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Is It Worth Riding the 1 Train Uptown for Craft Beer at Hogshead Tavern?

Craft beer is more commonly associated with hipster-laden pockets of the LES and Williamsburg than with the triple-digited streets of Upper Manhattan. Hogshead Tavern (126 Hamilton Place, 212-234-5411) hopes to change that perception, staking out the vastly untapped region of Hamilton Heights in the name of high-minded suds. The streamlined bar and restaurant — with warm, black-bricked, plaid-floored interior — has already charmed its way into something of a neighborhood staple. But for the faraway folks, is it worth the trek? I hopped on the 1 train to find out.

On its well-maintained website, Hogshead is quick to point out that it’s just a ten-minute ride from midtown. I found that to be wishful thinking, at best. But it is surprisingly accessible from the lower depths of the borough by way of several subway lines. Once inside, I was greeted by a slew of welcome sights, namely: twenty tap handles straddling a concise yet thoughtful platform of craft whiskeys, gins, and vodkas, all bound within a sleek, modish space.

The draft selections are sensibly displayed in large, white marker on transparent glass behind the bar. They’re impossible to miss, which is important, as the taplist frequently fluctuates, sometimes throughout the course of a single evening. Selections range from $6 to $8, mainly for sixteen-ounce pours, and include exclusive craft entities like Great Divide’s unapologetically viscous Yeti Imperial Stout, and Bell’s Two Hearted Ale — a masterfully balanced American IPA. Covering regions as divergent as Newport, Oregon, and Bavaria, Germany, the menu is surprisingly light on local brews — or it was when I visited.

But as geographically and stylistically expansive as the list is, it isn’t a radical departure from many other fine watering holes in more traveled sections of the city. To set itself apart, Hogshead offers unique beer cocktails, a notable weekend brunch, and — living up to its name — an efficient food menu dominated by pork.

Of the eight dishes, built to share and priced at around $10 a plate, only the kale and artichoke dip is devoid of meat — and it could hardly be considered light fare. Although the chipotle BBQ pig wings are notable for the unique delivery of pork attached to a Buffalo wing–like riblet, the bites were somewhat lacking in flavor when compared to the spicy Moroccan meatballs and the crispy pork belly grilled cheese, the former molded from braised lamb and chorizo, the latter enhanced by a sweet onion relish and three separate varieties of melted cheese. Together they were reason enough to rationalize the subway ride.

And that was before the Hogshead Buck, a bourbon and beer cocktail that relies on ginger and blood orange to round out wooded notes of Kentucky whiskey. It’s the standout from a list of four drinks, which should soon expand to feature more beers in cocktail form. The current selections, priced between $10 and $11, are built solely upon either Crabbies Ginger Beer or Crispin Pear Cider.

Well-fed and sufficiently served, I left the Hogshead unable to stomach food or drink for the foreseeable future. I did, however, find myself with a newfound hunger to further explore Hamilton Heights. The new tavern was by no means the first to tap into this neighborhood’s unrealized potential, but by feeding an increasing demand for craft here, it certainly won’t be the last.


 

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Cracking Open a Cold One for Jimmy Carbone

The craft beer scene is becoming increasingly crowded. And just because something is new and small doesn’t guarantee it’s going to be any good. Nothing can be more disheartening than sipping on a pint of something subpar — particularly when you consider what they’re charging at bars these days. It behooves us to have guidance navigating these murky channels of hops and malt. Jimmy Carbone is happy to take the helm. The self-made restaurateur and craft enthusiast hosts a weekly beer-centric broadcast on the Heritage Radio Network, Tuesday evenings at 5 p.m. For his tireless efforts spreading the gospel of grog, I raise a glass to good old Mr. Carbone. And I’ve got just the stuff to fill said glass: Dunkel Lager from Sly Fox Brewing, our beer of the week.

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There are a number of reasons why this traditional Bavarian-style dark beer is appropriate. The most immediate, of course, is that you can currently find it on draft at Jimmy’s No. 43, Carbone’s eponymous eatery on the edge of the East Village. But beyond local availability, lagers brewed in the German tradition are gaining steady traction among craft cognoscenti. Long overshadowed by the heavy-hitting ales and imperial stouts that have dominated American bottle shops, it suddenly appears as if the Reinheitsgebot is ready to reign once more.

That multisyllabic München mouthful refers to the Bavarian Purity Law of 1487, which established the only four ingredients permissible in German brews: hops, barley, yeast, and water. Seems straightforward, yet consider the diverse array of styles birthed by variations of those simple starting blocks. In the case of the Dunkel, Sly Fox uses dark malt to effect a toasted, slightly hazelnut-like finish to their sessionable 5.3 percent beer. A man of distinctive style, Carbone surely must appreciate this beer’s nod to a genre as classically German as Beethoven himself.

The lagering process requires patience — and brewing vessels that must remain occupied for upwards of a month. In that same time, a commercial brewery can turn over three batches of ready-to-drink ales. Saddled by the constraints of capitalism, don’t ever expect the lager to land as much shelf space as the American IPA. But perhaps that’s what contributes to its growing appeal. Good things come to those who wait. Thankfully, you’ll only have to wait till Tuesday at 5 p.m. to hear more about this particular pintful and many others on Beer Sessions Radio.

Originally available in cans, Sly Fox’s current release of Dunkel Lager is only available in draft at Jimmy’s No. 43 and other fine beer outlets throughout the city. Check local listings for showtimes.

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Our 10 Best Beer Bars

The craft-beer movement, once the province of homebrewers and so-called beer nerds, has become so mainstream that you’d be hard-pressed to find a bar in New York City that doesn’t have at least Brooklyn Lager on tap. But where do you go when you want to find the absolute best brews in the city? We’ve, um, spent many hours of our lives researching this topic and have finally come up with a list of the top 10 beer bars in the city. Cheers!

10. 124 Rabbit Club: This tiny, secluded spot in the West Village proves that beer bars need not be fratty, sticky messes, even on MacDougal Street. The subterranean locale and weathered décor definitely give it an Old World vibe, which is fitting considering the all-European beer list. The 50-strong bottle selection skews heavily toward Belgians, none of which are cheap; still, it’s worth the money to drink in a bar as charming as this place. 124 MacDougal Street, near Minetta Lane, no phone

A glimpse of the long beer list at the Pony Bar
A glimpse of the long beer list at the Pony Bar

9. Pacific Standard: We New Yorkers are (justifiably) proud of our local craft-brew scene. The truth, however, is that it was brewers on the West Coast who really kicked this movement into high gear. Opened by a couple of NorCal expats, this Park Slope pub features a long list of beers on tap from the other side of the country, including selections from such breweries as Rogue, Anchor Steam, Lagunitas, Bear Republic, and more. Don’t worry, Brooklyn, Pacific Standard still has love for you in the form of local faves from the likes of Sixpoint and Kelso. 82 Fourth Avenue, near St. Marks Place, 718-858-1951

8. The Pony Bar: America is home to the most inventive, fearless craft breweries in the world, which is why we’re glad this inviting Hell’s Kitchen pub specializes in beers from the good ol’ US of A. You’ll find 20 rotating beers from across the country, each served in 14-ounce glasses for $5. Our favorite thing about this place? Starting at 4:20 p.m., all beers are $1 off for an hour, just in case you want to wash down any special brownies you might have consumed. 637 Tenth Avenue, near 45th Street, 212-586-2707

7. Jimmy’s No. 43: Jimmy Carbone is a legend in the local beer scene, a larger-than-life proponent of all things local and delicious. The founder of the Good Beer Seal, Carbone’s passion is evident in his beer list, an eclectic mix of bottles and draughts from beer nerd favorites like Danish brewer Mikkeller, Tampa brewery Cigar City, and superb Massachusetts gypsy brewer Pretty Things. Bonus: The bar just launched a beer-and-biscuit brunch with Louisiana-style grub from Tchoup Shop’s Simon Glenn. 43 East 7th Street, near Second Avenue, 212-982-3006

6. Mission Dolores: This Park Slope spot is owned by the people behind Bar Great Harry, another fantastic beer bar in its own right. During the summer, the abundant outdoor seating lets you believe you’re in sunny California, where the bar’s namesake mission is located. The 20 beers on tap are mostly American, with a strong selection of brews from East Coast breweries like Barrier and Dogfish Head, plus a couple of European draughts for good measure. A dog-friendly policy and the ramshackle industrial décor make it a nice, laid-back place to have a drink or five. 249 Fourth Avenue, near Carroll Street, 718-399-0099

5. Earl’s Beer and Cheese: Yes, there are only four beers on tap, but they’re picked with care, like Sixpoint’s brand-new Autumnation. Plus they’re affordable; draught brews cost only $5-$6, while cans of everything from Dale’s Pale Ale to Molson XXX start at $3. That’s just the mix of beer expertise and laid-back irreverence that we like. The compact gastropub looks like something that belongs in the East Village or Brooklyn, yet there it is in a barren stretch of the Upper East Side, serving some of the best bar food in the city, including beer cheese and a killer tomato soup. 1259 Park Avenue, near 97th Street, 212-289-1581

4. d.b.a.: Ray Deter’s death earlier this year was a huge blow to the craft-beer scene he helped to create when he opened this beer bar back in 1995. It’s still one of the best in the city. The 14 beers on tap run the gamut from local American breweries to European staples. Also available is a strong selection of small-batch whiskeys and beer by the bottle. While the d.b.a. in Brooklyn is a perfectly pleasant place to have a beer, we love the large, leafy back garden at the original East Village location. 41 First Avenue, near 2nd Street, 212-475-5097

Relaxing in d.b.a.'s spacious back garden
Relaxing in d.b.a.’s spacious back garden

3. The Diamond: This cozy, hidden-away Greenpoint bar bucks the over-the-top IPA trend by specializing in session beers with ABVs under 4.5 percent. Not that you can’t find strong beers here; the Southern Tier Pumking on the menu boasts 9 percent alcohol, which will definitely put you in the dangerous drunk-texting zone of inebriation. Still, the focus on quality session beers means that you’ll mostly find calm, serious beer drinkers here, ones who come to experience new flavors, play shuffleboard, and relax with their dogs outside in the backyard. 43 Franklin Street, near Calyer Street, 718-383-5030

Yes, Blind Tiger is crowded.
Yes, Blind Tiger is crowded.

2. Blind Tiger: Sure, this place is an absolute nightmare at 7 p.m., when businessmen pour in after work, but there is a reason this place is so popular. That would be the expansive beer list, including 31 brews on tap from a wide array of breweries, including Escondido’s Stone Brewery, Elysian from Seattle, and Greenport Harbor. The bottle list is no joke, either, with plenty of rare and vintage selections for the adventurous drinker. Go late at night during a weekday when things are a little calmer and you can drink your beer in peace. 281 Bleecker Street, near Jones Street, 212-462-4682

1. Spuyten Duyvil: Why is Joe Carroll’s Williamsburg spot the best beer bar in New York City? Because, quite frankly, he just doesn’t care about the casual beer drinker. Like that hoppy $6 IPA from Sly Fox you had yesterday? Too bad, because today the draught menu is filled entirely with $10 lambics. The daily rotation ensures serious beer nerds never get bored. This is a place to get your hands on some next-level stuff; past finds include the bright, wonderfully complex Belgian blended lambic Oude Geuze Vieille and the Italian, green-tea-infused Grado Plato Weizen Tea. Oh, and a gorgeous, shady back garden doesn’t hurt this bar’s ranking, either. 359 Metropolitan Avenue, near Havemeyer Street, 718-963-4140

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Tomorrow: Our 10 Best Beer Bars

It’s no secret that the New York craft-beer scene has exploded in the last decade or so. With so many great local breweries (Brooklyn Brewery, Sixpoint, Kelso, Captain Lawrence), it stands to reason we’d also have a bunch of great beer bars. So, what makes for a good beer bar? A large selection of craft brews never hurts, of course. But a truly great beer bar also has a knowledgeable staff, ownership that seeks out new and interesting bottles and drafts, and a clientele that cares what’s being poured in front of them. Check back tomorrow morning, when we reveal our 10 favorite beer bars in New York City.