The Big Apple Plays Catchup

Martin Johnson - New York steps up its craft beer game.

This sounds like hyperbole, but it isn't: there has never been a better time than the present to be a beer enthusiast in New York City. A whopping eight breweries opened in 2014, and two more since then. Overall, more than two dozen brewpubs and production breweries have opened in Gotham City since 2011.

This renaissance harkens back to the early '60s when 10% of the beer consumed in America was brewed in Brooklyn. However, a lot of that beer was by Schaffer or Rheingold, two brands whose products offer more historical interest than culinary intrigue for today's craft beer drinkers. Now there are New York-based breweries swinging for the fences with every new beer. For instance, Finback's Double Sess is a spicy wheat beer brewed with ginger, Sichuan peppercorns and chamomile

.Gun Hill has set the bar very high for local stouts with their Void of Light. 

And the godfather of the NYC craft beer movement, Brooklyn Brewery is now recycling the barrels used in aging their holiday treat Black Ops to lend new and unexpected flavors to Krieks, Sours and Barleywines.

For years, while craft beer exploded in nearly every other region, New Yorkers only had the beers of the Brooklyn Brewery and then Sixpoint for representatives in the movement. Cost was one main factor. Property values in New York started soaring 30 years ago and they have not often stopped their ascent. Bart Watson of the Brewer's Association told me that opening a brewery in New York would likely cost a million dollars or more, twice what a comparable facility would require in Chicago or Atlanta. In addition, there's a lack of provincialism in the city. Steve Hindy, one of the founders of the Brooklyn Brewery put it to me like this: “Consumers in Vermont or Oregon are very loyal to their local producers.” He paused and you could almost here him smile since his beer had to overcome this barrier, “New Yorkers want the best of everything and often they don't much care where it came from.”

I think that attitude is relenting a little. Even though I see shoppers at the market in the middle of winter snapping up stone fruit from South America, the major beer bars are hyping the local brews; in fact Proletariat only offers happy hour discounts for beers brewed locally. And as many of these local brewers begin to can and bottle their wares, there is palpable enthusiasm in the beer community. Last week at Alphabet City Beer Company, Laurisa Milici and Rob Pihl of Radiant Pig launched their first cans and in less than four hours they sold six cases of Junior, their signature pale ale.

The nice thing is that no one fears an oversaturation. Hindy noted that on a per capita basis New York City is still catching up to places like Bend, Oregon. And he said it with the satisfaction of a man who helped start something great. The craft beer movement came late to New York City but it's still hopping. And of course it's occasionally hoppy

The Author:

Martin Johnson is a beer buyer and merchandising manager for Westside Market East Village in New York City.When not selling or drinking beer he writes about jazz and beer for the Wall Street Journal, basketball for Slate, beer for Eater and about a variety of cultural and culinary topics for The Root.

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The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author's alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of Ora Media, LLC, its affiliates, or its employees.

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