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.
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.
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.
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!
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