Four days in New York City is a very short period of time, especially for a beer geek on a honeymoon that was continually reminded, “This is not a beer vacation”. The city is filled with some of the world’s greatest museums, restaurants, architecture, landmarks, shops and, yes, beer. Crossing everything off the bucket list in one or two visits is impossible and becomes even harder when dealing with the wishes of a newly anointed spouse. Luckily it seems that I have chosen well and my wife was still happy to include some beer-related items in our itinerary. Here is a quick tour of what we did, as well as places that still have to be crossed off the NYC agenda.
Rattle N Hum is the one bar that everyone told me was a must-do for drinking. My idea of a world-class beer bar is shaped by bar Volo, so I was surprised to find a loud and dark bar filled with communal tables and lots of post-work drinkers escaping their Midtown jobs. It never would have seemed like a great beer bar until I saw the paper placemats that doubled as the beer menu. Not only did they include the pertinent details (name, style, ABV%), but also Ratebeer score, daily picks and what kegs are almost done. Oh yeah, the tap selection also runs forty beers deep. We could only stay for a pint and was sadly the only bar we ended up going to, but it was easy to see why this is a great bar.
The best two beer shops I went to in New York were surprisingly close but also very different in how they operated. The Whole Foods in the Bowery has its very own dedicated Beer Room, filled with hundreds of bottles from around the world, a couple of taps for growlers and home brewing equipment. The selection was great, though I was a little disappointed by the number of New York state breweries that were available. Most beers were available as singles, which is always appreciated for the out of town shopper. Just down the street was the bare-boned world of New Beer Distributors, which was also stocked with hundreds of beer but showed the grittier side of the Lower East Side. Cement floors, poor lighting but a wider selection and they let people break apart six-packs to buy singles. A nice haul, finished by paying the person on the other side of the (presumably bulletproof) glass. The only unfortunate thing about buying beer was that most of the seasonals tended towards pumpkin beers.
When you talk about breweries in NYC, everything begins and ends with Brooklyn Brewery. Access to the brewery is fairly limited (weekday tours are limited to 25 and must be reserved in advance), but the tour is worth the $8 and effort of reserving ahead of time. The tour gives access to the limited edition Brewmaster’s Reserve beers, which rarely get beyond the brewery and select bars in New York. On this night they had the Radius, a sessionable saison with a great wit aroma, and The Companion, an 11% wheat wine made for the release of The Oxford Companion of Beer (for which Brooklyn brewmaster Garrett Oliver as the editor). Add in samples of their Oktoberfest and Local 2, plus a hilarious tour guide by the name of Ben, and you’ve got a good night in Brooklyn. After an additional glass of the Blast, an imperial IPA, I was feeling pretty happy when going out into the Brooklyn night. (And then to Fatty Cue. Delicious Fatty Cue.)
Not Enough Time For: Sixpoint.
The thing I was most surprised about by New York restaurants is that most of them have at least a couple of really good beer selections. Almost every restaurant, from hipster to fine dining, had a beer that I wanted to try, which is much better than a lot of Toronto restaurants can say. We did also seek out restaurants with great beer lists to match their food, which led us to DBGB. One of the Daniel Bouloud restaurants, it has a great tap list to go along with French-style sausages. Yes, the prices are a notch higher than we’re used to for slightly smaller sizes, but the fantastic beers are worth extra.
Our first lunch was at Birreria, the rooftop beer haven of Mario Batali’s Eataly. There are two house casks made in conjunction with Dogfish Head, which were the Wanda (a chestnut mild) and Sofia (a Belgian wit). The Sofia was not a beer I would have served on cask as it just wasn’t carbonated enough to let all the nuances through (and was fairly expensive at $10 for a 16oz pint). A number of other Dogfish head beers were available on tap (I had the Sahtea), as well as a number of Italian beers (it is Batali after all). A lovely spot to grab a beer, but not a place that will become your regular watering hole.