Draught Diversions: Favorite Beers of 2021

Somehow, I’ve rolled into a fifth annual roundup of my favorite beers. Like my previous Favorite of the Year 12-pack posts, while I’ll still have beers with very high untappd ratings, this post features “Favorite” beers of the 336 unique beers I checked into untappd in 2021, from 104 different breweries. What does that mean? Well, there were beers I consumed in 2021 which I awarded a high 4.75 rating, but I may be including a 4.25 beer that I enjoyed more in this twelve-pack (or half case). Put it another way, there were some highly rated (4.5) beers I enjoyed in 2021 that one beer was enough was enough, while some beers I may have rated at a 4.25 I would have multiple times. Or still another way – some movies are incredibly well-made masterpieces, but one viewing is enough whereas some movies you love and want to watch over and over or will leave on the TV no matter where in the running time you catch it.

As always, for the purposes of this post New means “New to Me” because a some beers on this list have been around for a few years, but I had the beer for the first time in 2021.

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Before we go further down the beer road, a little plug for my old blog, which is where I write, rant, and rave about Fantasy, Horror, and Science Fiction books. Well, I can’t say “write” because I haven’t posted there too much over the last few years, but was posting multiple times per week for quite a few years. Over there, I mostly write about the books I’ve read, some of the movies and TV shows I’ve watched, and other assorted random stuff. That blog has largely been collecting virtual dust, but I decided to post about the books I enjoyed reading the most in 2021. So have a look and maybe you’ll find a good book or four to read. 

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Back to our regularly scheduled beer programming…

The standard NJ bias shines through on this list as 8 of the beers are from NJ breweries. I’d say 75% of the beer I bought & consumed in 2021 was made in a from NJ breweries, so this shouldn’t be a surprise. This list could have easily been comprised of 3 or 4 breweries, but the one rule I’ll stick to from past years is allowing only one beer per brewery to appear. That rule made it difficult to whittle down some breweries from whom I’ve had upwards of 10 beers in 2021.

Here’s a Breakdown:

  • 8 from NJ breweries
  • 2 from PA breweries
  • 4 Lagers
    • 2 Pilsners
    • 1 Dark Lager
    • 1 Helles Lager
  • 2 Stouts
    • 1 Milk / Sweet
    • 1 Imperial / Double
  • 1 Porter
  • 1 Sour
  • 1 Barleywine
  • 1 Extra Special Bitter
  • 1 Kölsch
  • 1 English Dark Mild

On to my 12 Favorite “New to Me” Beers of 2021

12. Grand Cacao | Tröegs Independent Brewing | Stout – Milk / Sweet | 4.25 bottle caps


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When the brothers behind Pennsylvania’s Tröegs Independent Brewing release a new year round beer, it is worthy of note. When the beer is as good as Grand Cacao is, it is even more noteworthy. This beer is an outstanding Milk Stout with heavy chocolate overtones making for a nearly perfect dessert beer. This is similar to the Chocolate Stout I thoroughly enjoyed which was released in the Most Wonderful Beer of the Year variety pack in 2018, but maybe amped up more. I even commented on when I enjoyed that beer here and on Instagram/twitter that the Chocolate Stout should be in regular rotation, it is almost as if the Trogner Brothers listed to me. :D. Grand Cacao has immediately become a top Milk Stout for me.

11. La Di Da Di: Banana, Peanut Butter & Vanilla | Twin Elephant Brewing Company I Porter – Imperial / Double | 4.25 Bottle Caps

This is a perfectly balanced dessert beer. The peanut butter is great and blends with the vanilla and banana very nicely. Too may beers with peanut butter in them use powder or the peanut butter tastes like a stale Reese’s Peanut Butter cup. Not this beer, oh no. This is delicious and worth savoring. I’m not sure if this beer is still available on tap at Twin Elephant, but I’d love to try other variants on the beer.

 

10. Extra Stockton Bitter | Odd Bird Brewing | Extra Special / Strong Bitter | 4.5 bottle Caps

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This is beer in a quintessential British style as it is meant to be. Top notch flavors from fresh ingredients crafted with care and attention. I get mild bitterness on the initial sips of Extra Stockton Bitter, which is on point. The cask delivery gives the beer an added quaff and body that enhances the flavors of the maltiness. There’s an extremely balanced and welcome sweetness on the finish of the beer. This beer, for me, exemplifies why I like craft/independent beer so much. It isn’t a style you’ll find everywhere, but it is a passion project of a beer (one might say) that delivers something really special, no pun intended. This beer alone makes it worth the trip to the brewery, in my humble opinion.

9. Polyphonic | Ashton Brewing Company | Pilsner – German | 4.5 bottle caps

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Ashton Brewing is growing into one of the best Lager brewers in the State of New Jersey. Their first Pilsner, Jersey Dreamin’ was great, so early on Ashton showed a deft hand at brewing. Polyphonic is just as good, maybe even a little bit better. Such a clean, crisp pilsner is an example of why Pilsner became such a beloved style and another winner from Ashton Brewing.

 

8. Scrag Mountain Pils Salt & Lime | Lawson’s Finest Liquids | Pilsner – Czech | 4.50 bottle caps

This the kind of beer I want cold and in my hands as soon as I’m finished yard work or sitting by the pool. In fact, the second time I had the beer I did exactly that, finished mowing the lawn and cooled off in the pool with this beer. As it turns out, the opening sentence of this paragraph was written shortly after my first experience tasting the beer. There’s something to be said for taste and timing in general. In specific for Scrag Mountain Pils Salt and Lime, this beer was *perfect* for that post lawnmower refreshment while relaxing in the pool (as in the picture above). I’d say that Scrag Mountain Pils with Salt and Lime is a must have for the summer 

7. Vanilla Maris | Barleywine – English | 4.5 Bottle Caps

What a fantastic Barleywine this beer is. The English Barleywines are more malty and sweet compared to their hoppy cousins from America and often exhibit hints of toffee in the flavor profile. This beer does indeed have that element to it, which plays wonderfully with the vanilla beans on which the beer was aged. Another standout from Timber Ales.

 

6. Boat Ramp Champ | Cape May Brewing Company | Lager – Helles | 4.5 Bottle Caps

Being on Social Media can be a good thing. You get to see beers months ahead of their release to the public, like this Helles Lager from Cape May Brewing Company. They don’t brew/can/distribute many lagers, but when they do, they do them well (Cape May Lager from a couple of years ago; my new summer go-to, Tan Limes; and their annual Oktoberfest), so I was really looking forward to trying this one and I was absolutely not disappointed. This is one of the best Helles Lagers I’ve ever had, a fantastic American interpretation of the classic German style, and it might be my favorite beer from Cape May Brewing Company.

 

5. Uncharted Waters Blueberry and Cinnamon | Jersey Cyclone Brewing Company | Sour – Fruited | 4.5 bottle caps


I’ve been a fan of Jersey Cyclone Brewing since they opened a couple of years ago, their lagers and stouts are superb and they make tasty IPAs. However, this Blueberry/Cinnamon sour ale, Uncharted Waters, might be the best I’ve had from them. Lactose is added to balance out the tartness and sour elements for an outstanding beer. The beer reminds me of a blueberry crumble or blueberry cinnamon pie in beer form. Simply a delicious beer. I’ve since had a few of the Uncharted Waters variants from Jersey Cyclone and while they’ve all been very good, this one stands a half-head taller.

 

4. Yonder | Icarus Brewing Company | Mild – Dark | 4.25 bottle caps

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Icarus again was a top brewery for 2021, which made the process of determining which beer would make it to this list even more difficult. I may have had other beers over the year that were technically better than this beer, but Yonder was quite simply my favorite. The style – English Dark Mild – isn’t what I’d consider a go-to style for me. Or it wasn’t before this beer. I tried the beer and fell in love with it, and it is a beer that has become one of the few beers upon which my dad, my brother-in-law, and I agree upon since we typically lean to different styles. But this beer…there is so much flavor in a beer that has such a low ABV (4%). I buy it whenever it has become available this year and is just a damned fine beer.

 

3. Paddy’s House Kölsch | Source Brewing | Kölsch | 4.75 bottle caps

The is beer is the winner of a homebrew contest, and there’s no question of the quality. Of the 30 beers on untappd I’ve had categorized as “Kölsch,” this is at least the best American version and maybe the best period. This was slow-poured to allow the flavors to express themselves even more potently, some malt/breadiness with a crisp finish that has some hops and a wonderful mouthfeel. This is everything I want in a beer.

 

2. Czech Dark Lager | Weyerbacher Brewing Company| Lager – Dark | 4.75 bottle caps

Weyerbacher_CzechDark

Weyerbacher is one of the great Northeast breweries so I was very happy to visit on my birthday as I’d never made it across the Route 78 bridge to Easton to visit them. I saw a Czech Dark Lager on draft and knew I had to have it, despite the fact that Weyerbacher typically isn’t known for low ABV lagers. This beer was outstanding, maybe my favorite of the style and likely will be my favorite new-to-me beer of the year and maybe even the beer I’ve enjoyed the most from Weyerbacher. Yes, I’ve had Sunday Morning Stout a few times. I brought a crowler home and when I cracked it open 10 days after the canning date, it held up very nicely. Simply put, a superb beer I wish they’d bring into more of a regular rotation than a test batch. Over the last year or two, the Czech Dark Lager has emerged as a top “new to me” style and this one is simply an outstanding take on the style.

 

1. Tenth | Kane Brewing Company | Stout – Imperial / Double | 5 bottle caps

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It really shouldn’t be a surprise at this point, every year my top beer is a barrel-aged beer, and only one year was that beer not a barrel-aged stout (it was Bourbon Barrel Aged Troegenator, a doppolebock). I’ve had more beers from Kane this year than any previous year and second only to Icarus in terms of quantity of new beers in 20201. Tenth is the best beer I’ve yet to enjoy from the great NJ brewery. I’ve said it the last three years about my favorite beer of the year, but Kane Tenth has risen to be my favorite barrel-aged beer. It is absolutely perfect and with out flaw. The bourbon elements are present, but don’t overpower the malt elements from the stout. I wish I bought more than one bottle, now.

Some other notes:

Although the pandemic made visiting breweries a little more challenging for much of 2020, I was able to visit the following breweries for the first time in 2020:

Alternate Ending Beer Co (Aberdeen, NJ)
Böser Geist Brewing Co (Easton, PA)
Brewery Ommegang (Cooperstown, NY)
Bull N Bear Brewery (Summit, NJ)
Buttzville Brewing Company (Washington Township, NJ)
The Drowned Lands (Warwick, NY)
Invertase Brewing Company (Phillipsburg, NJ)
Log Tavern Brewing (Milford, PA)
Last Wave Brewing Company (Point Pleasant Beach, NJ)
Odd Bird Brewing (Stockton, NJ)
Source Breiwng (Colts Neck, NJ)
Two Rivers Brewing (Easton, PA)
Weyerbacher Brewing Company (Easton, PA)

Breweries whose beer I checked in/enjoyed the most according to untappd, which should be a shock to nobody reading this blog:

Untappd_TopBreweries_2021_RB

 

Thanks to my readers for reading and to the breweries here (and everywhere) for continuing to make delicious beer! Here’s to another good year of beer in 2022!

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Draught Diversions: October 2021 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…

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Stout season is officially here! A couple of beers on this month’s edition of the Tap Takeover Six Pack are seasonally appropriate in that regard and one, a porter, fits the mold too. I made two visits to Kane Brewing this month and a visit to Icarus, so those breweries made up much of what I enjoyed in October 2021 even if only one from each appears. Four beers from New Jersey, on from New York and one from Germany. Let’s get on with it, shall we?

La Di Da Di: Banana, Peanut Butter & Vanilla (Twin Elephant Brewery) | Porter – Imperial / Double | 4.5 Bottle Caps on untappd

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Twin Elephant gets a lot of love for their IPAs (and rightfully so), but their dark beers have been my jam since they launched five years ago. This one is a perfectly balanced dessert beer. The peanut butter is great and blends with the vanilla and banana very nicely. Too may beers with peanut butter in them use powder or the peanut butter tastes like a stale Reese’s Peanut Butter cup. Not this beer, oh no. This is delicious.

Das Beste (Icarus Brewing Company) | Kölsch | 4.50 Bottle Caps on untappd

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This is the first Kölsch / Kölsch style ale from Icarus and boy howdy is it delicious. I enjoy a good Kölsch and this is one of the better ones I’ve ever had. Very glad to see a style like this come out of a brewery largely known for IPAs and boozy stouts. But I shouldn’t have been surprised in the least about the quality of the beer because for my tastes, Icarus simply doesn’t make bad beers. That may be relatively clear since they make more appearances here, in both the Monthly Six Packs, and the Tap Takeover in general, than any other brewery.

Premium Verum / German Pilsener (Warsteiner) | Pilsner – German | 3.75 Bottle Caps on untappd

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Sometimes a good, classic German Pilsner hits the spot. That’s exactly what this beer did for me. It is always nice to get the beer in not just Proper Glassware, but glassware with the brewery’s logo on it made specifically for the specific beer. Maybe that helped with the enjoyment a little bit, but the beer itself is tasty enough. Regardless, this was good, but nothing mind blowing.

Brux Royale Belgian Chocolate Stout (Ross Brewing Company) | Stout – Imperial / Double | 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

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Ross Brewing has come out pretty strongly this year, producing interesting looking beers. This decadent stout is just the second beer I’ve had from them and it is an impressively crafted, boozy stout. Roasted malt and bittersweet chocolate are the signature flavors here.

Cinnamon Babka (Grimm Artisanal Ales) | Stout – Imperial / Double Milk | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

Grimm_Babka

I’ve enjoyed some of Grimm’s lighter offerings so I wanted to sample this big, boozy (12%) Dessert Stout. When added appropriately, cinnamon is a nice adjunct and that’s the case with this beer. Hints of cinnamon and cocoa make for a delicious evening sipper. I was a little worried when I had the first sip of the beer, but once it warmed up a little bit, I was able to thoroughly enjoy this beer.

Grisaille | Blend N°1 (Field & Oak) | Saison – Grisette | 4.5 Bottle Caps on untappd

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Under the Field & Oak brand, Kane Brewing has been in the process of making some Belgian inspired beers on the lighter side – Saisons, Grisettes, Lambics. Beers that have funk and some kind of fruit. This Grisette was the first one of those beers I sampled and I could have enjoyed an unending glass of this beer all day. The oak aging lends a hint of vanilla. Slightly funky, effervescent, and delicious.

That’s all I have to say about that.

Draught Diversions: May 2021 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…

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May was a month for a plentiful amount of new beer. I was fortunate enough to enjoy so many good new beers that I had a tougher time choosing six than I have in quite a few months. A nice mix of styles, a brewery or two appearing in the Monthly Six Pack for the first time or first time in a while. This marks the third month in a row with a Barleywine, third month in a row without an IPA, and first time in a two months without a new Pilsner. Only one of these beers was purchased a liquor/beer store (the lone non-NJ beer), the other five were purchased directly at the brewery, with four of those enjoyed at the brewery. Is that too granular of an analyzation?

Saint Alphonsus (Bull ‘n Bear) | Belgian Dubbel | 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

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Had a meet up in Summit, NJ on the first day of the month and we had time before our restaurant reservations so of course we stopped at the neighboring brewery. This is the 3rd beer I’ve had from Bull ‘n Bear and each style has been very tasty. This Dubbel is a very impressive interpretation of the style from Bull ‘n Bear.

Vanilla Maris (Timber Ales/Horus Aged Ales/Mindful Ales) | Barleywine – English | 4.50 Bottle Caps on untappd

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Here I am again with the third beer I’ve had from a brewery…what a fantastic Barleywine this beer is. The English Barleywines are more malty and sweet compared to their hoppy cousins from America and often exhibit hints of toffee in the flavor profile. This beer does indeed have that element to it, which plays wonderfully with the vanilla beans on which the beer was aged. Another standout from Timber Ales.

Morning Bean 2020 (Kane Brewing Company) | Porter – Other | 4.5 Bottle Caps on untappd

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With the world slowly emerging from the Pandemic, a couple of friends and I decided to visit Kane’s Biergarten. Morning Bell is a superb Coffee Porter and they release variants every year. I missed out on the bottle release of this one, which takes the beer and conditions the liquid on Bourbon Vanilla Beans. This beer is an unbelievably delicious porter.

Paddy’s House Kölsch (Source Brewing) | Kölsch | 4.75 Bottle Caps on untappd

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…and after Kane, we visited Source, which was a first for us. A beautiful setting, a warm day, and a cold beer with friends. Well, I saw good things about this beer on untappd and I was not disappointed. The is beer is the winner of a homebrew contest, and there’s no question of the quality. Of the 30 beers on untappd I’ve had categorized as “Kölsch,” this is at least the best American version and maybe the best period. This was zlow-poured to allow the flavors to express themselves even more potently, some malt/breadiness with a crisp finish that has some hops and a wonderful mouthfeel. This is everything I want in a beer.

Blackberry Frukt (Conclave Brewing Company) | Farmhouse Ale – Other | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

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I took a quick drive to Conclave to grab one of the very limited bottle releases (likely to be mentioned in next month’s six pack) and of course had to have some freshly poured beer. I was glad to see this beer still on tap because it was absolutely perfect for warm weather enjoyment. Conclave calls this a “Norwegian Farmhouse Ale” because of the Kviek yeast which brings fun flavors to the beer, but they went further and finished the beer on fresh blackberries for a really special beer.

Triple 5 Phat Crispy (Twin Elephant Brewing Company/Five Boroughs Brewing Company ) | Lager – American | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

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Twin Elephant is celebrating their fifth year this year and they’ve canned a few beers, including this one, the first Lager they’ve packaged. Brewed in collaboration with Five Boroughs Brewing, this beer is just about everything a fan of flavorful Lagers could want in a beer. Refreshing, tasty, a delicious crusher. A contender for my favorite beer from the folks from Chatham, NJ.

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Beer Review: Twin Elephant Brewing’s Shimmy Ye’

Name: Shimmy Ye’
Brewing Company: Twin Elephant Brewing Company
Tap Takeover Feature Article: Twin Elephant Brewing Company (July 2019)
Location: Chatham Borough, NJ
Style: IPA – American
ABV: 7.6%

“A superb IPA from one of Northern New Jersey’s premier IPA breweries.”

From Twin Elephant’s landing page for the beer:

All in together now. Shoot, bloaw! The boom bap’s back so let’s begin, then. Lil’ Shimmy’s big bro, brah…This is salad days IPA with some new hoppy paw prints, Idaho 7 and Simcoe. Different flavors of the same ruthless wow raw juice. Dank En Garde, underlined twice, to satiate your primal hoppy biochemical urges. A ruffian track with slapshots and jackpots of trodden spring grass in the shadow of a pine forest. Gold plates and old truth, notes of funky Pu-erh tea, pungent pine, old trees, apricot jam, citrus marmalade & tropical gummy bears.

It has been far too long since I enjoyed a beer from Twin Elephant Brewing, so when a can release coincided with me being in the area of the brewery, I had to grab a four pack of Shimmy Ye’, one of their top IPAs. Over the course of the last couple of years, Twin Elephant reputation as a premier IPA brewer in NJ has grown in stature; in many of the NJ focused beer discussion forums, Twin Elephant is often named in informal polls as one of the best makers of IPAs in the State As such, I was excited to dive into this IPA. I’ve had this beer’s “little sibling,” Lil’ Shimmy Ye’ which is an outstanding American Pale Ale, so I was looking to this beer even more so.

As I’m wont to write, enough preamble, let’s get to the beer.

A nice pop of the can and a pour into the glass is a super hazy beer, like an orange milkshake. That haziness is from the addition of oats. I’m surprised this beer is designated not as a New England IPA, but as an American IPA because the haze is extremely thick and opaque with this beer.

The aroma is a pleasant burst of hops. Between the look and the smell, this IPA seems like it will be in my (albeit smaller) wheelhouse for IPAs.

The first sip is something unexpected. There’s a very sharp bite from the hops, almost like they are sinking their pointy fangs into my tongue and palate. From the look of the beer, I wasn’t expecting such an aggressive hop announcement on my taste buds. What follows, from the tasting perspective, is a softness likely brought on by the oats.

The hops in this beer are Idaho 7 and a personal favorite, Simcoe. Both hops have tropical fruit and pine elements to their flavor, with Simcoe one of the “classic” hops from the turn of the 21st century, while Idaho 7 is a little more recent first released in 2015. The similar flavors complement each other quite nicely. Overall flavors of apricots and citrus elements play well with the potent piney elements of the beer, making for a very flavorful IPA.

Despite the aggressiveness on the front end of the beer, Shimmy Ye’ is a very approachable IPA. The full flavor the beer delivers the tropical and pine elements that are hallmarks of the style in a very impressive fashion.

I had to include the full wrap of can art because it is so eye-catchy. The gold and black combination pops very strongly and is another great piece of art from Tom Schmitt whose art has graced (I think?) all of the canned beer Twin Elephant has produced. His instagram page highlights much of his work for Twin Elephant.

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Recommended, link to Untappd 4.25-bottle cap rating.

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Draught Diversions: September 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…

September brings the hints of cooler weather and the season of darker beers. September is also when Oktoberfest traditionally begins. Despite the celebration not happening, the Märzen and Festbiers have still been on the shelves since August of this year. One of each is featured in the September 2020 Six Pack. Those two beers happen to be the only non-New Jersey beers in this month’s six pack. One brewery in the six pack will not be the least bit surprising to regular readers of this here beer blog.


Your Lips are Juicy (Ashton Brewing Company) | IPA –Imperial / Double | 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

This is the first hop-forward beer I’ve had from Ashton and I’m very impressed. Great hop blend to give the beer the qualities of a big Imperial IPA balanced out with noticeable, and balanced malt character for an overall flavor profile that is delicious. The can says “India Pale Ale,” untappd says “IPA – Imperial/Double,” I say this is a very flavorful, hop forward beer.


Shield Oath (Czig Meister Brewing Company) | Belgian Tripel | 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

This is what I assume is the base beer for Paragon of Light, their wine-barrel aged Tripel and is a very solid interpretation of the Belgian style. It is hard for me not to compare any Tripel brewed in the North East, specifically New Jersey, to River Horse’s classic Tripel and this one stands up just fine. I wouldn’t necessarily say it needs to warm in the glass, but the beer should breathe a little before you dive in and drink it. Once it does, the beer is great with some hints of pear in the fruit evocations from the yeast and mild hops.


Rugged Snuggle (Twin Elephant Brewing) | Porter – Other | 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

I believe Twin Elephant has expanded their production capacity over the last year because they are releasing cans of their beer on a more regular basis. Rugged Snuggle has been in their portfolio for a couple of years so it was nice to see this roasty coffee adjacent porter available in cans. In addition to that fantastic can art by Tom Schmitt, the beer inside is really tasty. Like always with dark beers, a little warmer than fridge temperature is the way I’d recommend enjoying this one to get the best coffee notes.


Oktoberfest (Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.) | Festbier | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

One of the side effects of the pandemic is that Sierra Nevada, for the first time since 2015, did not collaborate with a German brewery for their annual Oktoberfest release. However, the 2020 version is great. This one leans on the lighter side of the Fall German Lager style as a Festbier, but it is supremely balanced and perfectly delicious. This is no surprise to me because Sierra Nevada does everything very well.


Octoberfest (Bell’s Brewing) | Märzen | 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

After a couple of years in the NJ market, I finally tried Bell’s take on the fall classic. My only regret is that I hadn’t tried it earlier. Bell’s takes a lighter approach with their Märzen than some of the others I’ve had, but the beer is extremely flavorful. A hint of sweetness and just a very smooth beer that goes down very, very easily. This beer was featured on the untappd podcast recently and was spoken of very highly, a few of my untappd friends had checked the beer in over the last couple of years and the consensus rating was 4 out of 5 bottle caps and I’m happy to say this beer completely lived up to those expectations.


Aw Raspberries aged in Heaven Hill Bourbon Barrels (Icarus Brewing) | Stout – Russian Imperial | 4.5 Bottle Caps on untappd

Shocker of shockers, another beer from Icarus. I’ve been sitting on this one for a few months and I wanted to share it for a special occasion. My dad’s birthday fit the bill perfectly and we both thoroughly enjoyed the beer. The maple element in the beer is blended perfectly, as are the fresh raspberries. Those otherwise potent flavors don’t dominate the profile of the beer, which shows how well-made the beer is because raspberries can be very tart and maple can dominate everything.  Not to mention the fact that this beer was barrel aged, adding another complex flavor to the beer. Not here, the maple and raspberries are both in harmony with the malt from the base beer as well as the Heaven Hill barrels.

This was a month where it was difficult to trim the amount of good new beers I enjoyed down to only six and no stinkers at all.

Draught Diversions: BREWERY STRONG

Trying not to be COVID-19 all the time here, but it is a reality impacting every aspect of everybody’s every day life. Fortunately, the NJ Beer community is an incredibly strong community of breweries, beer sellers, and beer drinkers. I’ve praised the community in the past and how, in large part, through New Jersey Craft Beer, all the constituents – the people making the beer to the people buying the beer – realize that working together truly does make the participants stronger themselves and the community stronger as a whole.

Along those lines, about a week ago, the fine folks at South Jersey Beer Scene announced Brewery Strong:

Brewery Strong is a non-profit organization that supports people in the brewing, bar, and restaurant industries through programs offering financial assistance, continuing education, and other professional development opportunities.

Excerpted from their Brewery Strong’s opening blog post:

Brewery Strong is the result of Rob Callaghan’s vision to do something to help people in the brewery, bar, and restaurant professions during the Covid-19 Pandemic. Rob, the Sales Manager of Tuckahoe Brewing Company, was a guest on the South Jersey Beer Scene Live! show on March 24th, 2020 and ended the show by saying “Brewery Strong”, and it stuck. “I just wanted to do something to help where I could. We have an amazing community and a lot of people are struggling during this unprecedented time. I knew that we could do something to bring a little big of light to our brothers and sisters in the hospitality industry”.

Rob asked a few of his friends how to make this happen, and within two weeks a Non-profit was formed, board members and trustees were asked to join, and a live announcement was made on the South Jersey Beer Scene Live! show on April 20th, 2020. The response was overwhelming and immediate with over 1000 Facebook followers in the first 24 hours. The message grew quickly and the organization received support from Craft Beer fans and many businesses, pledging donations and buying merchandise from the Brewery Strong Store (100% of the profit goes directly to Brewery Strong), and asking how they could help.

They are accepting straight up donations or, what I assume will interest many people, merchandise with the great logo on it, with 100% of the profit going directly to Brewery Strong.  Currently that merchandise includes T-shirts, mugs, and stickers with Pint Glasses (hopefully!) on the way.

In terms of the people behind the organization, they’ve got a virtual Who’s Who in NJ Beer/Brewing backing the organization:

BOARD OF DIRECTORS

TRUSTEES

Bottom line, this is a good organization with well-known people in NJ behind it, so it is worth donating to or supporting if it is within your means.

As a reminder, I’ve been updating the COVID-19 page here fairly frequently, including today.

Draught Diversions: Twin Elephant Brewing (Chatham, NJ)

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

Bottom left image courtesy of Twin Elephant Brewing’s facebook

You might say this post is a reboot? A Retcon? A Revisiting. The brewery I’m focusing on today did get a small shout out a couple of years ago, but a minor one of about two paragraphs. Since that brief mention of my 2016 visit, Twin Elephant has grown in stature in New Jersey and even New York. Based in Chatham, NJ in the same building that houses an H&R Block office, Twin Elephant has a fairly convenient location, not far from NJ Route 24 and Interstate Route 78. Before my 2016 visit, Twin Elephant had a brewery launch event at The Stirling Hotel (one of the very best beer bars in NJ, in my opinion). That was the first brewery launch I attended and boy was it a good one. I had what would become the brewery’s “flagship” beers – Little Shimmy Ye Pale Ale and Diamonds & Pearls Coffee Milk Stout. At the time I wasn’t as into the hop-forward beers as I am now, but Little Shimmy Ye was so good I had to get a full pour after having a taster. So from my perspective, the brewery was off to a grand start.

Tap List @ Twin Elephant Brewing – 07-23-2019

But that was the public start to the brewery. Behind the scenes, founders Tim Besecker, his then-girlfriend and now-wife Cindy DeRama, and their pal Scott McLusky were home brewers for about a decade before opening their doors to share (for a very reasonable fee*) their beer with the public. To illustrate the smallness of this big world (and especially brewing in New Jersey), my brother-in-law went to school with Tim as all four of the people mentioned in this paragraph grew up in the Murray Hill/Berkeley Heights area of New Jersey. As for the brewery’s name? Well, elephants giving birth to twins is pretty rare, something special, if you will. In a little over three years Twin Elephant has proven to be something just as special.

*The brewery charges $10.50 for a flight of five 4oz tasters. That is a damned fine price for 20oz of beer. Especially because other breweries I’ve visited charge up to $12 for a flight of four or more than that.

As for the brewery itself, it has a very comforting, rustic feel. Much of the seating area is made from wood reclaimed from a collapsed barn. The material, along with the lower benches around the perimeter, as well as some high tables in the middle give a mixed, yet intimate feel. The seating gives communal feel, all told. There’s an outdoor biergarten, but the first thing you see down the hall when you walk into the brewery is a lovely mural of their brewery’s logo – an elephant with two hop cones in its trunk depicted in black on off-white background that really pops.

So what about the beers? A space can be welcoming and comforting, but if the beer is unpalatable, then those seats will not be occupied for long. Little Shimmy Ye and Diamonds & Pearls are the Twin Elephant with the most check-ins on untappd, and their hop-forward beers, i.e. their IPAs, are what bring all the drinkers to the yard, to butcher a song phrase. Twin Elephant occasionally will do a can drop of one of their beers, but be sure to arrive early because those cans go VERY quickly. They’ve been very good about announcing these can releases across social media, mainly Facebook, as well as their email newsletter.

Let’s get back to Little Shimmy Ye an absolutely outstanding American Pale Ale. Twin Elephant uses probably the most popular hops used by brewers for the citrusy profile – Citra and Mosaic, but they also utilize Belma hops, one with which I’m not as familiar. I was so impressed with the citrusy, nectary taster I had during the brewery launch I had to order a full pint. Maybe the only Pale Ale from a NJ brewery that I liked more than this one is Kane’s Sneakbox although another taste/can/pint of Little Shimmy Ye might be required to give a full accounting since I haven’t had the beer in quite a while. Little Shimmy Ye is also the beer Twin Elephant cans more than any of the other beers in their portfolio.

Image courtesy of Twin Elephant’s Facebok

The other “flagship” is one of the best Coffee Milk Stouts brewed by a NJ brewery – Diamonds & Pearls. A perfect beer and coffee marriage with just the right amount of sweetness to make for a sublime and delicious beer. Twin Elephant has canned this one multiple times, too, I was lucky enough to get 1 can during a past canning run.

From my May 2017 untappd check-in

One of the other beers they’ve canned multiple times is Here There be Monsters, but on the second canning, they redid the artwork with an absolutely stunning piece by Tom Schmitt. As I said in my September 2018 Six Pack, “The beer inside, which evokes those juicy citrus and tropical notes that so many IPAs do nowadays, lives up to the dark and lovely can art on the outside of the beer.”

Awesome can art, right? Glass from their “Brewery Launch” at the Stirling Hotel

Twin Elephant has quite a few beers that honor New Jersey. The beer I reviewed this week, Bowcraft shares its name with a recently and sadly closed amusement park in Scotch Plains, NJ. An imperial Red Ale I had during my visit to the brewery, The Bayonne Bleeder, is the nickname of Chuck Wepner, the boxer from Bayonne, NJ who went 15 rounds with Muhammed Ali and inspired Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky film and character. I couldn’t pass it up since my Mom is from Bayonne. Red Ales aren’t my go to beers, but I liked this one. Chuck’s Garage is named for the place where Tim, Cindy, and Scott refined their brewing skills, Chuck is also Scott’s dad. A porter, Old Raritan gets its name from the largest river to run through the State of New Jersey. Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey’s theme song is “On the Banks of the Old Raritan,” too. I really need to try this not just because of the name (as readers may well know, I’m a Rutgers grad), but because of the smorgasbord of ingredients in this spicy milk porter. Their brown ale, Jersey Squirrel is pretty obviously named for the ever-present tree rodent. Maybe the sibling beer to Bowcraft is Action Park a Pale Wheat Ale. Action Park is probably the most infamous “amusement park” in NJ’s history. After all, it is nicknamed “Traction Park” for all the injuries sustained at the park.

Twin Elephant lists 273 beers on untappd and a quick glance through the beers I haven’t had makes me really want to try them based on the quality of those I’ve enjoyed. In addition to the beers I’ve already mentioned, one big standout is Grimmace, probably one of the best fruit-infused beers I’ve had. This is a wheat beer conditioned on blueberries and lemon peel and is absolutely delicious. My picture doesn’t capture how great the purple beer looks. I called out the banging summer beer, “Worker Drone” as the biggest highlight of the Bridgewater Beerfest recently. Dude Maintain has elements of West Coast IPA (piny) and East Coast IPA (Juicy) for a really nice blend and a wonderful hop profile. Chingas, a Black IPA which had the best elements of a stout and IPA in one beer. Tag You’re Wit was the third beer I had back on their launch day and hit the spot as a really nice Witbier. Gathering Clouds was maybe the best single IPA I had at the Bridgewater Beerfest in 2019.

In addition to building a sense of community in their brewery and through their beer names, Twin Elephant gives back to the community. Tim, Cindy, and Scott are involved with MASH, the Morris Area Society of Homebrewers. This is a fantastic example of people giving back to something that helped them to get to their point of success. Twin Elephant holds a Toys for Tots drive during the holidays. The Twin Elephant crew is very supportive of other breweries in the region, I saw Tim at Czig Meister’s third anniversary party and had the chance to briefly chat with him and realized for as great as their beer is, Tim is just as nice of a guy. Twin Elephant has also collaborated with regional breweries on a few beers: Lost Tavern Brewing out of Pennsylvania and Five Boroughs Brewing out of Brooklyn and can be seen at beer fests in the area. Cindy is often called out as one of the relatively few (but growing number of) females in the NJ Brewing community.

Some of the cans released by Twin Elephant

In short, Twin Elephant promotes and exudes the community spirit in all facets of the idea.

Just over three years into their brewing life and Twin Elephant has made an impact and built a respected reputation for exceptional beer. Back in March 2017, they gained some good buzz when they reached the final four of NJ.com’s search for the “Best Brewery in NJ.”  and NJ Monthly had them as one of the 16 best breweries in New Jersey (out of about 100 total breweries in the state). Their cans sell out VERY quickly and their discussion thread at Beer Advocate is one of the more active threads for a NJ brewery.

Great beer, fine people, and a cozy, welcoming tap room. What other reasons do you need to visit Twin Elephant?  That’s enough for me, just make sure you get there early if they happen to be releasing cans on that day!

Twin Elephant Brewing Web site | Instagram | Facebook | twitter | Twin Elephant Brewing on NewJerseyCraftBeer.com | untappd | Twin Elephant discussion thread @Beer Advocate

Some other links of interest:

Beer Review: Bowcraft by Twin Elephant

Name: Bowcraft
Brewing Company: Twin Elephant Brewing Company
Location: Chatham, NJ
Style: Belgian Blonde Ale
ABV: 5.9%

“Twin Elephant has gained a stellar reputation on their IPAs, but this Belgian Blonde is equally praiseworthy.”

From the Twin Elephant’s page for Bowcraft:

The fanny pack is fastened. Snug and bedazzled functional drip glistening in a sun whipped Route 22 afternoon. Slap-bracelet…THWAP! Umbros blowing in the wind and the Reebok hi-tops pumped up on max, cheek all packed with Big League about to get quarters deep into some hadouken bursts! Space-mountain, The Cyclone, Batman the Ride…ain’t got nada’ on the legendary spot. This funnel cake is all about the sweet and grainy carousel of Franco-Belges malt flavors sliced into highlights of Belgian yeast expression and riding it all down the flaked oat coaster. Notes of plum in fruity esters, subtle lemon, light sugar-like character, subtle yet complex hot weather suds for the hatch.

Twin Elephant has gained a reputation over the past few years as a great IPA/hop forward house (spoiler, the reputation is well-earned), but more on that later in the week. I hadn’t visited in almost three years, so hitting up the brewery was well overdue. I had a flight of five (again, more in that later in the week), so when a beer named Bowcraft was on the menu, I had to at least try it. As it turns out, I really like it. Bowcraft, as many people who grew up in the North Central New Jersey area over the last 50 years know, was a small amusement park in Scotch Plains, NJ with a mini golf course, small rides, and an arcade that attempted to emulate the feel of the New Jersey boardwalk. I spent many evenings there during my high school and early college years. As it so happens, Twin Elephant is a relatively short drive from where Bowcraft once stood.

Two of the signs outside of Bowcraft, the left is probably from the 70s or 80s, the right the last sign. (Right Half of image courtesy of TapInto.net)

Bowcraft the beer is a Belgian Blonde Ale. As the style clearly states, the beer pours a golden yellow, there’s a tiny amount of haze. Just a skosh, if you will. Aroma is a little fruity from the Belgian-inspired yeast, as one might expect. Color and aroma – spot on for the style.

How about the taste? Well, the beer was absolutely on point for the day. It was very warm in the brewery, as it was extremely hot outside (one of the hottest day of the year) so the beer hit the spot perfectly. It was the third beer of the flight I had and the slight fruity sweetness was very pleasing. The beer also has a welcome crispness that hit me at the start of the beer that isn’t exactly in contrast to the fruity flavor profile at the end, but the two relatively conflicting flavor aspects work well together.

One of my favorite beers from a New Jersey brewery is Cape May’s Devil’s Reach – a near perfect interpretation of the Belgian Golden Ale/Strong Golden Ale. What I’m getting from Bowcraft is along the same lines, except turned down a notch. The yeast isn’t quite as assertive and the beer is a bit lower in alcohol. Not surprising since Bowcraft is a standard Belgian Golden and Devil’s Reach is a Belgian Strong Golden. I don’t think it would be a stretch to consider Bowcraft the younger cousin to Devil’s Reach .

While Twin Elephant’s most well known beers are their hop-forward beers and an outstanding Milk Stout, a Belgian Golden Ale Bowcraft is a testament to their skill and ability to craft beers in old-world styles.

To sum it up, I liked Bowcraft enough at the brewery that I brought some home in my mini-Growler.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4-bottle cap rating.

Draught Diversions: April 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…

April 2019 started off with a bang, I did a bottle share with some friends/co-workers then had a big blast of different beers in the middle with the second annual (and somewhat disappointing) Bridgewater Beerfest. Quite a few very good beers at the bottle share, but since I only had a 2oz pour of each, I hesitate to include them in full detail aside from pointing out the highlights right here: a 2016 batch of Russian River’s Consecration (an American Wild Ale) and Grimm Artisanal’s Chocolate Cherry Icing on the Cake. One of the participants (a former boss of mine), brought vintages of Kane’s Sunday Brunch and Mexican Brunch. My contribution, Conclave’s Moonwater, seemed to be well-received.

From the April 4th Bottle Share

On to the main six pack, which is a little different this month…

Balinator (Carton Brewing Co) Bock – Dopplebock – 4 bottle Caps on untappd

As soon as I saw that one of my favorite breweries was brewing one of my favorite, least made styles (Dopplebock), I was going to buy the beer. So this beer is made with a great deal of coffee, specifically, per the video Carton put out explaining the beer, coffee beans are added during the brewing process where hops would normally be added. Carton plays a nice coffee beer game and this beer is a really interesting example of the skill they have in blending elements of the two most popular beverages on the planet. This beer is what you’d have if you made a perfect blend of iced coffee and a malty, sweet dopplebock.

Sneakbox (Kane Brewing Company) Pale Ale – American – 4.50 bottle Caps on untappd

The other NJ Independent brewing giant/legend, Kane makes it two months in a row here at the Tap Takeover. This is a beer I’ve been wanting to try for quite a while, especially since coming to enjoy hop forward beers over the last year. However, like most of Kane’s beers, this one was available only on draft only outside of the brewery, while cans could always be purchased at the brewery. As of this month (April 2019), Kane started to softly distribute this to Wegman’s stores throughout New Jersey. As soon as I saw it available at my local Wegman’s I picked up 4 pack. This has a damned near perfect hop profile from the Citra hop and is probably my favorite American Pale Ale. A beer that is perfect for any occasion or any time.

Sucaba 2019 (Firestone Walker Brewing Company) Barleywine – English – 4.50 Bottle Caps on untappd

Few breweries in the United States have as respected a barrel-aging program as does Firestone Walker. This beer is their annually released barrel aged Barleywine and is an outstanding beer. At 11.3% this is a complex, hot beer to sip over the course of an hour or so. Like most big beers, the flavors come alive as the beer settles to room temperature. I enjoyed this rich, sumptuous beer while watching the first episode of the final season of Game of Thrones, a perfect pairing. The beer has hints of vanilla, cherry, and a little toffee with a pleasant hop bite at the end.

Da’ Nile (River Horse Brewing Co.) Red Ale – American Amber / Red – 3.75 bottle Caps on untappd

Each runner received a beer and a “medal” in the shape of River Horse’s mascot Brewtus, which doubles as a bottle opener.

Although I haven’t been running much lately due to back issues, when a brewery run comes up, I’ll make the sacrifice. In 2016 when I was running 3 or 4 times per week, my wife and I ran the first River Horse 6K. Three years later, the great NJ brewery finally did their second 6K and as part of the race fees, each runner gets a pint of beer at the finish. Since my wife does not drink beer, I had two pints and this was the best of the two. I wouldn’t typically think a Red Ale would work as well with Vanilla and Molasses as this beer does, but here we are. This is about a notch away from being a porter and is quite tasty. A very sweet beer that seems a little better suited to cooler months, but a nice post-race beer nonetheless.

Moment of Clarity (Tree House Brewing Company) Stout – Milk / Sweet – 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

This is the first beer I had 100% brewed by Treehouse. I say 100% because I had the outstanding IPA they collaborated with Sierra Nevada to brew in Sierra’s 2017 Beer Camp pack. Back to this beer and all I can say is holy sweet breakfast Batman! Take the flavors that comprise the wonderful breakfast of chocolate chip pancakes doused with maple syrup and topped with a shake of cinnamon and blend it with a delicious milk stout. That’s my guess as to what the alchemists at Tree House Brewing did when they made this beer. Although the ABV isn’t a bomber in double digits, the potent sweetness of the beer makes it best suited as a slow sipper.

A Selection of Tasters from the 2019 Bridgewater Beerfest

Top Left: Worker Drone (Twin Elephant)
Top Right: Triple Power Bomb (Brix City/Barrier)
Bottom Left: Wrench (Industrial Arts)
Bottom Right: Ex Cathedra (The Lost Abbey)

I was excited to attend the Bridgewater Beerfest this year since I enjoyed it so much in 2018 (as that link indicates). While there was a good selection of beer, the fest was a disappointment. There are two reasons, the first is is that 6 breweries listed as appearing (with 5 of them being NJ breweries) did not appear or have any of their beer available. If it was just one brewery who did not appear, I could lay the blame at the brewery’s proverbial feet. However, when at least a half dozen breweries listed end up not attending, I have to think the event organizers posted the list of breweries without getting final confirmation from those breweries. The other frustration was that for the beers that were there, most of the people pouring the beer knew very little about the beer they were pouring for us. I will not be attending this beerfest again, I think.

So, kudos to the breweries who did appear and provide their beer, which is worth highlighting, with the four below as the standouts:

Sure this was a bit of a cheat for the six pack by adding a four pack to the six pack, but given the size of the tasters, these four beers equal – in volume – one full beer. There was another beer that stood out head and shoulders above all the others, but I’ll be reviewing that all by itself in the near-ish future.

So there it is, another monthly six pack in the proverbial books.

Draught Diversions: September 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…

September should be the start of cooler weather, with stouts on the horizon. September is most definitely the start of Oktoberfest and this month’s post features one prominently. For the September 2018 Six Pack, three New Jersey beers are featured.

I found myself going for more NJ beers this past month in general. For the first time in a couple of months, one beer really disappointed me.

Always Ready (Cape May Brewing Company) Pale Ale – American – 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

I continue to be impressed with the output from Cape May Brewing Company. I’d seen a few posts about this beer on untappd, Twitter, and Instagram and was intrigued especially when I learned Always Ready was brewed in honor of the United States Coast Guard as Cape May has been home to the USCG’s sole training center since 1982. CMBC offers a $1 discount off pints for active-duty and retired USCG members, year-round. As it so happens, Myke Cole is one of my favorite authors and one of the best human beings I have the privilege of knowing. Among the many things Myke has done was serving in the USCG. I toast this beer to Myke and recommend you all get and read his books. Click on his profile and that shall lead you to some great, powerful fiction to read while enjoying an Always Ready, or any time for that matter. (Gemini Cell might be his best, IMHO).

Here There Be Monsters IPA – American (Demented Brewing Company) – 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

It has been far too long since I had a beer from Twin Elephant and this juicy IPA just about made up for it. They’ve brewed this beer in the past, but decided to can it with some gorgeous can art. The beer inside, which evokes those juicy citrus and tropical notes that so many IPAs do nowadays, lives up to the dark and lovely can art. Bottom line: a great IPA from a relatively young brewery with a reputation for brewing great hop-forward ales.

30th Anniversary Imperial Oyster Stout (Great Lakes Brewing Company) Stout – Oyster 3 bottle Caps on untappd

This one is disheartening because nearly every other beer I’ve had from Great Lakes Brewing has been very good. More to the point, I liked them all and consider a few of their beers classics, so I was happy to see a nice big stout as their anniversary beer. You might think oysters in a stout would be bad, but they can be an interesting adjunct (as in Flying Fish’s Exit 1 Bayshore Stout). Unfortunately, this one didn’t work too well for me and I could barely finish it, there was a very strange aftertaste I found displeasing.

Marzen German Style Lager Märzen (Lone Eagle Brewing) – 3.75 bottle Caps on untappd

I had the beer on draught, but Lone Eagle was selling it in 4packs of 16oz cans.

I has been a few months since I last visited Lone Eagle for board game night, but as it so happened, the night I went was shortly after their Oktoberfest debuted. I enjoyed last year’s batch a great deal and this year’s was almost as good. A really tasty, straightforward lager that does exactly what an Oktoberfest lager should.

Bourbon Barrel Aged Troegenator Dopplebock (Tröegs Independent Brewing) 4.75 bottle Caps on untappd

I’ve been wanting to try this bee for a few years now and I was never able to find it near me, but this year I saw it my local bottle shop. I figured this was a great beer to share with my dad for his birthday and he liked it just about as much as I did. The base beer, Troegenator is a classic and probably the most readily available doppelbock on the East Coast of the US. The Trogner brothers took a great beer and leveled it up considerably. What makes this beer so special is how the barrel aging doesn’t sacrifice any of the bock character of the beer. Some of the characteristics are enhanced – the sweetness (but not too much), the caramel hints, and the maltiness. The aroma is inviting and the beer is nearly perfect. This is one of the five or ten best beers I’ve ever had, probably.

Special Double Cream Stout (Bell’s Brewery) Stout – American 4.25 bottle caps on untappd

I continue to be extremely pleased Bell’s is now distributing their delicious beers into New Jersey. There isn’t anything flashy about this stout – no adjuncts, no flavor additives like coffee or barrel aging. Nope, just 10 malts that beautifully evoke notes of coffee and chocolate, for a sweet stout that is pure delicousness.

So, September is in the book and October is here. Will I dive into some pumpkin beers in October? Only time will tell.