Beer Review: Just Wing It from Icarus Brewing and Heavy Reel Brewing

Name: Just Wing It
Brewing Company: Icarus Brewing / Heavy Reel Brewing
Location: Lakewood, NJ / Seaside Heights, NJ
Style: Stout – Milk / Sweet
ABV: 6.6%

A perfectly rendered stout that exhibits delicious qualities of both a Milk Stout and a Coffee Stout.

From the side of the can:

Just Wing It is brewed in collaboration with Heavy Reel Brewing. Jam packed with four different roasting malts and a huge addition of lactose and oats. Post fermentation aged on Chocolate and Coffee. The Coffee is from Happy Mug Roasters and Vanilla Bean.

It has been nearly 8 months since I reviewed a stout and with the weather getting cooler, now is a perfect time to take a look at a great NJ Stout. Some folks even call the colder months “Stout Season” since stouts just feel like cold weather beer with more roasted flavors and the darkness of the beer. This preamble leads to Just Wing It, which is a collaboration between two Jersey Shore breweries, Icarus Brewing out of Lakewood and Heavy Reel out of Seaside, NJ.

Let’s get the ball rolling…or the can opening, so to speak.

The crack of the can pops and I get a little bit of coffee aroma mixed in with the smell I’d typically expect a sweet stout to produce. This is a pleasantly dark beer, with a malted milk/khaki colored head. In other words, exactly how a stout should look. Having sampled a decent amount of beer from Icarus over the last couple of years, I’m even more hopeful this will be a good one.

That first sip…it hits just about every button I want a Milk Stout to hit. The milk sugar sweetness is very present, but not to an overpowering degree. That sweetness form the lactose enhances the already sweet malts of the beer. As the beer finishes its journey through my palate, I get a very welcome burst of coffee flavor. I also taste more sweetness, likely from the chocolate which raises its proverbial hand in class to let me know it is present in the overall taste profile of the beer.

The beer has mild carbonation, and that khaki head dissipates fairly quickly. It is a smooth, delicious, flavorful stout that exhibits all the optimal qualities of both a coffee and a milk stout. A beer worth seeking out and a stout that illustrates the great quality of beer loyal customers of Icarus Brewing have come to expect.

Locally, I’d compare this beer very favorably to three NJ Milk Stouts: River Horse Oatmeal Milk Stout, Conclave’s Espresso Milk Stout, and Twin Elephant’s Diamonds & Pearls. For a national comparison, I’d stack Icarus & Heavy Reel’s take on the style next to Left Hand’s well known Milk Stout and Firestone Walker’s outstanding Mocha Merlin. Long story short, Just Wing It could sit comfortably on any shelf with any of those beers.

Highly recommended, link to 4.25 bottle-cap Untappd check in.

Another point of recommendation – the four pack barely lasted a week in my fridge before all the empties made it to the recycling bin.

Untapped badges earned with this beer:

So Udderly Sweet (Level 8)

Wouldn’t it be nice if milk stouts came directly from beer producing cows? While this unfortunately isn’t the case (yet) they do have a full body and sweetness due to a larger amount of lactose and sugars.

 

Draught Diversions: Icarus Brewing (Lakewood, 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…

Few breweries have made as big of an impact in as short a time as Icarus Brewing has since they opened in early 2017. Their beers seemed receive acclaim as soon as they appeared in bars and taprooms, and of course their brewery. But that’s now, late 2019. I’ve had a few of their beers over the years and most recently (late August 2019 and mid October 2019) I made two visits to the brewery. But let’s go back in time a little bit, to the brewery’s opening before returning to the present. Whereas many of the breweries featured here at the Tap Takeover had roots in home brewing, Icarus Brewing has a more “formal” path to brewing. Jason Goldstein, head brewer and owner, built up a very impressive resume before opening Icarus Brewing. Gaining the necessary knowledge studying food science, Jason spent some time at an Ohio brewery before heading to the prestigious Brewlab in England. Jason settled back into NJ where was brewing at Rinn Dunn (now Toms River Brewing) where his skills earned him some great recognition from one of the leading beer zines of note, Beer Advocate.

When he was trying to land on a name, (according to this reddit AMA), Jason wanted something that evoked Greek mythology, but could also have multiple meanings. In a very real life Icarus situation, the world famous Hindenburg disaster occurred in Lakewood, too. But Icarus, the figure from mythology, was also daring and tried something adventurous and new. Jason wants to try doing new and different things at Icarus whether or not they work. That’s admirable, but I think (and I’d guess many beer aficionados in NJ would agree) that Jason and the crew of Icarus have not flown too close to the sun yet and have managed to fly at the perfect height considering how well their beers are received and sell. The name also offers up plenty of potential beer names to play off the imagery and myth of Icarus.

Taster of Smooshing Chocolate Parts

Like many breweries of this size in NJ, Icarus is located in an industrial park/warehouse. These spaces often make for a great deal of flexibility in how the brewery builds out their taproom and brewhouse. They are not too far from the Garden State Parkway so getting there isn’t too much of a problem. Parking during my first visit didn’t prove problematic despite the taproom being fairly filled with several people coming and going while I was there. However, the second time I visited was for a special release, “Build Me Up Butternut” a collaboration with NJ Craft Beer/Mike Kivovitz, which was a Friday night and the lot was quickly filled and the street on which the brewery is located was tightly packed.

So what is in the tap room? Barrels function as the table base with round tops and a painting of the Icarus logo in the center. Hanging on the wall are some of the artistic renderings of some of their packaged labels. But the most noticeable element is the huge menu at the back of the taproom above the 24 taps. The bar is very nice with some of the Icarus branded products for sale on display (shirts, hats, glasses). There’s also a fridge where the canned beers and crowlers are sold.

Icarus Brewing Beer Menu/Tap List August 29, 2019

In addition to the main taproom, just on the other side of a door is more space with another full length bar, some barrel tables, and some more seating. That special Butternut night, a band was playing in the secondary area where barrels are stored. What was nice is that the sound from that area barely impacted the main taproom. We knew a band was playing, but the only reason I needed to raise my voice a little bit was because the main taproom was pretty packed.

In that facility, Icarus currently has the capacity to have 24 beers on available on draught in their Tap Room, with styles rangiing from lagers to saisons to IPAs/Pale Ales to porters to Stouts. When they first opened, Icarus had 5 beers taps…so yeah, they’ve come a long way. I have to say (and my wife said it when we visited in August on our way back from our annual trip to the Chicken or the Egg in LBI) their menu looks great from an overall presentation perspective, and specifically, the care that seems to go into how the beer names are written. Really eye-catching stuff.

Images courtesy of Icarus’s Facebook

During that first visit in August, Mike Kivovitz from NJCB happened to be at Icarus and we chatted for a while in the comfort of the taproom. Many people were coming and going with multiple 4 packs of beer.  As for the beers I had, I was extremely happy with my flight selection. The first beer was part of their Berliner Weisse series, Fruited and Flying and this version featured Pineapple, Mango, and Blackberry. This was a great beer, perfect for a summer day. Next was their pilsner, Extinguish which was very tasty. Third up was a super delicious pastry stout, Smooshing Chocolate Parts, a variant of the Smooshing Sweet Parts stout. Fourth was the hazy, juicy Drinking Crayons, so named after as a nod to one of the employee’s daughters who was in the brewery coloring the day the beer was first brewed. Turned out the name made for really terrific logo. I wound up getting an additional taster, their second collaboration with Brix City, Yacht Jams Vol. 2 Hurricane, a Hazy/New England IPA conditioned on tropical fruits.

I’ve mentioned a few of their beers in the past (the DDH Not a Schooner as the best beer at the 2018 Bridgewater Beerfest, my review of Yacht Juice, the flagship beer, and Velvet Fjord in last month’s six pack. In addition, the beer I’ll be reviewing this week is from Icarus, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak.

The aforementioned Yacht Juice is the beer that put them on the proverbial map and Icarus has brewed several variants of the beer: an imperial double dry hopped versions featuring Citra, an imperial double dry hopped versions featuring Mosiac, a session version (“Lil Yacht Juice”), a milkshake version with lactose (“Yacht Shake”), as well as collaboration with Brix City (Yacht Jams) which is conditioned on passionfruit, pomegranate, tangerine, and lime zest.

Images courtesy of Icarus’s Facebook

Other highly rated IPAs include Milking It (an Imperial Milkshake IPA), Power Juicer (a New England/Hazy IPA), Spelt Check (An Imperial New England/Hazy IPA), Touching the Sun (a Triple IPA), and Drinking Crayons (An Imperial New England/Hazy IPA).

Icarus brews a nice stable of dark beers, too. Maybe the most popular and well known is their Russian Imperial Stout Kalishnikov, a 14% Stout that has several variants, Kalishnikoffe (with coffee), My Little Friend (a smaller ABV version of Kalishnikov) as well as a few barrel-aged versions. Their first two dark beers were ChewBocka the Masticator Dopplebock (named after Jason’s dog), and Yukon Cornelius Coffee Porter. There’s a nice range of Dessert/Pastry dark beers, too: Smooshing Sweet Parts (and its variants), Making Whoopie, and King Arthur’s Steed (Porter with toasted coconut).

Images courtesy of Icarus’s Facebook

Jason and crew have collaborated with several breweries in their short life: Cypress Brewing Company (Edison, NJ); Levante Brewing (West Chester, PA), Brix City Brewing Company (Little Ferry, NJ), Gun Hill Brewing Company (Bronx, NY), Dark City Brewing Company (Asbury Park, NJ), Imprint Brewing Co (Hatfield, PA), Lost Tavern Brewing (Hellertown, PA), Heavy Reel Brewing Co (Seaside Heights, NJ), and Last Wave Brewing Co. (Point Pleasant, NJ).

So yeah, that’s a small fraction of the beers Icarus has brewed over the last couple of years. They have just over 300 beers cataloged on untappd.

Build Me Up Butternut World Tour, October 11, 2019

Speaking again of collaborations, in what has become an annual tradition, Jason brews an “anti pumpkin” beer with Mike Kivovitz of New Jersey Craft Beer. The beer is Build Me Up Butternut which is a porter brewed with Mike’s butternut squash soup made with some chipotle and guajillo peppers. The release of this beer in the taproom is what prompted my second visit to Icarus Brewing. The taproom was pretty tightly packed as was the secondary taproom where the band was playing. I also had a delicious, perfect every day beer when I first arrived, Life in Helles a beautiful Helles Lager. I spent most of the night talking with Mike and his friends and my friend Matt, the new taproom manager at Icarus. It was a great night, with bands playing and quite a lot of people hanging out. In other words, just about everything you’d want in a brewery visit – good beer, good friends, and good conversation.

Life in Helles is a damned fine lager. a perfect everyday beer. Low ABV + Flavorful = Winner

Back to the beers from Icarus… Over the last year or two, cans of Icarus have been appearing on shelves in many stores in NJ as Icarus Brewing self-distributes. That is a good thing because not everybody can head to Lakewood for the latest can release from Icarus. The only downside is that cans of Icarus beer don’t last in stores for very long, especially their popular and highly regarded Hazy IPAs. More of their beers can be found on draught through a decent portion of New Jersey

Like many of the smaller breweries in NJ, Icarus is a fixture in their community. That sense of community began even before the brewery opened, as Lakewood wanted a brewery to open in their town. Another example of Icarus supporting local is that they use hops grown at a local farm in neighboring Colts Neck. Icarus has also helped to raise funds for several fire departments and Jason is a volunteer fireman himself. Icarus has brewed beer to benefit charitable organizations, including an Imperial IPA they call For the Story, the proceeds of which went towards City Stair Climb fund which honors 9/11 First Responders. Icarus also sponsors an annual Unity Tour fundraiser, which honors officers who lost their lives in the line of duty. Furthermore, Icarus hosts an annual McKenzie Blair Foundation event to raise funds and awareness for Sudden Unexpected Death in Childhood.

As I noted early in this post, Icarus has grown into one of the most respected breweries in the State (and even surrounding states) with many highly sought out beers. On untappd, for all the beers they’ve brewed, they have an overall 4.04 bottle cap rating and their average rating for all their beers on Beer Advocate is 4.06. NJ Monthly named them on of the 16 best breweries in NJ (out of 100 at the time of the articles writing). At the Beer BBQ Bacon Showdown, Kalashnikovcoffee was named best overall beer and Icarus received the “Best NJ Beer Award” at the 2019 Asbury Park Beerfest.

Another standout element of Icarus Brewing is the fantastic can art as many of the pictures throughout this post illustrates. The person responsible for the eye-catching can art is British based artist Ben Paul.

Icarus is in their third year of existence and it is clear they are one of the leaders of the New Jersey beer scene. Their taproom/brewery is a must visit, their great core beers are well known, but many of the tap room only beers are easily as good (like Build Me Up Butternut, Life in Helles). The taproom makes for a great hangout spot and chances are there might be a food truck parked outside. Icarus would be a great destination by itself and is near enough to some other breweries (Heavy Reel Brewing in Seaside Heights, Last Wave Brewing Company in Point Pleasant Beach, Kane Brewing Company in Ocean, Jughandle Brewing Company in Tinton Falls) that a multi-brewery tour of sorts could be worth a full day’s trip.

In short, try some Icarus beers or head to the brewery.

Special thanks to Matt Barnish, the new Taproom Manager of Icarus for helping out with some of the information in this post.

Some other links of interest:

Where to find Icarus Brewing on the Internet:

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

Draught Diversions: NJ Shelf of Honor Six Pack #1 (Draught Diversion #100!)

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…

Here we are at the end of my “celebration” of New Jersey Craft Beer Week with the 100th Draught Diversion post. I was planning on doing this specific post – the first of my personal Shelf of Honor for NJ beers as my 100th Draught Diversion so it was very serendipitous that the numbers aligned so I could present this post during New Jersey Craft Beer Week. In some of my reviews of NJ beers, I’ve mentioned a Shelf of Essential NJ Beers or that the beer under review would be in my personal NJ Hall of Fame beer. Now that I’m actually starting a six pack of those beers, I’m officially labeling it the “NJ Shelf of Honor” for beers that are essential or deserve a shelf in everybody’s fridge at some point. I will probably be putting together Shelf of Honor six packs in the future, maybe even a “Shelf of Honor” specific to a style or a brewery so consider this first of a series. Some of the beers in these posts will have been featured in a monthly Six Pack or a full review.

In the event I need to state the obvious – this is all my opinion about the beers I enjoy. I’m sure if you ask a dozen people in NJ what they’d consider a “first ballot for their NJ Shelf of Honor” there would be plenty of different beers in those six packs with only a little bit of overlap and maybe only at the brewery level and not at the specific beer level. As per usual, beers are listed alphabetically by brewery

Devil’s Reach | Belgian Strong Golden Ale | Cape May Brewing Company | Cape May, NJ | 8.6% ABV | Featured in the April 2016 Six Pack on the Tap Takeover

Over the last couple of years of drinking their beers, I’ve come to realize Cape May Brewing Company can do almost no wrong in my book. I’m sure regular readers of my blog are weary of reading my words expounding the virtues of the second largest brewery in NJ. The majority of what they brew is on the hoppier Pale Ale/IPA side of the beer spectrum, but this beer is, in my opinion, a world class ale. Like the best of Belgian inspired beers, the delicious magic of Devil’s Reach comes from the Belgian-style yeast so critical to the beer’s flavor. According to this blog post from CMBC, the beer is virtually unchanged since it was first brewed. I find it extremely impressive that they were able to brew this good of a beer on their first batch. This beer is most similar to the world-renowned Delirium Tremens. I’ll say I like Devil’s Reach more.

Regular Coffee | Imperial Cream Ale | Carton Brewing Company | Atlantic Highlands, NJ | 12% ABV

Two of the “Irregular” Coffee family members in the back

I’ve probably mentioned Carton on this blog as much as any other brewery (and more than most) and when mulling over what beer from the brewery to include I wavered between a few. Of course Boat was one (a nearly style defining beer), their fantastic Helles Lager This Town was another, and this one, Regular Coffee. I settled on Regular Coffee for a few reasons. One, it is the first Carton beer I had. Second, it is a beer that has become nearly synonymous with the brewery. Not as readily available as some of the other beers on this list (or even their own flagship Boat), but is a beer that has become a brand family within the brewery and something of an iconic beer of NJ Craft/Independent Brewing. Around New Year’s Day every year, Carton releases this beer and/or a variant with some flavors added, one year was Irish Coffee, meant to emulate the whiskey and/or mint infused coffee with maybe the best being Café Y. Churro which emulates Mexican Coffee. But Regular Coffee is the beer that started it all for the brand within a brand and my experience and dedication to the beers made by Augie Carton and crew.

Mexican Morning | Stout – Milk / Sweet | Conclave Brewing Company | Raritan/Flemington Township, NJ | 5.5% ABV

Conclave having a beer on this list is probably not a surprise to readers of the Tap Takeover and this beer is one that has attained some national recognition for its uniqueness. Conclave is the smallest brewery on this six pack and this beer is associated with the brewery the same way Regular Coffee is with Carton. Mexican Morning starts as Milk Stout but during the brewing process cinnamon, vanilla, cacao, coffee, and chili peppers are added. This beer deliciously evokes spicy Mexican coffee and is a beer I will have every single time it is available at Conclave when I visit. It isn’t brewed often enough to be on draft year round, largely because of the price of the ingredients and complexity of the brewing process, but it is absolutely delicious. When it is brewed, it is usually only available for pours at the brewery and not for growler fills. Once or twice Conclave has barrel aged the beer and that version is even more rare, but just maybe the best barrel-aged beer I can recall enjoying.

Overhead | India Pale Ale – Imperial / Double | Kane Brewing Company | Ocean, NJ | ABV 8.2% | Featured in the June 2019 Six Pack on the Tap Takeover

Kane has consistently been ranked as the best brewery in New Jersey for the past half-decade or so. This is a brewery that does EVERY style it attempts with a level of quality unparalleled by few other breweries. I knew I’d have to include one of their beers on this list, but I wasn’t sure which one, initially. Despite their amazing Quadrupels, I wanted to include a beer that is a little more accessible and this beer is probably the most accessible and easiest to find of all their beers – Kane started self-distributing 4-pack cans of this beer over the last year or so. The quality of the beer, oh boy oh boy.

As has been documented, only in the last year and half have I come to appreciate, enjoy, and seek out IPAs so I sort of avoided this beer for a long time. Now that I enjoy the hop heavy beers, I truly appreciate the outstanding nature of this beer. I’d say this is not just the best Imperial IPA out of NJ, but you maybe a top Imperial IPA in the country (Disclaimer, I haven’t had Pliny the Elder, for example). But this beer reminds me very much of Dogfish Head’s 90-Minute IPA, the nationally available standard bearer for Imperial/Double IPAs. Kane’s take is at least as good and an outstanding beer.

Blonde Hefe-Weizen | Hefeweizen | Ramstein/High Point Brewing Company | Butler, NJ | 5.5% ABV | Review on the Tap Takeover (May 2019)

I’d be hard pressed not to include a beer from Ramstein on a list like this one – I love German style beers and Ramstein is one of the originals of NJ Beer and Brewing. Good thing they make an absolute World-Class Hefeweizen – one of my favorite styles – in their line up. This beer is arguably one of the best American Hefeweizens and undoubtedly the best Hefeweizen brewed in New Jersey. Although I reviewed it very recently, this was a beer I’ve had quite a few times even before I joined untappd.

I would recommend this beer without hesitation as a great, flavorful example of a beer brewed with German ingredients (most of the hops, malt, and yeast used by High Point Brewing( are imported from Germany), in German tradition and process (Greg honed his brewing technique in Germany), with some American flare.

Chocolate Porter | Porter – Other | River Horse Brewing Company | Ewing, NJ | 6.5% ABV | Review on the Tap Takeover (February 2018)

River Horse is another one of the Originals of NJ Craft Brewing, having brewed beer for over 20 years. Some changes about a decade ago and a greater push in recent years to brew more beers and more eye-catching labels have kept the brewery a constant. Their Chocolate Porter isn’t the oldest beer in their lineup, nor is it one of the new ones, and it isn’t their flagship, (that would be their award winning Tripel Horse) but it is one of the more well-received beers and has been around for about five years. It is my favorite beer they brew and one I will always grab when I see on shelves. Stylistically, the beer sits right on the edge of the “Pastry Stout” craze: it is sweet, but it is still most definitely a beer. I reviewed it back in February 2018.

From my review: some porters are a little on the smoky side, this one is not. The “one pound of chocolate per barrel” sweetens the beer and eliminates some of that bitter smoke/roast flavor. If anything, the roast/smoke is akin to the edges of a freshly baked brownie, but the overall flavor, if we’re continuing with the brownie analogy, is like the gooey, slightly underbaked deliciousness of the center of the brownie but still retaining all the elements of a beer.

So, there you have it, six beers I feel Honorably represent the State of New Jersey and what the Garden State has to offer in beer. There are over 100 breweries in the state now so six beers is just the start of what could be a long and filled shelf of delicious beer.

 

Draught Diversions: Jersey Cyclone Brewing (Somerset, 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…

Continuing the celebration of Jersey Beer Week at the Tap Takeover, I wanted to feature a new brewery that opened up very close to me. I know the majority of these brewery visits/posts feature New Jersey breweries, so what better week to feature a new New Jersey Brewery than this week?

A pint of one of their first beers, Quarter Off Kölsch in front of the brewery’s cool logo

With the growing number of breweries in New Jersey, location can be everything. Timing helps, too. Jersey Cyclone Brewing Company opened in Franklin Township/Somerset, New Jersey on May 4, 2019 marking the third brewery to open in Somerset County, NJ. I’ve visited four times since they opened, once was a brief stop in for a growler fill of their delicious Helles Lager, Beach Blonde Lager, which I reviewed back in June. So I figured after my most recent visit, and this week being New Jersey Craft Beer Week, I should do a feature on the brewery here at The Tap Takeover.

A sign from the streets points you to a storm, a Cyclone, you’ll definitely want to visit

A familiar origin story for Jersey Cyclone, friends and owners Jan Chwiedosiuk and Brian Teel were home brewers. Their road to opening Jersey Cyclone, like many new small business, hit some bumps. The idea for opening a brewery began around the time Super Storm Sandy hit New Jersey back in 2011. After a few years and a few potential spots not working out for Brian and Jan, they settled into their current location on World’s Fair Drive in Somerset, NJ. The location is very centrally located off of route 287, a few of miles from the main campus of Rutgers University in New Brunswick. Even better for me is that I work around the block from the brewery. I found it very interesting to watch the progression of the brewery’s build out through social media, so I was very happy to be able to visit the brewery on their grand opening on May 4, 2019, which was also Star Wars Day (May The Fourth Be With You).

Tap list at Jersey Cyclone during their grand opening

During that visit, the brewery was extremely busy and filled with patrons glad to have a new brewery in their area especially with Demented Brewing (formerly located about a mile or two away) having closed a couple of weeks prior. Additionally, the NJ Brewing/Beer Community is, of course, always happy to check out a new brewery especially at the grand opening. While the region (Somerset/Middlesex County NJ) isn’t absent of breweries, it isn’t quite the destination spot at the moment that Hammonton or Hacketstown are with a few breweries within walking distance of each other. The closest breweries to Jersey Cyclone are the Harvest Moon brewpub in downtown New Brunswick, Flounder Brewing in Hillsborough and Cypress Brewing in Edison. All four can easily be done in one day, but some driving will definitely be required.

I was very impressed during that Grand Opening – the brewery/tap room was pretty packed when I arrived in the early afternoon. The owners and brewers took their time with everybody who approached them, never gave off a sense that they were rushed or overly nervous. They did everything correctly in other words. I briefly spoke to Jan and Mike that day and spent a little more time speaking with Charles, the brewer. All three gentlemen were friendly and excited, as they should be. Charles mentioned that he wanted to feature a lager in the near future. With the longer brew time for a lager, a lager wasn’t quite ready for opening day, but what I had was very impressive. I started with the Kölsch, which I found to be nearly perfect. It was a warm day and the crisp, flavorful ale that’s almost a lager hit the spot. Everything I like about a Kölsch was present in their take, which they call Quarter off Kölsch. I had a full pour/pint of it. The other beer I had was a variant of their Snowtober Porter, with Vanilla and Coconut. Some beers with Coconut are overpowered with Coconut drowning out all other flavors. Not this one, the flavor was there, but dialed in and in harmony with everything else.

Let me talk about their approach and roll out of beers. Some breweries come out of the gate very aggressively with 12 taps and 12 different beers. Jan, Mike, and Charles went with a more measured approach, and one that in the long run, I think will pay off nicely for them and their customers. 8 beers were served opening weekend: Four variants of Snowtober (i.e. a Coconut, a coffee, etc), three variants of their flagship IPA Eye of the Storm, each highlighting a different hop, and the aforementioned Kölsch. For me, that says they are focusing their efforts in an attempt to be as precise as possible. Sure there are 8 beers on that taplist, but it is really three beers at their base.

An interesting water fountain.

The interior of the brewery is beautifully designed and very roomy with plenty of space where the brewing happens with room to expand. From the exterior, you’d be surprised how much space is inside the brewery and taproom. The tables are constructed from locally sourced white oak built by Jan and Brian. A water fountain is made from a re-purposed fire hydrant from the Middlesex Water Company from the early 1950s. Jan spent much of his career as the director of distribution for the Middlesex Water Company and this is a very cool homage and a great functional, conversation piece. How many breweries dispense their drinking water through a fire hydrant? Not many, I’d venture to guess. About the only criticism I can level is that the taproom could use some more lighting and/or brighter lighting.

Since getting that glass, it has become a favorite

There were couple of other nice elements in the experience of the tap room. I mentioned in my review of Beach Blonde Lager that Jan meticulously wiped down my growler with a water bottle. The servers/bartenders did the same for each pour in the taproom. I had the chance to speak with bartender Keith for a bit about the brewery, some of their plans, their approach and beer in NJ in general. From my conversation, it sounded very much like Keith was quite happy to be part of Jersey Cyclone. What all of this amounts to is that Jersey Cyclone is a welcoming, inviting place to enjoy good beer and conversation.

A 10.5 oz pour of Franklin Double, a very tasty Imperial IPA

On my second visit I only had a full pour of Franklin Double, their flagship Imperial/Double IPA. This is a classic Imperial IPA with a lot of hop bite, but with enough malt to balance out the beer so that it is approachable. Third visit entailed the copiously linked and noted growler fill of Beach Blonde Lager.

Compare this tap list to day one. It looks much better and features 8 unique beers.

The fourth visit was the most recent, and a few things stood out. While the taplist still consists of 8 beers, the taplist is more diverse. The 8 total beers includes two saisons/farmhouse ales, a pilsner, an imperial stout, an imperial porter, an Imperial IPA, an Imperial NEIPA, and a Pale Ale. Not a bad representation of different styles. The menu, from a font/physical standpoint, looks better, too. Thought and a bit of whimsy went into how they represent each beer on their taplist. The taproom looked just as clean and nice (but still a little too dark). On that Saturday evening, there were quite a few people and some patrons had pizza delivered.

New World Pilsner. Blurry, clearly not my best photo.

On to the two beers I had most recently. I’ve come to love Pilsners and I was very happy to see a new Pilsner on draught. New World Pilsner is a dry-hopped Pilsner that reminded me quite a bit of Victory’s Home Grown Lager, also a dry-hopped lager. It was refreshing, tasty, but a little more hoppy than I expect from a Pilsner. The next beer…oooh the next beer was Flood, an Imperial Stout that was brewed a couple of weeks prior to my visit. My picture below doesn’t quite capture the colors as well as I’d like, but the khaki head and deep blackness of the beer itself is *exactly* what I want to see in my Imperial Stout. The beer had a very pleasant aroma of chocolate malt and some hops. The beer tastes delicious, a nearly perfect take on an Imperial Stout. What I learned after speaking to Keith and what I really like is that there are no adjuncts, no coffee, no chocolate, just the core four ingredients of beer. To continue the comparisons, my taste memory for this beer kept returning to Sierra Nevada’s Narwhal – great roasted malt with a potent, yet unobtrusive hop bite at the end. For me, this is the best beer I’ve had from them so far. In my conversation with Keith, we both thought this would be a good beer for barrel aging.

10.5 oz pour of Flood

As has become a little evident, there’s a stormy/weather theme to many of the beers, as is appropriate with the impact Superstorm Sandy had on the region and the brewery itself. Flood is pretty obvious, the Cloudy/Hazy New England IPA is aptly named Storm Cloud, the standard IPA is called Eye of the Storm, the Pale Ale goes by Pier Pressure, the Imperial Porter goes by Snowtober, and the Saison with Hibiscus goes by Red Skies at Night.

In three and a half (I didn’t stay long for the Growler fill) visits over the course of 5 months, it seems to me that Jersey Cyclone is doing all the right things a new brewery should do. They opened with quality beer on May 4, they’ve been largely well-received by the community, and their quality and output improves. Jersey Cyclone has also recently expanded the hours of operation, opening earlier (3PM as opposed to 5PM on Friday), with the brewery adding Wednesday and Thursday hours. That tells me their beer is selling and people want to visit Jersey Cyclone. One thing that I was very pleased with is something I alluded to at the beginning of this post – Jersey Cyclone will always have a lager available. They didn’t immediately have their lager ready, but since Beach Blonde Lager has been on tap, the plan is to always have a lager of some kind. Right now the New World Pilsner fits that bill and soon a Dopplebock (a style I love) will be tapped.

It has been only about four months since Jersey Cyclone has opened but they are laying down a nice trajectory for the growth and maturity. Local places have been featuring some of their beer on draught including a favorite NJ Spot which I’ve mentioned previously – the Stirling Hotel. Jersey Cyclone has been making the round local beer festivals, too. Hopefully their growth continues and we can maybe see some bottles or cans from these folks. I know I feel very fortunate to have a brewery of this quality this close to my house and where I work. I’ve said this often about the breweries I’ve highlighted but repeating it makes it no less true – Jersey Cyclone is well worth the visit.

Jersey Cyclone Brewing Web site | Instagram | Facebook | Jersey Cyclone Brewing on NewJerseyCraftBeer.com | untappd

Some other links of interest:

My Central Jersey on the opening of Jersey Cyclone (May 2019)
NJ Monthly Previews Jersey Cyclone (March 2019)

Draught Diversions: Interview with Mike Kivowitz of NJ Craft Beer

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…

Welcome to Jersey Beer Week at the Tap Takeover! A week long celebration of all things Beer in New Jersey. This is the second (or third?) year New Jersey Craft Beer is spear-heading the initiative, a week of events at NJ Breweries, bars featuring NJ Beer nights, and a week to #DrinkLocal and enjoy New Jersey beer rather beer from out of state.

To help kick off the week here at the Tap Takeover I figured I’d interview Mike Kivowitz, the main man in the New Jersey beer community who created New Jersey Craft Beer almost 10 years ago. I’ve met and chatted with Mike at a few events and breweries over the years and you won’t meet a nicer guy who has great taste in beer. Talking to him,  you get a sense of just how much he enjoys the community…and how much he enjoys seeing others take part in the New Jersey Beer Community.

Mike is one of the major reasons why the New Jersey beer community is the great place it has become over the last decade. New Jersey Craft Beer is a great resource for all things NJ Beer, whether it is information about Breweries in the state, stores that feature NJ beer, or a calendar of beer events in NJ.

The best part, for me and many members, is the Loyalty Program in the form of the NJCB Discount Card. For just $25 per year, you get an New Jersey Craft Beer card (all of mine are pictured below) which gets you discounts at liquor stores (the majority of the stores in my area offer 10% off all craft beer purchases), a range of discounts at breweries (money off flights or merchandise, for example), discounts at restaurants (anywhere between $1 off each beer you purchase to 10% off the entire bill!), and discounts at various beer events (Beer Festivals, Beer/Brewery Sponsored 5K races, etc). In short, it is the absolute best $25 I spend every year and often pays for itself by March. If you are visiting a brewery in New Jersey, there’s a decent chance you’ll run into Mike or one of his many co-conspirators.

Without further adieu, here’s a 12 pack worth of questions for our interview.

1. I’m sure most of the visitors to this blog have a passing knowledge of NJCB, but what is your TV Guide description of NJCB?

The source for beer in NJ with a loyalty program designed to explore beer all over the state.

2. What is this whole New Jersey Craft Beer Week all about, then?

Drinking in Jersey. Drinking Jersey beer.

3. New Jersey Craft Beer was founded in 2010, almost a decade later and the beer landscape has evolved. What is the biggest change to Craft Beer in NJ since you started NJCB?

The growth of local offerings. I launched NJCB with like 14 breweries on the list, now it’s 115+. Local breweries lead to bars and stores carrying more local.

Editor’s Note: The About page on New Jersey Craft Beer shows the large growth of the organization since its inception in 2010.

4. What is the most challenging and frustrating element of running NJCB?

Getting people to go to events. Everyone has events all the time. Getting support for some of them is hard. Especially when I spend like 70 hours of work on a 3 hour event and 10 people come. It’s souring but I learn and try harder next time.

5. What is the most rewarding element of being the go to guy for all things beer in New Jersey?

Meeting people and seeing how NJCB has changed their lives.

6. It might show some bias if I asked you your favorite NJ beer and brewery so I’ll ask you what your favorite style is and favorite non-NJ brewery.

West Coast IPAs will always be my favorite style. Firestone Walker is a good example of a non-NJ brewery I love.

7. What would you say is the one thing you would like people in NJ to get out of New Jersey Craft Beer?

Have fun. It’s beer. Just get moving and see what’s going on outside the keyboard you are reading this on. Ohhh, be nice too.

8. What 2 or 3 breweries in NJ deserve more attention? Everybody knows Kane, Carton, Magnify, etc. But with over 100 breweries, some are likely to fall through the cracks or not be as widely known.

Kelly Green Brewing, Vinyl Brewing, Bonesaw Brewing, Czig Meister Brewing, Hackensack Brewing and I can go on.

Editor’s Note: I wholeheartedly agree with Mike’s suggestions of Czig Meister Brewing and Hackensack Brewing Company.

9. What beer do you want to have again for the first time?

Spellbound’s Vices Porter on nitro I want everyday.

10. Do you have any correspondences or work in conjunction with similar organizations in neighboring states? Like Breweries in PA or NY Craft Beer?

I mean, yes and no. Most of the people I know that run other sites, I knew back in in and before I launched NJCB. Like Brew York New York for example. Some of the new guys like Breweries in PA started because of NJCB and reached out for input. I’ll talk to anyone, just don’t try to rip me off and steal my baby like that Instagram guy that’s now out of business. I don’t want to mention their name though.

11. Despite some of the obstacles, the number of breweries in New Jersey has grown consistently since 2012. Aside from the quality of the beer itself, what do you think are the key factors that will help a brewery succeed in New Jersey?

Quality is #1. Everything else is sort of hard to explain. See, some breweries just want to remain downtown/main street and not promote their beer on shelves but then they don’t want to do events, then when they do events, it’s like ohhh, I can only get this at one or two places around the brewery and not anywhere else. Then there’s the opposite where places only package the standard stuff and no one can get it anywhere else but the brewery but they sell kegs at every bar. Those people don’t want to leave their house. Sooo distro, labels/artwork, sales people, educated retailers. I can probably lump more into #2.

12. This question will likely generate a lengthy response, but here goes. With the evolving laws around beer in NJ, specifically the limits being placed on small, independent breweries, what can individuals do to prevent the rules from halting the great progressive growth of breweries and goodwill in the NJ Beer Community?

Editor’s Note: Visit SaveNJBeer.com for more information on the laws that could significantly impact many of the independent breweries in NJ.

Speak up. Write to your local officials and explain how you spend money and where and why. Also, get informed on the actual laws and wording. There’s 1 thing we need to do and that’s work together.

Draught Diversions: Oktoberfest 2019 Six Pack

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

Oktoberfest is sort of like the Easter of beer holidays. It isn’t always on the same exact date, but it is generally the same time of year. Mid-September is when the great German celebration of the marriage of then Prince and soon King Ludwig to Princess Therese begins. In 2019, Oktoberfest spans from September 21 through October 6, but seasonal creep gets these beers on our shelves in August. We* here at the Tap Takeover try to keep things seasonally appropriate, so here about a week or so is my annual Oktoberfest 6 pack of Oktoberfest beers. (*By “we” I mean me) A mix of national and New Jersey breweries, a mix of Oktoberfest beers I’ve had and have yet to try. You know, the typical.

Oktoberfest | Cape May Brewing Co. | Cape May, NJ | 5.8% ABV

Image courtesy of Cape May Brewing’s Facebook

Cape May Brewing is slowly climbing up my list of favorite NJ Breweries. They nail IPAs, debuted a superb Pale Lager earlier this year, and seem to excel at all styles. It is a no-brainer for me to want to try their take on the classic German Lager and with their increased distribution footprint, I was easily able to find six pack. Cape May knocks it out of the park with their take on the classic Märzen. I found it to be a little sweeter than I’ve had, but that is a feature and not a bug for me. This has immediately become an annual must have for me. This beer should be available throughout NJ and some of Southeastern PA.

What Cape May says about the beer:

Rich and complex, this amber-colored lager is smooth and clean due to a cool fifty-degree fermentation, mellowing as it lagers. Well-balanced with a hint of hops presence, Oktoberfest is focused on the grain bill of Vienna, Munich, Caramunich, Pilsen, and Melanoidin malts.

Oktoberfest – Czig Meister Brewing Company | Hackettstown, NJ | 5.3% ABV

Image courtesy of Czig Meister’s Facebook

Czig Meister has been putting this beer in cans for a couple of years, but I haven’t had the opportunity to try it yet. I’ve liked most of the beer I’ve had from them, so I don’t expect that trend to cease once I try their Oktoberfest. This beer should be available throughout NJ and some of NY.

What Czig Meister says about the beer:

Medium bodied light orange color. Flavors of toasty graham crackers and light honey notes.

OktoberFish | Flying Fish Brewing Company | Somerdale, NJ | 6% ABV

First brewed waaay back in 2002, Flying Fish’s take on the classic German Lager is one of the oldest versions continuously brewed in NJ. Many of the beers from their early years incorporate “Fish” into the beer name, just like this one. For me, this has been something of a staple for nearly twenty years. It has always been a very consistent beer for the season. Over the past couple of years, Flying Fish has gone through a facelift, updating the packaging for many of their beers, including this one which plays with the traditional iconic blue diamond pattern for Oktoberfest. This one should be available throughout the NJ/PA/NY region

What Flying Fish says about the beer:

We present this German style lager in celebration of the season. To be enjoyed with the fest fare and especially when paired with lederhosen.

Copper Legend | Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers | Framingham, MA | ABV 5.7%

Image courtesy of Jack’s Abby’s Facebook

Jack’s Abby has been on the shelves in NJ for only a few months, but as my posts have indicated here at the Tap Takeover, I’m VERY impressed with their beer. With that German Brewing tradition at their heart, an Oktoberfest (in this case the slightly lighter version, Festbier) is to be expected. I’m going to make sure to grab some of this beer before Oktoberfest ends during the first week of October. This beer should be available throughout much of the Northeastern US.

What Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers says this about the beer:

Celebrate Octoberfest with this malty, smooth and exceedingly drinkable lager. Copper Legend is the perfect beer for creating legendary times with legendary people. Raise a can to Honor Today’s Legends. Brewed with noble hops. Prost!

Oktoberfest | Revolution Brewing Company | Chicago, IL | 5.7% ABV

Image courtesy of Revolution Brewing’s Facebook

I’ve seen Revolution’s beer sporadically throughout NJ over the past couple of years. I don’t know that I can think of a more appropriate image to adorn a beer meant to ring in Oktoberfest than a big burly German man wearing lederhosen and an Oktoberfest hat playing a tuba on the label. If I’m able to grab a can or two this season, I’ll certainly be happy to try it.

What Revolution Brewing says about the beer:

Our Oktoberfest Bier is a German-style lager that was brewed in the summer and “cold stored” until late August to celebrate the coming of fall! Traditional German malts such as Pilsner, Vienna, Carared and Munich lend a beautiful burnt orange color and a pleasant toasty malt flavor and aroma to this lager. Initial Magnum hopping along with multiple additions of German Saphir and Select hops throughout the boil provide a crisp balanced bitterness and spicy/earthy aroma to round out this robust beer! For fermentation we use a Bavarian Lager yeast and then lower the temperature to 32 °F and store the beer cold for 4 weeks. This cold maturation time helps provide a smooth round mouthfeel and clean crisp finish.

Oktoberfest | Sly Fox Brewing Company | Pottstown, PA | 6.1% ABV

Image courtesy of Sly Fox Brewing’s Facebook

Sly Fox is one of the many great breweries out of Pennsylvania. I haven’t had too much of their beer in recent years as it seems they’ve scaled back distribution into NJ a bit, or at least in my immediate area. I remember having this one on draught a couple of years ago and being very pleased with the overall taste and profile. If I see a sixer of it in one of the shops in my regular driving radius, I’ll likely grab some. Available in PA, NJ, DE, NY, MD, VA and Washington D.C.

What Sly Fox says about the beer:

Ein Prosit! This seasonal gem is best enjoyed under a humongous tent while you and thousands of your closest friends sing enthusiastically. Or anywhere, really. It’s all about the gemütlichkeit, baby!

Draught Diversions: August 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…

August is like the Sunday of summers. You know the cooler weather is coming, but there are still some warm days and good time to lounge by the pool with some good beers. A variety of styles, but back to a split of 3 NJ beers and 3 non-NJ beers this month.

The Tiller – Blackberry Saison (Czig Meister Brewing Company) | Farmhouse Ale – Saison | 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

Czig Meister continues to rise in my personal ranks of New Jersey Breweries. Great straightforward styles, and really interesting out of the box takes on traditional styles. Saison is one of the most traditional of styles, but as the color of the beer above suggests, purple is not exactly a traditional beer color. The flavor; however, is traditional in that it hits the palate with bold flavors. The sweetness from the blackberry works extremely well with the earthy base of the saison. Great for summer, great for an anytime refreshment.

Hoponius Union (Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers) | Lager – IPL (India Pale Lager) | 4.50 bottle Caps on untappd

India Pale Lagers are far from a standard, available-everywhere style and I’ve only had a couple before trying this delicious, hoppy beer. It is the top checked in beer of Jack’s Abby, a brewery that has not disappointed in their entry to New Jersey. The hops are *perfect* in this beer, you get a burst of flavor from the hops, without overtaking everything else about the beer or knocking you over the head with hops. There’s a reason this beer is the top rated (as of this writing) Lager on Beer Advocate – it is simply outstanding.

Irish Queen (Bonesaw Brewing Co) | Cream Ale | 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

Bonesaw is one of the NJ breweries I’ve been hearing and seeing great things about since they opened. Unfortunately, they are on the far end of the state from me, so I was happy to see one of their beers available when my wife and I went to a Trenton Thunder (AA Affiliate of the New York Yankees) for Pork Roll Fridays. On those days, they team becomes the Trenton Pork Rolls. Anyway, the beer – a Cream Ale infused with Coffee – was a perfect way to start the night, clean, extremely flavorful, and light. The best parts of an iced coffee and beer in one. Think Carton’s Regular Coffee but about a third of the ABV.

Kalon (Trustworthy Brewing Co) | Schwarzbier | 3.75 bottle Caps on untappd

Las Vegas…not exactly a great beer city, but the hotel I was staying at for a work conference just opened an onsite brewbpub – Trustworthy Brewing. I knew I had to visit for at least a beer and when I saw this Schwarzbier, I latched onto it. A Schwarzbier is one of the more obscure, yet traditional German lagers. Smoky and roasty the same way a porter is, but it has a nice lager-y finish. The roast is just shy of being burnt so Trustworthy crafted this beer really well. This is basically a porter by way of a lager and really nice.

Saewart’s Oatmeal Stout (Highrail Brewing Company) | Stout – Oatmeal | 4 bottle Caps on untappd

I’m always happy to see a new brewery open in New Jersey, it seems to happen on a monthly basis. Highrail is less than a half hour from me, which is really nice so a few weeks after their opening I stopped in and had two beers, both of which were quite good, but this edged out the other just a little bit. Like the Schwarzbier on this post, this oatmeal stout is perfectly balanced with all the flavors dialed in for harmony. A little creaminess from the oatmeal, good malted roast that evoke some coffee. Head Brewer Brian said this beer was a surprisingly great seller considering the summer release but considering the quality of the beer, I’m *not* surprised at how well it is doing for Highrail.

Underground Mountain Brown (Founders Brewing Co.) | Brown Ale – Imperial / Double | 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

It has been a while since I featured a beer from Founders in a six pack and this is a really good beer. I like the base beer even before it sits in barrels – Sumatra Brown – quite a bit, so letting it sit in bourbon barrels for a year adds even more complexity to the beer. There’s a ton of coffee in this beer and aside from the flavor profile of a brown being present, the coffee is the star of the beer for me. I’m glad the bourbon was rather subtle because I think my palate has changed to the point that most barrel aged beers just aren’t doing it for me. This beer; however, is delicious and one of the better Barrel Aged Series offerings from Founders over the last couple of years.

Not necessarily new to me, but for the first time in nearly four years I had a pint of Sierra Nevada’s Kellerweis, probably my favorite American Hefeweizen. It was on draught at Gordon Ramsay’s Burger in Las Vegas. For reasons beyond my understanding, I haven’t seen this beer anywhere near me in New Jersey in about four years.

I was able to visit three new-to-me breweries in August:

  • Trustworthy Brewing Company in the Venetian in Las Vegas
  • Highrail Brewing in High Bridge, NJ (Opened late July 2019)
  • Icarus Brewing in Lakewood, NJ – I’ve had a few of their beers, but finally visited the brewery. A great brewery for sure. Also was lucky enough to run into Mike K. of NJ Craft Beer during my visit.