Why have you bought me a giant apple for my birthday…and a Virgin Atlantic mug? Wait…are we going on to New York?! Yep, my other half had pulled off one hell of a birthday surprise. Just 8 days later we were heading off to Brooklyn, and whilst most people would be dreaming of the Statue of Liberty, we were firmly focused on immersing ourselves in the beer culture of the five boroughs.
Staying at an Airbnb in Brooklyn, we’d been in New York no longer than a few short hours when we found ourselves visiting Berg’n beer hall. For me, Berg’n was a highlight of the trip, and left me with some real inspiration. Berg’n is setup in an old car garage, and features a huge amount of seating, a sensibly sized bar – and three separate food stations, occupied by a rotating roster of food suppliers – keeping the gastronomic offering as fresh as the beers! Asia Dog, Ramen Burger and Mighty Quinns BBQ were resident during our stay – the burnt ends from Mighty Quinns are seriously good! I visited Berg’n in the hope that they’d have some Founders KBS leftover from the previous night’s tap takeover. This was pretty naïve of me, given the international applause afforded to the recently released beer – just that afternoon I’d received an email from Beer Hawk limiting purchase to two bottles per person. Alas, there was none – so we settled for our first NYC beers from the huge bottle list available at Berg’n. Looking for something mild to start off the night, I opted for a Blue Point Brewing Company Mosaic Session IPA. A beautiful light beer, playing host to Mosaic, Centennial and Simcoe hops – the kind of beer you can imagine sitting on your garden table on the one day of the year the sun has decided to shine in the UK. My partner in beer crime opted for a Bells Two Hearted Ale – bursting with hops, just how he likes it. In fact, he liked it so much he didn’t put a ring on it, but he did stuff some in a suitcase to bring home. Then the real magic happened. After becoming acquainted with our barman Alec and giving him some inspiration for a beer tour of the UK, a large water jug appeared from the fridge, filled with mysterious dark liquid….yep, Founders KBS and we were given a half pint of this manna from heaven to try for free. This is the real magic of New York – people you’d call strangers treat you like close friends. Needless to say that the Founders didn’t disappoint, personally, I tend to find that anything above 9% ABV might as well be drunk in shot form, but the Kentucky Breakfast Stout aged in whiskey barrels really is a masterpiece, a dark almost viscous nectar with all the notes of coffee and chocolate that you’d expect. There’s no mistaking the high alcohol volume, but it’s a pleasure to drink –dangerous almost. So thanks Alec!
The next stop on our beer tour could almost be considered a craft beer pilgrimage. Nestled in the heart of Williamsburg, in the former home of a matzo factory, Brooklyn Brewery has had a large hand in converting the mean streets of Williamsburg into a bustling modern neighbourhood. Situated on 79 North 11th Street, Brooklyn Brewery features a huge tasting room and regular brewery tours. The brewery is sign posted by a huge Brooklyn Brewery B on the warehouse wall – and some Egyptian hieroglyphics, in a subtle nod to the origins of beer in ancient Egypt. The B has become iconic, not just in the borough of Brooklyn, but throughout the beer industry, and the story behind the logo is an interesting one. The brewery was setup by Steve Hindy a former war correspondent and his neighbour Tom Potter. Hindy was looking for a slightly more stable industry – so he moved into beer brewing in 1984. There’s a joke in there somewhere….Hindy and Potter were big fans of Milton Glaser, the creator of the ‘I heart NYC’ slogan – and the pair decided they wanted the same level of simplicity and identity for their brand. Glaser wasn’t easily won, and the story goes that Hindy called Glaser’s secretary for a year, before turning up at his office at just the right time and securing a new logo for the brewery in exchange for shares in the brewery. Glaser transformed the brand identity with the use of the simple B – taking it from the Brooklyn Eagles Brewery – to the Brooklyn Brewery. Now shipped globally, a trip to the Brooklyn Brewery is a must see to pay homage to a brewery that’s been instrumental in the global craft movement. Brewery tours take place seven days a week, and every half an hour on weekends. Whilst waiting for your tour, you can exchange dollars for beer tokens and enjoy a Brooklyn brew in the beautifully air conditioned tap room – a welcome break from the scorching sunshine of midday in New York. My choice? Check out the Sorachi Ace, a smooth farmhouse saison, named after the Japanese Sorachi Ace hop, it’ll quench your thirst with a clean malt flavour, dancing down the palate with the punchy aroma of the eponymous hops. A trip to New York wouldn’t be the same without a visit to the hallowed halls of Brooklyn Brewery.
Sticking in Brooklyn, and onto our next beer hall, we tripped just a few short blocks away to Covenhoven, a tap room that had been the first suggestion from most of the New Yorkers we’d sought advice from – just before they recommended beers from a local brewery known as the Other Half – but more on them later. Covenhoven is a beer lovers treasure chest, found on the corner of Classon Avenue and Park Place, featuring 100+ bottles, and 16 taps – not to mention a rack full of canned beers and almost 10 different growler options. We met yet another New York beer aficionado, who again welcomed us like friends as we took up our seats at the bar. We decided to sample a few beers and then – with aching feet from a 28km slog around Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty – stocked up on take home. When you’re in a tap room like Covenhoven, it’s difficult not to turn into the sugar addict child in a sweet shop when faced with all the brightly coloured bottles beaming from behind the fridge doors – with their siren call of ‘take me home…’. We opted for a broad mix of beers from a number of different breweries:
- Westbrook One Claw – a canned American pale ale from Westbrook. A light beer, pouring with a light white head. Easy on the palate and a great tribute to the APA.
- Off Color Apex Predator – bright lemon Farmhouse ale, with a fruity refreshing tang from the cold pitched yeast.
- Ecliptic / Wicked Weed / Stone Brewing Co Points Unknown IPA – not for everyone, this is a double brewed beer which started life as a Belgian style tripel aged in oak barrels from red wine and tequila, then blended with a west coast double IPA the result is strong in malted flavours, with a whisper of citrusy hops
In my humble opinion, we saved the best until last. Throughout our beer tour of the five boroughs, we didn’t just hear whispers about Other Half Brewing – we were practically deafened by praise for this brewery that were resident to Brooklyn and had only been brewing since the latter end of 2014. Every time we’d been to a bar in search of a taste of beer from this almost mysterious brewery, they’d sold out. We decided to take the bull by the horns and visit their brewery and tap room in Carrol Gardens. Situated opposite the golden arches of a tiny McDonalds, we spent a little while scratching our heads and trying to find the entrance – it really is that small. The taproom probably has the capacity for 25 people at most – and the over spill is handled by a space half the size at the front of the brewery. No pomp and ceremony here – the tap room was clearly set up as a result of the kind of public demand that had swept across New York like wildfire. We kept hearing that Other Half were unique in that you’d like every single beer they had on offer – despite the hefty variety of styles they brewed. Walking through the small door of the taproom was reminiscent of prohibition era America – sneaking through the secret entrance of a speakeasy, to find yourself privy to the boroughs best kept secret. The paint is peeling off the walls, the door requires an A4 sheet of instructions just to open it properly – but it doesn’t matter because the beer does the real talking. I started with a Boogie Board Stuntz – a freshly brewed Kolsch style, made with Mandarina Bavaria and Mosaic hops; a smooth tribute to the Cologne style of top down fermented beer, which is famously drunk in large tall thin glasses known as the champagne flutes of the beer world. It was the perfect entry into the world of a brewery I am now a devoted fan of. Ramping up the ABV we moved onto Green Diamonds – a sweet golden Double IPA, which is ridiculously easy to drink for a beer with an ABV of 9.1%. We reluctantly left the brewery whilst we could still walk – but resolved to come back tomorrow for takeaway. As we left, we thought nothing of the brewers conversation about being ‘ready for tomorrow’ and ‘eating a solid meal and getting a very early night’ – we presumed they were off on holiday, or had a speciality brew on the go that required an early start. How wrong we were. Arriving back at the brewery at 10am to procure some takeaway cans to pack in our suitcases, we were greeted by a queue snaking from the door, right around the corner – without even the NYC sunshine tempting custom away from the beer and into the golden arches of McDonalds opposite the brewery doors. Now we understood the conversation between the brewers – we were stood in the queue for two hours, which conveniently gave us the excuse to order more beer than we had anticipated, accounting for the time we had lost. We returned home with a case of Green Diamonds – and something we hadn’t tried before, Equinox. Equinox is an American IPA, with hefty hop usage that gives the beer a tropical taste, but doesn’t obliterate the light malts. Definitely my favourite of the two beers we brought home.
With an extra case full of beer, we made our way through JFK (and the hilarity of the TSA officer who kept proclaiming how much he hated Heathrow!) – and once boarded we reflected with misty eyes on how much we’d miss NYC – and it’s incredible beer scene. For me, it cemented my belief that the rise and rise of craft beer is naturally as a result of the beer itself – but simply wouldn’t happen without the people. From the brewers at the Other Half who I’m still in touch with now, to Alec at Berg’n and the inspiring story of Steve Hindy and Tom Potter at Brooklyn brewery – no longer do we go to the pub drink beer and meet people – we go all over the world to meet the people who like to make great beers the centre piece of both our conversation and the event itself.