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The Inspiration

It has certainly been quite a while. I apologize for the long hiatus. I’ve been busy business planning, working at two breweries, home brewing, and focusing on making this dream a reality in the very near future. (I failed to mention my duties as the director of a pregnancy prevention program, husband, and father of twin three year old girls.) I’m juggling it all and happy to be nearly finished with the Bierwax business plan.

Right from the business plan, here is our mission statement…

Bierwax is a craft beer tasting room and vinyl record listening room. We are as passionate about our beer as we are about vinyl records, with a finely curated tap-list mingling with over 3,000 vinyl records. Bierwax is malted grains, water, hops, and yeast mixed with a pinch of 45s, a cup of boom-bap, and a heaping tablespoon of funk. We respect beer and aim to preserve the legacy of analog music.  

That’s what I will be opening in a year or two. Here are two bars that have been tremendous influences on what Bierwax will be…

Inspiration Numero Uno:                         

A few years ago, a couple of friends and I rented bikes in Amsterdam and somehow managed to find our way to Cafe de Duivel. We were intrigued by the description of the bar online and decided to see firsthand what a hip hop bar in Amsterdam would be like. The bar was pretty traditional with the exception of the music. There was a live DJ at the back of the bar spinning early 1990s and underground hip hop vinyl records. He was seamlessly mixing and cutting in and out of each track. The crowd, who I assume were mostly local Dutch folks, was going crazy and even knew the lyrics to some of the pretty obscure hip hop songs. That’s Europe for you! I remember wondering why something like Cafe de Duivel doesn’t exist in New York. Since I don’t travel to Europe with much frequency, I’ve longed to revisit Duivel or another venue just like it.

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Inspiration Numero Dos:

Nearly ten years ago, I was invited to spend a few days in Hong Kong with a close friend of mine. We had a layover in Tokyo for a few hours and the airport alone was unlike anything I had ever experienced. One day we’ll stack enough cheddar to actually afford to spend some time in Tokyo. Until then, I’m living vicariously through culinary/travel shows like No Reservations, Parts Unknown, and Mind of a Chef. I stumbled upon photos of this place below, dubbed Jazz, Blues and Soul (JBS). While explaining an early iteration of Bierwax to a friend, he asked if I ever heard of JBS in Tokyo. I hadn’t and was completely blown away when he showed me a few photos on Instagram. This was basically what I had been dreaming up all along, except JBS mainly serves whisky and is on the other side of the world. The sole owner and manager of the bar, serves up both an excellent whiskey selection and an impeccable collection of vinyl records. You might find Kobayashi-san throwing on a Charles Mingus LP or Nas’ classic debut Illmatic. It all depends on his mood at the time.

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As I round third base with my business planning, expect to hear more from me. I appreciate all of the support and good vibes as I make something like Duivel or JBS a reality in New York.

Cheers,

Chris Maestro

Mindset: the Psychology of a New Brewer

To smell the malty, sweet aroma of wort in my own kitchen for the very first time was nothing short of life-changing. I’ve visited countless breweries in the past seven years and the smell of warm wort always reminds me of the magic that is unfolding. To have that same aroma permeate my own living quarters for the first time is a memory that will undoubtedly stay with me forever. I’m sure fellow home brewers can relate and remember their very first batch. I’ve spent a few days reflecting on my first brew day. Here is an extension of that reflection, which should capture the joy, blunders, and ecstasy of my inaugural home brew. Enjoy!

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Before Brew Day: 

  • I spent a few months reading as much as I could about home brewing and also watching countless home brewing YouTube videos.  I’ve included the videos that were the most helpful in the resources section below. I first read Charlie Papazian’s classic, “The Complete Joy of Home Brewing.” It was easy to follow and definitely made a novice like me feel confident about my first batch. Throughout brew day, I kept repeating Uncle Charlie’s words, “Relax, don’t worry, have a home brew.” More on that later.
  • I like to be over-prepared, so I created a step-by-step list that I compiled from various books, videos, and the specific instructions from my ingredients kit. I’ve also included these steps in the resources section. John Palmer’s “How to Brew” and my local home brew shop owner were both instrumental in helping me craft my own brewing instruction guide.
  • I ordered the “Gold Complete Beer Equipment Kit (K6)” from Home Brew Ohio via Amazon.com. I am very happy with the kit, although it was far from “complete.” I definitely had to spend at least another $100 on the following to have everything I would need: auto-siphon, hydrometer jar, 7.5 gallon boiling pot, stainless steel stirring spoon, pyrex measuring cup, turkey baster, bottle caps, and thermometer for boil. I purchased my ingredients from the Back Alley Brew Shop in Patchogue.
  • I really wanted to do an all-grain first batch. I felt that using extracts was, in a way, cheating. I quickly realized that I was being overly ambitious. Plus, I didn’t have all of the equipment I needed for an all-grain first home brew. I opted for a partial grain and partial malt extract batch. The IPA recipe called for Cascade, Nelson. Sauvin, Galaxy, Amarillo, and Wakatu hops. (New Zealand is represented more than once, so it should have a very interesting hop profile.)

Brew Day Morning:

  • I invited my (soon-to-be) brother in law over to help out with the process. He expressed interest in being there for my first ever batch and I knew I would need another set of hands. It was great to share the experience with my brother (and wife when she wasn’t watching our twin daughters and keeping them away from the kitchen.)
  • The morning was consumed with getting all of my gear and ingredients in order and sanitizing everything. The important sanitizing step really played well with my OCD.
  • I assumed it would take a long time to get 2.5 gallons of water up to 160 degrees, so I started to heat the water before my brother arrived. It didn’t take longer than 30 minutes, to my surprise.

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The Blunders: 

I’m not going to bore everyone with a step-by-step description of my process. I’ll skip to the juicy part, the several rookie mistakes I made.

  1. My first mistake was picking up a growler of Finch’s Hardcore Chimera, a Double IPA. I was in a celebratory mood and I probably had two glasses before really getting started. Two glasses is certainly not a lot of beer, but it was enough to subvert my ultra anal, follow directions to a T personality. I’ll definitely limit my beer consumption until the main first steps are completed, moving forward.
  2. I don’t know how I fudged this up, but I poured the Cascade hops right into the boiling kettle. It’s not a big deal if you have a strainer. I didn’t have one and my local restaurant supplier is closed on weekends. After an emergency call to my home brew shop, my fears were assuaged; the siphoning process should filter out most of the hop leaves.
  3. I was anxious to take my first hydrometer reading, as it’s a pretty crucial step in the brewing process. Experienced brewers will laugh at this one. I pitched my yeast before taking my original hydrometer reading. This is important because the reading gives you a baseline with which to measure the degree your wort has fermented. I had already aerated the wort (shook it up to add oxygen before introducing yeast), so the foamy wort was super difficult to read. I also was worried that I removed a good deal of yeast with my turkey baster.
  4. The cool down – I decided to cool down the wort with an ice-bath in my bathtub. The only issue was that the boiling pot was floating around the water on the verge of capsizing. I used ice and a dozen frozen water bottles to cool down the water, but the unsteady pot of wort was definitely unnerving. Eventually, we moved the pot to an ice-bath in my kitchen sink. It was a perfect fit and cooled down the wort to below 80 degrees in less than 20 minutes.
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I have to be honest. After the third mistake, I felt pretty defeated. I was pretty doubtful I would even have a successful fermentation process. A small voice in my head kept saying, “You’re not cut out for this!” I quickly remembered one of the main themes from a pretty influential book I read last year titled Mindset: the New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck. Setbacks and mistakes, for those who operate from a growth mindset, are opportunities for learning and discovery. This was my very first foray into an exciting new world. Once again, I borrow from Dweck: “People with the growth mindset know that it takes time for potential to flower.”

A day later, I opened up my closet to observe the fermentation bucket and was very happy to see the airlock bubbling every few seconds. Whether or not the beer will taste great, at least I will have (fermented) beer in a few weeks. Missteps will continue to occur every now and then, but that’s all part of the journey.

We’ll see how it turns out in roughly a month. I’m already plotting my next batch and can’t wait to again have a kitchen full of grains, hops, and eager yeast. If you are a home brewer or are interested in the craft, please feel free to comment on my self-made instruction manual below.

Cheers,

Bierwax

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From 10 Gallons till Infinity (A Visit to Dogfish Head Craft Brewery)

Dogfish Head continues to occupy an iconic place in my own personal history and relationship with craft beer. 90 Minute was the first Double IPA that I fell in love with, years before I ever tried Heady Topper, Pliny, or Abner. After reading founder Sam Calagione’s book “Brewing up a Business,” I was inspired to start laying the foundation for my own beer business. Sam’s TV show, although pretty dorky at times with his terrible rapping, painted a picture of a world I saw myself in; a field of creativity, drive and extreme passion. I don’t drink 90 Minute as often these days, but I continue to be impressed by Dogfish Head Brewery’s unique approach to brewing and I appreciate Sam’s commitment to the independent craft brewing community. Of course, Dogfish Head is by no means a small company.  They employ hundreds of people and have a brewing operation that is much larger than anything I have ever seen in person, with the exception of my visit to Golden, Colorado as a teenager. However, our recent visit to the Delaware brewery, brewpub, and inn further solidified my respect for what Sam has built.

The following are photos I snapped from the visit juxtaposed with some of Sam’s own words from “Brewing up a Business.”

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Dogfish Head’s humble beginnings – The 10-gallon brewing system which was the genesis of Dogfish Head Brewery.

“My original brewing system produced 10-gallons of 0.3 barrels per batch. When brewers I met while visiting other breweries would stop by the brewpub, I felt like a boy among men. I suffered from an acute case of brewery-envy, but I would not be discouraged. It’s not the size of your brewing system that matters; it’s what you do with it…or so they say.” 

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The very first 10-gallon brewing system now lives alongside the current (slightly larger) system.

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“Brewing has continued to be a great outlet for my artistic expression. But I’m proud to say I’m the least technically proficient brewer of the many brewers who work at Dogfish Head today. I am better at conceptualizing recipes and beer ideas than I am at physically making a batch of beer. I still brew occasionally for two reasons: so I can call myself a brewer with a straight face, and so I can continue experimenting with new recipes, which is a strength of mine.”

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“My inmost thought when I was first enrolled there (Northfield Mt. Hermon School) was: ‘Rebel against authority in order to express yourself.’ This is pretty much the same defining instinct that drives me today, but I’ve been fortunate enough to find a constructive outlet for this angst. I’ve created a company that subverts the definition of beer put forth by the so-called authorities at Anheuser-Busch and Coors.” 

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“The other line in the sand that we drew is refusing to sell to private equity. About two years ago, we were approached with a number that Mariah and I could have retired very comfortably with forever, and we said no. We’ve been approached by folks on Wall Street who wanted to take us public, and we said no. We want to try to keep this a family business, with the hope that someday maybe we can make it last into the next generation–and we want to keep this a company that’s owned by the people who run it.” 

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This photo doesn’t really capture how immense the Dogfish Head warehouse is. It is incredible to witness in person.

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Every batch that is brewed is saved in here for quality control. Sam also has a private cellar where he ages various releases. Some are a decade old.

“The sheer magnitude and sameness of mass-produced and mass-marketed goods that Americans have grown to expect can be really disorienting…This is the big-box retail reality that the alt-commerce businessperson is up against: the awe-inspiring, ubiquitous presence of these stores and the homogenizing effect they have on the consumer landscape…People patronize these places because they are easy and predictable. While many people wish to simplify their lives on some level, you must have faith that some people are not always looking for what is easy and predictable to bring joy to their lives. The humble success of Dogfish Head specifically, and the craft brewing industry in general, is a tribute to this faith.” 

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The Steampunk Treehouse moved to the entrance of the brewery in 2009.

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“Effective brand building, like effective writing, revolves around a few central ideas. Developing believable, interesting characters–these are your products. An effective and easy-to-follow narration–this is your advertising and marketing. Strong plot development–this is your business plan and budgets. Singular and memorable writing style–this is your brand identity.”

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“We recognize that we aren’t brewing for the status quo. We recognize that the average beer drinker will probably never try our beers, even if we were to have a significant 5, 10, or 20 percent market share in the United States. We are “off-centered,” meaning that we’re not going to appeal to the majority. That said, we’ve been able to carve out a very healthy niche, growing by catering to a very small but increasing and very engaged minority beer drinking population–those who want more flavor, more diversity, more complexity, and more food compatibility in the beer.” 

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Where it all started – Dogfish Head Brewing & Eats in Rehoboth Beach

“I first decided to open my brewery when I was 24 years old. I was very focused from the moment I made this decision. I read everything I could about breweries and restaurants. I worked as a brewer’s assistant as I wrote my business plan. I wrote a menu and tested different pizza-grilling techniques on my backyard barbecue. I made pilot batches of beer and developed recipes, homemade labels, and brand names. I met with countless banks and raised all of the money to open the business. I signed off on the loans and was personally responsible for the debt.” 

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A very fresh batch of 120 Minute! That’s how we got started on a very cold afternoon.

Recipe:

Ingredients & Directions for

sampling, exchange, exampling,

and change.

The ingredients in our recipes come from

The earth and the oven,

They come from interfering

and letting be.

We use organic and natural

ingredients wherever possible

and our recipes are blissfully inefficient.

We spend premium prices on

the finest barley, hops, and herbs.

We use no extracts.

For us, brewing is not a process

of automation,

but of imagination and passion.

We wrap our hands around plastic

shovels to clean out our mash tuns.

We wrap our hands around sticky

clumps of whole leaf hops

and toss them into the boil kettle. 

We wrap our hands around our work

because we are proud to make 

something with our own hands.

We hope you enjoy drinking

Dogfish Head Craft Brewed ales

as much as we enjoy making them. 

                                -Sam Calagione

The Cistercian Monks of Ridgewood, Queens

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Co-owners Joe Figliolia and Dan Berkery have opened up something very unique in Ridgewood, Queens. Even with the numerous craft beer bars and gastropubs that have opened up recently in NYC, the monk is a standout in the fairly untouched Queens enclave. As the name suggests, the monk specializes in Trappist beer and other Belgian brews, with a small selection of local craft beer. Ridgewood’s craft beer scene leaves much to be desired, so the monk is a very welcome addition to the neighborhood.

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Why focus almost exclusively on Belgian beer? Besides the fact that Belgian beer is so damn good, there aren’t many bars that know how to curate their Belgian beers properly – They don’t know the history and cultural significance of these unique beers they are serving. The monk’s mission is to celebrate Trappist and Belgian beer in a welcoming environment. As founder Joe points out, “We don’t want people to be intimidated by the beer. It’s extremely satisfying when someone is initially unfamiliar with the beer but then becomes delighted when they discover and enjoy something new and different.” Spreading the gospel of great beer is a noble cause, indeed.

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For a primer on Trappist breweries, visit here. Some of Joe’s favorite Trappist beers are the extremely rare Westvleteren 12, which he had the pleasure of drinking on two occasions, and Westmalle Tripel, another classic of the style. The bar has all of the Trappist mainstays available, including Rochefort, Orval, Achel, and La Trappe. Other solid Belgian offerings include Saison Dupont, Gulden Draak, Duvel, La Chouffe, Corsendonk, and many others.

Definitely make it out to Ridgewood to visit the monk: 68-67 Fresh Pond Road, Ridgewood, Queens (M Train to Fresh Pond Road)

Deconstructing Budweiser’s “Brewed the Hard Way” Commercial

There has been a lot of talk about the second Budweiser commercial that debuted during Super Bowl 49. This is not the one featuring a cute little dog to sell beer – now it’s officially a dog and pony show. I’m referring to the one that explicitly takes aim at the craft beer movement in the United States. If you missed it, here it is: Brewed the Hard Way

For Anheuser Busch InBev to spend several million dollars (still a drop in the bucket) on an advertisement mocking craft beer, then the small guys are really starting to bother the macro beer giant. Of course, with the recent acquisition of Elysian by AB InBev, the entire commercial is a slap in the face to their new craft beer portfolio. Allow me to break down some of the main themes and images below…

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Running throughout the sixty second slot are sounds and images that are grounded in history, humility, and pride. We are “proudly a macro beer” flashes early on in the commercial. This is the beginning of the juxtaposition that follows, with good ol’ Bud being pit against the snobbery of craft beers and their drinkers. Budweiser is clearly a populist drink for the everyday person.

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One of my favorite lines is “It’s not brewed to be fussed over.” As my wife pointed out, isn’t this message already admitting Budweiser beer is of inferior quality? I get it, though – Budweiser makes beer for people who like to drink. Simple folks who just want to throw a few back and care less about intellectualizing what they are drinking. Why bother having a deeper appreciation for the appearance, aroma, body, and taste of a beer? Beer is not to be fussed over, just consumed mindlessly. A few seconds later, “Brewed for drinking, not dissecting” flashes across the screen. They are really driving home the message. Like many other things in life, ignorance is bliss. Just drink it; don’t think about it too much!

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Upon closer inspection, our beer connoisseur is actually a hipster. He had to have a handlebar mustache, didn’t he? Just perfect!

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The commercial is titled “Brewed the Hard Way” after all. What does that really mean? I’ve been told that it actually takes a lot of work to make macro beers taste so consistently bland and water-like. I can’t necessarily badmouth automated brewing, because some of the larger craft breweries can afford computer-driven brewing equipment, as well. However, if you have ever been to a brewery that makes less than 50,000 barrels a year, you’ve probably witnessed an operation that takes hard work, patience, and extreme attention to detail to run smoothly. (Not to take away from the larger craft breweries in any way.) This message is probably the most offensive, in my opinion, as it undermines the blood, sweat, and tears micro-brewers around the country devote to their craft.

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“Let them sip their Pumpkin Peach Ale.” Another classic line. If you didn’t think they are going after craft breweries and craft beer drinkers with this commercial, now there is no mistaking it. Twitter was filled with great commentary in response to this particular line…

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And lastly…

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At the very end of the commercial, when they really start playing the Budweiser classic/historical card, the famous Budweiser Clydesdale horses break through a gate. Why is none other than Adolf Hitler and possibly a highly ranking SS officer riding high on top of the majestic horses? I understand invoking German symbolism and even the Reinheitsgebot to sell beers, but this Nazi imagery just has no place in a beer commercial of any kind. (I was threatened with a defamation lawsuit in the past – I am not being serious. However, I’m still disturbed by that image.)

It’s pretty clear that falling beer sales, a 4% drop since 2008, is causing macro beer companies to be worried. This hypocritical and asinine commercial is further proof that the rise in the craft beer movement, especially during the last five years, is becoming a serious threat to the two major macro beer companies, SabMiller and AB InBev. The craft beer industry will continue to experience surging growth as more and more people develop a beer consciousness, caring more about the quality and integrity of the beers they consume.

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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

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