Usually, the end of February in the beer world means ushering in the early dose of lower alcohol and session beers so abundant in spring and summer. But thankfully, very few of those were on tap during the week of sudsy debauchery that was the recently departed NYC Beer Week 2014. It was freezing cold during most of the week, so delicious stouts, Belgians and Imperial IPAs prevailed.
While NYC Beer week definitely celebrates brewers in New York State, it really showcases some of the best breweries in the Northeast. Traditionally, New York and New Jersey don’t get much love compared to the massive hype over the West Coast, Midwest or even New England, but I’m glad to say I discovered some excellent brews you may not have heard of. In no particular order, here are my six favorites:
1. Carton Brewing Company: Regular Coffee
I try to contain my emotions when tasting beer, but I totally lost it when I tried this literal brew from New Jersey’s Carton Brewing. Regular Coffee is supposed to taste like iced coffee with milk and two sugars, when the ice melts just a little on a hot day. And holy java, they nailed it. Zero trace of the 12% ABV (yikes!) and so much coffee flavor from Mexican Chiapas and Ethiopian Sidamo Coffee. This is hands-down one of the best coffee beers out there and perhaps the best execution of a concept beer I’ve ever had.
2. Sixpoint Brewery: Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Otis Oatmeal Stout
I was blown away by this bourbon barrel-aged imperial version of their Otis oatmeal stout — on nitro no less. That may be a mouthful of a description, but this special version of the Brooklyn-based Sixpoint’s classic stout offering was incredible. It developed so much sweetness with tons of vanilla from the barrel and was smooth as could be from the nitro pour. I can only fantasize about this incredible beer showing up in one of Sixpoint’s signature silver cans, but as long as they brew more on draft, I’ll be fine.
3. Brewery Ommegang: All-Malt Rye IPA
The first thing that comes to mind when you think of Brewery Ommegang is Belgian-style beers, and for good reason — they make some of the best examples in the U.S. today. While some seasonal offerings like Fleur De Houblon certainly showcase hops with their delicious Belgian yeast, this one, brewed especially for Brewers Choice, was remarkable. The huge hop flavor and the spiciness of the rye truly complemented their signature yeast. An example of simplicity at its finest.
4. Brooklyn Brewery: Jong Kriek
Sour beer at Brooklyn Brewery was somewhat of a legend until recently. If you were lucky and you caught him in a good mood, Brooklyn Brewmaster Garrett Oliver might just whip out a special “ghost bottle” of something funky or sour. One of those ghosts is Jong Kriek, a dark abbey ale barrel-aged with cherries for five months…then re-fermented with champagne yeast! If you find their latest release, Wild Streak, to be lacking in tartness, Jong Kriek has you covered with huge, bright sour cherry flavors.
5. Wandering Star Brewing Company: Rum Aged Bert’s Disqualified Imperial Stout
Perhaps the biggest surprise of NYC Beer Week 2013 was trying the base beer from this Massachusetts based brewery for the first time. It's a huge 10.4% imperial stout with a ton of chocolate flavor, roasty malt and substantial hop bite. Could this get better? Yes, age it in a rum barrel! The process smooths the beer out considerably, highlighting the dark fruits and rum flavor and making for a delicious treat with welcome diversity to a lineup heavily focused on lower-ABV cask ales.
6. Rushing Duck: War Elephant Double IPA
We can’t get Rushing Duck often in the city because the brewery is located in Chester, NY (about an hour and a half outside Manhattan), but anytime War Elephant shows up it’s an event. This is a contender for the best double IPA in New York State, with lots of pine, grapefruit and tropical fruit. While the hops certainly steal the show, there’s enough bready malt to balance things out without being too abrasive, leaving very little trace of the 8.7% ABV.
More Weekend Drinking Assignment on Food Republic: