NYC Beer Week 2017 is Almost Here

2017-beer-week-logoSo what’s on tap for this year’s annual excuse to drink even more than usual? That’s right! NYC Beer Week is back starting tomorrow (Friday, February 24th) for eight days (or is it nine? the NYC Brewers Guild has it listed two ways, either ending Saturday, March 4th, or Sunday, March 5th), bringing the best offerings in interesting beers, new hangout hot spots, old favorites and a funky new Guild event that looks like a winner!

In past years, I’ve bemoaned the lack of innovation that NYC (and the Guild) brings to our annual beer week. Considering we are one of the most impressive cities on the planet, we don’t really know how to celebrate our local beer scene in any demonstrable way. The Guild seems at last to have given up on dreams of grandeur, and this is a good thing. For prior years, if you didn’t pay the fee, you wouldn’t be included in the calendar of events, making it nearly impossible to find a comprehensive Beer Week event list (I tried to track all the events a few years back and it was so overwhelming I never attempted it again). However, now anyone can add their events to the calendar, which has ballooned from the couple dozen events posted during prior beer weeks into a list that has over 100 events and counting!

Obviously, you could hit up multiple events each day, but here’s my guide of “best of” NYC Beer Week for where you’ll really want to be:

  • Friday (2/24) SimulTap
  • Saturday (2/25) NYC Fermentation Festival **A Bitch’s Best Bet
  • Sunday (2/26) Smoked and Cured Brunch
  • Monday (2/27) Meet a Maltster
  • Tuesday (2/28) All NY Tap List (or Mardi Gras BlowOut Ball… if you must)
  • Wednesday (3/1) NYC Brewer’s Choice **A Bitch’s Best Bet
  • Thursday (3/2) Hopped in NY: Farm Brewery Panel
  • Saturday (3/4) Take a Beer Tour

The SimulTap was one of the genius moves the Guild made a couple years ago (my current Facebook profile pic says, “I’m a simple woman: I like bearded men and beer,” which is true in every sense; a great “event” idea can be very basic): Bars and breweries around the city tap a local beer at 7PM. Choose one of the SMaSH (State Malt and State Hop riff on single-malt, single-hop) beers at your favorite watering hole (friend Chris O’Leary has a nice list of the beers here).

Saturday’s NYC Fermentation Festival looks to be a stellar addition to the official Guild events. Taking place in the afternoon at the Brooklyn Expo, the Festival is billed as family friendly but also will have an over-21 section for beers from a dozen of the city’s brewers. General Admission is only $20 and then pay-as-you-go. More info/tickets here.

What is a Sunday in NYC without brunch? It’s not a Sunday we want to live through! Head over to Billyburg and the Williamsburg Hotel for a seafood brunch from Brooklyn Brewery’s Chef Andrew Gerson, Nya Carnegie’s Chef Luke Hurst and Harvey’s Chef Adam Leonti. Each chef will have his own station to sample a take on the traditional smorgas style. $40 includes beer (tickets and menu here).

Two events at Strong Rope Brewery are definitely worth a schlep down to Gowanus on Monday and Thursday: two panels/meet-and-greets featuring NY Craft Malt owners and Farm Brewers (some of whom actually are brewing in NYC), respectively. Monday’s event is in the afternoon and appears to be free. Thursday’s event is in the evening and has a $5 price tag, but that includes beer samples.

Tuesday is Mardi Gras, and depending on your penchant for letting les bon temps rouler, I have two events for you to consider. One Mile House is one of my favorite bars, and they’re having an all-NY tap takeover for the night. Probably your best a la carte way to taste those SMaSH beers. Or you can bring out the green and purple and head over to Treadwell Park for a party featuring Abita (of course), drag queens, a live band and undoubtedly a few beads and coins tossed your way.

Wednesday is the annual “better beer event” and one of the best to attend all year long: NYC Brewer’s Choice moves to a new venue this year, the Food Sciences Academy at LIU (Ft. Greene) and brings 40+ brewers and probably close to 100 different beers. This is the one event every year I am surprised isn’t better attended. As an incentive, you can get $20 off with code FriendsofBSR2017 here.

As for Friday, well, there’s not a lot going on of particular interest, but it might be a nice night to hang at your favorite brewery. The city is up to about two dozen taprooms and brew pubs, so pick your favorite borough and go-to.

On Saturday, take a delicious walking tour with yours truly, as I join in on Urban Oyster’s Brewed in Brooklyn Tour. We’ll start at Brooklyn Brewery and work our way down to the old Brewer’s Row in East Williamsburg. Urban Oyster also has a Fermented Craft Beer Crawl, that’s a great way to learn more about craft beer styles and the best drinking spots of north Brooklyn. Get tickets here.

Pace yourself! Hydrate! I’ll see you on the other side of NYC Beer Week!

 

NYC Beer Week Has Arrived: Where Should You Go? Does it Really Matter?

NYCBeerWeek2016A few years back, I tried to “do NYC Beer Week” and cover as many of the events as I possibly could. Not only was I utterly exhausted by the end of the week, I came to the conclusion that NYC Beer Week was not the best week of the year to celebrate beer in NYC.

However, a lot of press and time and effort goes in to this annual celebration, so here’s my view on the upcoming “week” (like so many beer weeks, it’s actually 10 days to encompass two weekends): the good, the bad, and the downright ugly.

The Good

  • Keeping it simple with the SimulTap

For the past couple years (since the enactment of the NY State Farm Brewery law), there has been a push for NYC Beer Week brews to be made with local ingredients. Hence, the SMASH beer, which normally stands for Single Malt and Single Hop, but is appropriated for NYC Beer Week as State Malt and State Hop. Brewers challenge themselves to create a simple, state-ingredient beer that can be enjoyed by everyone coming to the city. It’s perfect: No fuss, no frills. And about a dozen bars (including Alewife NYC, Banter, Greenpoint Beer & Ale Co., Jimmy’s No. 43, Murray’s Cheese Bar and Randolph Beer) have agreed to tap and toast a SMASH beer tonight (Friday, February 19th) at 7PM.

Among the breweries that made a 2016 SMASH beer are Big Alice Brewing, Bridge and Tunnel Brewery, Bronx Brewery, Brooklyn Brewery, Coney Island Brewing Company, Finback Brewery, Greenpoint Beer & Ales, Gun Hill Brewing, Heartland Brewing, Keg & Lantern, KelSo Beer, LIC Beer Project, Rockaway Brewing, Sixpoint Brewery, and Transmitter Brewing. It’s a low-key way to kick off the week in style at the location of your choice.

Yes, I do help publicize this event. But it’s also my favorite event not just of Beer Week but of the entire year. In addition to the aforementioned SMASH brewers, Brewer’s Choice invites many brewers from the state and beyond to create unique beers that will be available only for one night. This is not your usual suspects kind of event where everyone is getting—you’ll excuse the pun—smashed. You’ll also get the opportunity to hang out with the brewers themselves. Plus the event offers up about a dozen food purveyors serving everything from tacos to oysters on the half shell, all included in your $80 ticket (and they’re almost sold out so get yours here).

You can double your fun this year by slipping out after 7 PM to KelSo next door and partake of a specialty whiskey tasting from the Caskmates collection: the Jameson Caskmates KelSo Pale Ale Edition. While we’ve all heard about beer being aged in whiskey barrels, this whiskey has actually been aged in a KelSo beer barrel! It’s available in limited quantities, so if you see something, drink something!

  • Final Party is a Cask Festival

Ever since the untimely closing of d.b.a. in Brooklyn, NYC has gone without a proper cask festival. This year’s official closing party resurrects the best way to enjoy beer: gas free and at a proper temperature! Enjoy about 150 casks and light eats, while mingling with the makers. Two sessions will take place on Saturday, February 27th, and there are plenty of tickets (both VIP and GA) remaining for both.

The Bad

  • The opening bash is a cruise

This could go under “The Ugly” as far as I’m concerned. Who thought a booze cruise in February was a good idea? Well, the NYC Brewers Guild actually dodged a major bullet. After record-breaking low temps last Saturday, they’re looking at mid-50s tomorrow, Saturday, February 20th, for their two sailings. And in a surprise to no thinking person, tickets are still available for purchase here. As for me, I’m waiting for the real spring to arrive before heading out to drink in the bay under the Statue of Liberty.

  • Very few truly unique events

In general, there are fewer events being promoted this year and only a handful of them are interesting. Most of the events are just “themes.” A handful of beer dinners. I feel like there’s not a lot of substance or sizzle to the official event listings, but  Shmaltz is premiering their Vulcan Ale as a part of Astronomy Night on the Intrepid this evening (2/19 at 7PM). Bring your favorite Klingon to drink well and prosper. Another event that could be of interest is a Kick-Off Panel  at DBGB’s on Sunday, February 21st from 5-7PM, featuring Garrett Oliver (Brooklyn Brewery), Kelly Taylor (KelSo) and Benjamin Weiss (The Bruery).

The Ugly

  • We’re just not that in to you

In the past couple years, the Brewers Guild has been tweaking how they run and publicize the week, but the growing pains should be in the past. The truth is I hear nothing positive about being a part of NYC Beer Week from the people who really matter: the bar owners and industry insiders who might want to put money into being a sponsor at a Beer Week event. The Guild has decided that NYC Beer Week is really Beer Made by NYC Brewers Week. It’s not about the bar owners or non-guild members. And while this could be a great mission statement, it’s not really flying with anyone. Late last year I heard about a collaboration attempt from the NY State Brewers Association to have an event revolving around “country brewer/city brewer” beers, where upstate breweries would collaborate with city breweries to bring new beers to the market for beer week. That sounded like an awesome idea! But if it happened, no one is publicizing it. I just don’t believe the NYCBG has the bandwidth to undertake a SMASH beer project and a larger collaboration project. The SMASH beers are great, but it’s just a weekend idea. You cannot build 10 days’ worth of programming around this.

How to Right the Ship

  • Move Beer Week back to the fall

Before the NYCBG bought out the original beer week, it was held every September. Bar owners seemed to love it, because that was when business tends to be “off.” We NYers are generally spending the fall outdoors, not in bars. The weather is amazing for a few scant weeks in NYC, and September is one of those months. NYC Beer Week in the fall would encourage people to come indoors, and bar owners would probably drum up some great programming to attract more attendance. In February, business is generally good—random 3-feet blizzards aside—and bars don’t need to allocate resources to come up with clever ideas to attract business. Maybe that’s why this year’s events seem so ho-hum.

  • Incorporate more of the breweries

Nearly all the non-gypsy brewers in the city now have tap rooms. Yet almost no events are planned at any of the tap rooms during NYC Beer Week. Even the aforementioned Jameson event at the KelSo tap room is a whiskey outing. Some breweries (e.g. Bridge and Tunnel) are having ad hoc events as a part of their regular business. It seems like this is a wasted opportunity when places like Other Half routinely have lines around the block trying to get a new beer release. If the NYCBG is about the actual breweries, shouldn’t more events be taking place at the breweries?

  • Hire a few privates

I have long suspected that a major problem with the Guild’s version of NYC Beer Week is “too many generals, not enough privates.” If all you have is everyone looking out for his or her own brand, you’re unlikely to build a beer week of substance. I never hear anyone saying, “Let’s go to NYC for beer week.” Yet, I do hear it about San Francisco, Asheville and—especially here in NYC—Philadelphia. We need to figure out how to make NYC Beer Week “destination worthy,” and then have the troops in line to implement the strategy that the higher-ups devise.

Otherwise, the impetus for getting out to drink over the next 10 days is really just “business as usual.” And no matter the quality of the beer scene, that’s no reason to celebrate our city’s beer culture.

San Diego Send-Off: Smoked Beer Dinner at Ballast Point

ColbyChandlerBPI have a bias to admit: I’m not really big into hype. Whenever I hear about a “must have” beer or brewery, I generally exert too much effort and find myself disappointed in the end product (read: my quest to find Heady Topper). It’s not that the hype isn’t warranted; many times it is. However, by the time I get around to “the real deal,” my expectations are so great that I’m invariably left thinking, “Is that it?”

The opposite can also be true: When I go in with diminished expectations, I can be truly surprised by what I discover.

Among the options on the APlus Limousine tour prior to the San Diego Beer Bloggers Conference were excursions to both Green Flash and Ballast Point. The majority of the group wanted to seek out beers that were not distributed nationally, so both these breweries were left off the pre-excursion itinerary. Thus, when a group of bloggers wanted to visit both these spots after the conference closed, I was happy to tag along.

The big surprise came at Ballast Point. We chose to visit the smaller brewpub in the Little Italy section of San Diego. We were warmly greeted by Tasting Room Manager Amber Crocker, who noted that she was preparing for a beer-pairing dinner later that afternoon. Seeing as I had yet to eat (and already been drinking up at Green Flash), I thought a beer dinner might be a nice change of pace. I asked her the menu: Smoked foods with smoked beers. Not The Bitch’s favorite combo. But when in Rome…

Executive Chef Colin MacLaggan mans the grilling station at the Ballast Point Smoke Beer Dinner on August 24, 2014.

Executive Chef Colin MacLaggan mans the grilling station at the Ballast Point Smoked Beer Dinner on August 24, 2014.

After a brief detour to the Salivador Dali Argillet Collection (which was amazeballs… if you are in San Diego, be sure to check it out at Meyer Fine Art; the installation has been extended through September 27th), I returned to the back patio at Ballast Point, where nine taps were flowing with recommended food pairings from Executive Chef Colin MacLaggan.

It wasn’t long before Ballast Point’s Specialty Brewer Colby Chandler joined me; while the rest of the group was inside the brewpub ordering off the menu, Colby chatted with me about the pairings and then took all of us on an ad hoc tour of the brewery where he poured the Pale Ale Infused with Smoked Serrano Peppers right off the tank. It was so much spicier without the food pairing (see below) and that’s what makes beer such a cool beverage: the fact that food can completely alter its flavor profile.

At $50, the dinner was one hell of a good deal, and the pairings ranged from interesting to intense. And if Amber, Colin and Colby are the status quo for staff service at Ballast Point, the company will continue to expand both in southern California and across the nation (and, yes, the Grapefruit Sculpin on tap is incredible).

The dinner was arranged as a walk-around event with five different stations, so I could start with (and repeat) any course I chose. However, the courses basically went in the following order:

An amuse hors d’oeuvers that was passed around on trays to pair with a can of Even Keel that was handed out at the check-in: A smoked onion, blue cheese tart with mustard seeds reconstituted in the same beer. I think I had five of these, they were so good (and about the dimension of a quarter… hey, I told you I hadn’t eaten all day!).amusetartBP

First course was freshly shucked oysters on the half-shell with a choice of three mignonettes:

  • Smoked shallots in a white balsamic vinaigrette
  • Avocado and cilantro
  • Raspberry

OysterBPHonestly, this was the least appealing of the courses for me, and the beer pairings didn’t really help the cause (somewhat surprisingly, this was also the only station that had a queue, with people coming back for multiple oyster servings). I tried three oysters, one with each mignonette, and paired with the Lung Fish Oak Smoked Helles. I know very little about west coast oysters, but I do know that August is not an ideal month in general for fresh oysters. For whatever reason, the bivalves were incredibly briny and, when combined with two of the three mignonettes (only the avocado/cilantro combination really worked for me), completely overpowered the delicate flavors of the Helles. I went back for a fourth oyster (avocado mignonette) to pair with the San Salvador Oyster Shwarzbier with Herbs, and this was a much better pairing, although the brine of the oyster was still very much the dominant flavor.

The second course (which I had fourth) was a perfect pairing: Chilled Cucumber Gazpacho with Smoked Foam paired with the aforementioned Ballast Point Pale Ale Infused with Smoked Serrano Peppers. This beer was hot hot hot… but I had no idea until I drank it a second time straight from the tank without the gazpacho. The cucumber completely neutralized the spiciness without diminishing the flavor of the beer. A+ to Colin and Colby on this combo.gazpachoBP

The third course was a revelation: Grilled Spanish Octopus with mushrooms, cherry tomato, Shishito pepper in a Banyals vinaigrette over garlic puree. This was paired with the Smokescreen Beachwood Smoked Helles. On its surface (and maybe this is where expectation really comes in to play), I should have hated this pairing. I mean, I am no fan of octopus, finding it too chewy and just damn weird to look at . And the Smokescreen was the closest thing to a rauchbier I drank all night (not a beer I ever enjoy). However, the chef treated the octopus for 48 hours before cooking it over an open flame. The result was a lobster-esque tenderness (Colby likened it to string cheese), and the earthiness of the mushrooms plus the smokiness of the Shishitos brought out so many subtle flavors that this was genuinely a gourmand’s dream come true. And the beer was perfect. Best in show for this pairing. I had two servings, I liked it that much.octopusBP

Another course being served by Chef Colin at the same grilling station was a Smoked Pork Rib served with a “Carolina style” smoked beer BBQ Sauce over honey slaw and cornbread crostini. Paired with Abandon Ship Beechwood Smoked Marzen, this pairing brought out both the salty and spicy notes, although I didn’t detect much Carolina in the sauce (that would be mustard based, I assume?). Either way, another excellent match between beer and food.smokedribBP

Finally, dessert was served with a trio of beers:

  • Sour Wench with Raspberries (too soda pop for my taste)
  • 2012 Sour Wench with Marion Blackberries (much nicer version of the Sour Wench)
  • 2011 Boob Check (the cancer awareness collaboration beer they made with White Labs)

dessert_BPThese were paired with a baked “crispy” shortbread over which was poured fresh berries and smoked rose petal curd, topped with a dollop of rosemary cream. The outside of the shortbread had been coated in sugar, and the rosemary cream was a delightful addition, particularly to someone like myself who doesn’t particularly care for sweet desserts.

There was a tenth beer that was supposedly available—the 2010 Three Sheets Barleywine—that I didn’t try to track down, so I don’t know how it tasted. By that point I was with Colby checking out the brewery, and I’d had quite my fill of great food and optimal beer pairings that this dinner offered. I liked this smoked-smoked idea so much that I recommended it to my NYC client, and he’s going to be hosting a smoked beer with food pairings dinner next month.

To see all my San Diego pictures, including more from Ballast Point, please visit (and like) my Facebook page.

 

San Diego Day 3: A Six-Hour Tour

APlusLimoOne of the things I really enjoy about craft beer people is the age range (I wish I could say I enjoy the diversity, but with a few notable exceptions, we’re largely a majority-male, white, educated group). However, I’m certainly in the mid-age range and I remember Gilligan’s Island fondly, a sitcom based on the notion that a group of strangers head out on a boat for a three-hour tour, only to get caught up in a maelstrom and lost to a desert isle. Without going too far into the premise of the show, Thursday in San Diego was reminiscent, as about a dozen beer bloggers showed up a day early to take a six-hour tour courtesy of APlus Limos and led by our generous host, Michael Puente. Thanks to APlus, we could get around to see more of the amazing breweries San Diego has to offer, including:

  • Societe Brewing Company – A bit of a mash-up between old-world Belgian styles and new California hoppy beers

    The barrel aging room at Societe.

    The barrel aging room at Societe.

  • White Labs – The die-hard beer geek’s personal piece of heaven; had we been stranded here, I would have died happy
  • AleSmith Brewing – Arguably the best drinking spot in San Diego (and go ahead and argue, if you like), where I met Kevin who has offered to drive me to Lost Abbey on Sunday (hi, Kevin!)
  • Benchmark Brewing – With an emphasis on sessionable and table beers

Along the way, we also stopped by a Mexican fast food place; the verde burrito might have been the best I’ve ever had (dunno how I will be able to eat Brooklyn Mexican ever again!). While any of the venues (Council Brewing was also a stop, but I had already drank my way through most of the line-up on Tuesday) would warrant its own blog post, I have to say that White Labs was the most unusual and delicious stop.

For those who may not know, White Labs is the premier harvester of yeast in the U.S., possibly even the world. Their scientists have written the definitive book on yeast, and their tasting room offers up beers named by style and yeast strain (hence, the best beer I’ve had thus far, a porter on cask with the designation WLP028). You can also order a flight of a particular style of beer with four different yeast strains. My porter flight included:

  • WLP006 Bedford British Ale Yeast
  • WLP051 California Ale V Yeast (from northern CA)
  • WLP005 British Ale Yeast (maybe because it was a porter, this was the best of the bunch other than the cask)
  • WLP862 Cry Havoc pitched as a lager (licensed from the king of homebrew himself, Charlie Papazian)
  • Bonus brew: the cask porter made with vanilla soaked oak spiral (I had to ask: rather than aging in barrels, the soaked oak piece is added to the fermenter), vanilla beans, honey and cocoa nibs

BBC14_APlusI also drank the Frankenstout, an eighth generation beer that is made using all 96 varieties of White Labs yeast (don’t ask me how they manage, only that we joked about a sterile mop!). The thought that there are that many yeast strains in a single beer is somewhat outside the scope of my mind to encompass, but the beer was great.

In fact, White Labs (which has long been on my bucket list to visit, and partially why I decided to come to San Diego for the Beer Bloggers Conference) really illustrates the brewers axiom: Brewers make wort; yeast make beer. The variety of flavors among the same beer with different yeast was incredibly broad. I would happily go back to White Labs just to try their flights on a regular basis. As it stands, I have APlus to thank for getting me there safely and in comfort… along with 13 of my beer blogging buds.

Here in Hop Heaven… My First Trip to San Diego

This is what 30 years... and 30 pounds... looks like! Living it up with my personal tour guide in San Diego!

This is what 30 years… and 30 pounds… looks like! Living it up with my personal tour guide in San Diego!

I ended up coming to this year’s Beer Bloggers Conference in large part owing to the location. While I thoroughly enjoyed BBC13 in Portland, ME, last year, the easy (and fairly inexpensive) transportation was a key reason for my being in attendance. There is nothing easy about getting to San Diego from NYC (okay, well, there are plenty of non-stop flights, so it’s not like I was gonna walk here), but I had never been to the city and it was certainly on my bucket list to get out here and try some local SoCal brews.

My initial impression of the beer scene here is that it’s light years ahead of NYC. The very first beer I had was at Council Brewing Co., a nano-brewer run by (female! yay!) brewmaster Liz Chism. Chism, who works the brewery along side her husband Curtis, is a sign language interpreter by day, amazing homebrewer by night. I was stunned to hear that she had no formal training, because her beers are truly outstanding. This isn’t to say that homebrewers don’t make outstanding beers, only to say that these beers would stand up against any eastern large brewers’ beers.

Council Brewing Co. brewmaster Liz Chism.

Council Brewing Co. brewmaster Liz Chism.

My friend Brian, who I hadn’t seen in 30 years, took me to the off-the-beaten-path brewery housed in an industrial park. I started with a flight that included three different IPAs. While their homonymic IPA, Chizzam!, was outstanding, it was their Quorum IPA with Jarrylo Hops that was bringing in the locals (it had just been poured). I’m a beer lover and not a judge, but this was the least IPA-tasting IPA I think I’ve had. There was zero nose; I mean, like, none! Even Liz admitted to a low-scent beer (it was getting busy at that point, and I was more interested in catching up with my friend than quizzing the beer maker, but I’m guessing no additional hops added to the fermentation). Even the flavor was not overly hopped. The Yakima Valley experimental hop (pronounced yar-I-lo with emphasis on the “i”) is very subtle, despite having a relatively high AA (~15%). I would have guessed it was a hoppy Belgian style ale, and not an IPA at all.

But it was the third entry, their Gavel Drop IPA made with New Zealand Nelson Sauvin hops that made me feel like I was no longer in Kansas—er, Brooklyn—anymore. Very intense aroma and taste. Initially, after the subtlety of the Chizzam!, I was put off by it. But after finishing the delicious (and deceptively high in alcohol) Pirate’s Breakfast Imperial Oatmeal Stout, the Gavel Drop really grew on me.

BelchingBeaverMoving on, Brian took me to Tiger!Tiger! where I paired Hops of Hope by Noble Ale Works (again, outstanding) with a spicy house-made bratwurst and poutine (which was the only thing that was less-than-impressive). Already pretty tipsy at this point, I was escorted around the corner to the wickedly named Belching Beaver (sadly, they were out of the ladies’ tank tops), where I managed to chill my palate with one of their famous milk stouts (I had the Peanut Butter, a great dessert beer).

Brian told me that even though Council opened three months ago (their grand opening was a mere two months ago), they are far from the newest brewery in San Diego. I don’t know much about the politics to opening a brewery in California, but the quality and quantity of beer means that I will be able to dip my toe into the waters but slightly. I’m going to head out in a bit to explore some more (this is my only full free day, and I’ve spent the entire morning working). Can’t wait to see what further treats the craft beer world of San Diego has in store for The Bitch!