Congratulations to Demented Brewing for two years of bringing beer to Middlesex, New Jersey. I'll be honest, there are a few breweries that I've been conflicted about writing about in the past because I was afraid of being a bit too brutally honest about certain aspects. I do realize that beer is the fruit of hard labor and vision for many breweries and it's taken me some time to reconcile this. When I first visited in November of 2015 and had many of their offerings, I left underwhelmed and a bit puzzled by Demented Brewing. They seemed to have the beginnings of a decent New Jersey brewery but the product seemed a bit lost or misguided at the time. To be honest, I think the only beers I enjoyed from them were Astarte, Scarlet Night, and probably Dementia. Whether it's a combination of palate changes or even brewer changes, I'll never be able to tell 100%, but what I do know is this - if you had written Demented Brewing off like I had (for a while) give them another shot.
Harassed by some of my fellow peers within the beer world, I enthusiastically jumped at the chance to go again, in 2017 and see what might have changed since 2015. I am happy to see that Demented has finally been using the area towards the back and added in more tables and chairs to accommodate people, especially since this review spans two visits - one in March, one in April. For my visit in March, I only had an hour to partake in some of the brews from this establishment, and was honestly disappointed, not in the beers, but in my lack of time to further examine almost everything they had to offer. So I put off writing anything until I could give them an honest go. Having 14 - 15 beers on tap is a herculean effort, so I wanted to make sure I gave at least more than half a chance.
First of all, this list is already outdated. As mentioned before, I've visited at least twice in the past 2 months, so ever the forgetful person that I am, I didn't take a picture the second time around. So I'll also be discussing a few beers that aren't on this list but were noteworthy to me. Still, as you can see, there is quite the assortment of beers targeted at just about anyone.
Let's dig right into some of the beers that were tried on these visits:
- Voodoo: Number 4 in the picture above - IPA listed at 6.2% and made specifically with lemondrop hops, this offering was just okay for me. I did enjoy the sample of it, but the lemon zest flavor of it isn't really my style. It is, however, light and refreshing but will appeal to someone on that end of the citrus spectrum.
- Dementia: Number 6 in the picture above - I really enjoyed Dementia in 2015 and still enjoy it now. Based on my notes alone, I seemed to like it more this second and third time around. It's a very solid IPA and a must-try for fans of the West Coast style of beer. It's very nice to a see a beer brewed in this style without being an overly ridiculous malt-bomb.
- Gluttony: A coffee stout ringing in at a hefty 8%, I very much enjoyed this offering. The one thing that really stood out to me about Demented is how much their stouts have improved since my very first visit. They felt quite thin with very little mouthfeel, but Gluttony really made me appreciate how far Demented Brewing has come along. The coffee presence is there and easy tasting. Very enjoyable!
- Wrath: I tried Gluttony, Lust, and Envy. I did not really care for Envy but enjoyed Gluttony and Lust and then I had Wrath and was blown away by how much I enjoyed this Russian Imperial Stout aged in bourbon barrels. Just thinking about it right now, I want to give myself a swift kick in the rear just for not buying a bottle while I was there. I was caught off guard by how good this was. This is definitely a beer to be shared or to be enjoyed outside on a spring or fall day and just sip the evening away. Clocking in at 11%, there was no way I was having more than a sample although I desperately wanted to do so.
- Double Dementia: I have to admit, I don't think I've ever seen an IPA as dark as Double Dementia without it being above 13% ABV. This one does 8.5% ABV and looks like an instant malt-bomb but surprisingly, it's easily more drinkable than a west coast IPA. The malt presence is there, but I've had much heavier beers brewed in this style, so it was a welcome change from the very first time I had Double Dementia in 2015. I'd definitely recommend this more now than I would have 18 months ago, although I still think I'm a bit more of a Dementia fan than it's Double, evil twin version.
- Gallow Hills: I have a personal grievance with every brewery deliberately brewing a New England IPA. Everyone seems to be doing it and everyone has their own version. Some breweries absolutely nail it, others desperately miss the mark and you can tell they are in it just for the cash grab. Demented Brewing... I have an issue with, because I think Gallow Hills is a perfectly good beer. The ABV and IBU's fit the style to a tee. It's not as turbid as other New England style beers and the malt base seems to be more akin to a West Coast beer, but I'll judge the beer by the content and not by the style - anything else is nitpicking by yours truly. Quite frankly, I believe they have a great foundation for what could become a very good NE IPA. It's not perfect, and it has its flaws, but with some tweaking, especially the color of the beer and I could see myself buying this on a consistent basis. At 7% ABV, it's nailing the booziness of the style but it seems like there is something missing here.
- Litha: A pale wheat ale brewed with Citra hops and released appropriately for spring/summer time, this beer is recommended to be porch beer, or BBQ beer, or lawnmowing beer, or beach beer. You get the idea. At 5.8% ABV, it's still drinkable without being too high on the scale. It's not overly hoppy so it's easy approachable for fans of a lighter hopped beer. This was good enough to warrant a full pour.
- Café Negro: A black IPA, more notably described as a "Coffee Black IPA", I REALLY enjoyed this. I've lost track of the amount of times I've found myself saying that New Jersey has a notable lack of good black IPA's from breweries, but this was different. It combined the hoppy notes of an IPA with the perfect roastiness of a black IPA and then took it into a whole other level with the coffee from Benafatto roasters. I don't think I've ever had a black IPA like this before. The nose was straight up coffee and did not taste like a 9.0% beer at all! If you're a fan of a coffee beer or a black IPA, you definitely need to try this.
There's one beer that I am missing that I actually really enjoy - Scarlet Night. I believe this to be one of the best red ales made in New Jersey. I've had it in cans since they released it and on draft a few times during my rounds visiting restaurants and craft beer bars. I'm a low key fan of red ales and find the field within New Jersey a bit lacking, so it's always nice to know that Demented Brewing is doing right by the style.
I have made a 180 about Demented Brewing from my first visit in 2015. The brewery is very approachable for locals and people looking to dive into the craft beer scene, but now I can definitely recommend it as a site for craft beer aficionados who might consider themselves connoisseurs. Wrath is now on my list of stouts to buy if its there when I visit. Café Negro is the black coffee IPA that I never knew I wanted and now love. Litha is excellent. Gallow Hills needs some definite tweaking, especially at a time when a lot of New Jersey breweries are becoming very good at this style. Regardless of how I feel about one or two of their beers in a negative fashion, I can honestly say that I am looking forward to repeated visits in the future to Middlesex and would love to see how they continue to evolve. Salud!