Just What’s in the Glass: A Blind Taste Test of 10 Locally Made IPAs
Why do some breweries get all the attention while others are essentially ignored? Is it just the taste? Or is it groupthink? Do we like one brewery’s logo better than another? Do we have a friend who works for one of them? Are we influenced by something we read on the internet by a writer we respect?
In hopes of answering some of these questions (hooboy, how’s this for a buried lede!), I decided to set up a blind taste test of 10 locally made IPAs. The idea, of course, was that we’d taste the beers and rank them in order of preference based only on the appearance, aroma, and taste of what was in the glass in front of us. I assembled a panel of judges to join me: Joshua M. Bernstein, author of The Complete Beer Course and Brewed Awakening; Niko Krommydas, editor of the Craft Beer NY app and columnist for Long Island Pulse and Yankee Brew News; Meredith Heil, writer at BeerdedLadies.com, and Zack Mack, owner of Alphabet City Beer Co.
The Beginner’s Beer Cellar: Brooklyn Brewery Edition
As the craft beer movement has taken hold across the country over the past few years, there has been no shortage of ways in which it’s come to resemble the world of wine—food pairing has become a big deal; descriptors of flavors and aromas are outrageously nebulous and esoteric; prices of single bottles are fast climbing to heights no one would have predicted years ago.
Perhaps most notable among those similarities, though, is the growing prominence of aging or cellaring beers: storing them in, ideally, a temperature- and humidity-controlled environment for a year or two, or even five or more years, so that flavors can fully develop. Not all beers are candidates for aging; more robust styles like stouts, barleywines, sours, and stronger Belgians tend to do well, while more hop-forward IPAs begin to fall off in a month, let alone multiple years.
Starting a beer cellar can seem like a daunting and potentially expensive undertaking, but it really doesn’t have to be. There are plenty of perfectly accessible beers that’ll help form the beginnings of a very respectable collection, and if you’d like to focus on locally made beers to start, there’s no better place to look than Brooklyn Brewery. Below, five of their sturdiest, most complex beers–together, the perfect foundation for your brand new beer cellar.
An Endorsement: Ludicrously Expensive Beers
Last night, I drank one of the best beers I’ve had in a really long time. It was made byMikkeller, the brewery owned by the other twin—not Jeppe of Evil Twin and Torst fame, but Mikel, who’s kept his operation based largely in his native Copenhagen. The beer was calledSpontan Cherry Frederiksdal, a sour ale brewed with real cherries and aged in oak barrels. It poured a dark, beautiful red with a big, surprisingly sudsy pink head; it looked like a glass of red wine with a dollop of raspberry sherbet sitting on top. It was unbelievably rich and exceedingly pleasant: a mix of sour and sweet cherries with hints of warming spices and a touch of vinegar. It was unique, extremely complex, and an absolute joy to drink.
A 12.7-oz bottle of it also happens to cost $17.50 plus tax and deposit.
Worth a Ride on the N: Astoria’s Singlecut Beersmiths
A little over a year and a half ago, Singlecut Beersmiths became the first new brewery to open in Queens since prohibition. And unlike basically any other brewery that’s opened anywherein the past few years, Singlecut focuses much of their attention not on the now far more common ales, but on on lagers, a style that’s fallen out of favor in craft circles for a number of reasons: the brewing process is far more time-consuming and demanding, for one, but there’s also the sense, thanks to the garbage produced by Budweiser and all those guys, that they’re simply less advanced, less challenging than their warm-fermenting brethren.
At Singlecut, though, they’re doing more than their part to change how we look at the badly misunderstood lager.
Transmitter Brewing Bring Farmhouse Ales to NYC
As we discussed in this very space yesterday, we may need to get used to the fact that some of the more obviously Brooklynish things are going to start happening outside the borders of Brooklyn itself and in other nearby places with more and cheaper available space. Case in point, Transmitter Brewing, a Long Island City-based operation that opened its doors just a few months ago.
Owned by longtime friends Anthony Accardi and Rob Kolb, Transmitter specializes in farmhouse ales, a style of beer that’s caught on big-time in craft beer circles nationwide, but has been slow to take hold here in the city. It’s a classic Belgian style (though there are well established French and American versions as well) that’s characterized most often by its cloudy appearance, the presence of spices like pepper or coriander, relatively high carbonation and a pronounced and distinctive yeast character. Accardi and Kolb at Transmitter have developed a “library of traditional Belgian, French, English and American yeast” strains to go along with 20 different varieties of Brettanomyces, Lactobacillus, and Pediococcus, wild strains that provide sour/and or fruity notes. Brooklyn Brewery’s Sorachi Ace is a stellar example of the style, but that’s about it when it comes to year-round offerings from local breweries.
Sours, Black “Pale Ales” and Much More at Finback Brewery in Queens
Those of us who have spent any substantial amount of time in Queens, or maybe were even born there or–gasp! the horror!–continue living there to this very day have long laughed at the fact that whenever you even mention Queens to people, they say, “Oooh, like Astoria? I love Astoria!” or, more recently, “Oh yeah, I know someone who once considered moving to Long Island City!” Well, there are other parts of Queens. Lots of them, even! And one of them is Glendale, a neighborhood just east of Ridgewood–another area that’s been picking up steam with Brooklyn types for a while now, thanks to its proximity to Bushwick–which also happens to be the home of a very promising new brewery.
Finback Brewery was founded in 2011 but just settled into its permanent Queens home earlier this year.
There’s no time of year when the dedicated craft beer drinker will feel more pressure to just quit being so discerning and partake in a cooler full of something like Budweiser or PBR, or even Tecate (which some people swear isn’t shitty even though it absolutely is) than summer. And I can sort of see why you’d give in. You’re probably going to be drinking for an extended period of time, at a barbecue or while sitting around on vacation, and you might have four, five, six, nine beers during a single session, so it’s probably a good idea to stay away from those 7-8% IPAs anyway. It’s also hot as hell, and the last thing you want is to feel like you’re drinking chocolate milk in the hot afternoon sun, so you’ll want to hold off on the heavier stuff and choose something light and refreshing instead. It may seem that roads lead to that can of Bud Light, but this is not so. Not at all.