NYC Brewing Industry: A Resurgence of Choice

by Alex Kalaf
Shannon Sturgis, Emily Jacobs and Dan Catinella
April 2013

As New Yorkers, variety and diversity are in our blood. And this is nowhere more apparent than a recent crop of brewers who are leading a resurgence in New York City beer making. With little more than inventiveness and a pioneering spirit, this group is overcoming the odds to fill a liquid void, supplying fresh beer to neighborhood bars and top restaurants that pride themselves on sourcing locally.

Upstart Challenges

Opening a brewery may seem glamorous from afar, but challenges abound. The State Liquor Authority application process has grown easier with an online application, but it still takes one to two years to launch a brewery from concept to kegs—not to mention years spent on home brewing and recipe tinkering. Brewers need to acquire a space before making serious progress on the application process, which is not easy in New York City given the astronomical price point and space needed to brew on a large scale. And many brewers get stuck paying rent without the ability to generate revenue as their license applications crawl through the approval process.

Brewer Garrett Oliver of Brooklyn Brewery and Sorachi Ace

Brewer Garrett Oliver of Brooklyn Brewery and Sorachi Ace

Bronx Pale Ale and Bronx Black Pale Ale

Bronx Pale Ale and Bronx Black Pale Ale

SingleCut Beersmith's 19-33 Queens Lagrrr

SingleCut Beersmith's 19-33 Queens Lagrrr

Peter Hepp of Birreria at Eataly

Peter Hepp of Birreria at Eataly

Barley from Rockaway Brewing Company

Barley from Rockaway Brewing Company

Brooklyn Brewery Sorachi Ace

Brooklyn Brewery Sorachi Ace

In the last few months the StarChefs.com team interviewed and tasted with eight local brewers—all brave enough to submit themselves and their livelihoods to the City’s bureaucracy. And though the scale of their operations varies, thanks to these intrepid craftsmen, you can now enjoy incredible local beers all over town—drinking at a neighborhood dive bar, sitting on your stoop in the summer, or eating a 12-course tasting menu. The scene we encountered isn’t defined by new and exciting innovations. Instead, it’s marking the lively rebirth of a brewing scene that has been dormant for a century.

Historic Dominance

Just before the turn of the 18th century, there were more than 100 breweries along the East River alone. And by the second half of the 19th century, brewery production was so great that New York State emerged as the largest hops producer in the United States. Breweries like Lion, Hell Gate, Schaefer, and Rheingold dominated the market. However, the combination of the temperance movement, Prohibition, and anti-German sentiment following World War I effectively killed the industry by 1940, leaving hard-working New Yorkers clinging to Midwestern-produced light lagers. As a result, New Yorkers—along with the rest of the country—eventually lost their taste for other, more distinct styles of beer.

Brewing Resurgence

In an effort to reclaim New York City’s brewing history, Steve Hindy and Tim Porter opened the Brooklyn Brewery in 1987. After contract brewing in Utica for a few years, the pair hired Brewmaster Garrett Oliver in 1994 and in 1996 acquired their current home in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.  Brooklyn Brewery’s influence on the local and national market can’t be overstated. It’s grown to be one of the top 20 craft breweries in the United States, having sold 140,000 barrels in 2011. They’ve also been one of the leading forces behind chef-brewer collaborations, and they recently hired an in-house chef and are installing a kitchen in Williamsburg. Their presence will soon expand globally with the opening of a brewery in Stockholm, Sweden.

Other local breweries have made their mark, including Manhattan’s Heartland Brewery and Chelsea Brewing Company—and more recently Sixpoint Brewery and Captain Lawrence. But the true resurgence of New York City brewing has taken off in the last two years with a boom of openings, including Birreria at Eataly, Rockaway Brewing Company, SingleCut Beersmiths, Bronx Brewery, Big Alice Brewing, Bridge and Tunnel Brewery, and 508 Restaurant and Bar.

At these up-and-coming breweries, we saw a serious range of styles, including cask-aged Italian ales and the revival of classic Bavarian lagers and wood cask-aged beers. Regardless of the style and brewing methods, every brewer we met is focused on getting his beer out to local bars and restaurants—whether that means making 15 gallon batches in a garage and hoofing product to buyers or brewing 100,000 barrels a year and distributing across the country. Big operations, nano breweries, blondes, bitter ales, session beers, saisons: New York brewers run the gamut and quench the city’s never ending thirst for flavorful and complex craft beer—and choice.

Editor’s Beer Picks

508 Restaurant and Bar

Brewer Chris Cuzme

The Szezchuan Paradise Saison had great bright and mineral notes with a berry flavor and subtle numbing characteristic from Szechuan peppercorns.

Birreria at Eataly

Brewer Peter Hepp

The tart and complex Calabrona Ale is based on an ancient Etruscan recipe flavored with pomegranate molasses and a specific yeast strain cultured from the belly of an Italian hornet.

Rockaway Brewing Company

Brewers Ethan Long and Marcus Burnett

Their rich and malty High Plains Drifter Scotch Ale is extremely malt forward but light and drinkable with a slightly tart finish.

Big Alice Brewing

Brewers Kyle Hurst and Robby Crafton

Big Alice focuses on incorporating unusual ingredients in their beers, like the use of Buddah’s hand in their No.2 Batch Belgian IPA—a beer with big bready Belgian notes and a bright and intense citrus nose.

Bridge and Tunnel Brewery

Brewer Rich Castagna

Dark, full flavored ales rule here, and the Ol’ Gilmartin Milk and Oatmeal Stout proves that there is more to beer than just hops.

SingleCut Beersmiths

Brewer Rich Buceta

Spicy, full bodied, and refreshingly dry, the 19-33 Queens Lagrrr takes influences from classic German and Czech Pilsners. While it is a recognizable beer it has a personality all its own.

Bronx Brewery

Brewers Damian Brown and Chris Gallant

Their dark and roasty Bronx Black Pale Ale is a great balance of sharp citrus and tropical hop notes with a coffee and dark chocolate finish. It’s complex, but you can have more than one.

Brooklyn Brewery

Brewer Garrett Oliver

Sorachi Ace has bright, refreshing carbonation and lemony hop notes from a Japanese variety grown on a single farm in the Pacific Northwest. This heavily carbonated and citrus saison complements a huge range of dishes—from Thai cuisine to a simple roast chicken.