01 November 2016

Big Apple turnover

Yesterday's post left off with me leaving McSorley's Old Ale House and crossing a couple of New York city blocks to visit the next bar on my list: Proletariat. It's a small space, most of its narrow length taken up with the counter. If it were in Madrid or Venice it would be lined with men eating ham and olives while drinking coffee or grappa, but it's in the East Village so attracts hip young things in search of expensive beers. How expensive? North of €7.50 for the American half-pint (237ml) which seems to be their preferred measure, served in a TeKu glass, despite those being, like, so 2013.

I kicked off with Invasive Species, a 5.7% ABV sour ale by Brooklyn outfit Greenpoint, which incorporates Motueka and Citra hops. It's a pale hazy yellow colour and smells very farmyard. The first hit on tasting it is an eye-wateringly sharp green acid effect from the Motueka and then a surprising candy-sweet middle. The Citra succeeds in turning this into 7-Up while the sourness is merely a tangy afterthought. A chalky fruit-flavoured antacid tablet flavour finishes it off. This really didn't work well for me: hoppy and sour I like, but sweet and sour is for chicken.

L: Invasive Species. R: Elephant
My hopfiend wife ordered the double IPA: Elephant from Rushing Duck Brewery somewhere upstate. An 8.7% ABV beast with an alchemically complex aroma, twirling out an assortment of spices on a greasy grassy base. It tastes nicely dry with a huge, clean-burning, hop bitterness with more spices and lashings of citrus fruit. Most importantly there's no booze heat at all, making it the sort of DIPA that wakes you up instead of putting you to sleep. I approve.

Feeling gypped by the first round I doubled down and spent a smidge over €10 for a half-US-pint of Jolly Pumpkin Saison X, a beer of just 4.5% ABV. There's a sharp bricky aroma, like good lambic, though almost tipping over into vinegar. On tasting there's an immediate gritty funk which is much more saison-like, huge juicy peach and honeydew fruit, which was a surprise, and then a classic oaky sour finish, bringing us back to lambicland. It's only barely to-style, though admittedly saison does have a pretty broad set of parameters. But it was absolutely beautiful: combining the best bits of several different kinds of beer in exquisite balance. Which, at that price, it would want to.

Something a bit more down-to-earth was called for next and we went off hunting barbecue. We settled on Mighty Quinn's, a small chain based around New York and New Jersey, its East Village branch being bright, clean, friendly and serving decent scran. There's a small but well-chosen array of draught beers and I went for the house one: Mighty Quinn's Pilsner, brewed for them by Jersey's River Horse brewery. "Surgically crisp" says my notes, so I guess I liked it. It's clean and has a clear green celery and spinach hop edge to it. In short, much more what I was hoping to find in American pils compared to the two I mentioned yesterday.

While tweeting my way round to annoy the folks back home, because that's what you do on holidays, I got a recommendation from Jon Urch to visit Swift Hibernian Lounge since we were in the neighbourhood, so we stopped in for a nightcap. It's hard to get an impression of the place since it was so dark, but it's big, service was slow and they sell corned-beef-and-cabbage tacos. Perhaps that's all you need to know. I ordered a SixPoint Dark Mild which was nitrokegged and absolutely terrible, full of cloying oversweet toffee; a Hershey bar as beer. Bleurgh. Time to call it a night.

The following afternoon we were down in the Financial District and I insisted on dropping in to The Fraunces Tavern, the New York footprint of Dublin's Porterhouse brewery and pub chain. It's a vast rambling place and has a very competent selection of local beers. I still had a Wrassler's though, and it tasted just like at home. Except the glass was smaller. M'lady went for Nirvana from Ommegang, the Belgian-owned, Belgian-themed New York brewery's first US IPA. It's still a little off-kilter, but in an interesting way, showing spicy jasmine in its aroma. Bitterness is low despite a solid 60 IBUs, and likewise the 6.5% ABV doesn't make it too heavy or warm. At the centre is a bagful of juicy jaffa, mandarin and peach, making it deliciously thirst-quenching and flavourful. Classy stuff.

Just one more pub before I bring this post to a close, but it's a biggie. The Ginger Man in mid-town is another enormous one, ostensibly on an Irish theme but with its bright windows, high ceilings and wood-panelled walls has more of a Bavarian bierhalle feel to it. Conversion would take little more than a change of furniture. We settled into wing chairs in a comfortable corner to peruse the substantial beer menu.

L: Powder Monkey. R: Hopstate NY
Sensing the upmarket and conscientious vibe of the place, I decided I'd take a punt on a cask offering, with Powder Monkey from Heavy Seas Beer in Maryland being one of the two options. It's a 4.8% ABV pale ale so I expected something not too dissimilar from bitter. And I was sort-of right, but not in a good way. Though the condition was decent the beer tasted tired: slightly sharp with a complete absence of hop freshness. It smelled of over-ripe strawberries and the red fruit flavour continued into the flavour. I was left with an impression of brown bitter on the turn, and am minded to place the blame on the pub. If the problem isn't with their cellarman it's with their buyer.

The Ommegang fan next to me chose Hopstate NY, an amber ale which arrived a dark red-gold colour. There's a sweet orange sherbet aroma but a strangely dry and wheaty main flavour with little more than a minor tang from the hops. The flavours are doing their best to lug around a stubborn heavy body, making it difficult drinking despite being only 5.6% ABV. But hey, the pub is nice so let's order something else.

For me, a session IPA from Interboro called La Dee Da Dee, for reasons best known to themselves. 4.7% ABV, bright orange in colour though quite hazy and smelling of that enticing modern combo of serious dank resins and carefree juicy citrus. The downside of all this comes in the flavour, led by garlicky savoury hops and fuzzy yeast interference, bringing us to an abrupt watery finish. It was promising but it needs more zing; there's a palpable zing deficit.

And for her, Cubano Espresso by Cigar City, a 5.5% ABV brown ale with added coffee. It smells very coffeeish, with that oily fresh bean quality I always enjoy in coffee beers, alongside a convincing dark roast. There's a creamy sweetness of the sort often found in brown ales and the coffee swings in behind this leaving a lasting roasty aftertaste. This is one of those unsubtle but what-the-hell fun beers; difficult to drink with a straight face.

And that's The Ginger Man done. The Village was calling again, and that other famous New York craft beer bar. You know the one I mean.