New York

Beer as Narrative: A Chat with Anthony & Rob from Transmitter Brewing

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I got off the train with iPhone in hand, trying to figure out the best way to make it across the entrance to the Midtown Tunnel. It was barely 20 degrees and the wind was beating my face, but I was determined to make it to Transmitter Brewing in Long Island City, Queens on time to meet Anthony Accardi and Rob Kolb. As I made it closer to the brewery and peered at the Manhattan skyline, a nagging question raced into my head: Why the heck am I out here freezing my ass off in the first place?  Once I met Anthony and Rob and saw Transmitter for the first time, the answer was clear.

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Anthony and Rob focus on traditional and farmhouse ales, with a special zeal for experimenting with their wide library of yeast strains. They work with over 20 isolated strains of Brettanomyces, Lactobacillus, and Pediococcus, as well as other traditional yeast varieties. However, it’s the interplay of all the ingredients of beer that fuel their creativity and passion for brewing amazing beer.

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Before ever trying Transmitter Brewing’s beers, I was struck by the beauty of their bottles. Anthony explained the history of the label design:

The labels are designed by Jeff Rogers and are inspired by something called a QSL card. Amateur HAM radio operators would make contact and then acknowledge the contact with a post card that referenced the technical aspects of their equipment and signal strength as well as usually adding a personal note.

Their bottles are available at various bottle shops throughout NYC or on weekends at the brewery. Consider joining their CSB (Community Supported Brewery) bottle share program. Details are on their website: http://www.transmitterbrewing.com/

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With growing demand for Transmitter Brewing beer, I was curious about plans for expansion. Anthony and Rob recently upgraded to a 6 barrel brewhouse at the beginning of 2015. They also have around 35 barrels of stainless steel fermentation space to play with, in addition to 28 wooden casks of various alcoholic persuasions. That’s approximately 60 barrels of volume for both primary fermentation, as well as longer term aging.

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Rob Kolb (left) & Anthony Accardi (right)

Anthony and Rob have created a wide range of fantastic and unique beers during the past year. Here is their take on the beers that have been the most surprising:

W3 Hibiscus Wit with Orange Peel and Coriander took a long time to come together in a way that we liked. There was some acidity and tannic dryness in the young version that needed time to soften and come around. It did and was a beer that sold out very quickly. I think what is the most surprising aspect is always the temporal element to the beers we make. They are living beers, constantly changing, and it is interesting and fascinating to taste along its journey. There are notes and esters that slowly emerge and fade with time. I love that about our beer. They are not snapshots of a flavor, they are more like movies with a narrative.

Riding the G train back to Brooklyn, I sat and reflected on that last line for quite some time. “They are not snapshots of a flavor, they are more like movies with a narrative.” It occurred to me that this is exactly why I made a crosstown trek to Transmitter Brewing in the bitter cold. This is what compels me to meet random brewers, sometimes jumping on a train and often driving 300+ miles. It’s the artistry in creating something brand new and wonderful from disparate ingredients that fuels my quest to capture its beauty.

15 in 15: Fifteen Breweries to Watch in 2015

New York City is just not the same anymore. With landmarks like Bereket on East Houston, Gray’s Papaya, and Pearl Paint shutting its doors forever last year, the NYC I grew up in is quickly vanishing. Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York has a complete list of popular sites that are gone forever. The site is also known as the Book of Lamentations: a Bitterly Nostalgic Look at a City in the Process of Going Extinct. Let’s see what gets added to the 2015 list.  Oy vey!

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As comforting as it is to see a familiar NYC, a city I grew up in and ran through the streets as a teenager, I do welcome some change with open arms. The craft beer scene in NYC has exploded in the past two years. When I started writing about beer a couple of years ago, I couldn’t keep up with the new beer spots that were popping up across the city. Now some of these spots have already become legendary, attracting craft beer aficionados from across the globe. Just sit at the bar in Torst for two hours and you’ll likely run into a few tourists. The quality of New York beer can now rival the other great beer cities in the country (San Diego, Denver, and Portland to name a few). If you don’t think NYC is on the map with world-class breweries, you’re missing out on a lot of fantastic beer being brewed in the boroughs of the Big Apple. The fifteen breweries below are my picks for the New York breweries to keep a close eye on in 2015. I am eager to see what surprises they have in store this year.

Author’s Note: I have included a few breweries from Long Island and the Hudson Valley in my list of 15. They can all be reached from NYC via LIRR, MetroNorth, or automobile in an hour or less.

1. Barrier Brewing Company (Oceanside, Nassau County)

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As I write this, I’m thinking about the half growler of Barrier’s BBHCFM sitting in my fridge. The Black Double IPA was so good, I took a growler home from Hoptron Brewtique, something I rarely do. Barrier rarely disappoints me and I’ve had a lot of their beers over the past few years. Every time I visit the brewery, they have offerings I’ve never seen before. Barrier seems to churn out new stuff all the time and I don’t remember drinking a beer that I disliked. Brewers Craig and Evan have mastered such a wide range of styles, but they also devote ample time to crafting regular favorites such as the fantastic Money IPA. If Barrier was located closer to NYC, this self-distributing gem would be receiving even more attention.

Try: Dunegrass (DIPA), Daddy Warbucks (DIPA), or the two ridiculously good beers mentioned above

2. Bridge and Tunnel Brewery (Maspeth & Ridgewood, Queens)

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The future of Rich Castagna’s Bridge and Tunnel Brewery is bright. 2015 will be a defining year for the nano-brewery veteran who is in the process of setting up his larger brewing headquarters in Ridgewood, Queens. The new space will allow Rich to increase production by 500%. Yes, you read that right! From 50 to 300 gallon batches. He also has several new beers being released this year, including a Habañero IPA named Phoenix on Starr. (If you ever visit The Sampler in Bushwick, ask Rafael what the name stands for.) I’m super excited for increased capacity because Bridge and Tunnel beer will soon be in more bars, restaurants and beer shops in the NYC area very soon.

Try: My all time favorite brown ale is Tiger Eyes Hazelnut Brown. (I’m working on a longer feature, spotlighting Bridge and Tunnel’s upcoming releases. Try any of those, as well.)

3. Bronx Brewery (Boogie Down Bronx)

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I’ll be completely frank… I’m not the biggest fan of the Bronx Brewery. I’ve found their beers to be mediocre and I wasn’t happy about their contract brewing situation. (Until now, all of their beers have been brewed mainly in Wisconsin.) Contract brewing is a layered issue and has been debated within the craft beer community for quite some time. I appreciate Chris O’Leary’s balanced approach to contract brewing in his Brew York post. After visiting the recently-opened brewery and tasting room in the Bronx, I’ve had a slight change of heart. In the tasting room’s bathroom, “we made it” is stenciled into the wall. The brewery is a fine example of what determination, hard work, and some good luck can bring to those who dream big. It’s amazing to see Bronx Pale Ale being served at Madison Square Garden and Yankee Stadium. I’m hopeful 2015 will be a watershed year for these guys who are now officially brewing beer in the Boogie Down.

Try: Head to the brewery/tasting room and try anything fresh from their recent Bronx batches.

4. Captain Lawrence (Elmsford, Westchester)

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Scott Vaccaro, founder and head brewer of Captain Lawrence, has been commanding a solid line-up for the past 10 years. Scott and his brewing team have a vast repertoire of brews, from award-winning sours to solid barrel-aged beers and plenty of crowd pleasers in between. An ideal reason to jump on the Metro-North, the Elmsford brewery is a quick ride from Grand Central Station.

Try: Captain’s Reserve Imperial IPA or Cuvee De Castleton

5.  Finback Brewery (Glendale, Queens)

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Two years ago, I stumbled upon news of a new brewery opening up in Queens. I happily realized it would be located blocks away from our apartment in Glendale, a locale devoid of good beer. I kept a close eye on their progress and opening date, eventually getting in touch with founders/brewers Kevin Stafford and Basil Lee. I battled a cold and blustery winter’s night and rode over to get a tour of the brewery before it opened. (More on that visit here.) After a year of grinding and hustling, the hard work paid off. Finback recently released two bottled beers (Smoke Detection and the highly coveted Barrel-Aged BQE Imperial Stout). They also were recognized as the New York brewery of 2014 in the stellar Brew York site. Visit the brewery and bring a few friends.

Try: Moby Hop is excellent. Try to get your hands on the Barrel-Aged BQE. (It currently has a well-deserved 97 on Beer Advocate and is the highest-rated NYC beer on Untappd.)

6. Greenpoint Beer and Ale Company (Greenpoint, Brooklyn)

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Greenpoint Beer & Ale Company is the brewing arm of Ed Raven’s Dirck the Norseman, a fantastic restaurant and bar that opened in March 2014. Ed is no stranger to the Brooklyn craft beer scene. He also owns beer shop Brouwerij Lane and Raven Brands, a beer importing company. Brewers Chris Prout and Erik Olsen are cranking out some really great beer at the Greenpoint brewpub.

Try: For some smokey goodness try their Grodziskie.

7. Grimm Artisanal Ales (Brooklyn-based gypsy brewery)

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I don’t remember when I had my first Grimm Artisanal Ale. Honestly, it was the label that probably drew me in. Gretta Johnson is crafting some of the prettiest labels in the game right now. I had to snatch up a bottle on the strength of the artwork alone. Lauren and Joe Grimm brew test batches in their Gowanus apartment, eventually bringing their recipes and ingredients to partnering brewing facilities to make magic happen on a grander scale. The gypsy brewing duo recently earned a GABF silver medal for their Double Negative, a key win in the highly-contested Imperial Stout category. With the exception of Double Negative, their small-batches are intended to be one-off releases. What’s here today will certainly be gone tomorrow, so don’t hesitate to pick up a Grimm bomber if you see one at your local beer shop.

Try: Grab anything you can find!

8. Gun Hill Brewing Company (Williamsbridge, Bronx)

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I met Chris Sheehan, Gun Hill brewmaster, at a Manhattan bar while trying some of his beers for the first time. After chatting for a while about all things beer, he invited me up to the Bronx to visit the brand new brewery on Laconia Avenue. The tasting room just opened the week before and the first batches of beer were eagerly awaiting consumption. This is before Chris’ Void of Light won a Gold Medal at the 2014 GABF. We excitedly talked about Void of Light which was actually still in a fermentation vessel, unbeknownst of its future glory. I’m a big fan of Chris Sheehan’s beer and I know Gun Hill will continue to make noise in 2015.

Try: Of course, grab yourself a Void of Light Stout or try the solid Gun Hill IPA.

9.  Newburgh Brewing Company (Newburgh, Hudson Valley)

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The folks at Peekskill (below) advised me to check out Newburgh Brewing Company if I wanted to experience another superb Hudson Valley brewery while in the area. After returning to the area a few months later, we were able to spend some time with Christopher Basso, co-founder and brewmaster. He walked us through the immense space, a former paper-box factory, and talked about some of his upcoming special releases. Christopher, who spent time working under the renowned Garret Oliver at Brooklyn Brewery, is certainly carving out his own legacy with a phenomenal rotation of beers.

Try: Cream Ale or Hop Drop Double IPA

10.  Other Half Brewing Company (Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn)

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The best India Pale Ales in New York are being made by Other Half Brewing Company. I don’t think this is a subjective statement. If there was a scientific way to prove this, my statement would be vindicated. Just look at Other Half’s Untappd or Beer Advocate scores if you need some sort of concrete data. The brewery and tasting room is open to the public from Thursday through Saturday. If you see any Other Half beers on tap around town, order one right away.

Try: Green Diamonds or All Green Everything (rated the number one beer in 2014 by the Village Voice)

11. Peekskill Brewery (Peekskill, Hudson Valley)

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I freaking love this place. Great food and really great beer = jump on the MetroNorth and spend an afternoon at this fantastic brewpub. I’m a big fan of their IPAs, but their Simple Sour was a game changer for me. After reading this New York Times article about Peekskill’s Simple Sour, I had a dream of enjoying sour beer. Prior to this dream, I was not a fan of the mouth-puckering variety. I was compelled to look for the nearest bar serving Simple Sour that same day and realized that my palate was forever changed (all thanks to a very random dream and Peekskill’s awesome Berliner Weisse).

Try: Simple Sour is a great sour/wild ale gateway beer. I love Eastern Standard (IPA) and Higher Standard (DIPA).

12.  Port Jeff Brewing Company (Port Jefferson, Suffolk County)

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After Blue Point Brewing Company was sold to Anheuser-Busch InBev, I’ve made a concerted effort to only support independent breweries in my new neighborhood. I do want to support local industry, and Blue Point provides local jobs, but I’d rather my dollars go to the smaller guys. One such “small guy” is this wonderful operation in Port Jefferson, Long Island. I had a few of their beers before, but gained a much deeper level of respect when I finally visited the brewery. I’ve had “try em all” flights on two separate occasions. Both tasting sessions left me with the impression that Port Jeff Brewing Company is certainly a force to be reckoned with on Long Island. Port Jefferson is a fantastic Long Island destination for a day trip or an overnight getaway. Don’t forget to add Port Jeff Brewing Company to your itinerary.

Try: Party Boat is their flagship beer and it’s a solid IPA. I really enjoyed their Porter which is available in 22oz bottles.

13. Singlecut Beersmiths (Astoria, Queens)

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I was born in Astoria, so I have a soft spot for Singlecut Beersmiths. On top of that, their tap handles are guitars. How cool is that? The beer, let’s talk about the beer! Singlecut has solid offerings that often go unrecognized. Their Billy IPAs are all excellent and so are their Bon Bon offerings. The brewery, although a trek from the subway, is an ideal beer destination if you haven’t visited yet.

Try: Michael Dark Lyric Lagrrr! (regular or rum barrel aged) or any of the aforementioned beers

14. Threes Brewing (Gowanus, Brooklyn)

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The most recent addition to the NYC craft brewery scene among this list, Threes is already bringing the heat.  Brewmaster Greg Doroski is serving up sought after saisons and a variety of other styles. Their farmhouse inspired ales are some of the best I’ve tried in recent memory. I highly recommend visiting Threes Brewing even if it’s just to see their multifaceted and simply gorgeous space.

Try: You can’t go wrong with either saison – Wandering Bine or Mechanical Spring

15. Transmitter Brewing (Long Island City, Queens)

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I must admit, I haven’t had a chance to try many of Transmitter Brewing’s beers yet. I do know that founders and brewers Rob Kolb and Anthony Accardi are onto something very special, poetic, and downright sublime. They focus on farmhouse style beers and offer their ales in beautifully designed bottles. Their Community Supported Brewery program ($175 + tax) gets you twelve bottles, two every month for six months to be picked up at the brewery. (After a recent visit to the brewery, I plan on completing a full feature very soon.)

Beer is much more than the sum of its parts. At its most pure form, it’s just four simple ingredients: hops, malt, water and yeast. It is only through the synergy of process and those basic building blocks that unique and interesting interpretations of beer styles are possible. Through the process of brewing, it is possible to make an infinite number of flavor combinations and styles. It is this endless creative possibility that fuels and flames our passion for fermenting beer. Our satisfaction comes from the combination of the basic understanding of the ingredients and their interactions and the “aha” moments of discovery of the synergy between them. – From the Transmitter website

Try: Anything you can get your hands on

SELECT SCENES FROM THE 15

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Threes Brewing: Baptism by Fire

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The buzz leading up to Threes’ opening night prompted me to miss my usual train back east and head to the brand new Gowanus brewery, bar and event space. As I walked into the the gorgeous venue, the welcoming char smell hit me right away. Were they already warming up their wood-fired oven? Was this the smokey magical scent of Rauchbier being made? I quickly learned that Threes had a fire the night before, which explained why they weren’t serving beer on draught twenty minutes after the official opening. This was not a small, grab the fire extinguisher and there you go fire. The FDNY sprinkled enough water to properly bless the brewery on the eve of its first day of business. Water everywhere, plenty of smoke, and opening day only a few hours away.

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Eager guests made their way to the bar hoping to try Threes beer, only to find out that none was available. Within an hour, one tap was operational. As I sipped on my first Threes Brewing beer, I felt a deep sense of admiration for the tenacity and determination of Threes’ staff. The fire was a setback, but didn’t derail opening night and the official unveiling of some really delicious and expertly crafted beers.

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I briefly met with Greg Doroski, head brewer of Threes, to offer my congratulations on a successful opening after an unexpectedly chaotic night. I believe in signs and this fire has to be a good omen for Threes Brewing. Greg, the former Greenport Harbor brewer, is super enthusiastic about his current line-up and the other beers being released in the coming weeks.

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Threes will be a multifaceted space: brewpub, bar, event space, and coffee shop. Join their mailing list to keep up with their special events and performances. http://threesbrewing.com/   

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My favorite beer writer Joshua Bernstein did a feature on Threes Brewing back in September. Check it out for further background info:

http://joshuambernstein.com/2014/09/04/introducing-brooklyns-threes-brewing/

If you do stop by, start with the Wandering Bine Saison.  It certainly is one of the finer Saisons I’ve had in a while.

Cheers,

BierWAX

The Top Beers Brewed in New York City: BierWAX Edition

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With all of the new breweries popping up in New York City, how can one figure out which breweries and beers are a cut above the rest?  Luckily, the blog brewyorknewyork.com made it easier for New York craft beer drinkers to see which breweries are churning out product of the highest quality. In their October 28, 2014 article titled “The Top Beers Brewed in New York City: Fall Edition,”  they used data from the popular craft beer app Untappd to rank the best beers and breweries in the Big Apple.

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Here is the methodology they used for their rankings:

We pulled the ratings for every beer brewed in New York City and their ratings. We also had a cutoff of minimum check-ins (100) for a beer in order for it to be included, so we could get a fair sample size. This means some smaller, newer breweries weren’t included, and only beers brewed in New York City by breweries that also brew outside (Brooklyn, Sixpoint, Bronx) were included. We also excluded one-off beers that are out of production or have been relatively inactive on Untappd for more than one year.

Breweries that have several beers on rotation with stellar ratings on Untappd found themselves at the top of the list. I wasn’t surprised by Other Half claiming the coveted number one position with their recent incredible releases such as Green Diamonds and All Green Everything. However, for Brooklyn Brewery to come in at number two makes me question the integrity of Untappd data and reminds me that the New York City craft beer scene has a long way to go.

Here is the Brew York breakdown by brewery:

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I wasn’t satisfied with this ranking at all. I trust Brew York’s methodology, but I don’t think Untappd as a craft beer community could provide reliable data. (More about that later.) What I decided to do is to use a similar methodology as Brew York, but substitute Beer Advocate for Untappd.  Here is what I uncovered.

Brewery Weighted Rating Beer Advocate Rating
Other Half Brewing Co. 93 98
Sixpoint Brewery 90 92
Singlecut Beersmiths 87 95
Brooklyn Brewery 87 87
Kelso 86 not rated

The weighted rating was based on each brewery’s five most rated beers on Beer Advocate. I calculated the weighted average of the five beers for each brewery. Some of my favorite new breweries in NYC didn’t make the cut, as they didn’t have nearly enough ratings. Finback, Transmitter, and Gun Hill do not have any beers that have been rated by at least 50 people on Beer Advocate. As you can see, Brooklyn Brewery is second to last using Beer Advocate data.

Here’s a comparison of the highest rated beers on Untappd and Beer Advocate. Brooklyn Brewery’s Black Ops is a great beer, but number one beer in NYC?  NO WAY!

Brew York’s List (based on Untappd)

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BierWAX’s list (based on Beer Advocate)

Brewery Beer Rating
Other Half All Green Everything 97
Other Half Green Diamonds 94
Other Half Citra 93
Other Half Hop Showers 93
Sixpoint Hi-Res 93
Singlecut Beersmiths Billy Full Stack DIPA 93
Brooklyn Brewery Black Chocolate Stout 93
Brooklyn Brewery Black Ops 93
Kelso Industrial Pale Ale 93
Sixpoint Resin 92

I do have to give props to Untappd for their slick and easy to use app. Compared to the design of the BeerAdvocate app, stylistically Untappd is miles ahead. I am very interested in a demographic comparison between Untappd users versus Beer Advocate members. Which community is comprised of more seasoned craft beer drinkers as opposed to craft beer newbies? Indeed, this would impact the accuracy of the site’s beer ratings. My hunch, not grounded in data at all, is that Untappd has a large number of members who are fairly new to the craft beer scene. I’m all for an app that makes it easier for new craft beer drinkers to explore other beers, beer styles, and breweries. Untappd has done a great job building on the momentum of the exploding craft beer scene across the country.

Beer Advocate is not without its own flaws. The site as a whole tends to favor DIPAs, Imperial Stouts, and one-off beers that are almost impossible to find unless you wait on line for half a day. Very good lagers and other excellent lower ABV craft beers barely pass the high 80s grade on Beer Advocate, so no beer rating community is without its own idiosyncrasies.

I salute Brew York for doing this regular rundown of the best beers and breweries in NYC. I’m curious to see how things change by next season. I wonder if they would consider utilizing Beer Advocate and perhaps RateBeer in addition to Untappd for future editions of this NYC best-of list?

Addendum:  I have been in touch with Brew York via Twitter and they offered these comments with regard to why they feel Untappd is the better craft beer community to rely on for drinking data.  Read from bottom up!

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Thanks to the good folks at Brew York for offering their contrasting point of view.  Hey, I might even rejoin Untappd now!

Better Than Pliny? (The Magic 8)

I was geeking out the other day with a bartender at an Upper East Side bar. We were sharing some of our favorite India Pale Ales (IPAs) and Double/Imperial India Pale Ales (DIPAs) throughout the country. We offered up a variety of our own favorites, but both agreed that Pliny the Elder is a grossly overrated beer. It’s a great beer, but there are plenty of other amazing hoppy fish in the sea. Here are some of the IPAs and DIPAs that I spit out during our craft beer nerd-fest. One of these below was a recommendation from said bartender who mentioned that it’s his second favorite IPA next to Heady Topper. This list doesn’t include Heady Topper.  (Much is already documented about my love for Heady Topper and my multiple Heady adventures.)

In no particular order…

1.  Hill Farmstead Brewery’s Abner:

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My brother and I were in Waterbury, Vermont, looking to bring home a few cases of Heady Topper and we stumbled across this incredible beer at the Reservoir Restaurant and Taproom. We took our first sip and immediately looked at each other in amazement. One of us immediately looked Abner up on Beer Advocate and quickly realized that this beer is a big deal. I won’t say how high the rating is, just take a look for yourself. Too bad Hill Farmstead isn’t super close to Waterbury. We also promised to return home to NYC that same day. One day we will make it there for sure.

2.  Bell’s Hopslam

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NYC was devoid of anything from Bell’s for quite a long time.  When the Michigan brewery finally struck a deal to distribute its beers in New York, craft beer venues pulled out their red carpets to welcome the much-lauded brewery. Their most popular beer, Two Hearted Ale, is a superb beer. It truly was my go to beer when the local bodega began carrying six-packs on a regular basis. However, it’s the harder-to-find Hopslam that truly pleased my palate. A few bottle shops in NYC put a two bottle maximum limit on Hopslam purchases when it was first made available.  Since then, I haven’t seen it around too much. Next time I do, I plan to snatch a few up right away.

3.  Alpine Beer Company’s Duet

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You will not see this beer in bars, restaurants or bottle shops in New York.  I traded a few Heady Topper cans last year to folks out in California. I actually asked for Pliny, but the West Coast IPA connoisseur told me to trust his hop guidance and sent me a bottle of this instead. It definitely didn’t disappoint. After having Pliny a few times, I think Duet is a better-balanced and overall tastier beer than Pliny the Elder. If any of my West Coast friends are reading this, please ship me a bottle of Duet.

4. Long Trail Brewing Company’s Limbo IPA 

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I might get hate-mail by claiming this beer by Long Trail is better than Russian River Brewing Company’s mainstay. There is something special about this beer. Maybe it’s Long Trail’s use of Australian hops which tend to impart delightful tropical fruit flavors. Long Trail started using the experimental Farmhouse Pilot Brewery to brew one-off batches that became quite popular on draft. Their Limbo IPA is the first of these pilot beers to be bottled and distributed widely. Don’t overlook or underestimate this Vermont gem.

5.  Maine Beer Company’s Lunch

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The first time I had this beer was at my beloved Guilty Goose, a phenomenal craft beer-centric restaurant in Chelsea, NYC. Eddie, the super awesome bartender over there (not sure if he’s still there), was always a Maine Beer Company aficionado.  I’ve had a few of their beers, but this one… Wow! (nuff said)

6.  Proclamation Ale Company’s Tendril

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My great friend Keith not only holds a doctorate now, but also knows a little something about good beer. During our annual trip up to Providence, he strongly urged us to try an IPA by a new brewery in the state, Proclamation Ale Company. My BeerMenus app wasn’t working too well in Providence, so my wife and I decided to just go to the source to try this IPA he spoke so highly of. I hope to do a full write up of the brewery soon. Tendril certainly didn’t disappoint. It was one of the best new IPAs I’ve tried in a while. You will only be able to find Tendril in Rhode Island for now. It was so good I almost put aside my disdain for growlers to take some Tendril back home to enjoy.

7.  Port Brewing Company’s Hop-15 Ale 

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Hop-15 is another West Coast beer that is difficult to find out East. Port Brewing Company has a wonderful portfolio and this is one of their best. Admittedly, I haven’t had this one in quite a while, but my first impression was very memorable. Here’s another one to stuff into a sock, to place ever so carefully into the middle of your (check-in) suitcase.

8.  Other Half Brewing Company’s Green Diamonds

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I absolutely love the name of this beer.  You can only go so far with different catchy iterations of that dank, piney and bitter flower we love so much. Beyond a great name, Other Half truly created what might be the best Imperial IPA in New York. I’ve had amazing New York IPAs by the likes of Six Point (Resin), Barrier (Daddy Warbucks), Ithaca (Flower Power), Peekskill (Eastern Standard), and Newburgh (Hop Drop). At this moment of time, Green Diamonds is my absolute favorite IPA the Empire State has to offer.

If you have any other IPAs or DIPAs to put on my radar, please leave a comment. I’ve tried so many beers, I might have forgotten about it. As I’m wrapping this post up, I just remembered how much I love Sierra Nevada’s Hoptimum. Let’s see if I can do a Better Than Pliny follow up by next year. For now, I’ll keep searching.

Southern Tier Brewing Company

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Southern Tier Brewing Company was on my list of breweries to visit since I fell in love with Imperial Pumpking a few autumns ago. Distance is the only thing that prevented me from checking them out. Lakewood is actually closer to Ohio than NYC. During my winter trip to Empire in Syracuse, my close friend Grandmaster Ben Wah proposed we hit up another upstate brewery when I visited next. I mentioned Southern Tier and he was game to take the 3+ hour ride from Binghamton to the Southwestern tip of New York State.

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My adventure began after work on Friday. I jumped on the road somewhat early, hoping to beat rush hour traffic. Apparently, rush hour must start before 2:00 on summer Fridays in NYC. It took me over an hour to get out of the Bronx. Not fun! I summoned my inner monk to just embrace my reality: bumper to bumper, stop-and-go expressway madness. Once the concrete jungle was in my rearview mirror, I was able to reach actual highway speed. I went to school upstate, so this commute was not at all new to me. I ignored my urges to pull out the GPS and used the force instead to guide the way toward Binghamton, my overnight stay. I realized I was lost when I wound up in the mountains – I never remembered such a steep and treacherous route to my alma mater. It was quite scenic, though, and I discovered a Hasidic Jewish community in the wilderness (I kid you not).

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Fast forward to Saturday morning. We wake up early to make the trek to Southern Tier Brewing Co. On the way, we find a live bait vending machine. That was definitely the oddest thing I’ve seen in a while. We also found a town with an interesting name. If we had more time, we were going to stop and ask directions to Havana to see if we could piss off any locals. It probably was better that we didn’t.

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Southern Tier Brewing Company: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

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The Good

Southern Tier has some remarkable beer. Many of their key beers are rated above 90 on Beer Advocate, which is a great accomplishment. As a brewery, they have a “World Class” rating with a score of 95. Take a look: Southern TierThe brewery is modern, super slick, and just plain gorgeous.

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Even the business office looks immaculate. It’s probably the result of someone with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

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I was able to have the first batch of Imperial Pumpking, which was just released that morning. Quite early for a fall seasonal, but I’ll take it! (Check out tap number three!)

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The Bad

I drove all the way from NYC and I wasn’t able to do a tour. The tours were at 1:00, 2:30, and 4:30. We just missed the 1:00 tour by 5 minutes. We thought we were guaranteed to attend the 2:30 tour, only to find out all tours were booked until 4:30. Apparently, you need to get tickets first thing in the morning. I just wanted to chat with someone who was knowledgable of their history and brewing process, at the very least.

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The Ugly

I would have been satisfied to chat with a Southern Tier staff member about anything Southern Tier related; however, that didn’t happen. Most of the staff members I encountered were not approachable or were just plain rude. When I asked if they were filling growlers yet of Imperial Pumking, I was answered with “Uh, that’s not gonna happen!” I also wanted to get a flight to try as many beers as possible and still make it to a BBQ later that evening. The bartender told me that none were available and didn’t know when they would be. Less than ten minutes later, two guys approached the bar and left with two flights. People travel from great distances to experience the brewery. Southern Tier management should ensure employees are equipped to interact with its customers. I didn’t take much away with me besides a few bombers and some nice photos. (Plus a very good time hanging with my great friend Wah.)

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The bottom line for me, though, is the beer. Southern Tier makes some fantastic beer. It was great to visit a top-notch brewery from my very own state, albeit 8 hours away. I cracked open one of the bombers I arrived home with and I made peace with the not so friendly Southern Tier staff as I sipped my delicious Imperial Compass. I’ll do a write up on that very soon.

Cheers,

BierWAX

A Grand Discovery (Beer Table Pantry)

With all of the craft beer spots opening up in NYC, including breweries, bottle shops, and bars, it’s easy to miss some essential fairly recent openings like this amazing little shop in the illustrious Grand Central Station. Beer Table Pantry is the type of business idea you wish you had brainstormed yourself. With a minuscule piece of probably super expensive real estate in a well traversed corridor in the Big Apple transportation Mecca, the owners are sitting on a gold mine. Catering to both tourists and daily commuters, Beer Table Pantry is designed for grab and go. New York State laws allow commuters to drink on the Metro-North, the commuter railway that links NYC with Connecticut, Westchester, and other destinations north. Most Metro-North commuters/beer drinkers were forced to purchase Bud Light, Coors, and the like for their sometimes hour or more commute home.

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Now Beer Table Pantry provides a craft beer option for those post work rides home. What better way to unwind after a day of drudgery than watching the blur of trees zip by as you sip on a bottle of Mikkeller or Evil Twin’s finest offerings. This little spot has quite a selection and utilizes every inch of its space wisely.

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Not wanting to leave empty handed, I purchased a to-go pint jar and filled up with a local IPA I have yet to try. The jars are for immediate consumption on the train.  I mentioned I was heading to Brooklyn, not up north, so they warned me about possible spillage. I didn’t lose too much by the time I got home. Let’s see how my IPA tastes a few hours later.  I might be pushing it a little bit.

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Party Boat IPA (Port Jeff Brewing Company) 

Number 6 to go, please!

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Style: American IPA

Profile: 7.7 ABV, IBU 101

Random News: Port Jefferson Brewing Co. announced Wednesday that Salvatore Barra won the ‘U Name Our IPA’ contest, naming the new brew Party Boat. Barra will receive one growler of the new IPA, which is 7.7 percent alcohol by volume (ABV). The recipe was developed by brewer Jamie Partridge, and the beer will debut shortly. In honor of Long Island Craft Beer Week, the brewery also created Hopstar IPA, which they made just seven barrels of exclusively for Superstar Beverage.

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Brewery Info:  Port Jeff Brewing Company is located at 22 Mill Creek Road, within the Chandler Square walking mall. The brewery features a 7 barrel system which is capable of producing 217 gallons (about 86 cases) per brew. Beers are packaged in keg, 22 ounce and special release bottle formats for distribution throughout Long Island, NYC, and Westchester County bars, restaurants, and other retail beer outlets.

The facility opened for production in October of 2011.  Tours are available on Saturdays.

Cheers,

BierWAX

John Brown Smokehouse

Rare beer can be currency, as proven by my recent beer adventures.  After driving up to the Alchemist Brewery in Vermont and back in one day, my case of Heady Topper proved to be a very valuable commodity.  I had strangers making all types of wild offers for the coveted beer, from trades of the highly sought-after Pliny the Elder to undisclosed amounts of cash money.  A very notable Heady Topper transaction took place in Long Island City, Queens, in a smoked-meat/BBQ spot with a whole lot of character.  John Brown Smokehouse makes it to Bushwyck Craft’s top 3 places to drink craft beer during the month of April.

It really all starts and ends with Josh Bowen, the charismatic and stand-up owner of the John Brown Smokehouse.  I hadn’t heard of either Josh or his wonderful restaurant until he somehow found me on the Interweb (ha).  We brokered a deal: 4 Heady Toppers for a meal and drinks at his establishment.  I’m a sucker for brisket, pastrami and the like, so it wasn’t a hard sell.

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I decided to head to John Brown’s early Thursday evening and took a tour of Long Island City on the way to the restaurant.  Born in Astoria but raised in Flushing, Long Island City was always the outer-rim, a virtual no man’s land of factories and warehouses.  So much has changed in the past 7 years.  It was like discovering a brand new neighborhood.

John Brown Smokehouse is a serious smoked-meat joint thanks to Josh’s passion, expertise, and training. He spent two years manning the pit at Hill Country in Chelsea.  If you have ever had the brisket over there, you will want to venture out to Long Island City to see what he is up to now.  I had the burnt ends, pastrami, and pulled pork – All were amazing.  It was the sides, though, that really did me in.  Their version of corn bread is simply incredible.

Josh is a supreme pitmaster, but he has developed an affinity for craft beer in the past six months.  His selection of beers on draught did not disappoint and he keeps the taps rotating on a regular basis.  I had a great time chatting it up with bartender Pete and sampling every single beer they had on tap.  My two favorites on tap were Kuhnhenn Double Rice IPA and Founders KBS.

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As a former history teacher, I was very curious as to how the restaurant was named after John Brown the abolitionist.  I thought it was just a catchy gimmick, but there is a John Brown lending library at the restaurant and this past Sunday has been hailed “John Brown Day” in NYC.  The Smokehouse was awarded a NYC citation for its work towards preserving the legacy of John Brown.  On Sunday, two professors visited the restaurant to facilitate a talk about John Brown’s legacy.  Josh is genuinely invested in the history of the abolitionist turned freedom fighter and martyr.

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I’ve posted a few photos already of Josh’s excitement over Heady Topper.  After chilling the can for twenty minutes or so, he didn’t waste any time to QUICKLY consume the hoppy masterpiece.  I’ll end this piece with a few photos of Josh shotgunning his can of Heady.  Classic!

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If you are in NYC, definitely pass by the John Brown Smokehouse for a meal and some great beer:

10-43 44th Drive, Long Island City, New York

Cheers,

BierWAX

NYC Craft Beer Gems: Café D’Alsace

Posted on March 12, 2013 (post from the past) 

July 2014 Update: These hangouts rarely take place anymore. (Insert sad face Emoji here!)

After a night out with the fellas, one of us typically does a written recap of the night’s events and emails it out to the crew by Monday latest.  I was tasked with completing this past Friday’s recap, so I’ve decided to make it very public.  Don’t worry 9P crew, I’ll make sure it is SFW (safe for work). The 9P crew got its name from my old apartment number in Chelsea, Manhattan.  The studio apartment became the pre-game spot for a bunch of single dudes in their twenties.  Over the years, our taste in food and drink matured and every single one of us got married or engaged.  We went from drinking bottles of coconut flavored Bacardi and dining at Dallas BBQs to seeking out Innis & Gunn on tap and celebrating birthdays at French restaurants.  This story is about the grown up, married with children friends who wound up having a fantastic dinner at Café D’Alsace on the Upper East Side and discovered some incredible beers in the process. cafe 01
The story begins at a bar called Niles, right across from Madison Square Garden.  Niles and unbelievably the bar at T.G.I. Friday’s in Penn Station both became pre-game spots while I was living in Spain in 2005.  Upon my return to the States and before I was able to reclaim my Chelsea apartment, I would meet them at either location to kick off the night.  I wondered to myself, what happened while I was away?  How did Niles and Friday’s become the go-to spots?  It could be summed up like this… On Friday night, we were at Niles for less than one hour and the bartender comped us two rounds of Jameson.  Niles also gives free appetizers to its patrons at the bar on certain nights.  I could see why my close friend JB became a regular.  The bartenders at Niles certainly treat their frequent flyers quite well. Birthday dinner reservations were set for 6:45, so we jumped in a cab.  We surprisingly caught a cab with ease and raced towards the Upper East Side.  We were curious why Jay chose Café D’Alsace to celebrate his birthday.  When he arrived we found out he used the Findmytap App on his iPhone to locate his new favorite beer, Innis & Gunn.  We sat down to wait for Jay and ordered our first round of beer – Ommegang and Barrier Brewing Company’s collaboration Barrier Relief  IPA. They didn’t have Innis & Gunn on tap, but they had a very good selection on draught and a superb craft beer bottle list.  The beer list at Café D’Alsace is four pages long.  We ordered some very tasty appetizers: goat cheese tatin and tart flambee.  Our next round of beer was from SingleCut Beersmiths, the brand new brewery in Astoria, Queens (my place of birth).  Their Pacific NW “Dean” Mahogany Ale was a very good introduction to their line of beers.  It was an American Amber loaded with hops.  Café D’Alsace had Evil Twin’s Biscotti Break on tap!!!!  I was hoping to hold off on a round of that until after dinner.   cafe02
Dinner was served – We ate like kings.  All of our dishes were excellent.  (Burger, Merguez lamb sausages, duck and peppercorn sausages, & pesto linguini)  Although we were celebrating a birthday, we passed on the dessert.  The restaurant’s sommelier/Cicerone surprised us with four glasses of his very own Biere de Garde.  He has some close friends up at Empire Brewing Company in Syracuse, NY and brewed up this special batch of the farmhouse ale for the restaurant.  I’m glad we declined dessert.  The Biere de Garde birthday toast was perfect.  We told the Cicerone that we were actually at the restaurant to have Innis & Gunn on draught, but were disappointed to see that the tap ran out.  In a few minutes, he came back with one bottle of Innis & Gunn that he dug up from the cellar.  It truly made Jay’s night and prompted me to do this write-up.  Café D’Alsace gets high marks for its food, remarkable craft beer selection, and impeccable service.  Café D’Alsace: 1695 2nd Avenue,  Manhattan, NY  http://www.cafedalsace.com/ photo (3)
We didn’t wind up having Biscotti Break, but found a bottle of it at City Swiggers, located a few blocks away from Café D’Alsace.  That was the night-cap  to an amazing evening/night.  I made it home at exactly midnight.  How things have changed since the 9P days of our twenties.  Life is great!
Check out Café D’Alsace’s BeerMenus page. The bottle list is impressive: http://www.beermenus.com/places/1079-cafe-d-alsace

From the Archives: Barrier Brewing Company

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I probably don’t have to rehash the story.  NYC had this awful superstorm called Sandy and it really messed up quite a lot.  People lost their lives, their homes, heat and power, and the city was devastated on an unprecedented level.  If you need a visual recap, I highly recommend seeing NOVA’s Inside the Megastorm which aired on PBS on November 21, 2012.

Craft beer in the NYC region also took a big hit.  Barrier Brewing Company got hit hard by Sandy, sustaining over $100,000 in damages.  As I documented in an earlier post, the craft beer community in New York State came together to support the reeling brewery. I’m happy to report that Barrier is back in business.  I finally visited the Oceanside brewery and tasted their first post-Sandy batches.

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I picked up one of their remaining bottles of Submersion Double IPA.  They hand bottled the limited edition beer and even sealed each cap with wax.

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The brewery is open to the public on Wednesdays from 2 to 8 pm and Saturdays from 12 to 4 pm.  Try what they have on tap and bring home a growler or two. (Check their website for current tasting room days/hours – Barrier Brewing Co.

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