Draught Diversions: Chocolate/Valentine’s Day Six Pack 2019

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…

This seemed to work well last year, so why not again? There are quite a few “dessert / pastry” stouts out there and many of these beers have some flavor element that would lend themselves to Valentine’s day. Only one brewery from last year’s Valentine’s Day/Chocolate Beer post reappears here.

Rosetta | Brewery Ommegang | Cooperstown, NY | Sour – Flanders Oud Bruin | 5.4% ABV

Image courtesy of Ommegang’s Facebook

A departure from most of the other beers on this post since it isn’t a chocolate stout or stout of any kind. What flowers are most associated with Valentine’s Day? Roses. Well, this beer has “Rose” as part of its name (I know it is a stretch), but it doesn’t quite have roses in it. Rather, the color of the beer is a beautiful deep red evocative of a rose and is one of the very best beers with cherry I’ve ever had. A blend of two beers in one bottle, it is truly an artistically inspired beer. When Ommegang creates beers in its Belgian wheelhouse, wonderful things like this are produced. This is one of two beers in this post I’ve had (and thoroughly enjoyed).

What Ommegang says about the beer:

Rosetta kriek is a little sweet and a little tart, and now pops in cherry red with a bold, black logo. An homage to Rosa Merckx, the first female brewmaster in Belgium, Rosetta is blended for us at our sister brewery Leifmans, where Rosa worked for 46 years.

Ommegang Rosetta pays homage to time-honored Belgian methods of aging and blending fruit beers. Ommegang brewmaster Phil Leinhart partnered with Belgian sister brewery, Liefmans – legendary brewers in the world of sour fruit beers – to create a truly unique blend for Ommegang and U.S. craft beer lovers. Pouring a mahogany-brown with a hint of red, Rosetta offers elegance, depth, complexity, and an intriguing interplay of tartness and sweetness. This is derived from Phil’s perfectly balanced blend of Oud Bruin (a tart Flemish brown ale) with Cuvee Brut (a fruity and lively Kriek Beer)

Cupid | Carton Brewing Company | Atlantic Highlands, NJ | Stout – Other | ABV: 6.6%

Image courtesy of Carton’s Facebook

Perhaps the most on-point beer for Valentine’s Day comes from my NJ favorite, Carton Brewing. Augie and his band of brewers go beyond the confines of standard brewing ingredients for many of their beers, especially one-offs or seasonal beers like this one. How many other beers are made with roses? I’ll let Augie give you the lowdown..

What Carton says about the beer:

Simple truth is we wanted to make something taste like roses, and a stout reminiscent of the simple flavors of boxed chocolates seemed to make sense. The path became clear once we embraced honesty, no need for chocolate additions, just a malt bill built around chocolaty roasts. After that it was just some roses on the way home. Drink Cupid because that’s all there was to it, really, we swear, a straightforward inkling for boxed chocolates and some roses. Nothing else was going on.

Velvet Merkin | Firestone Walker Brewing Company | Paso Robles, CA | Stout – Imperial Oatmeal | 8.5% ABV

Image courtesy of Firestone Walker’s Web site

I’ve had the regular Velvet Merlin, which is a delicious Oatmeal Stout and Mocha Merlin, one of the best coffee stouts I’ve ever had. I’ve yet to have this elusive beer, which is part of their “Proprietor’s Vintage Series” of barrel-aged beers. I’ve not had the opportunity to sample any of their barrel-aged beers, but this is the one I think I’d want to try the most.

What Firestone Walker says about the beer:

Velvet Merkin is the beer that almost wasn’t…Indeed, this vintage oatmeal stout’s comical (or is it scandalous?) name went off the grid for several years, but now it’s back due to popular demand. Velvet Merkin is aged for a full year in retired spirits barrels from Heaven Hill, Woodford Reserve and others, yet manages to offer mind-­boggling balance and restraint. You will wig out when you taste Velvet Merkin’s rich milk chocolate, bourbon and espresso flavors, preceded by aromas of vanilla, coconut, toasted oak and mocha.

Chocolate Cherry Yeti | Great Divide Brewing Company | Denver, CO | Stout – American Imperial / Double 9.5% ABV

Image courtesy of Great Divide’s Facebook

The Yeti from Great Divide is one of the great Colorado stouts and has become a brand within Great Divide. I’ve had the Yeti and it is a big, flavorful beer. This variant, with Cherry added, seems like a delightfully delicious dessert beer perfect for Valentine’s Day. So of course it is logical that Great Divide releases it in February.

What Great Divide says about the beer:

CHOCOLATE CHERRY YETI is the newest version in our revered Yeti Series. We’ve tweaked the hop bitterness for this special release and then added sweet and sour cherries and cacao. The roasty malt backbone of Yeti melds perfectly with the cherries and cacao to make this one smooth sipper. A Yeti in a cherry orchard can be a great thing.

Double Chocolate Milk Stout | Lancaster Brewing Company | Lancaster, PA | Stout – Milk / Sweet 6.8% ABV

Image courtesy of Lancaster’s Web site

Lancaster’s Milk Stout was maybe the first Milk Stout I recall seeing called out specifically as a Milk Stout many moons ago. I liked it quite a bit and it was a regular winter beer for me. Then I tried this version of the beer which is a level up in taste, flavor, and all around quality as a beer.

Hell, Lancaster suggests pouring a can of this with their Strawberry Wheat Ale (a solid summer beer) for a chocolate covered strawberry.

What Lancaster says about the beer:

Don’t miss out on the intense roasted malts, silky smooth mouth feel, subtle sweetness and velvety chocolate goodness of our 2X Chocolate Milk Stout. We went over the top, with more malt, the infusion of cacao nibs and pure chocolate for a truly otherworldly chocolate stout experience.

Cherry Cordial | Southern Tier Brewing Company | Lakewood, NY | Stout – Imperial / Double | 10% ABV

Image courtesy of Southern Tier’s Facebook

Southern Tier is one of the leaders (at least in my region/distribution footprint) of the dessert / pastry stout, which is why they are appearing two years a row for this post. Frankly, I could probably include a beer in this themed post from Southern Tier for a few years. Like most of their big stouts, this is part of the “Blackwater” Series. Anyway, this one is a beer that evokes that most iconic of chocolate candies, the chocolate candy with cherry and cherry syrup filling. I think this is available in both 12oz 4 packs and 500ml bottles.

What Southern Tier says about the beer:

Big, juicy cherries covered in rich chocolate? Yes! Not overly sweet, with just enough contrast between the fruit and chocolate, Cherry Cordial is every bit as tempting as it sounds.

<We’re well known for our affection for decadent, flavorful, dessert-like beers which has put us on an endless quest to brew the ultimate indulgence. Our dessert beers are a fusion of flavors, making each of them a perfect pairing when one craves an exceptional stout all of personality.

American “Craft Beer” Classic: Brewery Ommegang’s Abbey Ale Dubbel

Here’s the third installment of the American Craft Beer Classic posts. There’s a mild disclaimer on this one; however. Brewery Ommegang is owned outright by Duvel Moortgat, a large Belgian brewery. However, Ommegang began with Duvel as a partial owner and by and large, the brewery works fairly independently. They also are actually in America.

The impact of Brewery Ommegang on the American beer landscape cannot be underestimated. Along with Allagash, the two Northeastern US breweries are two of the three major reasons why American palates not only accepted Belgian-style ales but sought them out in good numbers. Third being The Beer Hunter himself, Michael Jackson. Granted, Michael Jackson’s love for Belgian ales may have been a larger contributor, but Brewery Ommegang capitalized on palates thirsty for more than adjunct lagers, West Coast IPAs, and lagers out of Boston when Brewery Ommegang was founded in 1997.

Sort-of proper glassware with the Ommegang logo

Abbey Dubbel was the first beer Ommegang brewed and they certainly landed pretty successfully on their first try. With an ABV of 8.2% and amber body, the beer stands out from the crowd in two immediate ways. With an ABV nearly double what most American beer drinkers were accustomed to at the time beer first appeared (and many people now drink), Abbey Dubbel is not a chugger. The flavors evoked by the magic of the yeast make for a beer you want to experience, enjoy, and consider.

Original label & packaging, courtesy of Wikipedia

The second standout is the flavor profile. This beer is very far in flavor profile from the mass produced lagers of the 1970s and 1980s and is quite different from the emerging IPAs of the time. Like many Belgian style ales, the yeast is what gives the beer its strongest character. Similar to German wheat beers, there’s a hint of banana at the outset and the beer has the breadiness you’d expect given the strong yeast character in the beer’s make up. Stone fruits like plums, figs and raisins are evoked in the thick beer, giving it a sumptuous sweetness. Here’s what Ommegang says about the beer on their web site

Abbey was Ommegang’s first beer and was styled after Dubbels produced by Belgian Trappist monks. A deep, rich and malty ale, Abbey uses several Belgian specialty malts and spices resulting in a very aromatic, flavorful beer.

Deep burgundy in color, topped by a dense tan head, Abbey Ale is rich on the palate but with a dry finish. Suitable for cellaring, Abbey develops wonderful caramel, fig, and currant notes with age.

Abbey is in a class of its own when it comes to food friendly beers. Rich, chewy and fruity, the dubbel mimics the palate sensations of drinking a big zinfandel or cabernet sauvignon. If you know these wines, you know Abbey. Its flavor profile perfectly complements charcutterie, game meats, linguini with cheese, meatballs, and red sauce.

And just like its grape relatives, Abbey Ale is amazing in the kitchen. Using it like a red wine in a Bolognese, with demi-glace and mushrooms for a sauce, or for marinating chicken – it works beautifully. Combine one part Abbey and two parts beef stock as an amazing base for French onion soup, or reduce with rosemary and some stock, mound it with butter and top a steak.

I’ve had a decent amount of Dubbels from Belgian breweries (including the world class Dubbels from Westmalle, St. Bernardus, Corsendonk, and Chimay), and I really can’t say the Dubbel produced in Cooperstown is a lesser beer than those I’ve had. I’ve seen/heard how a Dubbel is one of the most difficult beers to brew and you wouldn’t know that by having a full glass Abbey Dubbel in front of you.

The great Jeff Allworth, over on his Beervana blog, has a great overview/piece on Brewery Ommegang, with this nice little quote about Abbey:

Their sort-of flagship Abbey, the dubbel, is a continual revelation. Dubbels are one of those beer styles that are composed of subtle elements and are very often, even in the case of Belgian examples, insipid, overly sweet, or just boring. Ommegang’s is a rich, layered experience.

I haven’t had the beer on draught, only out of bottles. The beer is now available in 4 packs which is nice. A beer this rich and flavorful is probably best enjoyed slowly in 12 oz. This is a beer that ages well, maybe up to 3 to 5 years. Ommegang has recently brewed and released a barrel-aged version called Double Barrel Dubbel, which is aged six months in a mix of bourbon and brandy casks. I’ve yet to try this one, though I will likely eventually grab a bottle.

Double Barrel Dubbel, photo courtesy of Brewery Ommegang’s blog

Abbey Ale is as close to a flagship beer for Ommegang as any of their beers except maybe the equally iconic Hennepin so is likely one of the easier beers to find from Ommegang. Well, the Game of Thrones beers might be more prevalent, but that’s a different story altogether as I posted in July 2017.

There are decent number of American breweries who include a Dubbel as part of the brewing portfolio, but few are as iconic or as elegant and stylistically perfect as Ommegang’s Abbey Ale. I’d even guess that most American breweries attempting the style were inspired by Ommegang’s Abbey Ale to some degree. In short, this beer is an absolute “must try.”

Draught Diversions: April 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…

April closes out, thank goodness. It was not a fun month with travel I had and awful weather. But, there were some good beers for sure. Deciding on a final six-pack for the month was tough because April started out strongly with a few classics I hadn’t previously enjoyed. In fact, a good portion of the highlight beers for me for April can be considered Craft Beer Classics.

There are some definite Belgian leanings in this month’s six pack, whether a brewery from Belgium, American breweries known for Belgian-inspired ales, or a great, modern interpretation of a Belgian classic.  Let’s start with the most Belgian of American breweries…

Saison (Allagash Brewing Company) Saison / Farmhouse Ale – 4 bottle Caps on untappd

Allagash has built a great reputation on brewing American interpretations of classic Belgian ales and few are more classic than a Saison. As it has turned out, the last few years I’ve been enjoying a different Saison on Easter Sunday. This was the perfect beer for Easter Sunday and a nice prelude to brunch. Light, sweet and well-rounded, I’ll be returning to this one in the future, for sure.

Candi Stout (Brewery Ommegang) Stout – Other – 3 bottle Caps on untappd

The other American brewery who built their reputation on Belgian inspired ales is Cooperstown, NY’s Brewery Ommegang. I enjoy much of their output, but when they stray too much from their wheelhouse – like this stout (or their Nirvana IPA) – then the results are mixed. I guess I get what they were aiming for with this beer, unfortunately, it didn’t work for me.

Tripel Karmeliet (Brouwerij Bosteels) Belgian Tripel – 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

Proper Glassware from a proper Belgian bar

This ale is an absolute world-class, and classic, beer. I loved the sweetness and overall flavor profile with the magic produced by Belgian yeast. Although I would likely enjoy this beer *anywhere*, enjoying it on draught in a bar that serves only Belgian beer (25 on tap, 50 in bottles) didn’t hurt the experience. I had this on my business trip in the Austin, TX bar Mort Subite. I’ll likely need to go to Austin again for business and I’ll be hitting up Mort again.

90 Minute IPA (Dogfish Head Brewing Company) IPA – Imperial / Double – 4.50 bottle Caps on untappd

Why did it take me so long to come around to IPAs!?!

I’m all in on IPAs now and found one that can be a steady go-to, the beer Esquire Magazine once called “the best IPA in America.” Perfect, absolutely perfect balance of malt and hops, with a pleasant hop bite and great hit of citrus sweetness. The reputation is well-earned because this beer does EVERYTHING a perfectly crafted IPA should do: it is true to style, innovative, and just plain delicious.

Devil’s Reach (Cape May Brewing Co.) Belgian Strong Golden Ale – 4.5 bottle Caps on untappd

Belgian yeast = magic.

Cape May Brewing Company, the 2nd Largest NJ Craft Brewery, has a great reputation, they brew across the board, with a somewhat greater focus on IPAs. But this beer? This beer is outstanding, a delicious, sweet explosion of flavor that is deceptively high in ABV (8.6%) but so easy drinking. In some of my reviews I mention “an iconic shelf of NJ Beers” and I would definitely make room for this one. Not many NJ breweries make a “Belgian Strong Golden Ale” (as far as I know) so there honestly isn’t too much competition in the State for this style. Regardless, this is an absolute stand-out ale.

G.O.R.P. (Carton Brewing Company) Porter – Imperial / Double 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

I’ve professed my enjoyment of Carton’s beers often on this blog. The fact that some of Carton’s long-time brews are now hitting distribution in cans pleases me immensely. Especially when I’ve been wanting to try Good Old Raisins and Peanuts for a couple of years now and the beer largely lived up to what I was hoping it would be. The quality I was expecting because the Carton logo is on the can, but the flavors were a little less expected. Some beers that have peanuts or peanut butter can be too cloying in the PB sweetness. Here with G.O.R.P.; however, the sweetness of the raisins and roasted peanuts come together deliciously on the finish, especially as the beer warms a bit.

Honorable mention to an annual April Favorite: Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout. This is a beer that absolutely lives up to its reputation and the 2018 vintage is outstanding.

Draught Diversions: Book Review COOKING WITH BEER by Mark Dredge

Name: Cooking with Beer by Mark Dredge
Publisher’s Landing Page: Ryland, Peters, and Small
Mark Dredge’s landing page for the book

About the book:

75 delicious recipes using beer as a key ingredient.

A beer with your food is a great thing. But what about beer in your food? It’s an even better thing! The next step for any beer lover is to try using beer as an ingredient, and that’s where COOKING WITH BEER comes in. Self-confessed beer geek Mark Dredge has combined two of his passions—great brews and delicious food—to come up with over 65 awesome recipes using beer as a key component.

Every occasion is covered, from lazy hangover brunches featuring a beer-cured bacon sandwich and Hefeweizen French toast to tasty main meals like Tripel Pulled Pork and desserts including a must-try Carrot Cake made with a Double IPA. If you really want to go to town, the Ultimate section has meal ideas where every element involves beer in some way—beer pizza anyone? And of course there is a selection of beer snacks that you can enjoy with a well-earned pint in your hand.

As I may have mentioned, prior to starting The Tap Takeover, I wrote book reviews for many years at a few different outlets: SFFWorldSF Signal, and Tor.com. I still do review books for two of those sites (sadly SF Signal closed a couple of years ago) so I figured reviewing a book about beer a natural fit for The Tap Takeover. Hopefully, I’ll be writing about more beer-related books in the future.

I received this cookbook as a gift for Christmas in 2016 and through early 2017, my wife (with only limited assistance from me) made many of the recipes in the book. But more about some of those recipes in a bit.

The book begins with an introduction to pairing beer with food, the various styles of beer, and the best meals to incorporate each beer into as a cooking component. From there, the chapters are broken into “Breakfast,” “Snacks and Starters,” “Mains and More,” “Ultimate Meals,” “Baking,” and lastly, “Sweet Things.”

Each recipe is spread over two pages and includes the instructions (occasionally including a specific brand of beer to use), a picture of the finished meal along with a suggestion of a beer pairing to enjoy while eating the meal. The information presented and –how– the information is presented make this a superb cookbook in terms of the physical product; good fonts, clear writing, and lovely photos.

A cookbook can look great, but the most important aspect of any cookbook is that the recipes must produce good food when executed properly. As I said, my wife and I made many of the recipes in this book and with the exception of one (largely because I realized an ingredient in it just isn’t to my liking), the meals were terrific.

Image courtesy of Mark Dredge’s Web site

Standouts include the chicken wings pictured above. Simply outstanding wings that have been the hit of wherever we’ve brought them. Although they are quite spicy, they are not buffalo spiced wings and are brined overnight using an IPA. The last time we made them we used Victory’s Mighty Things Imperial IPA. Prior to that, we used Spellbound Brewing’s IPA. I think next time I want to try it with Founders Centennial IPA or Flying Fish Jersey Juice. The only thing about this “Snack and Starter” is the sauce on the side which while tasty, wasn’t used too much any of the times we made the wings.

Another standout, and perhaps my favorite dinner from the cookbook is the Triple Tripel Pork. There are three courses to this meal and each one utilizes some of the beer. The one time we made it we used Valar Dohaeris, one of the Game of Thrones beers from Brewery Ommegang. I really need to have this meal again as it was probably the best pork chop meal I ever had. Plus it will give me an “excuse” to try another Tripel.

The dessert standout, thus far, has been the Framboise Lemon Cake, which is a very straightforward raspberry-lemon cake but oh so delicious. The beer for this one was a classic Belgian Lambic, Framboise from Brouwerij Lindemans.

Great food/meals, a great look and design, and the opportunity to explore new and different beers. In other words, this book has just about everything you would want from a cookbook with recipes featuring beer. Except maybe a coupon for a free six pack of beer.

Highly recommended.

Draught Diversions: 6 Beers of Christmas Future (2017)

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…

So here we are with part two of my Twelve Beers of Christmas duology. Why twelve beers? Well, that’s fairly obvious since beer comes in six-packs and many, many breweries will distribute 12-pack variety packs featuring multiple seasonal brews like Samuel Adams, Dogfish Head, Saranac,  and Sierra Nevada to name the most prominent ones. Whereas the previous Christmas 2017 Beer post shone the light on beers I’ve had and enjoyed during past Winters and Christmases, today’s post features a half dozen Christmas/Holiday/Winter beers I’d like to try in the future, as in this year for at least a few of those beers. I suppose the fairest way to highlight these beers is alphabetical by beer name, so here goes…

Belgian Freeze (River Horse Brewing, Ewing Township, NJ)
A brewery I haven’t written about very often, especially considering how much I enjoy the majority of the brewery’s portfolio coupled with having visited the brewery is New Jersey’s own River Horse Brewing. River Horse is one of the original New Jersey Craft breweries (they started in 1995 and were reinvigorated in 2007). The one beer from the Ewing Township brewery I’ve highlighted on the Tap Takeover is their Summer Blonde (my favorite summer ale). The “sister” or complementary seasonal offering to that is, Belgian Freeze which is considered a Belgian Dark Ale. This is a beer that’s always around bottle shops, but for whatever reason I never picked up a six pack or even a single in the mixed six packs at Wegman’s. I’ve liked nearly every beer from River Horse, so a beer that plays to the Belgian styles I’ve been drawn to more recently should be a beer I enjoy.

Holiday Ale (Two Roads Brewing, Stratford, Connecticut)
As readers of this blog may be aware, Two Roads is one of my favorite breweries. As all the posts at the link to the left where I at least mention Two Roads demonstrates. They are a relatively new brewery, only about 5 years old (starting in 2012), and I’ve enjoyed most of what I’ve had from them. I’ve yet to try their Holiday Ale, the style Two Roads went with for their holiday offering is a very obscure style and I can only recall trying one in the style previously: Biere de Garde. This beer, according to Two Roads, is a Biere de Noel, a holiday take on the French style of beer. France is not a country that comes to mind when I think of beer and brewing traditions, but the fine folks at Two Roads are experts on all styles so I expect this will be a tasty, malty brew.

Lovely, Dark, and Deep (Brewery Ommegang, Cooperstown, NY)
Ommegang brews mostly in Belgian styles, but seeing something slightly askew from their typical line of brews can be welcome. Such is the case with Lovely, Dark, and Deep, an Oatmeal Stout listed on their Web site as a “Winter Ale.” Outside of the Game of Thrones Take the Black Stout, I don’t recall Ommegang making many (or any) stouts. Makes sense since there is no true Belgian Stout style, just a “Dark Ale.” That said, I remember seeing this last year and passing on it, but I think I’ll go for a six at some point this year. I really like oatmeal stouts (in fact, River Horse’s Oatmeal Milk Stout is one of my favorite stouts) so this one seems like a no-brainer for me.

Santa’s Private Reserve (Rogue Brewery, Newport, Oregon)
This seminal Christmas beer from Rogue seems to have changed up the recipe in 2017. In past years, I recall this being an Imperial Read, which makes sense considering Santa’s attire. I don’t typically gravitate to Red Ales, their hop profile isn’t to my usual liking. I may have even had an earlier version of Santas’s Private Reserve years ago, but I can’t recall. This year; however, Rogue lists the beer Belgian Strong Ale with Cherries & Raspberries which sounds wonderful. This beer is available only in 22oz bombs and probably on draft.

St. Bernardus Christmas Ale (Brewery St Bernard, Watou, Belgium)
Having tried Delirium Noël / Christmas for the first time last year, I think I need to try one of the other Belgian Christmas classics. Going through my untappd account feed, people seem to hold St. Bernardus Christmas Ale in just as high regard, in terms of Belgian Christmas beers. I even saw some comments to the effect that if folks like Delirium Noël, then they should try St. Bernardus Christmas Ale. This one is even darker than Delirium and is listed on Beer Advocate as a Quad at 10% ABV. I had and really enjoyed St. Bernardus Prior 8 earlier in the year, which is a classic Belgian Dubbel so I expect the Christmas Ale would sit well with me, too.

10 Lords a Leaping (The Bruery, Placentia, California)
The Bruery
is a very high-end Craft Brewer out of California who only seems to distribute their beer in 750ml bottles and on draft. They’ve been working a long game, in terms of brewing projects – The Twelve Beers of Christmas. When I got deeper into the Craft Beer world a couple of years ago, I discovered this line of beers with the eighth installment, 8 Maids-a-Milking which I loved. I may have enjoyed the 2016 installment 9 Ladies Dancing even more. I’m really, really looking forward to the 2017 installment and tenth beer 10 Lords a Leaping which they call a dark wit and includes, appropriately enough, 10 different spices. I can’t say I’ve had any dark witbiers, but this sounds delicious. FWIW, untappd lists it as a “Belgian Strong Dark Ale.”

So there you have it. 6 beers I hope to try this Christmas and Winter Season. Don’t know if I’ll get to all of them (hopefully a couple of the 12 oz bottles are available at my local Wegmans so I can “craft my own six pack“), but I expect to have at least a few of them.

Draught Diversions: October 2017 Beer Pours

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…

October, the month for Oktoberfest beers and Pumpkin Beers. A time when Porters and Stouts are becoming more prominent on the shelves. There are always many good beers to be had, but I do love porters and stouts. That’s the variety of beers I had for October, Pumpkins and Stouts, mostly.

I started the month off with an interesting beer from New Belgium, part of their Lips of Faith series of beers called Clutch. My wife picked up the beer for me since we are fans of the band Clutch, who they partnered with New Belgium for a that is a melding of styles – 80% Stout / 20% Sour. Sour beers are probably more hit or miss for me than any style since the flavor profile can vary so much, but this one worked quite well for me. Since my brother-in-law is also a big fan of Clutch, I shared the beer with him, though I think I enjoyed more than he did since I finished what I poured for him.

Next up on the new to me beer list for October was a very tasty Dunkelweizen from Veldensteiner, a German Microbrewery whose beers recently appeared in NJ. I’d get this one again for sure and will be trying the other offerings from this brewery over the next few weeks. I’ve been enjoying the majority of Flying Fish’s Exit Series of beers, so I finally got around to trying Exit 18 – Baltic Porter which was quite good. This a very dark porter with a nice hit of sweetness, though a little stronger on the licorice than I typically like. Baltic Porters tend to be a little more bitter than standard porters, but the high ABV (9.5%) in this one, I think, smoothed out the bitterness. Although this one was a 750mL bottle, I wouldn’t be surprised (and hope) that Flying Fish reissues this one in 12oz bottles either in 4-packs or part of their annual “Exit Series” Variety pack.

The monthly “Brews and Board Games” meeting at Lone Eagle was a little earlier for October, falling on the 12th. I had a few of their beers I hadn’t previously tried in the flight (from left to right, below): Belgian Pale Ale, which I thoroughly enjoyed, enough that I ordered a pint of it after the flight; ESB, which was tasty; New England Chowdah, their take on an New England IPA which didn’t quite do it for me; and Tropical Stout which was OK for what it was (a stout with some pineapple/coconut flavors), but just not for me. I may pick up a four-pack of the Belgian Ale on my next visit to the brewery.

Lone Eagle Flight: Belgian Pale Ale; ESB; Chowdah (NE IPA), Tropical Stout

I went into detail about the O’Fallon Pumpkin Pack last week as well as Blackbeard’s Breakfast a couple of weeks ago. A couple of annual releases were next to be pulled from my refrigerator: this year’s version of Two Roads’s Roadsmary’s Baby is just as tasty as it was last year. Founders’ released their Breakfast Stout in October and it is always a must-get stout for me. There were more notes of coffee than I remember from past iterations of the brew, but a solid sipping beer nonetheless. I may let one of the bottles to age for at least a year.

A beer I’ve been looking forward to trying since seeing it announced was the latest installment of Victory Brewing’s Blackboard series, Black Forest Cake with Cherries. I’ve enjoyed most of the beers I’ve had in this series to varying degrees, I think I only missed the Agave IPA and the Oatmeal Porter with Hazelnut. This one was quite good, though a tad more on the bittersweet end of chocolate than I expected. I would even say this is a tamer, sweeter version of their popular Storm King stout (a big Imperial Stout with a 95 IBU and one of the few Victory brews I don’t like too much). The chocolate and cherries really balance the bitterness in Black Forest Cake with Cherries and makes for a really tasty beer. Like the Saugatuck Blueberry Maple Stout I reviewed at the beginning of the month, I found myself enjoying the second and third beers (each days apart from each other) more than the first.

My wife stopped at a bottle shop on her way home and picked up a couple of beers I never had, but definitely style-wise are in my wheelhouse. Continuing the Pennsylvania theme, one was a beer I’ve been seeing and intending to try was Crunch from Manayunk Brewing Company, which is a peanut butter chocolate porter. Boy did the peanut butter assert itself. This beer is one that is so potent with the flavors that just one is fine for the night. I’ve been eyeing other beer quite a while, too: Skull Splitter from Orkney Brewery in Scotland. This is a fantastic, sweet, bold, and malty Scotch Ale. I may review this one in more detail, but suffice to say, a lovely Scotch Ale.

The last weekend in October, I happened to try four new beers during a Chili Cook-Off I was judging. I picked up a six pack of another beer I’d been looking forward to since I learned of its release, Mocha Merlin from Firestone Walker as my “beer to bring.” Dear lord what a sublime and perfect stout this is. All the flavor goodness of coffee without the accompanying bitterness some coffee stouts bring. I’ve had the Nitro Merlin Milk Stout and the Velvet Merlin Oatmeal Stout in years past so I had high hopes for this variant on the Velvet Merlin “brand.” Mocha Merlin is just so damned good, it really is tough for me to say which of those three I enjoy the most.

Don’t judge the red Solo cup

Since this Chili Cook Off attracts quite a few people (between 50 and 80 every year), there are a lot of different beers floating around. One of my friends’ guests happens to live 7 minutes from Victory Brewing and he brought three growlers of delicious beer from Downington, PA. The first I had was Whirlwind Witbier an excellent Witbier that, despite the growler being filled the day before, was still quite good and pretty fresh. I could swear I had this years ago, long before joining untappd, although I haven’t seen it in stores recently. The other two Victory brews were Vital IPA and Hop Devil. My aversion to IPAs is waning so I tried both and enjoyed Hop Devil much more with its maltier profile. I can definitely see why this beer helped to establish Victory’s outstanding reputation.

I closed out the month with Winter is Here, the latest Game of Thrones beer from Brewery Ommegang, but you already read about that on Tuesday. A very consistent month for new beers, there weren’t any that were drain pours and all were quite good. On to November! With November 2 (today) as Stout Day, the stout season is officially here. The best beer of the month for me was the Mocha Merlin, so I’ll probably have at least one of those on Stout Day.

Cheers!

Beer Review: Brewery Ommegang’s Game of Thrones Winter is Here

Name: Game of Thrones: Winter Is Here
Brewing Company: Brewery Ommegang
Location: Cooperstown, New York
Style: Witbier / Double White Ale
ABV: 8.3%

That is indeed George R.R. Martin’s signature on A Dance of Dragons in the background.

From the beer’s description on Ommegang’s Web site:

Winter is Here is brewed with pilsner malt, white wheat malt, and soft red wheat flakes, hopped with Saaz hops, and spiced with white pepper, sea salt, coriander and sweet orange peel. Brewery Ommegang’s house yeast is used in primary and secondary fermentation. This double white ale pours a hazy pale straw color with a stark white head. Aromas of banana, clove, and pronounced peppery phenols lead, and the flavor is slightly sweet malt, subtly balanced by hints of sea salt. Despite a full mouthfeel and healthy ABV, it still manages to drink quite lightly. The finish gradually builds in a warming crescendo of peppery spice

I’ve been trying to “spread the love” and not cover the same breweries in my reviews and Draught Diversions. Sure I’ve posted a Tuesday Beer Review for breweries I’ve visited, but I’ve tried not to repeat myself and I’m aiming to continue that trend through the end of the year. I think I’m still getting away on a technicality here with this review since I haven’t truly reviewed a beer from Brewery Ommegang yet. Since I’ve done a review/overview of all the Game of Thrones beers from Brewery Ommegang, I almost have to review the newest in the series, right?

Wheat based beers are high up on my list of favorites and Witbiers are the Belgian take on the style. As loyal readers of this blog may recall, the first beer review here at the Tap Takeover was of a Witbier. Ommegang’s primary output is Belgian influenced styles so a Witbier is a natural fit for them. I’ve enjoyed their Witte Wheat in the past so I was especially looking forward to this latest installment of the Game of Thrones series.  In the latest Game of Thrones offering, Ommegang has really hit it out of the park, so to speak. Billed as a “Double White Ale” this beer is everything you’d expect from a finely crafted Witbier and more.

It pours a little thicker than I’ve come to expect from Witbiers, but the aroma is spot on. The one thing that stands out on appearance for me is the extremely fluffy head. Regardless of how I tilted the glass or patiently I tried to refill from the 750ml bottle, the head was quite large. The beer looks very inviting once the pint glass has the full head on, but it is thicker than most Witbiers I’ve enjoyed.

The spices and clove are up front, as one expects from a Witbier. Excellent so far. I got a little more banana hints than orange/coriander compared to most other Witbiers I’ve had. This is by no means a slight on the beer. Rather, I like the slightly different profile for this one. It gives the beer a wonderful feel and taste of gravitas; this is far from your standard Witbier.

The other thing that stands out in this beer is the level of maltiness. Most wheat beers, especially the lower in alcohol Witbiers, aren’t nearly as malty as Winter is Here. Again, this is not a knock on the beer by any means. I think the higher alcohol (about twice that of a typical Witbier, this one is 8.3%, most Witbiers are between 4% and 5% ABV) accounts for the more pronounced malt.

The only thing that strikes me as a little odd is that I typically associate wheat beers, especially Witbiers, with warmer months. With higher a ABV, though that thought sort of evaporates. Also, since the glowering fellow on the label is the Night King, the head of the White Walkers, it makes sense to make a beer in homage to him and his followers as a White Beer, another name for Witbiers.

Of the nine Game of Thrones beers Ommegang has brewed and distributed, Winter is Here is my personal top two or three. This is a beer that is a delicious “leveled-up” version of a Witbier that really works to the strengths of Ommegang’s wonderful Belgian heritage and brewing styles.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4.25-star rating.

Keep Your Wits About You (Level 8)

Hazy and white like a winter storm, but best enjoyed on a warm sunny day. This specific style of wheat beer brings with it a subtle mix of spices and hops, giving it a distinct flavor with little bitterness.