Cover image: Belly’s Korean-flavor slider and Alesmith beer by Tokyoracer for WhereNYC
“This is our Flatiron Ale,” the rep from 212 Brewery from the Catskills said while pouring me a sudsy glass full. “It’s an APA made with water from Saratoga Springs, New York.” “What’s an APA?” I asked. APA, or American Pale Ale is hoppier than Indian Pale Ale. I shuddered with fear. American craft beers have a reputation of being notoriously too hoppy. Assuring me that he toned down the hops to make it more “approachable,” I took a sip. It was mellow but with a little hoppy kick at the end. Really delicious.
American craft beer has come a long way from the over-the-top-bitter hoppies. Once geared for a deranged craft-nerd palate, many have mellowed. The ultra-bitter-to-bring-you-to-tears artisanal brews such Dogfish Ale have given way to more balanced beers of Sixpoint and Brooklyn Brewery, who have come from the deep end to make inventive beer more accessible.
This year’s Summer Seasonal showcased a variety of brews balanced for the masses. That is not to say that these beers were in any way mediocre. Quite the opposite. Far from watered down, beers such as Catskill Brewery’s Darbee pale ale has an aromatic floral note, while its Foeder aged-beer had a slightly wooden sourness that would go well with light dishes.
According to brewer Luke Boyle, Catskill Brewery beers can work with a variety of cuisine, and like 212, is meant for many occasions. Similarly, Paradox Pilsner may sound complex with its name, but it is a nice bohemian-style pilsner that work at any barbecue.
Many of the local beers followed the summer citrusy love affair without going into overdrive. Personal favorites include the lemony Narragansett Beer’s Del’s Shandy, and Gun Hill’s Citra Sour Softserve drank like a gueuzey cider.
Natives of Queens, New York, know all too well the famous Boulevard of Death, but the less-dangerous Queens Boulevard Sessions IPA was both bitter and crisp, while leveled on the hoppiness.
Welcomed surprises also included Radiant Pig’s Gangster Duck Red, which drank really well, even with its ridiculous name.
There were some fun, non-beery brews. Tea cocktail mixer favorites Owl’s Brew has branched into beer with three selections involving fruity flavors. The Watermelon was a bit too sweet for my liking, but I enjoyed the sour, Blondie and That’s My Jam.
Not every craft beer followed a balanced, nuanced brewing philosophy. There were some misfires. Upland Brewery’s Iridescent barrel aged was like drinking a glass of concentrated bitter lemon extract. Full Contact by Kings County Brewers made with raspberries had impact but for the wrong reasons. Punishingly sour, it lacked balance.
In search of something a bit stronger, I wandered over to the spirits counter, which could have easily been its own event. Visitors fortunate to venture here discovered brandy from Kentucky, rum from Colorado, Irish gin, peaty whiskey from Cognac, France and Vodka from Sweden.
Copper & Kings from bourbon-country Kentucky, using bourbon casks, produce a signature naturally caramel brown brandy that had a delightful warming sensation with a delicate bourbon after note. Its 100-proof Cr&ftwerk distilled in stout barrels was surprisingly mellow with a lovely cherry, chocolaty flavor.
Not known for making gin, the Gunpowder Irish Gin was intense with a slightly smoky tea aroma that mixed beautifully with the thyme-infused green pepper juice cocktails next door. From the Cognac region of France, Bastille 1789 commemorated its own French-revolution with a smoky, peaty whiskey, which could give Lagavulin or Laphroaig serious competition. Scotch lovers at Summer Seasonal would still delight with samplings from Glenmorangie. While the Original was comforting and pleasant, the Nectar D’Or was a serious crowd-pleaser. Finally, the Quinta Ruban has a soft, dryness with an interesting contrast of carmel and a refreshing zing.
Perhaps not as famous as Stolychnaya or Greygoose, five-times distilled Vodka Råvo from Sweden was beautifully pure and would go well with a plate of oysters.
While Colorado is the last place you might think of finding some great rum, but the cola-like flavor of the Alsatian-style Amer Fleur de Joie and sustainable, spicy Montanya Oro gave a bit of tropical sunshine. Finally, the Mezcal Buen Bicho from Mexico, while starting gentle and smokey, finished with a fiery punch and literally blew smoke out of my nostrils.
While there were plenty of beers and spirits to enjoy, there were limited food options. Jerky Hut sold a variety of delicious, spicy beef jerky. Hanna’s Meatballs offered a sobering, hearty variety of home comforts.
The Wisco Fresh fried cheese curds for $8 was a bit steep, so I opted for the amazing $5 Belly Korean-inspired sliders with gochujang glazed bacon, which went perfectly with my glass of beer.
For more information on upcoming craft beer expos, visit NYC Craft Beer Festival.