Draught Diversions: Four Pack Favorite Breweries 2018

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…

As a companion piece to my 12-pack of favorite beers of 2018, here’s a four pack of favorite breweries for 2018. Some of these I visited, others I’ve had many beers from over the year, and a couple are relative “rediscoveries.” Going alphabetical this time around.

Bell’s Brewery
Total “new to me” Bells’ beers checked in on untappd in 2018: 9

I’ve written quite a bit about Bells over the last year and shortly after I featured Bells on my wishlist of breweries for NJ, it was announced that Bells struck a deal to begin distributing into NJ. I suspect that was a deal years in the making, but I’ll just say it didn’t actually happen until after I published that wishlist post. Just sayin’. I reviewed one of their beers as a welcome to NJ and had 9 beers altogether from Bell’s in 2019. Granted, I had Oberon Ale in 2017  which is a standout summer/warm weather beer. The most well known and beloved beer in their portfolio is probably Two Hearted which I had at an airport in Houston in January. Other standouts being Double Cream Stout and Poolside. Each beer has been quite good and I expect I’ll be buying more of their beer in the future. I’m really looking forward to Hopslam, which should be hitting NJ shelves a week or two after this post publishes.


Conclave Brewing
Total “new to me” Conclave beers checked in on untappd in 2018: 9

Probably the least surprising thing to a appear on this blog is me stating that Conclave is a favorite brewery, they are indeed my favorite New Jersey brewery. Everything I have from this brewery is outstanding, with nothing less than 3.75 rating, and most over 4.25. Their best beer, Process Pils made my best of 2018 list earlier in the week, while Grey Havens was probably the best use of Vanilla I’ve had in a beer outside of Dogfish Head’s Oak Aged Vanilla World Wide Stout. Conclave continues to brew what many in NJ rank among the best IPAs in the state. Other 2018 standouts for me include Intuitive Function IPA, Moon Door IPA and new twist on their spicy stout, Mexican Evening.

Dogfish Head Craft Brewery
Total “new to me” Dogfish Head beers checked in on untappd in 2018: 13

One of the classic American Craft breweries I wrote about last year and one that would probably be on the Mount Rushmore of American Independent/Craft Breweries. Considering much of their output aligns on the IPA side of the beer style chart and I’ve come to not just drink but seek out and enjoy IPAs over the past year, my appreciation for the wizardry of Sam Calagione has only grown. Everything I had from Dogfish Head in 2018 was excellent, including a new summer go-to SeaQuench which I had for the first time this year. Other standouts are Burton Baton, Fruit-Full Fort, and 75 Minute IPA. I’m really looking forward to what they’ll be brewing and selling in 2019 especially Raison D’Extra.

Tröegs Independent Brewing
Total “new to me” Tröegs beers checked in to untappd in 2018: 10

Continuing to appreciate the classics of American Craft brewing with the brewery I’d probably consider my favorite of 2018, in terms of the quality of the beers I had over the range of styles I had. I’d say a beer from Tröegs made it to one of my monthly six packs more frequently than any other brewery. Earlier in the week, I anointed Bourbon Barrel-Aged Troegenator my favorite new to me beer of 2018, but outside of that beer, many of those “new to me beers” all were superb like the Chocolate Stout which (as of now) is an exclusive to their Most Wonderful Beer Of The Year Sampler. Other standouts are First Cut IPA, Nimble Giant, and Blizzard of Hops.

Image courtesy of MyBeerBuzz

Some additional stats, via untappd’s Year in Beer if you feel inclined…

373 Unique Beers
155 different breweries
101 distinct styles

Top 5 Most Checked in beers (I usually don’t check in the same beer multiple times unless I’m having it at multiple locations or I really really like it):

  • Two Hearted Ale (Bell’s Brewery) – 5
  • This Town (Carton Brewing) – 4
  • Centennial IPA (Founders Brewing) – 3
  • Pale Ale (Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.) – 3
  • Wobbly Cow Coffee Milk Stout (Flying Fish Brewing Co) – 3

Top 5 Most Checked in beer styles:

  • IPA – American – 52
  • Pale Ale – American – 24
  • IPA – Imperial / Double– 19
  • Stout – Milk / Sweet – 12
  • Saison / Farmhouse Ale – 11 (This surprised me the most)

Top 5 Most Checked in breweries:

  • Carton Brewing – 23
  • Dogfish Head Craft Brewery – 27
  • Lone Eagle Brewing– 16
  • Bell’s Brewery – 14
  • Tröegs Independent Brewing – 12

459 Badges Earned

Draught Diversions: Beer Ratings

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…

This is probably something I should have posted earlier in the life of this blog, but I thought giving a brief overview of how I rate the beers from a number standpoint and how that translates into what the beer actually fits into my refrigerator rotation. I’ve recently started rating beers on Beer Advocate, but this post is mostly about my ratings on Untappd.

Untappd, for the uninitiated is a social media platform for sharing thoughts and ratings on beer with their friends, both in “real life” and on the intarwebz and social media. There are various “rewards” like a badge for checking into distinct beers of a specific style; every 5 distinct beers gets you a level in the badge. There are also some promotions for local beer fests and similar beer-related things.

Most sites / apps like Untappd feature a ratings scale of some sort. Untappd uses “bottle caps” rather than stars, allowing users to rate from one to five bottle caps in increments of quarter bottle caps. The ratings scale at Beer Advocate is even more granular than untappd. Understandable since BA is THE online institution of beer communities. Another example, though not for beers, is goodreads, an online book sharing/rating community where I’ve been a member for quite a few years. The rating scale for goodreads is a scale of 1 through 5 whole stars.

So, how do these “bottle cap” ratings translate for me?

4.75 to 5 Bottle Caps
The Best of the Best for me, beers like Founders KBS and Backwoods Bastard, Carton Brewing’s Regular Coffee and Weihenstephaner’s Hefeweissbier. Most cases, these are beers that are limited release but I always try to get them when they are released.

4 to 4.5 Bottle Caps
These are the beers I’ll consider “go-to” beers in constant rotation. For example, I usually get about two six packs for myself when I visit my local bottle shops. Often, one six pack may be of something new, but usually, the other six pack is for one of my favorites that is always good to have available and pairs with just about anything. Beers like River Horse’s Oatmeal Milk Stout in winter, Victory Brewing’s Kirsch Gose in summer, or Great Lakes’s Edmund Fitzgerald Porter and Two Roads’ Honeyspot Road IPA year round. Like the above grouping, I’ll check beermenus.com to see where I can find these beers.

3.5 to 3.75 Bottle Caps
Middle of the road beers for me. A 3.75 is a beers that I liked and might try again but probably won’t go out of my way to hunt down. Something in the beer worked well enough for me that I’ll get it again when I see it among the sea of craft beers, beers like Brooklyn’s Oktoberfest or Magic Hat’s #9. These are beers I’m happy to see among the choices at a bar with limited taps.

3 to 3.25 Bottle Caps
These are slightly below average beers for my palate. In many cases, the exact rating of 3.25 Bottle Caps is an indicator of a beer that isn’t necessarily to my taste but still a quality beer. One example is Saranac Caramel Porter, a style I like, but one that had one thing very off about it, in this case too much of a cloying sweetness. Similarly, the 3.25 I gave to Sixpoint Brewery’s Bengali IPA: a beer not particularly to my palate, but I recognize the beer is well made.

2.5 to 3 Bottle Caps
Anything below three bottle caps didn’t do much for me. In most cases, it isn’t something I can even drink, but I recognize that the hop level, smokiness, or something else is what people want. Brooklyn’s Summer Ale is listed as a Pale Ale with an IBU of only 18, but I recall a very strong aftertaste that wasn’t refreshing at all. Another good example in this range is Great Divide’s Hibernation Ale which I liked on the initial taste, but the aftertaste threw the whole beer out of whack for me.

Below 2.5 Bottle Caps
These are mostly drain pours. I haven’t rated many beers in this range, to be honest. These are perhaps poorly made beers or some combination of ingredients and style that didn’t work for me. Lagunitas’s Dopple Weizen is an example of a beer I rated .5 bottle caps. This was perhaps the most disappointing beer I’ve had in years. I was expecting a smooth, sweet, caramelly, low-IBU weizenbock but what came out of the bottle was a mild IPA. It was the exact opposite of what a weizenbock should be in nearly every way imaginable and just about made me gag. The only reason I gave the half star was because it actually looks like some other weizenbocks I’ve enjoyed when poured into the glass.  Thinking about this beer months later still has me angry at it. Another one was Long Trail Brewing’s Summer Ale which was a bland, bitter Golden Ale.

I suppose the bottom line is that it is easier to rate a beer I really like high, a beer I strongly dislike low, while those middle of the road beers are the toughest to “rate.”