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.

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.

Draught Diversions: February 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…

Considering February is the shortest month of the year, even in a leap year like this year, I was able to sample a good amount of new beers. In fact, it was a very tough challenge to trim the new beers I had in February down to just six beers. We’re at the usual 50%-50% split with NJ and non-NJ beers this month around. One business trip provided me with the opportunity to try a few beers I wouldn’t have otherwise had access to in NJ, one of which makes this month’s six pack post. So, enough of the chit chat, here’s my February 2020 six pack.

Back for S’More (Jersey Cyclone Brewing Company) | Stout – Milk / Sweet | 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

Jersey Cyclone keeps impressing me with their output. Every new beer from them is excellent, regardless of style. They had a NJ Craft Beer Night on the first Thursday of the month, which I of course attended. During that night, Jersey Cyclone debuted this delicious Milk Stout brewed with Cinnamon and conditioned on Cacao Nibs and Vanilla. The cinnamon was utilized perfectly to balance some of the sweetness from the other elements. They canned this one, too. Well worth grabbing a four pack.

Bourbon Barrel-Aged Framinghammer (Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers) | Porter – Baltic | 4.5 bottle Caps on untappd

This is the first “big” beer I’ve had from the great Lager brewery in Massachusetts. Yes, a Baltic porter is brewed using a cold/Lager process. I haven’t had the base non-barrel-aged beer, but this version is delectable. The bourbon is present, but not overpowering. Notes of vanilla and sweetness balance out the slightly high bitterness level associated with the style. A wonderful slow-sipper. Jack’s Abby brews several variants of this beer (S’Mores, Vanilla, Mole, etc) which I will most definitely be trying.

Flemington Fog (Lone Eagle Brewing) | IPA – New England | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

After missing a few sessions, I was able to get to Board Game night at Lone Eagle in February and I had one of their new beers, from their newish brewer and it is a dandy. Lone Eagle has brewed a few Hazy/New England IPAs (as has just about every brewery) but this one is the clear (pun half-intended) stand out in the crowd. This is a juicy beer with a pleasant bitterness on the finish. Just an overall good beer and I like the name as an homage to the city where the brewery is located.

Parabola (Firestone Walker Brewing Company) | Stout – Russian Imperial | 4.5 bottle Caps on untappd

Firestone Walker is, as I’ve noted here in the past, one of the leaders in barrel-aging and blending of beers. A beer many consider the apex of that program is Parabola, their big (13.6% ABV) Russian Imperial Stout. Like the BBA Framinghammer, the bourbon elements complement the flavors present in the beer, especially that aggressive hop finish strongly associated with Russian Imperial Stouts. This beer is simply outstanding.

Pliny the Elder (Russian River Brewing Company) | IPA – Imperial / Double | 5 bottle Caps on untappd

The very first Imperial IPA ever made and one of the best beers I’ve ever had. I was in San Francisco for business for a couple of days and I heard about this wonderful dive bar, the Toronado with 40 beers on tap, and Pliny a fixture. There was a great write-up by Jay Brooks recently for Flagship February which featured Pliny at the Toronado. Of course I had to go and have the beer, which lived up to the hype. An outstanding beer, never have hops tasted so wonderful. Quite simply, a perfect beer..

Good Morals (Conclave Brewing Company) | Farmhouse Ale – Other | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

I made my first visit to Conclave’s new facility and I was extremely impressed with the taproom. So much more space for customers, with tables and the typical old whisky/bourbon barrels. Very inviting, very spacious, and simply very nice. The beers have always been great, Carl (owner/brewer) uses hops from New Zealand so well and this Farmhouse ale has a couple of those, as well as that popular Norwegian Kviek yeast. At only 4.7% ABV, this beer is refreshing with a great amount of flavor. Just a great, great beer.

Honorable mention to a beer I haven’t had in about 4 or 5 years – Java Cask from Victory Brewing. This beer is the great Pennsylvania brewery’s take on the bourbon-barrel aged stout…not just a stout, a coffee stout. It is as good as I recall it being. To balance it out, I stopped in a few breweries in NJ at the end of the month and one really disappointed me – Magnify Brewing. Maybe I just caught some bad beers, or not the best they made (I had an English Mild, an IPA, and a Stout) but for the reputation they seem to have, I was expecting much, much more.

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.

Beer Review: Ghost Hawk Lager

Name: Lager
Brewing Company: Ghost Hawk Brewing
Location: Clifton, NJ
Style: Kellerbier/Zwickelbier
ABV: 5%

 An impressive self-appointed Flagship Lager that is compatible with every kind of food or situation.

Great label, great logo for the brewery, and a fine beer.

From Ghost Hawk Brewing’s “What’s on Tap” Page:

Brewed according to the German Beer Purity Law of 1516 using imported malts and American noble hops, this golden export lager is balanced and satisfying. It’s the perfect beer to wash down a Ripper or enjoy with your favorite pizza.

Ghost Hawk Brewing Company is Passaic County NJ’s first independent/craft brewery and they’ve made a name for themselves in quick order after opening in April 2019. Not surprising when you launch a brewery whose brewmaster has nearly 30 years of experience. Less than a year later, cans of their beer have been popping up in beer shops in the state, which leads to their flagship lager, simply titled Lager. It was, perhaps, fortuitous that I was able to enjoy this beer in time to slot this review in February, specifically Flagship February, which is a movement in the craft beer world over the past couple of years:

Our thinking is that flagship beers have much to teach new drinkers and remind older drinkers, and if they fall off the radar so far that they disappear completely, we will all be that much poorer for it 

This one is classified as a “Kellerbier” which is not the most common beer style in the world (especially America) or even a word with which many people are familiar, but it is a style that has been around for many years. So while Ghost Hawk Brewing Company is a new brewery, the fact that they’ve positioned such an old-world style as their “Flagship Lager” is worth note. The word, shockingly, is German for “cellar” because of how they are stored, but most importantly because Kellerbiers are neither pasteurized nor are they filtered. Imagine that, an unfiltered, somewhat hazy beer? But I digress. Most kellerbiers are essentially unfiltered Helles Lagers or pale lagers. With that starting point….

From the 16oz can, this Lager pours a golden hue with a bit of cloudiness. There’s not the overwhelming haziness of say, a New England IPA, but the beer is by no means clear. The beer looks the part of an unfiltered lager.

I don’t get much off of the aroma outside of the cliched it is a beer that smells like a beer. Trite, I know, but also true. 😊 That said, I find the aroma and the look of the beer very inviting and pleasing.

The taste… oh boy was this a nice Lager. I found it a little reminiscent of Carton Brewing’s This Town (a Helles Lager), there’s a nice crackery/breadiness to the beer from the malts, but unlike This Town I’m tasting a little bit of fruitiness from the hops. Drinkability is another term that is thrown around quite bit, but this beer has it in spades. Very tasty and thirst quenching; each sip makes you want to have more. For a beer that is 5%, that’s a great quality to have.

For #FlagshipFebruary, this beer doesn’t exactly hew to the “beers that got us here” ethos, but it is a beer that can proudly stand up as a beer the exemplifies a brewery’s quality. Besides, shouldn’t a brewery nominate one of their beers as a Flagship? For a brewery to come out this strongly with such a good Lager as a core beer is impressive. Ghost Hawk boldly proclaims this as a “Flagship” on their label and Ghost Hawk Lager is a great beer to slap with such a status. Not sure how much it sells, but any brewery would be well-positioned with such a great beer in their portfolio and as their Flagship.

Ghost Hawk is only about a year old so their beers aren’t super widely available outside of NJ. They began canning late 2019, which is how I grabbed this beer. It was a nice surprise to see it in a relatively new liquor store so I immediately snagged a four pack, which did not last very long in my refrigerator.

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

Draught Diversions: January 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…

January, for the past couple of years, has had me traveling for work, which provides opportunities to try beers not available in my market/region. Although only one of those “out-of-market” beers made this month’s six pack, I’ll note that beers from Yazoo Bewing (TN), Gordon Biersch (New Orleans),  Little Harpeth Brewing (TN) and Yee Haw (TN) brewing impressed me. A good balance this month of NJ and non-NJ, plus three brewery visits (2 favorites, and 1 newly opened). Another odd note: this six pack makes it 2 months running without a Lager in the mix. So, without further adieu here’s my January 2020 six pack.

Chekov’s Gun (Carton Brewing Company) | Belgian Quadrupel | 4.50 bottle Caps on untappd

The tradition of a Carton Brewery visit on New Year’s Day continued in 2020, same crew, different beers including this outstanding Quadrupel. It is a style I love, a style that isn’t brewed often, but when done well as this beer was brewed – and aged in Peach Brandy Barrels – the final product is heavenly. I would have purchased a bottle, but unfortunately, Carton was only selling a 3 pack of bombers and the price tag was just out of my range that day. Still, this is a beer I’d love to share with a friend, enjoy over the course of a long movie, or while reading an immersive novel by the fireplace.

Cinnamon Roll Imperial Ale (Southern Tier Brewing Company) | Spiced / Herbed Beer | 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

It has been a while (October 2019) since a Southern Tier beer made an appearance here on the Monthly Six Pack… This is a beer I’ve seen on the shelves but was always hesitant to try. I should not have doubted since one of Souther Tier’s strengths has always been in “dessert beers” and pastry stouts. This fantastic dessert beer features a perfect (and ample) hit of cinnamon throughout with a texture (moutfheel, I hate that word) that is reminiscent of the cinnamon roll. I think that comes from the lactose. I was very pleased with this beer and at 8.6% it might be the perfect beer to finish off the night.

Touching the Sun (Icarus Brewing Company) | IPA – Triple | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

Shocker! Icarus makes an appearance in a monthly six pack. Considering I attended their 3rd Anniversary Party at the top of the month, chances were pretty good an Icarus beer would be showing up. This is only the third Triple IPA I’ve had, but it might be the best. I was a little under the weather the day of this event, but even with that, Touching the Sun was a standout beer, super hoppy, super smooth with a nice hoppy bite at the end.

Somewhere, Something Incredible is Waiting to Be Known (Tree House Brewing Company) | Stout – Milk / Sweet | 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

It is nice to have friends who visit far-away breweries like Tree House, especially when they ask if you if you’d like them to get you anything. Case in point: this delicious Milk Stout. Lots of chocolate in the taste, with elements of coffee and just a hint of vanilla. At 7.9% ABV, it wasn’t super heavy on the booziness, but it is a beer I’d recommend enjoying slowly as the flavors breathe and assert themselves. Superb stout.

Funfetti About Bucking Time (Bolero Snort Brewery) | IPA – Imperial / Double | 4.50 Bottle Caps on untappd

Bolero Snort finally opened their own brewery, and some would say it was about Bucking Time. This beer is brewed to celebrate the big facility’s grand opening. Sort of since this is a brewery-only variant of the IPA they brewed, with Funfetti cake mix used in the brewing process. This beer took me by surprise. I would almost never think of an IPA as a dessert beer, but the cake mix perfectly complemented the beer itself (I split a four pack of the base beer, “About Bucking Time” with my dad). The grand opening itself was great, my dad and my uncle attended with me.  Bolero Snort has a huge, awesome facility and I expect great things from them in 2020. A photo collage at the end of this post serves as a visual highlight of the visit.

Hefeweizen (Yazoo Brewing Company) | Hefeweizen | 4 bottle Caps on untappd

Image courtesy of Yazoo Brewing’s Website. I wasn’t able to get a good picture of my beer in the crowded bar.

Work travel landed me in Nashville for a few days and our “Networking Event” was at the FGL House, which had a nice selection of local brews. I knew of Yazoo Brewing, so I figured I try their Hefeweizen and boy was I happy I did. This is a very well made beer, reminiscent of some of my favorite takes on the classic German/Bavarian Ale. It was perfect for the night of hanging out with work friends and enjoying some live music – fairly low in alcohol (5% ABV) and very flavorful. I enjoyed the beer so much I had three pints of it.

As noted above, I made two brewery visits in January, one of which was a long time coming – the official Grand Opening of Bolero Snort Brewery in Carlstadt, NJ. It was fairly easy to get there even if the brewery is a bit of a drive from me. You can see MetLife stadium from Bolero Snort’s enormous facility (one of the largest in the state). Great beers, awesome people, and a great atmosphere. Very much worth the visit.