New York City

The Absolute Best Places to Drink Cider in New York City

Photo: Courtesy of Bad Seed Cider

Photo: Courtesy of Bad Seed Cider

Press apples and you get sweet cider. Add yeast, and you’ll make marvelously complex hard cider, an elegant beverage undergoing a ground-up renaissance with farmers and producers working together to create place-based ferments that rival anything derived from a grapevine. Consider it a return to form for a country where cider was once king, so societally ingrained that low-alcohol versions were served to kids. Apple-rich New York State has seen a surge in cider makers, with more than 75 manufacturers and growing.

Though pioneering cider restaurant Wassail has closed, the city is increasingly home to a collection of restaurants and bars with a serious cider emphasis, the best of them offering a deep and diverse selection, fine accompanying food, and memorable settings and service. For New York magazine, I discover the absolute best places to drink cider in New York City.

Seven of the Most Anticipated New Craft Breweries in NYC in 2014

4th-of-july-beer New York's craft-beer scene is booming, with breweries popping up from the Bronx to Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens and even Staten Island. (Not to mention the scores of homebrewers perfecting their recipes, eager to take them to the next level.) Travel around town, and you'll find world-class double IPAs, snifter-worthy barrel-aged imperial stouts and lip-puckering sour ales. Here are the breweries I'm excited about in 2014.

Other Half Brewing (195 Centre St., Gowanus, Brooklyn) Do you love KelSo's IPA and Industrial IPA? Then you dig the beers of brewer Sam Richardson, who has gone solo with this outfit in Carroll Gardens. Expect heaps of hop-forward ales, most notably the West Coast–style Other Half IPA and souped-up Green Diamonds Imperial IPA, which is dosed with heaps of Australia's melon-y Galaxy hops. Status: Other Half beers are currently on tap around town, and the tasting room should soon follow suit.

Dirck the Norseman (7 N. 15th St., Greenpoint, Brooklyn) Ever since Park Slope Brewery shuttered more than a decade earlier, Brooklyn has been brewpub-deprived, a drought set to end with this Greenpoint brewpub named after the neighborhood’s first Scandinavian settler. Ed Raven, who founded importer Raven Brands and Greenpoint growler shop Brouwerij Lane, has transformed a plastic-bag factory abutting the East River into a roomy beer hall that will pour both his imported European brews (including Jever Pilser and Gaffel Kölsch) and in-house ales. Head brewer Chris Prout, who honed his skills at South Carolina’s Outer Banks Brewing Station, will craft creative riffs on Belgian and American classics, such as a rhubarb saison and an IPA spiked with Tupelo honey. Status: Open now

Finback Brewery (78-01 77th Ave., Glendale, Queens) For several years, Kevin Stafford and Basil Lee were a key stop on my homebrew tour, crafting dry stouts, ginger-and-Szechuan peppercorn session ales and IPAs that were a step above the average kitchen-crafted beer. After a yearlong search for a home for Finback, named after a whale that washed ashore in Breezy Point, they found a headquarters in Glendale, Queens, not far from the Lutheran Cemetery. The duo will also use the 13,000-square-foot space for an extensive barrel-aging and sour-beer program. Status: Open now. Taproom coming soon.

Transmitter Brewing (52-03 11th St., Long Island City, Queens) This winter, the Long Island City beer scene will welcome Transmitter, the brainchild of longtime buddies and amateur bicycle racers Rob Kolb and Anthony Accardi. The duo will focus on farmhouse-inspired Belgian and French beers fueled by funky fermentations. The friends have spent years carefully sourcing unique strains of Brettanomyces yeast and Lactobacillus and Pediococcus cultures. They're going to be a local game-changer. Status: Open now. Flagship Brewing Company (215 Bay St., St. George, Staten Island) Here's one more reason to ride the Staten Island Ferry: Not far from the terminal you'll find Flagship, which is slated to be the borough's first brewery since Brooklyn brand Piels closed its R&H plant in 1963. Co-owner and head brewer Jay Sykes hopes to use locally grown hops in his beers. Status: Opening early 2014 The Bronx Brewery (856 E. 136th St., Port Morris, The Bronx) At last, the Bronx crew will start making beer in its namesake borough. (The brews were previously produced in Connecticut.) The team is hard at work outfitting an 8,000 square-foot space with a tasting room, a 20-barrel brewhouse and an outdoor space suited for food trucks. Status: Opening spring 2014

Gun Hill Brewing Company (3227 Laconia Ave., Williamsbridge, The Bronx) Bronx's brewing boom continues with Gun Hill, named after a battle site during the Revolutionary War. The brewmaster is Chris Sheehan, the former chief beer maker at both Chelsea Brewing Company and Newark, New Jersey's short-lived Port 44 Brewpub. The 30-barrel brewhouse plans to take advantage of New York’s Farm Brewery License, which allows breweries to be run like a bar—provided they use a certain percentage of New York–grown ingredients. Expect several stouts, an IPA, a golden ale and loads of seasonal releases. Status: Open now

NYC Homebrewers Guild Anniversary Party

brews100118_250 It's tired maxim, but I'll trot it out again: Today's homebrewers are tomorrow's professional brewers, the men and women who will one day craft your favorite new IPA, gose or some other style that has yet to be invented or dredged from the history books.

Getting a taste of these beers typically requires you to be buddies with the brewer. (Or if you're in New York City, attending my homebrew tour.) But on Saturday, November 2, you'll have the chance to sample your way the most dizzying—and dizzyingly delicious—collection of homebrew the city has ever seen.

That night, the Brooklyn Brewery will be taken over by the New York City Homebrewers Guild for its 25th anniversary party. (Fun fact: Brooklyn brewmaster Garrett Oliver was a founding member.) To celebrate, the guild has enlisted clubs from across the city to pour their homebrewed creations. From Brooklyn Brewers to Brewstoria (Queens, that is), this event will welcome a stunning array of brewers from across the city—more than 65 different beers and counting.

You'll be treated to free samples of the homebrews, as well as an unlimited buffet of Brooklyn Brewery beers. But act fast. Tickets are just $25 and they're going fast. You don't want to miss out on tasting the future of beer in New York City.

What: NYC Homebrewers Guild 25th Anniversary Party When: Saturday, November 2, 9 p.m. Where: Brooklyn Brewery Tickets: $25. Buy them here.

Amateur Hour Is Over: NYC Homebrewers Go Pro—Sort of

Chris Cuzme508 brewer Chris Cuzme rocking his trademark T-shirt. (Credit: 508)

Most brewers get start cooking batches on their stoves, turning out ales and lagers that, once recipes are perfected, can be just as good as anything on tap at a local bar. Not that you'll ever find a homebrewer's creations on draft—legally, at least.

The legalities surrounding selling homebrewed beer are as clear as Bud Light. When President Jimmy Carter legalized homebrewing in the late seventies, he allowed folks to brew up to 100 gallons of beer a year. Many brewers slosh over the threshold, but it’s unlikely that cops will come knocking. That'd only happen if homebrewers sold their tipples. There's a defined line separating amateurs and professionals: Are they selling beer and paying their taxes?

Vending beer is a tangled web of regulations wrapped around the three-tier system, in which breweries sell to distributors, which then peddle to stores and bars. Taxes are collected at every step. Plus, there's the cost of acquiring a federal permit from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. It's a pain in the butt to sell a pal a growler.

However, no law prohibits a brewery from producing a semi-pro's recipe. "I want people to realize that homebrewers can make high-quality beer," says Chris Cuzme, the former president of the New York City Homebrewers Guild, co-host of Fuhmentaboudit! and, most importantly, the head brewer at SoHo's 508 GastroBrewery. "The homebrew scene still has a big place in my heart," Cuzme says. "We have so many more homebrew clubs now, but even then, people don’t know that many of them exist."

To raise awareness, Cuzme will partners with a different homebrew club or shop each month and craft a 50-gallon batch of beer, which will then be poured through one of the brewpub's six tap lines. The first six collaborators are the New York City Homebrewers GuildPour Standards—Richmond County Brew Society, Brooklyn Brewsers Homebrew ClubBitter & Esters, The Brooklyn Kitchen and Brooklyn Homebrew, which will brew the first beer in the series next week. (The exact style is still undecided, but the odds-on favorite is that it will be an ESB.)

There are no limitations on the beers that will be brewed, except that Cuzme would like them to be brewed and ready to drink within a month. That means no barrel-aged imperial stouts. But with the weather breaking warm, I doubt you'll want to drink such a bruiser. After each beer is brewed, Cuzme plans on holding a five-gallon keg in reserve for a "homebrew heavyweight tap takeover," which will take place at the end of the six-month project. And if supporting your favorite local homebrew is not enough to get you to pop by 508 for a pint, here's another reason: one dollar of every beer will be earmarked to the collaborators' charity of choice.

We'll drink to that.

The first beer in the series should be on tap at 508 by June 1. 

 More NYC Homebrewing News of Note * This spring, Brooklyn Brew Shop plans to go pro with its EST line of beers. (The name is short for Established Brewing Company.) First up is a spicy Jalapeño Saison, a homebrew-kit favorite.

* On May 18, the Comedy Bar NYC will tap a new monthly series dubbed the Homebrewed MicProduced and hosted by comedian Ben Asher and The Brahery, the free show will partner plenty of homebrewed beer with comedy and brew-centric tunes from Final Gravity. I've hosted the Brahery on my homebrew tour and heard the band bash out tunes. At best, it'll be a blast. At worst, you'll get drunk. It's a win-win.

This story was originally published on my Craft Beer New York app. Buy it here.

Shiner Bock Arrives in New York City

ShinerBock_DogOver the last couple years, New York has grown into a rather respectable BBQ town. From Fette Sau to Mighty Quinn's, BrisketTown and John Brown Smokehouse, there's a serious commitment to 'cue. Despite the surplus of carnivorous pleasures, there's been a notable absence from New York's BBQ scene: Shiner Bock.

The beer's origins date back to the 19th century, when German and Czech immigrants came to the Hill Country of central Texas and settled in tiny towns such Shiner. They brought the knowledge to crank sausages and smoke meat—the backbone of the state’s BBQ culture—as well as a love of lagers. To quench that thirst, a group of amateur brewers formed the Shiner Brewing Association in 1909, later tapping a former German solider named Kosmos Spoetzl as their first brewmaster.

In time, the flagship was the rich, smooth and eminently drinkable Shiner Bock. At just 4.4% ABV, it was the sort of beer that could slake your thirst on a sweltering summer afternoon, then continue to drink until last call. Shiner Bock and Texas became forever linked, the longneck you'd reach for while gnawing on brisket, watching football or catching a concert. 

Sure, Shiner Bock endured some rocky stretches (Prohibition, the 197os when tastes started shifting to light lagers), but the beer survived to become Texas' liquid emissary. Today you'll find Shiner Bock in more than 40 states including, at long last, New York.

"There's a lot of pent-up demand for Shiner beer," says Charlie Paulette, the chief sales and marketing officer for Gambrinus Company, which also owns Trumer Pils and BridgePort. (There are no imminent plans to bring those brands to NYC, but it's a possibility in the future.) "In New York, we have a nice built-in audience of people from Texas or who have been through Texas."

Of course, that's always been the case. New York is a town of transplants and transients, all of whom long for a nostalgic taste of their respective hometowns. A key reason that Shiner has taken so long to reach NYC is simple: capacity. If you're going to enter the Big Apple market, you better have enough beer.

"New York is a very intimidating place for any brand," Paulette says. "For us, it was a matter of getting ready." A few years back, Spoetzl embarked on a big expansion, building a brewery dedicated to producing ales. This has enabled Spoetzl to expand the Shiner brand, including Hefeweizen, Wild Hare Pale Ale, Bohemian Black Lager and Ruby Redbird, which is made with grapefruit and ginger. 

"We’re about more than just Shiner Bock," Paulette says. "Our portfolio is so much more diverse than it was 10 years ago." Of course, you can find Shiner at BBQ halls such as Hill Country, but it's also pouring at Manchester Pub, 7B, Sunswick 35/35, Good Beer and Minetta Tavern. In time, I'm sure you'll take a shine to these Texan beers.

This story was originally published on Craft Beer New York.

Snake River Brewing Slithers Into Town

snake river brewery

Photo: the River in the Pines

Living in New York, we're in a privileged place when it comes to craft beer. Though we lack the critical mass of breweries and brewpubs that are found in Portland, Asheville, Seattle and Chicago, our tap lines overflow with excellent beer from cultish breweries such as Firestone Walker, Ballast Point and AleSmith.

I call this the "show pony" effect. New York is still the nation's nerve center for media, and the city's journalists and taste makers can quickly elevate a beer brand's standing. Add to that the bustling tourist economy (around 50 million folks annually), and New York is a massive stage for craft breweries. The latest brewery to take its turn in the spotlight in our fair metropolis is Snake River, which might be the best brewery in Wyoming.

Don't scoff. Over the last couple years, Wyoming's breweries have been earning armloads of medals at the Great American Beer Festival. Thai Me Up took top honors for its IPAs, and Black Tooth Brewing, Wind River and Altitude Chophouse also earned some shiny hardware. Still, few Wyoming breweries have been as consistently excellent as Snake River Brewing.

Some breweries tend to have a single specialty such as, say, hoppy beers, stouts or crisp pilsners. That's not Snake River's style. Head brewer Cory Buenning is well versed in West Coast hop bombs, Czech pilsners, German lagers and English ales, showing a firm grasp on the brew kettle.

Brooklyn's American Beer  distributors released Snake River's beers a few weeks ago, and let me tell you: I have not been this impressed about a new brewery in eons.  Snake River Pale Ale is a citrusy easy-drinker, while the Snake River Lager is a smooth, caramel-licked dream. Like hops? Pako’s EYE-P-A is firmly bitter without blowing your taste buds to smithereens, while Zonker Stout is a rich and roasty rebuttal to winter.

Go on, get a pint. Being snakebit has never been so delightful.

This was previously published on my app, Craft Beer New York.

Craft Beer New York Is Out!

After many months, and many more beers, I'm pleased to announce the release of Craft Beer New York, the one-stop shop for all you need to know about drinking craft beer in New York City. The iPhone app is available from the App store for the low, low price of $1.99—in other words, far cheaper than your favorite craft beer. If you're so inclined, check out the app here. It'll be a handy tool next time you come to NYC. And on that note, I need a beer. Methinks I'll have this one. 

Tickets Are Now on Sale: December 8 Homebrew Tour

Today’s tour will be a doozy and, for some of you, take you places you’ve never been in New York. We’re going to start in Roosevelt Island at the home of Brian Craine, who makes IPAs that’ll knock your socks off. Next, we’re going to take the tram (!) to Manhattan, then catch a bus to the Upper East Side. There, we’re going to visit The Brahery–that is, Marc Gorfinkle and Andrew Blazaitis, who have a top-notch brown IPA and several golden strong ales. In addition, I’m going to break out the just-released batch of Sam Adams’ head-spinning Utopias. Lastly, were going to stroll around the corner to visit Kyle Leingang, who will have treats like a rye-infused Belgian tripel and maple-pecan barley wine.

WHAT: Manhattan and Roosevelt Island Homebrew Tour WHEN: Saturday, December 8, 1 p.m. WHERE: Manhattan and Roosevelt Island PURCHASE TICKETS: $30. Tickets to go on sale Tuesday, November 13, 11 a.m. Um, tickets sold out in 30 minutes. That was fast.

Announcing the Craft Beer New York App: Out November 15

You might say I'm a glutton for punishment. The last three years have been a madcap whirlwind of writing books (have you got your copy of Brewed Awakening yet?!), writing hundreds of articles, getting married and going on an endless, endlessly drunken book tour. Oh, and then I wrote another beer b ook, which I just wrapped up a few weeks ago—more details to come next year. So you'd think I'd want to sit on my rear end, perhaps drink a beer out of pleasure, instead out of journalistic duty (not that there's really a difference, actually).

But no.

Instead, the fine folks at London's Blue Crow Media met with me and said, "Hey, Josh. You live in New York. You like to drink craft beer. You even used to review bars."

I said, "That is very true."

They said, "Would you like to write an iPhone app on the best craft beer bars, breweries and bottle shops in New York?"

"No," I said. Then I thought about it. Nearly every day, people ask me where to get the best beer in New York. Because I grew up in Ohio and have good manners, I tell them. By doing this app, folks would get all my picks and my wildly subjective opinions in one place! "I'll do it," I said."

Thus, for the last three weeks, most of my sober (and not so sober) moments have been reserved for writing up reviews on the city's top spots for craft beer. It's tough, thankless work, and I'm all too happy to do it. The app should drop in November, just in time for the holiday rush. You can follow the app's Twitter feed for news on New York drinking and my very swollen liver, or visit the website. 

Suds in the City: Chelsea Brewing Company

Chelsea brewmaster brewmaster Mark Szmaida. Photo: Scott Gordon Bleicher

* Note: This story was originally published in the January/February issue of Edible Manhattan.

If you liked mediocre craft beer, the mid ’90s were a marvelous time in Manhattan. Caught up in the brewpub craze then sweeping the country, there was SoHo’s Nacho Mama’s Brewery, the British-inspired Commonwealth Brewing Company in Rockefeller Plaza and, in Midtown, the pseudo-Asian Typhoon, to name just a few—all serving New Yorkers so-so housemade suds.

Like many fads of the time—Riot Grrrls, pagers—brewpubs quickly passed. Due to poor-quality ales, poor ownership and outlandish rents—or a combination of all three—tap lines went dry, one by one. Admittedly, these early pints poured the foundation for our current craft coming-of-age—back then most city drinkers still preferred Miller, Coors or Bud—but no self-respecting contemporary brew hound would be caught dead with one of those amber ales in hand. When the foam finally subsided at the end of the decade, only a single brewery still made beer on the Island. “We’ve survived it all,” says Mark Szmaida, 57, the head brewer at Chelsea Brewing Company, which opened on the Hudson River-hugging Chelsea Piers at 18th Street in 1996. Szmaida is referring not just to the movement’s demise, but also to his own brand’s expensive misstep into bottling beers (more on that later); the post–9/11 days when the piers were used as a staging ground by the city; and Arctic winter weeks on the waterfront when both the temperature and customers slip into the single digits. Perhaps the place still exists because, unlike most other brewpubs, at Chelsea the focus was always on the beer: quality Manhattan-made craft ales like the thirst-quenching, easy-drinking Checker Cab Blonde—now seen on draft menus citywide—or the caramel-licked Sunset Red, a brew so good it won a gold medal in 1997 at Denver’s prestigious Great American Beer Festival.

The concept for those beers was born in 1996 when budding brewpub baron Pat Greene was looking to the developing waterfront complex to build a restaurant and brewery. The idea was that the place could also produce suds for the bar he already owned, the now-longclosed Westside Brewing Company on the Upper West Side. (Greene, to his credit, split with his partners before it shuttered.) The newly redone piers seemed like the perfect location. The towering ceilings could accommodate the massive brew kettle and show off the shiny fermentation tanks. A gleaming, nearly wall-to-wall mahogany bar was the ideal place to bend elbows and snack on burgers, wings and the rest of Chelsea Brewery’s standard stomach-insulating pub grub. And the floor-to-ceiling glass windows ensured sunlight bathed the space in a handsome glow all day and that the nights held postcard-worthy views of Hudson River sunsets. It was a grand plan.

There were problems at first: Endless construction at Chelsea Piers kept customers at bay, and founding brewmaster Russell Garret decided to leave in 1997, just a year after the place debuted, to open a brewery in Ireland. But the latter was a cloaked blessing. His replacement was Chris Sheehan, who’d made his name in California crafting bold stouts at San Francisco’s much-missed 20 Tank Brewery and Berkeley’s Triple Rock Brewery & Alehouse before taking a gig at New York’s sip-and-you-miss-it Neptune Brewery. (Ahead of its time, it lived above Chelsea Market.) And shortly after Sheehan was hired that year, he was joined by Mark Szmaida, then a 10-year homebrewer from Weehawken, New Jersey, who’d just graduated from Chicago’s Siebel Institute of Technology brewing school.

Under Sheehan’s stewardship, Chelsea’s brews blossomed. Bit by bit the duo tweaked Garret’s old recipes (“They were too sweet,” Szmaida recalls), developing creations that went beyond the pedestrian pints of their brewpub peers. “Beers that people wanted to drink,” says Greene, 52: “We don’t use any extracts or corn syrups—only malt,” he adds, referring to the roasted grains that serve as the building blocks of beer. That might seem like a common refrain from a brewery these days, but in the 1990s anybody using the term craft was probably talking about knitting. Soon, Chelsea’s philosophy of using quality ingredients to make then-hard-to-find styles such as stouts, amber ales and IPAs paid dividends on the national stage. Beyond that early gold for the Sunset Red Ale at the Great American Beer Festival, Chelsea’s won eight medals to date, including another gold for the coffee-kissed Black Hole XXX Stout in 2002 (which also took home bronze medals in both 2005 and 2008); a 2004 gold for the easy-sipping Sunset Wheat; and a 2007 bronze for the pleasantly bitter and grapefruity Hop Angel IPA.

Better still, in 2001 they’d decided to give the boot to the bottling line, which had been installed at great expense when the brewery was built. Back then, bars that wanted to expand their domestic selections were more interested in bottles than drafts, so the Checker Cab Blonde and Sunset Red were packaged in six packs for distribution to Connecticut, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. But sales never met expectations, and the glass was let go.

“I realized that bottling is something you have to do on a national level,” says Greene—meaning something on the order of Budweiser or an enormous craft brewery such as Oregon’s Rogue Ales, San Diego’s Stone or even Brooklyn Brewery, which had opened shop across the East River a decade earlier. “As I tell people,” Greene confides, “I don’t need to be the king of beers. I’ll be the prince of Manhattan any day.”

To that end, Chelsea Brewery severed its relationship with distributors and started delivering its own beer in kegs to bars around the city in 2002, which gave them a personal relationship with bar managers at craft-centric watering holes like Pony Bar in Hell’s Kitchen or Drop Off Service in the East Village. (Sometimes very personal: “Occasionally I get texts from people at 2 or 3 a.m. saying, ‘We need more beer,’” says Greene; he doesn’t deliver it.) Chelsea’s small-potatoes production—about 3,000 barrels per year—also ensures those kegs don’t arrive with beer that’s been sitting in storage for months. Bar owners “look at the barrel and see when the beer was filled,” says Greene. “We never have a beer in house that’s older than 45 days.” “This is what fresh beer is all about,” says Szmaida. “We don’t need to go coast to coast.” In fact, Chelsea’s decision to focus on putting their beers in local bars was prescient, considering that the locally made liquor movement continues to move mainstream.

Case in point: In the past six years both Sixpoint Brewery and Kelso opened up shop in the borough of Kings and have flourished along with ever-expanding Brooklyn Brewery. Not surprisingly, Chelsea is looking to tap into the growing demand for city-made suds, says Szmaida, who last year assumed head-brewing duties when Sheehan left to become brewmaster at a now-shuttered place in Newark. There are obstacles to expansion: “We only have room for six beers on tap at the brewery,” he says, noting that they also have to buy their own kegs, since they self-distribute. (Those cost $200 a pop, and have a habit of disappearing.)

Growing at their current locale would be easiest, but as always in this city there’s the issue of cost: Rent and utilities in Manhattan can be crippling. And while Chelsea Piers, their current landlord, now owns some prime commercial real estate, the waterfront location can still affect its tenants’ ability to do business. “When the weather’s not good, we’re not getting as many customers,” says Greene.

Top it all off with the fact that the 15-year-old operation often gets overlooked in the buzz of all the hot new beers being crafted within 100 miles in any direction. Even though Chelsea served as a training ground for both Sixpoint’s Shane Welch and Captain Lawrence’s Scott Vaccaro, “there are a lot of people in New York who don’t know who we are,” Greene laments. In fact, when the brewery’s 20-year lease expires in 2015, he is considering a move to—you guessed it—craft-beer-friendly Brooklyn.

But even if Chelsea Brewery relocates to some warehouse in Williamsburg—or by then, becomes the only brewery in Queens—one core concept will remain, says Szmaida: “We’ll be making fresh beer in New York, for New Yorkers.”