Sunday, November 15, 2009

Tonight I'm Gonna Take That Ride, Across the River to the Jersey Side

New Jersey needs to show more respect to it's own craft breweries. Finding Brooklyn Brewery beers in New York or Harpoon in Massachusetts? No problem. Tröegs has been on tap or served in bottles in every bar or restaurant I've ever been to in Harrisburg, PA. Pyramid Brewing is a staple in Seattle and beyond in Washington and I've even had beers from SweetWater Brewing Company available both on tap and in bottle at a hotel stay in Savannah, GA earlier in the year. But New Jersey? Many stores don't even bother with our six production breweries, and the ones that do often stock one or two regulars from a brewery or two (usually Flying Fish or River Horse) and that's it. Finding them on tap at a bar or restaurant? Damn near impossible, at least around here in Central Jersey. I will very rarely see a Flying Fish tap handle and have seen Climax on tap once or twice, but that's it. Yet stuff like Long Trail Ale, Magic Hat #9, Anchor Steam and Leinenkugel's Sunset Wheat can consistently be found on tap all across the state. Nothing against those breweries or their beers, but I say support your local guy first and then take care of the others!

That said, let's discuss a couple of New Jersey beers. First up is Fall Festivus from Cricket Hill. It pours nice enough, with a lighter amber color and a beige head that has good retention to it and leaves a very nice amount of residue on the inside of the glass once it subsides. I'd say the beer perhaps looks a tad thin overall but it's nothing to fret over.

There's a good balance of earthy malt and a blend of floral and pine hops in the nose. Bread/biscuit notes mix with caramel sweetness. It's simple but well done, and this continues on with the flavor, although the bread characteristics jump out at you here more so than expected, the aforementioned hops and caramel once again do their job to complement the rest of the flavors. Mouthfeel is light with a slight lean toward a bit of a medium body here and there and I also picked up a bit of slickness at times as well.

This was an enjoyable one for sure and it's a no frills beer in every way. It actually reminded me a bit of Cricket Hill's own American Ale, which is another simple but flavorful beer from their portfolio. I think brewmaster Rick Reed would be the first to tell you that he's not trying to blow your palate away with a hop or malt bomb, but is rather gunning for a quaffable, sessionable ale, and in my opinion he pretty much nailed it. While I enjoy the Pumpkin Ales and straightforward Oktoberfest beers that are common to the season, this is a nice change of pace from those styles.

Up next we've got Hefe-Ryzen from River Horse, which is in the midst of a revival as they have been revamping everything from recipes to introducing new beers into their lineup and right on down to their logo and labels. The Hefe-Ryzen is one of their newest offerings from the Brewer's Reserve series.

I was initially not impressed, as it poured looking like a glass of iced tea more than it did a beer, with a murky copper color to it and no head to speak of. It really looked like a lifeless pint of beer.

Thankfully the aroma flavor stepped it up a notch, yielding big bursts of wheat, candy/bubble gum and also banana. Yeast mixes in nicely throughout. It's pretty typical stuff for a hefeweizen but still nice nonetheless. As for any detectable rye, I maybe picked up a bit toward the back of the aroma, but it was incredibly subtle.

Banana takes control right off the bat when it comes to flavor, and bread/yeast follow closely behind. Rye is a bit more present here, yet still toward the back where it blends with a hint of cloves.

Disappointing appearance aside, I liked this one as well, but wouldn't say that I was wowed by it. I think it could certainly make a play to be a beer that appeals to someone who is just moving into craft beer for the first time, yet still work for the beer geek as well. I'd say that it is middle of the road compared to other stuff that's been coming out of Lambertville recently, such as the Oatmeal Milk Stout or Hop-a-lot-amus, but is still enjoyable in the end.

Support Local Craft Beer!

Beer, Hopback, New Jersey, Cricket Hill, River Horse, Fall Festivus, Hefe-Ryzen, Rick Reed, Climax