Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Take Me to the River (Horse)

I first sampled River Horse's beers about a dozen or so years ago. From that time up until around late last summer, I had always found their overall portfolio to be mediocre at best. Sure, some of the bigger beers like the Tripel Horse were decent, but in the end there always seemed to be an overall lack of inspiration from the brewery. A general disregard for the public perception of their brand even. Anyway, back to late last summer: it was just about the one year anniversary of the purchase of the brewery by Glenn Bernabeo and Chris Walsh, and their efforts to reposition River Horse and take it to the next level along with Head Brewer Christian Ryan were finally starting to pay off.

It started (at least for me) with the Brewer's Reserve Series, which is a small(er) batch release of new styles from the brewery. First in the series was a tasty Double White, which was so successful that it was repackaged as their Double Wit and made available in four packs as a permanent fixture in the River Horse lineup. Next up was the Imperial Cherry Amber Ale which thankfully focused on the Amber portion of the name and kept the cherry notes to a drinkable minimum. The most recent in the series was the Oatmeal Milk Stout and it was far and away the best of the bunch. You may still be able to find some of it on the shelves, but fear not if you don't, as this one is also being resurrected later on in 2009. The coffee/chocolate/earthy malt blend here is just great and as such this was one of my favorite beers of 2008.

Along with the return of the Oatmeal Milk Stout, other beers to look for from River Horse in 2009 include their Hop-A-Lot-Amus, Dunkel Fester Lager, Hefe-Rye-zen (the next in the Brewer's Reserve series) and limited draft only releases like the already released Burnt Sugar Ale, Dubbel Honey Weizenbock and the summer release of the Huckleberry Wheat. Many of the existing River Horse styles are also going through a revitalization with a bit of recipe retooling as well. Finally, label branding is also being recharged with new graphics based around the logo shown above. What we're looking at here is basically a 180 from the previous regime. The enthusiasm from the new River Horse team has been nothing short of amazing and I am once again proud to have them represent New Jersey craft beer.

The one minor gripe I still have is that the cost of River Horse six pack is still about a dollar or two higher than others on the shelf that have been brought in from New England, the Midwest and Even the West Coast. Yes, I know that the hop shortage of the past few years, existing contracts, general production costs, etc can vary greatly from brewery to brewery, but the norm (and it is certainly not the rule) is that the local craft brewery is typically a touch cheaper on the shelves than the competition from other states, not the other way around.

That said, if the trade off for turning over the old ways of River Horse into what they are doing now is a bit higher of a price for much better beer and a passion behind it, then that's a deal I'm willing to make.