Draught Diversions: Spellbound Brewing (Mount Holly, 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…

Today, another brewery from the vibrant Mount Holly area is featured here at the Tap Takeover. Since opening in 2014, Spellbound Brewing has been crafting tasty, award-winning beer and attracting loyal customers and fans to their brewery and beer. The story may be familiar: homebrewing friends, in this case Mike Oliver, John Companick, and Scott Reading, made beer their friends liked so they figured they’d start a brewery. With the law change in 2012, opening a brewery, and making a hangout destination, became a viable option. They settled on the name Spellbound after whittling down a list of fifty names with the aim of something that would have appeal beyond the borders of New Jersey. Personally, I love the name, but I read a lot of fantasy and science fiction and played Dungeons and Dragons so the name appeals to me. Plus that logo is absolutely fantastic.

Spellbound Lineup (Courtesy of Spellbound’s Facebook)

The brewery is nestled in an industrial area, but it is far from ordinary. There’s a fancy black gate that opens to a path which leads to the brewery doors. Entering the brewery you’ll see the hand-written tap list on the far wall, a beautiful bar along the right side, some tables along the middle, and a refrigerator for some packaged beer to bring home. The heart of the brewery, of course, is the beer.

The Taplist on the day of our visit , November 17, 2018

The brewery has a focus on some core styles and beers: IPA, Porter, Porter aged on Palo Santo Wood (GABF Silver and Gold!), Cherry Belgian Tripel, Peach IPA, Major Nelson, and Pale Ale.

It was a gray day in November and Spellbound was the second brewery I visited on the day and out of the six breweries visited that day, their beers stood out the most. We also visited shortly after their 4th anniversary party, so there were some special beers still available. I had a couple of their beers about a year ago and I’ve been aware of Spellbound for a few years.

I’ve seen people who have checked into their beers on untappd (especially Mike K of NJ Craft Beer) rate them fairly highly or have good things to say about their beers. One of the people I managed about a year ago brought me some of their beer, he lived near the brewery and knows some of the guys who either work at the brewery or started it. One of the beers was Spellbound’s most popular beer, their IPA. At the time I was still on the fence for IPAs, but this one from Spellbound helped me turn the corner and since then, I’ve really embrace IPAs as a style to seek out.

The other beer is even more impressive and is an indicator of the type of quality beer Spellbound Brewing was producing early in their “career.” The beer – Porter aged on Palo Santo Wood – received the Gold Medal Gold Medal at the 2017 Great American Beer Festival in the “Wood Aged Category.” Not bad for a small brewery only about 3 years old. I liked the beer so much, it ranked #4 on my Favorite “New to Me” beers of 2017.

Those beers are available in New Jersey in stores and in a growing number of bars. But on to the beers I had during my visit to the brewery…

There were many beers to choose form on that day I visited, From the taplist (pictured at the top of this post) I selected the Peach IPA, Major Nelson Pale Ale, Cherry Belgian Tripel, and Living the Dream?! Bourbon Barrel Stout.

I drank the beers out of order.

The Peach IPA was good, but I was expecting the peach to sweeten the finish more than it did. There was a nice hop profile, but the sweetness was less pronounced than I hoped it would be. This was the beer I liked the least of the flight. By no means a bad beer, but one always has to settle to the bottom.

Courtesy of Spellbound’s Facebook

I broke up the hop forward beers with the Cherry Belgian Tripel, which stood out as my favorite beer from Spellbound during the visit. The cherry compliments the Belgian-style yeast perfectly. I would be interested in trying Spellbound’s take on a straightforward Tripel without the cherry. I liked it so much I brought home a 4-pack.

I know it isn’t the proper glassware for a Tripel, but I usually default to the brewery;s glassware

The next beer, the Major Nelson Pale Ale was the most surprising beer from them that day and was really popping with wonderful citrusy hop flavor. Listed on untappd as a “Pale Ale – New Zealand,” I’ve come to really like the hops from New Zealand. This is a beer I’d have as a regular rotation beer. I finished off the flight with the biggest beer Living the Dream?! Bourbon Barrel Stout. This is a really nice barrel aged stout aged on Coffee and Maple.

Couldn’t pass up this beer since my father-in-law’s name is Nelson. Glad I didn’t because the beer is damned tasty.

Those were the beers I had while at the brewery on that day, but I suspect I’ll be enjoying more of their beer. Why? Over the past six months or so, I’ve been seeing Spellbound cans appearing on the shelves in stores around me. Mainly their three core beers, IPA, Pale Ale, and Porter. This is a good thing for NJ consumers because Spellbound’s beers are on point for the style they are trying to represent and above average compared to styles made by other breweries. That Palo Santo Porter, as I said, is an outstanding beer. Spellbound Brewing may not have the reputation that the heavy hitters of NJ brewing have (Kane, Carton, for example), but I haven’t really seen anybody in the online community say anything negative about the quality of the beer.

I’ve written about the community element relative to independent/local/craft breweries and that sense of community is evident with Spellbound Brewing. Most recently, as a result of Spellbound’s 4th Annual Century Bicycle Ride, the brewery was able to raise $33,000 (bringing the four year total raised by the Bicycle ride to $70K) to donate to Mounty Holly Township. They’ve partnered with fellow Mount Holly brewery Village Idiot for an annual holiday Toy Drive, too. They often have Food Trucks in the parking lot and have had book signings for local authors.

Would I recommend visiting Spellbound Brewing? Without hesitation. A comfortable taproom, beers that are well above average, and beers you can enjoy on premises or take home make for an ideal brewery visit…especially if there are some food trucks in the parking lot. Whether you want to spend a couple of hours at the brewery or make Spellbound part of a brewery tour (as I did) given the quantity of breweries in the immediate region, Mount Holly and Spellbound Brewing should be a destination for folks looking for quality beer in NJ.

One of the coolest logos / art pieces / backdrops I’ve seen at a NJ brewery

Spellbound Brewing Web site | Instagram | Facebook | twitter

Some other links of interest:

 

Draught Diversions: Four Pack Favorite Breweries 2018

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

As a companion piece to my 12-pack of favorite beers of 2018, here’s a four pack of favorite breweries for 2018. Some of these I visited, others I’ve had many beers from over the year, and a couple are relative “rediscoveries.” Going alphabetical this time around.

Bell’s Brewery
Total “new to me” Bells’ beers checked in on untappd in 2018: 9

I’ve written quite a bit about Bells over the last year and shortly after I featured Bells on my wishlist of breweries for NJ, it was announced that Bells struck a deal to begin distributing into NJ. I suspect that was a deal years in the making, but I’ll just say it didn’t actually happen until after I published that wishlist post. Just sayin’. I reviewed one of their beers as a welcome to NJ and had 9 beers altogether from Bell’s in 2019. Granted, I had Oberon Ale in 2017  which is a standout summer/warm weather beer. The most well known and beloved beer in their portfolio is probably Two Hearted which I had at an airport in Houston in January. Other standouts being Double Cream Stout and Poolside. Each beer has been quite good and I expect I’ll be buying more of their beer in the future. I’m really looking forward to Hopslam, which should be hitting NJ shelves a week or two after this post publishes.

 

Conclave Brewing
Total “new to me” Conclave beers checked in on untappd in 2018: 9

Probably the least surprising thing to a appear on this blog is me stating that Conclave is a favorite brewery, they are indeed my favorite New Jersey brewery. Everything I have from this brewery is outstanding, with nothing less than 3.75 rating, and most over 4.25. Their best beer, Process Pils made my best of 2018 list earlier in the week, while Grey Havens was probably the best use of Vanilla I’ve had in a beer outside of Dogfish Head’s Oak Aged Vanilla World Wide Stout. Conclave continues to brew what many in NJ rank among the best IPAs in the state. Other 2018 standouts for me include Intuitive Function IPA, Moon Door IPA and new twist on their spicy stout, Mexican Evening.

Dogfish Head Craft Brewery
Total “new to me” Dogfish Head beers checked in on untappd in 2018: 13

One of the classic American Craft breweries I wrote about last year and one that would probably be on the Mount Rushmore of American Independent/Craft Breweries. Considering much of their output aligns on the IPA side of the beer style chart and I’ve come to not just drink but seek out and enjoy IPAs over the past year, my appreciation for the wizardry of Sam Calagione has only grown. Everything I had from Dogfish Head in 2018 was excellent, including a new summer go-to SeaQuench which I had for the first time this year. Other standouts are Burton Baton, Fruit-Full Fort, and 75 Minute IPA. I’m really looking forward to what they’ll be brewing and selling in 2019 especially Raison D’Extra.

Tröegs Independent Brewing
Total “new to me” Tröegs beers checked in to untappd in 2018: 10

Continuing to appreciate the classics of American Craft brewing with the brewery I’d probably consider my favorite of 2018, in terms of the quality of the beers I had over the range of styles I had. I’d say a beer from Tröegs made it to one of my monthly six packs more frequently than any other brewery. Earlier in the week, I anointed Bourbon Barrel-Aged Troegenator my favorite new to me beer of 2018, but outside of that beer, many of those “new to me beers” all were superb like the Chocolate Stout which (as of now) is an exclusive to their Most Wonderful Beer Of The Year Sampler. Other standouts are First Cut IPA, Nimble Giant, and Blizzard of Hops.

Image courtesy of MyBeerBuzz

Some additional stats, via untappd’s Year in Beer if you feel inclined…

373 Unique Beers
155 different breweries
101 distinct styles

Top 5 Most Checked in beers (I usually don’t check in the same beer multiple times unless I’m having it at multiple locations or I really really like it):

  • Two Hearted Ale (Bell’s Brewery) – 5
  • This Town (Carton Brewing) – 4
  • Centennial IPA (Founders Brewing) – 3
  • Pale Ale (Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.) – 3
  • Wobbly Cow Coffee Milk Stout (Flying Fish Brewing Co) – 3

Top 5 Most Checked in beer styles:

  • IPA – American – 52
  • Pale Ale – American – 24
  • IPA – Imperial / Double– 19
  • Stout – Milk / Sweet – 12
  • Saison / Farmhouse Ale – 11 (This surprised me the most)

Top 5 Most Checked in breweries:

  • Carton Brewing – 23
  • Dogfish Head Craft Brewery – 27
  • Lone Eagle Brewing– 16
  • Bell’s Brewery – 14
  • Tröegs Independent Brewing – 12

459 Badges Earned

Draught Diversions: December 2018 Six Pack

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

December 2018 was pretty heavy on the NJ Beers and Holiday/Christmas beers. Even if all the beers on today’s post aren’t NJ beers, much of what I bought and consumed in December was from a New Jersey brewery.  There were a couple of duds during the month, too but more good than bad. The good thing about bad beer? It helps you to appreciate the really good beers even more!

Christmas Ale (Bell’s Brewery) Scotch Ale / Wee Heavy – 4 bottle Caps on untappd

I nearly included this beer on one of my Christmas recommendation lists, but I liked it so much I wanted to highlight the beer here. Scotch Ales aren’t the most prevalent style, but damn if it doesn’t work well as a Christmas/Winter season. The big malts and sweetness are good accompaniments to what could be a sumptuous holiday meal or just an enjoyable beer on its own.

Big Cabin Coffee (2nd Act Beer) Bock – Maibock/Heller (Helles) 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

2nd Act is a relatively new brewery in NJ, I think they only got their start in 2017 or 2018. I haven’t seen anything from them in bottles or cans, but I’ve seen their beers popping up on taps (via untappd and beermenus), with this beer in particular being the most frequent. I like bocks quite a bit and coffee beers, too. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a bock with coffee as part of the flavor profile but damn does it work really nicely. You get the malty/sweet caramelly flavors of the bock with a really nice hit of coffee on the finish. This beer was a very nice surprise.

Grey Havens Porter – Imperial / Double (Conclave Brewing) – 4.50 bottle Caps on untappd

Conclave makes it impossible for me to use anything but superlatives when describing their beers. Every style they approach and brew is at worst, good and most often outstanding. This imperial porter is simply elegant. Vanilla is a flavor component I like, but I’ve come to realize some breweries employ far too often across their beers and for too much in each single beer. This porter has the perfect amount of vanilla and makes for a smooth, delightful beer consumption experience – porter roastiness at the start with a sweet, subtle vanilla finish. Also a really cool name that references The Lord of the Rings.

Naughty 2018 Stout – Imperial Milk / Sweet (Cypress Brewing Company) 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

A milk stout that has Krampus on the can? A milk stout that has a very similar profile to one of my favorite beers (Conclave’s Mexican Morning)? I knew I had to give this one a try and I am VERY glad I did. This is a (pardon my French) fucking huge beer: 13% ABV with a plethora of adjuncts so the $15/4pack price for a fairly limited production beer isn’t tough to swallow. Thankfully, the beer itself is easy to swallow, too. The chocolate, vanilla, coffee, cinnamon, and Jersey Chili peppers come together so well that the beer smoothly changes flavor profiles as you’re drinking it. I took an hour to drink the 16oz can and I can’t imagine taking any less time to consume it. This might be my favorite Christmas beer of 2018.

Rye Pale Ale (Vault Brewing Company) Pale Ale – American 4.25 bottle caps on untappd

I’ve been hearing good things about Vault, seeing friends check into beers from Vault recently, and the consensus is that the beers are good. Judging from the malty, rye pale ale, I agree. As I mentioned in my overview of Village Idiot, I’ve come to enjoy Rye Beers a great deal. Somebody brought this to the family’s Christmas Eve celebration and even though it wasn’t completely chilled down when I poured the beer, it was still very tasty. I loved the way the rye malt and hops intermingled for a clean tasting beer. This is a more traditional take on the pale ale, it is more amber in color and not hazy at all. More please.

11 Pipers Piping (The Bruery) Scotch Ale / Wee Heavy –4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

A bomber at 11% ABV is one to take your time drinking by yourself. Good thing I had an excellent novel I was reading (and finished) while enjoying the beer.

I’ve enjoyed every beer in The Bruery’s “12 Days of Christmas” and this one is no exception. This is big and boozy and is well worth enjoying over the course of an hour, if you’re enjoying by yourself, because the flavors really do come alive once the beer warms up a bit. There’s a very prominent lingering flavor of coriander, too. I expect that in a Belgian Wit, not as much in a Scotch Ale. But The Bruery seems to specialize in mashing up flavor profiles and from my experience, including this beer, they do it quite well. That makes two Christmas themed Scotch Ales on this month’s list.

There were quite a lot of standouts this month, so there isn’t a real dud I want to call out above in great detail. I will say that I was very disappointed in Ommegang’s King of the North, the last of the four “Royal Reserve” Game of Thrones beers. This is a Russian Imperial Stout that is just short of a few things that I like in RISs, which made for an overall disappointment. I’ll just say that I think Ommegang’s strongest beers are those that hew much closer to their Belgian roots. I have to also admit major disappointment with Founders’ Canadian Breakfast Stout, I don’t know if it was the maple flavor taking over the beer, or the beer going bad, but something about it gave off an almost sour tang. The most disappointing beer of the year for me, as it turned out especially given the hype and price. Make mine Curmudgeon’s Better Half any day.

Draught Diversions: 12 Beers of Christmas (2018 Part 2)

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’s part two of the 12 Beers of Christmas 2018 I promised on Tuesday. Like that post (and all similar posts this year), this follows the six pack format. There’s a mix of beers I haven’t had, haven’t had in a few years, and a recent favorite.

Old Jubilation Ale – Avery Brewing Company (Boulder, CO)

This beer is one of the modern American Christmas classics. Though not technically a winter warmer like many Christmas beers, this one is more along the lines of an Old Ale/English Strong Ale. A high ABV of 8.3% makes this a long sipper and without having had this one yet (by the time I was looking for it in early December, stores had already sold out of their annual allotment), I imagine it would be similar to Founders’ Curmudgeon. I’ll have to keep my eyes open a little earlier next year if I want to grab some of this one.

What Avery says about the beer:

Our winter strong ale has a gorgeous mahogany hue, a hint of hazelnuts, and a finish reminiscent of mocha and toffee. No spices, just a perfect blend of five specialty malts.

For 2018 we used light brown sugar, raisins and figs to bring out caramelized sugar and dried fruit flavors. Also added to the boil is star anise, clove, cardamom and cinnamon. The spices balance and play nice with the caramelized sugars!

Corsendonk Christmas Ale – Brouwerij Corsendonk – (Antwerpen, Belgium)

Here’s the Obligatory Belgian Christmas beer for this list. I had this one for the first time last year and thoroughly enjoyed it so I may have to grab some again before the Christmas season ends. I received a gift pack of this beer last year for Christmas, which included the glass in the picture above. Again, like many of the Belgian Christmas Ales, this one is categorized as “Belgian Strong Dark Ale.” I remember being really surprised that the ABV on this was 8.5%, but on the other hand, that could be a reason why the bottles are a little smaller (I think 8 or 9 oz).

About the beer:

Brewed with Pale, Munich and Caramunich malts; Kent Goldings hops. This is a rich, dark, joyous brew with which to celebrate the holiday season. It’s aroma of chocolate malt and spiciness is reminiscent of the wonderfull smells of holiday baking in Mom’s kitchen. Silky smooth on the palate, it’s predominantly malty, with smoky, spicy and citrusy notes and a long, lingering finish that is lightly tart and malty. Bottle conditioned for a fresh, lively taste. Round and well balanced, it’s a welcome addition for holiday tables and beyond.

Santa!! I Know Him! – Evil Genius Beer Company (Philadelphia, PA)

Image courtesy of Evil Genius’s Facebook page

A Saison is not your typical style of beer for Christmas, but Evil Genius (at least going by the clever the names) aren’t your typical brewery. I’ve enjoyed some of Evil Genius’s tasty beers over the years, but haven’t had a chance to give this one a try. Yet. The name for this beer is in homage to the modern classic of Yuletide films, Elf. Some interesting components are utilized in the brew process for this beer.

What Evil Genius says about this beer:

Festive Saison -Santa!! I Know him! is our holiday saison brewed with rose hips, chamomile, black currants and dark Belgian candi syrup. Deep, complex and intriguing, this bone-dry Belgian-style ale is sure to seduce you, or the one you’re with. Roses, chamomile, and currants have long been considered powerful aphrodisiacs, so we decided to combine them with mysterious and beguiling Belgian saison yeast. The result is something very special and sure to help spice up nights spent at home during the cold winter months. Have you been Naughty or Nice this year – or both?

Chrismukkah – 902 Brewing (Hoboken, NJ)

Image courtesy of 902 Brewing’s Facebook page

This is probably the newest beer in this post as I think 902 is debuting the beer this holiday season (December 4, according to their Facebook page, where I snagged the photo above). That said, it looks like it fits the bill with all the holiday spices and brownish hue. I’ve had only 2 beers from 902 Brewing and both were very good so hopefully, this beer continues that trend should I come across it.

What 902 Brewing says about the beer:

It’s the holiday season! What better way to warm up than this 7.6% winter ale? Brewed with cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger, it’s hitting distro today. Well in time for your holiday needs! A nice treat for when the big man drops by on Christmas Eve, too!

2XMAS – Southern Tier Brewing Company (Lakewood, NY)

I haven’t had this one in a few years and the last time I had it, the beer was very spicy. Other times; however, I recall really enjoying it. I might have to locate some and give it a try this year, but the figs, cinnamon, and cloves in the brew process are flavor components I enjoy.

What Southern Tier says about the beer:

Spiced double ale with fig paste, orange peels, ginger root, cardamom, cinnamon and cloves

Swedish flags are a fairly common sight in our part of the country. Holiday parties often have warm concoctions of spices and booze at the ready to knock the ice off of toes while raising spirits. We were inspired by a “Glögg” party, deciding on the spot to brew a beer that pays tribute to this Nordic tradition.

2XMAS ale combines traditional brewing ingredients with figs, orange peels, cardamom, cinnamon, clove and ginger root. It’s a holiday addition to the 2X line and another reason to toast to the season, but unlike Glögg, we recommend serving this one chilled.

Xocoveza – (Stout –Imperial Milk/Sweet) – Stone Brewing (Escondido, CA)

I had this beer for the first time last year and really enjoyed it, .I said at the time this beer is the closest beer I’ve had to one of my local favorites, Conclave’s Mexican Morning Stout. The beer emulates Mexican Hot Chocolate with peppers and cinnamon and if any beverage says Christmas morning then it would have to be Hot Chocolate. For 2018, Stone released the beer in cans.

What Stone says about the beer:

This is a beloved stout. When first introduced as a limited special collaboration release with San Diego homebrewer Chris Banker (after his recipe won our annual homebrew competition) and Cerveceria Insurgente, it was an instant hit and fans began clamoring for its return. Seeing as how its amazing flavor profile is evocative of Mexican hot chocolate, featuring coffee, pasilla peppers, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and a generous amount of our own in-house made chocolate, we concluded it was the perfect stout to re-release in celebration of the Holidays and the entire winter season. This is now a highly anticipated yearly tradition that we are pleased to present from us to you, and makes a perfect wintry gift from you to your friends, loved ones, or simply to yourself. Cheers!

So, 12 Christmas beers over the course of two posts this week here at The Tap Takeover. Any favorites out of these or any I missed?

Draught Diversions: 12 Beers of Christmas (2018 Part 1)

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…

Last year, I did two broad Twelve Beers of Christmas posts, so why not do it again? There are certainly enough choices out there in the Christmas Beer realm to warrant an annual Twelve Beers of Christmas post. I’ll do one six pack today, and another six pack on Thursday.

Krampus – Beach Haus Brewing Company (Belmar, NJ)

How could I not go with a beer named in honor of the legendary Germanic “anti-Santa Claus?” Especially since, being half German, I’ve been hearing stories about Krampus since I was a little kid. I’ve visited Beach Haus a few times, they make good beer and have one of the best locations of any NJ brewery, in downtown Belmar not far from the beach. They’ve been making a Krampus beer for the majority of the time they’ve been brewing beer and I think they’ve tweaked it a bit every year. Unfortunately, I haven’t had the chance to try it yet, but perhaps that will change this Chistmastime. . .

What Beach Haus says about the beer:

Beach Haus® Krampus is a welcome visitor to any holiday home with its blend of spices, fruitiness and malt.

Our most limited of limited releases that is brewed a li’l different each year.

For 2018 we used light brown sugar, raisins and figs to bring out caramelized sugar and dried fruit flavors. Also added to the boil is star anise, clove, cardamom and cinnamon. The spices balance and play nice with the caramelized sugars.

A 9.4% ABV gives this year’s Krampus an extra bite!

Scaldis Noël Brasserie Dubuisson – (Pipaix, Belgium)

If you’ve got a Christmas beer list, you’ve got to include one from Belgium and Scaldis Noël is one that is held in pretty high regard. I haven’t had this one yet, but I’ve been enjoying a different Belgian Christmas beer every year. Like many of the Belgian Christmas Ales, this one is categorized as “Belgian Strong Dark Ale.”

What Brasserie Dubuisson says about the beer:

The Scaldis Noël was introduced in 1991 to respond to consumer demands for the ideal beer to add lustre to their end-of-year celebrations.

The Scaldis Noël is brewed solely from malts, hops, candy sugar and water. It is a filtered, top-fermented beer with an alcohol volume of 12%. The use of caramel malts produces a copper-coloured beer with a full, rounded taste. The Scaldis Noël owes its fruity taste and subtle hop aromas to the well-thought out choice of hops in this brew.

The Scaldis Noël is brewed in limited volumes but has already achieved the status of a classic beer for the end-of-year celebrations.

Rude Elf’s Reserve – Fegley’s Brew Works (Bethlehem, PA)

For a few years, I was grabbing this beer every year at Christmas time. It was initially a bomber (I think 750ml) back about 8 years ago or so and I remember having it when the beer was called Rudolph’s Reserve, which changed for obvious reasons. In recent years, I haven’t seen the beer as regularly or as widely so I haven’t had it SJU (Since Joining Untappd) but I’ve been hoping to find it again. The beer is very similar to Tröegs’ iconic Mad Elf from a stylistic perspective of the beer (and the name).

What Fegley’s says about this beer:

A BELGIAN STYLE HOLIDAY ALE WITH ATTITUDE! –  After being harassed by elves in the toy workshop and the reindeer in the stables, Rudy found his true calling in Santa’s brew house. Keeping his edge and focusing his talents, this elf created a spicy holiday brew that became a Christmas legend of its own.

HISTORY OF THE RUDE ELF’S RESERVE –  This fabulous holiday ale was first developed and brewed in 1999 at the Bethlehem Brew Works under original head brewer (and co-owner) Jeff Fegley. The Fegley family thought it was appropriate to create a spiced beer to help us celebrate in the City.

TASTING NOTES –  Pours a deep chestnut ruby with a creamy tan head. The aroma is sweet with harmonic spices led by clove, then cinnamon and nutmeg. The rich body has a fine carbonation that smooths and hides the high ABV, wrapping up oh, so much holiday spice. Finishes very dry, leaving a lingering gingerbread cookie note.

Gnoel de Abbey – The Lost Abbey (San Marcos, CA)

The Lost Abbey is one of the California breweries whose beers I’ve not had the opportunity to try yet. Their beers are well-regarded and often of the big variety – Imperial Stouts, Quads, etc. This is their take on a Winter Warmer and with hints of coffee and spice (a “Holiday Brown Ale,” as The Lost Abbey’s web site references it ) I’d really like to get my hands on a bottle.

What The Lost Abbey says about the beer:

The Lost Abbey’s newest seasonal, Gnoel de Abbey is a winter warmer brewed to be lighter in body while maintaining nuanced notes of oak.

TASTE Beginning with aromas of freshly brewed espresso, Gnoel has hints of cocoa, vanilla and holiday spice, finishing with a crisp coffee bitterness.

Christmas BOMB! – Prairie Artisan Ales (Tulsa, OK)

Image courtesy of Prairie Artisan Ales’s Facebook page

Prairie’s beer have only recently begun appearing here in NJ (as far as I know), and their beers are of the big stout variety, including the Bomb! Beers. I like most of the spices in this one, especially when beers have chocolate and chili in them. This could be an interesting beer to share, although it seems they are only sold in single 12oz bottles about $9 per bottle.

What Prairie says about the beer:


The Bomb! that we all know and love, with the addition of Christmas spices – cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg.

Here’s the standard Bomb! Bomb! is an imperial stout aged on coffee, chocolate, vanilla beans, and ancho chili peppers. The peppers add just the right amount of heat to complement the intense coffee and chocolate flavors.

Winter Cheers Victory Brewing Company (Downington, PA)

Victory decided to do some counter-programming with their Christmas beer. Typically, and as the other beers on this list will support, Christmas beers are a bit darker and weighty. With Winter Cheers, Victory has been producing a tasty, spicier Hefeweizen every year at Christmas time as a tasty alternative to those darker beers. It has been a couple of years since I had one, but I remember enjoying it quite a bit.

What Victory says about the beer:

Winter weather may drive us indoors but cannot dampen our spirits when hearth, home and hops meet in jubilation. Hoisted high in its golden glory, Winter Cheers lives up to its name, fueling festive times and chasing winter’s chill. Glowing and glimmering, frothy and shimmering, our celebratory wheat ale features luscious fruity and spicy notes, making it a perfect brew to brighten spirits even on the deepest of nights.

Check back here on Thursday for another half-dozen beers to seek out this Christmas!

Beer Review: The Alementary’s Hackensack Lager

Name: Hackensack Lager
Brewing Company: The Alementary Brewing Company
Location: Hackensack, NJ
Style: Lager – Helles
ABV: 5.4%

As it so happens, that glass is from the final Garden State Brewfest (2016), where I first tried beer brewed by The Alementary.

From The Alementary’s landing page for the beer:

Rooted in pride and thirst, a local lager is never far. Whether you’re in Germany, Belize, or Jersey, there’s sure to be a favorite brew for wherever you’ve found yourself. Our Hackensack Lager, with its crisp golden malty goodness, reflects the diversity of our community and our love for the people who have made this place our home. Thank you, Hackensack!

Lagers are the most popular style of beer in America, specifically the Lagers in the blue, silver, and red beers cans. But there can be nuance and great taste in a lager. As there was a shift away from lagers brewed by smaller, independent breweries in the early years of the American Craft/Independent beer movement, in the recent past, the Lager has been making a comeback (Firestone’s Lager, Founders’ Solid Gold) because when done well, it can be a great style. With Hackensack Lager, the brewers at The Alementary have a flagship Lager for their brewery that is very tasty.

As the German word Helles translates into “bright” this beer is spot on for the style from a visual standpoint. A golden hued beer fills my glass, nearly matching the color of the label on the beer can. The aroma didn’t stand out to me, but that’s fine. I’m not looking for anything out of the ordinary with this beer.

This beer is quite flavorful and the type of beer that comes to mind when people think about beer. There’s a pleasant sweetness to the beer, from first impression to finish. I also enjoyed the roasted bready/biscuit elements from the malt. A sweetness from the malt is also present that balances out the potent Saaz hops that help to define the styles hopping characteristic.

With the approachable flavor profile that doesn’t lean too heavily in a hop or malt direction, the beer is quite refreshing. The relatively low ABV (though a bit higher than many Helles Lagers) makes for a very crushable beer indeed. Hackensack Lager is the epitome of an every day beer; the utility player in your beer fridge that can sit in a glass with any meal. I’ve said this before about similar beers, but it is also true of Hackensack Lager – flavorful enough for folks who are well-versed in the craft beer world and inviting enough for folks who don’t stray away from the macro-produced lagers. The perfect beer to bring to a party if you aren’t sure what other guests will like in their beer.

I’ll comment on the label, too.* All of the Alementary beers have the same atomic logo on the front which is a cool branding icon. Most of their beer labels are white on the top half with a distinct color on the bottom half, in this case the bright gold that would be associated with lager. I dig it, it stands out on its own and is identifiable very easily as a beer from The Alementary.

*Maybe I should do this more often.

The Alementary has a great post on their Web site with more details about this delicious beer:

Clean and crisp, Hackensack Lager is a beer that is simultaneously familiar and innovative in the modern craft beer scene. It’s a “gateway beer” for new craft fans, and it’s also like going back home for experience craft drinkers. It’s truly a beer for everyone, for everything. Making a great lager in a small brewery is no easy feat! We pride ourselves in the consistency and technical skill with which this beer is brewed. Making this beer is all in the details.

Recommended link to Untappd 4 Bottle Cap rating.

Draught Diversions: December 2018 Six Pack

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

November was a bounce-back month, at least in terms of new beers. Even outside of the 6 brewery tour, the main highlight of the month, I managed to have quite a variety of brews. Additionally, one of my favorite Pennsylvania breweries, Tröegs Independent Brewing, released a fantastic variety pack this year – Most Wonderful Beer of the Year. This 12 pack features 6 varieties, two cans of each of the following beers: Troegenator, Blizzard of Hops, Perpetual IPA, Dreamweaver, Mad Elf (A Christmas Classic, now in cans!), and the beer I’ve highlighted towards the end of the post. Now, to the beers which comprise the December 2018 Six Pack…

Fudge Machine – Porter – Imperial / Double (Demented Brewing Company) – 4.5 bottle Caps on untappd

This beer was a helluva way to start the month. I’ve written multiple times how much I enjoy Demented’s beers and this is near the top of the list of what they’ve brewed over the last few years. One of my favorite NJ beers is River Horse’s Chocolate Porter and Fudge Machine is pretty damned close. I’m not sure how long this will be available from Demented or if it was a one-shot beer, but it should be in their regular rotation. As it stands, the beer is available on draft and in cans from the brewery.

Boomsauce (Lord Hobo Brewing Company) IPA – Imperial / Double New England – 4 bottle Caps on untappd

Beers from Lord Hobo started appearing on NJ shelves maybe a year ago? Something like that. At the time, I was still a little averse to IPAs and that’s all Lord Hobo seems to brew. Be that as it may, I gave this one a try and really liked it – good hoppy juiciness. Basically, a perfect example of the New England IPA.

Falconer – Pale Ale – American (Czig Meister Brewing Company) – 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

I’ve had quite a few specialty beers from Czig Meister, but not too many of their core beers. I’d wanted to try Falconer for a while now and I’m glad I finally did. This is a clean, sweet, and refreshing take on the American Pale Ale. A great everyday beer and one that would be a great introduction to folks wary of craft beer.

Delirium Tremens – Belgian Strong Golden Ale (Huyghe Brewery [Belgium]) – 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

When it comes to iconic Belgian ales, Delirium Tremens is quite high on the list. The pink elephant is a beacon to a quality ale and with Tremens, they set the bar for a yeasty, potent golden ale. I had this on draft years and years ago (well, before untappd at least). This bottle was birthday gift from a couple of folks I manage, which was nice. This beer is very similar to Cape May’s Devil’s Reach so if you like that, you’ll like this.

Chocolate Stout Stout – Milk / Sweet (Tröegs Independent Brewing) 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

If it hasn’t become clear lately (especially the last couple of months), I’ve been on a Tröegs kick. They do a great job with their variety packs and this winter/Christmas, they produced a great one – Most Wonderful Beer of the Year. For me, the star of this variety pack is this outstanding Chocolate Stout. It does just about everything you’d want a chocolate stout to do. This beer may have begun as one of Tröegs’s Scratch beers, but it really should be a style that gets its own six pack.

Belgian Freeze – Winter Ale/Belgian Dark Ale (River Horse Brewing Company) 3.75 bottle caps on untappd

Untappd lists this as a Winter Ale, Beer Advocate calls it a “Belgian Dark Ale.” Sure it is a winter beer, but the Belgian yeast and sweet and spicy flavor it evokes sets it firmly as a Belgian Dark. Regardless of what style this beer falls under, it is a tasty beer that can warm you up on a cold winter night. This is one of the beers River Horse has been brewing the longest and I can understand why. This is in rotation from River Horse from October to December.  With an ABV of 8% it won’t completely knock you out, but it isn’t a beer you want to throw back too quickly.

There were quite a lot of standouts this month, so there isn’t a real dud I want to call out above in great detail. But to be fair, and to show I don’t like every NJ beer I try, there was one beer that was a bit of a letdown – Bolero Snort’s Snickermoodle. This is a sweet porter brewed with cinnamon and Madagascar vanilla beans. I think I just don’t like vanilla as a component in my beers because in this beer, the vanilla finish completely destroys all the other flavors. Well, at least it did in this beer. I had two of the four from the four pack the second can was better, but that Madagascar vanilla is still overpowering.