July 23, 2014

Man in search of beer in America: Part Four -- New York

My first stop in the Big Apple was my friend Ben in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn.  I arrived late and hungry, so we went out to eat in a local Chinese restaurant.  I couldn't resist ordering a Chinese beer, of course, and the only one they had was Tsingtao from the Tsingtao Brewery in Qingdao, China.

Knowing the huge scale they do things in China, I'm guessing Tsingtao must be the mother of all mass-produced beers.  It was a perfectly nondescript Pilsner-style lager (4.8% ABV), brewed with as much rice as the American industrial beers.      

With Ben in Brooklyn.
On the way back to Ben's apartment, we stopped in a grocery store and bought cold bottles of Brooklyn Summer Ale from the Brooklyn Brewery (where else?) to have as a nightcap.

Lots of boutique breweries make a summer ale.  These are designed to be light and "crispy," low in alcohol so you can drink two or more on a hot summer's day -- and we were four days into summer.

Brooklyn Summer Ale fits this category perfectly.  Everything about it is light.  It's 5% ABV and pours a light gold color.  The hops are moderate, coming in second to the rich taste of the malt.  There is also a light yeastiness in the flavor, and if this beer were any crispier, it would break.    

I met friends all the next day, including two women I was with in Sierra Leone 51 years ago, through Operation Crossroads Africa.  Over dinner, we reminisced, as always with wine, a lot of wine -- so the only thing I can write is that we had a great time.

The next day, Thursday, I was taking the old Long Island Rail Road out to Westhampton to spend a long weekend with my old friend and drinking buddy Len and his girlfriend Abigail.

Westhampton gardeners:
Len and Abigail.
On the way, I stopped in to the incredible Fairway Market on the Upper West Side of Manhattan for some window shopping -- and lo and behold, they had mix and match six-packs of craft beers, a la Florida, for $10.99.  I chose six very different style beers to bring with me to Westhampton.  Here they are:

Purple Haze from Abita Brewery in Abita Spring, Louisiana
Finestkind IPA from Smuttynose Brewing Company in Hampton, New Hampshire
Wolaver's Fine Organic Oatmeal Stout from Otter Creek Brewing in Middlebury, Vermont
Independent Full Sail Amber from Full Sail Brewing Company in Hood River, Oregon
Sawtooth Nitro from Left Hand Brewing Company in Longmont, Colorado
2014 Summerfest from Sierra Nevada Brewing Company in Chico, California

Out in Westhampton, Len added Springfling Ale from the local Blue Point Brewing Company in Patchogue, New York.

Brewology Pub:
We were too early.
We got off at the Speonk station, got into Len's car and drove over to the new Brewology Pub.  With a name like that, we had high hopes that it would not lack craft beers.

Alas, the friendly owner greeted us and told us that Brewology would only be opening in five days.  He promised us 24 American craft beers on tap.  [Since I left, Len and Abigail have gone back to Brewology and report that the food and the beers are excellent.]

We ate instead in an "Asian fusion" restaurant which seemed to have blended Chinese, 
Japanese and Thai food.  As has been my wont, we ordered Japanese beer to accompany the food -- actually, two of them -- Sapporo and Kirin Ichiban.

Although I have never seen more lavish, creative, extravagant beer commercials than Sapporo's, the beer itself was quite uninspiring, in fact pretty bland, not much different from Tsingtao.

The Kirin Ichiban was better.  It was actually made with enough malts and hops to give the beer a rich taste, malty and sweety.  Kirin Ichban claims it is brewed without yeast, containing only hops, water and "100% malt."  They also claim that they only use "the first press of the wort: the liquid which flows naturally from the mash."

I asked Denny Neilson of Isra-Ale, brewer of Chutzpah beer, what this strange wording meant.  Denny ventured that it probably refers to the malt mash being used only once, for a single quantity of wort.  "There may be some brewers," he said, "who reuse the mash to make second and third worts.  It's like reusing a tea bag; each time the brew gets weaker and lighter." I thank Denny for his expert assistance, and for letting me know what Kirin Ichiban doesn't do.

With Len at The Hampton Synagogue.
I settled into Len and Abigail's lovely home.  On Friday, Len and I went to morning services at The Hampton Synagogue, did some shopping for our Shabbat meals, and had a light lunch with the first of my mix-and-match beers.

It was Purple Haze, a beer I had read about and been wanting to try.  Purple Haze is a wheat lager, with only 4.2% ABV, with a balanced flavor of wheat malts and citrusy hops.  It had a very faint purple hue, caused by real raspberries which are added to the beer after filtration.  But this is not a "fruit beer" in the usual sense of the Belgian sweeter fruit beers, like Framboise.  Rather, it goes back to the time when fruit beers were less sweet, when the fruit contributed a tart taste.  Purple Haze is a good example of how craft beers can introduce innovation in brewing and change consumer tastes.  It is one of Abita's flagship beers.   

Afterwards, I prepared my contribution to the Shabbat meal: a pasta penne dish with asparagus, mushrooms and other vegetables.  Len and Abigail made a white bean soup.  As we cooked, we imbibed a small bottle of tsipouro, a potent Greek liquor distilled from grape skins and pits after they are pressed for wine.

As Shabbat came in, Len and I had the 2014 Summerfest, another low alcohol (5%) beer made for summertime drinking.  This one was a pilsner-style lager with almost no hop aroma.  Flowers and malt were dominant.  The taste, too, was sweet and malty, crisp and refreshing.  I imagined the flavors flowing across my tongue, floral hops to one side, sweet malt to the other.

Len gave this beer a thumbs-down because of the "weak nose" and a certain "dustiness," but I thought it was a drinkable summer beer.

In the morning, we walked to services at The Hampton Synagogue, perhaps the main Jewish attraction in this part of Long Island.  The congregation is Orthodox, decorous, influential and very wealthy.  Under the watchful eyes of Rabbi Marc Schneier, the synagogue has a very full summer season with panels, lectures, fundraising events, shows and films.

Not least, the Hampton Synagogue is known for its Shabbat morning kiddushes, apres-prayer repasts.  These could put most wedding receptions to shame.  The "bar table" alone is a groaning board of expensive bourbons, single-malt Scotch whiskeys and premium vodkas.

But no beer.

Len and I arrived back home after a long walk in the sun, stuffed and slightly inebriated, but also hot and thirsty.  It was time for more beer.  (Or, as Secretary of State John Kerry put it on April 3, 2014, "Now is the time to drink.")

We started with the Independent Full Sail Amber ale.  Okay, you may say, when you're dying of thirst, any beer tastes great.  True, but this amber ale surpassed all expectations.  I loved the color (a cooling red amber), the aroma (strong hops and fresh bready -- 6% ABV) and the taste (a complex blend of floral spice and sweet malt).  I try not to chug my beers, but the way I felt and the way this tasted, I couldn't stop.             
Next we had the Springfling Ale, which was also amber-copper colored, but lighter than the Full Sail, in color, body and alcohol strength (5.2%).  It was also sweeter, and we noted a delicious taste of vanilla.  Springfling is meant to be a light, post-winter beer, but it had more taste than others of its kind.  These beers put a strong emphasis on "balance," and Springfling did that all right, with the barley malt flavor in perfect alignment with the spicy hops.   

These were two good beers but I would rather have had them with the kiddush than after it.  Maybe by my next visit, Len will have convinced the powers-that-be to add a keg or two of craft beer to the bar table.

Left Hand's nitro beers.
A little later we chose the Sawtooth Nitro to help us compensate for the exit of Shabbat.  It was the first time either of us had tried a nitrogen beer, which uses nitrogen gas instead of carbon dioxide for carbonation.  The first thing we noticed is that it has almost no head and low carbonation.  "It enters your mouth flat," is how Len put it.

But the flavor was great -- nutty malts balanced by herbal hops.  I can also vouch that the reputed smoothness of nitro beers is completely true.  The smaller bubbles -- for so they seemed to us -- make the beer smooth and creamy.  "It soothes your mouth," is how Len put it.

The Left Hand Brewing Co. claims that they were the first to put nitro beer in bottles, in 2011.  This is not a panacea for all beers.  You can't use nitrogen carbonation to disguise a bad beer.  But if you start with a good base, a good tasting beer, nitrogen adds a surprising dimension to the drinking pleasure.  

Finestkind IPA:
Two old guys on the label.
The next day, Sunday, we had the final two beers.  The first was the Finestkind IPA.  Len noted that it had these two old guys on the label, so it was kind of meant for us.  This is a good, balanced "American-style" IPA, bitter to a fault with 75 bitterness units and 6.9% alcohol.  But the aroma has less hops than other IPAs I've had, and the malt taste is stronger.  The verdict: A perfectly enjoyable IPA.

Then we had the Wolaver's Fine Organic Oatmeal Stout.  Made with organic oats and dark roasted malts, this ale pours out so black that it frightened Len and me.  We are not great admirers of stout beers.  But . . . this was different.  It had the creamiest head and was sweet "without being cloying like Guiness" (thus Len), with tastes of coffee and chocolate.  The dust of the waving oats and herbal hops were there, too, but very unobtrusive.  Alcohol by volume was a moderate 5.4%. 

"It's called a stout, but has more of a porter feel to it," is how Len put it.  "You know, this is actually pretty good.  Thanks for introducing me to it."

New York craft beers in Taste NY.
That evening, I said goodbye to Len and Abigail and headed back to Brooklyn.  My days in America and drinking American craft beers were coming to an end.  The next day I flew home to Israel, but before take-off, as I was walking around the airport, I noticed an attractive shop named Taste NY.  They advertised made-in-New York food and gift items.  And there, taking up a whole wall of shelves, were craft beers.  Most of the breweries I had never heard of, including -- are you ready for this -- The Bronx Brewery

With a slogan like "Our Borough, Your Beer," how could yours truly, born and bred in the Bronx, resist?  So I bought a can of Bronx Pale Ale.  (Now, to be fair, the can says that the beer was brewed in La Crosse, Wisconsin, but it was for The Bronx Brewery.  Their website says that they do have a small craft brewery in the Port Morris section of the South Bronx, so I guess they do some brewing there.  Someday, we hope, all the brewing will be done in the Bronx.  It is a fact that more and more micro-breweries are opening in New York City.)

I took the can home with me and will soon enjoy it in Jerusalem.  Sort of like two streams of my life coming together.  But that's a story for another day.                                 

1 comment:

Thanks for your comment. L'chayim!