Hoppiness and Hedonism at Brooklyn Pour

by Emily Bell
Jessica Dukes
October 2011

If you build it, they will come. If you pour it, they will drink. And if they drink it, everybody wins. Such was the “Field of Dreams” synergy of Saturday’s packed Brooklyn Pour, the inaugural Village Voice event that gathered 58 craft beer purveyors from around the country and hundreds of their thirsty, hopped up (we said it) fans.

One Skylight Hanson, formerly Williamsburgh Savings Bank

Okay, so the “build it” part was outsourced to the Williamsburgh Savings Bank, the skyscraping, Depression-era bank that became sleek event space, One Skylight Hanson. VIPs (aptly?) got that much closer to the bank’s gilded ceiling with an upstairs introductory beer tasting (Guinness’s dark and malty Black Lager and a crisp Harp Lager) guided by James Waller, all-around imbibing enthusiast and author of Drinkology Beer. Our appetites whetted, we were unleashed upon the tables (upon tables) of craft beer below, where representatives and volunteers worked the “pour it” side of the equation, bravely filling our miniature pilsner tasting glasses to the brim as hundreds of guests filed in.

Like most attendees, our goal was to taste as many beers as we could without (seriously) endangering our health. So we fortified ourselves with a strategically early trip to the food court downstairs, steeling our stomachs with Kobe Beef Sloppy Joes from Rye House, Pizza Margherita from Pizza 33, and all natural Elk and Boar Sliders from the meat savants at Bareburger.  From there it was on to the beers, which were packed into the basement and up in the Main Hall.

Local Artist's Bomb Lager Can-vas

Gathering hundreds of beer lovers for a tasting might sound like a frat party gone grandiose, but the craft crowd is of a decidedly more genteel persuasion. (This crew knew its ABVs, IBUs, hop varieties, and the virtues of floor-malted barley like the back of its hand. And for those who didn't, Brooklyn's Private Tap was on hand for on-site education.) Tables were set up along the perimeter—exactly where bank tellers of yore used to deliver bad news—leaving the central space unoccupied. This meant getting to your favorite beers, or discovering new ones, required some aggressive crowd maneuvering.  

But the squeeze was well worth it, or so we realized as we dove into the “drink it” part of the bargain. From Bomb Lager’s “anti-Coors” session beer to the unapologetic hop-splosion of Lagunitas’ Hop Stoopid, every brewery had something different to offer.  We can’t go into the nuances of all the 19 (20? 21?) beers we tasted (we promise, we have notes, we remember all of it). Almost all of them were delicious, well worth a little polite nudging, but a few stood out from the crowd. (Being a part of “the crowd” in craft beer is a good thing: even the average craft beer is bound to be much better than its mass-produced, bikini-marketed step-cousin.)

The aforementioned Bomb Lager was one of our first, poured by a crew that looked more like a skater club than a brewery team. But like Brooklyn Pour itself, Bleecker-street-based Bomb is all about synergy—in this case, the synergy that happens when local artists are linked up with life’s forgotten canvas: the beer can. Packed inside a black can splashed with vivid color, a Bavarian Helles-style lager made with all German ingredients (except for the yeast) drank easy at 5.1% ABV.  The Bomb Lager didn’t show as much complexity as, say, the incredibly floral and hoppy Goose Island IPA next door. But every beer has its virtue.

With that in mind, and paying little to no attention to the concept of “progression,” we went to the Brooklyn Brewery table, where reps explained how the dark,  fruity Companion (a 9.1% ABV celebration of The Oxford Companion to Beer) wasn’t actually a beer, but a wheat wine made with 55% malted wheat.  Doubling back to Goose Island (we told you we had no plan), we sampled their Harvest Ale—one of many seasonal ales on tap—a spicy, woodsy, medium-bodied antidote to the gratuitously brisk day.

Revelers Demonstrate the Proper Way to Hold a Tiny Pilsner Glass

There was more autumn worship farther down the line, where Portland, Maine-based Shipyard poured its Pumpkinhead, one of Brooklyn Pour’s many pumpkin beers. A divisive category, pumpkin beers can range from unapologetically pumpkin-rich to very apologetic, “where’s the pumpkin?” styles. Shipyard’s version was distinct for what can only be described as intense, but not heavy or sweet, pumpkin-y-ness (we’re working on that one). Notes of nutmeg made it taste like a light-bodied, savory, liquid ode to our favorite Thanksgiving dessert.

Of course, in terms of the dessert-in-a-pilsner-glass category, nothing could beat Keegan Ales Mother’s Milk.  The Kingston, New York-based brewery wasn’t deluded when it named this milk stout, a seemingly alchemical cross between the essence of chocolate milk, Italian espresso soda, and a medium-bodied, beautifully crafted stout.  

Cali-based Lagunitas brought their aforementioned Hop Stoopid (“sure to blast through just about anything still lingering from the night before”), their classic IPA (a composition in hops and malts), and their Lil Sumpin’ Sumpin’, subtly meaty, wheaty, and malty with a good finale dose of hops. And just down the line, Sixpoint served a variety of its canned goods to some seriously enthusiastic, characteristically savvy beer groupies. (As per self-appointed PR team John and Jeff, “You’re not gonna find a better beer than Sixpoint!”) Among their offerings were Righteous Rye, Sweet Action, a seasonal Autumnation Fall Harvest Ale, and our favorite, the Bengali Tiger IPA, with nuanced notes of orange and pine.

The Village Voice Imprint at Brooklyn Pour

Downstairs—and behind a massive bank vault door—were breweries like Delaware’s Dogfish Head, pouring its hybrid Indian Brown Ale and seasonal step-brother Punkin Ale; Crispin, serving its cloudy, maple-kissed, unfiltered cider; and Pennsylvania’s Troegs Brewing Company, who poured a Hopback Amber Ale practically gushing with amber honey. We didn’t taste as much downstairs, in part because we were distracted by food, in part because we may have been slightly, er, overenthusiastic upstairs.  But, on the way out, we did grab a sip of our favorite Brasserie Dupont Saison for good measure.

Hops and malts digested, tiny Brooklyn Pour pilsner glasses tucked away, we’re already ready for next year.  And another Elk Slider.