Monday, November 15, 2021

Gowanus Brooklyn Brewpub Crawl

Every year for the last 10 or so, Carla and I would say "Let's go to New York City this year".  Somehow we never did, until recent events taught us that you shouldn't keep putting these things off.  So we spent about 9 days in Brooklyn in October.  It was only my second visit to New York, and the first was only for 36 hours in Manhattan about 30 years ago, so this was long overdue.
We had a great time.  The vacation was not primarily a beer mission:  we skipped many of the important Brooklyn beer stops; we only found a couple of worthwhile beer options in Manhattan; we didn't set foot in Queens or the Bronx, which have some interesting-looking breweries.
Even though beer wasn't the main focus, we did find a short and sweet Brooklyn pub crawl in the Gowanus neighborhood.  All four pubs are open 7 days a week, which isn't true of a pub crawl in, say, Red Hook (as of October 2021 anyway).  You can start the pub crawl at either end, but I put Threes Brewing first because it arguably has the best food options.  It's also easier to leave at the Strong Rope end.  The Union Street subway station is right there, as well as a couple of Citi Bike racks which are usually full of bikes you could leave on, but devoid of empty slots to park a bike in if you try to start at that end.

Threes Brewing is a comfortable and convivial pub with lots of distinct spaces.  The main bar is cozy but has a surprising amount of seating, and there is more seating in a front vestibule near the food window.  We didn't go upstairs because there was a private event, but there is also a sweet looking back patio.
The draft selection was diverse, with a number of lagers, a lovely dark mild called Little Did We Know, and an interesting barrel-aged tart table beer.  Don't worry, they also had on the requisite half-dozen IPAs.  If I had taken care to re-read Jeff Alworth's 2019 Brooklyn trip report I would have known to order the Vliet pilsner.  Next time.
The food is handled by a pop-up called The Meat Hook, which serves burgers and other pub fare.  There are a fair number of vegetarian options, despite the name.  Threes does a good job canning their wares, and there is a large selection available to go.  I also found their beers to be among the most affordable and widely available local beers in area grocery stores, so keep that option in mind.
A couple blocks south of Threes is Wild East Brewing.  It's a much smaller operation, but has the same ethos of brewing a wide variety of styles instead of dozens of IPAs.  The picture shows the DDH anniversary IPA that Carla required, as well as an outstanding mixed-culture saison, and of course I couldn't not order the 3% dark mild. All of them were well-made and tasty.
The interior is a roomy, high-ceilinged warehouse, which gave it a much more open feel than most places in such a high-rent city.  Like most places, it also had a nice chunk of outside seating along the curb.  It was a really comfortable place to hang out, and I had a hard time elbowing Carla out the door for the next stops.  I regret not taking more photos there; check their website for a better look.  There were lots of outlets for recharging cell phones, and I think I remember some people bringing their dogs right in.

They don't serve food, but of course you can bring your own.  They have a limited selection of beer to go, mostly fancy expensive things in bottles.

The next stop on our pub crawl was Finback,   Like Wild East, it is an open, warehousey space, but I think the space is a work in progress.  Some of the walls were still exposed particle board when we were there, and the lighting and seating were not altogether comfortable.  Don't hold those things against it, because I suspect it will improve over time.  The staff was very friendly and engaging.  There was some outdoor seating also. 

Finback was the most IPA-centric pub on this crawl, with 13 IPAs of varying strength and hop variety on tap.  They get creative with the hops -- Belma or Lotus anyone? -- and we really enjoyed the flavors in the couple of IPAs we tried there.  But the star for us that day was a beer called Another World -- a very unique witbier barrel-aged on yuzu and spices.  As you might expect for something going into a barrel, it was a little stronger than your usual wit at 6.5%, but all the flavors blended well, and it was a great change of pace.

One of the IPAs also had yuzu in it, and that also worked well.  They might have chosen yuzu to go with the gyoza and other Japanese snacks on the small plates menu.

I suspect Strong Rope might be my most frequent hangout if I lived in the area.  It has a slightly ramshackle, disorganized feel to the place, perfect for hanging out and chatting.  The house style tends towards English pub ales, though they throw in a few saisons and I even had a smoked beer called Timber Phantoms -- too smoky for my taste actually, and that is something you'll rarely hear me say.  The Pale Ale I chased it with was much more drinkable.  They're not fools, of course there is also an IPA available.

Strong Rope's angle is that they brew only with New York-grown malt and hops.  The lighter character of the local hops is one reason the beer styles skew Brittanic.  It's a cool idea to use only local ingredients, and if the logical conclusion is lighter, easier-drinking beers, I'm all for it.  There isn't a cask beer on full time, but they do celebrate Cask Fridays with a firkin on the counter.  No kitchen, bring your own food. 

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Portland Beer Week Fresh Hop Seminar 2021

I've spent a lot of time over the years obsessing about fresh hop beers, in fact fresh hops are the subject of the first post on the blog.  So I was not going to miss this year's "Fresh Hop Seminar & Tasting" held at Zoiglhaus this past Saturday as part of this year's Portland Beer Week.

Participants listened to tales of fresh-hop glory and misadventures told by Zoiglhaus's Alan Taylor, Von Ebert's Sam Pecoraro, and Ex Novo's Ryan Buxton.  We got tastes of a Tettnanger-hopped k├Âlsch and an oktoberfest from Zoiglhaus, a Sterling-hopped pilsner from Von Ebert, and a Simcoe-hopped variant of Ex Novo's Eliot IPA.  In recent years Fresh Hop Eliot has been one of the standouts of the season.  This Simcoe one was the best fresh hop beer of the afternoon, and noticeably better than the Centennial-hopped Eliot I tried at Ex Novo a few days ago.

As a bonus/punishment, we also got to taste some unfermented fresh-hop wort that will be one of the next Zoiglhaus fresh hop offerings (an IPA if I remember correctly).  Now, how the heck did fresh hops get into someone's wort?  In the jargon being thrown about at the seminar, that is a "warm side" application of fresh hops, and I thought that everyone decided a long time ago that you get more out of your fresh hops on the "cold side".

That may indeed be true, but Alan has good reasons for choosing the warm side.  At the most basic level, he is working with German-style hops like Tettnanger which are not grown in as great quantities in Oregon as big IPA hops like all the C hops or Simcoe or Strata.  If you want fresh Citra hops, your supplier might tell you, "we're harvesting all next week, what day are you coming?".  But if you want fresh Tettnanger, the farmer might call you at 10 AM and say "we looked at them this morning and it was time to bring them in, how soon can you get here?".  Hence he is not able to have fermented beer ready for dry hopping, and it works better to throw the fresh hops into the wort.

That hop potion was intense -- most of us just had a quick sip, but at least one intrepid fellow at the seminar finished his entire two-ounce pour.  Alan explained that most of the bitterness would go away after fermentation, after some byproduct of the yeast attached itself to the alpha acids and dropped to the bottom of the tank (there was a technical term for this that I forgot to write down).

Check out the fifty-pound bag of fresh hops in the picture above.  Unforunately we weren't given the chance to roll around on it as though it was a big human catnip toy.  But Ryan had a good story about checking four such bags onto a Southwestern Airlines flight in order to brew a fresh hop beer at the Albuquerque Ex Novo.  Much cheaper than traditional shipping, and despite the size, they meet the weight limit for checked bags!

This seminar format is a refreshing change of pace for a beer event.  A few years ago I had a great time at the Sour Blending Symposium (part of Portland Beer Week 2012).  I was sad not to be able to make it to this year's Cask Beer Seminar.  But I definitely recommend checking out any beer week seminars in the future.