Hooray for beer!
Today is a national food holiday that a lot of people have been waiting for! Beer isn’t just for frat boys anymore: it’s the world’s most widely consumed alcoholic beverage, and only third to the most consumed beverage of all (next to water and tea). Every culture all around the world makes some form of beer–which is formed by the fermentation of malted grains–and it’s reported to have been made ever since humans have been growing grains, in the early Neolithic period. Brewing beer is both a science and an art: you have to get the fermentation of the starch just right, have all the correct ingredients and equipment, and make sure the whole shabang doesn’t blow up in your face (literally!) But the minute details and the different variations to the formula can lead to ingenuity and creativity, which is why there are so many different kinds of beer from all over the world. There are different strengths and categories of beer–from light ales to heavy stouts and everything in between–and any number of flavors can be added to create different taste combinations, from coffee to cherries and even chocolate beer! There is so much to know about the making, measuring, and even pouring of beer, it can make your head spin. There are even college degree programs and apprenticeships to make you a brewmaster!
So, long story short, no matter where it comes from–be it Milwaukee, Shanghai, or right here in New York–making beer is serious business. Hell, even drinking beer is serious, especially when it comes to determining what’s the “best.” Unlike wine, where good vineyards tend to be in warmer climates, beer can be brewed anywhere, and it benefits from the individual attention a personal or microbrewer can give it. So, finding some great, locally-brewed New York City beer isn’t as tough as you might think!
Try, for instance, a gastropub that puts a ton of emphasis on the “pub.” 508 Gastropub in Greenwich Village is housed in a building that, in another life, used to be a brewery–and is becoming something similar to that once again. Down in the basement, home brewer Anderson Sant’anna de Lima concocts all the beers sold in the upstairs restaurant, either by the glass or, with some selected varieties, by the bottle. Having the brewmaster serve you a beer he has just finished brewing is rare, and it gives you the opportunity to learn more about what goes into the beer, and the beer making process, more than a regular bar could ever provide. Imagine a chef serving you a meal at a fine, artisan restaurant–and then sitting down and telling you exactly how he made that dish! That means, of course, that a bottle will set you back more than a can of Coors Light at the Pour House, but for something of such a fine quality, it’s definitely worth it. Complement your beers–and fill your bellies so you don’t get a beer gut!–with tapas from the bar, like oysters on the half shell, barbecue spare rib sliders, or a finely made ceviche. This place is the epitome of the term “in-house.”
508 Greenwich St (between Spring St & Holland Tunl)
“Home-beer-brewing enthusiast Anderson Sant’anna de Lima, owner of 508, has converted his American restaurant into this modern brewpub which pours his creations. Grab a seat at the glass-topped aqua bar and sip a draft IPA or a bottle of Belgian strong ale, all made in stills below the eatery. An eclectic menu—featuring ceviche, short-rib meatballs, and truffled mac and cheese—offsets the booze.”–Time Out New York
“As I waited at the bar for Anderson to be available (he was cleaning up after a brewing session) and for B.R. to arrive, I ordered the Belgian Farmhouse Saison (5.4%) and 1/2 a dozen Rappahannock oysters from Virginia. The glass arrived filled with a dark gold, brassy colored beer topped by a full, white, lacy head. A sniff revealed a hint of yeastiness and a bit of a grainy note. A sip — slightly sweet, very malty, a bit tangy, full body and just the right amount of bitterness to compliment the rich, malty core. Not a delicate saison, for sure — it’s one sturdy farmhouse ale! Oh — and the $1 oysters were magnificent! Briney, plump and satisfying.”–Beer Hear
“Only a handful of NYC restaurants serve beer that they brew on the premises, so we were eager to check out Anderson’s setup and taste the beers. 508 has five 55-gallon fermenters going (plus a few small carboys) and 72 kegs for conditioning. The beers tend toward sessionable options for the hot weather—the 508 Witbier is 4.9% ABV, and the Citra Common is just 4.5%, though there’s also a hefty American Strong Ale that clocks in at 10%. Anderson is working on a saison as well as experimenting with a sour dark beer that’s aging with Brettanomyces.”–Serious Eats
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“5 stars could be for the beer alone. It is amazing to me that they actually brew this stuff downstairs under the restaurant! Had a Brazil Nut, an English Pale Ale and a Sorachi Ale. All were delicious and served cold in just the right glass. No lame flat tap beer here…fresh and fizzy and so refreshing. Took a growler with us, it was so good.”–Frederick L.
“for starters we ordered the bruschetta and the truffled mac & cheese. The mac & cheese was phenomenal. I should have ordered it with the lobster. I definitely could have eaten the entire bowl. For the main course, I had the curry chicken salad. It was fantastic, for a salad. I will say that the 508 may not have been the best place for a business lunch. I couldn’t stop drooling over the beer menu. I wanted to drink more than I wanted eat! I will most certainly come back for a happy hour sometime so I can try all of the beers.”–Mike S.
But, as a New Yorker and a born-and-raised Brooklynite, it would be sacrilege for me to spotlight locally-brewed beers and not mention the Brooklyn Brewery. A world-renowned brand of ales and lagers, Brooklyn Brewery’s popularity and classic logo may make them feel like they’ve been around forever, but they’ve only been around since 1984, when two guys from Park Slope decided they wanted to make a brewery. Brooklyn used to have quite the brewing history: Williamsburg and Bushwick had over 40 breweries between the two neighborhoods at the turn of the 20th century. But national brands pushed out the small, local brews, and Brooklyn distilleries were closed for more than 70 years. Brooklyn Brewery looked to change all that…but, granted, it did take a while. Up until 2009, most of the famous Brooklyn Brewery brand wasn’t made in Brooklyn, but upstate, in Utica, and shipped in bottles to the city and other retailers. It wasn’t until the economic recession that caused Billyburg real estate prices to plunge that Brooklyn Brewery was able to afford the large space they wanted to fully operate in the borough. They had made a worldwide name for themselves on a product that wasn’t even made in Brooklyn!
But now, Brooklyn Brewery makes all their beers in the city, prized for their famous Brooklyn Lager, Pale Ales, and other brews. You may not notice this when you’re in the city, and Brooklyn Brewery beers seem ubiquitous, but the Brooklyn label has traveled around the nation, even the world, and is available in stores and bars right next to the beer megabrands. But you lucky New Yorkers can get these suds right from the source every weekend at the brewery! The Williamsburg brewery opens its doors every Friday night for an all-night happy hour, with eight freshly-tapped beers for $5 each, or 5 for $20 (an incredibly reasonable price for a beer anywhere in the city!) And Saturdays are brewery tour days: four each week, running for about an hour, where you get to see, hear, smell, and best of all, taste all the work that goes into a cask of Brooklyn Brewery beer. And the best part is, the tours are free! There’s no better way to spend an afternoon than drinking in the history of Brooklyn beer–literally. And although they don’t serve food at the brewery’s happy hours, they encourage you to bring in–or even call in an order–of your own favorite bar food. If you stop by tonight, the Brooklyn Brewery may just be the cheapest and best way to celebrate Drink Beer Day in New York City!
79 N 11th St (between Berry St & Wythe Ave)
“It seems like it should’ve been here for decades, but the now-famous Brooklyn Brewery has only been around since 1987, setting up shop in this ivy-colored, yellow-brick warehouse in 1996. The brewery opens its doors to the public on Friday nights, allowing visitors to imbibe surrounded by enormous vats of prized brews like Monster Ale and Brooklyn Brown. For hops aficionados, there are free hourly tours of the brewery on Saturdays (1pm-5pm) and Sundays (1pm-4pm).”–New York Magazine
“Brooklyn was once known as America’s brewing capital: at the turn of the 20th century Williamsburg alone was home to nearly 60 breweries. The originals are mostly gone, but this relative newcomer has been bringing the hops back to the ‘hood since it opened in 1996. Friday-evening happy hour means $4 beers—the Brooklyn Lager is popular, as is the Belgian-inspired Local 1, and there are usually seasonal brews, too.”–Fodor’s
“The opening of the Brooklyn Brewery in a stylish, exposed brick warehouse at 79 North 11th Street last week marked the first commercial brewing operation in Brooklyn in 20 years. With two microbreweries scheduled to open in the borough later this year, local officials pointed to this opening as a turning point in Brooklyn’s industrial history. Though a chapter ended two decades ago with the closing of the Schaefer and Rheingold breweries, the story continues with new products made to satisfy the tastes of a more sophisticated beer-drinking public.”–The New York Times
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“The Brooklyn Brewery is like a bar that serves beer only, but since this is the flagship facility the quality is high with freshness. Beer lines are maintained at an optimal level and makes for a great pour. The Brewery is only open 6 hours a day on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. While I tasted only 3 beers I found the Larger to be my favorite. It had the body and taste that I enjoy. Overall, I recommend a visit to The Brooklyn Brewery. It is a great way to start a fun weekend day. The beers on hand are very tasty with quality ingredients. At $4 for a 12 oz pour you can’t go wrong.”–Billy V.
“This place is fun. Especially if you live stumbling distance from here, which I do. Casual Friday nights drinking beer in the brewery? Oh hells yeah. It’s kind of as good as it gets. Other points of amazingness: the brewery cat is adorable, You can order Vinnie’s for delivery here and I’m pretty sure that they let you bring your dog. There was a bulldog there last Friday that really upped the ante on this place. Thanks for being so unabashedly awesome, Brooklyn Brewery. I got mad appreciation for how you roll.”–S R.
Make sure you check out the updated NYC Food Holidays Map to find this most recent holiday!