Draught Diversions: Favorite New Beers of 2018

Welcome to the second annual best of the year here at the Tap Takeover! I drank a lot of beer in 2017, a lot of different beers. According to untappd, I had 373 unique beers in many styles (101 distinct styles), many breweries (155) and of varying quality.

Like last year, these beers are “new to me” beers, even if the beer was brewed in the past or a regular rotation offering for a given brewery. I’m not including special annual releases I’ve had in the past like Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout, Sierra Nevada Summerfest, or Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout. First, I’ve had previous vintages of those beers so they really aren’t “new to me.”  Some of these beers have received full reviews at the Tap Takeover, some were mentioned in a monthly six pack, and some weren’t ever mentioned before.

Once again, a NJ bias shines through on this list as 6 of the beers are from NJ breweries (last year featured 7 NJ breweries), but considering about half of the beer I bought & consumed in 2018 was from NJ breweries, this shouldn’t be a surprise. Unlike last year, there are zero stouts on this list. Like last year, no brewery appears on this list, twice. Also like last year, some of the breweries on this list will not be a surprise,

Breakdown:

  • 6 from NJ breweries
  • 3 IPAs (all three are Double/Imperials)
  • 2 Porters (both Double/Imperials)
  • 2 Pilsners
  • 1 Belgian Strong Golden Ale
  • 1 Belgian Tripel
  • 1 Bock (Dopplebock)
  • 1 Lager
  • 1 Old Ale

On to the list…

12. Steam Whistle Plisner Unfiltered (Plus) – Steam Whistle Brewing – Pilsner – Other – 4.25 bottle caps

If you would have told me one of my favorite beers of the year was a Canadian pilsner I would have laughed in your face. But, like last year’s list, the #12 beer on my list is indeed a pilsner. I had this on a business trip to Toronto, which I wrote about at the end of the summer. I don’t recall having an unfiltered pilsner before this, but this beer was pure deliciousness. The atmosphere at the brewery was great, which may have helped me enjoy the beer a little bit more.

11. This Town – Carton Brewing Company – Lager – Helles 4.25 Bottle Caps

Of course a Carton Beer makes the list and this Helles Lager (a cousin to the Czech Pislner) is a perfect everyday beer. Everything that makes Lagers so great is embodied by this beer. Augie Carton has said this beer won’t be sold in cans outside of Monmouth County, following this beer’s credo (much like the ethos of German beer) that every town should have their own lager. But everytime I visit Carton, I know I’ll be walking out with at least a six pack of this beer.

10. Curmudgeon’s Better Half – Founders Brewing Co. – Old Ale 4.5 Bottle Caps

This one probably doesn’t come as a surprise, either given how much I’ve expressed my enjoyment of beers from Founders. I like the base beer – Curmudgeon, a malt bomb of a beer, but this beer, with the added sweetness from maple syrup barrels makes for yet another enjoyable entry in Founders’ Barrel Aged series. I had two bottles of this, I picked up the 4 pack in August had one then and let another bottle site for a few months. While the first bottle was quite good, aging it a little helped and I’m looking forward to seeing how that final bottle of the 4 pack sits in a year or so.

9. Fudge Machine – Demented Brewing Company – Porter – Imperial / Double 4.5 bottle caps

I hadn’t visited Demented quite as much over 2018 compared to the year before, but this beer really surprised me with how much I enjoyed it. I like porters and chocolate porters, but this is a potent beer that delivers everything you could want out of a chocolate porter. At the time, I think this was a relatively limited release available only at the brewery, but this is so good it really needs to be in regular rotation or an annual release for Demented

8. DDH Not A Schooner – Icarus Brewing – IPA – New England 4.5 bottle caps

Image courtesy of Icarus Brewing’s Facebok

I would typically not include a beer for which I only had a taster, but when I attended the 2018 Bridgewater Beerfest, I went back for multiple samples of this beer it was so delicious and amounted to probably a full pour of the beer. DDH Not a Schooner was one of the best IPAs out of New Jersey I had all year. This beer, plus many of their IPAs, have made Icarus a MAJOR player in the growing NJ Beer Scene.

7. Devil’s Reach – Cape May Brewing Company – Belgian Golden Strong Ale 4.5 bottle caps

One of the best beer things to happen in NJ this year was the expansion of Cape May Brewing Company’s distribution footprint. This is one of their flagship beers and is an outstanding, delicious, sweet explosion of flavor that is deceptively high in ABV (8.6%) but so easy drinking. In some of my reviews I mention “an iconic shelf of NJ Beers” and I would definitely make room for this one. Not many NJ breweries make a “Belgian Strong Golden Ale” (at least about which I’m aware) so there honestly isn’t too much competition in the State for this style. Regardless, this is an absolute stand-out ale.

6. 120 Minute Imperial IPA – Dogfish Head Craft Brewery – IPA – Imperial / Double 4.5 bottle caps

Few breweries are as iconic as Dogfish Head and this is one of the beers that helped them to earn that reputation. One of the biggest, booziest IPAs in wide distribution, this beer is a monster of hoppy deliciousness. This is a $8 per 12 oz bottle and I may get one or two to age for a couple of years. I’ve seen folks say this approaches barley wine levels as it ages so I may snag a bottle or two and let it/them sit for a couple of years.

5. Westmalle Trappist Tripel – Brouwerij der Trappisten van Westmalle – Belgian Tripel 4.5 bottle caps

Talk about World Class Beers, this is one of the best Tripels I’ve ever had and is a stunning, beautiful beer. The magic from the Belgian Yeast does wonders, evoking a fruity/spice flavor profile that must be sampled. The more I think about this beer, the more I want to run out and grab one again.

4. Process Pils Conclave Brewing Pilsner – German 4.75 Bottle Caps

Yeah, another unsurprising brewery for the list, but like I said back in August when I first had the beer, I don’t think it is possible for Carl, Tim, and Bryan to make a bad beer. Much as I loved This Town as a great lager, this pilsner is the best pilsner I had all year and one of the best American pilsners I’ve ever had. Conclave has been canning more of their beers this year, I’d love to see this one in cans.

3. Crusher The Alchemist IPA – Imperial / Double 4.75 bottle caps

I went into a lot of detail in my review of the beer, but here’s the gist: Such a delicious hop profile that is one of the most perfect citrusy hopped profiles I’ve ever had in a beer. I couldn’t believe what a bouquet of flavors was in just a sip of the beer so, of course, I took another taste, though more than a sip. I let the beer sit in my mouth a bit to get the full flavor and my goodness does this beer do so many things perfectly well. I wanted to drink this one quickly because it was so delicious, but I didn’t want it to be gone quickly.

2. Sunday Brunch Kane Brewing Porter – Imperial / Double 4.75 bottle caps

Bottle Image in background courtesy of Kane’s Facebook. Glass pour mine.

This is, quite simply, one of the best porters I’ve ever had. Sunday Brunch is an Imperial Milk Porter made with coffee, maple syrup, and cinnamon. At 9.5% this is a potent beer, but so smooth and sweet. This is one of Kane’s once per year beers and seems to only be available at special events and in 750ml bottles at the brewery.

1. Bourbon Barrel-Aged Troegenator Tröegs Independent Brewing Bock – Dopplebock 4.75 Bottle caps

I’ll go into more detail about Tröegs in my next post, but this beer is one of the best bocks I’ve ever had, and one of my favorite beers of all time now. The base of this beer, Troegenator, is itself something of a craft classic and a delicious beer. Throw an already potent, complex beer into barrels and you have this delightful beer worthy of World Class Status. Everything that makes the base beer delicious – hints of chocolate and caramel are turned up to 11 for a sublime experience.

 

 

 

Draught Diversions: July 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…

I had quite a few different beers during the month of July, to say the least. Some of those I highlighted in great detail in my weekly single beer reviews, a few more were featured in my last two Draught Diversions focusing on Sierra Nevada’s Beer Camp 2017 Variety Pack (Stateside, Overseas)

July began just as June ended, with selections from the aforementioned Beer Camp variety pack, both of which were excellent, especially the Thai-Style Iced Tea. Outside of that variety pack, the beers of July began with a 22oz bomb from one of NJ’s “gypsy” breweries, Bolero Snort Brewery. I’ve had a few of their beers, most have been good, including the one I had early in July – Strawbully Fields a Saison style Farmhouse ale with a nice hint of Strawberry. I had it on a warm Sunday evening and it hit the spot really nicely after dinner.

Then came July 4th/Independence Day. As I mentioned in my post about Summer beers, my wife and I have been hosting my family’s annual 4th of July BBQ/Pool party for the past few years and there’s always a lot of beer to be had. Even though I bought plenty of beers in my coolers (River Horse Summer Blonde, Flying Fish Farmhouse Summer, and Yuengling Summer Wheat), friends/family always bring beer. Boy did they bring beer. Somebody brought a Leinenkugel Variety pack and the biggest surprise for me out of that pack was Canoe Paddler, their take on the Kölsch, which hit the spot perfectly for the hour or so while I was grilling.

Double cup for insulation

A good friend and fellow craft beer enthusiast (who occasionally brews his own beer) brought a few beers, including Carton Brewing’s fantastic summer brew Beach, which is reminiscent of their flagship beer Boat but with a nice addition of orange zest that sweetens up the beer. This also helped me at the grill. You know, drinking beer while grilling is good for you because the beer helps to combat the carcinogens in the smoke from the grill. Every time I have a Carton beer, I’m reminded that I need to head down to the brewery.

This same friend, Scott, recently returned from a trip up to New England and was kind enough to bring back some great New England beers to share. A few of us split the famous Heady Topper from The Alchemist, an Imperial/Double IPA that was wonderful. With a whopping IBU of 100, the bitterness of the hops was balanced so well with a strong malt presence which made the beer a welcoming taste to this typically non-IPA drinker. The same can be said for the other two Vermont beers Scott brought,  the Sip of Sunshine and Second Fiddle from Fiddlehead Brewery the few of us shared.

Another highlight from early July was a classic Belgian Pale Ale, Palm, which for a pale ale has a nice and low IBU of 18, which made for a perfect dinner beer. I can see myself returning to this beer in the future, especially since it seems to always be on draught at a local, popular eatery.

One of the other variety packs leftover from the big Fourth of July bash was the Samuel Adams Summer Variety Pack. This year’s summer variety included (of course) their popular Summer Ale, a Helles Lager they are now calling Golden Hour, a tasty Hefeweizen (the best of the pack and a solid interpretation of the style), A Pale Wheat Ale with Yuzu fruit, Tropic of Yuzu which was very bland, a Berliner Weisse which I haven’t yet had and the beer nobody ever wants in the variety pack, their Boston Lager. Golden Hour was somewhat bland, but that Hefeweizen was pretty good.

I stopped over at Lone Eagle Brewing for the July monthly Brews and Board Games meet up. I was hoping to have their wonderful Hefeweizen again, but that was all tapped out so I tried their Witbier which was excellent and perfect for the warm day it was. I followed that up with their Nitro Oatmeal Stout. I’d had the non-nitro version of the Stout and it was delicious. While the Nitro version was good, but I think I prefer the standard version.

That perfect looking pint is Lone Eagle’s Nitro Oatmeal Stout

Sunday Nights when I watch Game of Thrones, I have a ritual. I like to try a new beer, usually a “big” beer, something with a higher ABV or a beer that only comes in larger bottles (like Neshaminy Creek’s Mudbank Milk Stout). I wanted to try another mead, so I saw B. Nektar’s Zombie Killer on the shelf which appealed to me for the ingredients and the name. Technically this one is considered a “Cyser” according to untappd, which is essentially a blend of Mead (A.K.A. honey wine) and cider. This particular version was sweetened with cherries, which made for a pleasant Sunday evening drink. This one, coupled with the wonderful Exit 3 Blueberry Braggot from Flying Fish I had in the middle of the month, makes me want to try more meads. There’s a meadery here in NJ – Melovino Meadery so I don’t have too much of an excuse not to try more.

Couldn’t quite hide the logo of that other beer on the glass. That would be Sully flopped out in the background

The beer that probably surprised me the most, was Schöfferhofer Grapefruit. Well, second most since the East Coast IPA from the Beer Camp pack surprised me the most and was probably the “new to me beer” I enjoyed the most in July. As I have said, even in my most recent beer review, grapefruit and I just don’t get along. But, this beer was another leftover from the 4th of July so I figured, it was in the fridge, I’ll give it a try. I’m glad I did because this popular German Radler / Shandy was extremely thirst quenching and it seemed only the sweetness of the grapefruit came through in the beer with very little of the bitterness. Between this and the 3 Citrus Peel Out I reviewed a couple of days ago, I may have to re-examine my thoughts on grapefruit and beer.

So, there you have it, a plethora of “new to me” beers in July, which are edging me closer to 1,000 unique beer check-ins on untappd. There were definitely a few beers I’ll be consuming again, and a couple I hope will become more widely available.

Ein Prosit!