Super happy to be writing for Complex and consulting with Jimmy Carbone on this list. Please feel free to comment (nicely, if you will) and use this list as a launching point for your own best beers list!
This past Tuesday I had the mixed pleasure of attending this year’s Choice Eats, the Village Voice’s annual tasting extravaganza. The spread was awesome, in the real sense of the word. Long lines aside, there was far more food to consume than could possibly be consumed by anyone who was not a competitive eater.
When I say that attending was a “mixed pleasure,” it’s because press at these things are always the bastard step children invited to dine at the grown-up table. If you’re just there to eat, drink and make merry, it’s a heck of a deal (although, at $50 general admission, the price for tickets was well worth what you got inside). However, if you really want to get to know the purveyors—there were more than 100 tables at the event, not including VIP—you’re pretty much unable to do this at the event itself. The best you can hope for is to grab a business card and follow up a day or two later.
I ended up in the VIP lounge for much of the early part of the expo, simply because the chefs and artisans had time to discuss their wares. Whether it was Kentucky Rye or Hawaiian Kona beer, the VIP experience was much more mellow than the main hall at the 69th Armory.
I’ve attended many of these freestyle expos, and this is among the best run. For every table that had a queue, there were several that you could walk up to and grab a sample. Options ranged from sliders to cupcakes, with more than two dozen beer, wine and spirits tables included.
Among the biggest surprise of the night was NYC Craft Beer Festival pouring Barrier Relief beer. This collaboration beer from Ommegang was among the first released to help Barrier Brewing Company in the post-Sandy aftermath. The beer held up well, and I was surprised to find it available.
On the main floor, I was able to make it to the front of a dozen or so lines. My favorite taste of the night had to be the savory bun by Brooklyn Kolache Co. , a pork and jalapeno yumminess that almost makes me want to hop on the G train for more. In the VIP suite, the winner hands down was an entry from Jersey City’s Thirty Acres. Husband and wife team, Kevin and Alex Pemoulie, have a rotating menu and their Red-wine Marinated (soft boiled) Egg was a revelation. Served on a bed of salty croutons, buttery mâche (perfect with an egg), and topped with trout roe, this dish has been a mainstay on the restaurant’s brunch menu (sadly, it’s being rotated off). However, if the sample was indicative of their year-old restaurant, I’m planning a trip across (under?) the Hudson very soon.
All in all, I’d say the Bitch is Ecstatic about Choice Eats, but as with any of these popular tasting events, the early birds (i.e. those folks who stood in line for an hour before opening) had the best time. And everyone who sprang for VIP.