New York State Craft Beer

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

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.

 

 

 

Empire Brewing Company

I recently had an amazing craft beer road trip to celebrate my 3rd wedding anniversary. I am so lucky my wife enjoys good beer and indulges me like this. We traveled to the Hudson Valley, stopping by Newburgh Brewing Company and Keegan Ales. Both visits deserve their own BierWAX treatment – coming soon! For now, here is my visit to Empire Brewing Company in Syracuse back in 2012. (quick write-up)

I had Empire IPA from draught at NYC restaurants in the past, so I was curious to see what the brewery would be like.  I did some prior research and found out that they don’t bottle or can their beer.  They do well enough with keg distribution and selling directly to customers at their brewpub.  Their best known beer is perhaps their Cream Ale, which has the creamy goodness of a Guiness without being a Stout.  To meet New York City demand, Empire has been guest brewing at Brooklyn Brewery.  Empire hopes to finalize the purchase of a few acres of land in Upstate New York to increase their barrel output and to possibly start canning their wide selection of craft brews.

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Their food menu is pretty amazing.  After sampling most of their beer list, we worked up an appetite and were not disappointed with the food.  If you are in the Syracuse, NY area, I highly recommend visiting the Empire Brewing Company.

Enjoy these other photos from our visit.

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