New Beer Distributors on the inside. Amazing bottle selection within.
Well the trip to New York was everything we expected and more. A lot more, as in painful mornings and the worst headache of one man’s imbibing career (12/27 is a day that will live in infamy).
You could not be there, but we wish you could. So, lets take a peak inside the 3.5 days of NYC beer jaunting in a 3 part segment known simply as “The NYChronicles.”
Christmas is in the air – then its gone. This is a traditional and historically catastrophic comedown. A month long climax and subsequent deep descent stemming from childhood wishes and dreams. But, the cruel honesty of adulthood sets in and you recognize that you only get about 12 hours of real Christmas spirit, then its back to your mobile device, answering emails of customers, back to the bankbook to ensure your account is not overdrawn, and back to the reality that gifts are enjoyed by wearing them on your back and not by tearing open a box for 1 to 2 hours of technological amazement.
But ah ha! Christmas this year was a teaser for things to come. Christmas brought joy, happiness, a few beers (see article) and some curious thoughts of what might be ahead as we traipsed closer to beer jaunting madness. For this Christmas season, the Blotter crew slept well on Christmas Eve, hoping to shred through some gifts (thanks Mom and Linda for the beer gifts) and move on to a long awaited and epic journey to the depths of the NYC beer doldrums – hahahahaha!
OK OK - its not scary. Its also not “doldrums” by any stretch of the word. Its a wondrous and beautiful community of swanky beer bars, old style beer warehouses, acclaimed breweries (though few) and cross-town competition. We had about 72 hours total. We had to sleep, eat, travel (Bay Ridge, Brooklyn is not close to Manhattan), attend events (hello Knicks game and Broadway) and work off hangovers with brisk runs which became shorter and shorter each day.
All in all – we did damn good. Here’s the story.
Mmmmm. Pastrami at Katz is unmatched!
Awake in Brooklyn.
We are staying in the Bay Ridge Neighborhood of Brooklyn. Here you will not find any acknowledgeable beer establishments (mini-shoutout to Kettle Black and Salty Dog for their great bar food though), but you will find Ben’s Pizzeria and Bagel Boy – both food leaders in their respective categories. Nothing primes the stomach for beer consumption like a Bagel Boy Everything bagel following a brisk 5K run. Bagel Boy is great, and worth the morning hike.
We are off for the big city. My companion has a date to see Wicked on Broadway with her amazing mother and rarely does a man get the opportunity to embark on the big city alone, during a family holiday. I relish in this chance.
Approach….Manhattan: New Beer Distributors and Bowery Beer Room
I am being dropped off in Lower Manhattan by the World Trade Center site. I used to work next door to the site in 2005 during my hiatus from Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans. Not amazingly, nothing has changed. The site remains largely undeveloped in over 9 years since cleanup began.
I am jumping on the JMZ (brown) line, going north, headed for Bowery and the Lower East Side. When we lived in Manhattan in 2005 we trounced this area nightly. The music scene is incredible, launching careers of the Ramones, Patti Smith and Interpol. I remember spending New Years 2005 in Hi Fi Lounge, up on Ave A, enjoying every last moment. Hi Fi is still kicking and still has the best assortment of music relics on the walls – along with a good beer or two.
But I am on a mission. A mission to find New Beer Distributors (NBD). NBD is a small warehouse on Chrystie and Rivington right below Houston and to the immediate east of Bowery off the Bowery J stop on the subway.
I had heard that NBD had an incredible selection, including several extremely rare items, as well as some vintage bottles. I heard right. They also showcase 4 or 5 taps for filling growlers. None of their offerings were run of the mill, ranging from Southern Tier Choklat to Ramstein Eisbock!
In pursuing the bottle collection I found that their most impressive collection was US beer. They had an equally impressive collection of East Coast and West Coast ales, as well as some excellent Midwest faves (hello Hoppin Frog and Kuhnhenn).
I whipped out a small backpack (remember, Im wandering the city all day) and started collecting. Of course, my eyes were too big for my backpack and I had to do the ole “exclude the least necessary” trick, counting down from #1 until the pack was full. Here is what I found:
Brooklyn Black Ops – dum da da da – she’s a beaut. This was our No. 1 goal for bringing something back. The label tells the tale – “Black Ops is not a beer.” Im fine with that. Whatever is inside is going to be worth the $19.00 price tag (which is cheaper than any other place by about 3-5 bucks).
Cigar City Improvisation (Oatmeal Rye Brown Ale – Yum)
Weyerbacher 13th Anniversary (this year WB did a finely crafted imperial stout, inspired by Belgian Quads – 13.6%!)
Two Brothers Heavier Handed Oak-Aged IPA (bulked up version of the original IPA)
Arcadia Imperial Stout
St. Ambroise Oatmeal Stout (a Montreal favorite)
Weyerbacher Double Simcoe IPA
Troegs Flying Moulan (acclaimed barleywine – 99 Rate Beer)
Captain Lawrence Double IPA
I also noticed some amazing St. Somewhere beers (all three that are bottled) and a slew of Smuttynose limited IPAs. But alas, I accepted my bounty, thanked the amazingly kind shop owner and carried on up to Houston to grab a sandwich at the famous Katz Delicatessen.
Katz is too good that its become a nightmare. The only way to truly enjoy this place is to come with one other friend, have that person snake a table quick and you weasel your way in at the counter. Once you get to the counter order a lot of different meats, as the sandwich artist will carve you slices to enjoy while you wait. You must get the pastrami – best in the world.
After scarfing down a hald corned beef and half pastrami on rye, I headed back west to take a stop in to the Whole Foods Bowery Beer Room on my way back to the subway. This is the only “beer-centric” Whole Foods that i have seen, harboring at least 1000 different beers and a half-dozen beers on tap, to fill your growler.
I am in quite a rush (behind schedule due to ogling that ensued at NBD), with a full backpack, so I do a lap of the place. Prices are bit heftier than NBD and the selection is a not as impressive. But, the beer room has excellent resources, a bountiful Belgian collection (better than NBD’s) and parking!
My excellent bartender at Rattle N Hum. What a tap list!
Heading North: Rattle N Hum
After finishing my lap – I head back west to the 4/6 green line. I am taking the 6 north up to 33rd Street and Madison. There I will seek out the establishment for which I had held highest hopes - Rattle N Hum.
Rattle N Hum is owned by an Irish chap in his 30s, who often hangs about the bar with his golden retriever. You get the feeling that he is incredibly well-liked by his staff and the regular patrons.
The bar is laden with posters of amazing beer events my palette will not be afforded. Though I crave to be present for the Weyerbacher cask event on 12/29/09 – I cant make.
The bar has my favorite beer menu – and thanks for the copy goes to the wonderful bartender! The menu shows 42 taps, each of which includes the location of the brewery, BeerAdvocate.com rating, and the alcohol by volume. The beers are sorted by their styling for ease of location. One of the best things – you will be hard-pressed to find more than one offering from any one brewer. This ensures that 40 breweries are hitting the taps. (Plus: They have 4 cask beers!)
On the draft list and notable:
Cigar City Jai Alai IPA – I was amazed to see this. Us West Coasters often dream of getting to sample the wondrous nectar that is Cigar City beer, typically aged in amazing woods. Jai Alai does not disappoint – its incredibly sweet and malty, while having incredible pineapple and grapefruit flavor that overpowers any taste of alcohol (its 7.5%). One of our favorites from the trip, it seems to breath best from a wider-mouthed glass. So, stay away from the half pint pours.
Two Brothers Northwind Imperial Stout – Of the Russian varietal, this beer is not incredibly strong (8.5%) but packs a high-octane flavor. Hints of smoked woods and espresso beans fill the glass in both nose and taste. We were surprised to find that other raters were not as fond as we were (Ratebeer 80), but its surely worth a pint.
Goose Island Pere Jacques – I had been wanting to snag this guy for months now, after I mistakenly grabbed a bottle of Sofie (another one of GI’s Belgians) at a Chicago bottle shop. I now know what I missed. Pere Jacques is a 9.0% ABV Abbey ale, which carries a heavy dark rich fruit flavor and the nose of a dark sour ale. Very enjoyable.
Captain Lawrence DIPA – Another beer I had been hoping to snag (and I grabbed a bottle at New Beer) is this hop monster from NY’s Captain Lawrence. This beer has a rich syrupy body and smells almost of citrus and banana juices. In my rankings, I gave it a 97/100.
Others of Note:
Cigar City Maduro Espresso (they were out! but alas i caught up with it on Day 3)
SixPoint Otis (Oatmeal Stout at 6.1%)
Goose Island Bourbon County Stout (13.0% – incredible)
21st Amendment Monk’s Blood (Belgian Dark Ale)
Smuttynose Finest Kind IPA (well liked in public – A+ on BeerAdvocate.com – extremely bitter)
Nogne-O Winter Ale
Rodenbach Grand Cru
Rattle N Hum also boasts a nice food menu with many IPA-infused items. Their wings are impressive and during football games they are only .25 cents (YES!).
Rattle N Hum is a great place for beer snobs and newbies. Just a hop from the Midtown shopping areas, Rattle N Hum caters to tourists who just want a pint and locals who know where to find the best grog. Also, the back of the menu provides hints about how to taste beer from local beer expert Alex Hall.
All in all – its sitting pretty at No. 1 in the beer bar rankings.
The Pony Bar big board. Get Old Horizontal. Sit in Dark Corner Drink Excessively.
Subway West: Pony Bar
Im heading west. I am to meet my co-author at Divine Bar on West 51st for a quick bottle of Hitachino Classic Ale and then we are off to find the next great tap.
While at Rattle N Hum, I was told by the excellent bartender that newer beer bar had opened on 10th Avenue and 45th Street some time ago. The Pony Bar has about 20 taps and has been finding a way to keep the bartender from straying from her resident neighborhood nightly.
Pony Bar is nice, with excellent large wood tables and beer barrel seats well situated on the floor. The bartenders were very accommodating with my requests to sample some offerings – and they even charged my phone, which had been on RateBeer.com hyperdrive all day long.
The taplist, oh the taplist. I was worried when I only saw a few beers on the list. I was afraid when I saw that many were winter ales (not a huge fan of the typical winter ale). But, a closer look and………wow. Pony Bar was pouring some amazing beers that were on my “Have to drink” list. Here we go:
Captain Lawrence Nor’Easter – Of all the beers we tried here – this is the most complex. This beers has at least 3 levels of flavor and ends with such a great bang. The beer has a fruity, funky and almost sour nose and ends with a barrel-aged vanilla smoothness. Highly recommended. We gave her a 95/100.
Troeg’s Mad Elf – One of our authors (timperial stout) has raved about this beer in the past. We found it to be casual, but packing a nice christmas spice that makes up for the lack of other prevalent flavors.
Victory Old Horizonal – Really? that cant be Victory. Oh yes, its Victory. I have never been particularly excited about a Victory beer – but this one gave me a whole new respect for the PA brewer. A RateBeer 100, this beer has an amazing balance of caramel and butterscotch flavorings, melded with some prevailing hop flavor. It is very similar to RedHook’s Treblehook, but with a bit more smoothness. Again – get this beer (i did – bought a bottle to smuggle back on the place). 100/100.
Troeg’s Dead Reckoning Porter – We wanted to give Troegs one more chance to floor us. We were both glad we took this leap (ok, it was a minor step). This smokey porter has a welcoming hop bitterness, which does not sting your throat. Very impressive for a simple porter styling.
In all, Pony Bar is very impressive, even though they lack the sizable taplist a beer geek might want to see. I was very glad to see a quality grog shop show up on the west side, where it was so sorely lacking.
Give Up, Just Give Up
After geeking out on a nice 14oz pour of 10.5% Old Horizontal – its time to not push it. We actually still have to head to Brooklyn for a night of “catch up” with some old friends. Luckily, we will live through this night. But, not without repercussions.
Day 2 is on its way.
Let us know below if you have any comments or questions about any of the places or beers mentioned herein!