An Overflowing River Of New York Beer

Michael Donato, March 05, 2015

As a person involved in craft beer in New York I often get asked by visitors what to drink when they're in town. I've always had trouble narrowing it down, but recently I couldn't even fit the recommendations in a couple of tweets. There are so many new breweries and beers out that even as a local I can't keep up with them. 

But since it's New York City Craft Beer week, I tried.

I had 15 beers across 12 breweries in three different NY beer bars and one bottle shop. I had beers from big breweries, small breweries, new breweries and old(er) breweries. I ended up having some excellent beer across many different styles including sours, stouts with adjuncts, belgians, barrel-aged brews, nitro beers and a variety of different IPAs. This is all without counting the beers I had at the Brewer's Choice event which included a very interesting Carton beer called Gilded Lily that had truffles in it. 

The beer that most impressed me was Hopsomniac IPA by Captain Lawrence. The coffee bitterness blended with the hop bitterness into a perfectly scrumptous IPA. 

That's not to say it was the only beer that impressed me of course. One that surprised me was the Sweet Fire by Empire Brewing Company. It's a spicy stout inspired by an andouille sausage dish they serve at their brewpub. It was brewed with the help of a few ladies in the NYC beer bar scene, including the Cicerone of the place I had it, Taproom 307's Hayley Jensen. I'm often skeptical of beers brewed for one-time occasions or a pop culture meme because it feels like the breweries don't have time to put the beer through the same rigorous testing they would for a normal beer. Take the slew of pumpkin peach beers that are sure to start flooding the market shortly. This was not that; the Sweet Fire was a delicious stout with just enough pepper fire to make itself noticable before fading to a sweeter finish. In fact none of the SMaSH beers -- State Malt and State Hops -- that I tried had the feel of an experimental beer thrown together at the last minute. The theme beer for beer week was one of the biggest successes of the whole occasion. 

Sixpoint's XPorter was delicious, which is not surprising from them. There is a reason they remain my favorite brewery and should top any list of breweries to try in New York. This one left me licking my lips afterwards like after a delicious espresso.

Greenpoint Beer and Ale company just released their Vignette, a new sour beer. I was proud to be only the 10th person to check-in to the beer on Untappd. It reminded me a lot of a cider, and it was almost a sessionable sour that left me wanting more.

I know it's technically New York City beer week, but that often encompasses so many of us living just outside the city in New Jersey. One of the new breweries is even named Bridge and Tunnel, referring to those of us that have commuted to NYC that way. So it's fitting that I should mention Carton of Milk Stout by Carton Brewing in New Jersey. The flavor was sweet and creamy almost like a mocha foam, and the backend dried out a bit with some hop bitterness and cocoa.

I've always been partial to dark sours, and Finback's Small Sour Stout was no different. I'm actually unsure if this was a different beer than their Starchild or the same one, but either way it was a delicious low-alcohol beer with some roast and tartness that played well together. In researching it I noticed they have a beer called Autumnator that's a sour with NY apples and saison yeast that sounds absolutely amazing.  

Many of the other beers I had beyond these few I highlighted were also very good. They included beers from Transmitter, Braven, Greenport Harbor, Gun Hill, Rushing Duck, Ithaca, Third Rail, and Port Jeff.  I've got a growler of Other Half's Laatste Ronde in my fridge, a shelf full of great New York craft beer, and a 'need to try' list of NY beers that seems to grow longer every day.