What I’m Thankful For in 2019

For BeerNexus.com

Wow it’s December already and 2019 will be over before you know it. Instead of
waiting another month till 2020 to think about all the events and moments I thought I’d
take this opportunity to look back at my craft beer year to see how it went.
The most important thing was that I was healthy this year and was able to go out and
drink the craft beers out there!

Next would be my goto craft beer bar, The Cloverleaf, or as we call it The Leaf. Week
after week they’re rotating a majority of their twenty four taps and bringing in new
beers as well as some of the old standards. Tap takeovers with reps coming in to talk
to, more glassware (what would I do without a few more glasses), special events and
good food. And those events; the Cape May tap takeover is always a great one.
They’re definitely one of the best NJ craft breweries but we really don’t see them
much in northern NJ, because they’re so popular the southern part of the state, but I’
m starting to see them in store now, awesome. And yes the Kane and Carton
takeovers; two more of the top NJ craft breweries. Then there’s a new twist on their
PhD program; rotating beers from different NJ breweries like Icarus and Alementary,
so it’s not only the same one for all three months. Not to mention a revised/updated
MBA (Masters of Beer Appreciation) program, with the differences many that already
have one are doing another one.

The Draught Board 15 IPA Challenge in March was again the best event my beer
club does; another great selection of IPAs. I did contribute three this year, one from
last year’s final four and two others but unfortunately none made the final four like I
did last year.

The introduction of Toppling Goliath to the NJ market in April/May.  

That glorious day at the end of April where we get on the bus and head up to Tap NY.
TAP is always a good time and the long bus ride back does wonders for all the
tasting done earlier.

June, another great month for craft beer; June 1st the Cloverleaf kicked off the
summer PhD list and a good one it is. Jack’s Abbey is now in NJ; they focus on lagers
and they make some good ones. Next was the 4th, MBA/PhD night at the Leaf
featuring Modern Times, another well-established brewery fairly new to NJ. Next up
Saturday June 8th, the fifth anniversary celebration at the Ambulance Brew House in
Nanuet NY. I don’t get up there all that often as it is close to an hour ride, but what a
great place and what an outstanding list of beers to celebrate their fifth!

Whew, half way through the year and it’s been great so far; a lot of pressure on the
second half to keep up the pace and high standards!

July brings another brewery new to NJ, Collective Arts, out of Ontario Canada! But
the absolute highlight is my UConn Alumni Association doing an event at The Other
Half in Brooklyn. Last year’s event was tremendous, even with the blown out tire on
the way home, so there’s a lot of expectation they’ll be up to par. I happen to look at
the paper in the morning and spot a small article that the Pulaski Skyway is closed all
weekend, which is the way I planned to go. So I scramble on Maps, MapQuest and
any other travel app that will give me a route. Last year was an hour and a half and
this could be worse with one of the possible arteries closed; I’m strongly considering
the southern route through Staten Island, but then  I’ll need to travel up through the
west side of Brooklyn, that’s not exciting. I settle on a more northern route 280 to 508
to 7 to 139 to Holland Tunnel. Traffic is actually light, I only make one wrong turn
which I realize so get back on track and bingo we’re at the Holland in no time. This is
a great route; I’m never taking the Pulaski again! Through the Holland, through
Manhattan, through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel and in a couple of miles, there’s the
Other Half. We find a parking spot two blocks away and we’ve made the trip in 50
minutes…and I was worried.

Before the event starts we need to buy some take home so I grab the small hand
truck I brought and we head over. They have six new releases and three others. If it
wasn’t so hot out I’d think we’re in heaven. We make our choices, load the cases on
the hand truck and head over to the car. Halfway there the bottom cardboard case is
falling apart, so we pull out two 4 packs and keep rolling. It appears they’ve started to
use really cheap cardboard and since all the beer is cold and sweating the card-
board is falling apart. We stop and swap cases and the then bottom case begins
falling apart. Vince is now carrying four 4’s and I’ve got the hand truck on a big tilt to
try to make it to the car. What a struggle, but we make it and now begin putting the
beer in coolers in the trunk. Hey what’s the purpose of buying cold fresh beer if you’
re going to leave it in your 90+ degree trunk for four hours?!? We cool off with some
water and head back to the event, which turns out to be fabulous. Basically we can
have any beer on tap so we wisely, as some of the other patrons happen to notice,
use 4 oz. glasses so we can try more of the beers. We meet some folks we met last
year; renew old friendships and make some new ones; truly a fabulous event. We
relaxed a little before we left and bingo, about 50 minutes to get home; so much for
all the expected traffic, but never look a gift horse in the mouth!

And another surprise near the end of the month, Lawson’s Finest is now in NJ!!! So
can you say “Sip Of Sunshine”; if not go out and have one immediately as it is a
really really excellent beer. I’m still a little confused about Double Sip and Triple Sip;
they’re all 8% so what’s different about them?? Guess I’ll need to do more research.

Here comes August and our MBA/PhD night at The Leaf is an Icarus tap takeover. I
visited Icarus in Lakewood NJ about two years ago and wasn’t impressed. Their IPA
was very nice but everything else was just ok. So not sure if they got a new brewer or
they just decided to use their strength or maybe just go with the flow and start making
lots of different IPAs using the numerous varieties of hops, but they started knocking
them dead. We’ve been enjoying them one or two at a time but here’s our
opportunity for twenty four lines and it was not disappointing!

Later in August was the annual family Reunion and yes I killed it with the selection of
Other Half beers I brought up. But the rest of family are no slouches and brought a
lot of great tasting brews.

And August just kept coming as our tasting group got together for another great
sampling session with The Other Half’s we had picked up, some Vitamin Sea and
Tree House I brought back from the reunion, a couple of Equilibrium compliments of
Ryan at The Leaf along with a few others.

September starts off with a bang as three of us coordinate our final punch in order to
get our next PhD the same night, which for me is my fourth.  The MBA/PhD night
features Troeg’s. Besides enjoying their beers I spend some time chatting with the
brewery rep. It’s always good to spend some time with the brewery reps to learn more
about what each brewery is doing, where they’re at, what they’re thinking, industry
perspective, etc.

In October it was tasting time for our cadre again as we were lucky enough to have
enough new brews from RI, CT and OR along with a few special brews; a 2012
Firestone Walker Dbl DBA Imperial Special Bitter coming in at 12%, a JW Lees 2002
Harvest Ale coming in at 11.5%, amazingly good for a beer that’s been around that
long, and a colab from Carton and J Wakefield Brewing called Blue Milk. So you pour
it out and yes it was a bluish green, had a slightly coconut taste and yes they listed
blue dye #1 as an ingredient; not my favorite of the day.

November I’m off for three weeks to Australia and New Zealand; neither are known for
craft beer but I’ll get to check it out. The first surprise is “Fosters, it’s Australian for
beer mate” is nowhere to be seen and I’m told they don’t drink it; amazing what
nonsense much advertising is. Some of the biggies are Coopers, Victoria Bitter,
Tooheys and Little Creatures. It can get really hot in Australia so they really like their
cold lagers and hey I can appreciate a cold one in the hot weather. To be honest
most were not exciting by our standards but I did have a Wolf of the Willows IPA-
Homage, which was an excellent West Coast IPA and a Hemingway’s Brewery Doug’s
Courage XPA, also very nice.

On to New Zealand and an old friend awaits; Steinlager. Steinlager was first imported
in 1973 and I was drinking it in the late 70’s and 80’s as I thought it better than our, at
that time, American lagers. I used to be able to get it in a beverage store up in
Portsmouth NH but a few years ago they said they couldn’t get it anymore and I
haven’t seen it anywhere else. A little research tells me it was created by Lion in the
late 50’s so it’s been around awhile and still going strong in NZ. There are a few
different versions also but I had to say hello and enjoy the Classic a few times.
Kiwis are no slouches; beer is the most popular drink accounting for almost two thirds
of alcohol sales. I’m up for this and I wasn’t disappointed; from the flight at Mac’s
which were very nice, to a couple from Moa Brewing; Station IPA, a light with some
taste session, and a South Pacific IPA which showcases Nelson Sauvin, one of my
absolute favorite hops, and was delicious (and they import to the US, but doubt I’ll be
lucky enough to find it here) and an Emerson’s Big Rig, a nice hoppy APA. Their craft
beer market mirrors ours somewhat as it is rapidly growing and they’re into contract
brewing to bring new startups into the market more quickly.

I’m home from my trip only to be sent an email from a friend about New Belgium
Brewing, brewers of the classic Fat Tire, selling to Lion Little World Beverages, an
Australasian subsidiary of Japan’s Kirin! So maybe if I took my trip next year I could
have gotten a Fat Tire in Australia… New Belgium took the ESOP route many years
ago and was 100% employee owned as of 2013, but did the 4th largest craft brewery
make a mistake by building an East Coast brewery in Asheville NC in the increasingly
competitive craft beer market? Green Flash was one of the others that tried and took
it on the chin. The good news is it wasn’t AB/InBev and the better news is its Lion,
who currently has a small presence in the US market along with Kirin’s 24.5% stake in
Brooklyn Brewery. Lion wants to increase its presence in our saturated craft beer
market so the New Belgium acquisition puts them at the top and probably means they
won’t mess with the beer!

Now that’s a craft beer year! Okay 2020, 2019 was pretty impressive; let’s see what
you can do!

Glenn DeLuca writes about beer and culture of drinking. He may
be reached by writing thebigG@beernexus.com.

***   ***   ***
Glenn DeLuca
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