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[Photograph: Kat Bryant]

Ever wonder who decides what beers go on the menu at your favorite restaurant or watering hole? We did, and then we met David Flaherty and convinced him to drink a beer with us (or six...he helped us review IPAs from his home state) and share the dirt on his job at Terroir wine bar (which has two locations in Tribeca and the East Village) and Hearth restaurant. (We also found out about his first time...drinking craft beer, that is.)

Name: David Flaherty
Location: New York
Occupation: Operations Manager, Terroir and Hearth
Blog: grapesandgrainsnyc.com

How did you end up at Hearth and Terroir? I was a professional actor for years and had spent countless hours working in restaurants. Name a front-of-the-house position and I've done it: barback, busboy, bartender, waiter, spit bucket boy...well, okay not spit bucket boy, officially, but I've dumped my fair share of them. Circuitously, I worked my way out of restaurants and into wine retail, where the acting bug morphed into the wine bug. Later, I worked as a wine educator and consultant for mostly Fortune 500 company clients. A friend of mine from the NYC comedy scene worked at Hearth and they were looking for an "Executive Assistant" for the company. The M-F day schedule was perfect, and after reading up on Paul Grieco, I jumped at the position to work with him. I quickly took on more and more responsibilities as the organization grew, eventually being promoted to management. Officially, I'm the Operations Manager but on any given day, you could say I work in one of the following roles: Han Solo, MacGyver, and often that of Chewbacca.

It sounds like you have a pretty sweet gig. Is it all fun and trying out great beer? What are the challenges? It's all roses and candy 24 hours a day! I'm drunk on craft beer by noon and sipping specialty cocktails by sunset. Well, okay, maybe only on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Actually, the restaurant business is quite dynamic and can be pretty grueling at times. There are a million details that have to be put into place each day and problems can hit on multiple fronts like a multi-pronged sh*tstorm. Sometimes the challenges are just opening your doors at 6 p.m.

I love the team we have built at Hearth and Terroir. It's really a labor of love from Paul and Marco and that passion is infectious and pervades every inch of that place. At the same time, we operate at such a high level of expectation that it can be incredibly demanding and you just never can ease up. But Terroir has grown into an entity that is a bastion of punk rock irreverence where we write our own rules. It's where people go to get the authentic marrow of experience without the layers of bullsh*t you find at other places.

Can you walk us through a day in the life of David Flaherty? Each day is different and I never know what to expect. I have arrived at 9 a.m. ready to bang out Task A and B, only to be quickly re-routed to other priorities that scream for attention NOW. I'm often left emails, Post-it notes or voicemails outlining sh*tshows that developed the night before. For instance, I came in one morning to find our reservation system had completely crashed, a basement cellar had flooded with raw sewage, we had a wine event that started in two hours (requiring hundreds of polished glasses and a pristine dining room), a teenager was shooting up heroin in our bathroom and the ONE printer we have for both locations was jammed beyond belief. Oh, and our dishwashing machine (the essential workhorse of any restaurant) was shooting water out of the base. And...go!

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Can you tell us how you went about choosing each of the beers that you put on tap at the new Terroir Tribeca?

Stoudt's Pils

This was actually a request from Chef Marco. I'm also am a big fan of theirs and it's local.

Avery White Rascal

I'm a Colorado boy and it being the state that birthed my love for craft beer, I had to have a CO selection on draft. Avery makes incredible stuff and I've been wanting them on my lists for awhile. Perfect beer for the season and insane with food. In fact, I want one now.

Brooklyn Buzz Bomb

I'm a big fan of the Brooklyn Brewmaster's Reserve series because it allows Garrett and his team to go nuts exploring and experimenting with brewing techniques. I find these beers are often very creative and take their inspiration from history or in the desire to work with other artisans. In the case of Buzz Bomb, they are sourcing the honey from upstate New York and using it as a full 25 percent of the fermentable sugars. It's fermented dry, however, and is technically a Braggot in style (a blend of mead and ale), so it's a throwback homage to medieval times. We're huge geeks of local products as well as historical and cultural drinks of the past. It's like the Renaissance Festival at Terroir but with less lutes and more punk rock.

Captain Lawrence Kolsch

I had a Kolsch at a local wine bar in Astoria recently and hadn't dabbled in the style too much. I was floored by its purity—it requires a high-level of brewing understanding as any defects would immediately blast through. Huge fan of Scott Vaccaro's and this is the seasonal from Captain Lawrence....we're ridiculous zealots of all things seasonal at Hearth and Terroir, as you probably know :).

Sixpoint Bengali Tiger

The NYC crews have to have a place because we're all about focusing on the terroir or the "sense of place" of NYC. With only seven lines devoted to draft, I had to have an IPA and this one from Sixpoint was the one for me.

Troegs Troegenator Double Bock

Love, love this beer. Since I am pouring everything in 20 ounce Imperial Pints, I wanted a strong, high-alcohol beer I could pour in 10-ounce glasses. This beer from the great brewers in Pennsylvania caught my eye a month before opening and I fell in love with its rich flavors and drinkability. It will stop you in your tracks for a moment and make you pay attention, which is what any good beverage should do.

Kelso Nut Brown

Another NYC local, Kelly Taylor is an incredible brewer. After contract brewing a lot of the local breweries' beers at Greenpoint Beer Works, he started his own company and culled all that knowledge to branch out on his own. A flavorful beer with notes you'd normally associate with ales but the drinkability of a lager.

Who orders beer at a winebar anyway? Just kidding—sort of. Do you sell a lot of beer at Hearth and Terroir? Do you think New Yorkers' taste in beer (and respect for beer) has changed in recent years? If you build it they will come. When I took over the beer list about six months ago, I quickly tripled it in size. Beverage geeks are beverage geeks. They may come in for our wine reputation but when they see we're serious about beer, they want a piece. NYC has COMPLETELY changed its attitude toward craft beer in the last decade. There was nothing available at corner stores when I moved here except the mass-produced big boys. I remember buying a case of Bud Light with a shameful tear rolling down my cheek...And the restaurant scene also completely overlooked craft beer on their lists. This has all changed and any serious restaurant on the scene today will often have at least a handful of artisan microbrews on their lists. Those that put all their attention into the wine list and then tack on a throw-away beer list just don't get it.

There's also a kegged wine on tap—the Gotham Project Finger Riesling. What does it taste like? Why put wine in a keg? It's beautiful. Fresh, vibrant and local juice sourced from the Finger Lakes, one of the most underappreciated, yet stunning places for Riesling. Wine in a keg is gonna sweep this city in the next few years. It's a better way to store your wine as it stays protected under a layer of nitrogen, and it's easier to ship and store. Initially, everyone loves the novelty of it but come back for it once they recognize the seriousness of the wine.

Can you recommend any great food/beer pairings at Terroir? To you, what is the perfect beer and food order? Let's get busy. Grab a stool, slide us a plate of Sage Leaves with Lamb Sausage and a couple of imperial pints of Avery White Rascal. Just enough gamey goodness to the dish that it can only be cut by the citrusy buzzsaw of the Witbier. Okay, next: time for a Bone Marrow Bruschetta with Garlic and Chives washed down with a Pausa Cafe Pils from Piedmont (yep, the one made by prisoners in a high-security prison—no joke). Still hungry? Serve me up a Captain Lawrence Imperial IPA with my Bev Eggleston Pork Blade Steak and I'll disappear into my seat out of pure pleasure.

You're in charge of other beverages as well. How do you go about choosing tea to serve at Hearth and Terroir? Had any great ones lately? Every season, one of the owners of In Pursuit of Tea comes by for a tasting. As with the food, we try to keep the tea selections seasonal. For instance, in the winter, I had a killer Chai tea on the list perfect for snuggling up with your loved one on a cold night and basking in a clovish fog. I've always been more of a coffee guy, but these guys are so ridiculously passionate about sourcing incredible teas and just hearing their stories and seeing the pictures of the people behind the production of the teas was a revelation for me. Teas are all about terroir and the sense of place comes through. I'm a big fan of the white and green teas at the moment.

You're from Fort Collins, Colorado. Are there any Colorado beers you wish we could get in New York? Absolutely, the two that hooked me on craft beer like a defenseless minnow: New Belgium and Odell. Though it's been years since I've tried it, Odell's 90 Schilling remains one of my favorite beers of all time. Upon first trying it while in high school (don't tell Mom), I could have sworn the clouds opened up and a beam of sun shot straight from heaven forever opening my eyes to the beauty of craft beer. You never forget your first love.

How much of any one beer do you store at each restaurant? A surprisingly small amount. I've essentially created a big craft beer program on a small restaurant budget. Because I have two locations practically side by side (Hearth and Terroir EVil), I can get one case of beer and split it between the two cellars. This way of working allows me to have a lot of selections on at one time and the fluidity to switch things up as we move through them. It's more work, but it bores me when you return to a restaurant after a couple of months and nothing has changed on their list. The bartenders hate me because they have one tiny space for beer and I keep adding more and more. That is, they hate me until they try the beers!

What are your most popular beers at each place? It completely changes week to week, and I love that. People come in and just burrow into a beer that I hadn't seen purchased in a week or so. One couple came into Terroir EVil one night and kept ordering Maredsous 8. The server burned through their stock and was running back and forth grabbing more bottles from Hearth. Once the couple found this out, they stated their mission was to "drink us out of it." And they did. It was about 12 bottles between them and that's a high-alcohol beer! I was stunned. I'm sure it took them a while to get home. Believe it or not, the wackier and more esoteric the better. We've got an amazing clientele that appreciates (and purchases) selections they've never seen before.

What's up next for the beverage program at Terroir and Hearth? Any plans for beer pairing dinners? We're reinventing our lists maniacally and near-daily. I wish I had a vault the size of a shopping mall because I'd fill it with more and more beer each day. I'm seeing a lot of beer flowing out of the taps at Terroir Tribeca and realizing we can push the envelope even more. I'm talking to our suppliers about getting the breweries to see us as their advocate for the wacked-out experiments that they want to brew. They have a home with us. I'm totally game for beer pairing dinners and we've already dabbled and the interest is there. My goal is to make that interest grow ten-fold as people realize that beer can compliment food even better than wine (yep, the guy from the wine bar said it).

What new additions to the Hearth and Terroir beer lists are you most excited about?

Some of my current favorites:

  1. Jolly Pumpkin Oro de Calabaza
  2. Speakeasy Prohibition Ale
  3. Porterhouse Oyster Stout
  4. Nebraska Hop God
  5. Goose Island Sofie
  6. Drie Fonteinen Oude Geuze
  7. Reutberger Kloster Dunkel
  8. Captain Lawrence Kolsch
  9. Boulder Mojo IPA
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