Draught Diversions: December 2019 Six Pack

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

The month of December began with another bottle share, but even outside of that great day, I was able to enjoy quite a few very good beers. Some Christmas/Winter-adjacent, stouts, and the usual mix of NJ, regional, and nationally available beers. .

Kalishnikov (Icarus Brewing Company) | Stout – Russian Imperial | 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

Shockingly, a beer from Icarus Brewing appears on this list. Kalishnikov is one of their annual favorites and I know why, a delicious, super-boozy (14% ABV!) Stout that doesn’t feel like it has that much alcohol in it. Russian Imperials can be very bitter on the finish, but the addition of honey in the brewing process gives the beer a nice hit of sweetness on the finish. I’ve had one of the barrel-aged variants, but I think I prefer the base stout more. .

Christmas Ale (Brouwerij St. Bernardus) | Winter Ale | 4 bottle Caps on untappd

I’ve been trying to sample at least one of the more popular and widely available Belgian Christmas beers every year and this year I landed on bottle sporting the happy monk. This beer turned out to be a really nice ale. The classic from St. Bernardus is basically a Quadrupel (10%ABV), but with more fruit character (some cherry notes, maybe?) than their standard Quadrupel. This is definitely a slow sipper and a beer you should let warm a little bit to room temperature to fully enjoy the aroma and full flavor of the beer.

Winter Cru (Flying Fish Brewing Company) | Belgian Strong Golden Ale | 3.75 / 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

Over the last year, Flying Fish continued to evolve, brew new beers, and tweak their classic beers. Winter Cru is a reboot of their Winter seasonal (Grand Cru Winter Reserve) with a great label and tweaked recipe. The original wasn’t one I cared for too much, so this change in recipe is very much welcome and the beer is more full-flavored My tagline: “A Belgian style ale w/hints of cinnamon and nutmeg will settle you in for a comforting Christmas and Winter Holiday.”

Willettized Coffe Stout (Lagunitas Brewing Company) | Stout – Coffee | 4.50 bottle Caps on untappd

This is an annual release Lagunitas that is often highly-sought after. That’s because it is a delicious, very balanced barrel-aged stout. The barrels are Willett Rye and what an excellent blend of flavors – coffee, roasted malt, rye whiskey. This is quite simply a fantastic barrel-aged stout.

Psycho Simcoe (Three 3’s Brewing Company) | IPA – New England | 4.50 Bottle Caps on untappd

I wasn’t able to snap a photo of my beer in the very crowded bar, so here’s the can art, courtesy of Three 3’s Facebook

You never know what you’ll find in a dive bar and there’s a pretty great dive bar in my town – The Royal Bar. They have a pretty standard selection of beers, but every time I’ve gone to the Royal, I’ve always found at least one gem. This most recent visit the gem would be Psycho Simcoe, a fantastic IPA from the South Jersey brewery. This is a wonderful blend of dank and juicy hops (Simcoe, obviously, but also Mandarina Bavaria for the juiciness) that make for a delicious beer – juiciness at the start with a nice dank finish.

Haunted House (Allagash Brewing Company) | Belgian Strong Dark Ale | 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

I say this every time I mention beers from Allagash, but I need to get more of their beers because this one a, “Halloween seasonal” is excellent. There’s a wonderful start to the beer with flavorful roast, then it moves to a fantastic blend of hops and then finishes with a sweet hint of coffee. Allagash brews primarily Belgian styles and there really isn’t a stout in the catalogue of Belgian styles, so this one is considered the closest to it a “Belgian Strong Dark Ale.” .Whatever you call it, the beer is really, really tasty.

My work pals and I had a Christmas “Gathering of the Fellowship of the Beer” in the beginning of December, which was fun as it is everytime we get together to share new beers with each other. The standout at that gathering was a bottle of Samuel Adams Utopias (which takes center stage below in the photo of the beers we shared), which one of our friends generously shared. The bottle was from 2017 and was unlike any other beer I’ve had. The only slight negative is that it smelled like slightly of nail polish, but the flavor … heavenly.

The Treehouse and Hill Farmstead bottles contained some delicious homebrews (a wonderful milk stout and tasty New England IPA) from our friend Brad

Draught Diversions: A 6-Pack to Bring Back

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…

When I learned recently that my go-to Summer beer was being discontinued (Yeungling Summer Wheat, a solid mass produced Hefeweizen), it got me thinking, and thinking rather forlornly. Sometimes a brewery releases a beer you really enjoy, maybe it was a seasonal, maybe it was a beer in regular rotation. Then the season comes for the beer to hit the shelves and you find out the brewery ceased production on those beers or the beer just goes out of rotation. Or, even sadder, the brewery is no longer in business. I’ve come up with a 6 pack of beers I wish would return. One of these I’ve had since joining untappd so it hasn’t been too too long since a couple disappeared, while others have been absent from taps and liquor stores for many years.

Dogfish Head Raison D’Être

Image courtesy of Dogfish Head

I know Samuel Adams was the brewery that drew many people, including me, to craft beer 20-ish years ago, but Dogfish is one that showed all the interesting things that could be done in beer. This beer is a classic and at the time I first had it and continued to buy it, I didn’t know the difference between a stout and Belgian Strong Ale, which is what this beer is considered. I just knew that the peculiar ingredients for a beer (at the time) which include Beet sugar and raisons (coupled with the Belgian yeast) made for a rich beer that I thoroughly enjoyed. As the link above describes the beer: “A deep mahogany ale brewed with Belgian beet sugars and green raisins.” This one appears on beermenus occasionally and may show up at Dogfish tap takeovers, but damn would I love to see a six pack of this in my local bottle shop. I think the last time I had it was probably at least five years ago.

Long Trail Blackbeary Wheat

Original label with iconic Long Trail bear mascot

For years for this slightly fruited wheat ale from Vermont was a perennial summer favorite; it was very refreshing, perfect for enjoying pool-side, or in the yard after a hard day’s yardwork. There was a big uproar as this great All About Beer article points out when the beer was pulled from production/circulation in 2014 after being the brewery’s #2 seller at one point in time. I know technically this beer returned in cans a year or two ago, but I don’t think the beer made it to NJ. At least no stores around me seemed to carry it.

Can redesign. Still haven’t seen this in NJ

There was a time I’d see Long Trails tasty beers all over the place (this along with Double Bag and Triple Bag are favorites) but not quite as much in recent years. I would always keep Blackberry Wheat and Sam’s Summer Ale in constant rotation from Memorial Day to Labor Day and found their Survival Pack (which included BBW) to be a great variety pack to pick up at a moment’s notice when people came over in the summer.

 

Pete’s Wicked Summer Brew

Ah, Pete’s Wicked, one of the sadder stories in American Craft Beer. They were 1 and 2 with Samuel Adams, as I recall, in the mid to late 90s craft beer movement. I even remember the radio commercial for “Pete’s Wicked Summer Breeewww” and thanks to YouTube, the humorous folksy TV ads featuring brewer/owner Pete Slosberg. The lineup of Pete’s Wicked included the flagship Brown Ale, a delicious Summer Wheat and a Strawberry Ale. As the link to All About Beer indicates, the name was sold to Gambrinus a number of years ago so it is doubtful the brand or the beers will return. For many people my age (and older) Pete’s Wicked Ale will conjure up pleasant memories of when the American Craft Beer scene when it was in its youth, maybe less confusing, and with an unknowable level of growth potential.

Samuel Adams Honey Porter

This was one of the first dark beers I remember enjoying and for the years it was available, my favorite year-round offering form the Boston Beer company. It was brought back a couple of times after it was discontinued in 2000, once and in six packs in 2007 and again as part of a “Brewmasters collection” in 2010. I know my tastes have slightly changed since I last had the beer (I wouldn’t go near an IPA back then) but Porters are still a preferred style, so I would hope the suck fairy wouldn’t strike if this beer were to be available again.

Basically, the suck fairy is what happens when you revisit an old favorite and it turns out not to live up to the high regard in which you hold it in your memory.

Tilburg’s Dutch Brown Ale

I’m not sure the last time I saw this one or had it, but it had to be about 10 years ago, at the most recent, but I recall that Weird eye-catching bottle art from Hieronymus Bosch drew me to the beer, initially. There was a very good bottle shop on my way home from work that allowed you to make mixed six packs, and this was before I was aware of Wegman’s. I remember grabbing one for the mix and after enjoying it getting it regularly on its own. Even before I realized how much I enjoyed Belgian beers, I was enjoying a brown Belgian ale. As it so happens, I now work within walking distance to that same liquor store.

Brewed by Koningshoeven brewery (A.K.A. La Trappe, one of the great Trappest breweries) in the Netherlands, this beer was just a Belgian Brown. But it was so much more unique than the Brown Ales I knew of at the time (Smuttynose’s Old Brown Dog and Newcastle) and made me feel fancy whenever I drank it.

Wolaver’s Organic Wildflower Wheat

I’ve made it pretty clear here at the Tap Takeover how much I enjoy wheat ales and for a few years, so multiple wheat ales on a post like this shouldn’t surprise anybody. I’ve only had a few from the venerable Vermont brewery and this was far and above my favorite. It was a great warm weather ale and had an extra hit of honey to balance out the whole flavor profile. Otter Creek discontinued the Wolaver’s Organic line of beers (including a very tasty Pumpkin Ale as well as a Coffee Porter called “Alta Gracia Coffee Porter”) a few years ago and seems to be focusing more on beers with strong hop profiles in recent years, so I doubt this beer will be coming back, but it was fantastic. I had it three times while on untappd, each time on draft, and it was perfect on those warm August nights.

The beer was described as: Wildflower wheat is a delicious unfiltered wheat ale brewed with organic chamomile flowers and a hint of pure organic Vermont honey.

So to close out with a final thought, here’s my ranking, from most likely to least likely, of the chances of these beers returning:

  1. Long Trail Blackbeary Wheat
  2. Dogfish Head Raison D’Être
  3. Samuel Adams Honey Porter
  4. Tilburg Dutch Brown Ale
  5. Wolaver Organic Wildflower Wheat
  6. Pete’s Wicked Summer Ale

So there you have it, 6 beers out of circulation/production I would drink right now. Any favorites you, my fine readers, wish would return?

Styles in Focus: Bock Beers

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…

Bock, it sounds cool. Also, “Bock” rhymes with the Rock and he’s cool. However, not many people gravitate to the style, in today’s IPA-centric beer world. Could it be the goat? You’ll often see a goat on the bottle, label, or associated with some bocks. The goat is associated with the style because the brewers who came up with the style in Einbeck, Bavaria had a thick accent. As such, citizens of Munich pronounced “Einbeck” as “ein Bock” (“a billy goat”), and thus the beer became known as “bock”. To this day, as a visual pun, a goat often appears on bock labels. (Wikipedia)  But what *is* a bock beer?

Image courtesy of wikimedia commons

The simple answer is: A lager, but more so. Like stouts or IPAs, styles of Ales which themselves have several varieties, a Bock is a style of Lager which has several varieties (general from lowest in alcohol to highest in alcohol): Bock, Helles Bock/Maibock, Dopplebock, Weizenbock, and Eisbock. I’ll give a little highlight/overview of each variation and some example beers, including some I’ve had as well as some I hope to have some day.

Bock (List Bocks on Beer Advocate)

Image courtesy of Shiner

Bocks are a lagered style of beer that are heavier on malt than a standard Lager. A straightforward Bock will generally be sweeter than the standard lager, too. That malt and sweet profile often present in a caramel-like flavor that can also evoke nutty flavors. Perhaps the most widely known straight-up Bock is Shiner Bock the flagship lager from Spoetzl Brewery, one of the largest Texas breweries [distributed to 49 states] and the Lone Star State’s oldest. I’ve had it a few times and thought it was OK. Of the beers considered a standard Bock the one I’ve enjoyed the most is Samuel Adams Chocolate Bock, which for me is always a highlight beer in their Winter/Holiday pack. The sweetness level is increased by aging the beer on cocoa nibs to produce a sweet, tasty beer that makes for a nice dessert beer. They also brewed a Cherry Chocolate Bock in the past, which I hope returns. Typical ABV for Bocks is in the 5% range

Maibock / Helles Bock (List of Maibocks / Helles Bocks on Beer Advocate)

From my most recent untappd check in of Dead Guy

From the beers I’ve enjoyed, I don’t notice too much of a difference between a Bock and a Helles/Maibock, except for an increase in maltiness. Traditionally, a Maibock is a spring lager, but usually what differentiates the Helles or Maibock from the Bock is a slightly stronger hop presence. I called out the classic German Hofbräu Maibock in my Spring beer post, but perhaps the most widely know Maibock/Helles Bock from an American brewer is the iconic Dead Guy from Rogue Ales. Abita, Louisiana’s biggest craft brewery, celebrates Mardi Gras by producing Mardi Gras Bock every year. Summit Brewing, one of the larger breweries in Minnesota, produces a MaiBock, too. With a slightly stronger hop presence, the ABV can be a little higher. For example, Rogue’s Dead Guy ABV clocks in at 6.8%.

Dopplebock (List of Dopplebocks on Beer Advocate)

Image courtesy of Ayinger

As the sound of the name may lead you to believe, a dopplebock is an amped up, or doubled, version of a standard Bock. Even maltier and sweeter than a Bock, the beer evokes more of a bready taste and flavor with the ABV up to 12% range. Of the varieties of Bocks being brewed, Dopplebocks seem to be the most prevalent/popular.

Some of the darker Dopplebocks may have hints of fruit or chocolate in the flavor profile or even use chocolate and/or fruit in the brewing process.  Like the traditional association of goats with bocks, there is a tradition of adding the suffix “-ator” to Dopplebocks. This is because one of the first Dopplebocks was called “Salvator” (or Savior) and most breweries who brew a Dopplebock as part of their brewing portfolio use “-ator” in the name. One of the best in the world is Ayinger’s Celebrator, which I had once and need to have again. Unsurprisingly, Wehenstephaner’s Korbinian is an outstanding example of the style and New Jersey’s own Ramstein Winter Wheat is one of the most coveted American interpretations of the style (and probably one of the 10 best beers I ever had). I reviewed one of the more widely available (at least along the East Coast of America) Dopplebocks, Troegantor Doublebock.

Weizenbock (List of Weizenbocks on Beer Advocate)

Perhaps my favorite of the bock styles is the weizenbock, or as translated, “wheat bock.” The description, as untappd suggests, can be considered a “bigger and beefier version of a dunkelweizen.” When crafted well, a Weizenbock can evoke the best of two beers – the malt and stone fruits evoked by Dopplebocks coupled with the clove and banana evocations of a Dunkelweizen or Hefeweizen. Some say (actually, All About Beer, specifically) that a Weizenbock is a “perfect marriage of styles.”

It would probably be expected that German brewers excel in this style. The aforementioned Weihenstephaner brews a great one in Vitus (pictured above, borrowed from their website is probably my favorite) and Schneider Weisse (who brew mostly wheat beers) have a few excellent Weizenbocks in their portfolio, including Mein Aventinus (TAP 6), Marie’s Rendezvous (TAP X), and a collaboration with Brooklyn Brewery called Meine Hopfenweisse. Of the US breweries, Victory’s Moonglow Weizenbock is one of my annual fall favorites and Neshaminy Creek’s Neshaminator is also quite good.

Eisbock (List of Eisbocks on Beer Advocate)

From my untappd check-in, September 2015

Lastly, we have the mistake beer, if beer lore and legend are to be believed and perhaps the rarest style of beer. According to the legend, a young brewery worker fell asleep during a brew and part of the water froze leaving a much stronger Bock than the young brewer or his boss could ever imagine. The resulting Eisbock is one of the richest, most sumptuous beers brewed.

Image courtesy of Founders

The “Eis” in the name is from partially freezing a dopple and extracting the H2O ice, which allows the alcohol to have a much more noticeable presence and a deeper brownish/reddish hue and an overall thicker beer. You could also say a Belgian Quadrupel is similar to an Eisbock, in some ways. Like a Quadrupel, an Eisbock possesses a much stronger stone fruit/plum and sugary taste. Some may potentially find it cloying if they aren’t expecting it, but the sole Eisbock I had from the great aforementioned Schneider Weisse, Aventinus, is also one of the 10 or so best beers I ever had. Ramstein brews one (as recently as January 2018 at 16.5%), they call Eis Storm Eisbock while Tank Bender is the occasional Eisbock (aged in bourbon barrels!) produced by Founders which I would absolutely love to try, but I think the most recent brewing of it was a brewery-only release. Another well regarded Eisbock from Germany is Kulmbacher Eisbock which I want yesterday. The style is also supposedly illegal in some ways…

freezing a beer and removing more than 0.5% of its volume is illegal without a license. There’s an email exchange between someone at the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau and a brewer, posted in a Reddit r/homebrewing discussion that makes this pretty clear.

So, making Eisbock by removing more than 0.5% water volume is basically illegal. But, it is also openly brewed by several craft breweries, and it seems the TTB knows about this craft beer level production, but has chosen not to act on said knowledge.

So there you have it, 5 varieties of one style – the Bock Beer. More popular (I assume) in Europe, especially Germany and its neighbors, but a style with a wealth of flavor profiles that illustrates how much can be done even with a less popular (not-quite-obscure) brewing style.

Draught Diversions: February 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…

Since today is March 1st, let’s take a look back at the February 6-pack. Again these are beers that stood out over the past month. Most are really good beers, but I’ll try to keep it somewhat balanced and include one beer that didn’t quite work for me.

As this six pack (and last month’s) are showing, I’m more strongly leaning into the whole IPA/hopped up beer side of the bottle shop. There might be another rant/post about that specifically, but I’ll go through this six pack chronologically.

Victory Mighty Things Imperial IPA – 4 bottle Caps on untappd

On the very first day of the month, I had a new Double/Imperial IPA from my favorite brewery, Victory Brewing. There’s a near perfect balance between the hops and malt in this beer with a nice citrusy undertone. I’ll admit, I was a little unsure if I should get a full six pack of the beer, but I am very glad I did. I’ve seen some chatter on beer boards that this is just a repackaged version of Hop Ranch. I can’t say, never had that one. Mighty Things, though? I’d have this again and again.

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale Pale Ale – American – 4 bottle Caps on untappd

I had to travel in February for my job and at one of the cocktail hours/receptions, the beer choices were Stella Artois (which I don’t like at all), Bud Light, and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. I of course went with the famous green labeled bottle. I haven’t had one of these in many years (at least since before I was on untappd) and never really enjoyed the beer. In fact, it was the beer from Sierra I liked the least. But since it was free, I figured I’d revisit. I’m glad I did because with my shift to enjoying IPAs and my changing (evolving?) palate, I now enjoy this beer very much and grabbed a bottle at the following night’s cocktail hour.

Weyerbacher Sunday Molé Stout Stout – American Imperial / Double – 2.75 bottle Caps on untappd

Here, we reach the drain pour. I like stouts quite a bit, spiced up stouts very much, and I enjoy much of Weyerbacher’s output, so I was expecting to enjoy this one a great deal. Especially since it is a variant on their wonderful Sunday Morning Stout. This beer didn’t work for me at all. I’m not sure why, maybe the smokiness? I couldn’t put my finger on it and couldn’t finish the beer, it just wasn’t for me.

Flying Fish Jersey Juice IPA – New England – 4 bottle Caps on untappd

Number four for the month (and the second IPA) is from New Jersey’s largest craft brewery, Flying Fish. I’ve enjoyed many of the beers I’ve had from Flying Fish’s portfolio so how could I not at least try a beer with the state’s name in it? Well, Jersey Juice is quite tasty with a good hop / malt / juicy balance. Further playing on the New England IPA craze, this beer is distributed in 16oz cans. The beer isn’t quite what it I thought it might be, in that the name, packaging, and untappd classification made me think it would be a New England IPA. The beer doesn’t have quite the level of juiciness or cloudiness most NEIPAs have, but the beer is still quite good and is one of those versatile brews that fits any occasion.

Tröeg’s First Cut IPA – American – 4 bottle Caps on untappd

I’ve always respected and liked the beers Tröegs produces, and now that I’m on-board with IPAs, I like them even more. First Cut is the first of Tröegs Hop Cycle series of seasonal IPAs. Not too highly hopped, the beer is extremely well balanced and sweet with honey and mangoes added to the brew process. This is a delicious, extremely refreshing IPA. I don’t know if I’d call it “crushable” because of the 6.2% ABV, but the beer goes down really nicely. As the first in the Hop Cycle, this is a spring seasonal, but damn would this be a perfect summer/poolside beer.

Now I’m looking forward to progressing through Tröegs Hop Cycle this year.

Samuel Adams Sam ‘76 Lager – American Light– 3.75 bottle Caps on untappd

There’s been a lot of hype for this beer and how the fine folks of Samuel Adams went through 60 different recipes before settling on the beer that is known as Sam 76. I may have to up my rating when I have a second can of the beer because this is a solidly made beer. Billed as an ale/lager hybrid, the beer is bright, crisp, and has a nice hop-pop. With a  4.7% ABV, the beer is really crushable. This is a year-round beer and I can imagine it will do very well in warm months and in people’s coolers in the summer. The beer is maybe a session lager? A hoppy Helles Lager? The flavor profile actually reminds me of Carton’s Boat Beer, if not quite as hoppy. I may have more to say about this beer at a later date, but I hope this does well for Jim Koch’s great company.

Honorable mention: Czig Meister brewery in Hackettstown had a 2-day Stoutfest (their second annual) and there were some fantastic stouts, 50 different stouts over two days! The best I had were the Caramel Macchiato Stout, Imperial Milk Stout and the Bananas Foster Stout. I’d love to see the Caramel Macchiato make it to season/full time status and put into distribution.

Draught Diversions: 6 Beers of Christmas Past & Present (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…

Just like Thanksgiving, Christmas is a time for gathering with family and enjoying a hearty meal. I’ve written about Christmas beers on my other blog in the past, so I’ll touch on some over here at The Tap Takeover. Many breweries brew Winter Ales (darker, maltier beers that often have some kind of cinnamon/nutmeg spic component) while still others brew Christmas Ales, specifically. Today’s post of half-dozen beers, I’ll touch on six I try to have every Christmas/Winter along listing a few I’ve enjoyed. I’ll do another post focusing on Christmas/Winter beers I’m hoping to try this year.

I’ve mentioned Great Lakes Brewing company in past Draught Diversions in the past for their variety of beers. One of their big seasonal brews (maybe their most prominent) is the Christmas Ale which I’ve been enjoying every Christmas for the past few years. I felt like I hit jackpot a couple of years back when a local growler filling station had a keg of this. Where many winter ales have cinnamon as a prominent spice, Great Lakes adds honey to balance the spice for a beer that is great to enjoy while trimming the Christmas Tree, wrapping presents, or gathering with friends on cold winter nights.

One of the best beers in Samuel Adams/Boston Beer’s annual line up is the classic Christmas / Winter Ale, Old Fezziwig Ale. With cinnamon and ginger playing together in the rich malt, Fezziwig is a beer people have been begging Jim Koch to release in six packs for years. Alas, the beer is available annually in the Winter Classics variety pack along with stalwarts Boston Lager and Winter Lager and usually some kind of bock, most often a Chocolate Bock. More than any beer in the Samuel Adams lineup, I really wish they hadn’t changed the label for this beer and kept our top-hatted friend (pictured above) on the label rather than just the “icon” of a top hat.

I’ve found myself writing about Tröegs in a lot of these posts, for good reason. The independent brewing brothers craft wonderful beers and a highlight every year is the Belgian Strong Dark Ale brewed with Honey and Cherries known the world ‘round as Mad Elf. This is one of the beers that helped to put Tröegs on the map years ago. Every year around Christmas, somebody at one of the many parties I’m at (family and friends alike) has at least a six pack of this one to share. One year, one of my uncles brought the giant 101 ml bottle to Christmas Eve and we all had to finish it. That isn’t a complaint, but I think I appreciate the beer now more than I have in the past.

As long as I can remember drinking and enjoying beer, Harpoon Winter Warmer has been around and I’ve been enjoying at least a six pack every holiday season. This one is similar to Old Fezziwig, though not quite as malty. One year, around Christmas time, we had a anniversary party for my in-laws. When stocking up on the liquor for the party, the liquor store mischarged me for Winter Warmer, I paid the six-pack price for the whole case. In any event, there’s a lot of nostalgia for me around this beer. This is one case of a label change I do like.

A classic Belgian Christmas beer I had for the first time on Christmas Day 2016, but one that I’ll be sure to have this year and in the future is Delirium Noël / Christmas.  Huyghe Brewery in Belgium, which brews most of the beers under the Delirium brand is immediately recognizable from its pink elephant mascot. The Christmas beer is a Strong Dark Belgian Ale  brewed for the first time in 2000 from what I can tell on their Web site. This is beer is filled with spices and hints of stone fruits like plums and cherries, which mixes so wonderfully with the Belgian yeasts. This was one of the most flavorful Christmas beers I had when I first tried it Christmas 2016. Either that or I was so accustomed to the American beers and Delirium Noël / Christmas with its stark Belgian character gave me something different that I immediately considered a favorite.

Last, and certainly not least, is the granddaddy of all American Christmas beers, Anchor’s Merry Christmas & Happy New Year beer. The first holiday beer in Craft Brewing, Anchor first brewed a version of this beer in 1975, a year after I was born, so this one is almost as old as me. I think I’ve had about 6 or 7 versions of the beer, either in six packs or grabbing a bottle at the Wegman’s near me in their “Craft Your Own Six Pack.” I enjoyed last year’s so much, I’ll have to get a six pack this year.

On my next post (this Thursday) I’ll ponder six Christmas / Winter beers I hope to try this year or early next year.

Draught Diversions: Breweries to Visit, Part 2

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…

Here’s the second on my potentially ongoing series featuring breweries I would like to visit. The first five were easy, the next five are also relatively easy, too. A combination of historical importance to beer and the products I’ve enjoyed from them pushed these breweries to my “wish list.” The breweries in today’s post are largely in the Northeastern US. As I’ve intimated, distribution for some of the smaller breweries that seem to offer products I like (Schell’s in Minnesota, for example) doesn’t make it easy or convenient for me to even taste beers from breweries who don’t distribute into NJ, thus the geographical bias.

Like the first installment of this “series,” I’ll use the arbitrary ranking of “From Which Brewery Does Rob Have the Most Unique Untappd Check ins”

Southern Tier Brewing Company in Lakewood, NY (2002)
Total Southern Tier beers checked into untappd: 25

I’ve been enjoying Southern Tier’s brews for as long as I can remember enjoying craft beer. Being only one state over from their home base, their tasty brews have almost always been readily available. They’ve been a trusted brewer of delicious beer well before I was on untappd, their range of styles is impressive from their wonderful “Blackwater Series” of stouts (Choklat, Crème Brulee, and Choklat Oranj Stout) to their ales Citra Hopped Live Pale Ale, Tangier, 3 Citrus Peel Out to their legendary Pumpkin beers: Pumking and perhaps my favorite Pumpkin beer Warlock, Southern Tier brews beer in styles that please just about every palate.

Additionally, Southern Tier became partners with perhaps my favorite brewery, Victory Brewing, last year as

Artisanal Brewing Ventures. Since I’ve visited Victory a few times, it only makes sense that I visit their sibling brewery.

Samuel Adams / The Boston Beer Company Boston, MA (1984)
Total Samuel Adams beers checked into untappd: 24

Let’s face it fellow “craft beer enthusiasts,” if not for Jim Koch and the Boston Beer Company, many of us may still be drinking Michelob, Miller Lite, or Coors. For me, Samuel Adams was my big introduction to good tasting beer. When their beers hit the scene, my father converted from Anheuser-Busch, primarily the Michelob product line, to the Church of Koch. I really didn’t enjoy beer until college and getting the Samuel Adams Holiday Sampler back in the mid 1990s was a taste-bud opener. I recall the packaging to this day and getting bottles of Cranberry Lambic and really enjoying it despite not knowing what the hell a Lambic was. I also really liked the Cream Stout, too, but the highlight was always the Old Fezziwig Ale.

My preference for their brews has waned over the years (I still say that Boston Lager is the weakest of all their beers), but I do appreciate their experimentation with styles and variations, like the latest Harvest Hefe (I’ve yet to try). Where they’ve not quite hit the mark is falling a little behind on the IPA craze as Jim Koch has admitted to not being a fan of the style.

Their seasonal offerings are quite good, the Summer Ale is always a favorite. In fact, the most refreshing beer I ever had was a Samuel Adams Summer Ale after spending over 12 hours putting up a fence around my pool. The Old Fezziwig ale is still sought after and a beer EVERYBODY wishes would be distributed in six packs. One of the beers I enjoyed most from them, and I wish would return is the Honey Porter, that’s the beer that really introduced me to what a Porter was.

If I can really say anything negative is that the constant label changes for their beers are a tad….frustrating. I miss the old ones with Samuel Adams hoisting a tankard of ale on every label like the one to the left from a couple of years ago.

I visited the Samuel Adams Taproom in Boston on my last business trip up there about 15 years ago but didn’t do a full tour of the brewery. However, a full tour of the facility is a must for anybody who enjoys craft beer, it would seem especially after hearing what the folks at Flounder Brewing had to say about their experience at the brewery.

Two Roads Brewing Company, Stratford, CT (2002)
Total Two Roads beers checked into untappd: 15

I’ve had only about 10 beers from Two Roads, but their consistency for those beers is extremely impressive. One of their best beers is their Workers Comp Farmhouse Saison. This shouldn’t be too surprising since Two Roads’s Master Brewer Phil Markowski literally wrote the book on Farmhouse Ales. Lest you think this is all Two Roads brews, their portfolio runs the gamut of styles and influences, from their wonderful Ol’ Factory Pils Pilsner, the delicious No Limits Hefeweizen to the outstanding Honeyspot Road IPA and one of the best pumpkin beers produced annually, Roadsmary’s Baby (Pumpkin beer aged in Rum Barrels!). Like the breweries already mentioned, Two Roads brews styles to match most beer-drinker’s palates.

Over the past couple of years, Two Roads has begun an impressive program of Sour Beers. Last winter, I had Bog Wild a cranberry-sour and I thought it fantastic. As part of the push for Sour Beers, Two Roads uses an old milk truck to allow the beer to sour for what they’ve dubbed the “Tanker Truck Sour Series.” They recently broke ground on a new brewing facility, Area Two Experimental Brewing on their property for sours and spirit-based barrel-aged beers. Given that, I may want to hold off on visiting until that facility is up and running.

Tröegs Independent Brewing, Hershey, PA (1996)
Total Tröegs beers checked into untappd: 10

I know, I know, Tröegs is only one state away in Pennsylvania. But Pennsylvania is a big state and for my beer purchasing dollar, one of the best beer states.Hershey is just outside of a day trip, so this one would likely be an over-night trip so a trip to Hersey Park could be part of the journey. Logistics aside, as I pointed out in my review of their wonderful dopplebock Trogenator, Tröegs is one of the foundational breweries of not just the Northeastern US, but of the American craft beer scene. In the midst of several mergers, acquisitions, and ownership splits for other brewers, Tröegs has remained fiercely independent, family owned, and community committed.

Like Southern Tier, I can’t recall a time where I haven’t seen Tröegs beers available on shelves in my area. I’ve extolled the virtues, at length, of Trogenator but that is just the tip of the iceberg for these brewing brothers. Their Dreamweaver is a fine, widely available Hefeweizen, Sunshine Pils is a terrific pilsner, and Mad Elf…Mad Elf is legendary American Christmas Ale and an annual holiday beer tradition for me.

Tröegs also has an experimental series of beers they’ve dubbed the “Scratch Series,” and I need to try some of those.

Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, Milton, DE (1995)
Total Dogfish Head beers checked into untappd: 8

I know I’ve lauded many of the breweries I’ve highlighted here and the earlier post for ingenuity, but when it comes to experimental, “off-centered” beers, few can compare to the output of Sam Caligione’s Dogfish Head Craft Brewery. Sam’s got the personality to keep his beer in the spotlight, he even had a television show a few years ago, Brew Masters.

For whatever reason, I haven’t had nearly as many Dogfish Head beers since joining untappd, but the brews I’ve had have been great to outstanding, just look at what I said about Oak-Aged Vanilla World Wide Stout a few months ago. Their Namaste White is a nearly perfect Witbier, Indian Brown Ale is a tasty brown ale (a very underrated style), and Festina Peche is a great take on the classic Berline Weisse. For years I would try to get a six pack of Raison D’Etre when I could but it seems much harder to find now. I can’t think of any other beer off the top of my head that features beets and raisins, but damn was this a good beer. I recall sharing a bottle of the rare Fort years ago and loving it.

Right, for the quality of their beers, what Dogfish means to the American Craft Beer Landscape and some of the fantastic brewery only releases (like Carobock, a chocolate-banana Weizenbock!) make this another must-visit.

Ein Prosit!

Draught Diversions: Flounder Brewing Company (Hillsborough, NJ)

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…

It has been over a month since I last focused on a single brewery here and as promised last Tuesday, I’d be giving an overview of Flounder Brewing in Hillsborough, NJ. I’ve been enjoying their beer for a few years now and living in the neighboring town, it has been very nice to see the brewery grow over the past few years since opening in Hillsborough in 2013 as the twelfth licensed NJ brewery. Part of that is seeing their line-up of tasty beers evolve along with that growth.

I could go on about the history of the brewery and how Jeremy Lees started homebrewing, which is how a majority of nano/microbreweries begin, but that is fairly well documented in the Craft Beer community, specifically the NJ Craft Beer community. Flounder’s history is probably best captured in “Catching the Big One: The Story of Flounder Brewing Company,”  created by film students at Rider University. I’ve embedded the video at the bottom of this post (running time is about 15 minutes) which does a great job of giving a historical perspective to Jeremy Lees brewing venture known as Flounder Brewing.

A brewery starts with the beer and Flounder’s flagship beer is “Hill Street Honey Ale,” a great, easy-drinking every day beer that Jeremy’s friends enjoyed and the beer upon which the foundation of Flounder’s great line up of beers is built.

Hill Street Honey American Ale possesses the nice golden color of a classic ale. While starting out as a hybrid American Pale-Amber ale, over time and tweaking it has rounded out to fall more into the blonde ale family, a little hop forward with a pleasantly smooth finish that will let you keep enjoying them as you relax. Hill Street Honey’s bitterness is complimented by a whole bunch of New Jersey harvested honey that we add in during key parts of the brewing process.

These separately timed additions help spread out and layer the honey sweetness and citrus aromas throughout the brew thanks to the honey from the orange blossom. All of this complemented with smooth, slight biscuit flavors from the several types of grains we add in there. All this is brewed up then the magic of yeast takes over and we exclusively use yeast from Jersey’s own yeast company that just helps meld all of the flavors together into a wonderful American Ale.

It is a simple, delicious anytime-of-year session beer, yet it has a whole bunch of complex layers to it if one breaks it down. Great citrus and floral aromas, smooth and creamy head and mouthfeel, and a nice finish of citrus in the aftertaste. 

The brewing facility and tasting room, situated in an office / industrial park in Hillsborough, NJ, might not seem an ideal place for a brewery. As I’ve come to learn over the past year or so, it isn’t uncommon especially in NJ. NJ Craft Beer giant Kane is located in a similar type of environment though their brewery is considerably larger, while Conclave Brewing, another local favorite is located in a similar office park. But back to Flounder. When they first opened their doors, they were in a relatively small unit and although their brewing capacity was relatively small, the quality was excellent.  They were doing great things for a few years, continually winning awards at local brewfests, selling out of their beer when they were open for growler fills. Flounder was also one of the early nanobreweries in the state of New Jersey and New Jersey’s 12th Limited Brewery license.

A few years after launching, something special happened to Flounder Brewing. The Boston Beer Company, A.K.A. Samuel Adams has a special program they call the National Brewing and Business Experienceship Award, which is something like an apprenticeship for smaller breweries and Flounder Brewing was the recipient of the award in 2016. As a result of this experience, Samuel Adams and Flounder collaborated on a beer – Devil’s Nectah, a Helles Lager brewed with Cranberries and Honey. Helles meaning bright in Germany, Helles Lager is intended to be light refreshing beer that is similar to a Pilsner. I had the chance to sample some of it and was wowed by how delicious the beer was. The tart of the cranberry came together perfectly with the sweetness of the honey. The collaboration between Flounder and Samuel Adams was a very limited brew and I hope Flounder is able to bring back this tasty treat in some similar fashion.

In the approximate year since the Samuel Adams collaboration and “Experienceship,” Flounder Brewing has expanded, Jeremy Lees and crew doubled their rental space and have expanded the amount of beer and variety they brew. Perhaps most importantly for consumers, they expanded their hours of operation as well. Initially, they were only pouring growlers for patrons once or twice a month. They first expanded to once per week and are now open every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. The tap room has a couple of bar tables set up where folks can chat and enjoy delicious, freshly made beer. On a cool fall or spring evening, Flounder Brewery is a nice place to stop for a pint and good conversation. I’ve stopped in the brewery for growler fills quite a few times, the place is always full and there have been lines to fill the growlers or pick up the limited bottle releases.

Brewer Brad Polinski, T.O.B (The Other Brewer) of Flounder, as he calls himself on untappd, shared some time with me over a few of the delicious beers he, Doug Duschl, and Jeremy have been brewing. One thing that stood out in our discussion was just how great the folks at Samuel Adams were and continue to be in supporting Flounder’s growth. Not just from a brewing perspective, but from a business perspective and growth perspective. Even now, a year later, Samuel Adams has been open to provide Flounder great advice and insight even from a phone call away.

Brad has been brewing with Flounder for almost four years now. While Hill Street Honey Ale is the beer that helped gain Flounder their initial notoriety, Brad’s Genevieve’s IPA is probably the number two beer in Flounder’s line up. The beer is named in honor Brad’s grandmother:

A humble dedication to Brad’s Grandmother, our staple IPA showcases a blend of five American hops that lend to it’s hazy, and juicy grapefruit character.

Flounder brews about twice per week to meet the demands of the customers who visit on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays as well as the local restaurants and bars where Flounder’s beer can be found on tap. They’ve built up very strong relationships with quite a few local restaurants including The Landing in Hillsborough and the Bound Brook location of the Chimney Rock Inn where at least one of their beers can always be found on tap. The demand at local restaurants, coupled with the lines and a filled brewery on the three days per week Flounder is open to the public has them primed for even more expansion in the near future.

Flounder’s growth has attracted more people to work and assist, including Doug Duschl who was brewing his own beer under the Brooks Brewery brand. He’s got some interesting recipes on the horizon that would appeal to folks who enjoy their beer with a strong bready profile. Doug has an Oktoberfest and an Imperial Pumpkin brewing which should be ready for Oktoberfest at the end of September. Doug poured a small cup of Oktoberfest in its current state and it smelled wonderful. It wasn’t in a tasting condition, but I’m looking forward to trying it in about a month.

Brad said he’s brewing a Double IPA version of his popular Genevieve IPA. Additionally, he’s got ideas for a more fall related beers, a pumpkin saison, and a Pumpkin Spice Latte beer named “Breakfast Ale” with Cold Brewed Coffee. This isn’t necessarily pumpkin beer because there’s no pumpkin in it, rather a beer brewed with Pumpkin Spices, lactose, and coffee. I had some of it last year at Thanksgiving and enjoyed it a great deal, so I’m looking forward to how the cold brewed coffee will enhance the flavor.

Brad said his favorite beer to brew isn’t always the same, it is determined by his mood and is often experimental. He’s got a Saison/Sour hybrid in process now. When not enjoying the product of his brewing labors, he goes for Firestone Easy Jack, a session IPA. Doug is a beer drinker after my own heart. Although he didn’t say what his favorite was, from what he was saying he enjoyed and what he’s brewing, he seems to gravitate towards the bready, maltier beers, beers on the opposite end of the spectrum from IPAs.

Many brewers consider what they do, brewing beer to be the convergence of art and science. You have to know the science; the water is the most important ingredient, the appropriate temperature to add ingredients for nuanced flavors, and similar ideals in order to brew properly. Important things like that. The creativity is what a great brewer adds to the ingredients, what only the brewer can add. Along those lines, Brad has a wonderful saying:

“Drink my beer and you know how I was feeling.”

What Brad means is this: you’ll know how he was feeling that day when he created that beer. If he needed a pick-me-up and was craving coffee, he wanted to make a coffee beer. If he wanted a cup of OJ, he wanted to make an IPA that was juicy. The thoughts on the recipe itself revolved around what season it was, and his cravings/moods.

As Brad and I were chatting, I could see the small tasting room of the brewery fill up and a line forming at the bar/cashier. People were there for the great beer and for the community. It was easy enough to strike up a conversation with the folks sitting near us, regulars at the brewery. It made for a very welcoming and relaxing experience. One thing that also came across both in my conversations with Brad, Jeremy, and Doug as well as a couple of the other patrons was the NJ Beer community as a whole. The beer community in the Garden State has been growing rapidly over the past few years, going from a small handful of breweries in 2013 to nearly 70 now. The strength of community is that most breweries and brewers know they are in it together, they know if one of them grows, the others grow. They help each other out and work together to make beer in NJ a true community. A lot of that can be attributed to Mike K.’s NJ Craft Beer program/community which is a great resource for breweries and craft beer consumers alike.

On to some of the other beers I’ve had from Flounder. I’ve already covered in detail the delicious Iced Coffee Stout Brad concocted. The very first beer I recall having from them was when I attended the “Big Brewfest” in Morristown, NJ in February 2014, their flagship beer “Hill Street Honey Blonde Ale.” As I said, a wonderful, “everyday” beer. When I say everyday beer, I mean the beer I want on Fridays with my pizza. The beer that received the fan favorite or People’s Choice award back in 2014 is what seems to be another staple of Flounder’s line-up – the “Saison du Flounder.” This is a lovely farmhouse ale that I’ve had around Easter-time the past couple of years.

Flounder brews a Dark Ale, “Espresso Brown” that also has coffee beans in the brewing process with a nice malt body for a full, rich beer. Similarly, the “Murky Brown” is a take on a classic Brown ale. .One of their newer beers is a refreshing Pale Ale, “Jersey Fresh Honey Pale Ale” similar to the Hill Street Honey, but with a bit more hoppiness.

A glass of delicious Flounder Hefeweizen

On my most recent visit to Flounder, I tried three beers I’ve been wanting to try for a while. I’ve been wanting to try their take on the classic Bavarian Hefeweizen and I was not disappointed. A light brew that leaned more on the banana flavor than clove, this was a good beer to start the evening. Next up was “Dinkelweiss,” Flounder’s take on a Berliner Weisse. I’m relatively new to enjoying sour beers and this style specifically, but I do enjoy the light, tart ale quite a bit. This style typically has a fruit syrup added, either in the bottle or when at a brewery, you can add your own. The beer stands very well on its own, but in this case, I added Elderflower syrup and it was even better. Surprisingly, as it warmed up a bit, the syrup and beer combined with the slight warming to room temperature allowing the syrup to enhance the already strong base flavor of the beer. I say surprisingly because I usually only like higher ABV stouts and dark ales as they warm up. Lastly, I had the “Sourlands Wheat,” a hoppy pale wheat ale brewed to commemorate the annual Sourlands Music Festival in Hillsborough.

I suppose the bottom line is this – Flounder Brewing exemplifies what great craft brewing in America is all about. People passionate about their craft, a community that embraces them, and a brewery that is a welcoming community of its own. Local, fresh ingredients, keeping their patrons satisfied, and growing successfully. I’m very pleased to have seen Flounder start out with great beers, earn the “experienceship” with Samuel Adams, and to see the growth of the brewery continue. The liquid is the ultimate determination of quality, and by the reviews on untappd and the people filling the brewery, Jeremy, Brad, and Doug are doing things extremely well.

I’m looking forward to watching Flounder grow, enjoying their staple beers, and trying whatever those brewing wizards concoct next.