Draught Diversions: June 2019 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 brought some good beers to me, but what else is new? There’s an abundance of good beer to be had, the toughest part is figuring out which new beers to try. As for this month, it was a return to the usual mix of IPAs and other styles with half of the beers from NJ breweries. What can I say, I’m drinking from local breweries more and more as of late. I wouldn’t be surprised if two of the beers this month make an appearance in my Year End round-up/Favorite beers of 2019.

Weissbier (von Trapp Brewing Company) | Hefeweizen | 3.75 bottle Caps on untappd

von Trapp is one of the premier brewers of German-style beers. While most of their output is on the Lager side of the beer family, a brewery focusing on the German styles has to brew a Hefeweizen, that most German of ales. This is a pretty good interpretation of the style and worth a try.

Beer Geek Breakfast (Mikkeller Brewing San Diego) | Stout – American Imperial / Double | 4 bottle Caps on untappd

I think this was the first beer I had from one of the Mikkeller Brewing companies (there’s a few around the world) and it is just about everything you’d want form an oatmeal stout. Following the now accepted rules of breakfast stouts, this one also has some coffee in the mix, making for a very pleasant bittersweet hit that balances well with the smooth oatmeal elements.

Maibock Hurts Like Helles (Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers) | Bock – Hell / Maibock / Lentenbock | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

A couple of reviews back I featured a tasty bock and I am very pleased I was able to snag this somewhat seasonal bock from Jack’s Abby because it might just be the best Maibock/Helles Bock I can recall having. There’s a beautiful caramel feel to the beer with a slight touch of hops that provides for that ever-overused phrase of balance but damn does this beer provide great balance.

More Cowbell Saison with Pear (Lone Eagle Brewing) | Saison / Farmhouse Ale | 3.75 bottle Caps on untappd

June was the first time in a few months I was able to make it to Lone Eagle for the Monthly Board Game night and I’m glad I did. Always a good time with the group of games. Lone Eagle recently hired a new brewer, Brad Adelson who has experience at two of my favorites, Founders and Victory. This Saison was one of his new beers featured that night. The Saison base beer is good, but I really liked what the addition of the pear to the show brought – a pleasant, sweet, rounded finish. I’m looking forward to trying more of Brad’s beers.

Follow the Gull (Cape May Brewing Company) | IPA – American | 4 bottle Caps on untappd


Cape May Brewing Company consistently impresses me with every beer I have from them. Their IPA game is super strong and the style they are best known for producing. Follow the Gull was initially a one-off for Cape May County’s 325th anniversary but it proved so popular it is now in regular rotation. The Citra and Azacca hops shine most strongly in this one. Not quite a New England style IPA, but definitely more East Coast juiciness than West Coast piney-ness. Delicious.

Overhead (Kane Brewing Co.) | IPA – Imperial / Double | 4.5 bottle Caps on untappd


I’ve said quite a bit about Kane in some of these six pack posts but in all the years I’ve been enjoying NJ beer, I hadn’t had Overhead before this past Sunday. It, along with Head High are the two IPAs that helped but them on the map. This is probably the best Imperial IPA from a NJ brewery I’ve had and I think quite a few people agree. In all the best ways, it reminds me of Dogfish Head’s 90-Minute, but there’s something different enough in the hops used or maybe the malt that sets Overhead apart. It is simply put, an outstanding beer.

Like last month, there were a couple of clunkers, a couple not worth mentioning. However, one really bad beer was Sprecher’s take on a Scotch Ale, a style I normally like quite a bit. This one; however, is the epitome of a drain pour for me and one of the worst beers from a brewery of this size and longevity (founded in 1985) I ever head. There was a very unpleasant smokiness to the beer that was flat out gross.

Draught Diversions: NJ Brewery & Beer Check In

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…

Is the bubble bursting or is the NJ Craft Beer landscape simply maturing? Read on for my take on the subject…

That’s been a “hot topic” of discussion in beer circles, and NJ Beer circles specifically. The third NJ brewery over the last 12 months has closed its doors, in one definition of the phrase. More specifically, these are the first three breweries to open after the 2012 laws passed to have closed. Earlier in the year (April 2019), Rinn Duin brewing became Toms River Brewing. Demented Brewing in Middlesex closed at the end of April 2019 after about a month of very public drama on social media. This past week/early June 2019, Common Sense Brewing in Bordentown closed and is in the process of being purchased/taken over by Tindall Road Brewery out of Robbinsville. Tindall Road didn’t have a location but their website claims the brewery to be active “since 2017” which is probably when they established the name.

Three brewery changes in a few short months is worth noting. One is a blip, two is a little more thought provoking, but could three be a pattern? Or could it just be a coincidence. I’ll provide my perspective of these three brewery changes below.

Demented Brewing Publicly Implodes, Closes

Demented’s closure was the most visible closure in NJ Beer (Beer Advocate forum discussion), it was also one of the first to open and close since the 2012 law passed that enabled breweries to have taprooms and serve beer on premise.  Demented Brewing established themselves in 2015 in Middlesex, NJ where the closest brewery was Harvest Moon Brewpub in New Brunswick. In other words, an area without a nearby brewery. They made some good beer, with some beers that were well-above average (by my ratings, over a 4-bottle cap rating on untappd). Cypress Brewing in Edison, NJ opened around the same time and were the closest brewery, but not exactly convenient for folks looking to make a visit to both breweries. Put it this way, you’d have to get on a congested highway and drive over 10 miles to get between breweries, they weren’t close to each other like the three breweries in Hackettstown, some of the NJ Shore breweries, the breweries in Hammonton, or even the Mount Holly breweries. In short, Demented was largely successful because they were relatively uniquely located and produced better than average product. Kegs were in bars in Central New Jersey and cans and 22oz bottles could be found in bottle shops since they had a distribution deal. In other words, it seemed like they were growing naturally at a nice rate.

Personally, I liked Demented quite a bit and had a quite a few of their beers, visited Demented probably as much or more than any of the NJ breweries since they were a mile or two from where I worked, close to where a few friends live, and close to my brother-in-law’s house. My first review here on the Tap Takeover also happened to be of one of their beers. In participating a few NJ beer online circles (NJ Craft Beer, reddit/njbeer, and Beer Advocate’s “Mid-Atlantic” forums), the consensus about the beer seems to be that it was good enough that Demented could have had a relatively lengthy lifespan. NJ Food writer Pete Genovese anointed Demented the best brewery in NJ when he did his Best Brewery tour in NJ. While that selection was rather controversial, at the very least, the “win” gave Demented some attention.

Demented Brewing’s problems were financial in nature in that they had difficulty paying taxes and didn’t always pay their employees. No matter how good the product is, the government won’t let you continue if you don’t pay your taxes. The employees won’t want to keep working if they don’t get paid. Just watch Bar Rescue. Sadly, some good people were working at Demented. Demented also had two annual Bottle Clubs – one for sours, one for stouts – almost like a subscription. Many who paid up front will not see the beer they paid for and will likely not see that money again.  All told, a sad end to what was a pretty good thing.

Rinn Dúin becomes Toms River Brewing

I knew very little about Rinn Dúin brewing aside from knowing they opened in 2014 at the early stages of the NJ Craft Beer boon. This was just 2 years after the big 2012 law passed. Their focus was on English and Irish styles as the name Rinn Dúin might imply and the brewery even temporarily closed in mid-2018 at one point. Having started in 2014, their reach in the State didn’t quite expand the way some other breweries who started at the time did, or even to the extent that Demented did who started a year later. In other words, much of what I say here relative to Rinn Dúin is from a bit of a remove.

From what I was able to surmise from some online posts, it seems they went bankrupt, but made good beer, just not styles that were lighting the world on fire.

I don’t know how embedded in the local bar scene Rinn Dúin was, whether they were able to get the kegs into bars in Toms River and neighboring locals. I assume they were since they’d been in business for nearly 5 years before changing over to Toms River Brewing. They may have done some brewery-only or super-local bottle/can releases, but they didn’t seem to expand beyond Ocean County, NJ from what I was able to observe. Rinn Dúin did seem to have a nice partnership/business relationship with local minor league baseball team Lakewood Blue Claws, which is the kind of thing you’d hope to see between “small” businesses.

Scrolling through Rinn Dúin’s facebook page, it appears they were fairly active in the community, had yoga nights and musicians; many things a lot of successful breweries do. On the other hand,, not many people were talking about the brewery outside of an occasional mention in a thread like “Unspoken NJ Breweries” in the Beer Advocate discussion forums (and the updated/2019 thread). As recently as February (two months prior to the name change/takeover), this brewery was still making and pouring beer as Rinn Dúin, whichh is when I had their tasty cream ale Sweet Nothing at the Meadowlands Beer Expo.

I think the name change is good and gives the brewery more of a local flavor. There was a press release earlier in the year about the buyout that reads a bit on the corporate/business side with talk of a “vertical integration plan.” The original name, Rinn Dúin, while not bad might work in a more mature beer landscape or even a beer landscape from the early 90s. Much as I enjoy a Guinness and a good Irish Red Ale like Great Lakes’ Conway’s Irish Ale, Irish/English styles aren’t the most popular/sought after styles. I realize Rinn Dúin had a more diverse output than that. Again, my observations are from quite a distance and relatively superficial.

What I can say about the name change / re-branding / relaunch is from a similar remove, but the observations are positive. Toms River Brewing is already canning their beer with canning giant Iron Heart Canning. They’ve been relatively active on social media and it looks like there’s potential for this brewery. With Icarus Brewing in somewhat nearby Lakewood (14 miles away), visiting one of these breweries might compel people to visit both breweries.

Common Sense Brewery Closes, Purchased by Tindall Road Brewery

This is the most recent brewery closure and marks the third over the last four months. I do have some more knowledge of Commons Sense Brewing than Rinn Dúin, at least. I visited Common Sense in November 2018 as part of my birthday brewery tour. In fact, Common Sense was the last of six breweries our group visited that day. The brewery looks great from the outside, is extremely well-placed in downtown Bordentown, NJ (a very underrated downtown), and has a very nice and inviting taproom.

But then you get the beer.

I had a flight and what I had was subpar, at best. A very thin Porter that tasted on the edge of being skunked, a decent Pumpkin Ale (helped by the spice rimmed glass) and what, in hindsight, seems strange – two brown ales. Brown ales are fine, in general, but not a style that you’ll typically see more than once on a daily taplist from a brewery. One of the brown ales I had was OK, but the other was outright undrinkable. Easily the worst beers I had that day out of the six breweries, but to be fair, three of the other breweries are relatively established award-winning breweries (Spellbound, Neshaminy Creek, and Village Idiot) and one a well-respected “elder statesman” of NJ brewery (Forgotten Boardwalk) so the comparison may be a little unfair. On the other hand, bad beer is just bad beer no matter how you cut it.

Common Sense was open for less than two years. If some of the comments on social media from locals and people who claim to have relatively intimate knowledge of the brewery are to be believed, than it seems like there was almost a Bar Rescue situation going on with at the brewery. People giving beer away, monetary issues, and a lack of knowledge about making good beer and running a business.

I only learned about Tindall Road Brewery a day after I learned of Common Sense’s closure, so hopefully there’s a positive outcome for whatever this brewery ends up being called. Third State Brewing who celebrated their fourth anniversary this month (June 2019), less than 10 miles away in nearby Burlington, helps to make this area a soft destination for beer fans. Tindall Road has been posting some of the progress of their takeover on their facebook page.

Side note – interesting naming for the two closed breweries – Demented and Common Sense. Almost a harbinger of things to come.

All is Not Dire, Quite the Opposite!

Despite these three brewery closures, I would argue that the bubble is not bursting at all as some might argue. I would even suggest that the “bubble” metaphor isn’t appropriate at this point and rather landscape is appropriate. A landscape implies a longer life span while a bubble implies something not very long-lasting. Quite simply, the New Jersey Craft Beer landscape is maturing. While there have been small independent breweries and brewpubs in the state for twenty or more years like High Point/Ramstein, Cricket Hill, Harvest Moon Brewery (where I had my wedding rehearsal dinner) and so forth – the landscape was really reborn, or reseeded to continue with a landscaping metaphor, with the aforementioned 2012 law change.

What happens when things mature? Things fall off, things change, things evolve – people lose their baby teeth, caterpillars weave a cocoon around themselves and emerge as a butterfly. The independent/craft beer scene is doing just that, I’d posit. Breweries not strong enough to survive and going by the wayside could even be seen as a healthy feature of something that is maturing and evolving. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if, before the year ends, another brewery or two goes through a closure/buyout/takeover like the three I highlighted in this post did..

You could also call this a “Brewing Darwinism” of sorts – the strong breweries are surviving, breweries like Kane Brewing, Carton Brewing, Icarus Brewing, Cape May Brewery, River Horse, and Flying Fish of the NJ beer scene. Hell, Cape May split into two companies, a brewery and a distributor. What further shows the strength of the NJ Beer Landscape is how some of the breweries that have opened are from people with experience at breweries like Kane, JJ Bittings (one of the oldest brewpubs in NJ), and Flying Fish. Additionally, breweries like Lone Eagle (Flemington), Bonesaw Brewing (Glassboro), and Mudhen Brewing (Wildwood) are attracting brewers with experience at leading, respected breweries like Dogfish Head, Founders Brewing, Victory Brewing, Funky Buddha, and New England Brewing Company to brew beer in New Jersey, brewers who have received awards. With just over 100 breweries in New Jersey, that is still a relatively small number of breweries compared to the population of the State.

Just two weeks after Demented closed in Middlesex, Jersey Cyclone opened about a mile or two away in Franklin Township/Somerset, NJ. Having visited Jersey Cyclone three times since they opened on May 4, 2019, I can say that I’m pretty impressed with their output, but more about one of their beers later in the week.

It isn’t just Jersey Cyclone having recently opened. Breweries continue to open in New Jersey on an almost weekly basis. Equally as important to a maturing landscape is that existing/established breweries are expanding – Flounder Brewing in Hillsborough is moving to a barn (or group of barns) not far from the current location that will provide them far more space. Angry Erik in northwestern New Jersey just moved into a facility they built after about five years in an office park. Lone Eagle in Flemington is expanding, by constructing and another building for manufacturing on their lot. There’s been word for at least a year that Conclave Brewing in Raritan/Flemington increasing capacity. Perhaps the most exciting thing for many NJ beer fans, longtime mainstay Bolero Snort is in the middle of building their facility in Carlstadt, NJ after years of gypsy brewing.

So yeah, the New Jersey Beer landscape is maturing, evolving, and still growing and healthy DESPITE the most recent legislative roadblock thrown in front of the breweries. But that problematic legislature is another topic.

At this point in the NJ Beer/Brewery landscape’s maturation; however, breweries more than ever need to produce better than average beer, not just passable beer. They need to brew beer that makes people come back for more. This is, of course, in addition to being smart about owning a business. Because the NJ Beer Consumers palates are maturing alongside the brewery and beer landscape.

 

Draught Diversions: February 2019 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…

Like January, I tried a solid batch of new to me beers in February and some I’d been wanting to try for years. Three New Jersey beers, three non-NJ beers this month for a fairly balanced selection of styles. One of these beers happened to be perfectly timed for #FlagshipFebruary, a nice initiative meant to shift focus from Hot! Special! releases to those iconic beers that helped lay the foundation for the American Craft/Independent beer market.

Arabicadabra (Bell’s Brewery)  Stout – Milk / Sweet – 4 bottle Caps on untappd

The very first new beer of February makes the list, setting a good tone for the month. Since Bell’s hit NJ last year, I’ve been making my way through their portfolio and this was part of a mixed six pack my wife picked up for me. I guessed correctly that it was a stout when she presented it to me just in the glass. There’s a nice sweet hit to the coffee in this milk stout that hits all the right notes for a coffee milk stout.

Black Butte Porter (Deschutes Brewery Company) Porter – American – 4 bottle Caps on untappd

A dark restaurant at a table with 7 people is not conducive to good beer photography.

Visiting Vegas on a work trip makes for good possibilities, including the opportunity to finally try one of the flagship beers (timely enough for #FlagshipFebruary) from one of the largest independent/craft breweries of the American West. This is an excellent porter. Even though the beer was about a year old according to the date stamping, the flavor held up quite nicely. I’d really like to have this closer to the “best by” date for comparison sake and to try the beer in its best possible sitiuation. As it stands, I can taste why this porter is held in such high regard.

Bluffing Isn’t Weisse (Bad Beat Brewing) Hefeweizen 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

I’m always on the lookout for a good Hefeweizen so I was pleased to see one of the bars near the hotel carrying this beer. Maybe because of the glut of IPAs and darker beers I’ve been having, this Hefeweizen hit the spot really nicely as I was reminiscing with a former colleague. It was a clean, tasty beer that had a nice clove/banana profile. Plus, this was a local beer from Nevada.

Milk Chocolate Stout (Lone Eagle Brewing) Stout – Imperial Milk / Sweet – 4 bottle Caps on untappd

Good ol’ Lone Eagle, one of the two closest breweries to my house. For the first time in a few months (travel and weather cancellations) I was able to attend Board Game night at Lone Eagle. I had this beer at the Great Beer Expo at the Meadowlands earlier in the month and liked it enough that I was hoping Lone Eagle would have some cans for sale at the brewery. Sure enough, the fridge had some relatively fresh four packs canned at the end of January. The beer has a really nice chocolate flavor, but doesn’t lose any of the traditional stout flavors. It represents nicely in both cans and draft.

Social Mosaic (Dark City Brewing Company) Sour – Berliner Weisse 3.75 bottle Caps on untappd

This might be the most surprising beer of the month for me, for two main reasons. I’ve had a small handful of beers from Dark City and they’ve honestly been hit (their 1st anniversary brown ale is outstanding) or miss. Mosaic is a hop I usually don’t like. Part of another mixed six my wife got me, she poured a bit into the glass and I was thrown off. I smelled the hops foremost, but tasting the beer, the sour elements prevail. The mosaic and lactose mix really nicely in this beer for a extremely well balanced sour that doesn’t overpower form any of the elements in the beer.

Exit 9 – Hoppy Scarlet Ale (Flying Fish Brewing Company) Red Ale – Imperial / Double 4 bottle caps on untappd

Outside of a Flying Fish glass, what’s more appropriate than a Rutgers pint glass for this beer?

One of my favorite brewing projects in New Jersey is Flying Fish’s Exit Series of beers. There were 18 beers in total in this series, each signifying a NJ Turnpike Exit. This beer is for Exit 9, New Brunswick, NJ and home of my alma mater Rutgers University whose mascot is the Scarlet Knight. Red Ales typically aren’t in my sweet spot, but the blend of hops in this one makes for a very tasty beer. Centennial is one of the hops and it really stands out. The beer is a nice sweet maltiness to the beer and a tasty hop finish. This beer is like an amped up version Flying Fish’s year-round red ale Red Fish. However, Exit 9 should still be available in Flying Fish’s current Exit Variety Pack but probably not after that.

Draught Diversions: September 2018 Six Pack

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

September should be the start of cooler weather, with stouts on the horizon. September is most definitely the start of Oktoberfest and this month’s post features one prominently. For the September 2018 Six Pack, three New Jersey beers are featured.

I found myself going for more NJ beers this past month in general. For the first time in a couple of months, one beer really disappointed me.

Always Ready (Cape May Brewing Company) Pale Ale – American – 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

I continue to be impressed with the output from Cape May Brewing Company. I’d seen a few posts about this beer on untappd, Twitter, and Instagram and was intrigued especially when I learned Always Ready was brewed in honor of the United States Coast Guard as Cape May has been home to the USCG’s sole training center since 1982. CMBC offers a $1 discount off pints for active-duty and retired USCG members, year-round. As it so happens, Myke Cole is one of my favorite authors and one of the best human beings I have the privilege of knowing. Among the many things Myke has done was serving in the USCG. I toast this beer to Myke and recommend you all get and read his books. Click on his profile and that shall lead you to some great, powerful fiction to read while enjoying an Always Ready, or any time for that matter. (Gemini Cell might be his best, IMHO).

Here There Be Monsters IPA – American (Demented Brewing Company) – 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

It has been far too long since I had a beer from Twin Elephant and this juicy IPA just about made up for it. They’ve brewed this beer in the past, but decided to can it with some gorgeous can art. The beer inside, which evokes those juicy citrus and tropical notes that so many IPAs do nowadays, lives up to the dark and lovely can art. Bottom line: a great IPA from a relatively young brewery with a reputation for brewing great hop-forward ales.

30th Anniversary Imperial Oyster Stout (Great Lakes Brewing Company) Stout – Oyster 3 bottle Caps on untappd

This one is disheartening because nearly every other beer I’ve had from Great Lakes Brewing has been very good. More to the point, I liked them all and consider a few of their beers classics, so I was happy to see a nice big stout as their anniversary beer. You might think oysters in a stout would be bad, but they can be an interesting adjunct (as in Flying Fish’s Exit 1 Bayshore Stout). Unfortunately, this one didn’t work too well for me and I could barely finish it, there was a very strange aftertaste I found displeasing.

Marzen German Style Lager Märzen (Lone Eagle Brewing) – 3.75 bottle Caps on untappd

I had the beer on draught, but Lone Eagle was selling it in 4packs of 16oz cans.

I has been a few months since I last visited Lone Eagle for board game night, but as it so happened, the night I went was shortly after their Oktoberfest debuted. I enjoyed last year’s batch a great deal and this year’s was almost as good. A really tasty, straightforward lager that does exactly what an Oktoberfest lager should.

Bourbon Barrel Aged Troegenator Dopplebock (Tröegs Independent Brewing) 4.75 bottle Caps on untappd

I’ve been wanting to try this bee for a few years now and I was never able to find it near me, but this year I saw it my local bottle shop. I figured this was a great beer to share with my dad for his birthday and he liked it just about as much as I did. The base beer, Troegenator is a classic and probably the most readily available doppelbock on the East Coast of the US. The Trogner brothers took a great beer and leveled it up considerably. What makes this beer so special is how the barrel aging doesn’t sacrifice any of the bock character of the beer. Some of the characteristics are enhanced – the sweetness (but not too much), the caramel hints, and the maltiness. The aroma is inviting and the beer is nearly perfect. This is one of the five or ten best beers I’ve ever had, probably.

Special Double Cream Stout (Bell’s Brewery) Stout – American 4.25 bottle caps on untappd

I continue to be extremely pleased Bell’s is now distributing their delicious beers into New Jersey. There isn’t anything flashy about this stout – no adjuncts, no flavor additives like coffee or barrel aging. Nope, just 10 malts that beautifully evoke notes of coffee and chocolate, for a sweet stout that is pure delicousness.

So, September is in the book and October is here. Will I dive into some pumpkin beers in October? Only time will tell.

Draught Diversions: December 2017 Beer Pours

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

With December, the Winter Ales and Stouts are filling the shelves. Many filled my glasses and comprise a majority of the new beers I enjoyed this December.

As has been tradition with my wife and I the last decade or so, on the first Saturday of December, we tag our Christmas Tree at a local farm with our friends and celebrate with brunch and adult beverages. This year, my friend had a Six Point variety pack, including Resin, their Double IPA and Sweet Action their blonde. I’ve come to realize I’m just not a fan of much of Six Point’s output. Later in the week, at a work dinner, I had a fine New Jersey brew: Philoso-Rapper, a Belgian Strong Golden Ale from Departed Soles out of Jersey City, NJ.

I stopped at Flounder and picked up a growler of Delta House Stout, their tasty interpretation of a Milk Stout, to bring to a gaming session. At that same session I had some Viking Blood mead, also quite good. I need to explore the world of mead more thoroughly. One of the pleasant surprises of the month was a solid Pilsner from Industrial Arts Brewing, Metric, which was part of a recent Wegman’s Craft Your Own 6 Pack.

I dove fully into the Christmas/Winter Ales having this year’s version of Anchor’s Anchor’s Christmas Ale beer and Rogue’s Santa’s Private Reserve. Anchor’s was good, but I enjoyed previous recipes/iterations more, the 2017 batch was stronger on some spices that didn’t quite work for me. Rogue’s revamped Santa beer, on the other hand, I found to be excellent. A sweet cherry Dark Strong Ale, the beer was perfect as a dessert beer and reminded me of Ommegang’s Rosetta, but without the sourness. Also from my 6 Beers of Christmas Future (2017) was  Two Roads’ Holiday Ale one of the more unique holiday / Christmas beers I’ve had. There’s an interesting malt/sweetness to the beer that really sets it apart.

The Thursday before Christmas was the monthly Brews and Board Games at Lone Eagle. This brewery continues to impress me with how the beer has been getting better and more consistent over the past year. First up was their Abbey Road Dubbel, a fantastic interpretation of the classic Belgian style. The second beer I had was one of their staple brews, 007 Golden Rye Pale Ale, the first Rye beer I’ve had in a while and the first one I can remember enjoying this much. I think I need to reassess this style, particularly the German interpretation known as Roggenbier.

Abbey Road Dubbel on the left, 007 Golden Rye on the right

Finally, Christmas arrived. Well, Christmas Eve, which is when we get together with my side of the family. Christmas Day is spent with the In-laws. Fortunately, I’m not the only person who enjoys craft beer either day, so for years I’ve been bringing special beers to share on both days. I started off sharing possibly the best beer I’ve had all year with my dad, Goose Island’s 2017 Bourbon County Brand Stout. As I have the past few years, I brought a local growler to share with everybody, in this case it was Demented Brewing’s Gluttony and incredible coffee stout that is perfectly balanced. Just as good (if not better) than Firestone Walker’s Mocha Merlin. Unsurprisingly, the growler did not survive the night. My dad also brought out a bomb of Founders Doom the IPA entry in their Barrel Aged series. This is one of the best, smoothest, most balanced IPAs I’ve ever had.

On Christmas Day, I had the Corsendonk Christmas Ale my folks gave to me as a gift the night before. I can taste why this is such popular, traditional beer around Christmas Time. This is a very solid interpretation of a Belgian Strong Dark Ale. The other Christmas beers I brought was 10 Lords a Leaping from the Bruery. This beer tasted like the best parts of a Witbier and a stout amalgamated into one beer with lots of spice complexities.

The final week of 2017 brought still more beers. I had a bottle of Chimay Blue, the Belgian Trappist brewery’s Strong Dark Ale which is a wonderful World Class ale. As I said in my Tuesday review, one of my team members at work got me a 4-pack of Spellbound’s Porter aged on Palo Santo Wood as well as their fantastic IPA. Spellbound’s IPA had the perfect balance of hops and malt. I continued my trek through Flying Fish’s Exit Series with Exit 7 Pork Roll Porter at Hub City Brewhouse, a local tap house in New Brunswick, NJ. Unlike another pork infused beer from a NJ brewery I had earlier in the week, Flying Fish’s beer was really well balanced with the right amount of spice and flavor from the pork roll. The other beer was a fantastic Belgian Brown ale from Leffe.

Lastly, New Year’s Eve for the last beers of 2017. The last few years, my wife and have been going to our friend’s house and just about everybody brings their own beer, but everybody winds up sharing. In addition to a six-pack of Victory’s Prima Pils, I’d been holding a Chocolate Bock from Samuel Adams for a couple of weeks and figured New Year’s Eve the right time to have it. I’ve had the beer in the past, but not in a very long time, long before joining untappd. It was as good as I remembered it. I also had a Wet Dream from Evil Twin Brewing, a brown ale with coffee and Flower Child IPA, a well balanced brew from Cambridge Brewing Company.

So there you have it. The “new to me” December 2017 beers. If I’m calling out the best, the top would definitely be Spellbound’s Porter aged on Palo Santo Wood, Founders’ Barrel-Aged IPA Doom and Demented Brewing’s Coffee Stout Gluttony. I’m excluding Bourbon County Brand Stout since I’ve had a previous year’s version.

Coming next week, my top 12 new to me beers of 2017.

 

Draught Diversions: November 2017 Beer Pours

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

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

Proper Glassware x2, snifters with the iconic Brooklyn brand

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

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

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

Hop Ritual w/ Vic Secret

As I’ve been doing with more regularity, I stopped into my local brewery, Conclave in November since they released a couple of new beers, both of which were very good. The first was a fall porter, Transcendent Leaf Peeping. The other new beer was a variation on their Hop Ritual Pale Ale. This one is called Hop Ritual with Vic Secret, so named for the strain of New Zealand hops used in the beer. I wasn’t expecting to be as blown away by this beer as I was, but it was so delicious I had to bring home at least a half-growler for myself.

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

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

A deep, dark, roust Imperial Stout from Lone Eagle

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

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

Tröegs Mad Elf is a seasonal favorite and the 2017 batch might be the best yet. Then came Thanksgiving weekend. The first beer is one I’ve been holding onto for a couple of weeks, a beer I was fortunate enough to snag because only 750 were bottled, the final beer (for now?) in Flying Fish’s Exit SeriesExit 17 – Russian Imperial Stout, which might be the best beer of the month for me. This is probably the best beer in the Exit series, too. Not content with brewing a Russian Imperial Stout, Flying Fish aged this one in Dad’s Hat Rye Whiskey bottles. Although I’ve come to love beers aged in bourbon barrels, allowing this beer to sit in Rye Whiskey bottles helps to set it apart from its barrel-aged brethren. Flying Fish’s description says this is a “one of a kind” beer and I’d be hard-pressed to dispute the claim. I also had the new version of Southern Tier’s Warlock, which they changed from previous years and unfortunately, not for the better. They dropped the ABV from 10% to 8.6% and the whole flavor is different, it doesn’t taste too much different than Pumking, which isn’t bad, just not what I was hoping to have. The last beer on Thanksgiving is the beer I reviewed earlier in the week, Stone’s Xocoveza Imperial Milk Stout.

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

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

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

Draught Diversions: October 2017 Beer Pours

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

October, the month for Oktoberfest beers and Pumpkin Beers. A time when Porters and Stouts are becoming more prominent on the shelves. There are always many good beers to be had, but I do love porters and stouts. That’s the variety of beers I had for October, Pumpkins and Stouts, mostly.

I started the month off with an interesting beer from New Belgium, part of their Lips of Faith series of beers called Clutch. My wife picked up the beer for me since we are fans of the band Clutch, who they partnered with New Belgium for a that is a melding of styles – 80% Stout / 20% Sour. Sour beers are probably more hit or miss for me than any style since the flavor profile can vary so much, but this one worked quite well for me. Since my brother-in-law is also a big fan of Clutch, I shared the beer with him, though I think I enjoyed more than he did since I finished what I poured for him.

Next up on the new to me beer list for October was a very tasty Dunkelweizen from Veldensteiner, a German Microbrewery whose beers recently appeared in NJ. I’d get this one again for sure and will be trying the other offerings from this brewery over the next few weeks. I’ve been enjoying the majority of Flying Fish’s Exit Series of beers, so I finally got around to trying Exit 18 – Baltic Porter which was quite good. This a very dark porter with a nice hit of sweetness, though a little stronger on the licorice than I typically like. Baltic Porters tend to be a little more bitter than standard porters, but the high ABV (9.5%) in this one, I think, smoothed out the bitterness. Although this one was a 750mL bottle, I wouldn’t be surprised (and hope) that Flying Fish reissues this one in 12oz bottles either in 4-packs or part of their annual “Exit Series” Variety pack.

The monthly “Brews and Board Games” meeting at Lone Eagle was a little earlier for October, falling on the 12th. I had a few of their beers I hadn’t previously tried in the flight (from left to right, below): Belgian Pale Ale, which I thoroughly enjoyed, enough that I ordered a pint of it after the flight; ESB, which was tasty; New England Chowdah, their take on an New England IPA which didn’t quite do it for me; and Tropical Stout which was OK for what it was (a stout with some pineapple/coconut flavors), but just not for me. I may pick up a four-pack of the Belgian Ale on my next visit to the brewery.

Lone Eagle Flight: Belgian Pale Ale; ESB; Chowdah (NE IPA), Tropical Stout

I went into detail about the O’Fallon Pumpkin Pack last week as well as Blackbeard’s Breakfast a couple of weeks ago. A couple of annual releases were next to be pulled from my refrigerator: this year’s version of Two Roads’s Roadsmary’s Baby is just as tasty as it was last year. Founders’ released their Breakfast Stout in October and it is always a must-get stout for me. There were more notes of coffee than I remember from past iterations of the brew, but a solid sipping beer nonetheless. I may let one of the bottles to age for at least a year.

A beer I’ve been looking forward to trying since seeing it announced was the latest installment of Victory Brewing’s Blackboard series, Black Forest Cake with Cherries. I’ve enjoyed most of the beers I’ve had in this series to varying degrees, I think I only missed the Agave IPA and the Oatmeal Porter with Hazelnut. This one was quite good, though a tad more on the bittersweet end of chocolate than I expected. I would even say this is a tamer, sweeter version of their popular Storm King stout (a big Imperial Stout with a 95 IBU and one of the few Victory brews I don’t like too much). The chocolate and cherries really balance the bitterness in Black Forest Cake with Cherries and makes for a really tasty beer. Like the Saugatuck Blueberry Maple Stout I reviewed at the beginning of the month, I found myself enjoying the second and third beers (each days apart from each other) more than the first.

My wife stopped at a bottle shop on her way home and picked up a couple of beers I never had, but definitely style-wise are in my wheelhouse. Continuing the Pennsylvania theme, one was a beer I’ve been seeing and intending to try was Crunch from Manayunk Brewing Company, which is a peanut butter chocolate porter. Boy did the peanut butter assert itself. This beer is one that is so potent with the flavors that just one is fine for the night. I’ve been eyeing other beer quite a while, too: Skull Splitter from Orkney Brewery in Scotland. This is a fantastic, sweet, bold, and malty Scotch Ale. I may review this one in more detail, but suffice to say, a lovely Scotch Ale.

The last weekend in October, I happened to try four new beers during a Chili Cook-Off I was judging. I picked up a six pack of another beer I’d been looking forward to since I learned of its release, Mocha Merlin from Firestone Walker as my “beer to bring.” Dear lord what a sublime and perfect stout this is. All the flavor goodness of coffee without the accompanying bitterness some coffee stouts bring. I’ve had the Nitro Merlin Milk Stout and the Velvet Merlin Oatmeal Stout in years past so I had high hopes for this variant on the Velvet Merlin “brand.” Mocha Merlin is just so damned good, it really is tough for me to say which of those three I enjoy the most.

Don’t judge the red Solo cup

Since this Chili Cook Off attracts quite a few people (between 50 and 80 every year), there are a lot of different beers floating around. One of my friends’ guests happens to live 7 minutes from Victory Brewing and he brought three growlers of delicious beer from Downington, PA. The first I had was Whirlwind Witbier an excellent Witbier that, despite the growler being filled the day before, was still quite good and pretty fresh. I could swear I had this years ago, long before joining untappd, although I haven’t seen it in stores recently. The other two Victory brews were Vital IPA and Hop Devil. My aversion to IPAs is waning so I tried both and enjoyed Hop Devil much more with its maltier profile. I can definitely see why this beer helped to establish Victory’s outstanding reputation.

I closed out the month with Winter is Here, the latest Game of Thrones beer from Brewery Ommegang, but you already read about that on Tuesday. A very consistent month for new beers, there weren’t any that were drain pours and all were quite good. On to November! With November 2 (today) as Stout Day, the stout season is officially here. The best beer of the month for me was the Mocha Merlin, so I’ll probably have at least one of those on Stout Day.

Cheers!