Draught Diversions: January 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…

New year, new beers! January 2019 turned out to be a big month for new beers here at the Tap Takeover. Multiple brewery visits and two business trips made or a great variety. So much that whittling down the new beers, about 30 altogether, I had in January to a six pack was more challenging than it has been in quite some time.

Nitro Regular Coffee (Carton Breweing Company) Cream Ale – 4.75 bottle Caps on untappd

Over the past couple of years, it has become a New Year’s / Early January NJ tradition (and one for me personally) to head down to visit Carton Brewing in the Atlantic Highlands to get whatever variant Augie and company release of their highly coveted Regular Coffee cream ale. This year, I met up with some friends to grab some of this beer. Carton has the best deal of any brewery in NJ in terms of tasters, and I knew I had to bring this one home. Regular Coffee is an “Imperial” Cream Ale made with coffee from local roasters. Put simply, Regular Coffee is the best Coffee beer I’ve ever had. I’ve realized I don’t care for Nitro beers over the past year, but this one bucks that recent trend. I can’t think of a beer that more perfectly utilizes Nitro and enhances all the flavor components, raising the bar on an already great beer to something sublime. This may end up being the best beer I have all year.

Sin-Tax Imperial Peanut Butter Stout (Mother Earth Brewing Company) Stout – American Imperial / Double – 3.75 bottle Caps on untappd

Mother Earth beers recently started appearing on NJ shelves…maybe within the last year? This is the first offering I’ve had from them, thanks to my wife getting me a Mix Six pack from Wegman’s. She’ll pour me the beer and I have to try to figure out what the beer is. I got the sweetness initially, but I thought it was a porter so I wasn’t too far off. Be that as it may, I was very pleasantly surprised by the beer. The amount of peanut butter in the beer was just right and not overpowering. This is a really nice dessert beer that doesn’t come across too boozy and spot on for a stout.

I’m a Pickle Gose!!! (Robot Brewing Company) Sour – Gose 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

Again, traveling for work allows for sampling different local beers. Case in point, this really tasty beer from Robot Brewing in Boca Raton, FL. Sometimes you take a chance on a beer that seems like it shouldn’t be good at all and you’re surprised. I like pickles and I like beer and this beer is the best of both worlds. The pickle flavor melds so good with the salty and sour aspects of the Gose. Like I say on untappd, I would *love* this one in the summer because it is such a surprisingly refreshing beer.

Hop Wallop IPA – Imperial / Double (Victory Brewing) – 3.75 bottle Caps on untappd

Been a while since a beer from Victory showed up here on the Tap Takeover and it took the re-release of an old favorite to make the cut. A little rebranding/relabeling and my growing enjoyment of IPAs leads to this beer showing up. This is a beer with a lot of Citra hops (one I like quite a bit) for a citrusy, yet bitter hop/flavor profile. I enjoyed the second beer from the six pack more than the first. This isn’t a blow-you-away IPA, but it is on-point for the style and represents the style of DIPA quite nicely.

Resilience Butte County IPA IPA – American (Sierra Nevada Brewing Company) 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

Sierra Nevada is really the standard bearer for the full definition of what it means to be an American Craft Brewery. They make superb beers and are a fixture in their community. Those two ideals come together perfectly in this beer, 100% proceeds of which go to the Camp Fire Relief Fund for the disastrous Camp Fires in California late last year. It doesn’t hurt that this is a delicious IPA, an IPA the embodies everything a modern West Coast IPA should be. I can see myself grabbing multiple six packs of this beer.

Claymore Scotch Ale (Great Divid Brewing Company) Scotch Ale / Wee Heavy 4.25 bottle caps on untappd

Another beer from the business travels. In a great turn of events, the “networking event” for my second business trip was held at the Great Divide Barrel Bar in Denver. You’d think the marketing and event folks asked me where it should be held. Be that as it may, I had four different beers during the event and this beer was the standout. I like Scotch Ales and this is a damned good interpretation of the style. Everything – the sweetness from the malt was absolutely perfect. It was a perfect beer to start out the night after walking across a cold parking lot.

All in all, a really good month for new beers. Some months there aren’t enough good ones and I need to add a dud to this post. Not the case for January: More than enough good beers to whittle down to six.

Beer Review: Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest – Weihenstephan (2018)

Name: Oktoberfest – Weihenstephan (2018)
Brewing Company: Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. / Bayerische Staatsbrauerei Weihenstephan

Location: Chico, CA / Freising, BY Germany
Style: Märzen
ABV: 6%

From Sierra Nevada’s page for Oktoberfest: (This will likely change when the next year’s Oktoberfest beer begins to be marketed)

We’ve partnered with Bavaria’s Weihenstephan, the world’s oldest brewery, for this American take on the classic German Oktoberfest. A malt backbone is balanced by subtle hop character in this crisp, clean, and drinkable crowd-pleaser. Nothing captures the spirit of celebration like a beer among friends.

Oktoberfest 2018 is almost here! Get out your lederhose and dirndls, and join us in Chico, or Mills River for an epic party! Or try your hand at the Oktoberfest Game while you wait for the big event!

Since 2015, Sierra Nevada has been collaborating with a German brewery for their annual Oktoberfest offering and if my posts last year about their Beer Camp project was any indication (here and here), few breweries collaborate as often or as well as Sierra Nevada. I’ve enjoyed each of the last three years’ collaborations (Brauhaus Riegele [2015], Mars Bräu [2016], Brauhaus Miltenberger [2017]), so when Sierra Nevada announced they would be collaborating with Weihenstephan, perhaps my favorite German brewery to brew a Hefeweizen (Braupakt, which is a must have Hefeweizen) and an Oktoberfest, I was excited.

As one of the most recognizable styles of beers, Oktoberfests are pretty straightforward. What you should typically expect is an amber, dark golden lager with sweet malty overtones, with some hints of caramel and maybe even a hint of floral.

The beer looks exactly like you’d want an Oktobefest to look – golden amber in color. The head wasn’t too thick, but the aroma gave me exactly what I’d hoped for – a little bit of sweetness and a touch of hops. First sip hit my tongue and it was extremely tasty. I had to go for a large gulp on the second one, let it sit in my mouth to really taste it all. Yep, that caramel and malt are there and the carbonation was perfect. This is one of the better Oktoberfests I’ve had over the last couple of years and a really nice collaboration. In short, this beer lived up to my expectations. As of this writing, I’ve had three different Oktoberfest beers this season and so far this one is the best. Admittedly, that isn’t too large a sample size as I usually try at least a half-dozen Oktoberfest beers in late September and early October. Be that as it may, Sierra Nevada’s 2018 Oktoberfest collaboration with Weihenstephan is the perfect beer to enjoy this time of year and a must have.

A few brief notes about the label. While I like it, and it does evoke the traditional Bavarian Oktoberfest banner, I don’t like how it departs from the previous Oktoberfest collaborations. Sierra Nevada has redesigned some of their labels over the past year or so to mixed results. For example, they really need to go back to the classic label for their Narwhal Imperial Stout.

I know I’ve featured Sierra Nevada on The Tap Takeover quite frequently, and I try to vary it up with the beers I review, but with the Oktoberfest season upon us and just how delicious this beer is, I wanted to highlight it. Then again, this is my blog and I can write about whatever I choose.

Sierra Nevada  has a fun little Oktoberfest Game to while away your free time.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4-bottle cap rating.

Draught Diversions: June 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…

June…the start of summer and the prevalence of lighter, more “crushable beers. Light lagers, Helles Lagers, Pilsners, Shandys/Radlers, Wheat bears, maybe some beers with a fruit component. All beers to enjoy by the pool, outside lounging about, or just after finishing yard work.

June’s beers included quite a few of these, but probably the least number of New Jersey beers in a month since I started this blog. Of course I did manage to squeeze in one (in addition to visiting Fort Nonsense the first Saturday in June).

UFO Pink Lemonade Shandy (Harpoon Brewery) Shandy / Radler – 2.50 bottle Caps on untappd

Not a good start to June with this one

Harpoon is one of the great American Craft breweries and I’ve enjoyed many beers in their portfolio over the years. A couple of years back, they spun off their UFO beers into a separate line, almost like Stone did with Arrogant Bastard. I’ve liked the core UFO beers (Hefeweizen, White, and Raspberry), but this one is definitely not for me. I’m not a fan of Pink Lemonade in general and mixed in with beer, I like it even less. This beer is one reason the mixed six pack is great, I didn’t have to get a full six pack just to try this beer.

Firestone Lager (Firestone Walker Brewing Company) Lager – Helles – 3.75 bottle Caps on untappd

I was very pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this one.

Firestone Walker is jumping on the bandwagon of Light Craft Lagers, or rather the bandwagon is catching up with them. This is a beer the brewery produced many years ago, but only recently with the craft market wanting the light lagers, has this beer been released on a larger level. I’ve really come to enjoy Helles Lagers over the past year and this is a really nice example of the style: refreshing, delicious, crushable, and perfect for cooler filling. (I also had their flagship IPA Union Jack for the first time this month and loved it.)

Nimble Giant (Tröegs Brewing) IPA – Imperial / Double 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

Tröegs seems to make an appearance here regularly and this is their big, once-per-year double IPA release. A year ago, I would have avoided this one. This is a fantastic IPA with citrus notes and a little piney-ness. The hop level is high, but it isn’t all that bitter. A bright, potent IPA that is another must have from Tröegs.

Pooltime Ale Pale Wheat Ale (Bell’s Brewery) – 4 bottle Caps on untappd

I may get slack for saying this, but I think I enjoy Pooltime more than Oberon

I’ve been quite excited about Bell’s entry into NJ distribution. Two-Hearted (IPA) is a Great American beer, but this sweet wheat ale is slightly under the radar. Pooltime Ale is *almost* a Witbier with some of the Belgian notes, but not quite. The additional of “Michigan Cherries” to the base beer make for a supremely refreshing all that is perfect for what it says it is right on the can – a pooltime (or poolside) summer ale. This is a new summer favorite for me.

Kölsch (Sierra Nevada Brewing) – 3.75 bottle Caps on untappd

Always nice to see a selection of Sierra Nevada beers when you arrive at a party

Sierra Nevada needs no introduction to the craft beer world. In addition to their iconic Pale Ale, Sierra distributes variety seasonal 12 packs and this spring/summer, one of the beers included is a relabeled classic from their line-up: a Kölsch. Kölsch ales are German-style ales that are light and easy drinking. In other words, perfect for warm weather. I enjoyed the heck out of this beer and could see grabbing a six for the cooler I keep by my pool.

Dune Fruit (Carton Brewing Company) Berliner Weisse 3.75 bottle Caps on untappd

I had this on draft, but the beer is available in NJ stores in cans

June seems to be all about Berliner Weisses here at the Tap Takeover, but damn are they great ales for warm weather. Augie Carton and his cadre of brewers delivered a very tasty one in this take on the classic German style. The fruit is fairly subtle compared to some other Berliner Weisses I’ve had, but pears don’t quite explode with flavors the way raspberries do, for example. This one hit the spot perfectly.

Honorable mention to an annual Summer Favorite: Sierra Nevada Summerfest. This is Sierra’s take on the Czech pilsner and is always a welcome beer in the summer.

Draught Diversions: I’m Now an IPA Believer

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…

Well, it finally happened. I never thought it would come to pass, but alas, I have succumbed to the masses of craft beer. I not only enjoy IPAs now, I seek them out.

For years I avoided IPAs like they were a communicable disease. I hated high-hopped beers and even disliked many Pale Ales (like Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale). I’d get that bitter beer face when I did have IPAs and would drink water if an IPA was the only beer option.

When I first joined untappd about 4 years ago, I did so with a good friend and it turned into a little competition. For a while we were neck in neck with check-ins to unique beers, badges and the like. The primary difference, he was (and is) an IPA guy and I was (and still am) primarily a stouts & porters guy. The whole time we were switching places in the “race to most check ins” he would be at, for example, level 30 on his “I Believe in IPA” badge and level 8 on “Heavyweight” badge and I would be on level 30 on my “Heavyweight” Badge and level 8 of my “I Believe in IPA” badge.

Then, something happened. Something that supposedly happens to people every seven years or so. Just do a google search on “palate changes every 7 years” and a plethora of scientific, semi-scientific, and conjectural results are returned. My palate changed and evolved. I became more open to trying different styles, and part of it started with a beer I reviewed here last year: Two Roads Honeyspot IPA. The beer was from a brewery I trusted implicitly: Two Roads Brewing Company and it had wheat as a malt ingredient.

From there I became more open and curious to trying the occasional IPA. Another IPA that really wowed me and had me eager to try juice bomb and New England IPAs came from the Sierra Nevada Beer Camp pack last year: the Sierra Nevada/Treehouse collaboration East Meets West IPA which was one of the best beers I ever had. I knew I might be willing to try more IPAs at this point.

I also began to doubt myself. Was I just folding under the pressure of the overwhelming imbalance of IPAs vs other styles in the beer market? I hoped that wasn’t the case, but the more IPAs I had, the more I enjoyed them. I am also not the only person to have an aversion to IPAs. Just like the wide variety of stouts available on the market, I’ve learned IPAs are just as diverse. In learning that, I realize I prefer the East Coast IPAs and a lot of what makes me enjoy a specific IPA comes down to the specific Hop used in the brew. For example, Conclave’s “Hop Ritual with Vic Secret” is a delicious beer because of the strand of hop in the beer. Yeah, I know it is technically a Pale ale, but it is one of those Pale Ales that blurs the line and well, Hop is in the name.

Another Hop that works well for my palate is Citra, which imparts a citrusy flavor to the beer. Another that worked wonders for my palate is the Centennial Hop. I learned this when I had Two Hearted Ale for the first time, which is hopped 100% with Centennial Hops. Centennial also imparts a citrus flavor profile. I’ll again make the obligatory plea that Bell’s begin distributing in New Jersey.

Just take a look at my first two monthly six packs for 2018 and how prominently IPAs are featured in the six highlight beers of each month. The beer that really sealed my fate with regard to IPAs and hopped up beers, though not an IPA, is Sierra’s Nevada Pale Ale, arguably the most important hop-forward beer in American Craft beer over the last thirty plus years.

I could probably go to great lengths about the varieties of hops. In fact there are several books on the subject with For The Love of Hops: The Practical Guide to Aroma, Bitterness and the Culture of Hops by Stan Hieronymus considered by many to be the standard book on the subject. I haven’t personally read it, but I threw out a question on twitter about the best book on Hops and multiple trusted beer folks tweeted back with this book.

So what does this all mean? Well, I’m excited to explore more IPAs and Pale Ales. Beers that are hop-forward and maybe feature a single hop. There’s now a shelf or fridge section of beers I don’t need to skip over any longer.

Or, to put it another way, just like the untappd badge, I Believe in IPA!

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: Favorite New Beers of 2017

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…

2017 has come to a close and to the surprise of nobody reading this blog, I enjoyed my fair share of beer in 2017. Many styles of beers, beers from many breweries, and beers of varying quality. With this post, I’ll go over the best of “new to me” beers in 2017. These are the beers I enjoyed the most between January 1, 2017 and December 31, 2017. A small disclaimer, I’m not including special annual releases like Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout, Weyerbacher’s Sunday Morning Stout, or Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout. First, I’ve had previous vintages of those beers so they really aren’t “new to me.” Second, I’d rather highlight beers that may not have the reputation those event beers had. Why 12 breweries? Pretty obvious since a 12-pack is a common way to purchase beer and most beer bottles hold 12oz of beer.

I’ll admit to a NJ bias on this list as 7 of the beers are from NJ breweries. Also, many of these are stouts. I did try to whittle down my list so as not to include one brewery twice on the list so there’s one spot for two beers from the same brewery. I’m going from bottom to top. Each title links to either my full review here at the Tap Takeover or my check-in for the beer on untappd. Some of these may be a surprise, mot probably won’t be.

12. Rothuas Pils Tannen Zapfle (German Pilsner) 4.5 Bottle Caps

Rothaus Pils / Tannen Zäpfle from Badische Staatsbrauerei Rothaus in Baden-Württemberg, Germany. Over the past year or so, I’ve come to really enjoy Pilsners and appreciate the history of the style of beer. While I still consider Victory’s Prima Pils the American standard for Pilsners, this authentic German Pilsner is a nearly perfect beer in many ways. Look, taste, and aroma are exactly what to expect with a Pilsner. There was a slight, slight aftertaste to this one, but I would be happy if I had on shelf consisting only of this beer in my refrigerator.

11. Conclave Brewing Hop Ritual with Vic Secret 4.5 Bottle Caps

I’ve made no secret about how much I enjoy the beer from the closest brewery to my house. With this beer, Conclave outshone themselves and produced a beer in a non-go-to style for me that makes me want this to always be in my refrigerator. Vic Secret (which lends the name to the beer) is the strain of New Zealand hops used in the beer and it really does shine. I wasn’t expecting to be as blown away by this beer as I was, but it was so delicious I had to bring home at least a half-growler for myself. I went to Conclave thinking I’d bring home a growler of their porter, which was good, but this Pale Ale may be the best “new” Pale Ale I’ve had in years.

10. Demented Brewing Gluttony (Coffee Stout) 4.5 Bottle Caps

One of the last beers I had in 2017 and possibly my favorite from Demented Brewing over the last couple of years. Every brewery making stouts seems to make some kind of coffee stout. Beer/hops and coffee are two flavor profiles that are strong and can go into opposite directions and be at odds with each other as much as they can complement each other. Some coffee stouts aren’t made the best coffee beans or the coffee can dominate the flavor and leave a lingering unpleasant aftertaste. With Gluttony, there’s a perfect balance of coffee and beer and there’s little to no bitterness on the finish.

9. Firestone Walker Nitro Merlin (Milk Stout) 4.5 Bottle Caps

I think I said all I can say about this beer as one of my first beer review at the Tap Takeover. Bottom line: probably the best Milk Stout I’ve ever had on draft. As I said in my review, “A Nitro Stout against which many, if not all, others should be judged.” Firestone recently released this in cans so I wonder how well the wonders of the beer on draught will translate to cans.

8. Ayinger Celebrator (Dopplebock) 4.5 Bottle Caps

The gold standard for Dopplebocks, plain and simple. Malty, caramelly, with a slight smokiness at the end. This is a wonderful warm weather beer and a prime example of German brewing at its peak. My only problem is that I never had the beer before. I’m going to have to grab this one in bottles in the future, I see it frequently enough in 4-packs.

7. The Alchemist Heady Topper (IPA – Imperial / Double) 4.75 bottle caps

One of the Whale beers of North America, this is the standard by which all other IPAs and double IPAs are judged. I’m slowly, slowly turning a 180 on my dislike of IPAs and maybe it is because of this beer. I shared the 16oz can with a friend and wished I had a full can to myself.

6. Carton Café Y’ Churro (Imperial Cream Ale) 4.75 bottle caps / Carton Sundae (Russian Imperial Stout) 4.75 bottle caps

I have two here from Carton because both were equally wonderful. I also wanted to avoid having two breweries on the list so decided to list these two from the same brewery at the same spot. Anyway, this is my list and blog so I can construct the list how I choose. Back to the beers. Café Y’ Churro is a variation on Carton’s popular Imperial Cream Ale, Regular Coffee with perfect amounts of vanilla and cinnamon. At 12% the beer is deceptively easy drinking and full of flavor.

 

Sundae is a spin on Cosmonaut, Carton’s annual Russian Imperial Stout. This deep burgundy/crimson brew aged in cognac barrels with walnuts and Maraschino cherries just may be the most perfect dessert beer ever brewed. From my review: “From that initial pour and inhale, I kept thinking, “What a surprise this beer is. …makes Sundae one of the more unique beers I’ve ever consumed.”

5. Sierra Nevada & Tree House Brewing Beer Camp Across the World East Meets West IPA (New England IPA) 4.5 Bottle Caps

This beer, with its citrusy and sweet profile complementing the hops was delightful. It poured a bright and inviting orange-yellow almost like orange juice, as I’ve seen quite a few of the New England IPAs on untappd. After thoroughly enjoying this beer, I think I came to the conclusion that I prefer East Coast / New England style IPAs over their West Coast cousins. The hop profile of many West Coast beers, especially the IPAs, just don’t register positively in my palate.

4. Spellbound Brewing Porter aged Palo Santo Wood 4.75 Bottle Caps

This may be familiar as it was the first beer I reviewed in 2018 and the last 2017 beer I reviewed. From that review: “What I can say is that this is the absolute best porter I had this year, an all-time best porter for me, and very, very high on the list of “New to Me” beers for 2017”

3. Ramstein Winter Wheat (Dopplebock) 4.75 Bottle Caps

Photo courtesy of Ramstein / High Point Brewing

Ramstein (High Point Brewing Company) is one of the craft beers that established NJ as a player in the scene nearly two decades ago. People drive from out of state for growler fills and tastes of this incredible dopplebock. This is a tad sweeter than the previously mentioned dopplebock from Ayinger and perhaps the best “Winter” beer I’ve ever had, possibly one of the best bock varieties I’ve ever had, and one of the best beers brewed in NJ.

2. Dogfish Head Oak Aged Vanilla Stout (Stout – American Imperial / Double) 4.75 Bottle Caps

Dogfish needs no introduction. One of their big annual releases is World Wide Stout so they decided to vary it up with some vanilla producing the best beer with vanilla I can remember having. From my review: “I was slightly nervous, I have to admit. I’ve had a couple of beers with vanilla beans or some kind of vanilla component and I was a little disappointed with those beers, the vanilla was too over powering in those beers. Knowing the quality of Dogfish’s beers, I really should not have worried. If the aroma was a hint of things to come (and it was), the vanilla here was quite present but not dominant.

…and finally, the “new to me beer” for 2017 I enjoyed the most, was a special release from a New Jersey brewery. One of NJ’s oldest and most respected craft breweries…

1. Flying Fish Exit 17 Russian Imperial Stout 4.75 Bottle Caps

This is probably the best beer in Flying Fish’s Exit series, in my humble opinion. Not content with brewing a Russian Imperial Stout, Flying Fish aged this one in Dad’s Hat Rye Whiskey bottles.  My father is a big fan of Flying Fish’s output and we’ve both been trying to have each of the beers in the Exit series, so I figured we’d share this final Exit beer over Thanksgiving. Although I’ve come to love beers aged in bourbon barrels, allowing this beer to sit in Rye Whiskey bottles helps to set it apart from its barrel-aged brethren. Flying Fish’s description says this is a “one of a kind” beer and I’d be hard-pressed to dispute the claim. Supposedly, only 750 bottles were put into distribution so if you’re in the NJ/PA area, grab this because it will not be .around long.

So, there you have it. A 12-pack of the 13 beers I enjoyed the most in 2017

Draught Diversions: November 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…

A great variety of beer passed across my palette in November 2017 due, in large part, to the North Jersey Brewery tour my wife took me on for my birthday in the middle of the month. I’ve already highlighted one of those breweries, Angry Erik, and I’ll briefly touch on the four other breweries later in the post as I may wind up doing a feature/full Draught Diversion on at least one of those breweries. That, combined with visiting a couple of my very local breweries and some other assorted beers throughout the month really shine the focus on New Jersey breweries for November. Since the last day of November was on a Thursday (when Draught Diversions normally posts), I figured I’d hold the post for an extra day to squeeze in that one last new beer.

Proper Glassware x2, snifters with the iconic Brooklyn brand

The first new beer I had in November was from craft beer stalwart Harpoon, specifically the new fall offering from their popular UFO Hefeweizen line, Cranbeery. I’ve enjoyed most of the UFO beers a great deal but this one didn’t quite do it for me, it was more tart and sour than I expect from a Hefeweizen. Next up and a couple of days later was an outstanding beer I shared with my father. Well, I gave him the bottle for his birthday in September, but we shared it for my birthday: Brooklyn Black Ops, a delicious Russian Imperial Stout which comes in at 11.6% ABV and tasted better as it settled into the glass. The bourbon barrel aging came through nicely in both the aroma and taste.

Sadly, I broke this glass after only using it twice.

The season of stouts continued with Sierra Nevada’s annual Imperial Stout release, Narwhal. I’ve had this in year’s past so was looking forward to having the beer and was not disappointed. Like most stouts, this got better as it warmed. For whatever reason, this was a tough beer to find in my area of New Jersey, with the closest liquor store to me listing it on beermenus about 25 miles away. Fortunately, the store is close to my parents so my dad picked up a six pack for me. Sierra’s been changing some of their labels, over the past year or so including this one. While the new label is nice, I loved the previous label. Keeping with the annual release theme, Founders released Backwoods Bastard and like last year’s vintage, this year’s vintage was outstanding. As I’ve said, I think I like this one more than I like KBS.

Hop Ritual w/ Vic Secret

As I’ve been doing with more regularity, I stopped into my local brewery, Conclave in November since they released a couple of new beers, both of which were very good. The first was a fall porter, Transcendent Leaf Peeping. The other new beer was a variation on their Hop Ritual Pale Ale. This one is called Hop Ritual with Vic Secret, so named for the strain of New Zealand hops used in the beer. I wasn’t expecting to be as blown away by this beer as I was, but it was so delicious I had to bring home at least a half-growler for myself.

Next was the big Birthday Brewery Tour, courtesy of my wife. Last year was a handful of Jersey Shore breweries, this year was North Jersey breweries. We started out at the venerable brewers of high-quality German style beers, Ramstein / High Point Brewing. As it so happened, that day was when Ramstein was releasing their famous Winter Wheat beer. I had the equivalent of a pint since my wife gave me her free samples. What a phenomenal beer, an absolutely outstanding dopplebock that has rightly earned a reputation that draws people from far and wide to fill their growlers with this delicious beer. The other new-to-me beer I had at Ramstein was the outstanding Imperial Pilsner. I just wish Ramstein’s distribution reached a little more into Somerset County because this is one of the beers they bottle and I’d have this in my house regularly.

The second brewery was Angry Erik, which I wrote about a couple of weeks ago, with the final leg of the journey being the triumvirate of breweries in Hackettstown, NJ. The first of those was Man Skirt Brewing, the highlight (and surprise beer there) was Better than Pants, a tasty excellent English Bitter that earned me the “You’re Extra Special” badge on untappd. All five beers I had were good. From there, we walked around the block to Czig Meister Brewery which was insanely packed, in part, because a portion of the brewery was cordoned off for a party. The standout here was Habonde a barrel-aged barely wine. I may have to pick up a bottle since Czig is now distributing cans and bottles throughout New Jersey. The last of the Hackettstown Trio was Jersey Girl Brewing. The beers in the flight were extremely consistent in quality with their King Gambrinus Belgian Tripel standing out to me the most. I’ll most likely be dedicating an entire Draught Diversions post to some (maybe all) of these breweries where I’ll give some more details on each beer I had.

A deep, dark, roust Imperial Stout from Lone Eagle

At the monthly Brews and Board Games at Lone Eagle, I tried their Imperial Breakfast Stout, a malty stout aged on coffee beans then aged in Buffalo Trace Bourbon barrels with some blood orange puree added on the finish. All the characteristics of an excellent stout along with hints of an Old Fashioned thanks to the Bourbon and Orange. The other beer I had was a juicy Pale Ale they call Local Pale Ale.

Possibly the best beer in Flying Fish’s Exit Series – Exit 17

Tröegs Mad Elf is a seasonal favorite and the 2017 batch might be the best yet. Then came Thanksgiving weekend. The first beer is one I’ve been holding onto for a couple of weeks, a beer I was fortunate enough to snag because only 750 were bottled, the final beer (for now?) in Flying Fish’s Exit SeriesExit 17 – Russian Imperial Stout, which might be the best beer of the month for me. This is probably the best beer in the Exit series, too. Not content with brewing a Russian Imperial Stout, Flying Fish aged this one in Dad’s Hat Rye Whiskey bottles. Although I’ve come to love beers aged in bourbon barrels, allowing this beer to sit in Rye Whiskey bottles helps to set it apart from its barrel-aged brethren. Flying Fish’s description says this is a “one of a kind” beer and I’d be hard-pressed to dispute the claim. I also had the new version of Southern Tier’s Warlock, which they changed from previous years and unfortunately, not for the better. They dropped the ABV from 10% to 8.6% and the whole flavor is different, it doesn’t taste too much different than Pumking, which isn’t bad, just not what I was hoping to have. The last beer on Thanksgiving is the beer I reviewed earlier in the week, Stone’s Xocoveza Imperial Milk Stout.

The last Saturday of the month of new brews  were enjoyed at Revolutions a fine Craft Brew bar Morristown, NJ. I met up with a friend who lives in Morristown. We’d visited the bar before and were impressed with the beer list and menu, with its heavy focus on German brats. That night I had two very good beers: Malus from Kane Brewing, in Ocean. This is a Belgian Strong Dark Ale, but the flavor is sweetened by the addition of apple cider. The beer went down very easily for a 9.5% ABV. The other brew I had was one of the best Pilsners I’ve ever had, which was unsurprisingly, from a German Brewery. The beer is Rothaus Pils / Tannen Zäpfle from Badische Staatsbrauerei Rothaus in Baden-Württemberg, Germany. The crispness, freshness and underlying roastiness makes this, in my humble opinion, a world-class Pilsner.

Lastly, the final new beer of November 2017 was last night’s Moo Thunder Milk Stout from Butternuts brewery, which was a little thin and flat for a Milk Stout. I’d seen this on the shelf in area liquor stores for a few years now, it is hard to miss or forget with the big fat cow on the can. Unfortunately, that label is the most appealing element of the beer for me.

I’d have to say the two best beers of the month for me were Exit 17 – Russian Imperial Stout from Flying Fish and the Rothaus Pils / Tannen Zäpfle.