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. .

Beer Review: Kane Brewing’s Cloud Cover

Name: Cloud Cover
Brewing Company: Kane Brewing Company
Location: Ocean Township, NJ
Style: Wheat Beer – Witbier / Belgian-Style Wheat Ale
ABV: 4.8%

A light, flavorful ale from Kane Brewing, the premier NJ brewery, primarily known for hop bombs and big beers. A perfect summer beer!

From the Untappd Page for the beer:

Cloud Cover was brewed with continental pilsner, malted red wheat, unmalted wheat and oats. It was hopped with German Hallertau Mittelfruh with Indian coriander and Curaço orange peel added to the whirlpool. Light in body, dry and refreshing, Cloud Cover is the perfect match for outdoor dining or any activity as the days get longer and warmer.

This week marks the Third Anniversary* of the Tap Takeover so I figured why not take a more in-depth look at the style of beer that launched the blog – a Witbier. Specifically, a Witbier from NJ. I realize Kane has been showing up here quite a bit over the last six months or so, but this is the first standard beer review.

Kane is known primarily for two kinds of beers: (1) IPAs and (2) Boozy, often barrel-aged, dark beers like Imperial Stouts, Quadrupels, and Barleywines. That’s a little bit of why I focused on a “smaller” beer in a style that is relatively taken for granted – a sub-5% Wheat Ale which is stylistically on the opposite end of the beer spectrum. Witbiers have always been a warm-weather/summer favorite, too. Plus, Memorial Day is this coming weekend, so a lot of pieces fell together. Given that preamble, what is the “forecast” for Cloud Cover?

Like most Belgian and Belgian-style beers, the yeast is a very prominent factor in aroma and flavor. A whiff of the cloudy, full-headed beer gives me the earthy yeast aroma I’ve come to expect from Witbiers.

Clean and flavorful…those are the two words that come to mind with the first sip of the beer. Cloud Cover is spot-on for the style and delicious. Witbiers were one of my early introductions to the the craft beer world and maybe because of that, especially over the last handful of years, I haven’t been gravitating towards them. Not out of a dislike, per say, just out of a gravitation to other styles. One thing Cloud Cover has reminded me is that how flavorful and great a well-made Witbier can be. When the yeast, grain, orange peel, coriander, and minimal hopping work together in a harmony of flavor in the way Kane brewed this beer, then you have a beer perfect beer for spring and summer months.

Some Witbiers have a pronounced spice characteristic from the Yeast, or some brewers will add spice to the brew process. Here in Cloud Cover, the spice element is subtle, which for me makes the beer even more of an easier drinking ale. I didn’t get too much of the orange peel in the first can of beer I drank, but there is a complexity to the overall flavor profile that is very pleasing.

The first can I had of the beer was on a warm day on my porch. The fence in the distance surrounds my (at the time, unopened) pool. About the only place better than my porch for this beer is poolside. This beer goes down easy, it gives you great flavor, and is very true to style. It compares extremely favorable to the American Gold Standard for the style, Allagash White.

Kane also brews a raspberry variant of the beer which I imagine would be just as perfect for the coming summer months.

Bottom Line: Cloud Cover shows that Kane Brewing can master many styles, even those “smaller” beers with subtle flavors.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4-star rating.

*For the last two years around this time (end of May) I published an “Anniversary” post. Given the pandemic situation, I’m shying away from a personal “celebration” like that, as meager as it would be.

Draught Diversions: April 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…

Another mostly NJ six pack for April, although a couple of beers lingered from before the Social Distancing began in March. One of the new beers comes Ashton Brewing Company a brand new brewery in New Jersey, whose “grand opening” coincided with the big lockdown. After months of preparation and remodeling the old Demented facility in Middlesex, NJ, Ashton rolled with the punches and did Crowlers and pre-filled growlers to go, as well as local home delivery. More on that, and the six pack for April 2020 below.

Wild Little Thing (Sierra Nevada Brewing Company) | Fruit Beer | 3.75 Bottle Caps on untappd

An offshoot of the “Little Thing” brand I mentioned last month, this beer is sweet and tart. There are a few different fruits in this one, but I get a great deal of strawberry. Almost like if Strawberry Jam were added to a beer, which isn’t a bad thing. This would be a really nice beer to enjoy in the summer.

Firestone 23 (XXIII) Anniversary Ale (Firestone Walker Brewing Company) | Strong Ale – American | 4.5 Bottle Caps on untappd

It seems that whenever I get one of the Firestone Walker Barrel Aged beers, it makes an appearance on the Tap Takeover. This one is no exception and is an extremely boozy, but wonderfully flavored beer. I haven’t had any of the previous Anniversary beers, but I’ve been very happy to see these special, single-bottle releases in my local shops in recent months. A definite slow sipper, which I enjoyed during a work virtual happy hour.

Billy Two Hats (Ashton Brewing Company) | English Mild Ale | 3.75 Bottle Caps on untappd

Ashton Brewing is New Jersey’s newest brewery and they started in an interesting time, but fortunately, they make interesting beer. Steve Ashton has been in the beer/brewing world for years and his craftsmanship shows in this tasty beer. I’ve had very few English Milds, but what impressed me was the complex flavor given the very low ABV (3.5). I’ll be visiting Ashton more in the future and I cannot wait to spend some time in the revamped former Demented Brewing tap room. Based on this beer (and the other I had) Ashton Brewing is off to a great start.

Blue Hotel (Kane Brewing Company) | IPA – American | 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

One of the few positive outcomes of COVID is that some breweries are making more of their beer available to stores and through home delivery. Case in point: Kane Brewing’s Blue Hotel was previously only available at the brewery. This is a delicious, tropical IPA whose potent flavors come from a single hop – Galaxy Hops.

Revolution (Tonewood Brewing) | Porter – Other | 3.75/4 Bottle Caps on untappd

This is the third Tonewood beer for me and third time their beer appears on the Tap Takeover. That’s one way to say they make really good beer. This is a really solid coffee-infused porter with great roast flavor that one expect from a Porter complemented with the roast of coffee flavors. There’s a bit more hoppiness to the beer than I would have expected, but the beer settles nicely. I found myself enjoying the second can of beer more than the first, which I enjoyed a few days apart. Glad I still have a few in the fridge, because this is just simply a well-made porter.

Variabull 010 (Bolero Snort Brewing Company) | Stout – Milk/Sweet | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

I’ve had quite a few beers from Bolero this year and I have to say, this is my favorite so far and maybe the best beer I’ve had since they opened their brewery. I’ve always enjoyed their dark beers more than anything else they brewed and this Tiramisu-inspired stout is outstanding. I like Tiramisu as a desert and the flavors translate so well into a Milk Stout. Layered flavors from Coffee/Espresso, Cocoa, Vanilla, and touch of Lemon at the end make for a beer to enjoy slowly as it is a sumptuous, decadent dessert. At 8% it works really well as a nice night cap to enjoy while (as I did) watching an engrossing movie (The Invitation). Bolero released two other Variabull Stouts at this time, a “dirty banana” version and a mint chocolate version. I only had the banana (not a mint fan) and this one worked far better for me..

Not too much other new beers in April as I was sticking with some older favorites, but some good beers nonetheless.

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: 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)

482 Badges Earned

Draught Diversions: Favorite New Beers of 2019

The third annual roundup brings a slight change. The last two “best of the year” lists focused on the best beers – those I gave the highest ratings. For 2019, while I’ll still have beers with very high untappd ratings, I’m shifting a little bit to “Favorite” beers. What does that mean? Well, there were beers I consumed in 2019 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 2019 that one beer was enough, while some beers I may have rated at a 4.25 I would have multiple times. Or still another way – some movies are incredibly well made masterpieces, but one viewing is enough whereas some movies you love and want to watch over and over or will leave on the TV no matter where in the running time you catch it.

So, let’s get on with shall we?

Another definition for the purposes of this post: 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 2019.

It will come as no surprise that a NJ bias shines through on this list as 5 of the beers are from NJ breweries (last year featured 6 NJ breweries and 7 the first year). Considering more than half of the beer I bought & consumed in 2019 was from NJ breweries, this shouldn’t be a surprise.  I had multiple beers from many breweries and the quality was very consistent across the board for some breweries. However, I was only allowing each brewery to have one beer on the list so for some of the breweries below, the beer on this round up represents my favorite from the beers I had from them. For example, I had over a dozen beers from Icarus Brewing, so the beer on this list from them is what I enjoyed the most from them. As in years past, some of the breweries on this list will not be a surprise to readers of this blog or people who know me

Here’s a Breakdown of the Favorite Beers of 2019 12-pack:

  • 5 from NJ breweries
  • 2 from PA breweries
  • 2 from Belgian Breweries
  • 3 Stouts
    • 1 Pastry Stout
    • 1 Imperial Stout
    • 1 Russian Imperial Stout
  • 2 Belgian Quadrupels
  • 2 IPAs (both are of the New England variety, one is a Double NEIPA)
  • 1 Pilsner
  • 1 Saison
  • 1 Cream Ale
  • 1 Pale Ale
  • 1 Belgian Strong Dark Ale

Without further ado…

12. Post Shift Pilsner | Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers (Framingham, MA) | Pilsner – Other | 4.25 bottle caps

Had to show off Sully! A perfect pint of Post Shift Plisner pleases the palate and is perfect for lounging in the yard with your puppers.

I reviewed this one back in May and havethe had a few times over the year. Simply an elegant and delicious beer. From my review: “The finish has a slightly toasted bready/crackery taste that I associate with Pilsners (and some Helles Lagers, too). I like it, I want more of it. Hell, I picked up a 6 pack on a Thursday and found it hard to not enjoy one of these delicious beers every day of that weekend. When it comes to a wonderfully flavorful beer perfect for any day, a beer that will please both discerning craft beer drinkers with that flavor, while not making non-craft drinkers wary, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better beer than Jack Abby’s Post Shift Pilsner.”

11. Saison DuPont | Brasserie Dupont (Tourpes, Hainaut Belgium) I Farmhouse Ale – Saison | 4.5 Bottle Caps

Sometimes it takes a little while for one to get to the classics. Such is the case with Saison DuPont for me. But when I did finally have a bottle of it, I was supremely impressed. From my review in August: “Saison Dupont is an absolutely delicious beer that is rightfully the measuring stick for every Saison being produced today. All the qualities I’ve had in other saisons are on bold display here – strong yeast character, clean delicious taste, and a transportative element that transcends most other beers.”

10. Swinging the Lamp | Cape May Brewing Company | IPA – Imperial / Double New England 4.25 Bottle caps

Cape May’s been knocking it out of the park all year so it should be no surprise one of their beers lands on my favorite beers of the year list. This beer is a standout for many reason, the wonderful use of hops (Moutere, Raku, and Motueka) which evoke a peachy-pineapple juice bomb. The Kviek yeast (one of the “hot” ingredients nowadays) adds another layer of flavor. Quite simply, this is an outstanding IPA from a brewery for whom “outstanding” is the norm.

9. Cloud Walker Hazy Juicy IPA | Victory Brewing Company | IPA – New England | 4.25 bottle caps

As the New England/Hazy IPA continues to be the hottest style, especially with local/independent brewers, the larger brewers have been making attempts at the style. Victory’s take on the style is probably the my favorite of the larger brewery’s attempts at the style and an overall superb beer. The Citra and Mosaic are *perfectly* blended and the beer is a wonderful, juicy, hoppy delight. I hoped and expected to enjoy the beer, but I didn’t expect to love it as much as I did. Victory really came out strong in 2019 with some of their new beers to go along with their rebranding. More on that in another post.

8. Sneakbox | Kane Brewing Company | Pale Ale – American | 4.50 bottle caps


This past year, I really came to appreciate one of the icons of NJ Independent Brewing – Kane Brewing. I’ve had their beers here and there at bars, but they began self-distributing cans of their beer more widely in NJ, at least their three core beers, Head High, Overhead, and this beer, Sneakbox. This is a delicious, outstanding, juicy pale ale that highlights the full flavor of the ubiquitous Citra Hop…I’d say this could be in contention for best American Pale Ale.

7. La Trappe Quadrupel | La Trappe/Brouwerij de Koningshoeven (Berkel-Enshot, Noord-Brabant, Netherlands) | Belgian Quadrupel | 4.5 bottle caps

Another beer that is essentially the first of its style. The bottle I reviewed was, I think, from 2016 if my interpretation of the date code was correct. Based on that and having a more recently dated bottle, I’d suggest letting this beer sit before opening it. Here’s what I said in my review: “This is an outstanding, world-class beer that really is in a class its own. I’d say it would be a great interpretation of the style but as I recently discovered, La Trappe’s Quadrupel was the first beer with the Quadrupel name back in 1991. So it is the style-namer or “Ur-Quadrupel,” if you will. I know, considering the great brewing tradition in Belgium and of Belgian styles, I thought the style was a bit older than that.”

6. Kalishnikov | Stout – Russian Imperial | 4.25 Bottle Caps

I had quite a few beers from Icarus this year, but two visits to the brewery and a friend getting a job as their taproom manager will help helped to keep the number growing in 2019. I wanted to feature one of their beers on the best of list this year and the thing is – every beer I had from them was outstanding, so I’m going with their big, boozy Russian Imperial Stout. Kalishnikov is a delicious, super-boozy (14% ABV!) stout that doesn’t feel like it has that much alcohol in it. Russian Imperials can be very bitter on the finish, but the addition of honey in the brewing process gives the beer a nice hit of sweetness on the finish. I’ve had one of the barrel-aged variants of this beer, but I think I prefer the base stout more.

5. French Toast Bergen County Bull Stout | Bolero Snort Brewery (Carlstadt, NJ) | – Stout – Pastry | 4.5 Bottle Caps

Bolero Snort cranked out quite a few tasty beers by my standards in 2019 but for me, the top of that list is their delicious dessert variant annual Bergen County Bull Stout. This was a recent review, but managed to stand out very strongly over the 400+ different beers I had in 2019. 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 probably the best I’ve had from them. As their motto says, that is No BS, just ragin’ good beer.”

4. Nitro Regular Coffee | Carton Brewing Company | Cream Ale | 4.75 bottle caps

Over the past couple of years, it has become a New Year’s / Early January NJ tradition to head down to Carton Brewing in the Atlantic Highlands to get whatever variant Augie and company release of their highly coveted Regular Coffee cream ale. This year, I met up with some friends to grab some of this beer. Carton has the best deal of any brewery in NJ in terms of tasters, and I knew I had to bring this one home. Regular Coffee is an “Imperial” Cream Ale made with coffee from local roasters. Put simply, Regular Coffee is the best Coffee beer I’ve ever had. I’ve realized I don’t care for Nitro beers over the past year, but this one bucks that recent trend. I can’t think of a beer that more perfectly utilizes Nitro.

3. Quadraphonic | Barrel of Monks Brewing Company (Boca Raton, FL) | Belgian Quadrupel | 4.5 bottle caps

Quadraphonic was the first beer review I posted in 2019 and even then I had a feeling it would standout as one of my favorites of the year. From my review: “The first sip is delightful wow and does what a good beer should – encourages to you drink more. I found the typical stone fruit flavors to be present, hints of plum and raisin with some figginess, and maybe a hint of cherry too. This is a complex, extremely well-made beer. … Quadraophonic is quite simply, a delicious beer.”

2. Mad Elf Grand Cru | Tröegs Independent Brewing | Belgian Strong Dark Ale | 4.5 bottle caps

Mad Elf from Tröegs is an iconic Christmas beer and an annual tradition for me. This “Director’s Cut” version with the addition of “loads” more tart Balaton cherries was a bit daunting. I wasn’t sure how much I would enjoy a more tart version of the beer, but goddamn is this a delicious cherry-forward beer that still retains ample flavor from the yeast and base ale. Tröegs continues to prove why they are one of my favorite breweries, last year my favorite new-to-me beer was from them and this year, this one is pretty damned close.

1. So Happens It’s Tuesday | The Bruery | Stout – Imperial / Double | 5 bottle caps

Image courtesy of The Bruery’s Facebook. I wasn’t able to snap a photo of the beer in the restaurant

The Bruery is one of the premier California breweries, they specialize in complex beers, often of the barrel-aged variety. That nuance and skill with beer is showcased in this beer, the best barrel aged beer I’ve ever had. Subtle, yet potent notes of the barrel character can be enjoyed throughout finely balanced with the stout character of the base beer. The Bruery recently began releasing cans of some of their beers and I’ve seen single cans of this beer sold in my area, I may need to snag one.

Honorable Mentions – Touchdown (Lager – Munich Dunkel) and Flood (Stout – Imperial/Double) from Jersey Cyclone; 2190 Anniversary Ale (Belgian Quadrupel) and Overhead (IPA – Imperial/Double) from Kane Brewing; Haze (IPA – Imperial/Double) from Tree House Brewing; MooDoo Doll (Stout – Pastry) from Bolero Snort Brewery; Sucaba 2019 (Barleywine – English) from Firestone Walker Brewing Company; Pick Your Own (American Wild Ale) from Allagash Brewing Company; Gunner’s Daughter (Stout – Milk/Sweet) from Mast Landing Brewing Company; Java Latte (Stout – Milk/Sweet) and Twisted Monkey (Blonde Ale – Belgian Blonde / Golden) from Victory Brewing Company; Worker Drone (Cream Ale) from Twin Elephant Brewing Company; and Dunkel Lager (Lager – Munich Dunkel) from Von Trapp Brewing.

I’ll be doing a complementary post – as I did last year – that takes a look at the breweries to impress me the most in 2019, along with some more stats courtesy of untappd.