My fourth article for The Hard Times has no satire and only a little snark. I reviewed the Code Orange record release show that they played to an empty venue and live streamed on Twitch. It was haunting and brutal and amazing. I can only imagine what that show would have been like had it gone on with a full crowd.
I was recently the guest on The Pitch Group, a podcast under The Hard Times umbrella for contributing writers. It was a lot of fun chatting with the dudes Eric and Pat walking down memory lane. Kinda makes me feel like I’m still punk. Give it a listen here.
The best thing that will ever happen to me happened right at the beginning of this year. On January 11th of 2019 (at 3:22pm exactly) I became a father. My son is the absolute man, and every day since I have been endlessly enamored and proud of him. I promised myself that when that day finally came, I would seriously cut back on beer intake, spending, chasing, acquiring, trading, etc. I have tried to do that to the best of my ability, but the sweet sweet nectar’s siren song has yet to release it’s stranglehold on me.
I suppose that could be the reason why the majority of this year’s Top 5 list (and runners up) are from New Jersey. I didn’t travel much for beer, or at all in 2019; save for a couple trades and mini trips, I almost exclusively drank local throughout the year. Since I’m still so bad at Untappd, and taking pictures in general, racking my brain for the best was a challenge. However, I can safely say that these were the 5 best beers I had this year.
5) J. Wakefield Cuvee de Wakefield
7% Berliner Weisse with dragon Fruit, guava, mango, and passion fruit
One of the only trips I did take this year was to Miami with my family for a long weekend. Miami trips are much different now than they were even a year ago. Somehow, by the grace of the beer gods, the weekend we planned coincided with J. wakefield’s Miami Madness day. This is the annual release of their Miami Madness, an amazingly tart Berliner Weisse with guava, mango, and passion fruit. What an event it was, with some amazing offerings, including a slushy version of the namesake of the event that was truly refreshing. However, the best beer (and slushy) of the day, and the best beer I acquired from the release was Cuvee de Wakefield. Cuvee is a blend of Miami Madness and the brewery’s other incredible Berliner, DFPF, which is made with Dragon Fruit and Passion Fruit (hence the acronym). On their own, the beers are world-class. Blend them together and the whole is greater than the sum of it’s parts. It pours a bright red and tastes like candy. My opinion of the three go Cuvee > Madness > DFPF… but in reality, if you’re lucky to try all of them, you’re really splitting hairs as to which one is the best.
4) Homage Reckoner
7% Brett IPA with Citra & Nelson
On my only other trip of 2019 I traveled to Pomona, CA for work. A fun trip that allowed me to do a bunch of cool things (like meet Bill Nye and see an Anaheim Ducks home game), I was also able to visit some great local breweries in my free time. My pregame to the Ducks game was spent at Green Cheek, which makes some great, great beers. However, my trip with colleagues to Homage Brewing was next-level deliciousness. A small tasting room to an even smaller brewing facility made way for some huge flavors. The best beer of the night/trip/month was Reckoner, a brett IPA. It may not surprise you that a brett IPA made this list, being as in 2017 my 3rd best beer of the year was Cape May Coastal Evac w/ brett. It is a style that few breweries have gotten right; Homage should write the book. Incredible crispness, not too tart or bitter or sweet or anything. I brought home as many bottles as they allowed. On top of that, the staff was over-the-top friendly and thankful that we chose their establishment for the evening. A truly great experience. I’ve been lucky enough to try some of their beers since, and they have entered the “top brewery in the country” conversation for me.
3) Troon Demonic Invocation
14.5% Imperial Milk Stout conditioned on Rojo’s Roastery Oaxaca Yaitepec Especial coffee
You never know what you’re going to get with Troon. I mean, when drinking their beer you know you’re going to get something delicious. But when actually going to the facility, there is no guarantee you will walk away with anything to go. Their releases are random and announced last minute. If you live far enough away that the trip is a hike, you are rolling the dice. However, I’d rather be lucky than good, and on a summer Sunday trip to the area, once again the beer gods shone favorably down upon me. A quick stop at Referend Bier Blendery was going just fine, and then the notification hits: Troon is releasing a 14% coffee stout now. So you do what must be done; you drive over, secure your cans, then go to Brick Farm and drink Troon and eat well. This beer is a monster. It tastes more like 9% than 14.5%, and hits all the sweet, roasty, bitter notes perfectly. The 32 ounce crowler format means this beer is best shared with a few buddies, lest you want to be left hammered with diabetes. I wish I lived closer to the Troon/Brick Farm combo, because I’d be eating and drinking good nonstop. Broke, but happy. That might be the title of my autobiography.
2) Carton/Plan Bee Planning Jersey
4.8% barn beer
I said at the beginning of this post that becoming a dad the best thing to ever happened to me. However, everything has positives and negatives, and if there is one tiny down side to being a father, it’s less free time to do what you want. Carton was a second home for me for years. I would go weekly with friends, when the taproom was empty, and just hang and laugh and drink well and enjoy the moment. I am changing, my life is changing, and even Carton is changing, but I miss those simpler times for sure. Speaking of simplicity… this beer is the simplest yet most complex beer Carton has ever made. The team at Carton teamed up with Plan Bee Farm Brewery out of Poughkeepsie, NY and made the NJ version of their amazing Barn Beer. Brewed exclusively with NJ ingredients, it is a perfectly executed, simple table beer that is bright, crisp, refreshing, and pairs well with the best food in the world: New Jersey pizza. I am hoping beyond hope that they make this one regularly.
1) Kane Double Barrel A Night to End All Dawns (2016)
12.4% imperial stout aged in bourbon and red wine barrels
This craft beer experiment has been one wild ride. I suppose at some point everyone will go through a bell curve of involvement/interest seeking out, chasing, trading, and drinking #whalez. At it’s worst, the hobby is grandstanding, deceitful, manipulative and full of shitlords. But, at it’s best, and in my overwhelming experience of it, it is thoughtful, kind, helpful, friendly and full of some of the best people out there. This beer, which I was saving for a major life event, was the pinnacle of the beer drinking experience for me. I wrote the following when I opened it on the day I brought my son home from the hospital:
I did a thing today.
Finally got around to opening my life changing beer. It’s been in my fridge since October 22, 2016; the day after I got married. I brought it to my wedding figuring I’d drink it that day, but it never made it out of the cooler. Obviously the only acceptable thing to do is save it for my next big life event. First born child seems ample enough.
The majority of Jersey people I know and opinions I respect (that have had it) all list this as a top 5 all time beer. Some say best they’ve ever had. Definitely the best that hometown hero Kane has ever made.
I wasn’t even at this release. They released it during a snowstorm if I recall, or right after one. I asked my younger brother to go stand in line and pick one up… I specifically said “Ask for red… if they ran out then ask for white”. He got the red for me and I promised him we’d drink it together.
Today he came by to hang with my son for a bit, and I said hey you wanna open a beer? He said sure. This was at 4:45. It’s 11:15 as I’m writing this and I’m still sipping it.
My wife is was born in Argentina, in an area called Mendoza. Known for its steak, Mendoza is also the Malbec capital of the world. You wine people know that Malbec is a deep, rich, red wine.
So what happens when you take a strong NJ beer from the shore area and age it in red wine barrels? Perfection.
This beer is the closest representation of my newborn son there is. A metaphor for everything we in the craft community are looking for: meaning and experience out of a simple, yet sometimes complex beverage.
Is this the best beer I’ve ever had? Taste-wise, it’s up there. But this beer means more to me than anything, and I don’t see any other one comparing in terms of significance. It’s now 11:50 and I’m still sipping… trying to make it last as long as possible. Savoring the moment of this beer and this time. Once it’s gone it’s gone. Sometimes, it’s “just beer”, but not always; might as well enjoy it.
Honorable mentions that made this list a bitch to make:
Fox Farm – Dwell: 5.9% American Pale Ale. That’s it. Just a really really good pale ale from Connecticut that is the first in a long time that made me say “wow”.
Creature Comforts – Gaucho de la Playa: 12.4% imperial stout with toasted coconut & dulce de leche. Inspired by the flavors of the alfajores cookie from Argentina (Gaucho de la playa translates to “beach cowboy”), this beer was the highlight of a very lucritive bottle share. The Argentina inspiration further solidified it in my book.
Kane/Horus – A Bird to Explore all Shores (white label): 10.8% imperial stout aged in Rum Maple barrels and conditioned on dark roasted coffee, cacao and Madagascar vanilla beans. I have a sweet tooth. This beer kicks so much ass.
Green Cheek – Excuse Me, Flo?: 7.5% stout with coffee. The best beer from my Green Cheek trip that I was able to fill a crowler of to bring home. A Dumb & Dumber reference will always resonate with me.
Icarus – Invincible Summer: – 6% pale ale with toasted coconut. I drank so much of this beer. Pairs perfectly with golf, fantasy football drafts, and pools.
A lot of time and effort went into the redesign and launch of my company’s new website, but it’s finally here. This is the second launch I have been a part of in my almost 7 years at the company, and the first one I can say I am actually proud of. Click through and look around if you want to learn about a mechanical engineering membership organization or read some articles on the topic.
I’m not sure I can sustain making this list for too much longer. I try way too many different beers and refuse to document most of them (if ONLY some sort of app existed to make documenting beers easy and efficient). This list was by far the toughest to compile yet. I know, I know, I say that every year; but as Larry Miller exclaimed in his classic bit… this time, I mean it. This year saw me travel to some great new breweries (Jester King, Suarez, Alchemist, Foam, and Aruba’s very own Fireson!), as well as venture back to some old favorites (J. Wakefield, Hill Farmstead, Cape May).
Last year, I went to Tennessee Tech University to document an engineering conference. Specifically, me and a colleague were charged with creating a web mini-series based around a student design competition. Click the image above or here to view the videos.
As 2017 shows itself out the door like a houseguest that’s overstayed it’s welcome, it’s time for one of my favorite exercises of the year. I have to say, last year’s list was much easier to compile. I definitely drank a ton of good beers this year, so I can’t really tell if the average quality of the beers I drank went up to the point that there were no standouts, or if 2016 was just a whale-hunting type of year. I did manage to get to some high-profile breweries this year again, including but not limited to: Cigar City, J. Wakefield, Bearded Iris, and the holy grail… Hill Farmstead, who honestly could have all 5 spots on this list if I was lazy (luckily I’m not). Either way, it was fun going through photos, jotting down names, being reminded of a certain beer or experience or hangout session or bottle share, and putting it into words. Here goes.