Icarus Brewing - Lakewood, NJ
With all the crazy beers and insane variants of stouts and IPA's I've had lately, sometimes it's nice to have a return to normalcy and balance. This is the basis for Icarus Brewing. If you talk to the owner, Jason Goldstein, you'll come to understand pretty quickly that Icarus is quintessentially the Greek myth that fully embraces the theme of balance. The naming convention behind the brewery is quite brilliant, and if you do happen to take the tour with Jason, ask him where he got the name from because there's more than reason as to the "why". But for now, we'll stick with the theme of balance.
Open now for a little over 8 weeks, Icarus Brewing has found a home in Lakewood, NJ. I do have to say that the journey of Icarus is one that I've followed since the very inception. It was the first brewery that I chronicled from build to finish and it amazed me the amount of time that can go by until the doors finally open. It was a long and arduous process, but thankfully, the time had finally come to release this brewery's beer into the wild. With the release of a beer that had been barrel aged since November, I knew it was finally time to go visit Lakewood, once more.
Personal rant: I have to say this, I absolutely love the Icarus Brewing logo. It's clean, simple and has all of the elements of the Greek myth of Icarus. There's the feather in the middle with the top half being the sun and the bottom half being the sea. Between the logo and the mural along with the backdrop for the tap handles, aesthetically this was very pleasing to me.
As for the brewery itself - there are two taprooms which we'll just call the inner and the outer taproom. The inner taproom is the one you immediately walk into. Fair warning: You will probably be greeted by Chewy. SPOILER ALERT: Chewy's the very last picture at the bottom of this review... feel free to scroll down and come back.
Back? Good, let's continue. The inner taproom has a seating area different than what I've seen in most places. The hanging lights add a sense of warmth to the overall decor. The outer taproom is still technically inside the building, but you walk through a door in the inner taproom where you are greeted by the awesome mural painted on the wall (it's at the top of this article). Pick and choose an area and get ready for some beer!
When Icarus first opened, they had a few options to pick from but now that they've had a few weeks under their belt, the taplist has obviously extended. Refreshing is the fact that there are many beer styles represented with just about a single entry of each. There's definitely at least one option that someone will enjoy to look forward to. Two flights were ordered and much to my surprise, the flights of 4 beers also include a small sampling of their soda.
- Panic Pale Ale: Pictured above on the left, this entry was the first sip of Icarus that I had and actually set the tone for the rest of the afternoon. At 5.5%, it's a true representation of an East Coast pale ale. Balance is key here. It's done to the point of making you remember what one should taste like. It's not overwhelming, nor overpowering, it's just really good.
- Ella Ella IPA: To the right of the Panic Pale Ale, was the Ella Ella IPA. I was pleasantly surprised. With such a focus on the juiciest, haziest IPA's on the East Coast, sometimes it's refreshing to come back to something closer to the standard with a side order of adventurous nature. The nose is pleasant on it, there was plenty of tropical fruit to be savored. It's not bitter as some of the east coast "juice-bombs" and it's actually pretty inviting for someone looking to enter the hop world.
- Sunwalker Smoked Pilsner: I can't say that I've ever had a smoked pilsner before, but I admire the bravery in trying to brew on. The nose is overbearing with smoke, but that dies down as soon as a you take a sip of it. Enjoyable and summery, have this with some BBQ and preferrably brisket. At 6.2%, it's a pretty high ABV for a pilsner but the novelty of smokiness was a welcome one to me.
- Birdman Brown Ale: I was just slightly disappointed with the brown ale. The ABV comes in at 6.7% apparently but it tasted a bit thinner than that. It seemed pretty basic, and although I know the purpose is balance, it seemed a bit too balance to me, almost to the point of having very little character. I think this recipe could use some tweaking and maybe be dialed in a bit more.
- Black Mass - Dark Chocolate through a Randall: I let this warm up, because at first glance, the nose and the taste were a bit off, BUT I was very happy to see this settle in and begin to take on the characteristics of dark chocolate. It's bitter and sweet at the same time. Black Mass is a foreign export stout, so if you want to draw a parallel, Guiness might be the baseline. Still, I enjoy foreign export stouts when they come in variants. Black Mass Dark Chocolate takes the basic recipe and is elevated. In this visit, I also saw a few other variants that intrigued me, but I was saving ABV space for a bigger fish.
The final beer for me to review is Old Man Cornelius. A heavy hitting 11% ABV version of their Yukon Cornelius Coffee Porter, Old Man Cornelius was aged in a barrel of buckwheat whiskey since November of 2016. As per Jason, even though the brewery opened two months ago, their license to brew was given to them in November, which allowed them to start off with this brew and give it a few months. The coffee blends in nicely with the subtle flavor of the barrel. It's not overwhelming, nor woodsy, but almost a certain rhubarb characteristic that makes this pleasantly enjoyable. Meant to be sipped and savored, I dragged this out over the course of almost an hour while I conversed with the employees and patrons alike.
I do encourage everyone to grab a beer and take a tour with Jason. It was enjoyable and rather than the dull "Let's get this over with" tour, you get an informative look behind the creative process which Icarus Brewing is based on. I had formed my own opinions before walking around with him and a group of people, but with the explanation, the vision and the idea of the brews themselves began to come to life. It is pretty often that people will visit breweries just to taste the beers but not to really savor what the brewer is trying to accomplish. Although art is always subjective, it doesn't hurt to know where the artist stands when trying to craft something.
This is probably one of the hardest breweries for me to look at because of where I am at in my beer journey. This actually might be the brewery that might change how I look at breweries in the future. I see a lot of characteristics in Icarus that I've picked up from visiting other breweries in New Jersey. I see in Jason the passion to speak about the brewing process that I've seen from Gretchen in Little Dog. I've seen the amicability that I've noticed from places like Conclave and Twin Elephant. I see a love for the craft and to brew balanced styles like I've seen in Man Skirt and Ship Bottom. I see potential here and think it can evolve organically given time. I know that there is a NE IPA in the works, but I'm excited to see something more akin to a hoppy IPL or different takes on a pilsner, as well as some form of a russian imperial stout.
So I do have to recommend this brewery, but with a caveat as to who I recommend it to. If you're looking for a brewery with 6 IPA's on tap, I cannot recommend this to you. Clearly the taplist is not listing with an emphasis on that. But, if you are looking to enter the craft beer world because you have a family member or a friend who are into it themselves, come to Icarus. Are you someone looking for a haven to go to seeking out balanced versions of beer with some different take on it, do a pit stop at Icarus. There's definitely room for growth, both literally and figuratively, and I'd love for Icarus to continue to evolve and thrill with their balanced approach. I'll be back, and I hope Chewy will be there again to greet me. Salud!