Draught Diversions: Octoberfest 2021 Six Pack

This is the fourth annual Oktoberfest Six Pack (and fifth Oktoberfest feature overall), but clearly, Oktoberfest 2020 is unlike any we’ve experienced. For starters, the second year in a row, the annual celebration of Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese’s marriage was cancelled due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. Like last year, that hasn’t stopped the Festbiers and Märzens from being brewed and packaged. Four years into “constructing” these six-packs and I’m still able to find new malty, amber lagers to highlight every year. Of the beers featured here, I’ve had two, but only a taster of one and small portion from a crowler from another.

From last year: A note on the difference between Festbiers and Märzens. Festbiers are generally lower in alcohol and more close to a light copper color as opposed the the amber coloring of a Märzens. The story goes that the beers served at Oktoberfest in Bavaria were dropped in ABV slightly to sell more beer without making the attendees too inebriated. For me, whatever style a particular brewery calls their amber/brown lager they sell as “Oktoberfest” or some variant of the name, is a highlight of the beer year for yours truly. Most of the beers you’d find in Germany during the festival would actually be Festbiers, while those with the “Oktoberfest” moniker are mostly the American-ized versions.

On to the Six Pack!

Festbier (Festbier) | Bitburger Brauerei | Bitburg, Germany | 6.2% ABV

Bitburger is one of the larger German breweries and back in 2019, they collaborated with Sierra Nevada on a Märzen and I thoroughly enjoyed that version. I figured since I’ve been enjoying Sierra Nevada’s solo Oktoberfest beers the last couple of years, I should give Bitburger’s a try.

What Bitburger says about the beer:

A seasonal edition, available from August each year for a limited time: our Bitburger Festbier – tasty, full-bodied and delicately malty-mild. Created by our brewmasters to enjoy the traditional German beer festival atmosphere. A very special malt composition, including Pilsner Malt, Münchner Malt and light Caramel Malt, accounts for its fine color and smooth body. Additionally, the beer is refined with Bitburger’s proprietary and unique hop blend called ‘Siegelhopfen’ (seal hops), which is sourced from a farm just a few minutes from the brewery. This drinkable 6.2% ABV full-bodied beer is the perfect marriage of hops and malt with a slightly sweet backbone, while finishing dry.

OxtoberFest (Märzen) | Bolero Snort Brewery | Carlstadt, NJ | 5.3% ABV

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It has been a while since Bolero Snort was featured here at the Tap Takeover, but with their increased production thanks to their awesome facility they are finally brewing and canning an Oktoberfest. Their Raging Bull Amber Lager is quite tasty so I’m hoping this one will be of equal quality.

What Bolero Snort says about the beer:

Who’s ready for OxtoberFest🍺!!!! We are happy to announce our latest release, right in time for the end of summer. This Marzen style lager was made as a Pro-Am Collab with our long time friend C3 Brewing😎. So grab your alpine hat and lederhosen’s and get on down to your local store to try out OxtoberFest👍!!!

Festooning (Märzen) | Grimm Artisanal Ales | Brooklyn, NY | 5.7% ABV

I’ve had a couple of Grimm’s lagers over the past few months (including a fantastic Vienna Lager), so I’m hoping their take on this most traditional of German lagers reaches NJ.

What Grimm says about the beer:

We are so excited to release Festooning, our first Oktoberfest Märzen-style lager. Like our pilsners, this amber lager was brewed with a traditional step mash process. The grist is a rich combination of German Vienna and Munich II malts that give warm notes of honey, caramel, and a fresh-baked loaf of seeded bread. Malty-sweet flavor with a crisp body and a subtle balancing bitterness make this an über satisfying Oktoberfest.

Mr. Oktoberfest (Märzen) | Icarus Brewing Company | Lakewood, NJ | 5.4% ABV

I shared a crowler of this one a couple of years ago, so I’m hoping cans of this one make it out to distribution again. As a NY Yankees fan, how do I not like a beer with this name and great can art?

What Icarus says about the beer:

Our 5.4% traditional German Lager was brewed with German Vienna and Dark Munich malts, then delicately hopped with Hallertauer Mittlefrueh. After Lagering for over a month in our tanks this enticingly malty yet easy drinking beer brings notes of Freshly Baked Bread, Caramel and just enough noble hops to mellow out the experience. Just in time to enjoy in your Beer Tent, this amber medium bodied beauty demands we say Prost and enjoy!

Drachenstadt – Festbier (Märzen) | Levante Brewing Company | West Chester, PA | 4.8% ABV

Levante gets some distribution here into New Jersey so I’m hoping I’ll see this beer. With a dragon theme in the beer and the label, I feel extremely compelled to try it.

Levante says this about the beer:

To go toe-to-claw with a dragon it helps to possess courage, even if it’s in liquid form. With a selection of five specialty malts, cold fermented and lagered to perfection, our Marzen style beer brings forth a depth and drinkable character not usually found in today’s festbiers. You’ll have courage to spare!

Ramstein Oktoberfest Lager (Märzen) | Ramstein/High Point Brewing Company | Hackettstown, NJ | 6% ABV

ramstein_Oktoberfest2021

Perhaps the most traditional and iconic Oktoberfest brewed in NJ. Like many of the beers brewed out of High Point Brewing in Butler, NJ, this was only available at the brewery. Last year, Ramstein canned the beer for the first time and sent the cans out to some stores in the State. I’m hoping that happens again this year, because I only had this beer once, many years ago at a beer festival but it left a strong impression.

What Ramstein says about the beer:

Inspired by the authentic German Oktoberfest beer from the early 1900s. This amber lager has a rich malty aroma, a smooth toasty palate, and subtle noble hop finish.

The richness and spiciness of this beer makes it the perfect accompaniment to robust meats and grilled fare. Ramstein Oktoberfest is a great beer for any festive occasion.

Beer Review: Two Ton’s Wrought Gold W/ Blood Orange

Name: Wrought Gold w/ Blood Orange
Brewing Company: Two Ton Brewing
Location: Kenilworth, NJ
Style: Blonde Ale
ABV: 5.5%

“A flavorful, low ABV beer perfect for summer and poolside beer from the Union County brewery.”

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The commemorative/souvenir beer glass is from the 2015 Garden State Brewfest, where I first sampled beer from Two Ton Brewing.

From Two Ton’s facebook post promoting the beer:

We took Wrought Gold, our American blonde ale brewed with fresh blood orange purée to deliver the ultimate refreshment. This summer sipper is sure to satisfy with smooth sensations of sweetness. The base beer boasts smooth, round flavors of malt and slightly juicy Liberty hops, fermented with an English ale yeast.

A relatively short amount of time for another Blonde Ale considering I don’t drink many of them. But the frequency of these two Blonde Ale reviews should speak to their quality. That said, this definitely different than the previous Blonde Ale featured here at the Tap Takeover. Two Ton has been around the NJ Craft Beer scene for a few years, I first sampled their fine brews during the 2015 Garden State Brewfest. I remember their beer being tasty and the owners, brothers Matt and Jim Barbiere and their father Mario, being extremely nice guys.  At the time, Two Ton was contract brewing with their HQ based out of Linden, NJ, my hometown. More recently (in 2018), they opened in Kenilworth, NJ. This past year, they began distributing cans of their beer which leads to this beer specifically.

Blonde Ales are typically easy drinking, approachable beers. I’ve had the original Wrought Gold and remembered enjoying the beer so I was pleased to see this variant appear in the refrigerated shelves of my local Wegmans. I had a feeling it might be a good poolside / summer beer and I had a few people coming over that day, one of whom loves Blood Orange.

Pop of the can and the strong, pleasant, inviting aroma of the Blood Orange asserts itself. The beer pours a reddish gold and the potent aroma of citrus/oranges is even more noticeable. Although the fruit is “Blood Orange,” the look of the beer, is more of a “strawberry blonde.” Regardless, the beer looks as I would expect it to look.

The pronounced Blood Orange flavor dominates. That is a feature, not a bug, by the way. Blonde Ales are often not too assertive, they are beer flavored beer for the most part. The American versions at least, tend to not lean too much on the malt, not too much on the hops so the beer style is good for its approachability and its ability to take on a flavor adjunct. I mentioned the citrus element from the Blood Orange…that is quite different than the citrus element some hops impart. There’s a very distinct citrus sweetness that I can only compare to the most potent orange juice I’ve had blended with beer. It makes for a good combination, at least for my taste buds.

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Wrought Gold w/Blood Orange is an excellent ale that works perfectly as a fun, summer refresher and well worth seeking out.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4 bottle cap rating.

Beer Review: Alternate Ending’s Amity Beer

Name: Amity Beer
Brewing Company: Alternate Ending Beer Co.
Location: Aberdeen Township, NJ
Style: Lager – Pale
ABV: 4.1%

Quite simply, one of the better Craft Lagers I’ve had over the past couple of years.

AE_Amity

From Alternate Ending’s Instagram post for this beer:

You know those moments when you’re sitting on the beach under the hot sun and sweat is glistening off your forehead, so you start debating whether or not to cool off in the ocean, but then that JAWS music pops into your head…duunnn dunnn…duuuunnnn duun…duuunnnnnnnn dun dun dun dun dun…well don’t worry, ‘cause we’ve got you covered. Sit back, crack our cold, crisp Premium Lager, and watch everyone else swim carelessly as countless very sharp teeth swim beneath their feet. Amity Beer…now in 12oz cans, sold as a 6-pack. Drink responsibly and have a Happy Fourth! To learn more about the inspiration behind this beer, be sure to read the box…

It is turning into a theme of the Tap Takeover with my beer reviews of late – breweries who had the unfortunate timing to open/launch during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Alternate Ending fits that bill, but they are a tad different – they are a brewpub as well. Their overall resume, the people behind the brewery/brewpub is quite impressive. They have  beer/brewing experience at breweries like Other Half and Jughandle. Alternate Ending took over an old BowTie Cinemas location and as such, goes with movie-themed names for their beers. Since Aberdeen Township is considered a Jersey Shore town and one of the most popular “shore” movies all time being Jaws, why not make a beer as an homage? They did and called it Amity Beer, Alternate Ending’s (and head brewer Brendan Arnold) take on the Pale Lager.

As I noted in my review of Twin Lights Lager, essentially, a Pale Lager can be considered an “almost Pilsner.” Or another thought is All Pilsners are Pale Lagers but not all Pale Lagers are Pilsners.

AE_AmityCanart

As for Amity Beer, I enjoyed the beer freshly poured into a dimple mug from the draft. This beer looks wonderful. Perfect foamy head, slightly translucent pale yellow liquid. In other words, you look up Lager in the dictionary, this beer is absolutely what you want to see.

A beer can look the part, as does Amity Beer, but it has to taste the part, too.

Malt/breadiness and maybe a little hint of sweet fruit waft from the mug. The first sip is a slap of deliciousness to my tastebuds. Those aforementioned aromas transfer even more potently to the taste in so many ways. There’s a bit of a cracker element, but what stands out most is the finish, there’s a slight sweet fruitiness I mentioned that compels me to keep drinking the beer. It is such a fun, delightful beer, I wish they had six packs of the beer, but it sold out very quickly when it was released at the end of June 2021.

Maybe the most impressive element of the beer is that it is only 4.1% ABV and it is bursting with flavor. It takes a well-honed brewer to coax that much flavor in a beer with that low of an ABV. In talking with head brewer Brendan during the NJCB Night at Alternate Ending on July 12, he mentioned that this was the most “difficult” beer he’s made at Alternate Ending. Even though the delicious Pilsner they brew, Royal Rug is a difficult style, there’s even less wiggle room for mistakes or opportunities to hide those mistakes with, say, the potential hops you’d add to a pilsner. Well…to say that Brandon absolutely nailed the style is an understatement.

To play on one of the most famous lines of dialogue from the movie to which this beer honors, “They’re going to need a bigger boat.” In other words, a beer this good, this flavorful, and this fun, should be on tap from Memorial Day to Labor Day, at the least.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4.25-bottle cap rating.

AE_Amity

Beer Review: Toms River Brewing’s Blueberry Blonde Summer Ale

Name: Blueberry Blonde Summer Ale
Brewing Company: Toms River Brewing
Location: Toms River, NJ
Style: Blonde Ale
ABV: 5.1%

“A delightfully refreshing ale highlighting NJ’s most well known fruit.”

TomsRiver_BlueberryBlonde

From Tom River Brewing’s instagram post promoting the beer:

New Jersey is the blueberry capital of the world. This light bodied blonde ale is packed with fresh home grown blueberries picked at the peak of the season. This crushable ale is brewed with Pilsen, Marris Otter, Vienna malts and hopped with Cascade and Citron hops giving a refreshing finish that is perfect for the hot summer days and warm summer nights to come. Cheers🍻.

It hasn’t been quite a year since I reviewed a beer from Tom’s River Brewing, but this beer is such a fantastic summer beer, I have to share my thoughts. The blueberry is one of my favorite fruits and New Jersey happens to be one of the largest producers of blueberries in the country and Hammonton, NJ is the “Blueberry Capital of the World.” So, adding blueberries to beer is a natural fit for a New Jersey brewery.

On to the beer…

Pop of the can, the beer pours a light purple/blue into the glass and I get the pleasant aroma of blueberries. Obviously, the blueberries prevent this beer from looking the true part of a “Blonde Ale,” but that is to be expected.

The first sip is very pleasant indeed. The blueberries are the most prominent flavor element, but they aren’t tart and overpowering in the way blueberries can be. The hop presence comes in on the finish of the beer. Per Toms River, this beer has Cascade and Citra hops, two of the classic hops in American Craft brewing. They both provide a slight bittering element that is a nice balance to the sweetness from the malt and blueberries.

This beer is a good example of a fun beer – flavorful, approachable, and featuring relatively local elements. Blueberry Blonde Summer Ale is a fantastic seasonal ale and perfect for summer. Although I’ve only had about a half-dozen beers from Toms River Brewing, this one is a definite standout for my tastes.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4 bottle cap rating.

Beer Review: Last Wave Brewing’s Dawn Patrol

Name: Dawn Patrol
Brewing Company: Last Wave Brewing Co.
Location: Point Pleasant Beach, NJ
Style: Sour – Fruited Gose
ABV: 5.2%

“A brewery in one of NJ’s great Shore Town has a take on a classic German style that is sure to please.”

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From Last Wave’s “Our beers” page:

Sunsets are kind of a West Coast thing. We look for the Sunrise on the East Coast, signaling another day. This beer honors those that forgo a little extra sleep to chase their passion and rise with the sun. Dawn Patrol is a light, tart beer that gets its flavor from a simple grain bill, a light souring, pureed pink guava, and like most great things from the Jersey Shore—a touch of salt. It’s a refreshing brew that’s fruity, a little funky, and ready to go for your next summer get-together—no matter the time of day.

I’ve been wanting to try one of Last Wave’s beers for a while now, especially since I’ve been seeing their beer in distribution in my area. Well, let me revise that statement. I’ve had a beer which was a collaboration with Icarus Brewing, so I wanted to sample their “solo” brewing efforts. Warm weather is a good time for fruited Goses so here we are with Dawn Patrol. Last Wave is based on one of NJ’s great Shore Towns, Point Pleasant Beach, so many of their beers (like this one) have a beach/ocean themed name.

”But what about the beer, Rob?” readers typically ask at this point. Let’s dive into it, then.

The beer pours quite cloudy, which is largely on par for the course with Gose beers. Not much color from the guava, maybe a very slight tint of pink? The aroma is a little funky, which is to be expected from the style. So far, so good.

My first impression of the taste is a little tart, a little sweetness, a slight hit from the salt on the finish. Again, pretty much in line for the style. The sweetness, of course, comes from the Guava and is a nice balance to the inherent tartness of the style. The guava isn’t too overpowering, it brings a welcome element of refreshment to the beer. I’ve got fond memories of freshly squeezed guava juice from when my wife and I spent our honeymoon in Hawaii and the guava elements in this beer definitely stoke the flames of those memories.

One of the characteristics of a Gose, compared to many other sours and fruited sours in particular, is the salinity. The Gose style of beer originated in Leipzig, Germany, a region noted for water high in salinity. As such, brewers have tried to evoke that salty/balanced finish when crafting beer in the Gose-style. That saltines is present here in Dawn Patrol and of course evokes the saltiness one might feel and taste in the air on the beach, so on many levels, Last Wave has done something quite nice with this beer.

While I thoroughly enjoy this beer and can imagine it being perfect on a warm day, I think I would like Dawn Patrol even more if the hallmark elements of the beer and style would be a little more assertive. A slight increase of the tartness and salty finish would elevate a very good beer to a great beer. Like I said, I’m nit-picking because I like the beer quite a lot. This beer is be perfect for drinkers who may be averse to sour styles because of the approachability and overall flavor profile of Dawn Patrol has the elements of the style, but not to amped up monstrous levels. In other words, I’d say this is a “successful” beer for Last Wave Brewing Co.

I’m not sure how widely Last Wave is distributing within New Jersey, but I suspect one would only have success finding this beer within the Garden State. What Dawn Patrol has done for me is this: I’m intrigued to try more beer from Last Wave Brewing.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4-bottle cap rating.

Pucker Up (Level 21)

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A Sour beer on Untappd is any beer with a style of the following: American Wild Ale, Lambic, or Sour.

Right about now you’re feeling your face tighten and your taste buds explode. The full pucker is quickly setting in and you can’t get enough. This is the wonder of the sour.

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Beer Review: Bolero Snort’s Mele Kalikimakow

Name: Mele Kalikimakow
Brewing Company: Bolero Snort Brewery
Location: Carlstadt, NJ
Style: Sour – Fruited
ABV: 6.1%

Bolero Snort’s growing sour beer program produces a tasty and delightful non-standard Holiday beer.

From Bolero Snort’s blog entry for the beer:

Here’s the island greeting that we send to you, from the land where palm trees sway. This lava flow cocktail inspired sour is loaded with fruit! Sweep the winter blues under the Holiday table and drift away to warmer, poolside days with this blend of Strawberry, Pineapple, Banana and Coconut! Mele Kalikimakow is ideally sipped out of some bull shaped glassware to toast the holiday season right!

This is the third beer I’ve reviewed from Bolero Snort and the third style. Since Scott and Bob opened their gorgeous, enormous facility in the shadow of the Meadowlands Sports Complex late 2019/early 2020, they’ve increased their production output significantly. One area in particular that has seen growth (quantity/variety. sales, and in what people are saying) is their sour beer “program” and this beer is a great example of that.

When thinking of Christmas beers, Belgians and Stouts come to my mind. But with the name of this beer a bovinely inspired play on the Hawai’ian Christmas Song (and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation), the style and elements of the beer – a fruited sour evoking a Lava Flow cocktail – make a little more sense.

The beer pours very thick with a pinkish hue. It sure looks like a beer playing with the idea of a Lava Flow* cocktail! I get those fruity tropical aromas mixed with the funk of the yeast from the beer, too. So far, seems on point for what the beer is trying to do.

My wife and I went to Hawai’i for our honeymoon and when we landed in Hawai’i after a 10 hour flight plus a 2 hour layover, I had a delicious Lava Flow. Because I was so tired from the 10+ hours travel, it took just one drink to get me a little tipsy!

I’ll admit, the thickness and look of the beer had me questioning my decision. But a sip eroded those doubts.

The beer feels almost as thick as it looks, but fruited sours like this often do. What do I get from the copious flavors outlined above and on the can? While the strawberries lend much of the color and I assume the bananas help with the texture, the pineapple is the front-most flavor out of the cocktail fruits. Fortunately, I thoroughly enjoy pineapple so that works just fine by me.

This isn’t a beer you can our should chug, but it you don’t want to let it warm too much either. As I was continuing to drink through the pint of the beer, the coconut in particular emerged a little more with the strawberries dancing in the background. Carbonation was minimal, but present reminding me that this was indeed a beer.

It seems Bolero Snort accomplished what they set out to do with this beer – it put me in the mindset of enjoying a Pina Colada in beer form. I’ve also been singing Mele Kalikimaka for the past few days.

I will also point out the great can art that captures a scene from the holiday classic National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. The Bolero Bull is dressed up like Clark Griswold (with added Mariner Moose Egg Nog Glass) during the scene when he’s daydreaming about the pool he’s going have installed thanks to his expected Christmas Bonus.

I suppose the best way for me to describe this beer is that is a fun, playful Christmas inspired beer that is a nice alternative to the traditional Christmas Stouts and Belgian Holiday ales.

Recommended, link to 4 bottle-cap Untappd check-in

Beer Review: Beach Haus Brewery’s Oktoberfest

Name: Oktoberfest
Brewing Company: Beach Haus Brewery
Location: Belmar, NJ
Style: Märzen
ABV: 5.5%

A flavorful, top-notch take on the classic German Lager from one of NJ’s steadfast independent breweries.

From Beach Haus Brewery’s page for beers:

This Märzen was slowly brewed through the summer months to allow rich malt flavors to develop. The beer is lagered (stored) in our horizontal lager tank where it conditions. This allows the beer to clarify naturally, create some natural carbonation, and clean up over weeks to create a crisp and clean biscuity caramel lager

Oans, zwoa, drei, g’suffa! (one, two, three, down the hatch!)

Our Oktoberfest features generous amounts of Munich malt and employ traditional old-world lagering techniques.

Get ready to tackle Oktoberfest season with our old-world-styled Märzen which has been a fan favorite since its release..

Beach Haus has been making an Oktoberfest for quite a while now, largely since they opened in 2015. When I visited a few years back, I had their “Pumptoberfest” which is a marriage of a pumpkin beer and Märzen, and I remember enjoying it. Since then, I’ve been hoping to try their straight up Oktoberfest especially since they have been distributing to a couple of the stores in my area. I was very pleasantly surprised to see cans on the shelf in a store near me and snagged a six pack immediately

When I open the can, there’s a nice big “pop” signifying freshly canned beer. Pouring the beer in the mug, the thick head supports my thought process. I’ll be damned if how that beer looks in the classic, dimpled German mug doesn’t scream Oktoberfest with the lovely copper color and the perfect fluffy head.

An aroma of bready malts leads to the same flavor. There’s a wonderful caramel-like sweetness from the malts that shines through the entirety of the beer. There is sometimes a slight tang of an unpleasant aftertaste in Märzens I’ve had. There is absolutely no hint of that in Beach Haus’s take on the style. There’s such a pleasant flow of flavors from aroma to the beer passing through my taste buds that I find it difficult not to drink this one too fast.

Some beers (regardless of style) can look the part, but they don’t taste the part. Again, Beach Haus’s Oktoberfest is a beer that 100% looks the part and 100% tastes the part. Of the dozen or so beers I’ve had from Beach Haus Brewery, this Oktoberfest is hands down their best beer. It is a style that many breweries attempt and Beach Haus dialed in their style/recipe very, very well to deliver a beer worthy of the monikers “Märzen” and “Oktoberfest.”

I’ve visited Beach Haus a few times and their brewery easily has one of the best set ups of any I’ve visited in the state, and I’ve visited between one third and one half of the breweries in the state. With their outdoor seating, ample indoor seating, and location in the popular NJ beach town of Belmar, NJ it is a great place to meet friends and enjoy some tasty beer. Their outdoor seating also allowed Beach Haus to pivot to outdoor consumption during the COVID Pandemic.

I have to say it, Beach Haus’s Oktoberfest is one of the better American interpretations of the style I’ve had and I’ve had close to 50 different Märzens over the last half dozen years. From a NJ perspective, I’d easily stack this up against Cape May’s outstanding Oktoberfest and Ramstein’s world-renowned  Oktoberfest.  Suffice it to say, I’ll be seeking this one out every year during the Oktoberfest season because it delivers on what I expect an Oktoberfest / Märzen to be.

If you are in NJ, seek out Beach Haus Brewery’s Oktoberfest and visit the brewery, too. As I said, they offer up a terrific setting and tasty beers to enjoy in that welcoming setting.

Highly Recommended, link to Untappd 4.25-bottle cap rating.

Beer Review: Black is Beautiful | Czig Meister Brewing

Name: Black is Beautiful
Brewing Company: Czig Meister Brewing
Location: Hackettstown, NJ
Style: Stout – Imperial / Double
ABV: 10.1%

“A delicious, potent, and flavorful stout brewed for a great, noble cause.”

Beer description:

Black is Beautiful is a beer initiative started by Weathered Souls Brewing in San Antonio to show our solidarity in the ongoing movement against the injustices people of color face daily. We will be donating proceeds to the ACLU NJ. This collaboration is a way for us to help not only our local community, but to use our voice and do a part in our ongoing goal toward liberty & justice for ALL.

Black is Beautiful -This 10% Imperial Stout is a variant brewed with chocolate & hazelnut

Earlier this year, Weathered Souls Brewing out of San Antonio launched a worldwide collaborative stout, Black is Beautiful, an imperial stout recipe to be shared with other brewers. Marcus Baskerville, founder and head brewer of Weathered Souls asked participating breweries to do the following:

  • Donate 100% of the beer’s proceeds to local foundations that support police brutality reform and legal defenses for those who have been wronged
  • Choose their own entity to donate to local organizations that support equality and inclusion
  • Commit to the long-term work of equality

I think those are pretty fair requests. I know if I had a brewery, I’d be making my own version of Black is Beautiful.

As of this post going live, 31 breweries in NJ are participating, about one third of all the breweries in the State. Many of these breweries are doing a limited run, making the beer available only at the brewery on draft, with limited canning runs, or like Czig Meister, in crowlers. I’ve been wanting to try one from NJ since I heard about it because (1) Beer for a good cause is a great idea and (2) I love stouts. Unfortunately, not many breweries in NJ (thus far) have canned and or put their version in distribution. Fortunately, a friend from work lives near Czig Meister, so when we decided to meet up at their awesome outdoor biergarten for some socially distanced beer consumption, I knew I was going to try this beer.

Czig Meister is offering their version in crowlers to go. Photo courtesy of Czig Meister’s Facebook.

Since the beer is an Imperial Stout clocking in at 10% ABV, I can understand why this beer was only offered in 8oz pours. That 8oz pour; however, is full of flavor.

As you can see in the picture at the top of this post, this is a very dark beer. Aromas of roasted malt and some chocolate are present. I didn’t initially realize hazelnut was used in this beer until I tasted the beer then read the description so I imagine that other aroma I caught was indeed the hazelnut.

First sip test…the beer passes with flying colors. Damn is this a delicious stout! There’s a ton of sweetness, but not cloying at all, at the start of the beer. The chocolate begins to assert itself as I continue to enjoy the beer. I really like the spin that Czig Meister put on the recipe with the hazelnut and chocolate. The blend of flavors from the roasted malts and chocolate make for a sumptuous beer. The hazelnut sneaks in and cuts the bitterness at the end in a nice way and brings a great level of balance to the beer.

This is a wonderful, delicious dessert stout but I wouldn’t say it is super sweet like a big pastry stout, which I appreciate. However, the chocolate and hazelnut bring a very welcome flavor boost and sweetness into a big, burly stout. Achieving a good balance between sweetness and bitterness, especially for an Imperial Stout is mark of a good brewer and Czig Meister has achieved that balance extremely well.

The Czig Meister version of Black is Beautiful is a superb stout. What’s more, it is a beer for a really good cause. I’ve long been a fan of Czig Meister so I had pretty high expectations for this beer and it delivered. I now want to see what other breweries are doing with what is a solid, base stout.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4.25-bottle cap rating.

Untapped badges earned with this beer:

Black is Beautiful (2020)

Raise your glass and join us in supporting the many Black is Beautiful collaboration beers as we come together to recognize and bring awareness to the injustices that many people of color face daily.

Draught Diversions: Toms River Brewing (Toms River, NJ)

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

It has been a very long time since I posted one of these Brewery Spotlights mainly because the Pandemic has severely impacted on-site consumption. Some breweries; however, have been able to pivot in the current landscape and grown. Some breweries have very successfully shifted to canning more beer and home delivery, some breweries have been able to increase their distribution reach, while other breweriess have been able to allow for on-site consumption thanks to outdoor biergartens. Toms River Brewing has been able to lean on all of those options thanks to their successful rebirth in 2019.

I touched upon Toms River Brewing about a year ago when a handful of NJ breweries closed and/or re-branded. In that post, Toms River Brewing was one of those “re-launched” breweries, the proverbial Phoenix to rise from the former Rinn Dúin Brewery. When a company named Advanced Biotech announced they were taking over the brewery in 2018, and renaming it, some eyebrows were raised. It seemed very corporate and a little peculiar for a “Biotech” company to purchase a brewery. The name change was completely understandable and works better in the current beer landscape in NJ. Toms River is one of the largest and most prominent Jersey Shore towns, the 8th most populated municipality in NJ, and gives the brewery a more clear and local identity. Unlike Rinn Dúin, there’s no question of where the brewery is located.

A couple of things to unpack there…Toms River Brewing is largely a new brewery compared to Rinn Dúin. While they’ve retained the same head brewer and couple of the beers (primarily their core beers, St. John’s Irish Red Ale and Sweet Nothin’ Honey Cream Ale), nearly everything else about the brewery is essentially a new brewery. The taproom was completely renovated and now has 16 draught lines, the brewing system was upgraded/expanded, an outdoor biergarten was constructed, the beer lineup was considerably updated (previous flagships of an English Brown and Scotch Ale, while styles I enjoy, not exactly two styles upon which to lay the foundation of a brewery) are no longer present. More IPAs are part of the lineup, of course, plus a few stouts and a fairly wide range of styles. While I’ve been seeing cans of their beer since the middle of last year thanks to their increased dedication to distribution, the grand reopening of the taproom was November 2, 2019.

The Core Lineup – courtesy of Toms River Brewing’s website

The branding has leveled up quite a few notches, as design firm Bezerdesign was hired to re-brand the brewery. All the cans are now sport the big “Toms River Brewing” circle prominently in the center, a claddagh at the top of that circle. Most of the beer cans with are wrapped with a different color of banded Celtic knots/braid. Their cans are immediately recognizable. In the current landscape with over 100 breweries in NJ (with quite a few popular breweries not too far from Toms River Brewing at the Jersey Shore), thought and planning is required to go into launching a business. That thought and planning also includes the beer portfolio, the most important element. But the branding does stand out on the shelves, at least to my eyes.

Not everything about Rinn Dúin is gone; however. Bob the Brewer Warzecha, who was the head brewer under the previous banner and George, the assistant brewer, are still around making the beer. Well, George Lissenden was more of a “volunteer” than actual employee, but since the relaunch, George is an actual assistant brewer. Both gentlemen have experience in home brewing (Bob about 25 years!), passion for beer, knowledge of beer, and have roots in Toms River. So some of the good things (and there were quite a few) about Rinn Dúin were smartly retained.

As I said in my post last year, I didn’t know much about Rinn Dúin except that it existed and was one of the breweries to open shortly after the 2012 Executive Order. I learned last year as I was preparing my feature on Icarus Brewing that Jason Goldstein, owner of Icarus Brewing, spent part of his career there. Since Toms River Brewing came into existence last year (May 2019), I’ve been seeing cans of their beer in stores near me with frequency. That logo and branding, while not exactly the most unique, does stand out very well on the shelf and gives the brewery a visual identity. In my mind, that’s a success.

From here on out, there will be no more mention of the words “Rinn Dúin,” because of what Lacey Striker, VP Marketing, Tap Room and Office Operations of Toms River Brewing states below. Lacey essentially runs the day-to-day operations of the brewery, which makes her one of the few, but growing number of, women not just working in beer in NJ, but leading a brewery in NJ. Lacey is no stranger to the adult beverage industry, having experience in the wine and spirits industry. That knowledge she gained and her market savvy helped to relaunch Toms River Brewing as a new entity.

It’s a completely different brewery.” – Lacey Striker

Every year, my wife and few of our friends take a road trip down to the Chicken or the Egg in Beach Haven and we stop at a brewery on the way home. Because of everything I noted above, Toms River Brewing has been on my radar and they were a short drive off the Garden State Parkway exit 82A on NJ Route 37, they are one of the few breweries along our journey to open at noon and have outdoor seating. In other words, it was a pretty easy decision to make.

Image courtesy of Toms River Brewing’s Facebook

Unfortunately, it was raining the day of our trip and visit. Fortunately, Toms River Brewing (as noted above) has a lovely outdoor biergarten and the tables have big umbrellas. Another plus, like many breweries in NJ who are legally not permitted to serve food, Toms River Brewing allows their patrons to bring food, which was another plus. The food was kept warm on the 40 minute drive from LBI to Toms River in some coolers, for those worrying about the food.

We situated ourselves at the table and I ordered a Pilsner…many people will go for the IPA as their first beer at a brewery visit (because they are so ubiquitous), but as many of my readers know, I’m a Lager for Life kind of guy. I was very pleased with my choice. Just look at how that bright beer pops on an otherwise grey day in that picture atop this post! Just Pils was very flavorful and hit the spot pairing perfectly with my Burrito Gordito. The second beer I had was the highlight and one of the better coffee stouts I’ve had in quite a while, the outstanding Top O’ the Morning Coffee stout, which I reviewed earlier this week.

Image courtesy of Toms River Brewing’s Facebook

I usually have more photos I’ve taken in these posts, but between the rain and the limitations on indoor gathering, I only snapped photos of the two beers I drank and enjoyed. This time around, I’ve “borrowed” a few photos from Toms River Brewing’s facebook page. I did have to go inside to use the restroom and the taproom is really, really nice. It is very inviting, with plenty of room and a gorgeous bar. I saw some of the employees chatting and wearing masks and let them know how much I enjoyed the beer. In particular, the owner (I’m guessing Jim Mulligan), addressed me because I resemble one of the brewers. We had a chuckle, but he made sure to walk through the biergarten as patrons started sitting at tables to see how everybody is doing. He further told me the brewer I resemble built out the biergarten since he has a background in construction. Between the outdoor biergarten and the indoor taproom, the brewery has a great air professionalism and being well-thought out. In short, our group of people felt quite welcome at the brewery.

Interior of Toms River Brewing’s Taproom, image courtesy of Toms River Brewing’s Facebook

I’ve only had five beers from Toms River Brewing at this point…but as can likely be surmised, what I’ve had has been quite good. I’m happy to know they are keeping the Sweet Nothin’ Honey Cream Ale in the lineup. I had it last year at the Meadowlands Great Beer Expo when they were still using the previous name of the brewery. Last month, I had their Koastal Kölsch for the first time, I think they brewed it for the first time this year. Last year, I had the St. John’s Irish Ale, which is spot on for the style. Their lineup of beers I’ve seen on social media and in the stores around me is intriguing, maybe beer I’d like to try the most is Black Rabbit Black Lager. Other beers in the line up include the Sweet Chai ‘O Mine Cream Ale; Celtic Sunrise Blood Orange Pale Ale, a Belgian Pale Ale; Out on the Razzle Cranberry Winter Blonde Ale, which I hope returns in the Winter; and Irish Goodbye Imperial Stout looks delicious. Actually, three of the people with me during the visit (my brother-in-law, and two of our friends) had and enjoyed the Irish Goodbye.

Images in collage courtesy of Toms River Brewing’s Facebook. Clockwise: “Out on the Razzle Cranberry Winter” Blonde Ale, “Irish Goodbye Imperial Stout, Celtic Sunrise Blood Orange Pale Ale,” “Black Rabbit Black Lager,” and “Sweet Chai ‘O Mine” Cream Ale

Since their grand opening, Toms River Brewing has hosted local musicians, they’ve partaken/hosted Community Fund Drives, hosted Trivia Nights, hosted local PBA Fund Raisers, and of course hosted St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. Like I said, the space (both inside/taproom and outdoor biergarten) is inviting and made to be social spaces. The honey in their Cream Ale is from Zenjas Honey Farm, in Toms River. One of their beers, Boots on the Ground is an IPA in honor of US troops, with a portion of the proceeds going to the Gary Sinise Foundation. So you could say that Toms River Brewing is both a place for communal growth and a company that gives back to the community.

Image courtesy of Toms River Brewing’s Facebook

In other words, from limited experience, Toms River Brewing is a brewery to take seriously as a player in New Jersey’s evolving craft beer scene. They may not be in the Elite, rarified air of Kane, Carton, Icarus, or Cape May Brewing yet. That is by no means a knock, because they’ve only been producing, canning, and distributing beer as Toms River Brewing for a little over a year. I think even the good folks at Toms River Brewing would admit they aren’t quite in that Elite Group yet. What I can say is that they produce quality beers, in a nice range of styles, you’ll be able to find and depend upon for good flavors. The taproom and biergarten should be a must visit for independent beer enthusiasts making the rounds of the Jersey Shore breweries. I for one, will be seeking out their beer again in the near future. The Celtic Sunrise Blood Orange Pale Ale should be in stores as this post goes live!

Some other links of interest and sources of information for this post:

Toms River Brewing Web site | Instagram | Facebook | Twitter | Toms River Brewing on NewJerseyCraftBeer.com | Beer Advocate | untappd

Beer Review: Toms River Brewing’s Top O’ the Morning Coffee Stout

Name: Top O’ the Morning Coffee Stout
Brewing Company: Toms River Brewing
Location: Toms River, NJ
Style: Stout – Coffee
ABV: 5.1%

“A smooth, extremely drinkable and balanced Coffee Stout – one of the better I’ve had, especially of the non-barrel-aged variety.”

From Tom River Brewing’s beer list/untappd description:

Coffee before beer or sometimes (if it’s that kind of day) beer before coffee. In that spirit, we collaborated with Bubby’s Beanery right here in Toms River to create Top O’ The Morning. This beer was brewed with Bubby’s blend of Honduran roasts, lending flavors of sweet milk chocolate, cashew and caramel. We then added lactose to carry the acidity of the coffee and to provide heft and mouthfeel. The infusion of robust coffee flavors provides a jump start to your day…morning, noon or night.

Toms River Brewing is a NJ brewery I’ve touched upon briefly here at the Tap Takeover and will again in the future. (Hint: I’ll be posting one of my “brewery spotlight” posts later in the week.) I’ve been seeing cans of their beer in some of my local stores over the better part of the last year and I finally stopped at their brewery recently, during a rainy day on the way back from Chegg’s in Beach Haven. The second beer I had that day is what asserted itself in my taste buds with a pint of deliciousness and has me here writing about it.

On to the beer…

I knew I wanted something a little darker, I saw what Toms River had available via untappd before we even left our trip and the description above really had me intrigued.

The beer I was given in the very interesting glass is dark as dark can be. Only if you look very closely can you see the black Toms River Brewing logo on glass. In other words, the beer looked the part of coffee stout. The aroma of roasted malts that wafted from the glass to my nose was another good sign.

Sometimes you can tell from the first sip of beer everything you need to know about it. That’s exactly what happened with Top O’ the Morning, I got the full flavor of stout and coffee in that first sip and it was delightful. The lactose brings a very welcome sweetness to the beer, adding to the sweetness from the roasted malts and balancing the coffee’s natural bitter elements. There’s also a pleasant lacing of chocolate throughout each sip of beer.  All these flavors blend very well together.

Image courtesy of Toms River Brewing’s Facebook

I’ve had plenty of coffee stouts where the bitterness from the coffee, or overly roasted beans and malts are very off-putting. Toms River skirted that issue completely. The finish on this beer was so good, I found it a little difficult not to consume it in one quick gulp. If I can really level any criticism at the beer (and it is very minor at that), a smidge more bitterness would have been welcome. However, I tend to drink my coffee fairly sweet, so the sweetness in this beer from the lactose is a nice mirror to how I typically drink my coffee.

The beer has the perfect density and feel for the style, too. That element, coupled with the balanced taste, make this one of the more enjoyable coffee stouts I’ve had in quite a while. The craftsmanship and quality of this beer have me eager to try more beers from Toms River Brewing in the future

Beer and coffee are two of my favorite beverages, which is why I love a good coffee stout. With Top O’ the Morning, Toms River Brewing blended the flavors of these two beverages together in great harmony.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4.25-bottle cap rating.