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.

Sixpoint Holiday Concert To Benefit Critters Without Creches

sixpoint-subculture-webMaybe you read about the feral cats in Red Hook taking over a manger scene? Well, we know some other cool cats in Red Hook looking to help out their four-legged friends this weekend.

It’s like Beer for Beasts, winter edition! This Saturday (12/14/13), everybody’s favorite Red Hook brewery, Sixpoint, hosts its First Annual Sixpoint Holiday Concert and Beer Festival! From 3pm – 7pm your $40 (Early Bird, still on sale as of post time; it’s $50 thereafter or $60 at the door), gets you unlimited pours from 12 different varieties of Sixpoint beer, including:

  • Crisp Lager
  • Sweet Action
  • Bengali Tiger IPA
  • Oktoberfest Lager
Resin Double IPA
  • Global Warmer — The Bitch is Orgasmic for this beer!
  • The Brothers Quinn Rauchbier
  • Spice of Life Single-Hop IPA
  • Apostle IPA
  • Gorilla Warfare Coffee Porter
  • The Incredible Mild (Small Imperial Stout)
  • Mad Scientists #17

Every year, Sixpoint teams up with a variety of animal loving peeps—including venue host SubCulture (45 Bleecker Street at the corner of Lafayette) and the Anything Anything Radio Show—with proceeds benefitting their year-long charity partner, The Humane Society of New York.

This year’s event will feature a great up-and-coming R&B-based boogie-woogie rock group as the house band (it’s a surprise which band, but they promise they’re top shelf), with additional musical support donated by Sixpoint lovers in the indie rock and jazz scene. We anticipate copious amounts of bad caroling will ensue. You can monitor the brewery’s Twitter and Facebook for updates.

This event will NOT be oversold; Sixpoint has committed only 100 tickets so there will be plenty of room to move about and plenty of beer for all to sample. Food available for additional—and, we’ve been promised, reasonable—purchase from Shorty’s.

Get your tickets here.

Virgin No More… The Bitch Goes to BCTC

Ommegang1For those who have never been, Ommegang’s annual “Festival about Nothing,” Belgium Comes to Cooperstown, is one of those key beer events that you really must undertake at least once in a lifetime. It’s not about the beer, which was excellent, or the Brewery, which is happily situated in the bucolic Catskill Mountains, or even the cool beer peeps you’ll meet while there, of which there were plenty.

No, going to this “Woodstock of Beer” festival is so much greater than the sum of its parts. In fact, it is the camping out under the stars in the middle of nowhere with beer and barbecue that really makes this outing a must for any beer lover. While I don’t know if BCTC is one of a kind, it certainly is unique.

As it was my first time there—not to mention my first time camping—my perspective is one of a newly deflowered virgin… and perhaps I’m basking in the glow, but here are my main takeaways from the three-day festival, which ran August 3-5.

Pick the right campmate or go it alone, and pack appropriately.

Your tent is probably the only privacy you’ll get all weekend, and while you may spend almost no time in it, you’ll be in close quarters with someone who is drinking. A lot.

And when it comes to packing, there are people who bring in couches and entire campsites, complete with cookstoves. However, you have to haul it in and out. The experienced peeps have dollies and wagons. Also, the weather is variable; last year temperatures were nearing 100 and this year it was low-50s at night. That’s really hot and really cold if you aren’t prepared. Preparation should include bug spray, sunscreen, and plenty of water (Ommegang had some, but finding it wasn’t easy and plumbing was nonexistent).

OmmegangKegsPace yourself.

The real beer scene is not in the brewery or at the revered tasting. The real beer scene is at the individual brew tents. Many breweries are in attendance, and they all have beer (I visited Empire, Sixpoint, Brooklyn Brewery, and Slyfox, among others). You can (and probably will) start drinking Saturday morning at dawn and could still be drinking until early morning on Sunday. That’s when the festival is at its best.

You also want to time your shower (everyone said to get in line early, which wasn’t bad, but I had my best shower around 3 p.m. on Saturday when no one was in line and water pressure was consistent). And speaking of water… for some reason this year (as opposed to 2012, apparently), there were almost no sink stations. The portapotty situation by 1 AM Sunday made me think the R-train is one of the cleanest places on Earth. I could have bartered my hand sanitizer for Westvleteren 12 at that point. You can save yourself scary dreams and God knows what else by bringing baby wipes and cleanser.

Your flashlight is your friend.

Someone gave me the head’s up to bring a flashlight. My lovely campmate brought an extra for me, as well. However, I took a nasty spill when I cut between tents (they’re everywhere, so it’s almost impossible not to cut between them). I hadn’t even been drinking (much) at that point, but it never occurred to me to monitor my path to the john. I tripped over a tent rope and down I went. In other words, it gets really really dark.

The entertainment is a mixed bag.

The VIP dinner was probably better than I will assess here, but considering it was an upsell, I won’t do it again if I return to BCTC. The food was meh and the beer was readily available throughout the festival (i.e. nothing rare or exceptional – a line up of Ommegang standards and La Chouffe). But the band? The band was so loud I thought my eardrums would start bleeding! I don’t know who thought it was a good idea to play at that decibel, but the worst part was it precluded any table conversation. I met some nice people at the dinner—at least I think so—but we were literally screaming in each other’s ears to be understood.

Weirdly, the mainstage bands were way quieter. Perhaps it was the same sound system that was dispersed over an open space (the VIP dinner was under a tent). I could hear the music at the venue, but it really didn’t reach the campsite. More fun was the late-night bonfire and midnight fireworks. My campmate took to the Ferris Wheel, which had a really long wait but entitled her to bragging rights over all of us who didn’t make it on. And I don’t know if there was a movie Saturday night (per the program). After the Friday night “movie” turned out to be old Seinfeld episodes, I lost all interest in media.

And speaking of Seinfeld, the festival is apparently directly tied to the show. I never watched it (although I got some of the references because anyone of drinking age would have been aware of the culture zeitgeist the show held in the mid-90s), so I missed the “inside jokes” and thought the “Festivus” angle was lame (even I know that Festivus is a Christmas-type alternative holiday).

If you don’t have Verizon, you might as well leave your cell at home.

Verizon was king at the festival. The AT&T peeps were a mixed group of mopiness, with a bit of sour grapes thrown in to the mix (my favorite quote was “I guess that’s what you get for an extra $20/month!” I didn’t have the heart to tell the guy that I pay $40 for my smart phone as part of a family plan). However, I could get up to 4G at certain places on the grounds. That said, even my service was sketchy. The charging tent was a cool addition, and the guys working the tent probably didn’t get enough tips to justify all they did to keep us charged up.

OmmegangPorkMaking new friends was the best part of BCTC

I already mentioned that the best way to drink beer was wandering from tent to tent. Well, I found my new peeps at Olde Burnside Brewing Company from East Hartford, CT. Not only did they share their beer… they shared their coffee! Coffee was one of the more difficult items to find (next year, I’ll use my super growler to bring coffee). After I was generously presented with a cup of coffee, I was offered a Saison Dupont for my second hand. Then I was offered breakfast (I passed), lunch (I missed the Jambalaya so they whipped me up a lobster roll instead) and dinner (slow-roasted pork shoulder… AMAZING!). It was meeting people like Jason, Jaime, Tim, Jack and the rest of the Olde Burnside posse that really makes me want to go to BCTC for years to come.

The beer was pretty good, too.OmmegangEmpties

I’m not going to break down the beers I drank. I haven’t even completely updated my Untapp’d check-ins. That’s how much great beer there was. However, I did find a couple beers that were worth the effort of getting to Ommegang (more on that below). My major score of the day was Lava. I didn’t even know it was going to be there, and I’ve been wanting to try this beer since Draft Magazine awarded it with the Best Beer of 2012. However, My absolute favorite was the Stone Reason Be Damned, an 8% ABV Belgian-style abbey ale, aged in red wine barrels. I really hope I can track some down in bottles to enjoy again soon.

Trust your GPS.

Cooperstown is in the middle of nowhere. As in “nowhere near a major highway.” One of the car mates said this was his fourth year and every year he had arrived via a different route. We went two different ways per the GPS, and on the return trip we ended up smack dab in the middle of the Catskill Park. It was gloriously beautiful, and probably didn’t add any time to the trip home. Other than being unable to find coffee en route, it was well worth the detour. Especially for folks who generally have concrete and skyscrapers as part of our daily view.

You can see the photo album (and “like” The Bitch’s Facebook page) here.

It’s July Good Beer Month… Where To Drink

Proclamation2014_2For New Yorkers, it seems like every other day there’s some incredible beer release or cool gathering. The whole “too many beers, too little time” can seem overwhelming, but there are certain times of the year when being a part of the beer scene is like running a marathon.

July Good Beer Month is certainly one of those times. For 31 days every July, NYC celebrates as the Mayor’s office delivers the July Good Beer Month Proclamation (if you want the audio version, listen here at the 30 minute mark for Garrett Oliver’s oration… it’s brilliant!):

Office of the Mayor, City of New York – PROCLAMATION

WHEREAS, July is Good Beer Month in New York City. And at barbecues and picnics and pubs and groggeries across the five Boroughs, our city’s residents and visitors are getting into the spirit and are beating the summer’s heat with cold beers. Even more refreshing is the fact that some of the best brews we have in the fridge and on tap are made right here in New York as our city’s craft beer scene continues to thrive.

WHEREAS, like any top quality product, good beer is the result of dedication of many people. Growing New York’s collegial, knowledgeable, independent beer community has required the passion and expertise of farmers, brewers, distributors, importers and devoted patrons alike. The community has also focused on keeping its industry sustainable and environmentally conscious. Brewers have formed partnerships with both city farms and local artisans, and foster the kind of conversations that keep their taverns and tasting rooms great places to share big ideas about what’s next in craft brewing.

The proclamation continues, acknowledging the Good Beer Seal bars (full disclosure, I blog for GBS). But what’s really cool is the Mayor’s support for five years and how craft beer has truly grown in the city. Here are a handful of the events you will want to check out this month. And feel free to tag me (@BKLYNbeerbitch) or the Good Beer Seal (@goodbeerseal) on Twitter for RTs; I want to know what you’re drinking and where you’re headed in July.

My favorites for the month include:

  • The Total Long Island City ImmersionSaturday, July 13th – Starting at noon, you can score a pass to get free beer samples from Brooklyn Brewery, among others, as you wind your way through LIC’s best pubs, patios and brunch spots.
  • The Parisian Ball on Governors Island – Saturday, July 13th – Starting at 4 p.m. and going until the wee hours of Bastille Day, you can be a kid again with vintage rides, music, libations and—one can muse—a central square for beheadings (no, not really; that was The Bitch’s attempt at a joke). This site offers slightly discounted tickets from the official website. It is 21+.
  • Mission Dolores Hosts Pioneers of American CraftWednesday, July 17th – MD does some counter programming from all the rare and unusual stuff going on tap across the city by putting the “Old Guard” beers of Anchor, Sam Adams, Sierra Nevada and Brooklyn Brewery. Sure, they’re your father’s craft beers, but I’m probably old enough to date your dad so it works for The Bitch!
  • Duvel/Ommegang Belgian Independence Day Celebration at Sunswick 35/35Thursday, July 18th – If you don’t make it out to Governors Island for Bastille Day, this is the next best Euro-independence event I could find to slate your need to act all superior to us ‘Mericans. Added bonus for those not able to make it to BCTC in August.
  • July Good Beer Month Presents NY State Food & Beer Expo – Saturday, July 27th – Come to Williamsburg’s East River Park for a great lineup of beer from KelSo, Shmaltz/Coney Island, Sixpoint and Brooklyn Brewery, among many others. Entry is at 90 Kent, and GA tickets will be available day of. VIP will be on sale the week of 7/15 at Good Beer Seal.
  • Prix Fixe dinner featuring Jeff O’Neill of Peekskill BrewingTuesday, July 30th – Jimmy’s No. 43 will be hosting Jeff O’Neill for a beer pairing dinner. Here’s hoping Jeff brings his Simple Sour!
  • Edible’s Good Beer at 82 Mercer – Wednesday, July 31st – This is the premiere event that wraps up July Good Beer Month each year. Try to score a ticket now, because they typically sell out well in advance.