Better Know A Beer City, Part 1 – NYC!
Welcome to Part 1 of our new series, Better Know A Beer City! It’s only fitting that we begin with New Amsterdam, The Modern Gomorrah, Gotham, The Big Apple…New York City! I say that for a few reasons: I was born there, I lived there post-college, Robby and I have spent many, many weekends enjoying the beer scene, and, finally, I am currently gracing the City with my presence.
The craft beer scene was still in its infancy when I moved to New York City in July of 2007. There were definitely well-known craft beer bars that had been around for a significant amount of time, but most of the Irish pubs, dive bars, and restaurants hadn’t yet embraced the movement. Two of the most famous of NYC’s craft beer vanguard are the Blind Tiger Ale House and the Brooklyn Brewery. Blind Tiger opened in 1995 on the corner of Bleecker and Jones in the West Village. Today they pour 30 perfectly curated draft offerings (plus two to four cask/gravity beers) on top of an extensive bottle list. Every tap is constantly rotating outside of the Brooklyner Weiss from the Brooklyn Brewery – very refreshing after a tiring day of NYC sightseeing!
The Brooklyn Brewery opened in Williamsburg, Brooklyn in 1984. Their flagship beer, Brooklyn Lager, is ubiquitous in New York City. A short trip under the East River on the L train will drop you five blocks from the brewery, which is a popular destination for both tourists and locals. Upon entering you purchase tokens that are then exchanged for beer inside the picnic table-filled beer hall. Look out for one-off batches only available at the brewery, the Brewmaster’s Reserve series, and two excellent examples of the saison style: Radius (an easy-drinking 4.8% ABV saison) and Sorachi Ace (a 7.6% ABV version finished with champagne yeast). Stop by Mugs Alehouse for another beer on your walk back to the subway!
Other notable craft beer bars that existed before the “golden age” explosion include Jimmy’s No. 43 (a basement bar in the East Village serving up 11 drafts and excellent food), d.b.a (18 taps, also in the East Village), The Ginger Man (70(!) craft taps), Spuyten Duyvil (6 carefully chosen drafts in Brooklyn), and Rattle ‘N’ Hum (an Irish-pub themed craft beer haven in Midtown). Soon after I moved to NYC, and continuing to this day, new craft beer bars have been infiltrating every corner of every borough. Notable Manhattan openings include The Pony Bar (locations in Hell’s Kitchen and the Upper East Side, both with 20 all-American taps), Proletariat (10 taps in the East Village with more of a global focus), and The Jeffrey (an Upper East Side bar offering 30 drafts). Brooklyn now boasts Torst (opened in Greenpoint by Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergso of Evil Twin Brewing fame), Barcade (a combination of arcade games and craft beer!), and The Habitat (12 rotating drafts). Queens hosts Alewife (30 drafts in Long Island City), Opendoor (16 rotating taps), and Sunswick 35/35 (24 drafts in Astoria). The Bronx and Staten Island are somewhat behind the other three boroughs but offer multiple options to satiate the craft beer seeker.
Many of the aforementioned craft beer bars are being supplied by breweries located in New York City. For many years the Brooklyn Brewery, Chelsea Brewing Company, and the Heartland Brewery brewpub chain were the only operating breweries in the five boroughs. The next generation of craft breweries was heralded by the arrival of Sixpoint Brewery in Red Hook, Brooklyn in 2004. Their beer is widely available in NYC and beyond – look out for their excellent Bengali Tiger IPA and the hard-to-find Gorilla Warfare Coffee Porter. KelSo Beer Company followed in 2006 (beer suggestion: Industrial IPA), Blind Bat Brewery in 2008 (seek out Vlad The Inhaler, a rare Grodziskie style beer), SingleCut BeerSmiths in 2012 (try to find Keith, an English-style Pale Ale), and both Big Alice Brewing Company (look for the Lemongrass Turmeric White Lager) and Other Half Brewing (try the citrusy Hop Showers IPA) in 2013. Staten Island’s first craft brewery, Flagship Brewing Company, opened earlier this month; when Gun Hill Brewing Company opens in the Bronx next month, every borough will have a brewery to call their own!
Once you’ve enjoyed all of the beer bars and breweries that NYC has to offer, the logical next step is to head to a beer store in order to take some home! Stores with massive selections are surprisingly limited, although good craft beer can be found in almost every corner bodega throughout the City. Two of my locally-based favorites include Good Beer, an East Village store with 12 taps and a huge bottle selection, and Top Hops Beer Shop, a Lower East Side store with 20 drafts and a slightly smaller number of bottles. The Whole Foods locations in NYC (especially the Bowery store) also offer excellent craft bottles. If you make it to Park Slope in Brooklyn, Bierkraft is an absolute must – I rank it as one of the best beer stores in the world.
Time for me to catch a 1 train to Christopher Street – Blind Tiger awaits!