Words & Photos - Matthew Curtis
When in the United States there is nothing more I love to do than visit breweries and drink beer direct from the source. I have yet to find a brewery in the States that doesn't have an open door policy, be it a tiny microbrewery the size of a garden shed or an epic AB-InBev Budweiser plant and why not, there is money to be made. Sure enough every brewery I have encountered in this country so far offers tours, tastings, tap rooms and plenty of branded merchandise to boot, beer is cool so why not wear a t shirt sporting the well designed logo of your new favourite brewery and while your at it why not pick up some branded glassware or even a frisbee? Breweries this good deserve to be making a decent profit margin and depending on which State you are in licensing and taxation laws are generally more relaxed here than they are in the UK. One thing that makes sense here is that bars can serve beer in whatever size glass they want, not strictly in thirds, halves or a whole pint, some of the beer laws we have in our country are quite frankly, backwards and in order to encourage even more growth in the brewing sector we could do no wrong by copying some of these North American laws, or lack of them.
Beer has dispelled the illness which was in me
On my last full day in New York we finally left the towering confines of Manhattan Island and took the subway to Williamsburg, a borough of Brooklyn, in order to visit the much lauded Brooklyn Brewery. Brooklyn is perhaps one of the most well known American craft breweries back in the UK, Brooklyn Lager and East India Pale Ale (or EIPA if you will) are pretty common sights in good pubs in bottle and on draught and are even starting to appear on some supermarket shelves. Brooklyn beer is becoming so popular in the UK that their Brewmaster, the legendary Garrett Oliver recently did a tour of some of the UK's finest beer establishments and brought some very special beers along with him. I didn't get the chance to go to one of these nights but this no longer mattered, I was now in the brewery itself and my Dad and I had our best drinking boots on ready to try some beer.
The brewery was only a short walk from the Subway and the relaxing pace of Williamsburg was welcome after the bustling intensity of Manhattan. The tap room opens to the public at 12 and we got there around half past, it was already filling up fast and you could tell that it was a really popular hangout for both tourists and locals. I was a little disappointed to find out that the brewery operated a token policy instead of a cash bar, you could buy a single token for five dollars or five tokens for twenty dollars. Most beers were a single token but some of the special, stronger offerings were two and considering that servings were only 12 fluid ounces (just over half a pint) that meant that it was pretty expensive. However this is New York City so overheads will be high and as I said at the start of this post breweries have the basic right to make a decent profit especially when they are making beer this good.
Unlike most breweries I've visited in the States Brooklyn don't offer tasting flights but the bar staff are happy to pour you a little taste to help you make up your mind. As I was with my Dad we decided to taste beers in tandem and work our way through the 10 beers they had on draught, I won't bore you with an in depth description of every single beer as we will be here all day and I have a tendency to waffle on which, as you can see, I'm doing right now. We decided to throw caution to the wind and try the big beers first as these were the ones we were most keen to try, Blast double IPA and Mary's Maple Porter. Blast is still the best beer I have had on this holiday and by now I've had quite a few, it is a 9% ABV hop monster but it is so dangerously quaffable that you'd be forgiven for thinking that it's not as strong as advertised. It contains ten, yes TEN varieties of hops, half of them are from the UK which are used for bittering and the other half are from the US which are used for aroma. I never thought I would wax lyrical about a love for a beer that contains Fuggles hops (I've got nothing against them I just think British hops in general are a bit bland and earthy tasting), but the balance of the bitterness from the hop varieties chosen is near perfect.
The aroma is huge, its a fruit punch battering ram of lemon, grapefruit, mango and pineapple giving your face a big bear hug, the flavour is beautiful, big but not overwhelming. Double IPAs often have an overly resinous, syrupy mouth fell but Blast is all elegance and slips down beautifully, starting with those citrus flavours and then getting a little more tropical and all the time the malts keeping them in check without every really announcing their presence too much. The finish is actually quite crisp and pithy and this is what makes Blast so drinkable, it's a champion beer for sure and I hope we see it in the UK soon. This whole experience shows why IPAs need to be drank when they are as fresh as possible as this is not only when they still have the most hop flavour but still have all those big flavours at the levels which the brewer intended. I'll be honest, I had never held Brooklyn in the same regard as some other US craft brewers, but this changed my mind, they are without doubt one of the best in the business.
The intriguing Mary's Maple Porter
Mary's Maple Porter is part of the Brewmasters Reserve series and as the name would suggest it is a British style porter but with a large addition of Maple Syrup added in the kettle. From this information, you'd expect it to be overly sweet but its anything but. It's a wonderfully crafted beer that really takes your palate through the motions and begs you to break out some really strong Cheddar cheese, the aroma is of freshly ground coffee, crushed almonds and hazelnuts with just a hint of maple syrup. The flavour starts where the aroma leaves you, coffee beans and ground nuts with a little bit of sweetness which gradually becomes smokey almost like mesquite and just when you think it has had it's way with you on comes a beautiful barrage of bitter grapefruit from dry hopping which keeps all that maple sweetness in check. Beer this complex is not an everyday beer, it's a super special beer with lots of twists and turns, I for one am extremely glad I had the opportunity to try it.
We spent the rest of around four hours working our way through the other beers on offer, highlights included the Brooklyner Weisse hefeweizen, Ama Bionta which was an easy drinking Belgian blonde ale and the Dry Irish Stout which we got to try on both keg (lovely, creamy and full of character) and on cask (warm and flat). The last two beers I tried (before going back for another Blast) were the two I'd had before on many occasions, the lager which I've always enjoyed and the EIPA which historically I've found a little lacking compared to other American IPAs. There was nothing lacking on this occasion, so fresh was the EIPA that it was pure zingy wonderment, grapefruit flavours combining with a bread malt character. The lager was a revelation, it was so bursting with hops and malt (and we were half cut) so when we forgot which one was which it took us ages to figure out which was the lager and which one was the IPA, simply superb and I'll say it again without hesitation that it's the finest lager I've ever had.
Brooklyn Brewery is not just a haven for beer geeks, it's a New York City tourist attraction in its own right whether you love beer or not. The atmosphere is buzzing and the beer never stops flowing but one thing I will advise is get there early as by 3pm people were queueing out of the door waiting for people to leave so that they could get in!