Draught Diversions: April 2020 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…

Another mostly NJ six pack for April, although a couple of beers lingered from before the Social Distancing began in March. One of the new beers comes Ashton Brewing Company a brand new brewery in New Jersey, whose “grand opening” coincided with the big lockdown. After months of preparation and remodeling the old Demented facility in Middlesex, NJ, Ashton rolled with the punches and did Crowlers and pre-filled growlers to go, as well as local home delivery. More on that, and the six pack for April 2020 below.

Wild Little Thing (Sierra Nevada Brewing Company) | Fruit Beer | 3.75 Bottle Caps on untappd

An offshoot of the “Little Thing” brand I mentioned last month, this beer is sweet and tart. There are a few different fruits in this one, but I get a great deal of strawberry. Almost like if Strawberry Jam were added to a beer, which isn’t a bad thing. This would be a really nice beer to enjoy in the summer.

Firestone 23 (XXIII) Anniversary Ale (Firestone Walker Brewing Company) | Strong Ale – American | 4.5 Bottle Caps on untappd

It seems that whenever I get one of the Firestone Walker Barrel Aged beers, it makes an appearance on the Tap Takeover. This one is no exception and is an extremely boozy, but wonderfully flavored beer. I haven’t had any of the previous Anniversary beers, but I’ve been very happy to see these special, single-bottle releases in my local shops in recent months. A definite slow sipper, which I enjoyed during a work virtual happy hour.

Billy Two Hats (Ashton Brewing Company) | English Mild Ale | 3.75 Bottle Caps on untappd

Ashton Brewing is New Jersey’s newest brewery and they started in an interesting time, but fortunately, they make interesting beer. Steve Ashton has been in the beer/brewing world for years and his craftsmanship shows in this tasty beer. I’ve had very few English Milds, but what impressed me was the complex flavor given the very low ABV (3.5). I’ll be visiting Ashton more in the future and I cannot wait to spend some time in the revamped former Demented Brewing tap room. Based on this beer (and the other I had) Ashton Brewing is off to a great start.

Blue Hotel (Kane Brewing Company) | IPA – American | 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

One of the few positive outcomes of COVID is that some breweries are making more of their beer available to stores and through home delivery. Case in point: Kane Brewing’s Blue Hotel was previously only available at the brewery. This is a delicious, tropical IPA whose potent flavors come from a single hop – Galaxy Hops.

Revolution (Tonewood Brewing) | Porter – Other | 3.75/4 Bottle Caps on untappd

This is the third Tonewood beer for me and third time their beer appears on the Tap Takeover. That’s one way to say they make really good beer. This is a really solid coffee-infused porter with great roast flavor that one expect from a Porter complemented with the roast of coffee flavors. There’s a bit more hoppiness to the beer than I would have expected, but the beer settles nicely. I found myself enjoying the second can of beer more than the first, which I enjoyed a few days apart. Glad I still have a few in the fridge, because this is just simply a well-made porter.

Variabull 010 (Bolero Snort Brewing Company) | Stout – Milk/Sweet | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

I’ve had quite a few beers from Bolero this year and I have to say, this is my favorite so far and maybe the best beer I’ve had since they opened their brewery. I’ve always enjoyed their dark beers more than anything else they brewed and this Tiramisu-inspired stout is outstanding. I like Tiramisu as a desert and the flavors translate so well into a Milk Stout. Layered flavors from Coffee/Espresso, Cocoa, Vanilla, and touch of Lemon at the end make for a beer to enjoy slowly as it is a sumptuous, decadent dessert. At 8% it works really well as a nice night cap to enjoy while (as I did) watching an engrossing movie (The Invitation). Bolero released two other Variabull Stouts at this time, a “dirty banana” version and a mint chocolate version. I only had the banana (not a mint fan) and this one worked far better for me..

Not too much other new beers in April as I was sticking with some older favorites, but some good beers nonetheless.

Draught Diversions: Sierra Nevada Shelf of Honor Six Pack

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…

Sierra Nevada is celebrating their 40th year this year, so I figured I’d put together a shelf of honor six pack as a tribute, in addition to reviewing Barrel-Aged Narwhal earlier this week, which happened to be my 50th unique Sierra Nevada beer checked into untappd. In some respects, it is easy to take Sierra Nevada for granted in the beer landscape and to an extent, it could be easy to underestimate just how critical Ken Grossman’s brainchild is to beer in America and everything that means. Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale is iconic and ubiquitous, but it shouldn’t be overlooked either. If Jim Koch and Samuel Adams/Boston Beer are responsible for giving beer drinkers in the 1980s beer they were accustomed to drinking but much more flavorful (lagers), Ken Grossman and Sierra Nevada went in an opposite direction with their hop forward approach. Granted, their Stout was their first beer, but it is Pale Ale that woke up the American Beer palate in the 1980s.

Sierra Nevada has long been the flag-bearer for what it means to be a Craft Brewery and over the years, they’ve been leaders in nearly every way possible: styles, technology, innovation, and community. I’d argue that Sierra Nevada doesn’t just exemplify what a Craft Brewery should be, but what an American company should be. I could go on more about the history of the brewery (hell, Ken Grossman wrote a whole book about it and their website has a good primer on the About Us section), so I’ll utilize my Six Pack format to highlight a combination of my favorite beers and their most important beers. A couple of these will be no brainers, obviously.

In the event I need to state the obvious – this is all my opinion…

Pale Ale | Pale Ale – American | ABV: 5.6% | IBU: 38

I’ll get this one out of the way first since it is the most obvious, considering many beer people consider this to be the most important beer in American Beer, period. The hop-forward nature of the beer, when it first came into prominence, was unlike anything many beer drinkers knew at the time. By comparison to today’s hop bombs with IBUs in the 70 to 100 IBU range, SNPA is relatively tame. My dad has been stocking his fridge with this beer for at least 20 years, so it was always in my beer orbit. I didn’t like the beer initially because it took me a while to like, enjoy, and appreciate hop-forward beers. But now? Now I enjoy the beer, seek it out and it is a great go to because it is so widespread in bars, and always a reliable beer to order.

What Sierra Nevada says about the beer:

Heavy on hops, that was always the brewery plan. So in 1980, we loaded Pale Ale up with Cascade—a new hop at the time named after the mountain range—and the intense aromas of pine and citrus sparked the American craft beer revolution.

Craft Beer’s Turnaround

Some Restless Rebels

After prohibition, American beer declined for decades. The brewery count shrank from thousands to less than 100 by the late 1970s. The beers you could find were dull, so a few thirsty rebels out West took up their own experiments in fermentation. Among them, our founder Ken Grossman used a new US-grown hop, Cascade, to help transform stateside flavor. Today, there are more than 6,000 American breweries making the most adventurous beers in the world.

Kellerweis | Hefeweizen | ABV: 4.8% | IBU: 15

From the last time I could get this beer in NJ – 2015! Please send more to NJ Sierra Nevada!

I love a good hefeweizen, especially in the summer, but the classic style really works year round. As much as I extolled the virtues of Ramstein’s Blonde Hefe-Weizen here on the Tap Takeover, in my humble opinion, Sierra Nevada’s take is the best American interpretation of the style. The style is characterized primarily by what flavors are evoked from the yeast – some Hefeweizens will evoke a more clove-prominent flavor, while others will evoke a more banana-like flavor. Kellerweis strikes a great balance. In recent years; sadly, I haven’t seen this beer on the shelves in NJ quite as much as I did maybe four or five years ago. Regardless, it is one of Sierra Nevada’s core beers and a world-class beer.

What Sierra Nevada says about the beer:

Inspired by traditional Bavarian techniques, Kellerweis is a true artisan experience. With Kellerweis, we brew in open fermentation tanks—a process rarely seen today—to let the ingredients truly shine. The result is a hazy wheat ale—untamed, raw and alive. With a full, fruity aroma and notes of spicy clove and banana bread, Kellerweis is a truly unique brew.

Hazy Little Thing | IPA – New England | ABV: 6.7% | IBU: 35

Hazy Little Thing may be the biggest indicator of Sierra Nevada’s ability to smartly navigate the ever-changing beer landscape while delivering a great product. The Hazy IPA is most closely associated with New England, not a surprise given that many, many people call the style New England IPA, but Sierra Nevada is obviously a West Coast brewery. This is a great West Coast interpretation of an East Coast style. The beer literally changed Sierra Nevada’s fortunes, not that they were in dire straits, but Hazy Little Thing is the equivalent of a Summer Blockbuster, or even franchise. When the beer first launched in 2018, you could say it was successful.

I likened Hazy Little Thing to a Summer Blockbuster, but that’s even an understatement, to be fair. The beer is year-round and is more like a tentpole to a franchise. Consider that two other “Hazy” beers in the family have been released by Sierra Nevada over the last six months or so Fantastic Haze Imperial IPA (basically an Imperial version of Hazy Little Thing) and Wild Little Thing, which takes the Little Thing brand to a sour/tart/fruity notion appealing to the folks who enjoy or are curious about Sour/Wild beers. You might say Sierra Nevada’s “Little Thing” brand is quite the opposite of that moniker.

What Sierra Nevada says about the beer:

Some beers need a little polishing before entering the world, while others—the hop-heavy, rowdy crowd-pleasers—should just be left alone. We package Hazy Little Thing in all its raw glory: unfiltered, unprocessed, straight from the tanks and into the can. It’s a swirling cloud that likes to shake things up, a fruit-forward hop adventure for the daring. Go bold and make tonight a hazy one.

Narwhal Imperial Stout | Stout – American Imperial/Double | ABV 10.2% I IBU: 60

Vintages from top left going clockwise: 2014, 2017, 2018, 2019

Narwhal Imperial Stout is one of my favorite beers, period. Sierra Nevada first brewed / bottled / distributed this beer in 2012 and I’ve had at least one bottle of it almost every year since (except I think 2015 and 2016). What makes this beer so great is that it is basically a core four beer – water, malt, yeast, and hops. All the flavor in this beer comes from those ingredients and it is extremely potent with an ABV of 10.2%. When I enjoy the beer, I usually get bittersweet chocolate from the malt and some aggressive hops on the finish.

In 2017, in large re-branding of several beers, Narwhal’s label changed. The iconic sea creature is still on the label/branding, but the fancy and classy font was replaced by bland block lettering. Thankfully the beer hasn’t changed.

Left: Original label/packaging used through 2016
Right: Updated label/packaging as of 2017

Also in 2017, Narwhal (and their Bigfoot Barleywine) moved from 4-packs to 6-packs. That makes it much easier to allow one of those bottles to age and not consume them all in a relatively short period. Aging the beer really does improve an already great beer, the aggressiveness from the hops are mellowed (but still present). I think the oldest one I had was a bottle my dad aged for 3 years.

Bottom Line: Narwhal is one of my favorite stouts, my top Sierra Nevada beer, and one of my favorite beers, period.

What Sierra Nevada says about the beer:

Narwhal Imperial Stout is inspired by the mysterious creature that thrives in the deepest fathoms of the frigid Arctic Ocean. Rich with notes of espresso, baker’s cocoa, roasted grain and a light hint of smoke, Narwhal brims with malt complexity. Aggressive but refined with a velvety smooth body and decadent finish, Narwhal will age in the bottle for years to come.

Oktoberfest | Märzen/Festbier | 6% / 6.1% ABV (Depending on year)

All the Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest collaborations!

 

This entry is a little unique since this single entry represents five unique beers. Almost every brewery makes some kind of traditional German-style beer to celebrate the fall/Oktoberfest season. Sierra Nevada did for years, but in 2015, they started something really special, fun, and interesting. They began collaborating with German breweries (a different one every year) on the traditional malty lager. I’ve had at least a six pack every year and they’ve all been very good. From 2015 through 2019, the following breweries collaborated with Sierra Nevada: Brauhaus Riegle, Mahrs Bräu, Brauhaus Miltenberger, Weihenstephan , and Bitburger Braugruppe. I’ve enjoyed them all a great deal, reviewed the Weihenstephan collaboration in 2018 and think the 2019 version with Bitburger to be the best. As a result of the last two collaborations, Sierra Nevada did secondary collabortions with both breweries, a delicious Hefeweizen with Weihenstephan (Braupakt) and a Triple Hop’d Lager with Bitburger.

Every Oktoberfest season I try to mix up what I get, but since 2015, whatever collaboration Sierra Nevada brews is a definite stand-by in my refrigerator from mid-September to mid-October.

What Sierra Nevada says about the beer:

It’s the ultimate season of revelry, so we teamed up with Germany’s Bitburger Brewery for an Oktoberfest that turns backyards into beer gardens. Rally your friends and celebrate with a festbier whose rich amber color and smooth malty flavor bring the Munich tents to you. We brewed Oktoberfest with Bitburger’s custom yeast and secret hop blend called Siegelhopfen, meaning “Sealed Hops”—two house ingredients never shared outside their walls until now.

Resilience Butte County Proud IPA | IPA – American | 6.8% ABV | IBU: 65

This beer exemplifies the spirit of community and giving back that has long-been a cornerstone of Sierra Nevada’s ethos and why they are such a beloved brewery. In a show of solidarity across the country, many other breweries brewed a Resilience IPA based on the recipe Sierra Nevada shared, and all the proceeds went to the Camp Fire Relief Fund. In 2020, as a result of the Australian Bushfires, breweries once again took up the charge to do their part and brew a beer whose proceeds would go to Bushfire relief, the Australian version is a Pale Ale.

When I had the Butte County version in early 2019, I had this to say: 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.

What Sierra Nevada says about the beer:

Butte County roots run deep. Forested hills, winding rivers, towering pines, mighty oaks, and even mightier people—it’s our home. And in the aftermath of the Camp Fire, the most destructive wildfire in California history, we will rebuild. More than 1,400 craft breweries joined us in brewing Resilience IPA, a fundraiser beer with 100% of sales going to Camp Fire relief. The overwhelming support helped inspire the Butte Strong Fund, a partnership devoted to the long recovery ahead.

There are, of course, many other Sierra Nevada beers that could qualify in something like an Ultimate Six Pack. I didn’t even touch on the Beer Camp event and lines of beer in this post though I did review the last version of the mixed twelve pack in 2017.  Psst, Sierra Nevada…any chance of something like that variety pack returning?

Anyway, Happy 40th Anniversary Sierra Nevada! Thanks for the delicious beers and for inspiring so many other breweries to make delicious beers of their own!

Beer Review: Sierra Nevada’s Barrel-Aged Narwhal

Name: Barrel-Aged Narwhal
Brewing Company: Sierra Nevada Brewing Company
Location: Chico, CA
Style: Stout – American Imperial/Double
ABV: 11.9%

An outstanding base stout aged in Kentucky Bourbon Barrels makes for a perfect beer.

From Sierra Nevada’s page for the beer:

Deep in our barrel room, out of light’s reach, our legendary Narwhal Imperial Stout rests in bourbon barrels for nearly a year. After aging, it emerges anew: rich with notes of oak, vanilla and coconut layered onto the Stout’s malt flavors of dark chocolate and espresso. Enjoy this beast of a beer.

This is a beer I’ve been hunting down for quite some time, basically since I knew it existed, because the annual big stout from Sierra Nevada is one of my top 10 beers of all time. Sometimes, the timing of things lead to serendipitous posts like this one: 2020 is Sierra Nevada’s 40th Anniversary, Sierra Nevada recently made this beer a year-round offering, and this beer is my 50th unique Sierra Nevada beer checked into untappd, so how could I *not* review this beer?

As much as I was looking forward to this beer for years, I’ve also come to realize not all barrel-aged beers are blended/created equal. Additionally, I hadn’t had anything barrel-aged from Sierra Nevada. In short, I was worried that anticipation would lead to disappointment

It did not.

This beer pours motor-oil black, with a khaki/heavily creamed coffee head. As for the body of the beer, I’d even say there’s something about this beer that’s so black, it’s like how much more black could this beer be? And the answer is none. None more black.

The aroma is largely from the bourbon barrels, but I do detect the hoppy/malty aromas I would typically associate with the non-Barrel Aged Narwhal. I thought to myself, “I’ve got a good feeling about this.”

That first sip is everything I hoped it would be. The barrel elements are very prominent and assertive, but far from everything this beer is. The base beer doesn’t typically have an overbearing carbonation and the carbonation is even less present on Barrel Aged Narwhal. In addition to the barrel character, the beer is largely the character I’d come to expect from the base Narwhal stout – big malt imparting sweetness, prominent hops imparting a bitter bite with subtle vanilla hints for a warm, balanced, grin-inducing finish that lingers wonderfully.

The flavor elements imparted by the Kentucky Bourbon Barrels **perfectly** enhance and complement the flavor elements of the base beer – the hops which can be relatively aggressive on a fresh in-year* bottle, are tamed and smoothed by the beer having been aged in the barrel. The hops are definitely present, but the lingering bitterness is softened. The barrel aging also complements the sweetness from the malt with hints of vanilla, oak, and maybe coconut.

* By “in-year” bottle I mean drinking a 2019 vintage of the beer in 2019, as opposed to a bottle that has sat for months to a year. I’ve had a couple bottles of Narwhal that were aged 2 and 3 years.

Something that makes this beer such a fun beer to enjoy is that the base beer Narwhal is fairly readily available for comparison. I’ve had Bourbon County Stout from AB InBev Chicago (A.K.A. Goos Island) but there’s no base beer available, same goes for So Happens Its Tuesday from the Bruery or even Parabola from Firestone Walker. In other words, you have a pretty good idea that you’re starting with in this beer.

I’ve always loved the label and font Sierra Nevada used for the beer for Narwhal, I was unhappy with the change they made in 2017 so I was pleased to see the same font treatment from the old label of the non-barrel aged version reappear on this canned version (and box of the 4-pack). I was especially pleased to see this beer go from the 22oz bomber to 16oz cans, a much easier single-sitting consumption.

Barrel-Aged Narwhal is an outstanding, world-class barrel-aged stout that I’d stand up against any other barrel-aged stout I’ve had or that is available. Given that price point, you will not find a better beer of this style (Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout, or even Imperial Stout) for this price point.

For further reading, there’s a great post on Sierra Nevada’s Blog about their barrel-aging program.

Highly, highly recommended, link to 5 bottle-cap Untappd check in.

Draught Diversions: September 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 weather is supposed to begin getting cooler in September, but there were quite a few days in the 80s in New Jersey. Oktoberfest begins in Sepember and the darker beers become more prevalent in my fridge. This month features more NJ beers than the usual half split since New Jersey Craft Beer Week fell in the middle of the month. That, coupled with going for some “old reliable” Oktoberfest beers (plus a couple already highlighted in this year’s Oktoberfest feature and I didn’t want to double dip) made for a mostly NJ six pack this time around.

Oktoberfest – Bitburger Braugruppe (2019) (Sierra Nevada Brewing Company) | Märzen | 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

Sierra Nevada continues its annual Oktoberfest tradition of collaborating with a German Brewery. I’ve liked all the collaborations they’ve brewed, this one might be near the top of the list. A great malt flavor, nice crisp finish, and very refreshing. My only problem with the beer is that I wasn’t eating a bratwurst while drinking the beer.

Flood (Jersey Cyclone Brewing Company) | Stout – Imperial / Double | 4.50 bottle Caps on untappd

I realize I mentioned this beer on my Brewery review of Jersey Cyclone, but even a couple of weeks later this beer stands out to me. An absolute delight of a brew, a perfectly balanced Imperial Stout whose flavors are drawn from the core four ingredients with no adjuncts. If I’m going for an Imperial Stout that isn’t aged in a barrel, Flood is exactly what I’d want.

XPA Citra Pale Ale (Flying Fish Brewing Brewery Co) | Pale Ale – American | 3.75 Bottle Caps on untappd

Over the last couple of years, the venerable Flying Fish has been updating their look and some of their beers. Their can art has come a long ways from where it was a couple of years ago and this beer is an update to their original Pale Ale I really liked how the Citra hops were featured in the beer. This could be a nice every-day pale ale.


The Lawman
(Czig Meister Brewing Brewery Co) | Hefeweizen | 3.75 Bottle Caps on untappd

Czig Meister’s Hefeweizen was really tasty, it leaned more on the clove/spicy spectrum of Hefeweizens than the banana-bubblegum flavors. Not a bad thing, in fact a very solid Hefeweizen. For all the attention their many IPAs get, their old school standards are really nice, too

The Hook (Carton Brewing Company) | Pale Ale – American | 4 bottle Caps on untappd

Been a while since Carton featured here and this is a beer I’d been wanting to try for a while. Carton calls it a “Late Hopped Wheated Pale Ale” and I was super happy to see it on the menu Twenty/20 Taphouse. One of my favorite hops, Vic Secret, shines in this one with its citrusy profile. Great stuff and a fine example of a perfectly balanced hazy, hop forward ale. I didn’t want to snap a picture of the beer during dinner, but it had the look of a hazy pale, which is exactly what it is.

Velvet Fjord (Icarus Brewing Company) | IPA – Milkshake | 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

This might be the coolest can art I’ve seen in a long time.

This one just made it under the buzzer, so to speak. I was part of another beer/bottle share with some work friends (my contribution was La Trappe’s Quadrupel, which was well-received) and one of the other participants brought a four pack of this beer. He happens to live very close to Icarus which was fortunate for all of us. He was kind enough to let me have one of the cans he brought and what I tasted on the bottle share was even more evident in a full beer – this is a delicious, sweet IPA. Lots of hops, a bunch of lactose and vanilla on the finish made for a really good beer. Plus that magic Kviek Yeast many brewers have begun using as it is a hot commodity in the beer world.

Other odds and ends…
An old favorite, a new not favorite

I returned to an Oktoberfest beer I haven’t had in a few years, Victory’s Festbier which was just as good as I recall it being. I’ve got to stick to some of the classics and not be hesitate when I’ inclined to go for old favorites beers every now and again. Unfortunately, a beer I had high hopes for seriously disappointed me – Bomb! from Prairie Artisan Ales. This is an Imperial Stout with coffee, vanilla, cocoa, and peppers. I usually like those spicy stouts, but this one may have been a bad batch. I couldn’t even finish the beer..

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