Heady Topper

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:


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


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


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 


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


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.

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