Preparing For The Opening Bash Of The NYC Beer Week

J. R. Shirt, February 18, 2015

There is no place like it, no place with an atom of its glory, pride, and exultancy. It lays its hand upon a man’s bowels; he grows drunk with ecstasy; he grows young and full of glory, he feels that he can never die. - Walt Whitman 

The bus passes are purchased and on Saturday I will head to New York City.

Assuming all goes according to plan, the City will lay its hand on me in the form of its 7th Annual Beer Week and I will grow drunk. I'll spend the day at the Opening Bash drinking beers from brewers within the Five Boroughs and beyond and yes, I will grow drunk and young. By the time I leave the Altman Building I will be drunk and young and full of the type of glory that only comes with a well executed plan and a belly full of beer.

The week kicks off on Friday, with 100 bars and restaurants around the city participating in the Opening Tap at 7pm, as well as 12 New York City Brewers each creating their unique version of a SMASH (single malt and single hops) brew using malts and hops farmed in New York. There are events constantly throughout the week, all over the city. But it is Saturday, at the Opening Bash in the Altman Building, where so many of these NYC brewers, some barely a year old, can all be found under one roof.

Looking at the list of brewers and breweries that will be at the Opening Bash,  I was overwhelmed. The list was just under 50 breweries long and outside of the few bigger guys – Brooklyn, Sixpoint, Ommegang, and Saranac – I had maybe had a total of four beers from all of the other brewers on the list.

I needed a plan of attack so I headed to the BeerGraphs leaderboards and started to create a spreadsheet, essentially preparing for the event much like I would prepare for a fantasy baseball draft. Unfortunately, many of the breweries that I went to the leaderboards looking for were either too small or too new for any data to appear.

Most of what I found using our data was pretty much what I already knew – Brooklyn Brewery, Sixpoint, Ommegang were the giants of the group. Saranac is, well, Saranac. And then there is Ithaca, with Flower Power, and apparently 29 other beers on boards that I had not yet had. Captain Lawrence will be there and their numbers looked good, but more importantly, I had the Captain's Reserve Imperial IPA a few months ago and remember loving it. 

Listen, I get it – a non-BeerGraphs devotee would see crunching numbers as a terrible way to prep for a beer event. But it's just a starting point. So bear with me.

Sometimes the numbers just reinforce what you already know. Other Half Brewing, of Brooklyn, have some very strong numbers for relatively young brewery, but I expected that as I've had a few of their beers my last time in the city and really enjoyed them.

Digging just a bit deeper and we start to reveal some new information. Peekskill Brewery, based on the Leaderboards, had something interesting going on. Looking into a little further reminded me that they had a few beers, Simple Sour and Shotgun Willie to name two, that I had heard about and wanted to try. Similarly, based on numbers, Great South Bay Brewery had something good going on – I had never heard of them until now but was excited to try them.

And that was it as far as information available from our Leaderboards, and my spreadsheet still had blank rows behind 40 brewers. So using the infinite powers of the internet, I dug even deeper. I pulled up brewer websites. I read beer descriptions and beer reviews, making notes in my spreadsheet about beers that piqued my interest and where the brewer was from: Queens? Bronx? Long Island? Upstate?

By the end of it, I had a plan. Or at least a short list of brewers that, beyond some of the bigger names I mentioned above, were prioritized in my mind. Let's face it – sampling beers from close to 50 brewers is just not a recipe for anything but disaster. Having a plan is good. At least then you can be aware of when things have gone completely off the tracks – you've tossed the list, you're shouting, and four hours later you find yourself at the nexus of the universe at the intersection of 1st and 1st.

My short list is (in alphabetical order): Grimm Artisinal Ales, Gun Hill, Keg and Latern, Peekskill, Other Half, and Transmitter.

Grimm Artisinal Ales – Brooklyn based nomad/gypsy brewer of single batch stuff with great art work and a focus on great ingredients. I'm excited to try anything they bring whether it's a wild ale, a farmhouse ale, their Double Negative Imperial Stout, or their Tesseract DIPA.

Gun Hill Brewing Co. – Celebrating their one year anniversary during Beer Week, this Bronx brewery is bringing Void of Light to the Opening Bash – their 2014 GABF gold medal winning foreign-style stout.

Keg And Latern Brewing Co. – Located in Brooklyn, one look at the description of their IPAs currently on tap and my mouth waters. It looks like they are bringing a cask of Rye Not IPA. Can't wait to try it.

Peekskill Brewery – The one brewery on my short list that isn't located in the city. Located in Peekskill, they have the Simple Sour, a sour ale brewed with wheat, corn and brett, and Shotgun Willie, an IPA brewed with wheat, rye, and Nelson Sauvin hops.

Other Half Brewing – Another young brewery based in Brooklyn, I've had some of their beers before and enjoyed them very much. I am very much looking forward to trying some more.

Transmitter Brewing – A community supported brewery (CSB) that focuses on small batch farmhouse ales. They seem really focused on yeast strains and bacteria, hence my excitement toward the opportunity to try the Blood Orange and Allspice Biere de Garde that are bringing to the event.

If we continue the fantasy baseball metaphor, these are my top tier, my first rounders.

But what if my plan has flaws – I am nothing if not filled with self doubt. How would I know? What if I was overlooking something special?

Who could I look to for advice on New York City beer?

And so with that dilemma in mind, I emailed Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø of Evil Twin Brewing. He had been gracious enough to respond to some quick email questions about beer I had sent him in the past and so I emailed him and asked him so many things about New York and the beer. The email was lengthy and essentially ended with me asking him to be time-traveling pen pals (an idea I still stand behind if anyone is interested).

I did not feel particularly confident that my email would get a response. I did not feel particularly confident it would get read. If that email were a conversation it would have required no less than 14 people listening at the start of it to ensure that I wasn't standing alone at the end of it.

But it did get read and Martin from Evil Twin was nice enough to get back to me and compliment some of the ideas. He encouraged me to streamline my approach and resend it. And so I did. And then a few days went by and I streamlined it some more.

Essentially, what I was realizing in preparing for the Opening Bash is that New York City beer culture is percolating, especially in the past few years, and I was interested in what changes Jeppe has noticed to the scene since he moved to Brooklyn back in 2012. Does he see his influence in what's happening there? Beyond that, I was trying to get an impression of the NYC Beer Week overall and was curious what he thought about the week. I mean, ultimately, what I really wanted was to be time-traveling pen pals, but I left that part out of the final email.

And then it happened. Perhaps relieved that I was no longer looking a space-time traversing companion, or more likely, perhaps he had a brief moment available in what must be a very busy schedule. Regardless, Jeppe responded.

“Its changing by the day and its exciting whats happening,” Jeppe said about the beer scene in the city. He couldn't say if he had any direct influence on the breweries that have opened since he's been in Brooklyn, but added, “I hope I have inspired some to do their best, it certainly looks like they are!”

I also sent Jeppe my short list of “must try” breweries for the Beer Week's Opening Bash and asked if there was anyone I had left out.

“Those are the ones I would put on my list!” he said and suggested I add Three's Brewing, a new brewpub in Brooklyn.

I looked into Threes. He's definitely right – they should be on the list and now they are. Thanks Jeppe.

Follow J.R. Shirt on Twitter and Untappd @beeronmyshirt. Listen to the Drinking With Shirt Podcast here at BeerGraphs or on iTunes. If anyone is interested in the Opening Bash Spreadsheet, J.R. will happily send it to you, but please keep your expectations low. 

This is part an effort by BeerGraphs to team up with the New York State Brewer's Association to give you complete coverage of New York City Beer Week.