Here’s Why Big Brew NY Beer Festival Is Worth a Weekend Commute

Hopping a weekend train north to White Plains is a tough sell to many New Yorkers. But for beer enthusiasts, it’s a short journey worth considering this Saturday afternoon. One of Westchester’s largest craft beer festivals is coming to the County Center (198 Central Avenue, White Plains; 914-995-4050) in the form of the Big Brew NY Beer Festival. Tapping upwards of 250 brews from 5 until 8:30 p.m., the event features a heavy focus on the suds of the Tri-State.

General-admission tickets, priced at $70, can be upgraded to VIP for $25 more, adding an extra hour of tasting, along with admittance to an all-cask lounge. If you appreciate or are even aware of a difference between keg and cask, it’s certainly not a bad deal. (Less so for folks just enjoying whatever is poured into their take-home “souvenir” glasses.)

Either way, it’s hard to go wrong at a craft beer festival, particularly one of this magnitude. With limitless tastings, there’s never any shame in pouring out some inferior offerings. And that presents a perfect forum in which to explore expressions not easily available, like the Bourbon County Barleywine from Goose Island, or the Hop’deded Double IPA from Brooklyn’s own Other Half Brewing. Doubtful that anyone would dare waste a drop from those guys.

Connoisseurs will also appreciate limited-release one-offs like Brooklyn Brewery’s Quadraceratops, a 10 percent Belgian-style Quad brewed with dark candi sugar, and the Unorthodox Russian Imperial Stout from Two Roads Brewing. Not to be forgotten, the increasingly popular cider-loving crowd will be catered to with a number of apple-based beverages — the dry varieties of Long Island’s Wolffer Estate are noteworthy among them.

A limited selection of food will be provided by Handsome Devil BBQ and The Cow and the Curd, who promise a variety of Wisconsin-based cheeses. VIPs get to enjoy beer-infused dishes from Tuckahoe-based Broken Bow Brewery. Slim pickings, it would seem, but certainly the type of fare that fits into an evening of prolonged beer guzzling.

In addition to the great NYC breweries on tap at Big Brew, the location’s proximity to Metro-North makes it an ideal weekend excursion. The White Plains stop on the Harlem Line is an easy, well-lit two minute walk from the steps of the County Center. Round trip from Grand Central will set you back $17. Given the steep price of a pint these days, you could drink that off within your first ten minutes at the festival, depending on how thirsty you are. So if you’re looking for a reasonable escape from the city this weekend, and you love craft beer, file Big Brew Fest at the top of your to-do list.


A New Beer for a New Year

A new year is upon us, which means it’s time to make promises we’ll never keep. Many folks commit to a healthier lifestyle in a desperate attempt to erase those pesky extra pounds, stubborn remnants of holiday decadence. But for most, all those good intentions have fallen by the wayside some time before Groundhog Day. Because who wants to give up the caloric-yet-comforting food and drink that makes us happy? A far easier resolution to uphold would involve adding awesomeness into your life rather than denying yourself it. That’s why I typically start the year by promising myself to drink better beer than the year before. I haven’t failed yet. And I wish you similar success. So to start 2015, let’s pour a pint of something to honor our lofty goals for the months ahead: Mosaic Promise from Founder’s Brewing.

Named for the fruity hops varietal dominating the beer’s flavor profile, Mosaic Promise was a one-off IPA produced in mid 2014. Bottles still remain, albeit in limited quantity, and have aged surprisingly well, maintaining a piney fresh tingle to support the light, sessionable frame. Most beer with a hops-induced bitterness will see that characteristic diminish rapidly, as the alpha acids responsible for a rusty tin taste have a penchant for speedy disintegration. But this beer holds up in the new year.

And so, too, shall your resolution.

If you vowed to be healthier, or drink better, in the months ahead, Mosaic Promise proves those two aims don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Most craft connoisseurs describe the attributes of Mosaic to be a medley of ripened mango, tropical fruit, and mood-heightening herbal notes. That all sounds mighty friendly to the mind and body. And let us never forget that hops are a vegetable — the cornerstone of any nutritious diet. So, by all means, have your beer and drink it, too.

Although Founder’s brews its beer amid the unforgiving tundra of middle Michigan, it enjoys terrific distribution throughout New York and is widely available at bars and bodegas across town. If you’re vowing to consume craftier suds in the ensuing months, keep an eye out for the brewery’s impressive assortment of flagship pale ales, porters, and stouts. All of them — along with some super-rare standouts — will be on tap at Barcade in Williamsburg during a special Founder’s tap takeover on January 15.

In the months ahead, the new gym membership might prove to have been money misspent. But a six-pack of Mosaic Promise is guaranteed to satisfy.


A Santa-Worthy Stout to Savor the Season

Milk and cookies are for kids. This holiday season, leave St. Nick an adult beverage to make him truly jolly. You think he maintains that corpulent physique with kale smoothies? Of course not. The big man sports a wicked beer belly, and he needs a suitable brew to get him through the busiest work night of his year. Santa, sip on a stout to guide your sleigh tonight.

Although it sounds naughty, Evil Twin Brewing ferments a bevy of craft flavors that would surely rank high on Santa’s list of beloved libations. But of all those offerings, what could possibly be more appropriate than their Christmas Eve at a New York City Hotel Room? This Imperial Stout isn’t just a mouthful in name, it’s also impossibly heavy on the tongue — somewhere between espresso and motor oil.

As we know too well, our city is one of the world’s most popular holiday tourist destinations, so we ought to dedicate this transiently themed offering to every economic-boosting visitor of the Big Apple, Santa included.

Appropriately, both the beer and the man who created it were onetime tourists who decided to stick around. Famed gypsy brewmaster Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø, now a proud Brooklynite, brought his midnight-black stout in from nearby Stratford, Connecticut. The robust notes you’d expect from such a style? It’s got them in spades. This thing drinks like a dessert and is ideal to take the edge off after a long day of holiday travel. So whether you’re flying in via reindeer or jet plane, at least you know there’s a bottle of beer waiting here, just for you. It sure beats milk.

Serve Santa sparingly. A single 12-ounce bottle clocks in at 10 percent alcohol. It’s difficult to pilot a sled on much more than that. Look for it at high-end beer shops throughout the five boroughs or enjoy it with a Michelin-starred meal at Luksus in Greenpoint. Season’s greetings!


A Dark Ale for Dark Times

Reading the news in America today is a troubling exercise. Civilians are being maimed with reckless abandon in a police state which threatens to become increasingly militant. The government is in hopeless gridlock. Maybe Congress will shut it down again — at tremendous expense to taxpayers — or perhaps it’ll disinvite the President from making his annual State of the Union Address. Either way, it remains firmly committed to doing absolutely nothing for its constituents.

In the face of constant malaise, we can’t simply resign ourselves to being gloomy sourpusses. This is the U.S.A. We need to use perpetual optimism to wrest proactive relief from the jaws of utter dismay.

In other words: drink more beer.

I propose a toast to the hardworking men and women of craft brewing. These noble saints enable our last refuge of hope and cheer, washing away the mope and fear. Dark times can only be relieved by a sensationally dark libation. And Carton Brewing’s newly released Epitome is properly titled for the task. It’s our Beer of the Week.

As Northern Jersey’s most noteworthy craft purveyor, Carton continues to turn heads with a series of bold, innovative offerings. You want a beer made with butternut squash ravioli? They got that. How about a liquid engineered to taste like the innards of a Philly Blunt? Yes! Carton is here making the world safe for flavors you’ve always craved yet were always afraid to admit to liking.

Jersey’s never been afraid to bend the rules. Sure, Superfund sites parked alongside major interstates seems suspect, yet it’s never stopped the fine folks of the Garden State. And when it comes to the beers, the brewery is certainly not going to let restrictive style guidelines dictate how it should brew its grog.

With Epitome, Carton created a beer that looks and feels like an Imperial Stout; heavy and malty with an ink black facade. But this genre-bender has the backbone of an American-born IPA. The Boss would be proud. As you drink this 10.5 percent hopped black ale, your senses are thrown into a chaotic disarray, much like when you gaze at current headlines. Ultimately, though, you are left with the calming sensation that only a high alcohol beverage can provide. Everything’s going to be alright, you’ll think, so long as I can get my hands on the next one.

Considering the collective record of the Giants and Jets, it’s fairly uncontroversial to call Epitome the best thing to come out of Jersey all year. And in canned pints, it won’t actually leave the state — you’ll have to head across the river to score those. But you can find it on draft at Astoria Beer and Cheese, Blind Tiger in Manhattan, or at Tørst, for the Brooklynites. Just don’t expect it to last long. Dark times are ahead.



I’ll Drink to That: Governor Cuomo Signs Craft Beverage Law

Governor Cuomo proved himself a hero of hooch yesterday by signing into law several measures designed to make it easier for craft start-ups to get off the ground. Anyone who supports the so-called “little guy,” be it a wine, beer, or spirit producer, or really just any small business in general, ought to raise a glass to toast this game-changing legislation. But before landing on the perfect pint to lift, let’s look more closely at what Albany just set in motion.

In the words of the governor himself:

“New York produces some of the best wine, beer, spirits, and cider in the world — an industry which not only creates jobs but supports farmers and brings in tourism dollars across every corner of the state. This new law builds upon this administration’s ongoing efforts to promote this industry by cutting red tape, reducing burdensome regulations, and removing artificial barriers that stifled growth. New York is truly open for business, and I thank my partners in the legislature for their hard work in making this a success for all of our craft beverage businesses.”

Sounds good to me. Good for business, good for booze, good for beer. No problems finding bipartisanship there. Especially when the law allows producers to conduct tastings and serve “by the bottle” and “by the glass.” Additionally, farm distilleries may increase the number of retail outlets where they can sell and offer samples of their products.

Awesome start, especially considering the changes go into effect in just 30 days. But Cuomo went several steps further, launching the Craft Beverage Grant Program, which promises $2 million to market the industry and $1 million more in tourism promotion. Dude seriously wants to develop the scene. Some might be so bold as to call him a true American patriot. If that’s the case, he deserves a local craft selection honoring our region’s revolutionary roots. I cannot tell a lie, Bronx-brewed Gun Hill fits the bill.

Less than a year old, Gun Hill has already won gold at the Great American Beer Festival with its Void of Light Foreign Stout. Hold a flashlight up to a pint of this sucker, watch the beam get swallowed by its pitch-black body, and you’ll know it ain’t some clever name. This beer is unapologetically dark. But its medium body belies its color, offering a versatility in its roasted essence, allowing it to pair as well with Dutch chocolate cake as it would, say, a smoked salmon.

The 8.2 percent offering is yet to be bottled, but it’s currently on tap at many of the city’s craft meccas: Pony Bar’s East and West, Ginger Man, and Jimmy’s No. 43 in Manhattan; Barcade, Brouwerij Lane, and Spuyten Duyvil in Brooklyn. Even Queens can’t resist the dark side, with both Oliver’s and Astoria Beer and Cheese pouring the city’s hottest new stout.

After applying his John Hancock to yesterday’s bill, Governor Cuomo ought to head straight to the brewery’s colonially inspired taproom — within firing distance of one of the Revolutionary War’s most pivotal battles. It was at Gun Hill Road where the Rebels fought off the British, seizing control of the primary thoroughfare into Lower Manhattan. The little guy took on the establishment and emerged victorious. That’s something the folks at Gun Hill Brewing can relate to. And thanks to the Craft Beverage Law, they’ll be armed with more ammunition to make it happen.

Gun Hill Brewing Company is the only microbrewery in NYC open seven days a week. Offering pints, flights, and growler fills out of six selections on tap, they can be reached via a 10-minute walk from their namesake stop on either the 2 or 5 lines. Surely the folks there will be happy to float you a pint, Governor Cuomo — if only for a little while. So I’d hop on that train before it leaves the station, sir.



Why You Should Attend NYC Craft Beer Festival This Halloween

A very hoppy Halloween is headed our way as the NYC Craft Beer Festival returns to the Lexington Armory in Midtown, beginning on the night of Friday, October 31. A $55 ticket gains you access to all the hops, malt, and yeast you can handle for 2.5 hours. And to celebrate the holiday in appropriate fashion, a costume contest will award cash prizes to the most garishly garbed participants in the crowd. The event continues into the weekend, with two more sessions offered on Saturday: from 2 to 4:30 p.m. and once again from 7 to 9:30 p.m.

On tap is a comprehensive assortment of microbrews from across the globe, some 150 in all. A special focus is placed on local offerings, so you can expect to see the usual suspects, such as Brooklyn Brewery, Sixpoint, and Captain Lawrence. But the fest also brings craft lovers face to face with some of the new kids on the block. Discovery and experimentation play a large part in the frivolity. Ever try the Field 2 Farmhouse Ale from Manhattan’s own Third Rail Beer? How about the Catskill Hop Harvest Ale from award-winning Gun Hill Brewing? Both small-batch offerings are on tap this weekend and worth seeking out.

The local concentration doesn’t come at the expense of faraway favorites, however, as the tap list is studded with a trove of beers from beyond the five boroughs. Standouts from Bay Area-based Almanac, Southern California’s sour-centric The Bruery, and Michigan’s favorite son, Bell’s, are but a few of the heavyweights certain to electrify the connoisseurs in attendance.

In addition to the countless pours, NYC Craft Beer Festival offers educational seminars for folks seeking to learn more about the suds filling their souvenir glasses. Prominent author Ben Keene, for example, hosts a class on the Northeastern craft renaissance, while certified cicerone James Tai offers insight into how to critically judge a style of beer. Prepare to extend those pinkies.

Tickets are still available on the fest’s website, along with a complete list of participating breweries. You can elevate yourself to VIP status for an additional $20, which includes an extra hour of tastings prior to the general-admission session — a total of 3.5 hours of beer-drinking. Trick or treat, indeed.



Japanese Brewery Revolutionizes Chocolate Stout — With a Chocolate Glass

Rogue Ales makes one, and so do Brooklyn Brewery and Harpoon. In fact, it’s hard to find a fashion-forward beer factory that hasn’t made its own version of chocolate stout recently. Some ramp up the excitement by making double chocolate stouts and black chocolate stouts. But what is it? Chocolate stout is the darkest, most alcoholic form of the dark beer called porter. It often tops out at 8% ABV, and the dark color results from malt or barely roasted an extra long time.

But almost as an afterthought in a sort of brewer’s joke, some chocolate stouts – such as Rogue’s version – also put chocolate in the chocolate stout, which is discernible as an additional slight flavor. Well, why not?

But now, reports our favorite Japanese foodie website, RocketNews24, Japanese brewer Sankt Gallen has released its own extra-dark chocolate stout, with the color derived from a double dose of extra dark toasted malt, resulting in an extremely bitter flavor as those who’ve tried it have noted.

No matter, the brewery based in Kanagawa, Japan began selling a 330 ml bottle of the stuff accompanied by a chocolate chalice. Whether you actually want to pour the beer in there, or simple nibble around the edges as you sip the beer to neutralize the bitterness, is entirely up to you.

Sankt Gallen’s Imperial Chocolate Stout, released February 1 for Valentine’s Day, has no actual chocolate in the recipe.

[via Incredible Things]



Dogfish Head Chicory Stout: A Morning Beer?

Style: American Stout

Serving style: Bottle poured into glass

Location: My apartment with a cat on my lap

Cost: $15 six-pack

ABV: 5.2%

Appearance: There’s a surprisingly lack of head, but the brew itself is blacker than black. This is a stout made with coffee, a concept that should explain itself. But in case it doesn’t: Imagine taking a fat black Sharpie and writing on a piece of black construction paper. Or maybe if you went swimming in a pool designed by Marilyn Manson.

Aroma: The scent wasn’t much of anything, really. Sure, it’s bit sweet and chocolaty, but not potent at all. Call me crazy, but when the label advertises that it’s brewed with coffee beans and chicory, that signals the “interesting smells” flag in my brain. As a coffee and beer enthusiast, I’m bummed the Chicory Stout didn’t offer more of those two worlds colliding.

Taste: The taste, however, did not disappoint in the coffee realm. In fact, it didn’t really taste much like anything other than coffee. There’s no balance with the rest of the beer, and the coffee intensity is almost too much. It’s a shame, because the overwhelming flavor ruins what could be a very unique boozy blend.

Mouthfeel: I love it when a stout is creamy and silky, and this Dogfish kills it in that department.

Overall Experience: The Chicory Stout is one of the first Dogfish Head “weird” brews. It’s been their winter seasonal since opening in 1995, and it has a pretty good reputation among beerheads. But despite the fact that I have many friends who swear by it, this stout just didn’t do it for me. It’s not bad, per se–there’s just no variety in flavor. It’s like a disappointing cold cup of coffee. But hey, let’s not be all negative: You could probably get away with drinking this beer for breakfast.


Left Hand Milk Stout: Silky, Tasty, and A Lot Like Coffee

Have beers you want me to try? Sound off in the comments!

Left Hand Milk Stout from Longmont, Colorado

Serving style: Draft

Location: Iona

Cost: Free (because my roommate bought it for me, suckers)

ABV: 6.0 %

Appearance: Deep, brown, and beautiful, the Milk Stout looks a bit like melted chocolate. There’s a slight tan haze throughout, appearing a bit lighter than a Guinness (which seems to be the standard measuring beer when it comes to stouts). The head is brilliant, too, at about two inches deep. It actually took the bartender about five minutes to pour the beer completely. Totally badass, no?

Aroma: It smells like chocolate, also, with hints of cream and sweetness. But I did expect the scent to be a lot more potent, especially considering how thick it looked and felt.

Taste: Usually, I’m not the biggest fan of stouts. I don’t exactly know why, because they always seem like a good idea, but the Milk Stout broke me from my (admittedly stupid) assumption that I won’t like a stout. The flavor is so strong, much more than the aroma lets on, filling my mouth with everything from chocolate to barley to milk. The coffee addict in me loved this brew, too, as its hints of dark roast emerge in full form towards the end of the drink.

Mouthfeel: Oh, buddy. This brew requires a bit of chewing, and I’m not really exaggerating. It’s thick, but smooth. The mouthfeel is one of my favorite things about it, with low carbonation allowing it to be silky and velvety. No doubt, George Costanza would love the Milk Stout.

Overall Experience: Great, great beer. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been drinking a lot of summer ales and IPAs lately, but damn, this hit the spot. In a way, I felt a bit like I was drinking an iced coffee. The bar served it a little cooler than room temperature, but once it warmed up, the flavors really came out, creating a nice blend of coffee and chocolate. Ultimately, the Milk Stout is the perfect dessert beer. Or, you know, it could just replace your meal.