The New York City craft beer scene has exploded in recent years, but with a grand total of five breweries/brewpubs within city limits, we’re still a bit behind on the production front when compared to other U.S. cities like Philadelphia, Portland, Denver, and Austin, where it seems a new brewery opens every other week. (Fortunately, NYC fares better with craft beer bars.) But I have new hope for the future of New York beers after attending Brooklyn Wort, a biannual home-brew competition that packed 30 local brewers into the Gowanus Studio Space yesterday.
Scott and I were there primarily to support friends and event sponsors Valley Malt, a small Massachusetts-based start-up changing brewing in the Northeast for the better with its artisanal malt made from locally grown grains. We’re huge supporters of American craft beer as well, of course, but having found the beer in more than a few one-off brewpubs around the country just so-so, we had admittedly lowered expectations for a room full of home-brewed beer. Apologies, New York brewers: We seriously underestimated you.
Among the complexly flavored offerings on hand were a terrific golden hibiscus ale (from brewer Christopher Lehault), a Belgian strong chocolate ale (Carlos Varas), an American barley wine (Simon Tepas), a few good American IPAs. Most unexpected, perhaps, was Andrew Maiorana’s black pepper brown ale, which tasted pleasingly like what it sounds like. Many of the brewers were from Brooklyn—especially from Park Slope, which makes sense given its glorious trifecta of Brooklyn Homebrew, Bierkraft, and Beer Table, among other great area bars—but I also met some promising Staten Island brewers, a guy from my own borough of Queens, a brewer working to open a new microbrewery near the Jersey Shore.
As I made the rounds with tulip glass in hand, I couldn’t help but wonder which of these home-brewing guys/gals might be the next distributing brewery to join Eat Your World’s NYC roundup. But while some of the brewers I spoke to had professional aspirations—here’s hoping for a future Squirrel Tail brewpub in Brooklyn—others simply do it out of passion and fun. Nearly all of them lamented the difficulty of going pro in New York, citing astronomical costs and lack of space, which would certainly help explain New York’s slower brewery growth compared to smaller, cheaper cities.
They may not have the space or funds just yet, but maybe, just maybe, one of these talented home brewers will find a way to break into our city’s brewing scene and give Garrett Oliver a run for his money (might we suggest a “Queens Brewery”?). In the meantime, a Saturday spent tasting fresh handcrafted beer is never a bad thing. And when it’s really good beer? Now that’s a great Saturday.