For New York, I tackle the question I get asked all the time: Where should I eat in Prospect Heights? I've lived here for more than 15 years, so I've got plenty of opinions on everything from ramen to Thai and fried chicken.
Another year has passed by, which is both awesome and terrifying. I've written thousands of words, helped raise our wee daughter from an infant to a toddler and crisscrossed the country on travel. I drank more beer than a man should drink in a year (thanks for the reminder, doc), suffered my fair share of hangovers and made many, many new friends. Beer people, y'all are good people. Anyhoo! Onward to 2015. But first, a look back at my final stories of 2014.
First We Feast, “Beer With Baby: Prost Keller Pils and Denver Beer Co.'s Incredible Pedal IPA”: Getting drunk in Denver with my daughter was a terrible idea.
First We Feast, “Beer With Baby: Deschutes Hop Trip”: Wet-hop beers are a lot like parenting.
First We Feast, “Beer With Baby: Sierra Nevada Wild Hop IPA: When your daughter is the Tasmanian Devil, you want to drink something wild. And strong.
Men’s Journal, “The Year in Beer, Wine, and Liquor”: The top trends and stories of 2014.
Men’s Journal, “Become a Craft Brewery Benefactor, Drink Better Beer”: How crowdfunding is changing the beer landscape.
Men’s Journal, “The Eight Best Session Beers (Under 4 Percent Alcohol)”: How low can brewers go without sacrificing flavor?
Bon Appétit, “How Breweries Are Using Salt to Make Better Beer”: A little sprinkle is all you need.
Bon Appétit, “The State of the Beer Union: Why 2014 Was Such a Big Year for Brew”: Well, that title is pretty explanatory.
Imbibe, “Going Grape”: Brewers are borrowing from wine’s playbook to create deliciously novel beers.
New York, “17 Local Beers That You Should Be Drinking”: The best and the brightest of New York City's burgeoning beer scene.
Departures, “Please Don't Wine: Beer Pairings for Thanksgiving”: Saisons slay rich gravy.
Draft, “Counter Culture: The Weird Science of Jeff Mello”: Meet the man looking to collect yeast from every zip code in America.
Once upon a time, a new brewery opening in New York City was as uncommon a sight as, say, a dolphin in the Gowanus Canal. But these days, nary a month goes by in the Big Apple without another beer maker appearing on the radar. Or completely flying under the radar. I pride myself on staying current on the newest craft breweries in town, so I was a bit blindsided (in a good way) by this week's arrival of Radiant Pig Craft Beers. Where had they come from? And, more importantly, what was up with that name?
First things first, the brewery is the brainchild of Rob Pihl and his girlfriend, Laurisa Milici. For years, Pihl had been an avid homebrewer in his Manhattan apartment. Milici loved drinking beer. So it was sort of a no-brainer that, when they were looking to make a break from their advertising gigs, that they turn their passion into a profession.
Pihl spent several years trying to dial in the recipe for a moderate-strength IPA with plenty of citrusy aromatics. You know, something you could drink by the growler and not be a slurring, stumbling wreck. Finally, he hit upon the perfect hop to use: Falconer's Flight, a proprietary blend of seven citrusy, tropical, floral varieties.
"It was a blend that was perfect for us," Milici says. "It brings a unique flavor to the beer," which became known as Junior IPA—the offspring of a pale ale and an IPA. It would be the flagship of their brewery, which would be known as Radiant Pig.
The first part of the name comes from the couple's favorite artist, Jean-Michel Basquiat, who was known as the "radiant child." The second part of the name comes from the couple's affinity for great food—pigging out, if you may. Smash the words together, and you have a distinctly New York–flavored brewery.
However, the painful truth of real estate meant that opening a brewery in the city was out of the question. Instead, Pihl brews Junior at Connecticut's Thomas Hooker. This is not a simple contract-brewing situation, wherein a faceless staff makes the beer. "One of the things that was important was that we’d be able to be part of the brewing process," Milici says of Pihl, who travels to Thomas Hooker to craft 40-barrel batches.
Currently, the first kegs are hitting tap lines around town. Demand has been so great that Pihl is heading back to Connecticut in a few weeks to brew his next batch of Junior. For now, the duo is sticking to this single sessionable IPA. "We don’t want to just put out beer for the sake of putting out beer," Milici says. "We really believe in Junior."
Care to give the IPA a taste? Look for it around town at these bars and bottle shops.
This was previously published on my app, Craft Beer New York.
This week marks the return of New York City Beer Week, a blowout of the the best brews in the Big Apple. From February 22 until March 3 (yeah, the week lasts 10 days), the city will be overrun with beer-soaked events. Here are my top choices for abusing your liver.
Williamsburg Cask Ale Festival: Over four days, cask-ale expert Alex Hall will be taking over the Brooklyn branch of d.b.a. to serve up some of the city's choicest cask ales. (February 23–26, 1 p.m. to late daily; pay as you go)
Spanish Beer and Cider Fest: Today, Chelsea's La Nacional will be serving some of Spain's best beer and cider, which will be paired with unlimited tapas. (February 23, 3 to 7 p.m.; $35)
The World of Wheat: All week, Park Slope's the Owl Farm will be serving strange, unusual wheat beers, from salty and sour goses to strong, caramel-nuanced wheat wines. (February 22 to March 3, pay as you go)
All-Queens Breweries Dinner For two nights, the Queens Kickshaw will host a four-course dinner featuring food paired with the best local brews from SingleCut, Bridge and Tunnel, Rockaway Brewing and Beyond Kombucha. To reserve a spot, email email@example.com. (February 26–27, 6 to 9:30 p.m.; $55 plus tax and tip)
Brewer's Choice: Tonight, City Winery is filled with the best and brightest of the regional beer scene. You'll find beers from more than 20 breweries such as Evil Twin, Stillwater and White Birch, many of which will be poured by the brewers themselves. Plus: food and booze! (February 27, 6 to 10 p.m.; $60)
Jimmy's Homebrew Jamboree: Fifteen of New York's best homebrewers have crafted beers especially for this brunch blowout, including coffee-infused oatmeal stouts, IPAs aplenty and even an oak-aged Berliner weisse. (March 2, 12 to 3 p.m.; $35)
aPORKalyspe Now: Like swine and beer? Head to Alewife Queens for a celebration of two of the finer things in life. Expect brews from the likes of Blind Bat, Peekskill, Blue Point and Port Jeff. (March 2, 12 to 3 p.m. and 4 to 7 p.m.; $40 for 10 tastes of food and 10 tastes of beer)
Closing Party: Come tie one on one last time at La Birreria's stunning rooftop brewpub. The event is pay as you go, and it will feature plenty of rarities from members of the New York City Brewers Guild. (March 3, 12 to 4 p.m.)
Murray's Cheese Bar Beer Dinner with Garrett Oliver: Brooklyn Brewery's brewmaster will pair rare beers and bottles during a five-course, fromage-focused affair. (March 3, 5 to 7 p.m.; $75)
Every time I go to my local bottle shop to buy a six-pack or three, it seems like there's another new beer or brewery gracing the shelves. Despite my ongoing drunkenness, I am not hallucinating. Brands are entering the New York City market at a dizzying clip. Here are a few of my favorite new arrivals to seek out.
Sixpoint 3 Beans: To build this burly Baltic porter (hello, 10 percent ABV), the crew from Brooklyn's Sixpoint turned to a blend of wheat, barley and, yes, three beans. The first is Stumptown Coffee, while the second is husked cacao beans from Brooklyn's Mast Brothers Chocolate. And the third bean, well, that's no obvious. It's a Romano bean, which was once used to extend the fermentable power of barley and, in a nice twist, contribute proteins to create a rich, luscious body. As a finishing touch, the beer was aged in toasted oak barrels for three weeks, resulting in a creamy, silky indulgence sold by the can.
Troëgs Nugget Nectar: For hop heads, January and February are the cruelest months. Brewers have turned their attentions to barley wines and stouts, mothballing bitter beers until the spring or summer. That's not the case at Hershey, Pennsylvania’s Troëgs, which uses these months to release its highly covetable Nugget Nectar, the ratcheted-up version of the year-round HopBack Amber Ale. The imperial Nugget’s caramel-malt flavor is complemented by a fresh, floral perfume. It's now available in bottles. Look for it in draft later this month.
Bayou Teche: While the South has long lagged behind in the craft-beer game, it's recently begun to catch up thanks to wonderful new breweries such as Louisiana's Bayou Teche. (Currently, much of its beer is brewed by Mississippi's Lazy Magnolia.) Based around an hour outside Baton Rogue in Arnaudville, Bayou Teche is the brainchild of brothers Karlos, Byron and Dorsey Knott. Their focus is beers designed to complement Cajun and Creole cuisine. Currently, New Yorkers can try the biscuity LA-31 Bière Pâle and the Passionnè wheat beer, which is made with passion fruit. In the future, be on the lookout for my favorite release, Bière Noire. The robust, subtly smoky dark brew tastes of dark-roasted coffee, but it still drinks crisp and surprisingly dry.
Lakefront Brewery Fernet Stout: Eben Freeman is the bartending equivalent of Mr. Wizard, smoking Coca-Cola, infusing bourbon with cigars and creating “white Russian” Rice Krispies that are twice soaked in Kahlúa and dehydrated, then set adrift in a bowl of simple syrup, vodka and milk. Now Freeman is turning his talents to beer, collaborating with Milwaukee’s Lakefront Brewery to create Fernet Stout. It's based on the recipe for the Italian amaro Fernet, and the beer is brewed with ingredients including dried orange peel, star anise, clove, lemon verbena, fennel and saffron. The bitter beer is available on draft at Nicoletta Pizzeria and Osteria Morini.
One of my favorite breweries in New York is Barrier, which Sixpoint vets Evan Klein and Craig Frymark have built up from a one-barrel nanobrewery to a five-barrel brewhouse with an eye on spreading their inventive, hop-forward ales across New York City and the region.
Well, that was the case until Sandy socked Barrier. Its name proved scant protection. Water rushed into the brewery, knocking equipment asunder and coldly, quickly destroying everything. This blow hit doubly hard, mainly because Barrier had just moved into its larger, newer—and more expensive—space four months earlier. The damage was to the tune of $100,000, a tough nut to scrape up for a couple brewers barely scraping by.
But the New York brewing community does not allow disaster to knock down its brothers and sisters. What Barrier needs to do is sell beer on the double, which is where Brewery Ommegang comes into the story. The Belgian-focused brewery has opened up its brew kettles to the crew from Barrier.
"Ommegang is a brewery we’ve always been inspired by and have admired and to actually be here on the ground making a beer with them is a really exciting thing," said Barrier's Frymark.
The crew designed Barrier Relief Ale, a Belgian-style IPA that Ommegang will cook up. There will be around 400 kegs, which will be sold under the Ommegang label with the proceeds directly benefiting Barrier. The beer should be hitting tap lines shortly after the New Year. Hopefully, Barrier we'll be back in business before then.
"We're rebuilding. We've reordered all of the equipment that we need to be operational again," explained Barrier's Klein. "The goal is to be up and running before the year is out."
And we'll drink to that.
P.S. Also of note: Ommegang will soon release a Game of Thrones–inspired beers.
It's a torrid Tuesday night on the western fringes of Soho, not far from the languorous Hudson River, and I'm desperately craving a cold beer. To find one, I enter Mediterranean-leaning restaurant 508 NYC (508 Greenwich St. at Spring St., 508nyc.com), where suited men sit at the bar and slurp oysters and pints of amber-hued brews. They look delectable, but those aren't my desired suds. I saunter to the eatery's rear. Standing sentry-like before the kitchen is Anderson Sant'anna de Lima, the restaurant's bespectacled co-owner and chef, his arms tattooed as colorfully as a 1940s sailor, his wallet attached to a chain.
"Follow me," he says, leading me past slicing, dicing cooks and to a stairwell. Step by step, I descend underground. The initial sights include several boxes of root vegetables and a silver sink large enough to wash an 8-year-old. But there, nestled in the corner, is cooking gear so shiny, so unlikely that I do a double take: a brew kettle. To my right, sacks of grains are stacked like body bags. It looks like… "Welcome to my brewery," says Sant'anna de Lima, breaking into a broad grin. He leads me to an air-conditioned room filled with dual plastic fermentation tanks and 5-gallon kegs brimming with malty brown ales, coffee-flavored porters and sweetly potent Belgian ales. "Want to try a beer?" he asks. You know the answer.
In New York City, brewpubs are rarer than an on-time G train. Outside of Eataly and Chelsea Brewing Company, there's nowhere to nab house-made craft beer and food. It's criminal. Though New York boasts gobs of globetrotting restaurants, fancy-pants cocktail joints and beer bars stocked with rare elixirs, brewpubs number just two. Two! This won't do. Compared to brewpub-packed towns such as Portland, Ore., and Asheville, N.C., New York is a backwater 'burg.
Partly, this can be explained by space.
A brewery requires copious square footage to store equipment, raw materials and beer. A big space costs big bucks. Secondly, there's the issue of licensing. Acquiring a New York liquor license is a legendary slog, but navigating the red tape necessary to brew and sell suds is an Orwellian struggle. "It took a lot of work, patience and lawyer fees," Sant'anna de Lima says of his year-plus odyssey, "but in the end we got the license. We make our own food. It only seemed natural to make our own beer, too."
Before he brewed, Sant'anna de Lima cooked. In the 1990s, the Parsons grad and Brazil native worked for an advertising firm. Seventy- and 80-hour workweeks blazed a path to burnout. "I quit and started cooking, kept cooking and cooked some more," he recalls. "It was what I was made to do." After toiling in Manhattan kitchens, he and his wife, fellow chef Jennifer Lynn Hill, moved to Virgin Gorda, in the British Virgin Islands, to run the restaurant Barracuda. Beach living was a sunny idyll, but the couple were unable to escape Manhattan's magnetic lure. After noticing a listing for a single-room restaurant in western SoHo, they put in an offer. It was accepted. They returned to New York and installed a menu of handmade pastas, seafood and small plates including Coxinhas, which are fried Brazilian croquettes encasing a stewed chicken-cream cheese core. Not long after, Sant'anna de Lima, a fan of craft beers like lemony hefeweizens and bitter India pale ales, started daydreaming of brewing. "I'd love to make my own beer," he mused to his wife. His wish had the hallmark of idle chatter. Except his wife decided to force his hand. One day, Sant'anna de Lima's doorman informed him that he had a package. Inside, he found a homebrew kit. His brewery's seeds were officially planted.
When I say brewery, I'm being generous with my description. At 508, Sant'anna de Lima has a one-barrel brewing system, meaning he cranks out about two standard kegs with each batch. To up his output he brews the same beer twice, then consigns it to the cold room's fermentation tanks where it conditions till ready for consumption. His carbonated creations, such as the light and lovely hefeweizens and a porter gently flavored with Kona coffee beans, will populate 508's six draft lines, elbowing aside all commercial offerings. Also available are bottled brews, including a dry, brightly citrusy IPA and an English-influenced strong ale that's a perfect mate for the restaurant's tender ribs. In the end, it's the mingling of homemade food and beer that sets 508 apart, creating a new breed of New York restaurant.
"We're not a gastropub," Sant'anna de Lima says. "We're a gastrobrewery."
I arrived at the Rum House in time to watch it die. For 37 years, this piano bar anchored the ground floor of West 47th Street’s Edison Hotel, an Art Deco inn that opened during the Depression. But the Rum House was a dingy remnant of the swingin’ ’70s: dark-brown fixtures, lights so dim it seemed like you were wearing sunglasses, ass-swallowing seats and the stench of cigarettes past. Plus, there was also Karen Brown, a piano player who crooned sing-along Sinatra tunes to tourists and camaraderie-seeking New Yorkers alike.
“Karen hasn’t been here since May,” a waitress told me on one of the Rum House’s last nights of existence, which was also my first visit. For years I’d heard whisper of the Rum House’s divey charm. “It’s like how Times Square used to be,” a fellow dive lover once told me. “Remember Howard Johnson’s?” During my early New York years, I was a habitué of HoJo’s.
Hunkered on the corner of West 46th Street and Broadway, Howard Johnson’s was a relic of the atomic age. The all-night diner had a sea of booths and a swell of ne’er-do-wells crunching clam strips, licking ice cream cones and slurping $3.25 happy hour cocktails. For me, HoJo’s was a tether to the Times Square of jiggling titties and blood-splattered cinema. After spending eight hours answering phones, I’d hit HoJo’s for a cocktail, preferably four. It was equal parts daily escape and a portal to an earlier era. HoJo’s died in 2005. In its stead: American Eagle. The following year, my other favorite time-soaked Times Square haunt—McHale’s, located a block further west—also bit the bullet. In its stead: a skyscraper as smooth and shiny as an American Eagle model’s chest.
Now it was time to say hello and goodbye to the Rum House. My fellow dive fan Aaron and I sat in sunken seats. I sucked on a stiff gin and tonic; him, draft Yuengling. The beer tasted stale, most likely because it was pulled through tap lines as dirty as a New York politician. “Blech,” Aaron said, making a face like a toddler swallowing medicine. “You broke the cardinal dive rule,” I said, tsk-tsk-ing like a schoolmarm chiding students for forgetting long division. “In dive bars, you only order bottled or canned beer and mixed drinks, no more than two ingredients.”
Lesson complete, we settled in to our adult beverages. The TV flashed sports of some sort while tourists thronged the bar, their arms strained with bags full of the clothes and luxury goods keeping our city’s economy afloat. Martinis were ordered, martinis were consumed. “Everyone is in such a good mood,” I remarked to Aaron. After work, most bars in Midtown are stuffed with suits and office workers bitching about their workday while self medicating.
The cloud of crabbiness does not abate until the third drink. But in a touristy hotel bar—especially an affordable, shabby-chic dump such as Rum House—spirits always soar.
“It’s a nice reminder that people can, you know, have fun in this town,” I told Aaron, who’s a bit burned out on big-city living. Spend too long in New York City and you suffer tunnel vision that only allows you to see swirling trash, cattle-car sidewalks and screaming subway preachers. “It’s not a bad dump,” Aaron conceded, ordering another Yuengling. He pointed to his beer. "You get used to the taste."
Spend too long in New York City and you suffer tunnel vision that only allows you to see swirling trash, cattle-car sidewalks and screaming subway preachers. “It’s not a bad dump,” Aaron conceded, ordering another Yuengling. He pointed to his beer. “You get used to the taste.
Given time, I could’ve gotten used to, and even adored, the Rum House’s cheap drinks, characters and strange stench. But I was too late, like professing undying love to a college crush on her deathbed. By now, the bar is gone. Its replacement will likely be shiny and plush, perhaps employing a mixologist. Hotel guests will clink glasses, remarking how they would never dream of spending $15 on a cocktail back home.
You can call this progress, but I prefer a different word: loss. Times Square’s sinful cinemas are gone, as are most of the strippers. The dive bar is next on Midtown’s endangered species list, like a sort of alcoholic bald eagle. Where remains to get tanked on the cheap? Outside of Port 41, Dave’s Bar, Holland Bar, Jimmy’s Corner and Rudy’s, there’s little to recommend for a slumming tourist, or New Yorker, lusting for the low life.
It’s news enough to drive any Midtown toiler to drink—likely at T.G.I. Friday’s or Red Lobster.
Photo: By&y Will this be you during Craft Beer Week?
Hey, look at the calendar! It’s that time of year when leaves slip from trees, hooded sweatshirts are dusted off and I wander around town as drunk as a sailor on shore leave, drenched from skull to sneakers in craft beer. Dear readers, it’s time again for New York Craft Beer Week, a citywide suds celebration that kicks off Sept. 24.
But which tasting soirees, beer-pairing dinners and festivals are worth your bucks and belly space? Behold, my inebriated expertise! Below, find my picks for Craft Beer Week. Which really lasts 10 days. Now that’s some drunken math I can support. Sept. 24: Freaktoberfest
Come to the official kickoff party at Park Slope club Rock Shop, featuring bands, burlesque and craft beer up the ying-yang. Try a pint of CBW’s official beer, Geektoberfest. It’s a blend of barrel-aged brews from Ithaca, Schmaltz and Captain Lawrence. (249 4th Ave. betw. President & Carroll Sts., Brooklyn, www. freaktoberfest.blogspot.com; 7, $55.)
Sept. 25: Homebrewers Tour Am I really a pants-less, shambling wreck with a liver the size of Luxembourg? Today’s your lucky day! I’m leading a tour of the homes of NYC’s finest amateur brewers, where we’ll meet them, discuss their craft and, most importantly, drink their delicious beer. Can’t make it today? I’m leading a second tour Oct. 2. (Email firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve a ticket and receive details; 1, $25.)
Sept. 25 & 26: Get Real NY More than 70 different cask ales are available, including eclectic offerings from Michigan’s fab Founders and Florida’s Cigar City. After knocking back a couple pints, work up the liquid courage to chat up on-hand brewers, including Captain Lawrence’s Scott Vaccaro and Sixpoint’s Shane Welch. Nibbles from Luke’s Lobster and Grandaisy Bakery will help keep intoxication at bay. (135 W. 18th St. betw. 6th & 7th Aves., www.getrealny.com; noon & 5, $65.)
Sept. 27: The Mastery of Brooklyn Hit East Village watering hole Swift Hibernian to sample some of Brooklyn Brewery’s rarest Brewmaster’s Reserve elixirs. Hops lovers will go hogwild for the Blast, Demolition and lemony Sorachi Ace, while fans of the dark side will favor the inky Black Ops stout. Plus free snacks! (24 E. 4th St. at Bowery, 212-260- 3600, www.swiftnycbar.com; 5, Free.)
Sept. 28: Pretty Things v. Funky Cheeses Bad breath will be on the menu at Brooklyn’s d.b.a., where owner Ray Dieter joins cheese expert Martin Johnson in presenting seven superb beers from Massachusetts’ Pretty Things—one of my favorite new breweries—paired with stinky, full-flavored fromage. (113 N. 7th St. betw. Berry & Wythe Sts., 212-533-3072,www. thejoyofcheese.blogspot.com; 7:30, $30.)
Sept. 29: Hill Country and Abita Dinner Forget cholesterol counts for the evening, as the Texas-style BBQ haunt partners with Louisiana’s best brewery for a gut-stuffing spectacle. To whet your appetite: smokedbrisket taquitos are served aside hopshinted Restoration Pale Ale, while coffeerubbed Texas tenderloin meets its match in the malty Turbodog. (30 W. 26th St. at 6th Ave., 212-255-4544, www.hillcountryny.com; 6:30, $60.)
Sept. 30: Brewer’s Choice City Winery is turned over to more than 15 of the country’s best brewers—Ommegang’s Phil Leinart, Ballast Point’s Colby Chandler, Goose Island’s Greg Hall—who will serve their potions paired with first-rate food from Brooklyn Larder, Jimmy’s No. 43, Jacques Torres Chocolate and more. It’s gourmet as all get-out. (155 Varick St. at Vandam St., www.nycbrewrschoice.com; 6, $75.)
Oct. 1: Great World Beer Festival Slim pickings today, but the best bet is the Great World Beer Festival (a.k.a. Brewtopia), counting A-list breweries such as Bear Republic and Southampton. Years ago, Brewtopia helped introduce me to craft beer in New York. Oh, how I rue that wallet-draining day. (548 W. 22nd St. betw. 10th & 11th Aves., www.worldbeerfest.com; 8, $65. Also Oct. 2.)
Oct. 2: Voyage of the IPA Avast, ye landlubbers! Climb aboard a 158-foot schooner with Brooklyn brewmaster Garrett Oliver, who will lecture about the history of hoppy, piney India pale ales as the boat cruises around New York harbor. Sweetening the deal are IPAs from Brooklyn Brewery and other locally brewed bitter beauties. (Email email@example.com; 4:30, $65.)
Oct. 3: Bike Brooklyn Beer Blitz Tour guide, amateur historian and Gut Instinct pal Matt Levy takes bikers on a tour of Brooklyn’s brewing history. In Williamsburg and Bushwick, you’ll investigate the hulking breweries and mansions built from the profits of German beer. The tour terminates at Evergreen cemetery—the resting grounds of many bygone brewers—and closes with a liquid surprise. Hint: It’s not water. (Email firstname.lastname@example.org; 1, $25. Also, Sept. 25 & 26 and Oct. 2.)