NPR recently had a piece by Joel Rose about the booming booze business in New York, focusing partially on one of my favorite distillers, Tuthilltown Spirits. Their rye (as experienced in Manhattan form) has gotten me through the darker portions of several recent winters. The gist of the piece is the birth of craft distillation after the industry's wrongful execution by the dullard proponents of the Volstead Act. The second coming of legal hooch in America, post-Prohibition, had a tremendous amount to do with first generation immigrants, especially Germans, who brought old-world recipes to a thirsty nation. The foundations they laid have paired beautifully with the American penchant for ignoring inconvenient rules, and the two together have produced our current boom in craft distillation and craft beer, which has begun (somewhat ironically) to echo in Europe.
Let's take a look at some of the excellent brews, New Yorker, German, or otherwise, with which we may satiate our parched palettes this summer.
Garrett Oliver of Brooklyn Brewery has won a LOT of awards for his various beers, but he hasn't pulled up the reins and coasted on any of this success. You can count on there always being something new and slightly devious bubbling away in the lab of this chef/scientist. One of the newest in the Brooklyn brewmaster's reserve series is Scorcher #366. This summery pale ale's name comes from the fact the hop used to give it flavor and aroma doesn't even have a name yet. "HBC #366" is a cross-breed of Warrior and a wild hop variety first created by Jason Perrault of Perrault Farms in Washington state. The variety was just a curiosity until first used in beer as an experiment, and now the entire stock of 366 takes up just 1.2 acres in the Yakima Valley.
Oliver started with the pale ale and Crystal malts which give Scorcher #366 a golden straw color in the glass, and a distinct, dry grain aroma. This malt bill gives the beer a very nice, light, biscuit-y flavor, underlain by a few IBUs worth of Willamette hops, and a refreshing - but mild - citrus zest from the 366s. Scorcher is a great one to drink this summer, no matter what the temp outside and, with its clean flavor, light weight, and gentle 4.6% ABV, it won't punish you for doing so. It's available on tap only, and Brooklyn suggests pairing it with seafood, but I thought it went great with my ancho burger.
Elsewhere in New York, we have Captain Lawrence Brewing Co., who have worked with local food market chain DeCicco's to produce the small volume Birra DeCicco series in bottles and on tap, starting with a gone but not forgotten Belgian-inspired malt beverage which included chestnut honey and jam. I recently had Captain Lawrence Birra Decicco Limone Luppol on cask at The Ginger Man Norwalk, although I'm not sure if it was a new batch, or had been cellared from the 2012 vintage. It was definitely a live beer, so signs point to its having been cask conditioned from last year.
Hand-drawn from the cask, this one poured a cloudy orange with a funky, pervasively sweet aroma and grilled lemon notes. There was a deeply strange interplay between the sweet smoothness of the wheat mash and the sour lemon zest of the citrusy hops. The whole thing ends up with a tiny dryness, partially from the yeast left in for conditioning. I'm curious as to what this one tasted like when it was fresh, but the cellared product is positively medieval. It seems like it would be served in wooden bowls on summer nights by people wearing goat masks. It may be difficult to find, but if you want to hallucinate about pagan midsummer rites, this is the drink for you.
Significantly easier to find as of just this week is New England Brewing's Weiss Trash Culture. The art on NEB's labels is quickly becoming a hallmark of the brand, thanks to Craig Gilbert, and Weiss Trash's design is a fantastic mashup of Bavaria and Tornado Alley. The beer itself is a berlinerweisse style, and pours a very pale straw color in the glass with huge bubbles and a thin head. Take a sip of this one and it does an immediate burnout on your tongue - biting acidity is followed by smooth citrus and, with a scant 6 IBUs, no bitterness at all. This is a super light-drinking beer, and it's meant to be at just 3.4%. It may be shandy-like, but this is all beer, baby. It makes me think it would be a very good accompaniment to pasta salad, but maybe I'm just yearning to drink one with lunch on a patio somewhere.
Connecticut importer B. United has recently begin to sell a different berlinerweisse from Gosebrauerei Bayrischer Bahnhof, in Leipzig, Germany - the brewer of the original Leipziger gose. BU imported two versions of this beer - one with potatoes in the mash bill(!), and the one I had, which incorporates oats with the wheat and barley. The Bayrischer Bahnhof berlinerweisse pours a very light golden color under a thick, white head. There is an incredibly sharp nose to this beer, with lots of lemon and a slightly wild funk. Berlinerweisse beers are deliberately infected with lactobacillus or simply have lactic acid added to them in order to produce their characteristic tartness.
Call this one Cramden, because POW! on the first sip, as an initial prickly citrus flavor becomes an absolute fist of sour power. I mean, damn: this one will leave you with crybaby face and I like it. On a hot, humid day, the sweetness that comes with wheat beers can feel like a small child clinging to your leg, but a tart berlinerweisse shakes that right off. Plus, with a paltry 3% alcohol, you can claim to be rehydrating with a straight face. Have you seen these heat advisories? Thegovernment is telling me to drink this, honey - it's for all of our safety.
I'm saying this one is great to pair with meals, too, as the acidity will cut through the flavor of most anything and possibly steel.
I'm reminded of Frank Zappa's line that to be a country you need an airline and a beer, but definitely at least a beer. Old-world knowledge helped create this country, local innovation is what made it great, but beer makes everything better. Cheers.