Draught Diversions: Four Pack Favorite Breweries 2018

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image courtesy of MyBeerBuzz

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

373 Unique Beers
155 different breweries
101 distinct styles

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

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

Top 5 Most Checked in beer styles:

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

Top 5 Most Checked in breweries:

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

459 Badges Earned

Beer Review: Weyerbacher Brewing’s Last Chance IPA

Name: Last Chance IPA
Brewing Company: Weyerbacher Brewing Company
Location: Easton, PA
Style: IPA – American
ABV: 5.9%

From Weyerbacher Brewing’s landing page for the beer:

Last Chance IPA, 5.9% ABV, is a full-flavored IPA with pleasant citrus flavors of tangerine and grapefruit. Last Chance is a well-balanced, very refreshing beer that we’re sure you’ll enjoy! In addition to the blend of Cascade, Centennial, Citra and Mosaic hops, we’ve also dry-hopped this brew with Citra and Mosaic.

Weyerbacher donates a portion of the proceeds from the sale of every drop of Last Chance IPA to small animal rescue organizations throughout our distribution area. These shelters offer dogs, cats and other pets their last chance to find a new home.

Have a glass and make a difference! Cheers!

Weyerbacher Brewing is one of the great independent Pennsylvania breweries, they’ve been brewing and selling their beer for over twenty years and brew a range of delicious styles. I’ve been wanting to review one of their beers for a while, so when I came across a beer whose proceeds go to animal rescue, the dog lover in me figured this would be a good one to highlight. As such, Weyerbacher donates a portion of the proceeds from this beer to regional (to Easton, PA) animal rescue operations, with over $230K donated since the beer was first made in 2012. Not surprisingly, Weyerbacher has a site dedicated to the fund here: https://lastchancefund.com/

It is usually at this point that I’ll say something along the lines of that’s all well and good, but the beer still needs to be well crafted and appealing. So there. I said…or wrote it. Be that as it may, this beer is a very good IPA.

Weyerbacher describes this one as a West Coast style IPA and I get that from the overall hop profile. There’s a really inviting hop aroma coming off of the beer as soon as I opened the can. The beer poured a rich golden, with slight hints of orange once the glass was completely full.  The head is nice and fluffy, too. In other words, this beer looks just about exactly as you’d expect an IPA to look fully poured into a pint glass. So far, I like what my senses are telling me about this beer.

After taking a sip from the glass, I was pleased with how the aroma matched up to the actual taste. Lots of citrus and pine in the hop profile – just what to expect from a West-Coast style IPA. The more of the beer I drank, the more I enjoyed the beer. This isn’t going to blow you away with hop-punches to the face the way some over-the-top IPAs will, but you’ll definitely be aware of their presence.

Although the hop profile is different, and I’d guess different hops were used in Last Chance IPA, what the beer seems to be trying to be is similar to the Brooklyn Defender IPA I highlighted a few weeks ago. Maybe this beer has a little more hop kick. In other words, I’d guess Weyerbacher wanted to make an accessible for most beer drinkers while still working for “seasoned” beer drinkers like myself.

While Weyerbacher seems to specialize in higher ABV beers like big Stouts, Barleywines, or Belgian-style ales, going with an approachable IPA for a beer to raise funds for animal rescue is a smart brewing choice. As I initially said, above all else, the beer has to taste good and Last Chance IPA tastes really good. In fact, my local Wegman’s was doing a Weyerbacher tasting and I liked the small sip/taste of the beer enough that I knew I wanted more.

Recommended link to Untappd 3.75 Bottle Cap rating.

https://lastchancefund.com/

Beer Review: New Phone Who Dis? | Evil Genius Beer

Name: New Phone Who Dis?
Brewing Company: Evil Genius Beer Company
Location: Philadelphia, PA
Style: Porter – Other
ABV: 6%

From Evil Genius’s beer page:

CARAMEL MACCHIATO PORTER
Your favorite espresso beverage has now become your favorite adult beverage! Brewed with American barley, caramel and chocolate malt, and a touch of dark wheat. Gently hopped with American and German hops, and then infused with caramel and locally roasted La Colombe coffee. Full-bodied, smooth and robust, with notes of sweet caramel, mocha, and chocolate.

Evil Genius is one of a plethora of fine breweries out of the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania region. Although some may know the brewery from the uniquely named brews, the beers I’ve had have been quite good. After all, the beer names can draw the attention, but the flavor and taste keep you drinking.

As I poured the black beer into my glass, I caught sweet aromas of caramel. Evil Genius calls this a “Caramel Macchiato Porter” and it smells just like that. First sip is a big hit of that caramel, but enough of the porter characteristics are present, too.

This beer is extremely sweet as the caramel is the most prominent flavor component with very little of the coffee flavors coming through initially. After the first few sips of the beer, as the beer warmed to room temperature, the caramel power settled down. Although still definitely present, coffee flavors started to rise. It was then that the porter characteristics of the beer also began to assert themselves, with a slightly roasted finish flavoring the backend of the beer.

I can get why the sweetness of the caramel and cocoa in this beer might be too cloying for some. If you don’t like caramel, obviously stay away from the beer. For my tastes; however, the caramel notes were just enough. If you like dark beers like porters and stouts that include coffee in the brewing process or evoke the taste and feel of coffee, you’d probably like this one.

More caramel than coffee, but definitely a uniquely flavored porter, New Phone Who Dis? is a tasty dessert beer that won’t knock you over the head too strongly with the sweetness. For me, one was enough at the time I drank it, but I would return to this beer after a slice of rich chocolate cake to polish off the evening. This beer is continuing proof that Evil Genius’s experimentationial brews live up to their wacky names, which is a nice thing indeed.

Recommended, link to Untappd 3.75-star rating, a beer I liked enough to try and buy again. I can see myself enjoying this one more on a second try at a later date, too.

Beer Review: Yards’ Thomas Jefferson Tavern Ale

Name: Thomas Jefferson Tavern Ale
Brewing Company: Yards Brewing Company
Location: Philadelphia, PA
Style: Strong Ale – English
ABV: 8.0%

The beer’s description on Yard’s Landing Page for the beer:

This powerful and complex golden ale pays homage to Founding Father and fellow brewer, Thomas Jefferson. Yards Brewmaster, Tom Kehoe, worked closely with Philadelphia’s historic City Tavern to recreate this recipe, employing honey, rye, and wheat, just like the beer Jefferson made at Monticello.

Yards Brewing is one of the most recognizable and long-standing American Craft Breweries, an East Coast institution since 1994. Much of their portfolio leans heavily on British brewing traditions and early American brewing traditions, like the “Beers of the Revolution” subset, including this Tavern Ale, an interpretation of Thomas Jefferson’s recipe. With the President’s Day holiday yesterday and the Philadelphia Eagles winning the Super Bowl two weeks ago, what better time to highlight a presidential beer from a Philadelphia brewery?

What exactly is a tavern ale? I’m not too sure, but what *this* tavern ale is is a Strong English Ale. That may not be may not the hottest or most popular style of beer, but that doesn’t mean the beer can’t be well-crafted and pleasing.

The beer pours a deep gold, almost amber, with a decent head atop the glass. There’s a lot of malt in this beer, the wheat and rye combine really nicely to give this beer a solid, appreciable backbone. There’s also a sweetness up front in the beer from the honey that makes Thomas Jefferson Tavern Ale a really balanced ale.

This is more of a slow-sipping beer than a guzzler or a crusher. Whereas much of the American craft beer on the market falls into the IPA and Stout categories, it is nice to see a steadfast traditional style in continuous production.

The maltiness and overall way the beer felt as I was drinking it reminded me of an Oktoberfest or Märzen beer. This beer; however, is stronger, available year-round, and sweetened by the honey. That’s where you have to be a little cautious, the beer is very drinkable with the sweet malt, but the 8% makes it a beer you don’t want to crush. This is the type of beer you would enjoy in a pub amongst friends after a long day of work, while waiting for your barmaid or bartender to serve you that order of French Fries you’ve been craving.

Thomas Jefferson Tavern Ale, like many beers from Yards, is very widely available, in bottles and on draft. It is also part of the Ales of the Revolution branding (as the label states) and available in an Ales of the Revolution variety pack along with General Washington Tavern Porter and Poor Richard Tavern Spruce. I haven’t had the other two “Ales of the Revolution,” at least since being on untappd, so I may have to give them a try.

I’ve only had small sips of this one at brewfests and beer tastings, but liked it enough to give a fully try. I’m glad I did and could find myself reaching for this beer again in the future.

Recommended, link to Untappd 3.75-bottle cap rating.

Beer Review: Neshaminy Creek Brewing Company’s Dunks Ferry Dunkelweizen

Name: Dunks Ferry Dunkelweizen
Brewing Company: Neshaminy Creek Brewing Co.
Location: Croydon, PA
Style: Dunkelweizen
ABV: 5.2%

Proper weizen glass for a proper weizen beer

From the beer’s description on Neshaminy Creek Brewing Company’s Web site:

We stay with the German wheat beer theme for our Fall seasonal, and much like it’s Summertime sister, Dunks Ferry Dunkelweizen has a unique banana and spicy clove character but this time paired with a chewy, bready (dare we say banana bread) malt backbone. Again, we hop this German wheat beer with Hallertau and Tettnanger hops. 5.2% ABV.

I may have mentioned I like Dunkelweizens so it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that I’ve come around to reviewing one. As I said in the post about Dunkelweizens, there just aren’t enough of this traditional European style widely available. Thankfully, the fine folks at Neshaminy Creek brew Dunks Ferry as a fall offering. Originally available on draft and in 22oz bomber bottles, last year Neshaminy Creek Brewing began distributing the beer in 4 packs of pint cans.  But what about the beer itself?

Over the past couple of years, I’ve had only 9 beers from Neshaminy Creek, but I have really enjoyed each of them. Their stout offerings in particular are repeats for me and this one is probably my favorite that isn’t a stout. But this one is a darker, somewhat maltier beer, so there is that common strand…

A nice pop when opening the can hints at the freshness before pouring unleashes some of the aroma, but it doesn’t fully breathe (obviously) until the beer is in the class. Like many Dunkelweizens, Dunks Ferry’s aroma is similar to that of a Hefeweizen, but this one in particular might be a little sweeter, with slightly more banana in the flavor profile.

The hazy brown color is maybe slightly lighter than some other Dunkelweizens I’ve enjoyed (well, Erdinger’s I recall being quite dark), but the taste from the first sip really nails the expected notes of the flavor profile. Most Bavarian wheat beers lean towards a strong clove notes or more fruity notes. I like both flavor leanings, Dunks Ferry is nicely balanced with both in almost equal measure with maybe, just maybe the fruit/banana presence being slightly more prominent. The yeast, as it does in these more bready beers, gives Dunks Ferry a nice, balanced flavor profile that is subtle and welcoming. I wouldn’t go so far as to say this is like drinking banana bread (Well’s Brewery has you covered for that), but the beer evokes some of the same hits in the taste buds that a tasty bread does.

I gave a brief shout out to this beer when I suggested more breweries should be brewing Dunkelweizens on a regular basis. At least in the Northeastern US, Neshaminy Creek’s Autumnal Wheat beer is one of the only ones available in distribution near me in NJ. Fortunately, it is a high quality Dunkelweizen so it is far from the worst-case scenario of beggars not being choosers. In other words, if other Dunkelweizens were readily available, I would likely still go for this one repeatedly.

This late summer/fall, I unfortunately did not see Dunks Ferry as much as I recall seeing it in previous years. Breweries tend to tweak their annual beer portfolio from year to year and I hope this one doesn’t go away or become just a draft-only release.

If you are curious to try a solid American Craft take on a classic German/Bavarian dark wheat ale, Dunks Ferry is well with giving a try (and picking up a four-pack).

Recommended, link to Untappd 4-star rating.

Beer Review: Tröegs Troegenator Double Bock

Name: Troegenator Double Bock
Brewing Company: Tröegs Independent Brewing
Location: Hershey, PA
Style: Dopplebock
ABV: 8.2%

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

Monks had fasting figured out. No food? No problem. Just drink a Double Bock. Thick and chewy with intense notes of caramel, chocolate and dried stone fruit, ‘Nator (as we call him) serves as a tribute to this liquid bread style.

Tröegs is a foundational Independent American Craft brewer, not just in the Northeast (Pennsylvania specifically), but very likely in the United States. The Trogner brothers founded the brewery in 1996 and have been crafting delicious beers over the last twenty years. One of the highlights of their line-up is their famous Troegenator, a double-bock brewed in the Germanic tradition of malty, sweet beers. The naming convention also follows German tradition, which includes the suffix of –nator to denote a dopplebock (or double bock).

Bock is in the family of lagers, and therefore involves a longer brewing process compared to Ales, which may be one reason few breweries included bocks of any kind in their regular rotation of brews. The Troegenator has been part of Tröegs line up nearly since the brewery’s inception and has proven to be one of their most respected offerings, winning medals at beer festivals, garnering fans, and helping to put Tröegs on the Craft Beer map. Why is that?

Let’s start with opening the beer… When the beer pours from the 12 oz bottle into my fluted glass, the deep amber or brown color is the most noticeable element. Finishing off the pour leaves a thin foamy head that presents a very inviting beer. Aromas of caramel waft from the glass across to the palate.

The first sip for me this time ‘round (I’ve had this one a few times, my Dad tends to keep at least one six pack of Tröegs in his fridge and this is usually the one) was maltiness and sweetness. That’s exactly what a Dopplebock should deliver. The beer is relatively thick, the malt and sweet give rise to a caramel taste. Again, essential flavor components one should expect with a dopplebock. What gives this one a little more complexity are the spices that follow, giving the beer a more robust flavor profile than the standard Dopplebock. There may be some hints of chocolate in the beer, but that sweetness was given further complexity with a fruitiness as well.

The heaviness of the beer, complex sweetness and thick maltiness make this a beer you might want after dinner. I suspect it would also pair nicely with a rich hearty meat, too. Like many beers with higher ABV, Troegenator’s flavors release even more potently as the beer warms from fridge temperature to room temperature. I finished the beer off on a late August evening with cool air blowing in through the windows, which seemed perfect. This is a beer you’d probably enjoy more when the weather is slightly cooler, like late summer, early fall, or early spring. But, this really is an anytime beer because it is so damned good.

If you haven’t had the opportunity to enjoy a Troegantor, this is a must-try beer of the American Craft Beer landscape. If you have tried it, then chances are you’ve had it more than once.

Tröegs brews a barrel-aged variety of this Big Beer which I need to find and enjoy. I’m not sure how limited a release the beer is or if it is a brewery-only release, but somehow, some way I will be getting my hands on a bottle of it.

Lastly, Tröegs recently (2015, just ahead of their 20th Anniversary) revamped their label designs to go for more of a hand-drawn arty style, created by a local artist, rather than labels with a thicker line art.

Previous, iconic label of the beer.

Fortunately, for long-time fans of the beer and brewery, the horned head of the original Troegenator logo is still on the beer.

New Logo, which still sports the horned character, who I assume is god Pan

Recommended, link to Untappd 4.25-star rating.

Beer Review: Victory Brewing Peach Belgian Blonde with Coriander

Name: Blackboard Series #6 Peach Belgian Blonde with Coriander
Brewing Company: Victory Brewing Company
Location: Downingtown, PA
Style: Belgian Blonde Ale
ABV: 7.5.%

From the beer’s description on Victory Brewing’s Web site:

We’re excited to bring you the series in adventurous and unique beers –the Blackboard Series. Combining our award winning brewing techniques along side the deliciously fresh ingredients we are known for, we bring you four new rotating “special” brews available on draft, with two of them also available in bottles throughout our distribution footprint. We invite you to taste what our brewers are cooking up!

Blackboard Series Release No. 06 is Peach Belgian Blonde with Coriander. Bursting with fresh peach and spice aromas, this Belgian-Style Blonde Ale features stone fruit notes with a touch of sweetness and a refreshingly dry finish.

Victory Brewing is one of the giants of American Craft Beer, with a few of their brews considered classic or landmark beers that helped to establish the American Craft Brewing movement/ I’m looking at you Prima Pils and Hop Devil. One of those styles is classic European, the other a beer more associated with American brewing (at least as of late). Their motto is, after all, “European Tradition, American Ingenuity.” That convergence of styles and motto is quite evident in this beer (and much of the Blackboard series).

I’ll be upfront and say that Victory Brewing is also one of my favorite American Craft breweries, I’ve had well over two dozen different beers from them, visited the Downingtown, PA Brewery a few times, and have enjoyed just about everything I’ve had that has the big red V on the bottle. I’ll probably write up a Draught Diversions about them in the future. But on to this beer…

Last year (2016), Victory started the Blackboard series of beers. Special, one-off beers that are more experimental in nature than you’d expect from a Pilsner or an IPA. The first beer in this series was an Agave IPA with Grapefruit. I’ve had two of the Blackboard beers, the Coffee Cream Ale and the extremely well-rounded and refreshing Berliner Weisse with Elderflower. Problem with this series of beers is their limited run, so I knew I had to snag a six pack of the latest (as of this writing) beer in the series – the Belgian Blonde with Peach and Coriander. I’m very pleased I did.

Blondes and golden ales may be considered a very ordinary style, unless the style is more Belgian in nature, like this beer. The Belgian yeast adds something to the flavor profile that sets it apart from most other yeasts, and subsequently, adds a dimension of complexity to the beer. The beer pours a deep gold with a slight tint of orange or amber that may come from the addition of peaches to the brewing mix. It almost looks like peach juice, or at least the peach syrup from the can of peaches. (Cue the song “Peaches” from the Presidents of the United States of America). The aroma gives off the peach and yeast blend which is a nice hint of what’s to come once you drink the beer.

The peach is very strong in this beer, but is complemented really nicely by the Belgian Yeast and the flavors of clove and banana that yeast typically imparts. That drawing of the peach on the label tells it all, the peach is the dominant flavor in this one. It hit the right notes for me and evoked the same taste happiness as does peach cobbler. This is a fine dessert beer, but a beer you’d only want one sampling of per session because of the strong sweetness from the peach. But make no mistake, I am more than happy that I have 5 more of these in my refrigerator waiting for me.

If you don’t like peaches, you probably won’t like this one. But if you don’t like peaches, you probably wouldn’t try this one anyway. This is a really nice experimental beer from the fine folks at Victory that is timed perfectly as a summer release. I can see myself enjoying one of these on a late summer evening or early fall evening after the dessert has settled into my belly and I want to relax with a beer that will give me the hit of sweetness we all crave following a tasty meal.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4-star rating.