Beer Review: Ramstein Blonde Hefe-Weizen

Name: Ramstein Blonde Hefe-Weizen
Brewing Company: High Point Brewing Company (Ramstein)
Location: Butler, NJ
Style: Hefeweizen
ABV: 5.5%

“If not just the best Hefeweizen brewed in New Jersey, one of the best Hefeweizens brewed in America.”

From Ramstein’s Flagships beer page:

Our fresh traditional German-style Weiss Beer. Malty wheat bouquet brimming with clove and banana aromas. Wheat and barley balance with imported German noble hops. Unfiltered for a natural flavor. The finish is malty, smooth and refreshing.

This is only the second Hefeweizen I’ve reviewed here at the Tap Takeover, with the first being arguably the best Hefeweizen in the world (Weihenstephaner). It is a style I love, a style for me that works perfectly for warmer weather, so with spring in full swing and summer on the horizon, what better time to highlight one of the best American-made Hefeweizens…or Hefe-weizens as the fine craftspeople of High Point Brewing Company call this beer.

The Ramstein brand/label is brewed out of High Point Brewing Company in Butler, NJ. Owner and brewmaster Greg Zaccardi brings amazing old-world (i.e. German) knowledge to his brewery, including this beer, arguably the most definable German style of beer. High Point is one of the 5 original craft breweries in New Jersey having opened in 1996, and one of the few dedicated solely to German Lagers and Ales.

A pop of the cap and the whiff of the clove evoked by the yeast hits my nose. The inviting aroma of a Hefeweizen that speaks to good times in warm weather. Out of the bottle and into the glass the beer goes. The golden liquid that fills the glass has a slight haze, as is apropos for a Hefeweizen, and when poured correctly, a frothy white head. The Hefeweizen is the original hazy beer, don’t let those folks standing on line for $25 4-pack can releases fool you.

Back to the deliciousness of Ramstein Blonde Hefe-weizen… That first sip is refreshing with the yeast providing much of the flavors – some clove, some banana-like fruit. Overall, the beer is just a beautifully clean, and wonderfully crafted beer. It isn’t over assertive with hops, the flavor evocations from the yeast are there, but not to the point where they’ll drown out anything else you may want to consume.

For that reason, this beer is a perfect accompaniment to almost any meal. In my mind a Pilsner is the perfect beer to enjoy with pizza, but this beer is a very close second. I enjoyed a glass of this with a pork tenderloin meal. I’ve had this at one of my favorite restaurants/beer bars with a delicious burger. I enjoyed a bottle, actually the one pictured above, just sitting in my yard on warm spring day relaxing with my dog.

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.

In some of my reviews of beers from NJ breweries, I’ve alluded to a “Hall of Fame” or a shelf of “Essential NJ Beers” Ramstein Blonde Hefe-Weizen definitely gets a spot and maybe the first one, given High Point Brewing’s legacy as one of the Fab Five of New Jersey Craft Brewing and the outstanding quality of this World-Class Beer.

My only real knock on the beer (and most of the beer from Ramstein/High Point Brewing) is how limited the availability of their beer is. Bottles of their beer are rarely in stores in my daily driving radius which is surprising given the quality and longevity of the Ramstein brand. All their beers are superb, the brewery is nice to visit (as I did a couple years ago for the release of their world class Winter Wheat), but it isn’t exactly close at about 45 miles from my home. The quality of is great and I’d be more than happy to give these folks my money for that high quality beer on a regular basis.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4.25-bottle cap rating.

Draught Diversions: Wet Ticket Brewing

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…

 

The state of beer in the State of New Jersey is pretty good. As of this writing, we are near 100 breweries in the Garden State. I’ve got two solid breweries very close where I live now (Conclave Brewing and Lone Eagle Brewing), and as of 2 years ago, a really good brewery close to the city in which I grew up (Linden, NJ) – Wet Ticket Brewing in Rahway, NJ. Wet Ticket recently celebrated their second anniversary. I didn’t make it to their celebration, but I stopped in and met my parents before celebrating their anniversary a couple of weeks ago. I also visited Wet Ticket shortly after they opened in 2017. Let’s just say I don’t think I’ll let 2 years pass between visits, or at least having some of their beer.

Co-owners Tim Pewitt and Al Povalski met through a mutual friend, both fascinated by craft beer. Tim started as a homebrewer and brings about 25 years of home brewing experience with him, which is a familiar story for many independent breweries. Though I don’t know how many of those home brewers turned brewery owners had over two decades experience brewing. At this point, I’ll just say Tim’s years of experience show in the beer. Although Union County, Roselle Park specifically, is home to Climax Brewery, there wasn’t a true brewery/taproom experience in Union County. Rahway is and has been a city under revitalization, so when a former Woolworth’s location became available on Main Street, Tim and Al found their location. Not a bad location, either. When the brewery first opened, nobody seemed to be walking the streets on Fridays. Since then, Tim and Al say they see much more pedestrian traffic. There’s a parking garage across the street, Wet Ticket is a couple of doors down from local staple the Townhouse (home of the world’s greatest thin crust pizza), so the location within Rahway is fantastic.

Wet Ticket’s Taplist on April 12, 2019

Tim and Al were all set from a passion point of view, they just needed a name. A family member suggest Wet Ticket as the name. This is a reference to Prohibition in the United States. Politicians wishing to bring an end to Prohibition ran on what was called a Wet Ticket. Good ingredients for a successful brewery so far: good location, good name, and owners with knowledge and passion for the liquid that comes from water, hops, barley/malt, and yeast.

It is around this point in most of these Brewery spotlights that I say, well, what about the beer?

That’s part of the interesting here with Wet Ticket as I’ve visited the brewery twice. Both visits occurred in April before having dinner with my parents (who live in a neighboring town) to celebrate their anniversary. During the first visit to Wet Ticket, my parents and my wife and I brought some pizza from neighboring Townhouse Tavern into the brewery. Like many breweries in NJ, you can bring outside food into the brewery. The Townhouse is a Rahway and Union County institution, my family and I have been going there since before I was born. My mother ate there several times while she was pregnant with me (when it was called Paolini’s Townhouse) so I guess you could say I have been enjoying the world’s best thin crust pizza since before I was born. Whenever family who moved out of state come back to visit, pizza at the Townhouse is a requirement. But enough about the Townhouse…for now.

During that first visit to Wet Ticket, the folks at the brewery were really nice, and gave a mini tour of the facilities. I’m guessing Tim Pewitt was there, but I can’t say for certain. During that initial visit and on my most recent visit, I was very impressed with how open and clean the brewery is. From just about anywhere in the brewery, you can see into the brewing area. Part of the open ambiance is from the large window which affords pedestrians from Main Street a pleasing, inviting look into the brewery and for patrons inside the brewery, provides a great deal of natural light. The bar area is nice and clean, with posters of the beer labels adorning the wall as well as several other interesting art pieces from local artist John Ward, a friend of Tim’s.

I had five beers during that first visit, the two that stood out the most were their Kick the Bucket Brown, which was a tasty interpretation of the style. A brown ale is typically seen as the “workhorse” of a brewery’s lineup and this was nicely made. The other standout is arguably their first flagship ale, the Kölsch, an easy drinking German ale. Their Kölsch, simply called Kölsch is a fine interpretation of the style and a beer they call the “Swiss Army Knife of the Wet Ticket lineup.” The other beers I had on that initial visit didn’t stand out for me as much as the brown Kölsch and the Brown Ale – a saison, an oatmeal stout, and a Blonde. At the time, I wasn’t a fan of IPAs so I didn’t try any of their hop forward beers. That Kölsch, though? That was really nice.

The brewery recently invested in a canning machine, which really gives them the flexibility to can beers as they make them. Many breweries utilize mobile canning companies, which are great and afford breweries with limited space the opportunity to have their beer canned. However, with the growth of breweries like Wet Ticket, the breweries are a little more beholden to the canning company’s schedules. Having a canning machine allows Wet Ticket to have more control.

Like many breweries, Wet Ticket is often trying new styles, new takes on established styles, and new beers in general. They call these beers “Test Ticket” beers. These are small batch beers that debut in the tap room, for example. If the beer proves “successful,” i.e. it sells well and people like it, the beer “graduates” to regular rotation. Trolley Hopper began this way, as did their anniversary porter, Rahway or the Highway. Trolley Hopper was one of those beers, Tim said, he felt good about from the start. Again, a couple of decades worth of home-brewing experience comes in handy. Beyond the experimentation, Wet Ticket has a solid line up of beers in regular rotation, the aforementioned Brown and Kölsch as well as a Hoppy Kölsch, a Double IPA called Dream Ticket, a series of single hop beers they call One Way Ticket, a single IPA named Spanktown IPA, and an Imperial Oatmeal Stout. Seasonal releases include a very popular summer ale “Tastes Like Summer” Watermelon Wheat, Blood Orange Pale Ale and fall beers like Scarecrow Juice Pumpkin Ale and a Pecan Porter. When they can a beer, they are the ones putting the beers in bars and stores as Wet Ticket self-distributes.

Image courtesy of Wet Ticket’s Facebook

In fact, the 2019 batch of Watermelon Wheat (as of this post in late April 2019) should be rolling out soon. When fresh watermelon is  in season, Tim, Al, and company buy as many watermelons as possible. For a 20 barrel batch, 80-90 watermelons are used and they add the watermelon when the beer is about ¾ fermented. Like last year, Wet Ticket will be putting cans of Tastes like Summer Watermelon Wheat into distribution. Also on the horizon is another batch of their highly acclaimed (avg rating on untappd of 4.16 of 5 bottle caps) Imperial Oatmeal Stout aged in Bourbon Barrels. I won’t let a bottle of this pass me by again.

Image courtesy of Wet Ticket’s Facebook

Although their cans list Wet Ticket as established 2013, the brewery on Main opened in 2017. In those two years, the Wet Ticket name has grown, both in terms of the quantity of beers they produce and the reputation they’ve earned. Tim and Al’s baby also has established itself as a fixture in the growing resurgence/revitalization of downtown Rahway. 25 years ago when I lived near Rahway, it didn’t necessarily have the reputation as a destination. It was a place to pass through on the way to your destination. Except for the Townhouse, of course. Sure the Union County Performing Arts Center was in Rahway, but in recent times more restaurants have been popping up. At least three of those restaurants (CubaNu, Nancy’s Townhouse, Meatballs and Brews) seem to always have one Wet Ticket beer on draught.

Several of the beers pay homage to the community and City of Rahway, such as Spanktown IPA, Rahway had the infamous nickname of Spanktown around the time of the Revolutionary War. Another brew, the one I reviewed earlier this week, Trolley Hopper, pays homage to the lost Rahway Trolley. Starting back in 1928 and for about forty years, The Rahway Trolley line connected Westfield, Clark, Rahway, Woodbridge and Perth Amboy. Their latest beer, brewed for their second anniversary, is an Imperial Porter named Rahway or the Highway.

Wet Ticket has been establishing a name for themselves and personally speaking I went from an IPA hater to an IPA embracer. A couple of weeks ago, like two years ago, my wife and I met my parents for my parents’ anniversary dinner, both my dad and I had a glass of Trolley Hopper. I liked it and so did he. So much so that we walked out with a couple of cans of the beer. We headed over to CubaNu for dinner where they had Fully Juiced on tap, freshly tapped is it were. Another delicious beer. Fully Juiced was another beer Tim had a really good feeling about when he was brewing the first batch.

While I liked Wet Ticket’s beers during my first visit in 2017, I thought the quality improved by the time I visited two years later. Wet Ticket is the first brewery in Union County (the County of my birth and where I grew up) to have a fully functional tasting room and to be a destination taproom in the truest sense of the word. At the heart of Rahway’s Main Street, Wet Ticket should be a destination for people wishing to sample finely made beer. With plenty of restaurants within walking distance, patrons can sate their hunger, too. The brewery is conveniently located near Rahway’s NJ Transit station and a short drive off of Routes 1&9 (in this part of NJ, Route 1 and Route 9 are the same highway) and not too far from the Garden State Parkway.

In addition to being available at local restaurants (as well as bars and stores across the northern part of NJ), Wet Ticket is active in the community. They do a regular Yoga night, Flow to Flights. They’ve led and participated in donation drives for the Rahway Food Bank as well as food and supply drives for stray cats. They are hosting a pre-party for an upcoming concert at the nearby Union County Performing Arts Center. In short, Tim, Al, and all the folks behind the scenes at Wet Ticket Brewing are helping to foster a strong sense of community along with making great beer. Their eye-catching logo was crowd sourced and later touched up by Wizdom Media, a local design firm in Rahway down the street from Wet Ticket. Wizdom Media also provided the label art for Trolley Hopper, Kolsch, Dream Ticket, and Watermelon Wheat. The great art for Fully Juiced came from a family member, while the can art for One Way Ticket and Rahway or the Highway came from a former Wet Ticket brewery worker, who now works for Boston Beer/Samuel Adams. If being “draughted” to work for Boston Beer isn’t a sign that Wet Ticket is recognized for doing good things with their beer, I don’t know what is.

Canned beer available for takeout!

Wet Ticket is a brewery definitely worth visiting and their beers are undoubtedly worth sampling should you come across them in a beer store, restaurant, or bar. The taproom is welcoming and inviting, especially with how open they are to allowing food to be brought in by their patrons. I know I’m very likely to visit again and enjoy more of their beer in the future. In fact, on Thursday May 9, Wet Ticket is hosting a NJ Craft Beer “Beer Up”/Meet up which I’m hoping to attend.

Wet Ticket Brewing Web site | Instagram | Facebook | twitter | Wet Ticket Brewing on NewJerseyCraftBeer.com

Some other links of interest:

Brew Jersey December 2017 (Chris Castellani)

Al Gattullo Craft Beer Cast featuring Tim Pewitt (April 16, 2019) (Hell, if you are reading my ramblings on beer, you should be listening to Al every week. He features a good mix of local NJ and national independent breweries.)

Special thanks to Tim and Al for taking some time out of their busy schedule at the brewery to speak on the phone and provide details for some of what I’ve included in this post. All errors are mine alone.

Beer Review: Wet Ticket Brewing’s Trolley Hopper

Name: Trolley Hopper
Brewing Company: Wet Ticket Brewing Company
Location: Rahway, NJ
Style: IPA – New England
ABV: 7.7%

“The flagship IPA from the Rahway brewery is a stellar interpretation of the popular Hazy/New England IPA.”

Wet Ticket Trolley Hopper Draught

Not the best picture, I admit but it provides a decent shot of that perfect pour and the Wet Ticket logo.

From Wet Ticket’s our beer page:

We’ve blended six hops to create an explosion of JUICY tropical fruit flavors and aromas in this New England style IPA. Vic Secret hops from Australia take the lead here, with Citra, Mosaic, Columbus, Amarillo and Simcoe all doing their part to create a maelstrom of hoppy refreshment. The chassis for this resinous hop bomb is mostly Pale 2-row malt, and just enough oats to contribute to the haze that is the signature of this style.

From the untappd description of the beer:

This beer is all about the hops, and is our interpretation of a New England IPA. With more than 3 pounds of hops per barrel, you will be engulfed in a resinous, juicy, tropical hop experience that lets you savor the hop flavors without being overcome by bitterness. Savor the aromatics of this beer as you will be hit by an intense wave of citrus, peach and tropical fruit aromas. The flavor will be ever so slightly dank and will match the expectations created by the aroma. Named after the long lost Rahway Trolley line, jump aboard the “Hopper,” and enjoy the ride.

Wet Ticket is about the same age as this beer blog, so it is about time I got around to reviewing one of their beers. On a recent visit (more on that later this week), I figured I’d go with their flagship IPA, Trolley Hopper. As the description above indicates, this beer is a Hazy/New England IPA. Most of the beers I’ve reviewed here have been consumed at my house out of the can or bottle. As you can see from the picture above, I had a pint of this at the brewery. A beer like this, with the kind of hops that evoke a citrus juiciness are best consumed fresh, and what’s more fresh than a beer straight from the keg at the brewery?

Visually, the beer exhibits the beautiful characteristics of a New England IPA perfectly. Hazy, orange-juice like appearance in the glass with a frothy white head. A quick pass of the beer under my schnozz gives off the pleasant hoppy aromas of the style I would expect. After a long day of work, and a frustrating drive during rush hour to the brewery, the first sip of the beer was a delicious remedy.

For a beer at 7.7% ABV it drinks a little lower in alcohol than I’d expect. A refreshing blast of hops catapults the flavors through the palate, hitting all the right buttons. Wet Ticket indicates Vic Secret and Centennial as two of the hops used in this beer, those happen to be two of my favorite hop varieties.

Wet Ticket first canned the beer a little over a year ago, in March 2018 and it has been available in cans in NJ since. While March 2018 was about the one year mark for Wet Ticket, Trolley Hopper is currently the most “checked in” beer on untappd. In other words, it is their most popular and most consumed beer. There’s really no surprise for that, in my humble opinion. Plain and simple, Trolley Hopper is a delicious, on-point interpretation of arguably the most popular style of IPA being made today.

You might say, sure the beer tasted good at the brewery, but how did it taste in cans? Well, I can answer that for you, I liked the beer so much I brought some home. I split a four pack with my dad, as it so happens. A couple of days after visiting the brewery, I poured the beer into my brand new Wet Ticket pint glass and the beer looked just as inviting as it did out of the tap handle in the brewery. There’s virtually no difference in taste. The same blast of juicy hops and clean flavor profile pervade. In other words, it was delicious.

There you have it, Trolley Hopper from Wet Ticket Brewing is what I’d hand somebody if they asked, “Give me a solid juicy IPA that does New Jersey craft brewing proud.”

Recommended, link to Untappd 4-bottle cap rating.

Beer Review: Conclave Brewing’s Moonwater

Name: Moonwater
Brewing Company: Conclave Brewing Company
Location: Flemington/Raritan Township, NJ
Style: IPA – American
ABV: 6%

“The Central Jersey brewery creates another delicious IPA.”

About the beer:

An IPA brewed to be simple, enjoyable and drinkable. We used a blend of base malts, Mosaic and Motueka hops and then a blend of ale yeasts to make this one. While it’s clearly a hoppy one, it’s crisp minerality and finish is what we’re really psyched about. Come on by and let us know what you feel. Notes of Sauvignon blanc, grape bubblegum, lemongrass and lime.

For all the mentions Conclave gets here on the Tap Takeover, this is the first full review I’m doing for one of their beers since fall 2017. For about the past year or so, Conclave has been doing somewhat monthly releases. Moonwater was was the first can release I was able to get I’m very glad I did.

This is a beer they first brewed in late 2018 but when I picked up the 4-pack, it was both the first time they canned the beer and the first time I had the beer.

Immediately noticeable from the pour of the beer is how yellow-orange the beer is, really nailing the “Pale” of the IPA. It looks almost like orange juice, like many of the popular Hazy IPAs. There’s a strong hop aroma that, for IPA lovers, really encourages you to take a sip.

A big hit of hops on the first sip. Per the description above, they’ve used two hops: Motueka and Mosaic.  The Motueka on the start which evokes a really delicious citrus flavor. I think Conclave has used Motueka in quite a few of their beers and it is a really flavorful hop, I’m a fan. The hop I tend not to enjoy; however, is the Mosaic hop. For whatever reason, the finish of beers which feature the Mosaic hop don’t typically jive with my taste sensibilities. I didn’t notice those issues in this beer.

While the Mosaic is present and has some hop qualities I enjoy, the Motueka hop brings enough of its own flavor to give the beer a more balanced hop profile. Motueka is one of the New Zealand hops that is growing in popularity and this beer is a nice showcase as to why. There’s an extremely pleasant tropical fruit element to the beer that inspires you to have more.

So the beer has a well-crafted balance between the two hops, which is nice. Also impressive is how flavorful the beer is with a relatively low ABV at 6%. For an IPA, that’s not exactly a chugger, but lower than the 7-7.5% you’d expect from an IPA with the robust flavor this beer gives.

Conclave Brewing is extremely consistent with every beer they produce and this beer is further proof. Moonwater is a great example of the care, precision, and artistry that can come together in an IPA. Plan and simple, Moonwater is a delicious IPA.

The cans sold out early on Saturday, the brewery is open for a couple of hours on Thursday and Friday evening and Saturday afternoons. I wouldn’t be surprised to see another batch of this beer become available though maybe just for growler fills. If you’re in the Central New Jersey area, it is a beer (and brewery) worth seeking out and visiting.

Can art by Natalie Rengan, @talliedesign. Natalie has been creating some really striking designs for Conclave’s can releases, giving a nice “branding” to the brewery.

Art/Design by Natalie Rengan

Recommended, link to Untappd 4-bottle cap rating.

Draught Diversions: March 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…

March rolls in and maybe because February is always shorter, March seemed like an extremely long month this year. The upside is that I managed to enjoy a lot of good beer during the third month of the year. It wasn’t quite as easy to trim the new beers down to six for the monthly recap as a result. Four of these beers are from New Jersey breweries. Two beers are Belgian Quadrupels, with two stouts, too. March will make it two months in a row that I haven’t included an IPA in the monthly six pack. Onward we go…

Whiskey Barrel Stout (Boulevard Brewing Co) Stout – American Imperial / Double – 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

I don’t think I’ve had a bad beer from Boulevard. In fact, most beers I’ve had from the great Kansas City brewery have been excellent. This big boozy stout is near the top of that list. Boulevard brews a handful of barrel aged beers including their Bourbon Barrel Quad which I reviewed last year. This Whiskey Barrel Stout is sweet, complex, with a good hit of booziness. The beer has all of that going on without forsaking any of the base stout flavors of the beer. As good a barrel-aged stout as you’ll find

Blasphemy (Weyerbacher Brewing Company) Belgian Quadrupel – 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

Weyerbacher is known for brewing big, strong beers. Their standard Quad is delicious, but to kick up another notch, they let it age in bourbon barrels. This is a super boozy beer, but really complex with vanilla laced throughout the flavor profile and quite sweet overall. This 750mL is one to share, I had a tough time finishing it myself. In fact, I’d like to see this in a 500mL bottle or four packs.

Paragon of Light (Czig Meister) Belgian Tripel 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

Anytime I can sneak Sully into these photos, I will.

Czig Meister has such a diverse portfolio of beers, crafting beer in nearly every style. They have a nice and interesting barrel-aging program, which produced this beer. I typically don’t go for wine barrel aged beers, but the fruitiness of the wine barrel works really nicely with the yeast and other elements of the Belgian Tripel. I can’t say I’ve had many Tripels, or many beers overall to match the flavor profile exhibited by Paragon of Light, but I can say I liked what was going on in this beer quite a bit.

2190 Anniversary Ale (Kane Brewing Company) Belgian Quadrupel – 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

Bottle image half courtesy of Kane’s Facebook, Right half my photo

I haven’t enough beer from Kane in my life. They aren’t exactly super far, but they aren’t exactly close either at about 50 miles away from my house. So when Project P.U.B. in Somerville (less than 10 miles away vs 50+ miles away) featured Kane as their monthly brewery in March, I had to stop in at least once. Project P.U.B. is a fascinating concept, they are a bar that is essentially a month-long tap takeover. March 2019 was ALL Kane beers, in the past, they’ve featured Bell’s for a month, Founders, and Oskar Blues, among others. I was especially eager to visit when I saw one of the “rare pourings” was this Anniversary Quadrupel and oh my is this a delicious beer. Lots of booziness from the barrel-aging up front, but as the backend of the beer finishes off, none of the Quadrupel elements are lost. A nearly perfectly barrel aged quadruple if I’ve ever had one.

MooDoo Doll (Bolero Snort Brewery Company) Stout – Imperial / Double 4.5 bottle Caps on untappd

Top half my photo, bottom half courtesy of Bolero Snort

I saw Bolero posting about this beer on their social media pages and was intrigued but I was also a little hesitant to give it a try. I’ve liked a lot of their beer, but for whatever reason, when they add Madagascar Vanilla to their big stouts, I find that the Madagascar Vanilla overtakes all the other flavor components and leaves an unwelcome aftertaste. This beer…this beer is just pure delicious. Maybe the lemon zest they add to evoke the Mardi Gras King Cake flavor was the key to cutting the vanilla. Regardless, this beer was the highlight of the month for me and it just might be my favorite beer from Bolero Snort.

Cape May Lager (Cape May Brewing Company) Lager – Pale 4 bottle caps on untappd

The first widely available lager from Cape May Brewing Company and it is damned good. Good malt balance, with a great amount of Saaz hops, the classic, Noble hops. “Craft Lagers” are becoming more prevalent, especially from some of the larger regional breweries and Cape May is the second largest in New Jersey. Cape May Brewing has a great post that details this beer from conception to what you find on shelves, and it highlights how delicate it can be to make what is considered a “simple” beer. I’d slot this on the same shelf as Carton’s This Town as the two best Lagers brewed in New Jersey. I’ll likely have a couple of six packs of this one in my cooler throughout the summer.

While it may seem I loved every beer I had in March, I had a couple that weren’t so good. I had Boulder Beer Company’s Mojo IPA which was undrinkable. The date was fine, the beer is highly rated, so maybe I had a bad batch. Either way, it was just plain bad. I’ll also add that this year’s Nugget Nectar from Tröegs was absolutely delicious. I liked it the first time I had it a few years ago, but this year’s vintage was the first I had since began appreciating hop-forward beers. On draught, it was outstanding.

Draught Diversions: Beer Date Codes – Posted On and Best Before

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…

Something that’s been on my mind for a while is beer dating. No, not appropriate beers for a date, which is a different topic. I refer to how breweries date stamp or, in some cases, don’t date stamp their beer. You’d think this would be a simple thing a brewery would want to do from an integrity standpoint, right?

Some beers with proper beer date stamping

Maybe breweries are concerned that if they do date stamp their beer, then the beer won’t sell if it is on the shelf of a bottle shop for a certain amount of time? In some cases, a brewery is utilizing a canning or bottling line that may not have the ability to stamp dates on the bottom of cans or sides of bottles. If that’s the case, then the added time of printing labels/stickers and slapping those stickers on the packaged beer could be inefficient and costly, perhaps. I don’t know, I can’t get in their heads. But there are indeed some complexities involved with date stamping beer.

Best before date. This brewery takes a little extra time to put the sticker on top of the can holder.

Another complexity is what format to use for date stamping. There’s the Gregorian calendar dating, which is what most of humanity uses. You know, January 1, 2019. This can sometimes be written as 01/01/19. The other, more obtuse method is swapping out letters for numbers, while also including the bottling line. Sure, that’s specific and not as easy to read as a normal date, but it is something to give the consumer an idea of the freshness of the beer. This thread at RateBeer.com illustrates the cryptography involved in this type of date stamping, while this post at Craft Beer and Brewing gives a nice overview of beer date codes in general. Bill Cord of the great MyBeerBuzz intelligently and cogently presented his thoughts on the subject of standardized beer dating a couple of years ago.

It shouldn’t be incumbent on the consumer to have to go and figure out which method of date stamping is used. As a general rule, manufacturers really shouldn’t make extra work for potential customers when manufacturers are asking those customers to part with their hard earned money.

Aside from the format of the date, there’s the issue of what date to put on the beer. Some breweries will stamp a “canned on” date, others stamp on a “best before” date. Again, both are good methods. I prefer the canned on/packaged on date, though the benefit of a “best before” date tells you what the people who actually made the beer think the lifespan of the beer should be. They probably know best. One would think the brewery/brewers would know best, at least.

Perhaps my largest frustration is the utter lack of consistency. I’d almost expect say, a Trappist Tripel to have a different method/format of date stamping from that of an IPA brewed in California. But when two breweries in the same state – say Pennsylvania, one of the largest brewing states in the Nation – have different date stamping methods, then the problem becomes more noticeable.

What is probably optimal is what you see on the photo below and in the snapshot of Orval in the lead image in this post. A bottled on date and a best before date. Orval stamps the bottled on and best before date. It ages well, I’ve had a 2 year old bottle. That beer below is a barrel aged Quadrupel from Weyerbacher (which is delicious, by the way). Many barrel aged beers tend to develop more robust flavors over time, as do many Belgian beers like Orval. So when the beer shows those bookended dates it is nice. If I were the HopLord of All Brewing, that’d be one of my decrees – all beer should have a packaged and best before date. Another brewery that does it right is Bell’s, which is really not surprising. They date stamp the beer with a packaging date and almost all the labels have a shelf life note. Two Roads does the same, too. Date stamp on the bottom of the can, note on the side indicating how long the beer lasts. Hell, the “Shelf Life” can be added to the label that goes on every single bottle or the can packaging.

Top date is bottling date, bottom is good until date. Perfect date stamping for a boozy, barrel-aged Quadrupel

But maybe even worse is what comes off as a middle finger to the consumer. When, rather than a date stamp at the bottom of the can, the brewery decides to put a song title, a movie title, or some other random line of text that is anything other than either a “Canned On” or “Best Before” date. Why is that a middle finger? Clearly, the brewery has the capability at their disposal which provides them the ability and means to stamp something on the bottom of the can. Is the song a code for people in the know? Why waste effort and money in something that could likely be meaningless to a potential new consumer? Something that could be a potential barrier to a new customer.

It is a deceitful thing, too. More educated craft beer drinkers are probably concerned about what date is on the beer, especially those who enjoy beers that are best enjoyed as close to the packaging date as possible: Hazy/New England IPAs, one of the hottest styles on the market. Most breweries who are producing Hazy/Juicy IPAs will even include a “Drink Fresh” edict on their label. I know if I see a Hazy/New England IPA without a date on it, I’ll not buy the beer if were on the shelf. Hell, if I’m trying to decide between two beers to buy in a specific style I’m craving, maybe from different breweries, I’d probably lean towards the beer with the date stamping if only one of those beers had the date stamping. I would even encourage other consumers to not buy those beers, too.

What does “My Hometown” even mean? The time is stamped, but not the date? Waste of ink, in my humble opinion.

Another set of complications are stores that keep beers on shelves long past their packaged dates and best before dates. That’s a different rant, but I’ll just say I saw a beer I really enjoy and hadn’t seen in a while in my area (Sierra Nevada’s Kellerweis) that was two years old. I clearly remember the date on the beer as 2016 when I was in the store last summer (2018). Because it was so far out of date, I passed on the beer and was more frustrated with the store than Sierra Nevada. Unfortunately, that store carries some beers I don’t see elsewhere in my immediate area so I do find myself returning to it once in a while.

A selection of properly dated beers from my refrigerator

What is the solution, then? Who is responsible? The Brewer’s Association, presumably, has some clout. In this article, the Brewer’s Association provides some very broad guidelines around “beer freshness,” but that’s it. This seems like something they’d want to enforce. The BA defines what Craft Beer actually means (itself a definition fraught with great debate in beer circles), so you’d think the packaging and freshness dating is something they’d want to enforce to some degree for their member breweries. The TTB (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau), the governmental arm that approves all the labels and names before a beer can be released into the world has little sway on dates, it would seem.

Ultimately, it seems to be a matter of trust. We, the consumers, have to trust the breweries to stamp their beers with dates. I know if I see a beer with a dumb song title, or a cheeky phrase where a date stamp should be and there is no dating on the beer whatsoever, I’ll be extremely hesitant to buy the beer unless I’m at the brewery and I know for a fact that the beer was packaged/released close to the day I’m at the brewery.

Enough local breweries (at least in NJ), send out emails and engage in social media for new beer releases. For example, I just finished the last of a four pack from a New Jersey brewery I really like, they put out a new beer and I know the beer that showed up at the local store was fresh because they disseminated the messaging of a new beer via email and social media. That’s because I might be a little obsessive over new beers and breweries I like. Not all consumers are as proactive about the beer they buy.

So when a beer from an untested brewery is on the shelf, I’ll be hesitant to pick up the beer if I don’t know how fresh it is.

I say all this as a consumer and beer enthusiast. There are likely elements of beer production, packaging, and distribution about which I’m speaking out of my butt. But be that as it may, date stamping is something that deserves proper attention from the brewery asking us to part with our hard earned money.

Draught Diversions: February 2019 Six Pack

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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