Brews of the five boroughs: a tour of New York's craft beer scene
The beer-making renaissance that kicked off in New York in the 1990s continues unabated, and today the city offers a staggering choice for both hard-to-please beer snobs and the uninitiated. From the Bronx to the southern reaches of Brooklyn, you're never far from an innovative draft. Learn the lay of the land with this beer-by-borough tour of tap rooms, tastings and small-batch tipples.
Brooklyn – where it all began
Way back in 1996 Brooklyn Brewery began making high-quality craft brews in a former matzo factory in Williamsburg. Its phenomenal success (today Brooklyn Brewery exports to 20 countries) helped revitalize a long lost craft, sparking a beer revolution that continues today. For a close-up look at history in the making, take a brewery tour. Tours on weekdays include tastings of four beers; reserve a spot online. On weekends, tours are free (just show up) but don't include tastings. Or you can skip the tour altogether and just while away a weekend afternoon in the tasting room (also open Friday nights).
Known for its IPAs, Other Half Brewing Company (otherhalfbrewing.com), which opened in Carroll Gardens in 2014, hosts tastings in its small, rustically decorated tap room. For a serious kick, try the hoppy All Green Everything, which has a 10.5% alcohol content. The flights ($5 for four pours) are a great way to sample the works. Other excellent Brooklyn craft brewers include Sixpoint (sixpoint.com) in Red Hook and Kelso (kelsobeer.com) in Greenpoint (unfortunately, neither offer brewery tours or tastings at the moment).
When you need a bit more variety, visit one of Brooklyn's sudsy hot spots. Head to Williamsburg and Greenpoint for the borough's best beer bars, where you can drink your way around the globe. Spuyten Duyvil has a wide following for its exquisite Belgian brews. The tap and hand-pulled cask selection changes frequently (check the blackboard for the day's offerings), plus there's over 100 often-rare bottled beers to choose from. A few blocks west, Radegast Hall & Biergarten is a buzzing beer hall with over two dozen mostly German and Belgian drafts, and live music (usually jazz) daily.
In Greenpoint, Spritzenhaus has long communal tables and outdoor seating where you can take in the view of McCarren Park while sampling one of 25 brews on tap. The focus here is on German beers and American craft makers (such as the Fire Island Sea Salt, brewed with, you guessed it, sea salt from Long Island).
South Brooklynites are no less spoiled for choice when it comes to beer pursuits. A few blocks from the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) in South Brooklyn, Die Stammkneipe (dsk-brooklyn.com) takes its beer seriously (don't be put off by the fierce-sounding Teutonic name, which simply means 'the local pub'). Knowledgeable staff pours plenty of German drafts, and draws in a varied crowd. If you've got kids in tow, stop in for afternoon Babies + Beer (2:30–5pm Tue & Thu), when the under-six gang enjoys the play space, while their caregivers soak up a Paulaner or two. Further south, Greenwood Park is a great warm-weather spot, with two dozen beer choices and a sprawling patio with sizzling grills and bocce courts.
Queens – cutting-edge brewing scene
Is Queens the new Brooklyn? If the explosion of craft brewers in the last few years is any indication, the answer is a resounding 'quite possibly'. Brewmasters, with ambitions both large and small, have shaken up New York's biggest borough, and if you're after the latest in the brewing scene, Queens is not to be missed.
Since its opening in 2012, Single Cut Beersmiths (singlecutbeer.com) has become the pride and joy of beer-loving Astorians. Join garrulous weekend crowds at the tap room, where you can drink unusual brews like the Kim, a tart lager infused with hibiscus, or Single Cut's flagship 1933 Queens Lagrrr!, named after both their address (at 19–33 27th St) and the year prohibition ended.
Ever pushing the envelope, Finback Brewery (finbackbrewery.com) creates wildly imaginative but beautifully executed brews like the Plumb & Proper, a dark beer that's brewed with plums, or the Coasted Toconut, a milk stout with a hint of toasted coconut. The buzzing tap room (open Thu–Sun) has some of the best deals in town, and a glass will set you back just $2.
Born near the roaring surf, the Rockaway Brewing Company (rockawaybrewco.com) started as a be achside bungalow before moving to Long Island City. You can stop in their Growler Room on Thursdays to Sundays to sample some of their fine quaffs: recent favorites include the dark malty richness of a Black Gold Stout, or the High Planes Drifter, an ale that's barrel-aged in oak bourbon casks.
Those up for a bit of adventure, should take a stroll down by the Pulaski Bridge in search of Transmitter Brewing (transmitterbrewing.com), a small-batch brewer that whips up delicious Belgian-style farmhouse ales. Come by for weekend tastings, when the friendly owners are often on hand to tell you all about the unusual output of this 'nanobrewery'. Another Long Island City original, Big Alice Brewing's (bigalicebrewing.com) output is small (about a third of a barrel per batch) but impressive. Open to the public on Fridays, this is the brewery where you'll find one-of-a-kind beers like Triple Peppercorn Rye, Smoked Wheat Ale with Rhubarb and Pomegranate French Stout.
Staten Island – emerging scene in a forgotten borough
The much-maligned and little visited borough of Staten Island is an emerging destination for equally adventurous beer connoisseurs. Newly opened in 2014, the Flagship Brewing Company (theflagshipbrewery.com) lives up its motto of 'unforgettable beer brewed in the forgotten borough'. Indeed the three brews — an American-style pale ale, a Belgian-style American Wit, and the dark mild — are top-notch. The tasting room opens Thursdays to Sundays, and draws a friendly, mostly local crowd with live music on weekends. To get there, take the Staten Island ferry from Lower Manhattan; it's about a 10-minute walk (or one stop on the SI railroad) from the ferry terminal to the brewery.
Manhattan – quality beer dens and specialist shops
Not one to let Brooklyn and Queens hog the spotlight, Manhattan has a plethora of beer-centric locales. Beer nerds unite in the tiny lamplit drinking dens of the East Village. Immigrant consists of two side-by-side bars that specialize in wine and beer respectively. Go left to enter the Tap Room, where you can sample unusual craft beers from around the globe amid an old-timey setting of antique chandeliers and exposed brick. The selection changes constantly (a new beer enters the menu every time a keg runs out in fact). Proletariat draws the cognoscenti of NYC's beer world, who pack this tiny, ten-stool bar just west of Tompkins Square Park. Promising 'rare, new and unusual beers', Proletariat delivers the goods with a changing line-up of brews you won't find elsewhere. Recent hits have included drafts from artisan brewers like Hitachino Nest of Japan, Swiss-based BFM and Mahr's Bräu in Germany. ABC Beer Co may look like a dimly lit beer shop (indeed bottles are available for purchase), but venture deeper inside and you'll find a small, buzzing gastropub in back, with craft beer (350 by the bottle and 12 constantly rotating selections on draft) that draws in a young, indie rock-loving crowd.
Other parts of Manhattan have their own frothy stars. Blind Tiger Ale House (blindtigeralehouse.com) is the best place in Greenwich Village for a microbrew with a surprising list of 30 drafts, plus a rotating selection of cask ales and small-batch selections listed on the chalkboard. If you're near the major tourist sites, you'll probably stumble across Heartland Brewery, which has four NYC branches, including one in the Empire State Building and another on Times Square. It has six classic brews available year-round and seasonal selections like the Smiling Pumpkin Ale, available in autumn.
Once a desert for quality brew lovers, the Upper East Side has seen the arrival of some atmospheric bars that warrant the trip uptown. The Pony Bar (theponybar.com) focuses exclusively on craft beer brewed in the USA, while the unfortunately named City Swiggers (cityswiggers.com) is a glittering shop whose shelves are lined with over 800 different beers. There's also a tasting room in back, where you can sample one of 14 selections on tap chosen from an ever-changing menu.
The Bronx – a brewing heritage remembered
Once home to over half-a-dozen breweries, the Bronx saw its beer industry collapse (as it did elsewhere) during Prohibition. While notes of a resurgence are premature, the borough does have one celebrated new spot to explore the world of microbrews. The Gun Hill Brewing Company (gunhillbrewing.com), which began operations in March 2014, is the first new brewery to open since Rheingold Beer closed up shop in the 1960s. The focus is on German-style ales, full-bodied stouts and seasonal offerings like the Frosted Hop strong ale, made with home-grown hops picked in the Catskills. Unlike other breweries in town, the tasting room at Gunhill is open every day. The downside: it's way up in an industrial section of the Bronx, and getting here will require time and effort (it's about an hour-long journey by subway and foot from Midtown).