Beer Review: Lone Eagle Brewing’s King Kölsch

Name: King Kölsch
Brewing Company: Lone Eagle Brewing Company
Location: Flemington, NJ
Style: Kölsch
ABV: 5%

This relatively underappreciated style is a standout of its kind and one of the best beers to come out of Flemington’s Lone Eagle Brewing.

From the untappd page for the beer and can label:

This classic German ale is much like a nice crisp lager. A personal passion of our brewer, it has a nice malty sweetness to it while finishing with a slight bitterness. This Kölsch is true royalty. Long live King Kölsch!

Lone Eagle is one of a small handful of breweries within a 10 mile or so radius of me. As such (and as I’ve noted previously here at the Tap Takeover), I had been visiting them on again and off again for the monthly Board Game Night, both for gaming with friends and the beer. Of course, since March 2020 that hasn’t happened. When I saw that Lone Eagle was canning their re-worked Kölsch, I figured it was finally time I grabbed some of their beer.

In the few Kölsch reviews I’ve posted, I’ve mentioned how the style is underappreciated, it isn’t an IPA, Stout, or even a Pilsner. However, if brewed well, a Kölsch can be very flavorful, refreshing, and satisfying. Those last three words encapsulate this beer, but read below for more…

The beer pours a clear, bright yellow into the Lone Eagle nonic tumbler which really catches my attention. An image just like the one at the top of this post is likely what many people will conjure in their minds if somebody asks them to picture “beer.”

I’m hit with a very clean tasting beer. What does that mean? Well, there’s a consistency to the flavor profile, good contribution from the water, yeast, barley, and hops. The core four ingredients are playing in harmony. There’s zero unpleasant taste on the finish or aftertaste, nothing lingers uninvited. Rather, the taste here with King Kölsch finishes in a way that makes me not want to put the glass down.

There’s great flavor from the malt, a little breadiness that reminds me of a Helles Lager. The beer also has a sweetness to it that makes you want to go for a second sip without having put the glass down from the first sip. Kölsch ales can have a bitterness on the finish, but this one doesn’t. While the hops are definitely present, but there’s no lingering unpleasantness.

I’ve had nearly 50 different beers from Lone Eagle over the last few years, so I wasn’t sure what to expect since I’d characterize them as “a very nice brewery.” While I’ve enjoyed the majority of their beer, only a few of their darker beers (Stouts and Dopplebocks) have stood above the crowd of their peers in an otherworldly sense. Again, not a knock necessarily because I’ve been more than pleased with what I’ve had – I wouldn’t have had almost 50 beers from Lone Eagle if they weren’t good.

However, this Kölsch is one of the best 3 or 4 best beers I’ve had from Lone Eagle Brewing. To put it simply, King Kölsch is a beer worthy of the title because it is a standout beer for a style that (unjustifiably) is not always a standout and a standout beer from a brewery who has been churning out good beer for about four years now.

Recommended, link to 4.25-bottle-cap Untappd check in.

My “Brewery Spotlight” on Lone Eagle Brewing from June 2017. (Three Years ago already!)

Draught Diversion: Summer Six Pack 2020

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…

Memorial Day is the unofficial kick off of Summer (even though the season actually changes June 20/21), so what better time to highlight a six pack of beers geared towards warmer weather and beers that work perfectly in the Summer? This year, I’m focusing only on New Jersey breweries (which is only a slight shift from the norm) because since about March and the Pandemic, I’ve really wanted to focus more on local. As I said last year, because a post about Summer Beers was the very first Draught Diversion I posted/published, I want to continue the tradition especially since I just hit the three-year mark here at the Draught Diversion.

As in past Summer Six Packs, not all of these are official “summer” beers, but they are styles for me that seem to fit right into the summer..

Bull Pop | Sour – Berliner Weisse | 4.1% ABV | Bolero Snort Brewery | Carlstadt, NJ

A Berliner Weisse is a traditional German style of beer, lightly tart which is often counterbalanced by the addition of some kind of fruit. I’ve had a decent number in this style and even did an “Overlooked Style” post on the style. Bolero Snort’s take on the style emulates the Rainbow Ice pop that was in every body’s freezer in the summer.

What Bolero Snort says about the beer:

As a kid, it was fireworks on a hot summer night with a cold sticky treat to hold the heat at bay – so we decided to go all ‘Merica with this one and turn it into a beer! We started with a light, slightly tart base with added mouthfeel from a wheat heavy grist. Secondary fermentation on tart cherries, lime and raspberry gives this brew a red/pinkish hue with fruity aromatics and a dry finish. Grab one soon because just like the summer it will be gone before you know it.

Laid Back Lager | Lager – American Light | 5.3% ABV | Double Nickel Brewing Company | Pennsauken, NJ

Craft Light Lager…three words that are becoming somewhat more prevalent. There’s been a drive for lower calorie beers that maintain the same level of flavor as the standard craft fare and Double Nickel’s take seems to land pretty nicely in that spot. I haven’t had the opportunity to try this one yet, but based on the small sample size of beers I have had from Double Nickel, my guess is that this would be a tasty beer.

What Double Nickel says about the beer:

Everything you want in a Golden Summer Lager and more – drinkable, light, clean, and crisp – with notes of sweet summer melon from the Huell Melon hops–truly refreshing and crushable.

What the Butler Saw | Witbier | 5.0% ABV | Forgotten Boardwalk Brewing Company | Cherry Hill, MA

Shame on me for not including Forgotten BOARDWALK in any of my previous Summer six packs! Although What the Butler Saw is part of Forgotten Boardwalk’s year-round lineup (as Witbiers often are), the light, yet flavorful ale is perfect for a refreshing summer beer by the pool, after mowing the lawn, or on the porch.

What Forgotten Boardwalk says about the beer:

Brewed with: coriander, orange peel

Taste profile: light, refreshing, gentle spice

Shore Break | Farmhouse Ale – Saison | 6.5% ABV | Slack Tide Brewing Company | Clermont, NJ

Slack Tide is a brewery whose beers I’ve yet to sample, but I’ve seen good things about their output. A Saison is a great beer for summer, considering the style was originally made as a reward/refreshment for Belgian farmers toiling in the fields. As such, the style is inherently refreshing and Slack Tide’s take looks really flavorful with the additional of orange peel. Prior to this year, I think this was only a taproom/draught only beer, making a debut in cans in Spring/Summer 2020.

What Slack Tide says about the beer:

Shore Break is our spin on a classic Saison. We use sweet orange peel and a Belgian yeast to develop a crisp yet sweet flavor profile. Then we dry hop the beer to give it a bit more aroma and citrus flavor. The result is summertime in a glass. Enjoy!

Poolside Lager | Lager – Pale | 5.2% ABV | Tonewood Brewing Company | Oaklyn, NJ

Tonewood has yet to disappoint me, but this is one of their many well-received beers I’ve yet to enjoy. How many times have I referred to a beer as a perfect “poolside” beer? Well, this has been part of Tonewood’s portfolio since they opened. Really, though, the name and label say everything you need to know for a perfect summer beer.

What Tonewood says about the beer:

Mexican Lager – Brewed with Saaz and Tettnanger hops, our Mexican lager yeast drives the flavor of this beer. Crisp and refreshing, the name says it all.

“Tastes Like Summer” Watermelon Wheat | Fruit Beer | 5.8 % ABV | Wet Ticket Brewing Company | Rahway, NJ

In some ways, I’m a weirdo. I’m about the only person I know who does not like Watermelon. I’ve always found the aroma and taste to be off-putting and overpowering so I’ve always strongly avoided beers with Watermelon. When I visited Wet Ticket about a year ago for a New Jersey Craft Beer night, my mind was changed. I had a glass of this beer and found it to be delicious and a perfect summer beer and wonderfully refreshing. That could be why Wet Ticket also calls this beer “Tastes Like Summer.” This is well worth seeking out

What Wet Ticket says about the beer:

Dominated by the fresh taste and aroma of watermelon, this beer is the perfect summer refresher. We started with a classic American Wheat recipe, then added the juice of 52 watermelons when the primary fermentation was almost complete. The resulting beer is crisp, dry, and will take you back to your favorite summer memories of finishing a backyard barbeque with a slice of watermelon.

What new brews are you hoping to try this summer?

Beer Review: Kane Brewing’s Cloud Cover

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

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

From the Untappd Page for the beer:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recommended, link to Untappd 4-star rating.

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

Beer Review: Spellbound Brewing’s Hefeweizen

Name: Hefeweizen
Brewing Company: Spellbound Brewing Company
Location: Mount Holly, NJ
Style: Hefeweizen
ABV: 4.8%

A delicious interpretation of the classic German/Bavarian Wheat Ale – The Original Hazy Beer from a superb NJ Brewery

From the for Untappd Page for the beer:

Light and effervescent. Traditional German style beer with notes of banana, clove, and wheat malt sweetness

Spellbound is a brewery I visited back in 2018, I enjoyed what I had at the time, and have found their IPA to be one of the most consistent/reliable beers in their lineup. Like many breweries, Spellbound has brewed a Hefeweizen in the past, but in Spring 2020, Spellbound canned the beer for the first time. I knew it was a beer I wanted to try based on liking the 10 or so beers I’ve had from Spellbound.

At its heart, a Hefeweizen is a classic style, which pairs well with many foods. I’ve always associated Hefeweizens with warm weather, so a May can release for Spellbound’s take is perfect timing from my perspective (aside from the fact that a little bit of snow fell on the day I picked up the cans). How does it stack up against the many other Hefeweizens I’ve enjoyed?

The aroma of clove and fruity/banana flavors hit my nose once the can opens and I begin pouring the beer. We’re off to a great start. Once the beer fills the glass, the look brings it all together. The cloudiness and head are spot on for a Hefeweizen, the original Hazy Beer. The aroma continues to hint at what the beer might taste like.

Diving into for the taste, I get what the aroma and look promised – a delightful interpretation of a Hefeweizen. The beer is extremely clean with great flavors from the yeast at the forefront. Most Hefeweizens go one of two ways, in terms of the flavor profile the yeast evokes. Some will have a banana like flavor, with maybe even hints of bubble-gum. Other Hefeweizens will evoke clove and spice as the yeast expresses itself in the beer. I like both flavor profiles, but prefer Hefeweizens that lean a little bit more on the banana side. Spellbound’s Hefeweizen leans slightly more towards an expression of clove and spice flavors from the yeast, which despite the preference I just mentioned, was still extremely tasty.

I judge most Hefeweizens by two metrics: (1) How does the beer compare to Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier (the best in the world) and (2) what would my Father-in-Law (who loves German styles) say about the beer? Well, on point one, Spellbound’s take is a very good interpretation of the wheat ale from the 900+year old brewery. Maybe a notch below the best in the world, but Spellbound’s Hefeweizen is still an excellent take on the classic beer style I would be happy to have in my cooler throughout the summer. On point two, I think my father-in-law would really like the beer, especially since it is a New Jersey beer.

Also, I thought it worth mentioning that Spellbound’s logo is one of my favorite brewery logos in the State of New Jersey and it provides a nice, consistent branding along their whole portfolio. The label for Hefeweizen incorporates the branding really well, while also nodding to the German heritage of the style in the color and font.

To bring balance to this review, if there is anything about the beer that I can raise even the most minor of complaints about is that there’s a slight aftertaste in the beer. It is only very slight and doesn’t really detract from the overall pleasant and refreshing flavor of the beer as a whole. But the bottom line, as I said above, Spellbound’s Hefeweizen is a spot-on interpretation of the style which stands very comfortably in the top of portion the 70 or so Hefeweizens I’ve had, especially when you drill down to just those Hefeweizens brewed by American breweries.

Ein Prosit!

Recommended, link to Untappd 4-star rating.

Badge Earned:

Heffenista (Level 14)

It may not be cloudy outside, but your brew definitely is! That’s at least 70 different hefeweizens. Try 5 more to unlock Level 15

SpellboundCanGlass

Draught Diversions: April 2020 Six Pack

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Draught Diversions: BREWERY STRONG

Trying not to be COVID-19 all the time here, but it is a reality impacting every aspect of everybody’s every day life. Fortunately, the NJ Beer community is an incredibly strong community of breweries, beer sellers, and beer drinkers. I’ve praised the community in the past and how, in large part, through New Jersey Craft Beer, all the constituents – the people making the beer to the people buying the beer – realize that working together truly does make the participants stronger themselves and the community stronger as a whole.

Along those lines, about a week ago, the fine folks at South Jersey Beer Scene announced Brewery Strong:

Brewery Strong is a non-profit organization that supports people in the brewing, bar, and restaurant industries through programs offering financial assistance, continuing education, and other professional development opportunities.

Excerpted from their Brewery Strong’s opening blog post:

Brewery Strong is the result of Rob Callaghan’s vision to do something to help people in the brewery, bar, and restaurant professions during the Covid-19 Pandemic. Rob, the Sales Manager of Tuckahoe Brewing Company, was a guest on the South Jersey Beer Scene Live! show on March 24th, 2020 and ended the show by saying “Brewery Strong”, and it stuck. “I just wanted to do something to help where I could. We have an amazing community and a lot of people are struggling during this unprecedented time. I knew that we could do something to bring a little big of light to our brothers and sisters in the hospitality industry”.

Rob asked a few of his friends how to make this happen, and within two weeks a Non-profit was formed, board members and trustees were asked to join, and a live announcement was made on the South Jersey Beer Scene Live! show on April 20th, 2020. The response was overwhelming and immediate with over 1000 Facebook followers in the first 24 hours. The message grew quickly and the organization received support from Craft Beer fans and many businesses, pledging donations and buying merchandise from the Brewery Strong Store (100% of the profit goes directly to Brewery Strong), and asking how they could help.

They are accepting straight up donations or, what I assume will interest many people, merchandise with the great logo on it, with 100% of the profit going directly to Brewery Strong.  Currently that merchandise includes T-shirts, mugs, and stickers with Pint Glasses (hopefully!) on the way.

In terms of the people behind the organization, they’ve got a virtual Who’s Who in NJ Beer/Brewing backing the organization:

BOARD OF DIRECTORS

TRUSTEES

Bottom line, this is a good organization with well-known people in NJ behind it, so it is worth donating to or supporting if it is within your means.

As a reminder, I’ve been updating the COVID-19 page here fairly frequently, including today.

Beer Review: Carton Brewing’s 077XX

Name: 077XX
Brewing Company: Carton Brewing Company
Location: Atlantic Highlands, NJ
Style: IPA – Imperial/Double
ABV:7.8%

One of the Classic NJ beers and a fantastic Double IPA – a must-have beer.

The beer’s description on Carton’s Landing Page for the beer:

Like all things truly Jersey, 077XX makes the most in balancing through its accentuation of extremes. Inspired by the west coast IPAs we love, we added a thump of hops to a dynamic malt profile and chose a yeast to drive these two further than they wanted to go. Throw our water into this mix and you will find dank green resinous hops popping over orange, mango and papaya aromas, with just enough sweetness of body to make the long finish a pleasure to have around. Drink O’Dub when your night matters.

With the state of the world as it is under the COVID-19 Pandemic, beer connoisseurs are unable to visit their favorite local breweries, but many breweries, like Carton Brewing here in New Jersey, continue to make beer. Some of these breweries are delivering beer within a small radius and their beer is already available in many NJ stores (some of which are also making home deliveries). These events lead to Carton being the first brewery to get a third beer the full review treatment at the Tap Takeover and what better beer than one of their most iconic of ales?

077XX is the second most popular beer Carton brews according to untappd (Boat is #1), and is probably as beloved by independent/craft beer “enthusiasts” in New Jersey. It is a double IPA so that means super hoppy, maybe dank, and fairly high in ABV. I’ve had a few of the “Dubviants” (variants on this beer, usually with a different hop, designated with two different numbers replacing “XX”), but the main beer never made it to my glass…until now.

Popping open the can, the beer pours a clear yellow orange, almost amber. In other words, “O-Dub” looks the part of a double IPA. Good start. The aroma is hoppy dankness, so two senses down, and this seems to be what I’m hoping it will be. How does it taste?

Like the description above suggests, the opening tasting notes of this beer are flavors that evoke tropical and citrus fruits. Maybe mango? Definitely a hint of orange. While those elements are very prominent, I wouldn’t quite say the tropical nature of this beer leans too hard towards a Hazy/New England IPA. The second act of the show is the hop bite of bitterness, a little piney resin, and some dankness, bringing a well-rounded balance.

The first thought I had when I was halfway through this hop-bomb of a beer is that I should not have put off trying this beer for so long. Well, my pre-IPA days make sense. But the last two years or so? This was a beer that was always there, maybe I took it for granted. That won’t be happing any longer because this is a reliable, very tasty beer that should be fairly widely available in New Jersey (and maybe New York).

What often happens with big stouts happened with this beer for me. It warmed up just a little bit and I found the hop bitterness to be softened and I enjoyed the beer after it “aired out.” The fruity elements at the start were still present, but the beer was even more balanced than those first few cold sips

077XX is a must-have New Jersey beer and a double IPA that deliciously straddles the line between the classic, malty piney IPAs and the more recent tropical Hazy/New England IPAs. In addition to delicious beer, Carton Brewing has always been true to its roots and been about the community where they are located, Atlantic Highlands, a shore town of New Jersey. Many of their beers pay homage to the region and this is maybe the biggest tribute as it set the standard for a subset of the IPAs they brew, the “Dubviants”, beers with the zip code. As such, this beer is a great homage to where Carton Brewing is situated in Monmouth County as 077 is the prefix of the Zip Code for many towns in Monmouth County.

I realize few people outside of New Jersey have access to Carton Brewing, but for folks in New Jersey, you know Carton and you likely know “O-Dub.” Drink Local during these dark times, keep these smaller, independent business thriving, especially breweries like Carton who make very high quality beer.

Highly Recommended, link to Untappd 4-bottle cap rating.

A Beer Journal of the Pandemic: Supporting Local NJ Beer and Breweries

The world is facing an unprecedented global pandemic, but we as a society are trying to maintain life as close to normal as possible. There’s a fairly wide margin between today’s normal and the normal of a few weeks ago.

 

UPDATE, MARCH 31, 2020: As of March 30, Breweries in NJ have been once again permitted to deliver. The list of breweries who are delivering has shifted from what is below so your best bet is to visit your local brewery’s Facebook/Instagram/Website.

Governmental rules being enforced to protect society at large from the spread of the pandemic are changing on a daily basis. We really don’t know how long the world, specifically the United States, is going to be adjusting to this pandemic and what the long-range impacts will be once we have this in the rearview mirror. But that could be weeks to months from now. I’m not going to speculate beyond that, I’ll just suggest going to the CDC’s website for COVID-19 for more information and heed your local and State government.

Business, especially local businesses which are seeking to live out their own American Dream, are struggling or will be struggling. Sadly, there’s a very good chance that some of these small breweries may be unable to weather the storm the coronavirus has caused. The NJ Beer Community has always been a great, well-connected community. Breweries are always trying to help each other, the people who buy and drink NJ beer are very loyal to their local purveyors of that fine beverage made from water, grain, yeast, and hops. That theme has become very evident during this pandemic.

In New Jersey many breweries have relied on Taproom sales to be successful; drawing crowds to share their beer and conversation. Well, with the Social Distancing mandates being put forth, that side of the business for these breweries is not currently really possible. Many breweries are shifting to “to-go” sales only – that means packaged goods like cans, bottles, and for some, growlers and crowlers. Other breweries are delivering their beer in the immediate area of their production facility, thanks to NJ Governor Phil Murphy’s Executive Order 104. Like everything else about this pandemic, who knows how long this will last.

While some of the larger non-macro breweries are well worth supporting in these times (breweries like Sierra Nevada, Victory, Jack’s Abby, Bell’s, etc. who have illustrated a great sense of community in addition to making great beer), now is a better time than ever to support the ultra-local breweries in your area. Go to them and buy some of their to-go options directly from the brewery. Pick up some of their beer in your local bottle shop/liquor store. Hell, if you have the means, buy some gift cards to use at a later time.

For NJ specific breweries, Mike from New Jersey Craft Beer has been working to spread the word of the breweries that are doing the TakeOut option.

The list below, borrowed from the good folks over at reddit’s NJ Beer forum highlights the breweries who are doing to-go pickups (and deliveries) of their packaged goods. The reddit thread can be found here (https://www.reddit.com/r/njbeer/comments/fjwe06/covid19_brewery_update/) and seems to be continuously updated by Matty and the other moderators over there so the list below is probably incomplete as of the time you are reading this.

Many other states are likely following suit, I’d say check in with Breweries in PA for information about breweries in the Keystone state, like this post Breweries in PA Offering Delivery Options in Response to Coronavirus.

*Disclaimer…some of the posts I’ve got ready for the next week or so were put together before the world changed as drastically as it has.

Flagship February: River Horse Brewing’s Tripel Horse

The second of my Flagship February posts for 2020 features another NJ Beer, this one from the second oldest independent brewery in the State. The beer itself has received some national recognition, it has proven to be the brewery’s most consistent seller, and one of the brewery’s most acclaimed beers over the course of the brewery’s almost 25-year life (which saw an ownership switch in 2007). In some ways, this beer as the brewery’s flagship is not what would one would typically expect to be a flagship beer from a brewery in the United States: a Belgian style Tripel. The beer: Tripel Horse. The brewery: River Horse Brewing Company in Ewing, NJ.

A Belgian Tripel is not a beer style that immediately comes to mind as a top/flagship beer, especially from a US brewery. Granted, two other Northeast/Mid-Atlantic brewery’s Flagship beers are Tripels (Golden Monkey from Victory Brewing in Downington, PA and Merry Monks from Weyerbacher Brewing in Easton, PA), all three breweries have been brewing beer for close to the same amount of time. Either that’s a strange coincidence or speaks to the beer tastes of people living in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Be that as it may, one would likely think of an IPA, Pilsner, or even Stout as more of an expected Flagship beer.

River Horse initially opened up in 1996, but about a decade later (2007), the original owners sold to a couple of finance professionals with a passion for beer. A few years after that (2013), River Horse moved from Lambertville to Ewing, NJ into a larger space with far more capacity for growth and production, and the brewery certainly grew from that point in time. Through all of that, Tripel Horse has been the most prominent beer they’ve brewed, though it may have been tweaked over the years.

A Beer like Tripel Horse is, I suppose, an ideal candidate for Flagship February. Not that Kane’s Head High wasn’t, but as respected River Horse is and for as long as they’ve been in operation, River Horse isn’t a NJ brewery that is as top-of-mind as a brewery like Kane, Carton, Icarus, or Magnify. I say this as a person who enjoys much of River Horse’s portfolio. Again, from the Flagship February Web site:

What sometimes gets lost amid the constant stream of special releases are the beers that paved the way for today’s remarkable global beer market, or in other words, the flagship beers that got us here.

Tripel Horse is a beer that has been continually available in New Jersey for nearly 25 years (giving the beer true classic status) and it is NOT an IPA (the hottest style). However, that lengthy history for River Horse has allowed them to maintain their status as one of the top 2 or 3 breweries, by size, in the State of New Jersey. Hell, I haven’t had this specific beer in a couple of years, but I do seek out the newer beers River Horse brews because the quality has almost always been there for me.

Before I give my “current” experience of the beer, let’s take a look at what River Horse says about Tripel Horse:

Image courtesy of River Horse Brewing’s Web site

Our take on a Belgian Style Tripel Ale, brewed with spices and fermented with a Trappist yeast strain which lends hints of vanilla and creates a variety of complex flavors. ABV – 10.0%

Hops: Chinook, Hallertau, Saaz

Malt: Pilsen, White Wheat, Caramel

I can remember the first time I had the beer. In fact, it is one of the more vivid and clear memories I have of a specific beer. My wife and I had just bought and moved into our current home, so we are talking almost fifteen years ago. I’m not sure if it was around my birthday immediately after we moved into the house or the following fall, so we’re talking 2005 or 2006. Anyway, we went down to a restaurant (The Porterhouse Pub) in Peddler’s Village in Lahaska, PA with my parents that was featuring only River Horse beers, including some beers usually only available at the brewery. But what I went for was Tripel Horse. (That restaurant has since ceased that exclusive partnership with River Horse). While we were waiting for a table, we sat at the bar and I downed two full pours of the beer. I was initially taken aback and wowed by the abundant flavors in the beer, which is why I had a second beer. At the time, I possessed far less knowledge of beer as a whole, with regard to beer styles or breweries and the closest thing to Belgian-style beer I had that wasn’t Blue Moon was the old Samuel Adams Cranberry Lambic. Be that as it may, our table was ready and the two full pours of Tripel Horse at 10% ABV caught up to me as we left the bar to go to the table. Standing from the barstool initially proved to be a little difficult. From that point on; however, Tripel Horse has been a beer I would always associate with a great night and River Horse as a brewery that crafted flavorful beer. Over the years I’d get the beer in six packs, but if I’m being honest, it wasn’t always the first River Horse beer I’d gravitate towards but it has a been a beer I could always rely on for great taste. For everyday beers, I leaned more towards stouts, porters and some lagers.

Image courtesy of River Horse Brewing’s Web site

As I said, I haven’t had a bottle or pour of Tripel Horse in a few years, so I was very excited to reintroduce myself to the beer again. I’ll admit to some slight trepidation on revisiting the beer because, to borrow a term from my science fiction and fantasy online community, I did not want the “suck fairy” to strike. Basically, when your current experience of a thing you enjoyed in the past does not live up to the memory enjoying that thing in the past.

So…a pour of the beer into my Belgian-style tulip glass and the beer looks the part of a Tripel, unsurprisingly. It is of the cloudier variety, so I’m not sure if this is filtered. Comparatively speaking, it isn’t as clear or see-through as Tripel Karmeliet or Victory’s Golden Monkey but more like the cloudiness featured in Westmalle’s Tripel. By no means is this a flaw, simply a difference. Aroma is of the yeast with some fruitiness. Again, exactly as what I would expect from a Tripel.

The first sip gives me many of the flavors from the yeast with some spice. Very, very pleasant and flavorful. I can tell it is a high-octane beer, but I’d only guess at the 10% ABV range because of how the beer asserts itself as a Tripel. There’s also a strong fruit flavor coming from the yeast, maybe peach or apricot? Maybe pear? I can’t quite pinpoint it, but it is a welcome element in the overall profile of the beer. As the beer warmed in the glass, that fruity element grew and I found myself enjoying the beer to a greater degree. The last few sips when the beer was closer to room temperature were fantastic. Again, I need to remind myself to let these bigger beers warm from the fridge, even a little bit and even if they aren’t barrel-aged stouts. I enjoyed that first bottle I used for the photograph so much that two nights after having the first of the six pack, I had two bottles because the beer just hit every button in my sense of flavor so well. Some of the enjoyment probably comes with the great memory associated with that first beer all those years ago, but more than anything, Tripel Horse is just a damned good beer.

Over the years, Tripel Horse has received largely positive reception from the beer writing community, including nice write-ups/reviews at All About Beer, Draft Mag, The Full Pint, and Porch Drinking to name a few. But perhaps the most prominent acknowledgment of the beer’s quality occurred in late 2017 at the Great American Beer Festival where Tripel Horse received the Bronze Medal (3rd best Tripel overall) for Belgian-Style Tripel.

Image Courtesy of River Horse Brewing’s Facebook

A beer that is a flagship will often have “Spin Off” beers and this is true of Tripel Horse. A few years ago, River Horse first released a version with Raspberry, Raspberry Tripel Horse, which I reviewed here at the Tap Takeover almost exactly a year ago. This version started out as a brewery-only release but proved popular enough that River Horse bottled it for distribution. Additionally, River Horse has also released a sour version of the beer, Sour Tripel Horse. and in even more limited quantities, River Horse produced a Bourbon Barrel-Aged version of Tripel Horse. When River Horse was invited to partner with Jameson Whiskey as part of their Caskmates program, one of the beers they featured was One Score and Two Years Ago, which is, you guessed it, Tripel Horse brewed with spices and orange peels, fermented cherries and aged in Jameson barrels. That is a beer I’d love to try because those ingredients look to mimic one of my favorite cocktails, the Old Fashioned.

For all the reasons I’ve outlined in this post, you might say that Tripel Horse can be seen as River Horse Brewing’s “Work Horse” beer. Come on, there was NO way I wasn’t going to make that pun at some point.

In the end, Tripel Horse is a great example of a somewhat non-standard Flagship beer and a beer that helps to show the quality and diversity of beer available in the State of New Jersey. Be warned; however. If you plan to have more than one don’t stand up too quickly after you’ve downed a couple and be sure to pass your car keys to your friend/significant other.

Flagship February: Kane Brewing’s Head High

It is officially Flagship February in the beer world, a “movement” started by beer writers Stephen Beaumont and Jay Brooks a couple of years ago and it is wonderful idea. Basically, we as beer drinkers should remember the beers that helped to lay the foundation for craft beer as it exists today. Beers like Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale or, as I posted last year as part of my American Craft Beer Classic series of posts, Allagash White. These are beers that have been available to beer “enthusiasts” for quite a while and beers that helped to expand beer drinker’s palates beyond the mass produced adjunct lagers. Or, beers that helped to establish a brewery’s name, though largely for some of those reasons. We shouldn’t let the Allagash Whites, the Sierra Nevada Pale Ales, the Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgeralds, the Harpoon IPAs,  the Victory Prima Pils get lost among the event beers or the HOT! NEW! BEER! like the latest DDH Double IPA or Pastry Stout (not that I don’t enjoy those beers).

Owning/maintaining a beer blog compels me to participate, in some way, in Flagship February. While I’ve posted several reviews highlighting beers that are arguably Flaghship beers for their brewery and some posts I’ve tagged as “American Craft Beer Classics” that somewhat fit the mold, I wanted to hew completely to Stephen Beaumont and Jay Brooks’s theme. It didn’t take too much thought before I landed on a very obvious choice for my first Flagship February post, at least from a NJ Beer perspective.

The thought process leads me to a brewery many consider to be one of the Flagship Craft Breweries in NJ, a brewery who has helped to put NJ Beer on the map. This brewery, of course, is Kane Brewing Company out of Ocean, NJ who opened in 2011, almost a decade ago. Since that time Kane Brewing has been at the top of the list of NJ breweries, receiving several accolades along the lines of “Best NJ Brewery,” awards for their beers, and their reputation has broadened to national recognition. But first, a small step back in time…

NJ Craft Beer (not the great club started by Mike Kivowitz) was jump-started in 2012 with an important change to the laws governing beer consumption and sale in NJ: Breweries were finally able to allow customers to consume beer on premise and nothing would be the same in the NJ Beer scene. Kane’s opening the year before had them in a great position to take advantage of the possibilities. The beer that lead and continues leading that charge: their Flagship IPA Head High.

IPAs have been the most popular style for many years, so for an IPA to emerge as Kane’s Flagship (or any brewery starting in the 2010s) isn’t a surprise. Of course, if the beer weren’t as nearly as tasty as it is, who knows how Kane’s fortunes (or even NJ’s beer fortunes for that matter) may be now. Head High is the backbone of the brewery, the sales of the beer (at the brewery, on taps, and in cans in stores), allow Michael Kane and his coterie to work on more experimental sours, wild ales, and barrel aged beers (beers that have won awards, too). But without Head High (and Overhead, the Double IPA that can also be considered a Flagship), things might be a little different for Kane Brewing. According to Wikipedia and as of this writing, Kane is the third largest brewery in New Jersey (after Flying Fish and River Horse) although I suspect Cape May Brewing Company is somewhere in the mix, too.

Kane says this about Head High:

Head High is our interpretation of an American-style India Pale Ale (IPA). This beer is all about the hops; we use a blend of five different varieties all grown in the Pacific Northwest. A small charge of Chinook and Columbus early in the boil adds a smooth bitterness. A majority of the hops are then added late in the kettle or post-fermentation to produce a beer that is heavy on hop flavor and aroma. The combination of Cascade, Centennial, Citra and Columbus give Head High a noticeable grapefruit flavor with aromas of citrus, tropical fruits and pine. Our house American ale yeast ferments to a dry finish that accentuates the use of imported Pilsner and lightly kilned crystal malt resulting in Head High’s straw color and crisp flavor.

That’s a nice hop blend, isn’t it? Cascade is arguably the most popular hop, has been in use since early 1970s, and is the main hop of Sierra Nevada’s iconic Pale Ale. Centennial is the *only* hop in Bell’s equally iconic Two Hearted IPA, while Columbus rounds out the “Three Cs” of hops. Chinook has been in use since the mind 1980s, too. Citra is maybe the most popular hop in use today (emerging around 2007) and is most widely associated with the super popular New England IPA. What I’m saying is that this beer is a great balance of craft classic hops and a more modern hop. That all equals a delicious IPA that balances pine, citrus/tropical flavors, hoppiness, and bitterness perfectly, towing the line between the hop-forward beers of the early craft beer movement of the 1980s and the modern craft beer movement emphasizing juicier hops. Upon reflection, it is almost impossible that this beer wouldn’t be successful and emblematic of the types of IPAs and hop-forward beers to which people gravitate in droves, especially in the NJ area.

I’ll admit the first time I had the beer a few years ago, I thought it was good, but nothing beyond that. As I’ve noted many times here on the Tap Takeover, I didn’t always enjoy IPAs and hop-forward beers which is where my palate was when I first had Head High. I had the beer again a couple of years later when I came to appreciate and enjoy hop forward beers, which was after that first sampling at the brewery and my mind was immediately changed. The complexity of the hops, the welcome bitterness to balance the mild sweetness was flat out delicious. I realized that Head High was a Special Beer.

If the beer adorns the trucks you own for self-distribution, then it is likely your flagship beer. Image courtesy of Kane’s Facebook page

Go into most bars in NJ with a decent tap list and chances are you’ll find a Kane tap, and there’s a good chance that beer will be Head High. Hell, a bar atop a hockey rink where I saw my godson play a couple of months ago had Head High on tap. I found that to be a pleasant surprise and I’d venture to guess 5 years ago you wouldn’t expect to find Head High (or Kane or a NJ brewery for that matter) in such a seemingly unexpected locale. Head High is one of the primary beers (along with Overhead) keeping the fortunes in the black at Kane to the point they supposedly account for about 70% of Kane’s business. Kane has been quoted as saying that Head High is the beer upon which the brewery has built their wholesale business – if that doesn’t say Flagship Beer then I don’t know what does. The availability of the beer has grown in recent years, too. The brewery has always self-distributed, but around early 2018 Kane began self-distributing cans of one beer – you guessed it, Head High. Most Kane beers can be found throughout NJ on draught with the three core beers (Head High, Overhead, and Sneakbox) in cans in many liquor stores. Head High is a great beer that is perfect today and a reminder of where NJ Beer’s surge of growth into something special began almost a decade ago.

Some further reading:

Tara Nurin has a great profile on Kane Brewing for NJ Monthly in their NJ Beer issue in February 2019.

In that same issue, Head High was called out as NJ’s Best IPA.