Chris Basso

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

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Newburgh Brewing Company: A chat with Chris Basso, CEO and Brewmaster

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Anniversary weekend with my wife – beer was definitely on the agenda. With the GPS set for the Catskills, we managed to sneak in a few detours. The first was a brewery that I’ve been meaning to visit, which became one of the major highlights of our weekend sans babies. I heard great things about the Newburgh Brewing Company and my interest was certainly piqued after recently having two of their beers at the Harlem Tavern. Newburgh Brewing Company’s space is nothing short of wonderful. Located in an old paper box factory, the building exudes history and charm. It’s an immense space for a brewery’s tasting room, making its guests feel transported to a beer hall in Germany. With live music, foosball, and great food, it was very difficult to leave to continue our trek up north.

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When I reflect on my past brewery experiences, the main factors determining my contentment, of course, revolve around the beer: quality, variety, and availability. You can place a check next to all three at Newburgh. With twelve beers on rotation, it’s difficult to figure out what you should try first. That’s a good problem to have. All of the beers I tried were superbly crafted. My favorite beers were Hop Drop IPA, a 9.5% ABV Double IPA, and Sterk Aal van Hoodie, a delicious 10.2% Belgian Strong Ale. Their flagship beers, the Cream Ale and Brown Ale, were also excellent representations of the style, although I often crave something with more of a pungent punch. (Admittedly, I can never turn down a nitro-poured cream ale.) In terms of availability, there is something special about traveling to taste beer that is impossible or at least very difficult to find back home. I guess that’s why I didn’t mind spending over 14 hours in my car for a one-day trip to Waterbury, Vermont to load up the trunk with Heady Topper from Alchemist. We’ll make a similar trip to Hill Farmstead one of these days.

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Before continuing our journey towards the mountains, we had a chance to sit down with Chris Basso, the creative genius responsible for the beers we enjoyed that night. Chris paid his dues in the gastronomy and craft beer world, graduating from the French Culinary Institute in Manhattan and later spending seven years behind the brew kettles of Brooklyn Brewery. The former experience provided a keen culinary lens which has allowed him to think creatively about new beer ideas. The latter experience, working very closely with the renowned Garret Oliver…well, you can only imagine what that was like. While working at Brooklyn Brewery, helping to brew some of their much lauded beer, he longed for the freedom to brew his own stuff. After several years of dreaming, business planning, and fundraising, all in collaboration with friend and co-founder Paul Halayko, the duo broke ground on the brewery. They wanted to keep much of the original structure intact, building tables from existing factory pieces and allowing the rich history of the building to return to life.

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Chris embraces the duality of brewing. He tries to strike an even balance of artist and scientist. He explained that a beer crafted with science but no artistic soul, could potentially be formulaic and boring, like many beers hailing from Germany. An artist that doesn’t respect the science of brewing could potentially churn out sloppy and uneven beer. Chris deftly maintains this balancing act while embracing experimentation. The artist/scientist/chef loves to experiment with new styles of beer, pushing the envelope a bit, while maintaining approachability. “Sessionable” is a beer mantra he lives by, but you will often find him working on a Double IPA, Belgian Tripel, or Imperial Stout. For Chris, local is key. He is working on a Gose, a rather sour beer originating from Leipzig, Germany. His version will include locally sourced Coriander and sea salt from the coast of Long Island. The beer will have a special release at Hoptron Brewtique.

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Towards the tail-end of our conversation, we spoke about the future of Newburgh Brewing Company and the New York craft beer scene. Newburgh should be canning beers within a few months. The label approval application is probably sitting on someone’s desk. Be sure to look for Newburgh in a can very soon. Chris often wonders why craft beer bars in NYC have a hard time opening up more tap lines for local craft beer. Bars in other regions do a better job of supporting local craft breweries, from Boston to Colorado. We both hope NYC catches up with the other thriving craft beer regions of the country. If you see one of Chris’ beers on tap, order one right away! If you live in New York or plan to visit soon, consider taking a day trip to the Hudson Valley and definitely visit the Newburgh Brewing Company.