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New York Lands Its First Certified Organic Craft Beer

As health-conscious as so many New Yorkers seem to be these days, it’s hard to believe that the Empire State has been without its own brand of organic beer. Until now. This week, Smart Beer Organic Golden Ale hits shelves across the five boroughs. The non-GMO craft brew is produced an hour upriver, in New Paltz. So it comes with the added allure of being (kinda) local. But is it any good? Only one way to find out: crack open a bottle of our beer of the week.

Beyond their color, golden ales are characterized by a crisp, lighter body and muted fruitiness on the palate. They tend to be broadly accessible, appealing, even, to traditional lager lovers. Smart Beer’s entry into the category comfortably hits those marks. Brewed with orange peel and licorice root, it opens up to reveal a peppery zest, distantly reminiscent of a Belgian-style witbier. At 5.5% alcohol, it’s an easy and inviting drink. The flavor profile isn’t defined by its organic, GMO-free origins. It just happens to boast those qualities as an ancillary benefit. Don’t approach it expecting some magical new beer-drinking experience to unfold itself before you. Drink it because it tastes good, and is brewed with worthy ingredients.

When he’s not peddling his new line of libations, Smart Beer’s founder, Gabriel Heymann, spends time as a yoga instructor. “I wanted to enjoy both my social life and my healthy lifestyle,” he said. “We shouldn’t have to sacrifice well-being in order to celebrate life’s moments, and that’s what this beer is about.” That, and a pleasant buzz. Retailing within the same general range as its non-organic counterparts — around $12 a six-pack — you’ll hardly notice a tax for the organic upgrade. 

The beer arrives in Brooklyn with a bang tomorrow, as Montana’s Trail House in Bushwick hosts a launch party, starting at 2 p.m. The Smart Beer Brand will soon expand to incorporate several other sought-after styles. Pick up a sixer on your way to your next yoga class. It’s difficult to get much more Brooklyn than that. 

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Sip the Refreshing White Aphrodisiac From New York’s Empire Brewing Company

What’s not to love about summer? Outdoor barbecues, weekends on the beach, crisp beers by the pool, a few short months of bliss brimming with a lifetime of memories. To start the season off right, head to your favorite local watering hole for a sip of something light and refreshing. Empire Brewing from upstate New York has just the drink for June and July: Its White Aphrodisiac, made with real lavender and ginger, is worthy of abounding adoration.

Empire’s beachtime brew clocks in at a manageable 6.3 percent ABV, giving it a sturdy backbone for a Belgian-style Witbier but remaining easy enough to knock back on a hot and humid afternoon. The yeasty spice typical to a Wit is tamed against the gentle floral tonalities of the lavender. You’ll immediately notice these enticing peculiarities in the beer’s unique aroma, fostering a therapeutic rush that will flood your mind’s eye with images as pleasant as rolling waves crashing the shoreline.

Although it’s available exclusively on tap across the city, look for it at growler stations such as Whole Foods’. Fill one up to bring home, or, more appropriately, take straight to the sand.

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Beer of the Week: A Jurassic Drink for Spielberg

Earlier this week, cinephiles were all aflutter about the surprise teaser trailer for the newest installment in the Jurassic Park franchise. But the preview for the future summer blockbuster of 2015 revealed a very predictable premise promising to rehash the same tired formula: two kids in a seemingly dino-tastic safari ultimately getting chased by angry, unleashed CGI monsters. You’d think the parents would have learned to steer their children away from live dinosaur zoos by now, but plot pitfalls be damned! Executive Producer Steven Spielberg would have it no other way. Play it safe, all the way to the bank. So let us congratulate the once-revolutionary Hollywood Icon on another solid corporate investment. We offer him the gift of grog, although he’ll have to phone home to the East Coast to catch this one, if he can.

Spielberg’s perfect pint is a no-brainer. In a happy coincidence, Kings County’s finest, Brooklyn Brewery–an icon in their own right–just released Quadraceratops into the wild. Their new addition is of prehistoric magnitude, roaring to life with a 9.9% A.B.V. And beyond the obvious reptilian references, the style of the beer itself is enough to entice the Bearded One to invest in a pour. Tried and true; a reliable Belgian Quad, offering the familiar notes of dark, stone fruit, and toasted caramel that’s made the genre a success since practically paleolithic times.

For the rest of us, the dark, medium-bodied brew is timely in that it’s distinct character is friendly to the holiday season, when we’re prone to stuffing our faces. As Brooklyn Brewmaster Garrett Oliver points out, “Belgium’s Trappist ales and their secular offspring are some of the most rewarding beers in the world to pair with food. Their complex flavor gives you many reference points to work with in seeking harmony with a wide range of dishes.” And he would know: Oliver was a part of the craft brew seen all the way back when people actually looked forward to the next Indiana Jones movie.

Exclusively on draft throughout the city, Brooklyn’s latest release is part of their ongoing Brewmaster’s Reserve series. Meaning it’s destined to go extinct, barring some unforeseen cloning situation. But don’t get too alarmed. If Spielberg gets even a small taste, he’s sure to force a sequel–though it’s doubtful to have as much taste as the original.


 

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Here’s a Lesson in Belgian Beer From the New Belgian Beer Cafe

Finding a beer brewed in Belgium at your local watering hole isn’t that hard these days, but finding a bar that can teach you how to pair your pint — or how to pour that pint correctly — is a bit less common. The recently opened Belgian Beer Cafe Nomad (220 Fifth Avenue, 212-575-2337) aims to help curious customers find the answers to those questions by serving as a classroom for Belgian beer.

Marc Stroobrandt is the professor here; he first started working in a bar to help pay his tuition for law school. He soon gave up the books and set out on a path to become a beer sommelier. When we stopped by, he gave us a few pointers on enjoying our beer.

His first lesson: every Belgian beer has a specific glass it should be served in. The right glass is crucial because it helps accentuate the flavor, so much so that in Belgium, if the restaurant doesn’t have the right glass, they might refuse to sell you the beer. The more aromatic the beer, the more round shape of the glass — 60 to 80 percent of your taste is determined by your nose, says Stroobrandt. Straight glasses are typically used for the less aromatic beers. The philosophy surrounding glassware is so important to the process that all glasses are washed by hand.

Glassware varies because Belgian beer varies greatly. “We’ll use whatever we can find to make beer,” says Stroobrandt. Unlike Germany, which adheres to a strict purity law that defines what can and cannot be used to make beer, a Belgian brewery is more like the Muppet Laboratory of Bunsen and Beeker. Malted and unmalted grain, herbs, spices, and even chocolate are fair game when it comes to acceptable brewing ingredients. The results range from sour strawberry flavored lambics to hearty Chimay ales, not to mention the first-of-its-kind Belgian lager, Stella Artois.

Enjoying those beers is also predicated on a good pour, says Stoobrandt. “With bottled beers, what you do is start straight…pour straight, and release the carbonation straight ahead, then tilt the bottle,” he advises. If you find your glass full of foam, don’t freak. Foam is not the enemy in Belgium, as it serves as a preliminary test of what awaits inside. Two inches is the preferred length, and as you drink the beer down, a trail known as Belgian lace should stick against the glass if you’re drinking a good beer.

Food is also essential at Belgian Beer Cafe — Stroobrandt trained as a chef as part of his training — and should be part of your drinking experience. Cheese is the preferred bar snack of Belgium, mostly because it coats and cleanses the palate. And if you want to experience the full taste effect of the pours here, you should alternate “beer, food, beer,” says Stroobrandt. In addition to cheese — which you can dip in sriracha — the restaurant is serving a full menu of mussels, scallops, and frites courtesy of chef Bill Peet. Each bite comes recommended by a server depending on what you’re drinking.

The restaurant is expected to begin lunch service September 8, with a brunch menu to follow in a few weeks. Head to the next page for a look at Manhattan’s latest beer paradise.

Fun fact: Hoegaarden is pronounced "Who-garden"
Fun fact: Hoegaarden is pronounced “Who-garden”
Inside Belgian Beer Cafe Nomad
Inside Belgian Beer Cafe Nomad
Stella and mussels are one potential pairing you can select
Stella and mussels are one potential pairing you can select
A look at the bar, which will only offer up Belgian brewed beers
A look at the bar, which will only offer up Belgian brewed beers
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Here Are This Week’s Five Best Food Events in NYC – 6/16/2014

Looking for something to do that doesn’t involve watching the World Cup? Here are five food events to consider.

34th Annual Holland Herring Festival Opening Day Party, Grand Central Oyster Bar, 89 East 42nd Street, Monday, noon

Holland herring is making its way across the Atlantic, as the city’s most famous oyster bar is featuring the seasonal seafood starting Monday through July 5. Chef Sandy Ingber will get things started with an official first tasting; pair your fish to Dutch martinis and Heineken.

Speakeasy Tour and Cocktail, Museum of the American Gangster, 80 St. Mark’s Place, Wednesday, 7 p.m.

This interactive experience explores an old speakeasy and gangster hideaway on St. Mark’s Place, and concludes with a classic cocktail. Tickets start at $18.

Tales from the Vault! and June BHS Beer Garden, Brooklyn Historical Society, 128 Pierrepont Street, Brooklyn, Thursday, 6 p.m.

Learn about the Brooklyn that existed before the borough was filled with pickles and artisanal chocolate: The Brooklyn Historical Society is hosting archivist John Zarrillo, who will share his findings on how Brooklyn has changed since the 1800s. A party in the biergarten follows at 7 p.m. The event is free to attend, and food and drink will be available for purchase.

Chouffe Fest, Brooklyn Night Bazaar, 165 Banker Street, Brooklyn

Fans of Belgian ales — and gnomes — are invited to check out this one-night-only beer fest, which also offers guests the chance to play drunken Jenga. The drink list features select brews from the Achouffe Brewery, and attendees will be privy to prize giveaways and photo booths. Entrance is $10, but we’re also giving away a pair of tickets. Head over to our post about Chouffe Fest for details on how to win.

The 29 Pop Up Dining Experience, 115 Eldridge Street, Thursday, 7:30 p.m.

This dining experience focuses on northern Indian tapas, including cauliflower soup, fishcake fritters, and chicken roti. Many dishes will be vegetarian-friendly, and guests are encouraged to bring their own beverages. Tickets are available through the pop-up’s website.

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What’s Happening This Weekend: Autumn Wine Festival, Brew Your Own Belgian, Aperitifs & Digestifs, and John Dory Party

We’re inching closer and closer to Thanksgiving, which means you only have so much free time left before the holiday parties are in full swing. We think that’s as good of a reason as any to do something delicious this weekend.

Autumn Wine Festival, Conrad Hotel, 102 North End Avenue, Saturday, 3 p.m.

Taste over 200 wines during two three-hour tasting sessions curated by Vintry Fine Wines. While you sip, snack on bites by Danny Meyer’s Union Square Events catering team and enjoy live jazz by Grammy award nominee Gil Parris. Each attendee will also receive a Riedel wine glass to take home after the event. Tickets can be purchased via the event’s website.

Brew Your Own Belgian Beer, Petite Abeille, 401 East 20th Street, Saturday, 4:30 p.m.

Interested in brewing your own batch of holiday ale? Or perhaps you’d like to get a head start on the holiday gift season? Go brew a Belgian beer. Christophe Semaille, the founder of Belgian DIY brand Brew Spot, is dropping into the city to demonstrate how you can replicate the distinctive Belgian taste at home. Tickets are $65; reservations can be made via the class’s online ticketing site.

Aperitifs & Digestifs, Terroir Murray Hill, 439 Third Avenue, Saturday, 5:30 p.m.

With big meals on the horizons, you might consider picking up a favorite digestif, which can help ease your body back to normalcy when you’ve overdone it. Learn a few tricks of the trade at this hour-long course and tasting session. If you’re planning on hosting a big party, learning about ways to pump up your guests’ appetites via aperitifs should also come in handy. Tickets are $27.

John Dory Anniversary Party, The John Dory Oyster Bar, 1196 Broadway, Sunday, 5 p.m.

Celebrating three years of shucking, John Dory will launch its upcoming Mussel Sundays specials with complimentary wine flights for the night’s dinner guests. Dine on PEI mussels with leeks and pancetta for $12, and taste through new sommelier Jessica Brown’s five three-ounce samples, which will include local pours like the Gotham Project Cab Franc Rose. Reserve your spot by calling the restaurant directly at 212-792-9000 or by emailing reservations@thejohndory.com.


 

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Ommegang Is Celebrating the Seasons and Game of Thrones

As Brewery Ommegang continues to expand, it turns out a big, bold, and highly drinkable lineup comprising complex Belgian-style beers. Unlike many of the newer craft brewers, it favors highly carbonated “bright” beers, mostly sold in heavy 750ml bottles from Europe, which makes them perfect for aging or drinking fresh. We talked with Larry Bennett, Communications Director at Brewery Ommegang, to learn what Ommegang has in store for this fall.

Are there any seasonal brews in the works and when will they be released?
Our autumn seasonal, Scythe & Sickle was just released. It’s a 6.4 percent ABV amber ale with barley, wheat, oats, and rye. It’s available in four-packs and on draft.

Our winter seasonal, Adoration Ale, releases in the next week or two. It’s a dark, strong Belgian-style winter ale, 10 percent ABV, lots of spices, dark, and malty. It comes in four-packs and on draft, and it is a big, bold sipping beer.

I know you all are expanding. How much does Ommegang brew in a year?
This year we will brew about 55,000 barrels. Next year we plan on 65-70,000. A barrel is 31 gallons.

Why put your beers in the warm cellar? What effect does that have on the beer?
All of our bottled Belgian-style ales are re-fermented in the bottle, also known as bottle-conditioning. The beer is dosed with a small shot of yeast and sugar before it’s closed up. The yeast eats that sugar in the bottle and carbonates the beer naturally. It may have a tiny effect on bumping alcohol, but not a lot. It’s about getting the high carbonation that makes big Belgian beers so drinkable, regardless of the beer style. Beers dosed with Brettanomyces yeast re-ferment more slowly than our house yeast. The cellar is kept warm to allow the yeast to do its work. At colder temperatures it may slow down or even stop.

What are the newest brews coming out of Ommegang?
We just released Wild at Heart, a 9 percent all-wild yeast golden ale available only in 750ml bottles. It’s a limited edition beer that we make in small quantities. We also recently released Take the Black Stout, a 7 percent stout brewed in collaboration with HBO’s Game of Thrones. It is available in 750ml and on draft. It’s a big stout; it’s dark and roasty with touches of anise and licorice spicing.

Get a taste of Brewery Ommegang beers at this weekend’s Brooklyn Pour event!