03 November 2016

Brooklyn brews

Time constraints meant I didn't get to do anything like as much exploring of Brooklyn's beer scene as I'd wanted to on my recent visit to New York. It all ended up being squeezed into one frantic Saturday afternoon in Williamsburg.

We emerged out of the subway just at Keg & Lantern, and while it wasn't on the list it was still a brewpub, and serving food, so in we went. The place rambles a bit from the high-tabled front bar with big-screen sports, to a roomy lounge, to a beer garden at the back. I took the unusual step of ordering a flight of their offerings, and got...

Country Time, a clear Berliner weisse the colour of white gold. It's sharply sour, desperately seeking to impress with how properly tart it is. There's a strange sort of pear fruitiness, but not acetone or a similar off-flavour. This is clean and, while maybe something of a drama queen, a very decent refresher, calling to mind quality old-fashioned lemonade. Aaaand I've just figured out why it's called that.

L-R: Mr White, Mirage, Country Time, Green Eyes
The other sour beer on the paddle was Mr White, a barrel aged one. It's a slightly hazy pale gold colour with the same lack of head as its country cousin. The flavour is a strange mix of sweet and funk, with overtones of Gewürztraminer -- that sort of unctuous grape thing -- mixed with a musky aftershave spice. This one just doesn't gel together at all well.

The session IPA is called Mirage and is nicely full-bodied, though I suppose at all of 4.6% ABV that's not too difficult. There's a spicy sandalwood quality in the foretaste which I enjoyed, and some orange juice freshness. But again there's a parallel strand of unpleasantness: a saccharine metallic twang and a totally out-of-place lactic sourness in the aftertaste. Very nearly very good, but just misses the mark.

Finally the straight-up IPA Green Eyes. It's quite a thick beastie, the heavy texture doing a good job of floating some seriously intense hop flavours. Classic pine resins form the aroma while the flavour is an invigorating fresh green grass bite. This one is definitely not trying to be too complex or clever, playing its three chords competently and entertainingly.

Tørst was next, and I covered that yesterday. From there we ducked around some derelict blocks, into a part of Williamsburg still in the throes of redevelopment, with the garages and building merchants mostly gone but not every building yet turned into a nightclub or boutique hotel. In amongst this lot is the Brooklyn Brewery, and there was a queue outside.

We'd had a couple of Brooklyn beers already, in the days leading up to this. Brooklyn Oktoberfest, for example, on the first evening. It's a hot and biscuity number, roaring with melanoidins, for something wholesome and warming but rather plain. Brooklyn Pilsner had also shown up, quite a workaday example of the style with a good malt base but sadly lacking in hop character other than an odd tinny tang.

But back to Williamsburg on Saturday afternoon. Queuing to get into a brewery was a new one for me, and not something I'm planning to make a habit of, but it didn't take long. Inside the party was in full swing and another line had formed for the bar. With five beer tokens to spend, we figured that two at a time was the way to handle it.

L: Lacto Futura. R: Bel Air
I went sour again for my first round, starting with Lacto Futura, a Berliner weisse of 4.4% ABV. It's a clear yellow colour and very much down-the-line as regards the style, pushing soft fruit and wheaty cereal to the fore, backed by only a very mild tartness. It might come across as dull to some but I found it very refreshing and drinkable.

I followed it with Bel Air, described on the board as "a breezy, tart, dry-hopped sour ale". Sounds like my sort of thing, even at a rather hefty 5.8% ABV. It looked innocent enough, though: a hazy pale yellow, but first sip delivered a power combo of two kinds of sharpness. First there's a clean hit of sour tartness, followed swiftly by a bitter hop bite. The fruit from the hops hovers just around the edges, and I'd have liked more of this. It's quite fun as-is, however, and definitely not the sort of thing one associates with reliable old Brooklyn Brewery.

L: Defender. R: Area 291
For the lady, Brooklyn Defender, described as a West Coast IPA, but presumably they mean the west coast of Williamsburg because this 6.7%-er is a dark amber colour with lots and lots of malt character. The hops contribute a heavy green bitterness and some lighter spices but not enough to hide the worty quality of the main flavour.

Rather better was Area 291, an IPA Brooklyn brews especially for Whole Foods. It's a whopping 7.5% ABV and a dark gold colour. There's a mildly fruity hop aroma and the hops are in charge in the flavour too, though with a light hand on the tiller. The malt element is gentle: just a clean dry grain taste, and then the fruit candy hop notes sit on top of this. It's well balanced, deftly elegant and does not taste one bit like its powerhouse strength.

One final token was mine to do with as I wished, and I picked Shortsleeve Jacket, a Belgian-style pale ale. And it tastes very Belgian, bursting with juicy pear and lychee esters, giving it a warmth and complexity far beyond its modest 4.5% ABV. Behind this there's a husky cereal quality, adding a bit of a sharp edge to help balance it. I don't think I've ever had another beer quite like it: normally brewers pile on the booze to produce something like this.

If you like your brewery visits with a raucous rock 'n' roll atmosphere, Brooklyn Brewery at weekends is the place to be, and there's even an option of touring the production side for free if you get there early enough. But five beers was plenty for us and time to move on.

A couple of blocks north, in the Greenpoint neighbourhood, sits a brewery with almost as original a name as Brooklyn's. Greenpoint Brewery occupies a corner premises with tables spilling out through the roll-up garage doors into the street. Inside there's a large open barroom with the brewery itself tucked away unobtrusively behind that. It was in full swing when we got there, grabbing one of the last tables just inside the door, within reach of the early evening sunlight.

With boring predictability I ordered the weirdest thing on the menu, described as Blueberry Lime Sour and arriving an opaque beetroot-maroon. The first sip brought... ginger, bizarrely. There's a certain spike of lime sharpness, kind of a mild margarita effect, but the blueberry's contribution seems to be limited to the colour and a touch of berry skin tannins. Not the crazy beer I was expecting and, if I'm honest, hoping for, but it was nice, in a cocktailish sort of way.

My wife got some Instant Credibility, possibly the most apt name for a beer ever, as it only took one sip for me to decide Greenpoint is a fantastic brewery. It's a double IPA, though on the low side of the ABV scale for the style at 7.8%. Despite this, the alcohol is laid on fairly thickly, with a hot dank aroma and lots of smooth malt in the flavour. And yet it's perfectly balanced, the hops throwing out intense grassy resins which keep the palate on its toes and ready for the next sip. Ultra-drinkable double IPAs are very thin on the ground, but this is one. I'm not at all surprised that the can I bought was the last in the brewery on the day.

That fact removed the incentive to stay for another round, so we toddled off into the sunset. And that pretty much concludes my craft beer explorations of New York. But before we head for La Guardia and beyond, a final post to mop up some miscellaneous beers that have slipped past unmentioned this week.

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