02 November 2016

Serious craft

I'm a daytime drinker by preference, especially when on holidays. But there was so much to cover on the trip to New York that some places only got an evening visit, a time when I'm not at my best and they're too busy to be bothered about giving me a good impression. We saw this with Rattle N Hum in Monday's post and Swift Hibernian yesterday. And so it was with another craft beer highlight of the Big Apple: Blind Tiger Ale House, where Free Will Brewing of Pennsylvania had taken over a swathe of the taps, pouring to a large and enthusiastic crowd. This corner bar doesn't have much of a capacity and it was definitely straining here. But we managed to nab a couple of stools and enough of a server's attention to get a couple of beers.

I can't remember what I ordered but what I was given was Bear Republic Barrel 100 and I was happy to stick with it. This is based on their Hop Rod Rye, soured and barrel-aged. It comes out 10% ABV and a dark purple-brown colour. The process gives it both an old-oak smoothness but also a sharp Flemish red edge, as well as hedgerow berry flavours and some sappy wood resin. Beautifully complex yet all perfectly integrated for some quality sipping.

I just had a tiny sip of the wife's Free Will Techno IPA, enough to find it was rather plain and unimpressive. I moved on to Free Will myself next and had their Pomegranate Sour. There are raspberries in this too, both presumably making a contribution to the hazy pink appearance, though the flavour is much more raspberry than pomegranate. It is strikingly clean, the sharp tartness a knitting needle through the palate, digging a channel to pour the tangy fruit in after. Exquisite and refined, this is not at all gimmicky as I'd expected.

The next IPA to cross the table was Hop Showers by Other Half. This is a murky orange colour with a lovely fresh and resinous aroma. The flavour is similarly oily and definitely 100% hop-derived, tasting of menthol and old fermented grass. It's a serious beer with no fun fruit to lighten the mood but the quality and freshness is beyond question.

At this point we gave up our table to some other standing folk and headed off in search of food.

We were back in the West Village the following afternoon, this time to try out Upright Brew House. It's not, as the name suggests, a brewpub, just a bright neighbourhood beer café, reminiscent of the sort you might find in the Netherlands.

Jolly Pumpkin was on the list, their Gratzer, so that was my choice. There's a surprising saison-like quality to the aroma of this: a kind of peachy fruit. The smoke only emerges on tasting, where it's dry and nicely understated, fading politely away to let the citrus and sour elements come through. With those US hops it's probably some distance from what the style is supposed to offer, but I don't care: it's delicious.

Other Half showed up again, with the best of their range that I got to try. Topical Depression is a "zero IBU" double IPA with passionfruit, brewed in collaboration with Veil Brewing in Virginia. It's an opaque custard yellow, smelling spicy and bitter, like grapefruit skin. The texture is surprisingly light given the strength, which is one way it enhances its drinkability. The other is the massive juiciness, though more peach than passionfruit. A spicy grassy middle gives it some level of perceived bitterness but there's no acidity in the finish and, remarkably, no yeast bite either. Overall this is a fantastically clean, upbeat, feel-good double IPA, in spite of the rather grim foggy and headless presentation.

It would have been nice to stay a while longer at Upright but there was more touristing to do. There always is in New York. The next pitstop was in Hell's Kitchen where we chanced upon The Pony Bar, not on my list but quite highly regarded by the Ratebeerians. It's a pleasant open space on a vaguely Western theme and Happy Hour was on, meaning the beer was merely pricey, not obscene. What looks good on the list?

SixPoint's Tesla caught my eye. It's a recently-released strong wheat lager: a clear pale gold and an electrifying 7.2% ABV. Sadly it hit all the points that "imperial pils" usually does for me, being all heavy and sticky, the sweetness problem exacerbated rather than balanced by a burnt-plastic-and-nettles blast of German hops. It's all just too loud and too harsh to be enjoyable.

To the right of it there is Here Come The Drums, an IPA from Interboro in Brooklyn. It's a hazy orange colour and has a mildly pleasant resinous aroma. It tasted a little unfinished, however. There's a bit of a yeast fuzz covering the hop brightness, with an orange citrus note buried behind it. I found it a rather dull beer but I think it could be much improved if given a further polish in the bright tank.

For round two I turned to Stone. I didn't see much of the San Diego brewery's offerings around New York, but Pony had a couple. Farking Wheaton w00tstout is a new one in a series of imperial stouts they've made with the kid off of Star Trek. This one is 13% ABV, the recipe incorporating rye, wheat and pecans before the whole lot got shoved in a bourbon barrel. And what came out? Well, the pecans are definitely still there: there's an enjoyable sweet and oily nuttiness which matches with the thick creaminess for a kind of pecan pie effect. Beyond that there's not much by way of subtlety: big hot marker-pen phenols loom large, reducing the warmth and smoothness that I value in beers like this. I'd say it's one that will age well but is a bit one-dimensional at the moment.

Herself managed to get two in while I was finding my way around all of that. First was Forever Ever session IPA by Other Half: a wan hazy yellow with a sharp spicy bitterness but not much going on otherwise, tailing off quickly to a watery finish. She followed that with Stone's Citracado, a 9% ABV amber coloured double IPA with added honey. And surprisingly this is another quite bland one, opening on an odd farmyard sort of aroma with an alcohol burn on the tongue and then nothing but a mild lick of green pine to shore up its IPA credentials. It's often the case that honey doesn't impart as much flavour as the brewer expected and this could be one of those.

And that's where the beering around Manhattan more-or-less ends. I'd set aside the whole of the following day to visit some breweries in Williamsburg, of which more tomorrow, but of course we had to go to Tørst as well. This is Evil Twin's tap and a place often described in hushed tones by the crafterati. I've heard the phrase "world's best craft beer bar" mentioned in relation to it. On this particular Saturday afternoon it was quite quiet, though a single layer of punters had accumulated on the spindly stools around the bar. We occupied one of the tables. In keeping with its Danish heritage, design is a major part of the Tørst experience and everything is coordinated, angular and uncluttered. Your beer arrives in a customised thin-stem wine glass.

L: Daddy Warbucks.
R: Erase & Rewind
My beer was Daddy Warbucks, a double IPA from Barrier Brewing on Long Island. It's a pale hazy yellow with a light citrus aroma. The hops are shy on the palate as well, imparting a weighty oiliness but no striking flavours from the American IPA repertoire. I got through it OK but was left underwhelmed.

Her beer was Evil Twin's Erase And Rewind, version 2 of it. This is a 7% ABV IPA, hazy gold in colour with a cereal malt aroma plus a touch of savoury garlic Mosaic. With Azacca, El Dorado and Citra billed I had been expecting something much more tropical but instead it delivers a spiced marmalade bitterness, which was nice, but not what I was anticipating. Again, I expected bigger and brighter.

So not much luck with regard to the beers at Pony or Tørst, but they're both fine establishments and I commend them to you, hoping you'll fare better. But now we're in Williamsburg: time to hit some breweries!

No comments:

Post a Comment