NYCBeerWeek2016

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.

BARchmadness_800

You Say NCAA? I say #BARchmadness

Okay, so two things you should know off the bat:

  1. I love NCAA basketball and the Madness of March;
  2. I’m not prone to piques of jealousy.

However, when I saw the awesomely cool #BARchmadness bracket designed by friend and colleague, Chris O’Leary over at Brew York New York, I felt like throwing both these positions out the window. I mean, what could be cooler than figuring out which of the 64 men’s basketball teams could go the distance? Choosing which of 64 bars could be in the final four!

And, damn, I wish I had the wherewithal to have thunk this one up on my own. But I’m always riding on Chris’ coattails, it seams. He is, in my mind, the best beer blogger in NYC, who always seems to be on top of trends and information in a way that consistently overwhelms me (okay okay, I’m a single parent, but he has a day job… how do you manage it all, Chris? The Bitch wants to know!).

But I digress…

I didn’t invent this bracket, but I’m sure as hell playing! I just need to find a group to put some money where their mouths are, or maybe pony up a beer from our cellars to the eventual queen (or king… or BITCH!) of the #BARchmadness competition. So here are my picks and my votes for who will make it into the next round (note: I sometimes voted with my heart or my wallet, but the picks are where my brain prevails).

Chris explains his methodology, which is based on Untappd check-ins. Since this is essentially a popularity contest, it’s as good a measure as any for deciding the top 64 bars in the city, but it does beg the question of whether or not we’re throwing out the baby with the bathwater vis a vis technology. If you have sketchy wi-fi (I’m looking at you, Jimmy’s No. 43 – a basement bar is a terrible place to do check-ins) or no Internet presence (surprisingly, several of these bars fall into that category), you are probably SOL when it comes to inclusion.

But going with what we have, here is the first bracket:

Round 1: The West Side

BARchmadness_West

#1 The Pony Bar v. #16 Bronx Beer Hall

This was a pretty easy pick for me, and I think The Pony Bar will garner the most votes. I voted for it more on proximity: Arthur Avenue is on my bucket list but will never be a go-to spot for me. Unless, of course, I get priced out of Brooklyn and must reinvent myself as the Bronx Beer Bitch.

But since The Pony Bar UES is also ranked #1, it would be a great thing if Bronx Beer Hall could scrape out an upset.

My vote: The Pony Bar My pick: The Pony Bar

#2 The Gingerman v. #15 The Diamond

Oh, this one won’t even be close, which is a double-edged gift I suppose. I mean, The Diamond is a very cool, off-the-beaten path (well, it used to be… now Dirck and Northern Territory sit right across from it) Greenpoint bar. So, I’m sad they’re gonna get their patooties handed to them in this match-up. But, then again, it’s gonna be The Gingerman v. Jimmy’s No. 43 in the second round, and who doesn’t want to see that?!

My vote: The Diamond My pick: The Gingerman

#3 Alewife v. #14 Adobe Blues

My call? This will be an upset. Honestly, both these bars are great, but only one is “destination worthy” (and if you’ve ever walked from the G-train in shitastic weather, you know what I mean!). I love love LOVE Adobe Blues, and—despite other Staten Island entries on the list—this is the only Randolph County bar truly worthy of making it to the Sweet 16.

My vote: Adobe Blues My pick: Adobe Blues

#4 The Jeffrey v. #13 508 Gastrobrewery

Oh, well. This is a split decision. I love 508 Gastrobrewery and Chris Cuzme, so I’m with him in spirit. But there’s really no contest here. Maybe next year, but I think 508 can honestly say, “It’s an honor just to be nominated.”

My vote: 508 Gastrobrewery My pick: The Jeffrey

#5 The Owl Farm v. #12 The Queens Kickshaw

There are several bars on the list that are owned by a single entity, in this case it’s the Wiley Brothers who own some amazing bars in Brooklyn, including The Owl Farm and Mission Dolores. But The Queens Kickshaw is a worthy adversary for them, and I’m hedging my bets when I say I think they’ll eek out an upset, probably at the 11th hour of voting.

My vote: The Owl Farm My pick: The Queens Kickshaw

#6 Jimmy’s No. 43 v. #11 Burp Castle

Another lopsided match-up, and I honestly think that Jimmy’s No. 43 coming in a 6th seed is because their star player was benched half the season (i.e. the aforementioned wi-fi situation: the East Village Rastkeller—ironically directly beneath Burp Castle: they share the same street address along with Standings and are sometimes referred to as the “Brewmuda Triangle”) used to offer free wi-fi but had to change things up when they went to a wireless POS system. I think this has hampered their check-ins for Untappd but it won’t get in the way of them trouncing Burp Castle in the first round.

My vote: Jimmy’s No. 43 My pick: Jimmy’s No. 43

#7 George Keeley v. #10 The Gate

These closely situated seeds are pretty much a “flip the coin” choice. Both bars are awesome, but they don’t call me the Brooklyn Beer Bitch for nuthin’! And I think Park Slope is gonna have more than one bar advancing.

My vote: The Gate My pick: The Gate

#8 The Stag’s Head v. #9 Astoria Bier & Cheese

I have never been to Astoria Bier & Cheese, but I love the name. That said, I don’t think this place has a high enough profile to break out of its first match-up.

My vote: The Stag’s Head My pick: The Stag’s Head

Round 1: The East Side

BARchmadness_East

#1 Rattle-N-Hum v. #16 The LockYard

I need to get out more, apparently. This is the only #16 seed I’ve never even heard of. Of course, it’s cool that Bay Ridge even has a craft beer place, but no offense, The LockYard, I think you’re out of your league.

My vote: Rattle-N-Hum My pick: Rattle-N-Hum

#2 Tørst v. #15 Press 195

This is another lopsided match-up. Tørst is a #2 seed for a reason: great bar and a great beer geek following. It may not make it to the final four (even beer geeks need an affordable pint now and again), but it will easily breeze through the first few rounds.

My vote: Tørst My pick: Tørst

#3 Beer Authority v. #14 124 Old Rabbit Club

Is this the most egregious absence of (online) presence among the 64 contenders? Nope, but 124 Rabbit Club will lose by default because nobody who hasn’t already been there knows anything about them. Which is too bad, because it’s a cool stop in the West Village where trendy or dive-y bars are otherwise ubiquitous.

My vote: 124 Old Rabbit Club My pick: Beer Authority

#4 Good Beer v. #13 Third Ave Alehouse

Wow, this is a very interesting match-up. And while I think it’s a long shot for a growler shop to win, I do think Good Beer is going to break through the first round, along with Breukelen Bier Merchants (up against decidedly different competition, see below).

My vote: Good Beer My pick: Good Beer

#5 Bierkraft v. #12 Randolph Beer

Arguably another bottle shop, but I’m putting Brooklyn ahead of crossing Delancey any day of of the year.

My vote: Bierkraft My pick: Bierkraft

#6 Double Windsor v. #11 Pacific Standard

Oh, fuck all. This is probably the most difficult match-up of the entire bracket. Both are cool Brooklyn joints; both need a boosted profile. I guess in that sense, they’re both winners.

My vote: Double Windsor My pick: Double Windsor

#7 Proletariat v. #10 The Growler

I think this one comes down to location, location location. Too few people venture to the FiDi to drink, even fewer to Stone Street. But I do want to check out The Growler one of these days. It seems like it would be worth it to walk the cobblestones to get a drink there.

My vote: Proletariat My pick: Proletariat

#8 Stationhouse v. #9 4th Avenue Pub

Another tight seed, another flip of the coin. Gotta go with Brooklyn!

My vote: 4th Avenue Pub My pick: 4th Avenue Pub

Round 1: Downtown

BARchmadness_Downtown

#1 Blind Tiger v. #16 Killmeyer’s

My immediate reaction to this match-up is an allusion to boxing, not basketball. This is like putting a Bantamweight up against one of the Klitschko brothers. Awe, hell: It’s like putting a Bantamweight up against both of the Klitschko brothers. Blind Tiger will go the distance, although its match-up against Mugs in Round 2 will be a better battle to watch than The Gingerman/Jimmy’s No. 43 fight.

My vote: Blind Tiger My pick: Blind Tiger

#2 Top Hops v. #15 Snowdonia

What can I say? Maybe it’s time to move to Astoria. Nah, just kidding. But obviously there’s a pub crawl in there sometime when I want to brave three trains to get there. In the meantime, it’s all Manhattan for the win!

My vote: Top Hops My pick: Top Hops

#3 One Mile House v. #14 The Sampler

Um, yeah, did I mention I need to get out more? I think this one comes down to “if it’s in my backyard,” because both these bars are off my radar (at least I’ve heard of The Sampler, which is why I voted for it).

My vote: The Sampler My pick: One Mile House

#4 Mission Dolores v. #13 Crescent & Vine

This is another no-brainer. And no real competition. In fact, I’m calling it now: Mission Dolores will be up against Blind Tiger for division champ. And it’s gonna be a boozy… er, doozy.

My vote: Mission Dolores My pick: Mission Dolores

#5 Mugs Alehouse v. #12 61 Local

It’s Age & Treachery beating out Youth & Skill. No question.

My vote: Mugs Alehouse My pick: Mugs Alehouse

#6 Valhalla v. #11 Bohemian Hall

Honestly, I’ve never been to Bohemian Hall, but I plan to check it out. In the meantime, I’m going with the higher seed and a bar that was packed-to-the-gills the last time I was there. It almost makes it worth shlepping to mid-town. Almost.

My vote: Valhalla My pick: Valhalla

#7 Sunswick 35/35 v. #10 Cooper’s Craft

There are many contestants from Astoria, and one is bound to get through to the next round. My money is on Sunswick 35/35, not only the best of the bunch but just an all-around amazing neighborhood bar with a hyper-loyal clientele.

My vote: Sunswick 35/35 My pick: Sunswick 35/35

#8 NY Beer Company v. #9 Buddha Beer Bar

I think it’s very cool that upper Man is getting some craft beer going. It desperately needs it. However, I think NY Beer Company is just too big to ignore, and little Buddha will be left back cornering the market in Washington Heights.

My vote: Buddha Beer Bar My pick: NY Beer Company

Round 1: Uptown

BARchmadness_Uptown

#1 The Pony Bar UES v. #16 Bondurants

I’d love to see Bondurants pull off an upset, but I don’t see that happening. That puts two Pony Bars in the second round, but I think their success will be short-lived, with both likely to fall victim to a sophomore slump.

My vote: The Pony Bar UES My pick: The Pony Bar UES

#2 Barcade v. #15 Clinton Hall

When I said no one looks to the FiDi as a beer destination, I include Clinton Hall in the mix. But they never stood a chance against Barcade anyhow. To recycle the boxing metaphor, it’s gonna be a TKO.

My vote: Barcade My pick: Barcade

#3 Draught 55 v. #14 Spring Lounge

I’ve never been to either of these places, but the GM at Spring Lounge is a very cool lady by the name of Jen Torriero. She’s got my vote. And my vote of confidence that Spring Lounge can manage a first-round upset.

My vote: Spring Lounge My pick: Spring Lounge

#4 Idle Hands v. #13 Pine Box Rock Shop

Awe, no fair. There’s no one who rocks social media quite like Rev. Ciancio, so Jeff and Heather are gonna be blown out of the water. Of course, I’m calling this on behalf of meat eaters everywhere, which is too bad because there’s only one vegan bar in all five boroughs whereas there are lots of places to chow down a good burger with your pint. If you won’t vote for them, at least drop by to try their faux bacon Bloody Mary, the best city-wide.

My vote: Pine Box Rock Shop My pick: Idle Hands

#5 Taproom 307 v. #12 Dive Bar

Taproom 307 is what Gastrobrewery 508 will look like in a few years. Hayley Jensen and Stephen Saga have put together one hell of a homebrew-to-brewpub experience, and they deserve to with this round.

My vote: Taproom 307 My pick: Taproom 307

#6 Spuyten Duyvil v. #11 ABC Beer Co.

Shameless self-promotion! Whenever I talk to small business owners who have not discovered the importance of social media, I am perplexed. The future is now, and for any bar to think it doesn’t need to be on Twitter they are missing out on growing their audience (and increasing their bottom line). Why does Jimmy’s No. 43 get so much foot traffic? Well, they have one hell of a PR person (if I do say so myself). Why does everyone think Spuyten Duyvil is a stop on MetroNorth? Because, well, it is. And if you try to find this cool bar with a great outdoor space on Twitter, you’ll end up at the Spuyten Duyvil public library, I’m guessing. They need to call The Bitch to get onboard; my rates are very reasonable!

But this lack of social media savvy is why they’re gonna lose their first round, despite having more check-ins (thus being a higher seed) than ABC Beer Co. The latter is gonna Tweet up a storm, and if they don’t, well, they deserve to lose the match.

My vote: Spuyten Duyvil My pick: ABC Beer Co.

#7 Bronx Alehouse v. #10 Beer Culture

Remember what I said about Bronx Beer Hall? Honestly, I think it’s probably a better bar than Bronx Alehouse. But you can easily get to Bronx Alehouse on mass transit. Blame it on the sketchy white folks, but we don’t want to stumble around drunk late at night too far from a subway line. We’re gentrified like that. And because the Bronx is truly a cool destination, Bronx Alehouse will get the nod. And a metro swipe.

My vote: Bronx Alehouse My pick: Bronx Alehouse

#8 Singlecut Beersmiths v. #9 Breukelen Bier Merchants

I noted above that it’s tough for Bottle Shops to come out on top, but I think in this case, Breukelen Bier Merchants will manage to do so. Singlecut Beersmiths has decent enough food, but it’s still a brewery (in fact, I’m surprised Brooklyn Brewery didn’t make the list). Add to the fact that they are very divisive in the beer community, and I think Singlecut Beersmiths will be down for the count in the first round.

My vote: Breukelen Bier Merchants My pick: Breukelen Bier Merchants

And there you have it! Round 2 starts Monday, March 24th, at noon.