Draught Diversions: September 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…

In rolls September, what should be a month of slightly cooler weather and darker beers. But what we get is still warm weather, but the beer always flows. I started off the month by hitting up two breweries very close to me, Demented Brewing and Conclave Brewing on the first two days of the month, respectively.

At Demented, I picked up a growler of their Hefeweizen (Rumplestiltskin) and tried their New England IPA, Gallows Hill, which was delicious; Baccara, their second anniversary Imperial Stout, which has wonderful chocolate and cherry flavor additions; and a new Hefeweizen, The First Born which didn’t quite work for me. The next day, I headed to Conclave, which I wrote about a couple of weeks ago.

L->R : Gallows HIll, Baccara, Rumplestiltskin, and The First Born

With Oktoberfest beginning in the middle of the month, Oktoberfest beers began appearing back in August. Every year I try to have at least a couple I haven’t had in the past. One of those was the Sierra Nevada / Miltenberger collaboration, which was excellent. I also really enjoyed Two Roads Ok2berfest, which I brought to a friend’s NFL Kick-off party. That same friend visited Ommegang and brought me back a bottle of Rosetta, a sour-ish Lambic that might be the best Cherry beer I’ve ever head.

 

I already mentioned what is probably my favorite Fall Beer of the year, The Bruery’s ® Autumn Maple. I enjoyed it so much I may need to try the darker take on the beer, Midnight Maple. That same weekend, I slowly enjoyed the indulgent, decadent Wrath from Demented Brewing. This is a delicious Russian Imperial Stout aged in Bourbon Barrels. Some Russian Imperials can be too bitter for my taste buds, but as I say briefly on untappd, letting this one sit in Bourbon Barrels really helped soften that bitterness.

I’ve mentioned Weihenstephaner several times here as a favorite brewery, so when they brew something new, I’m going to want to try the beer. Their new Kristalweizenbock is delicious, interesting beer. Very clear, like a filtered Hefeweizen, but sweet, smooth, and malty like a bock. I tried my second Von Trapp beer at a tasting, the Vermont brewery’s take on the classic German style, Helles Lager. Even though the beer was warm, it still tasted quite good. I may have to get a full six pack of this one at some point in the future.

After missing it in August, I stopped at Lone Eagle for the September Brews and Board Games night. In the past, I’ve only had one or two, but I figured I’d go for a flight. First off was a beer I mentioned wanting to try in my Oktoberfest post, My Favorite Marzen, which was an excellent, malty, caramelly beer. I liked it so much I had a pint once I finished the flight. Rounding out the flight was the Pumpkin Amber Ale, a subtle Pumpkin Ale; Lone Eagle’s anniversary brew, Saison Jubileum, a Saison “aged in wine barrels and fermented on peaches” which made for a tasty sweet n’ sour beer; and finally, Black Out IPA, a roasty, yet bitter Black IPA.

Lone Eagle Flight L->R: My Favorite Marzen, Pumpkin Amber Ale, Saison Jubileum, and Black Out IPA

During the last full weekend in September, we all went up to Mountain Creek for their annual Oktoberfest celebration. The mountain feel gave a decent vibe, but that was completely negated by the near 90-degree temperature. Unfortunately, prices just about doubled since last year, according to the brother-in-law so the beer and food didn’t flow as copiously as it did in past years when he attended. Be that as it may, there were still some good brews to enjoy. One of which was a solid German Oktoberfest from Dinkelacker. The last beer I had there was from the venerable NJ Brewery Ramstein, their newest beer, INK, their take on the Schwarzbeir / Black Lager. This is a roasty, tasty dark brew with hints of coffee. I think this is something I’d like to have again without the beer warming so much from the hot weather.

Dinkelacker Oktoberfestbier

I’ve avoided mentioning of unenjoyable beers in these monthly posts, but I figured to show some balance, I’ll rattle off a few that were not-so-good over the last month. Abita’s gose, To-Gose was very bland, the Louisiana brewery has been hit or miss for me over the years. Bear Republic’s Big Bear Black Stout, was a stout I couldn’t even finish, not smooth enough and too bitter for a standard stout. Luckily I only had one bottle of each from a choose-your-own sixpack. My wife, brother-in-law, his girlfriend, and I (the same crew that went to the Mountain Creek Oktoberfest) went to a great Taco Festival in the middle of the month. They had a very slim offering of brews (despite the advertising leading people to believe there would be a wider selection) which consisted of Bud Light, Coors Light, and two from Lagunitas. I tried was 12th of Never Ale from Lagunitas, an undrinkable pale ale which I didn’t even finish. I’m coming to learn I don’t like much from this brewery. The last “unenjoyable” was a relatively new beer from New Belgium, Voodoo Ranger Atomic Pumpkin, which is a pumpkin ale with cinnamon and habanero chili peppers. For all the flavoring elements, I found it to be pretty bland, with a slight kick. I think it may also have been flat.

Best new brews of the month (not reviewed on their owne) are probably Ommegang’s Rosetta and Wehenstephaner’s Kristalweizenbock.

In October, I expect I’ll likely try a few new Pumpkin beers, some new stouts and offerings from local breweries.

Draught Diversions: 5 Breweries I Want to Visit

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…

There are thousands of breweries across the country and visiting them all would be challenge for anybody save the late great Michael Jackson or somebody like Jeff Allworth or John Holl whose jobs are all about beer. I’ve featured breweries I’ve visited from New Jersey so with today’s post, I’ll focus on 5 Non-New Jersey breweries I would love to visit and tour some day in the future. This may be a rotating, ongoing feature because there are definitely more than 5 breweries I would love to tour and visit.

Choosing which I’d like to visit first isn’t an easy decision, so I’ll use the arbitrary ranking of “From Which Brewery Does Rob Have the Most Unique Check ins”

Sierra Nevada Company in Chico, California (1979)
Total Sierra Nevada beers checked in on untappd: 35

Arguably, the most important American Craft Brewery, full stop. Although their iconic green label Pale Ale is not one of my favorites, it is considered by many to be the most important American craft beer produced. I think I may need to try it once again. I do; however, enjoy many of the beers from their portfolio, like Narwhal, the delicious Imperial Stout, the Summerfest Pilsner, the wonderful Porter that doesn’t seem to make it out to New Jersey any more and perhaps the best American Hefeweizen, Kellerweis. The annual Beer Camp collaboration is a highlight, as is what has now become an annual Oktoberfest collaboration brew. Their Barleywine, Bigfoot is iconic and so many people I know countdown the days until Sierra’s ultra-hopped Christmas brew, Celebration Ale is available.

Visiting the brewery that was at the forefront of the Craft Beer Revolution is a no-brainer for any craft-beer fan.

Founders Brewing Company in Grand Rapids, Michigan (1997)
Total Founders’ beers checked in on untappd: 23

Walk into any store selling craft beer and chances are you’ll see at least one beer from the 20-year American Craft Beer institution. Seeing the brewery on television, for example when the dudes from Brew Dogs visited Michigan, makes it more appealing, as does a recent episode of Steal this Beer where Founders’ head Brewery Jeremy Kosmicki was a guest.

I’ve had nearly 2 dozen different beers from Founders and have enjoyed all of them. Just look at their portfolio of beloved brews: Breakfast Stout, Kentucky Breakfast Stout, Backwoods Bastard, All Day IPA, Rübæus, PC Pils, Sumatra Mountain Brown, and the list goes on. Plus, like many breweries, there are quite a few brews that are brewery only releases, like one of the rarest of brews, an Eisbock.

This is high atop the must visit list for me.

Great Lakes Brewing Company, Cleveland Ohio (1988)
Total Great Lakes beers checked in on untappd: 16

I’ve had about a dozen beers from Great Lakes impressive portfolio and haven’t been disappointed by any of them. My wife and I have a life goal of visiting every Major League Baseball stadium and when we eventually get to Cleveland, we are going to have to visit this great Mid-Western brewery. That may not be for a couple/few years, but it will happen.

Great Lakes Brewing’s porter, Edmund Fitzgerald, is possibly the best American porter I’ve had. I’ll probably be reviewing that beer in the nearish future so I’ll hold off on any more descriptive praise. Last week I proclaimed their Oktoberfest my favorite American Oktoberfest and every year, a six pack of Great Lakes Christmas Ale is always in my refrigerator. Cleveland is such a great city, from what I’ve heard, so between this fantastic brewery, the Cleveland Indians, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I’m looking forward to eventually making our way out there.

A small sampling of their year-round brews

Brewery Ommegang, Cooperstown, NY (1997)
Total Ommegang beers checked in on untappd: 15

I’ve talked about their Game of Thrones beers here at the Tap Takeover, but they brew so much more than that. Ommegang brews traditional Belgian ales, in keeping with the ingredients and brewing methods to produce some of the finest, most well-regarded beers in America. The Abbey Dubbel is a world class, delicious beer. The Cherry Lambic they coproduce (Rosetta) is everything a fruit beer should be. About the only beer of theirs that didn’t work for me was their Nirvana IPA, which is a style outside their Belgian wheelhouse.

Also in keeping with a Baseball theme, it has been a few years (almost 20!) since I last visited the Baseball Hall of Fame so this trip would be at least a two-for with two fantastic spots in the same area.

A good friend whose son plays Little League baseball made the trip to Cooperstown and kept sending me pictures of the brewery and talked about how great the smaller batch beers were. Needless to say, I was a little jealous.

Bayerische Staatsbrauerei Weihenstephan, Bavaria, Germany (1040)
Total Weihenstephan beers checked in on untappd: 7*
*They don’t have quite as many styles in their portfolio, which is part of their success because all are superb

Is there any more classic German brewery? I don’t think so. Brewers of the world’s greatest Hefeweizen, a Weizenbock with nearly as good a reputation (Vitus), a great Dopplebock (Korbininan) to name just 3. If there’s a German style of beer, they brew it and it is a classic. Plus, with my German roots, I really want to visit this brewery and if I do, I’ll probably tour other German breweries. Just look up any of the beers from the picture below on Beer Advocate to check the ratings. Most if not all are World Class or Outstanding from the Alström Bros.

With Mom being born in Germany, there’s an added desire for me to visit Germany and why not start with the oldest and one of the most respected breweries in the world?

Draught Diversions: August 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…

The variety of new beers I consumed and enjoyed in August was lower than the new beers in July. Partly because there were still quite a few leftover beers in the fridge from July; I finished off the Sierra Nevada Beer Camp pack in July; and several people brought a variety of beer to my house in July. There were still quite a few new ones I enjoyed, though.

The first new beer of the month was Smuttynose’s Summer IPA, a beer that surprised me. A refreshing, low-hopped IPA that had a nice citrus flavor component. I picked up a single can but if it returns to shelves in summer 2018, then I’ll likely get a full six pack at the least.

One of my favorite breweries, Victory, launched a new beer recently. A beer they are positioning as an every-day beer and I think that goal was achieved with Home Grown New American Lager. Low in ABV with a refreshing hop component, this is a crisp, tasty Lager that has some elements of citrus in the hops. I liked the single bottle my friend brought over enough to pick up a full six pack to share with friends while we sat poolside later in the month. I shouldn’t be surprised by how much I enjoyed the beer largely because the big red “V” on the label.

An excellent “non-summer” poolside brew

Von Trapp (yes, that Von Trapp family) has been brewing beer since 2010 and their bottled beer has recently been distributed in NJ. I tried the Bohemian Pilsner and thought it to be a good representation of the style. I may have to try some of the other Von Trapp styles, too. For the first time in a while, or since joining untappd, I had a bottle of Ommegang’s Three Philosphers, a wonderful, rich Belgian Quad. It is easy to know why, after drinking this beer, why the beer has such a great reputation. This is a big beer at over 9% ABV so it should be enjoyed slowly.

 

I covered in detail what I had during my first visit of the month to Flounder, the Dinkelweiss was definitely the highlight. Such a fantastic interpretation of the light style. On my second visit, I had the Dinkelweiss again, but with Raspberry syrup and it was just as good as it was with the Elderflower. I also tried the Milkshake Genevieve IPA on a later visit in the month, which was delicious. The addition of lactose really calmed down the hops in the beer. That weekend, my neighbor brought over a six pack of Tröegs HopBack Amber Ale, a Red Ale with a nice malt/hop balance. Of the dozen or so brews I’ve had from the Trogner brothers, I can only think of 1 that didn’t quite do it for me.

As has become clear by now, I love Bavarian Hefeweizens especially those brewed in Germany by a German brewery. I’ve seen Andechs Weissbier Hell at my local beer shop for years and finally picked up a 500mL bottle, I was very pleased, as I have been by the 3 or 4 other brews I’ve had from Andechs. This was a great interpretation of the style. I just wish more German breweries would distribute their beer in 6-packs rather than big 500mL bottles.

In a proper, large Hefeweizen glass

Every year, at least one day in the summer, my wife, brother-in-law, and whomever else can join take a day trip down to Long Beach Island an go to The Chicken or the Egg (Chegg’s) for wings and other great food. This year, I skipped the wings and went for Cinnamon Bun French Toast, which is just as decadent and delicious as you might guess. Last year, we added a stop at the then newly opened Ship Bottom brewery to the itinerary. When we visited the brewery last year, they were open for only about a week and only had one beer remaining from their launch party. This year, their brewery was a year older, there was a relatively lively atmosphere for the middle of the day, and many more beers were on tap. I had a flight including their Beach Patrol Hefeweizen (the best of the bunch), the Blueberry Bikini Bottom Wheat (which reminded me of Leinenkugel’s Sunset Wheat as both beers reminded me of Fruity Pebbles), the Barnegat Lager (a red lager) and NYD 2017, a Russian Imperial Stout. A decent group of beers, I’d definitely go for the Hefeweizen again. NYD 2017 was a solid Russian Imperial, too, though more bitter than I like.

From L to R: Barnegat Lager, Blueberry Bikini Bottom Wheat Ale, Beach Patrol Hefeweizen, NYD 2017 (Russian Imperial Stout)

The Sunday ritual of Game of Thrones and a big beer continued with the last two episodes of the season. One of which will get a full review next week, the other was Westbrook’s 6th Anniversary Hazelnut Chocolate Imperial Stout which was delicious. This beer has a lot of flavors that balance and complement each other very well, not surprising since Chocolate and Hazelnut typically work well together. In the beer, they are almost one flavor and they mask the high 10% ABV nicely. This was a great beer.

I stopped at a local bar (The Royal) on the last Friday of August with a friend and was pleasantly surprised to find Tröegs, Founders, Three 3’s, and Conclave on taps alongside the typical “local watering hole/neighborhood bar” staples. I had a Three 3’s S.S. Tide Pool, a crushable delicious session IPA and a Conclave Gravitational Pull, which blew me away. Such a juice-bomb of an IPA, the bitterness was balanced perfectly with the juiciness of the fruit evocation. This is an IPA I would drink again and again. Conclave is close enough to my house that I need to head down there again as it has been far too long since I stopped in for a growler and the requisite 4oz pour of Mexican Morning.

The last beer to make it into this post is Dogfish Head’s Oak-Aged Vanilla World Wide Stout, but I’ll have more about that beer on Tuesday September 5 for my next beer review.

Ein Prosit!

Draught Diversions: Brewery Ommegang’s Game of Thrones Beers

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…

This Sunday, the biggest show in the history of HBO returns, Game of Thrones so what better time to feature the  officially “licensed” beers made by the fine folks of Brewery Ommegang inspired by the show. I’ve been a fan of the books for years having read the series when the first book published. I was lucky enough to attend a couple of George R.R. Martin’s signing events over the past couple of years, too.

At the Staten Island Yankees, who became the Staten Island Direwolves for the day. There’s an actual wolf sitting next to Mr. Martin

When HBO decided to make what even author George R.R. Martin considered an unfilmable project, the craft brewers of Ommegang knew they could complement the show. The show was an immediate success when it debuted in 2011, two years later in March 2013, the first Game of Thrones beer from Brewery Ommegang was released – Iron Throne Blonde Ale, a refreshing, relatively light beer at 6.5% ABV.

This was a smart move and a very approachable beer,  with hints of citrus. I recall having a sample at the second Garden State Brewfest in May 2013, when the event was held walking within distance from where my  in-laws live. I also remember the box/case of bottles Brewery Ommegang had at the event went very quickly so I was fortunate that a local favorite bar had it on tap a couple of months after that. As of this writing, Iron Throne is the only one of the Game of Thrones beers I haven’t checked into Untappd as I didn’t sign up until about a year later.

Later that year, the second Game of Thrones beer was released, a rich earthy stout clocking in at 7% ABV: Take The Black, which is named as an homage to the Night’s Watch. These men, often bastards or criminals who “commute their sentence” by taking the black of the Night’s Watch and live at the Wall. They are humanity’s defense against what may emerge from beyond the Northern borders. I recall enjoying the beer, but there was a bitterness to the finish that didn’t complement the chocolate profile so well. Not a bad beer, but I thought the Iron Throne was a better beer. (untappd check-in)

The third beer, Fire and Blood is a 6.8% Red Ale with chili peppers launched March 2014 about a month before Season 4 began airing. This beer is as an homage to the fire breathing dragons of House Targaryen and their matriarch Daenerys. The series Martin gave the books is A Song of Ice and Fire so there’s a thematic parallel there, too. I only recently began appreciating beers made with spiciness so when I had this one a few years ago, I wasn’t too keen on it. There seemed to be a fruitness to counter the spice at the end, but it is still a well-made beer. (untappd check-in)

October 2014 brought the fourth Game of Thrones beer and up to that point, the Game of Thrones beer I enjoyed the most. An 8% Belgian Dubbel, Valar Morghulis takes its name from one of the key phrases from the series which translated from the ancient language of Valyrian, means “All Men Must Die.” It should be no surprise that this is a well-made, delicious beer considering how very Belgian it is in nature. Ommegang’s year-round Dubbel, Abbey Ale, is incredible beer, earning a perfect 100 from Beer Advocate. Valar Morghulis doesn’t have as much of a fruit hint as does Ommegang’s Abbey, but it is still a delicious beer. I’d especially love to find another bottle of this in the next couple of days to enjoy while watching the season premiere on Sunday. (untappd check-in)

Season Five and beer number 5 in the Game of Thrones series synced up and released at the same time in April 2015. Beer #5 is a 7.2% AB Dark Saison named Three-Eyed Raven after a creature of prophecy and supernatural power whose visions have profound effect on the characters and their actions. This is a pretty unique beer, blending elements of a farm house Saison with a dark ale/stout. The IBU on this one is high at 80, but it is balanced by a mellow fruitiness on the finish. I would love to give this one another try, too. (untappd check-in)

Two things changed with beer 6. Rather than a fall release, it was released closer to the premiere of Season Six of the show in March 2016. The beer bottle’s shape/style changed slightly, too. This installment of the beer series takes its name from the collective realms where the story takes place, Seven Kingdoms, which is a Hoppy Wheat Ale at 6.9%. This is probably my least favorite of the Game of Thrones beers. I really like wheat beers, but there’s too much of a hop presence in this one for my liking. I know, the name/style says it right on the label, but it just didn’t work for me as well as all the others. (untappd check-in)

That’s a signed first edition of A Game of Thrones

Season Seven begins this weekend (July 2017), three months later than usual, but returning to the dual year release, Ommegang released beer number 7 in September 2016. This is currently my favorite of the eight beers they’ve released, a big 9% Belgian Tripel, Valar Dohaeris. The name is a companion saying to Valar Morghulis and means “All Men Must Serve,” (in this case beer) and a companion or “sister beer” to that earlier Belgian Style Dubbel. Oh boy is this a delicious beer and has the yeast, spice, banana, and bready profile you would expect from a Tripel. Since this a 9% beer, it might be a good idea to slowly enjoy this one over the course of an episode or two. (untappd check-in)

The most recent brew is timed slightly ahead of the premiere of Season Seven, Bend The Knee a Belgian Golden Ale that does not feel like the 9% the label indicates. It is more malty than I’d expect a golden ale to be, but the Belgian yeasts, along with the honey added during the fermentation seems to cut the bitterness some Golden Ales can exhibit. (untappd check-in)

So, those are the Game of Thrones beers. 8 beers, seven seasons and 5 books as of this writing.

All the books in the series, and all the bottles except the most recent, “Bend the Knee”

 

Tapping The Tap Takover

What is The Tap Takeover? It is a craft beer blog focused primarily on beer reviews, with some reviews of breweries as well as other assorted beer thoughts. I have enjoyed beer for many years now and like many other “craft beer enthusiasts,*” I feel we are in a golden age of beer. In New Jersey alone (where I’ve lived my entire life), there are over 50 craft breweries and a significant portion of those opened over the last 2 or 3 years, and close to a dozen within less than an hour’s drive from where I live and work.

With that thought in mind, most of the beers I review and/or talk about will be available in the Northeast with a slight focus on NJ craft/microbreweries though I will try to include beers with more of a national distribution, like Founders or Sierra Nevada. For example, I know of Schell’s Hefeweizen because a friend on untappd checks it in throughout the summer. Since the beer is unavailable in NJ/Northeast, I of course can’t review it which is a shame because for me, few beers are as satisfying in the summer as a Hefeweizen. Likewise, beers I review from Carton Brewing in Atlantic Highlands, NJ will have limited availability outside of NJ. Hell, some of Carton’s beers are tough for me to get and I live a little over an hour away from the brewery! Point being, I’ll try to mix it up, but ultimately, I can only drink the beers available to me, obviously.

Let’s face it, “craft beer enthusiasts” are even more connected because of untappd, Beer Advocate, and local to me here in NJ, perhaps the best resource, New Jersey Craft Beer, as well as the growth of small, independent breweries across the country. Learning about new beers is both easier and more challenging with so much of a good thing whittle down to what you want to try. It can be an endeavor fraught with the potential for buying and drinking beer you don’t like. #FirstWorldProblems, I know.

So why turn to writing about craft beer? For the past decade and a half or so, I’ve been writing book reviews for various outlets (SFFWorld.com, SFSignal.com, and Tor.com as well as my own blog) and will continue to do so. However, I wanted to shift that review/critical focus to craft beers. There are craft beer blogs out there, and with the popularity of untappd and Beer Advocate, why go the extra step? Well, as I said, I like sharing my opinions in more than 140 characters.

GOTBeersandBooksCropped

Game of Thrones A Song of Ice and Fire and Ommegang exemplify the convergence of two of things I enjoy most: Great Beer and Great Fiction (Specifically Science Fiction & Fantasy)

Why “The Tap Takeover?” I was trying to come up with a clever beer-associated name for this blog; each name I thought was clever, was of course taken. After only a few minutes, my wife said “How about ‘The Tap Takeover?’” So here we are. Most of the beers I’ll be talking about are from a bottle or can, rather than on draft or from a tap, so apologies for the slight misnomer.

* If the term Craft Beer Enthusiast has any real meaning any more, as the term “craft beer” has lost some of the weight it had even a few years ago, especially with the giants like AB InBev buying the “Microbreweries.” The term that now seems to be in more use is Independent Brewery.  Whatever you call it and whoever makes that beverage made from Grain, Hops, Yeast, and Water, I’ll be discussing it here. 

Thanks for stopping by and I hope you enjoy what I share with you all.

Cheers!