ
Style: Porter – Imperial/Double | “Imperial Milk Porter”
ABV: 9.2%

Kane’s fall spice addition to their popular Milk Porter is a delicious treat.

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From Kane’s Instagram post for the beer:

Pumpkin Spice Morning Bell, brewed in collaboration with Rook Coffee, is our 9.2% Imperial Milk Porter conditioned on Rook’s dark roast coffee and their aromatic blend of fall spices. Last year was the first year releasing Pumpkin Spice Morning Bell, and we’re excited to have it back since it was such a crowd favorite.

Kane has made many appearances here at the Tap Takeover, but this is only the second full-out review I’ve posted of one of their beers.

Morning Bell is one of Kane’s most popular beers – a top 5 beer on untappd for them, and their top dark beer. The base beer is a “Milk Porter” meaning a porter made with lactose and as this is a coffee-infused beer, coffee is also part of the ingredient list. In this case, Kane uses coffee beans from Rook Coffee, one of the more respected independent coffee roasters in New Jersey. Over the years, Kane has brewed and released several variants (the Morning Mocha variant was one of my top beers last year). With the overwhelming popularity of the PSL (Pumpkin Spice Latte) and pumpkin flavor, Kane all but had to do this variant.

The beer pours a little thicker than I would expect a porter to pour, which is not a bad thing. I get some of those pumpkin spice aromas, particularly cinnamon.

The first sip…wow. Impressive and gives me the autumnal vibes. As I said, I’ve had the base version of this beer (Morning Bell) in the past and one of the elements that carries over to this variant is the smooth creaminess of the beer. Michael Kane and his brewing magicians have such a great hand with many things and with the Morning Bell family of beers that deft hand comes through in adding the perfect amount of lactose. That creaminess also balances out the coffee portion of the beer, too.

The more I drink this beer, the more I enjoy it. The “pumpkin spice” flavors come through even more deliciously. I’ve come to realize I’m not a big fan of nutmeg and even that spice works in the beer for me. This all points to the balance on the overall flavor profile of Pumpkin Spice Morning Bell. By the time I’ve finished the last drop of the beer, I’ve come to realize this might be the best “Pumpkin Spice” or Pumpkin adjacent beer I’ve ever had.

Like many of Kane’s beers, this one is available only at the brewery.

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Highly Recommended, link to 4.5 bottle cap untappd rating check in.

Draught Diversions: August2021 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…

2021_Aug_SixPack

The last full month of summer brings an interesting mix of beers I’ve chosen to highlight. A couple are here more for their uniqueness rather than how much I enjoyed them. Frankly, a big source of my summer beer consumption is pulled from the beer brought to the house on the Fourth of July as I’ve noted in previous round-up posts for July and August. Overall, 2 Barleywines (yeah, in the summer no less!), 1 Lager, 1 Pale Ale, 1 Pilsner, 1 Berliner Weisse, with 4 NJ beers.

Stacking Casks (Kane Brewing Company) | Barleywine – English | 4.5 Bottle Caps on untappd

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They say summer is for lagers and summer crushers, but this is the 3rd new Barleywine I’ve had since memorial day and it is outstanding. The majority of barleywines I’ve consumed have been from Kane and they’ve all been great, this one might be the best. I like the subtle elements from the cognac/wine aging. There’s some hints of fruit and spice as well.

Watercolors Creamee – Raspberry, Blueberry, Cheesecake, Cream & Milk Sugar (Skygazer Brewing Company) | Sour – Fruited Berliner Weisse | no rating on untappd

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This beer is one of the rare beers I did not rate on untappd. I can’t say I enjoyed this beer, but it was interesting and worth mentioning. I like Berliner Weisses quite a bit, but this liquid…I’m not sure how it is considered beer. The only thing this seems to have in common with beer, in the Tap Takeover’s humble opinion, is that it is liquid with a percentage of alcohol content. I never thought I’d have a beer made with cheesecake, but this was a leftover from 4th of July so I figured I’d try it.

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The quote from Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum’s character in Jurassic Park) comes to mind, but apply it to brewers: “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should” These “smoothie/smoovie/smoojie” beers are very popular and some of the most sought after styles, but not with the Tap Takeover.

Ray Catcher (Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers) | Lager – American | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

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I think I found my favorite “new to me” beer for the summer because this is a superb lager. Jack’s Abby never fails to disappoint me and this beer was better than I expected it would be. Extremely refreshing and flavorful, the addition of lemongrass gives the beer a citrusy cooling finish that epitomizes what a warm-weather beer should be. I hope this one comes back in summer 2022 in a 12 pack.

Corned Beef Pale Ale (Spellbound Brewing Company) | Pale Ale – American | 3.5 Bottle Caps on untappd

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Here’s another beer making an appearance more for the novelty than the quality. It isn’t a bad beer at all, but it sure is an interesting beer not quite like any beer I’ve had before. Unlike that red thing I highlighted at the top of this post, this actually tastes like a beer. I enjoyed it, but I’m not sure I could have more than one or two of the beers. The pickling spices definitely play well with the hops and really smack the taste buds.

Fraxinus Maple Syrup Barrel Aged (Ashton Brewing Company) | Barleywine – Other | 3.75 Bottle Caps on untappd

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A fourth barleywine for the summer, courtesy of Ashton Brewing. I enjoyed the non-barrel-aged version last month and I picked up this bottle a couple of months back (along with a second bottle for Father’s Day for my dad). There’s a really nice balance between the hop bitterness and sweetness from the maple, with the maple emerging more as the beer warms. That said, I think I liked the non-barrel-aged version slightly more.

Lagerhythm (Brix City Brewing) | Pilsner – Other | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

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Brix City is known primarily for their fruited sours and IPAs, so I was quite pleased to see this “Continental” Pilsner appear in one of my local beer shops. I was very impressed with this beer, which is extremely flavorful at such a low ABV. The beer doesn’t disappoint and shows that the of the brewers of Brix City are extremely talented across styles, especially a style whose (potential) mistakes can’t be hidden with adjuncts and more hops.

Like I said, the pickings were a bit slimmer with new beers this month. With the summer and pool open, I tend to refill the cooler with familiar beers and favorites.

Draught Diversions: May 2021 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…

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May was a month for a plentiful amount of new beer. I was fortunate enough to enjoy so many good new beers that I had a tougher time choosing six than I have in quite a few months. A nice mix of styles, a brewery or two appearing in the Monthly Six Pack for the first time or first time in a while. This marks the third month in a row with a Barleywine, third month in a row without an IPA, and first time in a two months without a new Pilsner. Only one of these beers was purchased a liquor/beer store (the lone non-NJ beer), the other five were purchased directly at the brewery, with four of those enjoyed at the brewery. Is that too granular of an analyzation?

Saint Alphonsus (Bull ‘n Bear) | Belgian Dubbel | 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

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Had a meet up in Summit, NJ on the first day of the month and we had time before our restaurant reservations so of course we stopped at the neighboring brewery. This is the 3rd beer I’ve had from Bull ‘n Bear and each style has been very tasty. This Dubbel is a very impressive interpretation of the style from Bull ‘n Bear.

Vanilla Maris (Timber Ales/Horus Aged Ales/Mindful Ales) | Barleywine – English | 4.50 Bottle Caps on untappd

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Here I am again with the third beer I’ve had from a brewery…what a fantastic Barleywine this beer is. The English Barleywines are more malty and sweet compared to their hoppy cousins from America and often exhibit hints of toffee in the flavor profile. This beer does indeed have that element to it, which plays wonderfully with the vanilla beans on which the beer was aged. Another standout from Timber Ales.

Morning Bean 2020 (Kane Brewing Company) | Porter – Other | 4.5 Bottle Caps on untappd

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With the world slowly emerging from the Pandemic, a couple of friends and I decided to visit Kane’s Biergarten. Morning Bell is a superb Coffee Porter and they release variants every year. I missed out on the bottle release of this one, which takes the beer and conditions the liquid on Bourbon Vanilla Beans. This beer is an unbelievably delicious porter.

Paddy’s House Kölsch (Source Brewing) | Kölsch | 4.75 Bottle Caps on untappd

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…and after Kane, we visited Source, which was a first for us. A beautiful setting, a warm day, and a cold beer with friends. Well, I saw good things about this beer on untappd and I was not disappointed. The is beer is the winner of a homebrew contest, and there’s no question of the quality. Of the 30 beers on untappd I’ve had categorized as “Kölsch,” this is at least the best American version and maybe the best period. This was zlow-poured to allow the flavors to express themselves even more potently, some malt/breadiness with a crisp finish that has some hops and a wonderful mouthfeel. This is everything I want in a beer.

Blackberry Frukt (Conclave Brewing Company) | Farmhouse Ale – Other | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

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I took a quick drive to Conclave to grab one of the very limited bottle releases (likely to be mentioned in next month’s six pack) and of course had to have some freshly poured beer. I was glad to see this beer still on tap because it was absolutely perfect for warm weather enjoyment. Conclave calls this a “Norwegian Farmhouse Ale” because of the Kviek yeast which brings fun flavors to the beer, but they went further and finished the beer on fresh blackberries for a really special beer.

Triple 5 Phat Crispy (Twin Elephant Brewing Company/Five Boroughs Brewing Company ) | Lager – American | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

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Twin Elephant is celebrating their fifth year this year and they’ve canned a few beers, including this one, the first Lager they’ve packaged. Brewed in collaboration with Five Boroughs Brewing, this beer is just about everything a fan of flavorful Lagers could want in a beer. Refreshing, tasty, a delicious crusher. A contender for my favorite beer from the folks from Chatham, NJ.

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Draught Diversions: April 2021 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…

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April means Easter (most years) and hints of warmer weather. The darker beers (traditionally) start to fade and the lighter fare begins to emerge; Golden Ales, Pale Lagers/Pilsners, etc. Well, Pilsners are always at the forefront here at the Tap Takeover (two this month), and 5 out of 6 beers this month were crafted at New Jersey breweries. A couple of the usual suspects, a returning guest, and two breweries making their first appearances in a monthly six pack (even if they’ve both been mentioned a few times over the years).

Santa Lucia (Angry Erik Brewing) | Belgian Strong Golden Ale | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

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It has been a very long time since I’ve enjoyed a beer from Angry Erik Brewing. Since my visit to them back in 2017, they moved into a facility they built and increased their production. When I was in the area, I figured I’d grab some beer to share on Easter and this delicious Belgian-Style Golden Ale was perfect for the spring day. This beer is extremely flavorful, the sweetness from the honey works very nicely with the Belgian-style yeast. The 9.7% ABV is very well hidden.

Rewal (Jersey Cyclone Brewing Company) | Pilsner – Other / Polish Pilsner | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd
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Since they opened, Jersey Cyclone has been brewing fantastic lagers and this “Polish Pilsner” is hands down my favorite Pilsner from the Somerset brewery. What makes it a “Polish” Pilsner? The hops – Lubelski – are from Poland. This beer is light but very tasty and hits all the notes a Pilsner should hit (a little crackery/bready, a bit of hops, and refreshing) and is worth the wait for a slow pour at the tap or out of your can.

Slugger (Sly Fox Brewing Company) | Pilsner – Other | 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

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Sly Fox is one of the great Pennsylvania breweries, unfortunately not much of their output makes it to my area/region of NJ. So when I saw this Pilsner (a maroon/baby blue/white can for Phillies), brewed largely for on site consumption at Citizen’s Bank Park (and a black/gold can for the Pittsburgh Pirates), I immediately ordered it. I was very pleased with the balance of hops and malt and overall finely crafted flavor of the beer.

Object Permanence (Aramagnac Barrel-Aged 2020) (Kane Brewing Company) | Barleywine – English | 4.5 Bottle Caps on untappd

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Barleywines aren’t on the shelves very often, so when I placed an order with Kane, I had to add this and another variant of the same beer. I’ve never heard of Aramagnac before getting this bottle, but essentially it is a brandy-like liquor which is a byproduct of wine. The beer is smooth and sweet, the barrel imparts some fruitiness which works really nicely with the toffee character of an English Barleywine. Do I really need to state again how great Kane’s barrel program is?

Boat Ramp Champ (Cape May Brewing Company) | Lager – Helles | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

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Being on Social Media can be a good thing. You get to see beers months ahead of their release to the public, like this Helles Lager from Cape May Brewing Company. They don’t brew/can/distribute many lagers, but when they do, they do them well (Cape May Lager from a couple of years ago; my new summer go-to, Tan Limes; and their annual Oktoberfest), so I was really looking forward to trying this one and I was absolutely not disappointed. This is one of the best Helles Lagers I’ve ever had, a fantastic American interpretation of the classic German style, and it might be my favorite beer from Cape May Brewing Company.

Morning Meeting (Untied Brewing Company) | Porter– Imperial / Double | 3.75 Bottle Caps on untappd

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This is one of the beers from Untied Brewing I’ve wanted to try since they opened and I learned about it. Essentially, with the maple syrup, coffee, and cinnamon, this is a breakfast beer. Very flavorful, the vanilla brings all of the elements together quite nicely. My only real issue is that the body of this beer is somewhat thin. The second can of the 4-pack I had a week later sat with me a little better. I may have noted that I tend to enjoy beers even more the second time I have them since I kind of know what to expect and that theory proved true with Morning Meeting.

Another month in the books! Nothing really lousy like past months so I’ll end it here.

Draught Diversions: March 2021 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 Ides of March…have passed and I’ve assembled my March 2021 Six Pack. For the first time in a very long time (maybe ever), all the beers here are from NJ breweries. I didn’t necessarily plan that, but I’m not upset about it either, because there’s some really good beers here. Mostly from the usual suspects and frequent breweries, but one brewery I haven’t mentioned in a very long time (years).

Upside Downside (Icarus Brewing Company) | Schwarzbier | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

Yet again, the folks at Icarus make a beer that I need to talk about. This beer makes two consecutive months with a Schwarzbier and damn if this isn’t an outstanding take on the style. Extremely flavorful with elements of sweet malt, hints of smoke, and the nice crisp lager finish. This could be an all-day drinker for me.

Beach Badges (Ashton Brewing) | Lager – Dark / Czech Dark Lager | 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

Another dark lager? Yes! Apparently, over the last few months I’ve really been taken with dark lagers, as the posts on this blog may attest. Ashton’s take on the Czech Dark Lager is fantastic, which isn’t surprising given the quality of the lagers I’ve had from them. This beer has a sweet breadiness, I’d almost say toasted, fluffy, buttered pumpernickel bread not unlike Kane’s Hollow Sea which made a Six Pack appearance in November 2020. As soon as I learned of this beer, I had to have it and I’m damned glad I picked up a six pack.

Port Omna – Blended Stout & Bourbon Barrel-Aged Stout 2021 (Kane Brewing Company) | Stout – Imperial / Double Milk | 4.75 Bottle Caps on untappd

For St. Patrick’s Day, Kane releases Port Omna, their take on the Irish Dry Stout (which I’ve enjoyed in the past), they also release some variants. I grabbed two of the variants and this one was not just the better one (not that the other was bad), but it quickly climbed the list of my top barrel-aged beers. Granted this beer is a blend of milk stout and Barrel-Aged stout, but it is truly divine, with hints of maple syrup, coffee, and chocolate.

Thunder in the Distance (Jersey Cyclone Brewing Company) | Barleywine – American | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

A trip to Jersey Cyclone led me to this beer, a really nice barleywine with hints of sweet toffee intermingled with the strong hop presence. This beer reminds me of Sierra Nevada’s iconinc Bigfoot Barelywine, but with a more mellow hop presence, which is fine by me. In talking with owner Jan, he hinted that there might be some of this beer sitting in bourbon barrels for a future release. Sign me up for a bottle now, please!

Peitsche (Carton Brewing Company) | Pilsner – German | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

When Carton Brewing expanded their production facility, it coincided with more lagers, specifically Pilsners. Augie and his crew have been brewing regional takes on the style, with the Whip American Pilsner as the base, they’ve brewed and canned an Italian, Czech, and now this German Pilsner which is just great. There’s a slight slap of hops on the end that reminds me of Victory’s Prima Pilsner which is not a bad thing by any means.

The Imperial: Freedom Toast (Cypress Brewing Company) | Stout – Imperial / Double Oatmeal | 3.75 Bottle Caps on untappd

It has been quite a long time since a beer from Cypress Brewing made an appearance (December 2018), but this one was worth mentioning. This beer, as the name implies, is Cypress’s take on what a French Toast inspired beer might taste like and this beer mostly succeeds. I like the maple and cinnamon, but I’ve come to realize I don’t care for nutmeg. Aside from how thin the beer was, it was quite good.

So there you have it, a really good selection of beers this month. There were a few clunkers, too, but they weren’t offensive enough to mention.

Draught Diversions: January 2021 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 first six pack of 2021 brings some of the usual suspects (specifically, a brewery who appeared on every January Six Pack so far. In addition to that, some interesting beers, including one from an old favorite, all of which amount to the usual mix of NJ and non-NJ beer.

And a Jelly (Carton Brewing Company) | Cream Ale | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

New Year’s Day in the world of NJ Craft Beer means Carton Brewing and their annual release of their latest “Irregular Coffee” variant. Augie and his crew take their famous Regular Coffee Cream Ale and make a variant, this time around they decided to add some raspberry purree, making the standard convenient breakfast fare of a coffee and jelly doughnut amalgamated into one beer. I liked this one quite a bit, but I wouldn’t have minded if the raspberry was a little more assertive.

UDDR: Our Princess Is In Another Cowstle (Bolero Snort Brewery) | Sour – Fruited | 3.75 Bottle Caps on untappd

As I noted in my review of Bolero Snort’s Mele Kalikimakow, the brewery has considerably upped their game in Sour beers and this beer is a an example of that. Peach, Cherry, and Lactose make for an extremely sweet beer, but a beer that also maintains an appreciable level of tart/sour. This beer is part of Bolero’s “Video Game” series of Sour beers, UDDR.

Nitro Crème Brûlée (Southern Tier Brewing Co) | Stout – Imperial / Double Milk | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

For many years, Southern Tier was one of my go to breweries, especially their Blackwater series of big beers. I’ve had the non-nitro version of Crème Brûlée and it is one of the most decadent beers I’ve ever had. The nitro works well in this beer, those flavor elements are nicely complemented by the nitro. I need to get myself more of their big beers, because Southern Tier is really accomplished on this front.

Peanut Butter Yeti (Great Divide Brewing Company) | Stout – Imperial / Double | 3.75 Bottle Caps on untappd

This is the second variant of Great Divide’s legendary Imperial Stout Yeti and like the regular and Mexican variety, it is an extremely well-made beer. Peanut Butter is a tricky adjunct because it is so potent and can be overpowering. Great Divide does a really nice job because the Peanut Butter is very assertive, but it isn’t a bludgeon to the palate.

3288 Anniversary Ale – Barrel-Aged German Chocolate Stout (Kane Brewing Company) | Stout – Other | 4.75 Bottle Caps on untappd

Special occasions call for special beers, so when I received a very nice promotion at work to start of 2021, I knew I was going to celebrate with Kane’s 9th Anniversary Stout (3288). I was fortunate enough to get this beer (and their other anniversary beer, a Quadrupel/Strong Ale also excellent) on the Eventbrite sale in November. So what is this beer? It is Kane’s (extremely successful) attempt emulating German Chocolate Cake in Beer form, a blend of barrel-aged stouts conditioned on Madagascar-bourbon vanilla beans, cacao nibs, toasted coconuts and pecans. This stout is one of the most decadent, richest, thickest, delicious barrel-aged stouts I’ve ever enjoyed. All those aforementioned elements are expressed in the beer both as a blend and individually – or another way, perfectly. Kane has a reputation as the NJ best brewery for many categories, including Barrel Aged beers and this beer just proves that to be true, an outstandingly crafted ale.

Uncharted Waters – Blueberry and Cinnamon (Jersey Cyclone Brewing Company) | Sour – Fruited | 4.5 Bottle Caps on untappd

 

I’ve been a fan of Jersey Cyclone Brewing since they opened a couple of years ago, their lagers and stouts are superb and they make tasty IPAs. However, this Blueberry/Cinnamon sour ale, Uncharted Waters, might be the best I’ve had from them. Lactose is added to balance out the tartness and sour elements for an outstanding beer. The beer reminds me of a blueberry crumble or blueberry cinnamon pie in beer form. Simply a delicious beer. Jersey Cyclone brews a few different fruited variants of Uncharted Waters, which I must now try.

 


There was one letdown of a beer; however. The beer is from a brewery’s whose beer I’ve enjoyed, but this one was a miss, Forgotten Boardwalk’s Dark Ride a “Black Chocolate Stout.” I like stouts, chocolate, and salted chocolate, but something tasted off in this beer or the beer interpretation of the sweet and salty candy just didn’t work for me.

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: Christmas (in NJ) 2020 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…

As I’ve been doing since I started The Tap Takeover, I’m presenting an assortment of interesting looking Christmas beers in my six pack format. Since I’ve been focusing more attention on local/NJ breweries since the Pandemic than in previous years, the Christmas 2020 Six Pack is all NJ beers. I’ve only had one of these beers, but they all look really tasty to me. Also, I’ve had beer from all six of these breweries and enjoyed them all. As is most often the case, I’m putting these in alphabetical order by brewery.

Figgy Pudding | Barleywine – English | The Alementary | Ithaca, NY | ABV 5.7%

Image courtesy of The Alementary’s Facebook

Figgy Pudding is a traditional British Christmas dessert and that’s what the Alementary is looking to emulate with this beer. At 9.1%, this beer would seem to me to be a dessert sipper to enjoy while opening the Christmas gifts after dinner. I like figs and many barleywines already evoke fig flavors, so this beer seems a natural concoction for Christmas enjoyment. I think the beer changes slightly from year to year, ao here’s The Alementary’s write-up from 2019.

What Alementary says about the beer in 2020:

Big sweet bready malt, with a full range of supporting characters from light toffee to low chocolate. Fruit aromas of apricot, date, significant fig. Flavors of holiday fruitcake with massive malt structure. Figs for days, with supporting apricot. Date and Prune are secondary.

Cheer | Brown Ale – American | Bonesaw Brewing Co | Glassboro, NJ | ABV 7.4%

Image courtesy of Bonesaw Brewing’s Facebook

Bonesaw has been open a couple of years and I’ve seen only great things about the South Jersey brewery. Some of their cans have been popping up here in Somerset County so hopefully this joyful looking ale makes it to shelves near me. Looks like a classic American take on a dark/brown ale but with some added spices, the way I read the description.

What Bonesaw Brewing says about the beer:

Now that the leaves have turned and fallen and the days are getting shorter and colder, we see the holiday season is here again. We made for you this Christmas ale to wrap up all the warm, familiar flavors and aromas into your cup of Cheer: a brown ale stuffed with orange, cocoa and winter spices.

Boughs of Barley | Cape May Brewing Company | Barrel Aged Quadrpel | Cape May, NJ | ABV 12.6%

Image courtesy of Cape May Brewing Company’s Facebook

”Boughs of Barley” is an annual release from Cape May Brewing Company, but it changes every year. Last year was a Baltic Porter, the year before an Imperial Stout. For 2020, There are two releases, each a Quadrupel, but they are aged in different barrels. I’m a big fan of Quads so I may try to snag one of these if I see them, I’d probably lean towards the Grand Marnier barrel.

About the beer:

It’s the most wonderful time of the year: it’s time to deck the halls with Boughs of Barley! Our annual holiday offering, this year we’ve taken our insanely delectable Belgian quad and laid it to rest in some gigantic Portuguese sherry puncheons and a few incredible Grand Marnier barrels, each lending its own character to the base beer, adding layers and layers of complexity.

For this year’s Boughs of Barley, we took our rich and robust Belgian-style quadrupel ale and laid it to rest for many moons in barrels previously aging a well-known orange liqueur. A carefully layered grain bill fermented with our favorite fruity Belgian yeast, we’ve created a robust brew for your holiday season. Ample conditioning time in the orange liqueur barrels yields a well-rounded body with strong notes of orange peel and toasted marshmallows, making this orange liqueur barrel-aged Boughs of Barley our holiday treat for you.

Ginger Snap Cookie | Cream Ale | Forgotten Boardwalk Brewing | Cherry Hill, NJ | ABV 5.5%

Image courtesy of Forgotten Boardwalk Brewing’s Facebook

Forgotten Boardwalk does a very smart thing…they’ve got their popular Funnel Cake Cream Ale and they use it for multiple variants. The Christmas version is this appealing beer, Ginger Snap Cookie with all the holiday spices in the mix. I may need to snag a 4 pack.

What Forgotten Boardwalk Brewing says about this beer:

Bright and zesty, smooth yet not too sweet. Ginger Snap Cookie is a simple vanilla cream ale brewed with ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, orange peel and clove to evoke the spicy savory flavor of the classic holiday cookie.

Malus | Belgian Strong Dark Ale | Kane Brewing Company | Ocean, NJ | ABV 9.5%

Malus is the only beer in this six pack I had and I thought it was very good. I had it a few years ago on draft and there’s enough of the beer elements to keep it a beer, but there’s a lovely apple cider flavor to the beer, too. Well worth seeking out.

What Kane says about the beer:

Malus, our 10% Belgian-style dark ale was the first beer we bottled back in 2012. We wanted to create an alternative to pumpkin beers, so we chose a warm spiced apple cider as inspiration. We source locally pressed cider from Delicious Orchards that we boil down and reduce into a syrup to replace the dark candi syrup we typically use. We then added orange zest, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove and allspice to the kettle and fermented it with our house Belgian yeast. Malus is one of our more unique and interesting beers and is ideal for this time of year as it will warm you up with every sip.⠀

Winter Ale | Cider – Graff | Untied Brewing Company | New Providence, NJ | ABV 7.3%

Image courtesy of Untied Brewings’s Facebook

Untied has been brewing a “Winter Ale” each of the last three years since they’ve opened and this one seems the most interesting. Previously, they’ve brewed a straightforward Winter Ale and a Saison, but this one, as a cider ale blend, could hit the holiday spot perfectly.

What Untied says about the beer:

Wassail(Hot mulled Cider) inspired Graff (Cider/Ale Blend) brewed with Apple Juice, Nelson Sauvin hops, Chardonnay grape must, apple juice, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla bean, orange peel, molasses, and brown sugar.

It is an apple and cider forward Ale with notes of winter spices.

Not a bad, varied selection of beers, if I do say so myself.

Draught Diversions: November 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…

November brought a copious amount of new beers, thanks in part the annual Birthday Beer Tour my wife took me on this year in Northeast New Jersey. I’ve already written about Four City Brewing in Orange, NJ but we also visited Brix City in Little Ferry, NJ (one of their beers I reviewed earlier in November); Seven Tribesmen in Wayne, NJ; ate dinner at the Gaslight Brewpub, and finished our journey at Ashton Brewing. I’ve had several delicious beers from Ashton over the last year, but that day was the first time I enjoyed a beer in their outdoor biergarten.

Even in addition to that, I was fortunate enough to have a wide variety of beers thanks to some work colleagues and my dad. Enough of a prologue, let’s dive into what I had and enjoyed.

Campfire Amplifier (Dogfish Head Craft Brewery) | Stout – Milk / Sweet | 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

It has been quite a while since I had a new to me Dogfish Head beer (almost 2 years ago), but 90 and 60 minute are good ubiquitous beers I’ve enjoyed throughout the year. When I saw they were brewing and bottling a milk stout with cinnamon, graham crackers, and marshmallow, I knew I wanted it. I’m glad I grabbed a six pack because this is a fine beer. I enjoyed the second bottle a couple of nights later and liked it even more. The marshmallows bring sweetness while there’s a little kick from the cinnamon (I would have even liked more of a kick) makes this a nice beer.

Hollow Sea (Kane Brewing Company) | Lager – Euro Dark (Tmavé Pivo/Czech Dark Lager) | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

 

Although primarily known for barrel-aged ales and IPAs, Kane brews across all styles so when I saw a Dark Lager I’d wanted to try in the past finally hit cans and distribution, I wasn’t going to miss out on this beer. As readers of the Tap Takeover might know, I love lagers, but  Ihaven’t had too many of the Czech Dark variety (or Tmavé Pivo as known across the pond). This beer is delicious with the bready malts evoking toasted pumpernickel (and that may be a visual connection because the beer’s color) with a low ABV of 5.5% Not many American breweries are producing and packaging Czech Dark Lagers, but more should.

Berry Noir (Boulevard Brewing Co) | Sour – Fruited | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

Boulevard is a brewery whose portfolio of beers is impressively diverse, but getting their delicious beers in NJ is a game of hit or miss. Fortunately, a work associate who lives near Kansas City was kind enough to send me a box of beers from them, including this absolutely delicious fruited sour. For all the sweet and tart berry flavors in the beer, there’s a crisp apple element, as well. In addition to the outstanding taste, it is always cool to have a purple beer.

Toasted Coconut Flood Stoud (Jersey Cyclone Brewing Company) | Stout – Imperial / Double | 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

Last year, I had Jersey Cyclone’s Flood Imperial Stout (and I have it every time I visit the brewery and it is on tap), it is a stout using only the core four ingredients and is comparable to Sierra Nevada’s Narwhal. Earlier this year, Jersey Cyclone bottled two variants, a chocolate cherry version, and this bottle which is fantastic. The toasted coconut is mild, but present and is a nice balance to the extremely potent hop presence. I’m hoping the Chocolate Cherry version is still available because I think I need to try that.

Unfiltered Pilsner (Jester King Brewery) | Pilsner – German| 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

Jester King is one of the more well-known breweries out of Texas so when my Dad was able to procure a can of their Unfiltered Pilsner, I was intrigued because I’ve never had a Jester King beer and I like Unfiltered Pilsners. This beer is a well-crafted Pilsners, very flavorful and makes me wish more breweries would release/package unfiltered Pilsners. This one is crisp and bready and does what a Pilsner should do.

Welcome to Jersey City 2020 (902 Brewing) | Stout – Imperial/Double| 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

After about 5 years in the business of brewing beer, 902 Brewing opened their facility (production plus tasting/tap room) earlier this year. To commemorate their opening,  902 brewed this delicious Imperial Stout. I got a bottle of this for my dad for his birthday in September and he spoke highly of it and one of my friends who snagged a bottle also enjoyed it, so with my proverbial arms twisted, I figured I just had to grab a bottle for myself. I was extremely impressed with this beer, the malt brings a very sweet flavor profile with hints of chocolate and there’s a lesser hop presence than I would have expected. I’m looking forward to visiting their taproom in Jersey City and enjoying more beers from 902 Brewing

Only one really bad beer, and it was one of the worst I can remember having in quite a while. Even More Coco Jesus from Evil Twin was a mess of a beer, too many flavors blended very poorly. There’s maple syrup in the beer and it tasted like sour, bad, maple syrup. This was one of the most undrinkable beers I’ve ever had. I had one of their “More Jesus” beers last year and it tasted like burnt olives mixed with nail polish remover, so I think I’m done with that line of beers.

Until next month, Cheers!

Draught Diversions: June 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…

June has rolled in and out, the pandemic continues, as does my focus on local/New Jersey beers. One non-NJ beer in this six pack, but some of the usual suspects from NJ made an appearance in June. A pretty decent mix, style-wise, with two IPAs. Despite my recent Lager Leanings, most of the lagers I’ve been enjoying (outside of those I’ve recently reviewed) have been past favorites.

Here in NJ, restaurants and breweries have opened for outdoor consumption, which accounts for the last beer in this six pack. Hopefully I’ll have the opportunity to visit some breweries in July for outdoor communal consumption.

Fuego (Tonewood Brewing Company) | IPA – American | 4.5 Bottle Caps on untappd

In the few beers I’ve had from Tonewood, I’ve yet to have a bad beer. This straight up IPA may be the best I’ve had from them yet. There’s an absolutely perfect hop blend giving the beer both a citrus/juicy component, but also the hallmark bittering and slightly piney components often associated with West Coast IPAs. I brought a six pack to a socially distanced poker game and wound up drinking three of them myself the beer was so damned good. I know Kane is considered the IPA King of NJ (and rightly so), but Tonewood’s Fuego is outstanding and probably one of the best IPAs brewed in The State of New Jersey, at least that I’ve had the pleasure of drinking.

Picture in Reverse (Kane Brewing Company) | Old Ale | 4.75 Bottle Caps on untappd

Speaking of Kane, this is a beer I picked up at the brewery when I visited in September 2019. Old Ales are an interesting style in that they are often a blend of beers with strong malt and molasses character – those two elements are on prominent and delicious display in this beer. I’ve noted many times that Michael Kane and his crew are masters of the art of barrel-aging beer and that refined craftsmanship is the highlight of this beer. The bourbon-barrel notes are in elegant, perfect harmony with the big malt character of this potent ale. I think Picture in Reverse is an annual release for them so I’m hoping to get a bottle of it this year.

4th Anniversary (Czig Meister Brewing Company) | IPA – Imperial / Double New England | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

Unfortunately, the pandemic prevented Czig Meister from having their 4th Anniversary party, but they still brewed a potent and delicious Imperial New England IPA to celebrate. This is a fantastic beer with wonderful tropical fruit notes all over the place and a nice hop bite to balance out the sweetness. What was most surprising is how easily it went down for a beer at 10% ABV.

Köastal Kölsch Style Ale (Tom’s River Brewing Company) | Kölsch | 3.75 Bottle Caps on untappd

Toms River Brewing (f/k/a Rinn Dunn) is a brewery whose beers I’ve been wanting to try more of, and a brewery I’m looking forward to visiting. My neighbor decided to have us over one evening for some beers and conversation. Much to my pleasure, he grabbed a four pack of this crusher. I liked it so much I had two cans that evening. This is a really nice beer for the summer lounging.

Light & Sweet (Carton Brewing Company) | Cream Ale | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

To say that Regular Coffee is one of Carton’s most beloved beers is an understatement. It is a “franchise” or “brand” within the portfolio, or as Augie says of the variants, the “Regular Coffee” Game. This one is about half the ABV at 6% and there seems to be more sweetness than the standard “Regular Coffee.” This version is Nitro which gives the beer some good body and is simply delicious. Almost as good as the original Regular Coffee, except this one won’t sneak up on you and smack you on the back of the head with a baseball bat with a high ABV. In other words, you can have a couple and still be relatively OK.

Tanker Truck Sour Series: Persian Lime Gose (Two Roads Brewing Company) | Sour – Fruited Gose | 4.5 Bottle Caps on untappd

This was the first beer I had at a bar/restaurant since the pandemic. In NJ, outdoor dining was permitted and fortunately, one of our favorite places, The Stirling Hotel, has ample outdoor dining. As for the beer, this Persian Lime Gose might be one of the best Goses I’ve ever had and one of the best I’ve had from the consistently excellent folks at Two Roads Brewing. The lime was perfectly tart and sweet, the touch of salinity brought it all together. I could drink 50 o of these on a hot day as it is eminently refreshing.

Plenty of good beers, the only one that really didn’t work for me was Cowfee Break from Bolero Snort, a coffee porter. The taste was off and it was rather thin for the style. .