The Empire State has long been known for apples and Jay-Z, and New York's wine production is getting quite a bit of buzz. But the beer industry is looking better and better; New York is home to a few great craft breweries, both well-established and brand new. Want to get into that Empire state of mind? Here are 8 great beers you should definitely seek out.
At this brewpub in Peekskill, NY, the mission is to "simply put the best, freshest stuff that we possibly can in front of you," says head brewer and craft beer all-star Jeff O'Neil, formerly of Ithaca Beer Company. A dedication to quality ingredients is the hallmark of Peekskill's beer, and while we chose three particularly awesome Peekskill brews for this piece, the full roster is worth drinking.
Don't be fooled by the name; Hop Common is anything but ordinary. This beer was inspired by a Steam Beer (or California Common), but the intensely hop forward aroma may fool your senses into thinking it's an IPA or hoppy American Pale. There's a toasty malt character and a dry finish that allows those Nugget and Cascade hops to pop.
While the West Coast has long claimed the best IPAs in the country, Peekskill is helping New York into the ring as a serious contender. The hops in question for Eastern Standard are Simcoe and Citra, and their contributions are highly aromatic: ruby red grapefruit, bright lemon, orange and earthy, woodsy characters that present themselves on the palate as well. The hops may be from Washington, but this New York brewery put them to tremendous use.
Some say that it's the simple things that bring us the most pleasure in life, and Simple Sour lives up to that mantra. The beer is funky and full of character for such an easy-drinker. O'Neil tells us that it's a "Brett beer, loosely based on a Berliner Weisse with a multi-grain mash character and substantial tartness." The sourness he references is lemony and bright, and this beer is hard to put down. Luckily, at 4% ABV, you don't really have to.
KelSo Beer Company
KelSo Beer Company launched in 2006, but it wasn't until this fall that they began canning their crisp, satisfying pilsner. According to owner/brewer Kelly Taylor, KelSo Pilsner is the "first canned beer made in Brooklyn since Rheingold left in the 70s." It is a welcome addition to the borough and beyond.
The beer is true to the style in the best sense, closely honoring traditional pilsners, with a requisite floral hop character in both aroma and flavor. It offers a malt-forward sweetness that captures the essence of the grain bill, and the finish is dry, leaving you looking forward to the next sip.
Radiant Pig Craft Beers
The New York City based operation began making commercial sales in February of 2013, brewing the beer in Connecticut and then trucking it back to NYC area bars and restaurants. And while Junior is an appropriate name for a brewery in its infancy, this flagship offering demonstrates mature brewing skills. At 5% ABV, Junior is a sessionable IPA that Head Beer Chick and Founder Laurisa Milici tells us was "inspired by our love of hoppy beers and our hatred of hangovers." I think we can all drink to that.
"We use a financially irresponsible amount of whirlpool and dry hops so there's a huge piney, citrusy hop flavor and aroma without harsh bitterness," says Milici, and the aroma and hop flavor reflect this philosophy. Pink grapefruit, Meyer lemon, and resiny pine flavors burst through; we're eager to pair it with a bright spinach salad and summer berries. The body is on the lighter side, as might be expected, but the beer still manages to deliver on the flavor, no doubt thanks to those whirlpool additions. Junior is a solid introduction to the Radiant Pig family of beers, and I look forward to sampling more of their brainchildren.
Scythe & Sickle
The craft beer veterans from Cooperstown claim that by "using barley, oats, wheat, and rye, we've brought the mood of fall to life." After sampling Scythe & Sickle, I would agree. This beer is truly a celebration of the grain that is often taken for granted when appreciating American craft beer.
The aroma reminds me of spiced apples and an autumn drive through upstate New York's foliage. There is a peppery character that could be attributed to the Belgian yeast or the inclusion of flaked rye—or a little of both—and it is the balance needed to all that even out the sweet grain and toasty malt. The oats contribute a creamy texture and there is just enough hop character to round the beer out. This beer feels like it belongs to a comforting dish of roast duck or even warm apple pie.
Take the Black Stout
Hollywood is taking an increasing interest in the craft beer world, and Take the Black Stout, a collaboration between Ommegang and HBO for Game of Thrones, is the latest example of this creative intersection. Allison Capozza of Ommegang tells us that the beer was "inspired by the men of the Night's Watch. Take the Black Stout was made to be deep, dark, and complex like those who have sworn to defend the Westeros against the threats from the north." Now, if you're a fan of the show, that description might make some sense to you. Personally, I could have used a translator, but luckily the beer itself was speaking my language.
This beer is big and black, and remarkably robust for its modest 7% ABV. Dark chocolate covered espresso beans immediately come to mind thanks to the aroma, and the flavor follows with subtle, roasty coffee, cocoa powder, and caramel. Though the bottle tells me that the beer is brewed with star anise and licorice root, their flavors are manifested more as a bitterness rather than actual licorice, which in addition to the hop character makes me want to reach for a creamy, pungent blue cheese or a coffee-chocolate cheesecake. I'm not sure how these warriors prepare to take on their enemies, but it seems that Take the Black Stout would be a fortifying drink indeed.
Billy 18 Watt IPA
This Queens-based brewery has been making big noise with its musically themed offerings since their opening in 2012. One particularly vibrant selection is their riff on an American IPA, Billy 18 Watt. Like fellow NYC-newbies Radiant Pig, they've put out a sessionable yet full flavored IPA. Also at 5% ABV, Billy brings a similar American hop profile, with tropical notes of passion fruit and guava in addition to the usual citrusy suspects. The mouthfeel is creamy; it drinks like a pale, but satisfies the hop craving usually reserved for a bigger beer. Hopefully Singlecut is setting the stage for a long career of performances like this one.
Tried any new beers from NY lately? What are your favorite local breweries?
About the Author: Stef Ferrari is a Brooklyn-based Certified Cicerone, food writer/photographer, and author of a forthcoming beer industry guidebook with Wiley & Sons Publishing. In addition to her passion for craft beer, cocktails, and fine food, she considers ice cream to be life's greatest pleasure and spends most spare moments in pursuit of the Mr. Softee truck. Find her on the web and on Twitter at @stef_ferrari.