When Jughandle Brewing opened in the summer of 2016, I had stalked the brewery in its early stages and was excited for the promise of another great Monmouth County brewery. Unfortunately, I was let down at the time. My very first visit happened weeks after the brewery opened its doors. The beer wasn't bad, but nothing jumped out at me or really excited me. At the time, I remember thinking that I wanted more in New Jersey than to just fall back on Kane Brewing and Carton Brewing repeatedly when having a beer in Monmouth, but boy, have times changed. I'm not going to lie, I gave the brewery a few repeat visits months after and I just felt like the potential was there but never achieved.
So why would I possibly start a post with a tone of negativity? Because this is a story of redemption and a story of improvement throughout the months since it graced Tinton Falls. I think I have yet to write about a brewery that I did a complete 180 on and there's no better one to do it about than Jughandle Brewing. To speak candidly, the first brew to make me come back and give this brewery a full nth chance was the 4057. I tried it in a flight at Cornerstone Tap & Kitchen in Jackson and was quite delighted with the result.
Hope was restored with the 4057 and I knew I just had to come back and give an official visit. With a bit of higher hopes, I ventured in and saw some offerings I had tried on previous occasions and some that I had never seen before. I was ecstatic to see the 4057 and was a bit timid about some of the others, but still decided to give it the good old 2-flight try. My suggestion would be to check Jughandle's social media. They update regularly with what's available on tap, so that you can see what they offer to meet your beer needs. The signage for the individual beers are beautiful and pop out. It sounds silly, but it actually did get me excited this time around to jump into some flights.
With rabid anticipation, I ordered my first flight:
- Pacifically Speaking: This was a very decent West Coast styled beer. What I enjoyed about this offering was that it wasn't as heavy and malty as some of the more traditional West Coast IPA's. The malt wasn't overbearing and it was easy drinking. It's the kind of beer you could enjoy on a fall day or a warmer spring day.
- Hopshorne Idaho 7: For the record, I've tried different variants of Hopshorne NE IPA. I've had the Zythos, the Medusa, Vic Secret, and of course, Idaho 7. I think out of those 4, the Idaho and Vic Secret have been my favorites. I do like that they are changing some of the hop profiles on an already good beer. It's an NE IPA in every sense of the word. It's turbid, low bitterness, very smooth and highly enjoyable. The Hopshorne series is one of my favorites in the evolution of Jughandle.
- 4057: This is the IPA that opened my eyes and my heart to come back to Jughandle. There's something standard yet unique about this beer. It's really hard to explain. It feels familiar as an IPA but it stands alone. If you ever see this on tap or at Jughandle, you need to try this. It has a certain pop to it that is wonderful.
- Coconut Porter: I'm BEYOND obsessed with this beer. I want this beer all winter long. I'll preface the rest of my judgment on the Coconut Porter with this warning: If you do not like coconut in your beer, avoid. To me, it is the perfect amount of coconut within the beer. It's now overpowering to the point where you lose the flavor of the malts. I do know a few people who this would be "too much" for and maybe too sweet, but honestly, I have the flavor profile that is perfect for coconut beers and this one absolutely nailed it for me. The 8.1% ABV gives it the richness it needs to carry the coconut. If 4057 got me to come back, the coconut porter is what made me stay.
After great success with the first flight, here's the second:
- Mosaic Pale Ale: This one has been around since nearly the beginning for Jughandle, I believe. Not much has evolved since it first got released. I'm not a big fan of it. There's not much to distinguish this beer from any other pale ale. It's average and I wish it was better, especially after seeing the love and thought put into 4057 and the Hopshorne series. I want to see a pale ale along those veins, but I guess this would be fine for someone wanting a more mellow pale ale to start out with... just not for me.
- Black IPA: I've actually had this one a few times on tap throughout the last two years. It's fairly enjoyable as a black IPA, which seems to be a style no one really wants to have fun experiences with in New Jersey, but I think it could be better. I'm not sure if it's the hops involved but at least the Black IPA doesn't give me the burnt coffee flavors I've often found in some others from other breweries. If you want an introductory class in Black IPA's, Jughandle has the 101 course for you.
- Breakfast Stout: Story time - I had the Breakfast Stout the very first time it was released and boy, was it a mess. The coffee tasted burnt to the point of undrinkability and it was honestly the last time I visited Jughandle. I just couldn't put that thought out of my mind so it was with tremendous reservation that I had this again. This is doing so much right now. It has coffee and it's sweet and the chocolate aspects... oh my. If the Coconut Porter weren't on tap, I'd love the Breakfast Stout even more. This beer has gone from one end of the spectrum to the other for me. At 8.1% ABV, it's comparable in just the ABV to the coconut porter. So, as far as suggestions are concerned, if you don't like coconuts but you like dark beer - order the Breakfast Stout.
I'm a firm believer now that Jughandle Brewing is moving forward with extreme positive momentum. I really didn't enjoy much from there in 2016, but my stance has changed in 2018. Is there still room to improve? Yes. Will I hesitate to visit from now on? No. I'd recommend Jughandle Brewery to a wide range of people. In fact, I've had this review pending for 2 weeks and have gone back to re-visit and have even taken a few friends. They were just as impressed as I am now. If you're new to craft beer and are a bit intimidated by the big juicy, hazy bombs of some other breweries or turned off by 11% stouts, you can definitely dive into Jughandle's offerings. Even for some craft veterans, I'd recommend it now. The 4057 is nuanced and sophisticated. The coconut porter is phenomenal. The breakfast stout has improved vastly and THIS version is one I'd love to see in barrels. Hopshorne is a series that I've love to see get perfected and made available consistently.
What I love is that now there are choices and can feel like having a visit to Jughandle is an active option that I choose to pursue. More than just Jughandle Brewing, this shows me that there is always room for growth, improvement, and even some tweaks within the lifetime of a brewery. I can't wait to see whats next for Jughandle Brewing and seeing how they handle 2018. Salud!