Words & Photos - Matthew Curtis
I've visited the United States a few times now, and when I say I've visited the US I mean I've been to rural Colorado and this being such a massive country that doesn't count for much. When my Sister said that she wanted to gather together all of the family in New York City for her birthday I was excited to say the least. Not just because it meant that after visiting NYC I could spend some time at my Dads place in Fort Collins and drink lots of beer but I could also take some legendary sights such as the Chrysler Building, Grand Central Station, The American Museum of Natural History and drink lots of beer. Craft beer now has over a 5% market share (by volume) in the US beer market which might not sound like much but in recent years that is actually a pretty big increase, craft beer is cool and this means that it's so very easy to find.
A bad beer is hard to find in New York City
In fact it's so easy to find that shortly after my girlfriend, Dianne and I had checked into our hotel just off Times Square I was enjoying a fantastic Southern Tier IPA in Shake Shack, an upmarket fast food joint that was so popular that people were queueing out the door waiting for burgers and shakes. Southern Tier beers are revered with hushed brilliance in the UK, if you can actually find them, so I felt a little awestruck that it had taken me less than half an hour in New York to locate something this good. That evening we fought the jet lag and headed out to see a popular beat combo from New Zealand called the Naked and Famous at a venue called Terminal 5 that is not dissimilar to something like the Islington Academy in London. One thing I hate about going to venues in the UK is that your beer choice is pretty much limited to swill A or swill B depending on who sponsors the venue and sure, Terminal 5 had Coors, Miller, Bud all the usual suspects however they also had Sierra Nevada Torpedo, one of the most reliable and solid IPAs on the market, you can't really go wrong with a Sierra Nevada brew. This just goes to show how much craft beer has become part of modern American culture and why I love it here so damn much.
Without really looking I had already found two great brews in a fast food joint and a live music venue and so this trend was set to continue. Whether you're in a restaurant or a supermarket you can be sure that amongst the big brands there is plenty of local and some not so local craft beer, it has become so much a part of the US drinking scene that is simply expected to be there and you shouldn't have to look hard to find it. Sure you can pick up brews such as Thornbridge Jaipur and Brewdog Punk IPA in the supermarkets now, but that's if they don't sell out before you get there.
The UK is definitely catching up but we still have to actively seek out craft beer and not just expect it to be present on every street corner like it is in America. For example I went to pick up a couple of six packs in a branch of Duane Reade, the New York equivalent of a Tesco Express and Boots rolled into one and was spoilt for choice. I grabbed some Smuttynose IPA, the best bottled beer I drank during my New York trip and some Rogue Dead Guy Ale, which didn't appeal to my palate at all as it was incredibly sweet and I couldn't detect any hops in this brew at all. I didn't mind that I didn't like it because I was happy that I got the chance to try it and not pay the over inflated prices we pay in the UK for imported craft beer.
I got to try a plethora of fantastic beers while I was in New York which were almost as good as some of the sights that I got to see for the very first time, these highlights included Ballast Point Big Eye IPA, Sixpoint Righteous (a Rye PA) and the very interesting Heartland Cherry Blossom IPA (which is brewed with actual cherry blossoms) but without a doubt the highlight of the entire stay in New York was a visit to the Brooklyn Brewery in Williamsburg. So good in fact that I'm going to save it for a blog post of it's very own but I will tell you that I was blown away about how good Brooklyn Lager tastes when it is super fresh, it is the BEST lager in the world and I will say that without regard for the consequences and Blast was not just one of the best double IPAs that I've ever had but one of the best beers I've ever had.
Sadly after a few short days my New York City break had come to an end but this wasn't necessarily a bad thing as my next destination was Fort Collins, Colorado where there was plenty more good beer waiting to be drank.