By Tony Forder
A typically gray day, the last Saturday in February, not too cold, as if nature was throwing off its winter jacket, in preparation for the renewal of spring. Of course we know in the New York City area we’ll still have to go through at least one more icy blast before the birds begin to sing in earnest.
As my bus wound through the New Jersey suburbs, I reflected on an unforgettable day a scant two years ago, when then President of the New York City Brewers Guild Kelly Taylor booked a boat for the launch of New York City Beer Week. Temperatures, which had been in the single digits earlier in the week, soared into the 70s, while cameras clicked as the boat, with 20 breweries aboard, pulled up in front of the statue of liberty.
The Guild itself was founded back in 2012 with 10 members: Bronx Brewery, Brooklyn Brewery, Chelsea Brewing Co., Eataly Birreria, Harlem Brewing Co., Heartland Brewing Co., KelSo Beer Co., Shmaltz Brewing Co., Sixpoint Brewery and 508 GastroBrewery. Except for 508, Shmaltz which sold its Coney Island brand and opened a brewery upstate, and Chelsea which was recently sold at auction, all of these are still in operation. The Guild’s first act was to take on the organization of NYC Beer Week originally founded by Josh Schaffner. I don’t know who wrote the Guild’s mission statement, but I’d guess its founding President Shmaltz’ Jeremy Cowan had a hand in it “…to foster a healthy, ethical, and growth-focused craft beer industry throughout the city…and to advance New York City’s brewing industry and thereby lessen human misery.”
My 45-minute Saturday afternoon bus ride was uneventful, but subway line closures due to track repairs threw me off a little in the city; the net result was that I barely caught the end of Opening Bash’s undercard the Fermentation Festival, featuring all things yeasty that bubble and squeak. I ran into NYCBG’s Mary Izett, who relayed that the evening’s main event, Opening Tap, had just officially sold out at 2,000 attendees.
The pickles, sauerkraut, kombucha, kimchi and various fermented liquids were cleared away and a colorful patchwork of brewers moved into their place. Back at the Brooklyn Expo Center for the second year, the Guild, recruiting the expertise of fest impresario Andy Calimano of Starfish Junction, has this event well oiled. If there’s strength in numbers, then it shows in the Guild – 30 of their members poured beer including new kids in Brooklyn: Circa (Graceland Stout and Pilsner), Five Boroughs (Belgian Ale, Pilsner and Hefeweizen), Island to Island (Mighty Sparrow IPA and Yuh Crazy, a specialty grain brew), Lineup (Sweet Sticky Thing IPA, Tami II DIPA and Pilsner), and Randolph (American Strong Ale and Biere de Garde); also new, Staten Island’s Kills Boro (American Pale and 2 Double IPAs).
NYC Brewers/Pour 30 strong and counting/Opening Bash rocks!
Interesting how breweries like Bronx (IPA, Pilsner, and Impy Stout), Other Half (2 Doubles and a Triple IPA), Finback (IPA and DIPA), Kelso (NEIPA, Nut Brown Lager, SMaSH Saison) and Singlecut (IPA and DIPA) are now becoming the elder statesmen of NYC craft beer – along with, of course, veterans Brooklyn (Bel Air Sour, Defender IPA and Black Ops 2013), Heartland (Tripel, Belgian Strong, Dunkel Helles, American Pale and Porter) and Sixpoint – new and shiny doesn’t last long these days!
The locals were supplemented by a dozen breweries from New York State and the Guild’s special out of state guests: Naturally, some of these currently “cult” breweries drew longer lines from the curious and list-studying imbibers. They included a quartet from California – Monterey’s Alvarado (Mai Tai and No Juice DIPAs and Dark Libations Impy Stout); Casa Agria from Oxnard (Sour, American Wild and Flanders Red); Monkish from Torrance (1 Double and 2 Triple IPAs – looong lines here!); and San Diego’s Pure Project (Double IPA, Saison).
With the help of Steve Lander of Union Distributors, breweries from a dozen other states were represented: Burial from Asheville (NC), Hoof Hearted (OH), Pipeworks (IL), RaR (MD), Sole (PA), The Answer and Aslin (VA), Trillium (MA – darn got their too late for Pow Wow DIPA); Two Roads (CT), Trve (CO), J. Wakefield (FL), Monday Night (Atlanta), and Frost (VT). No doubt these visiting brewers will be collaborating like crazy with New York’s finest during Beer Week.
A raging torrent/Of beer floods Big Apple streets/Beer Week breaks the dam
As we can see, IPAs of all stripes were ubiquitous including plenty of the hazy and juicy New England variety. Sours were well represented, there were more than a few Imperial Stouts, a sprinkling of saisons, as well as a bucketful of lagers. In all, there was nary a beer style unrepresented – Opening Tap was a fine and fitting launch for NYC Beer Week as the Guild seeks to pursue its founding goal: “to advance New York City’s brewing industry and thereby lessen human misery.” Indeed, the only evidence I saw of human misery was perhaps when some of the kegs started kicking!
More the merrier/Breweries join the Guild to/Lessen human misery