Chatting with restaurateur Bill Reichenbach and bartender Joe Vicidomini at David Copperfield’s House of Beer runs the gamut. They can talk with passion about dozens, if not hundreds, of different yeasts. Breweries are not just places to get beer; breweries are families and institutions tied individual brewmasters known by name and personality.
What makes a good beer? Reichenbach, who also co-owns the Hop Devil Grill and Belgian Room and moderates the New York Beer Meetup Group, names two simple factors: taste and balance. “You should always trust your senses. You don’t need an expert to tell you if you like it or not.”
Vicidomini is more critical: “I judge beer based on what it says its going to be. You can have perfectly acceptable beer, but they might call it a stout but it tastes like a wheat.” In other words, the brew had best live up to its own expectations.
Besides the big-name commercial beers every distributor delivers, several superior and locally-made beers can be found across the city. Here’s a checklist of who’s-who and what’s-what to keep track of what you like on tap.
Blue Point Brewing Co.
161 River Avenue
Patchogue, NY 11772
Brewing Since: November 1998
Beers: Toasted Lager, Pale Ale, Summer Ale, Winter Ale, Hoptical Illusion (IPA).
Reichenbach’s Take: “Great session beers, very drinkable. Their Toasted Lager is very, very good.”
656 Century Hwy.
Cooperstown, NY 13326
Brewing Since: November 1997
Beers: Hennepin Farmhouse Saison, Ommegang Abbey Ale, Ommegang Witte Ale, Rare Vos Amber Ale, Three Philosophers Quadrupel, various seasonals.
Reichenbach’s Take: Burgundian Heavy Ale is complex and “ultimately delicicious… not what you expect when you drink a beer.” Of special note too is their Chocolate Indulgence Belgian chocolate stout, brewed to honor of the company’s 10th anniversary in 2007 and prone to guest reappearances from time to time.
118 N. 11th St.
Brooklyn, NY 11211
Brewing Since: 1987
Beers: Brown Ale, East India Pale Ale, Lager, Pennant Ale ’55, Pilsner, Weisse, more seasonals.
Reichenbach’s Take: “Their brewer, Garrett Oliver, is like a rock star.” Their Brooklyn Buzz Bomb gets high mention.
Other Notes: Follow Garrett Oliver’s blog at brooklynbrewery.com/blog/.
99 Castleton St.
Pleasantville, NY (moving to Elmsford, NY)Brewing Since: 2005
Beers: Pale Ale, Liquid Gold, Smoked Porter, Captain’s Reserve – Imperial IPA, Sun Block – Belgian Style Wit, Brown Bird Brown Ale
Reichenbach’s Take: “Great guys. They’re not a big brewery yet. (Owner Scott Vaccaro) is warm. They make a great IPA.”
After operating out of Pleasantville, NY, for five years, Captain Lawrence is moving to a new location just minutes away in Elmsford due to a need for more space.
Chelsea Brewing Company
Pier 59, Chelsea Piers
New York, NY 10011
Brewing Since: April 1996
Beers: Checker Cab Blonde Ale, Sunset Red Ale, other seasonals and regionals.
Reichenbach’s Take: Chelsea Brewing has the distinction for being a survivor — the last brewery still operating on uber-expensive Manhattan real estate.
Other notes: When in the neighborhood, stop by for a taste at their taproom above the marina along the Hudson River.
Greenpoint Beer Works / Kelso and Heartland Brewery
529 Waverly Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11238
Brewing Since: March 2003
Greenpoint/Kelso Beers: Kelso Nut Brown Lager, Pilsner, St. Gowanus, Carrollgaarden Wit, India Pale Ale, Flemish Red Ale, Recessionator, Blue Hill Project, more seasonals.
Heartland Beers: Indian River Light, Cornhusker Lager, Harvest Wheat Beer, Indiana Pale Ale, Red Rooster Ale, Farmer Jon’s Oatmeal Stout, Bavarian Black Lager, Grateful Red Lager, Mother’s Milk Maibock, Old Red Nose Ale, Smiling Pumpkin Ale, Stumpkin, Summertime Apricot Ale, Full Moon Barley Wine, Not Tonight Honey Porter, Empire Premium Beer
Reichenbach’s Take: Brewmaster Kelly Taylor, the man behind both brands, is “hard working, hard charging,” and his Farmer John’s Stout is good, decent product.
Other Notes: Heartland Brewery has seven locations in various landmarks around the city, including a corner of the Empire State Building.
F.X. Matt / Saranac
811 Edward St.
Utica, NY 13502
Brewing Since: 1888
Beers: Pale Ale, Adirondack Lager, Black Forest, Black & Tan, India Pale Ale, Brown Ale, Imperial Stout, Imperial IPA, Lake Placid Ubu Ale, Lake Placid IPA, Lake Placid 46’er Pale Ale, more seasonals.
Reichenbach’s Take: Their huge facility has stood for generations, surviving up and downs to become one of the oldest brewery facilities in the country.
High Point Brewing Company (aka Ramstein Beers)
22 Park Place
Brewing Since: 1994
Beers: Ramstein Blonde, Classic, Northern Hills Amber Lager, Golden Lager, more seasonals and specials.
Reichenbach’s Take: “They make very good wheat beers, they’re spot on.”
Ithaca Beer Company
606 Elmira Road
Ithaca, NY 14850
Brewing Since: 1998
Beers: Apricot Wheat, CascaZilla, Flower Power India Pale Ale, Nut Brown, Pale Ale, various seasonals and specials.
Vicidomini’s Take: “They are a great brewery, probably the best in New York City.” Their Flower Power unfiltered IPA and Blueberry Sour Power get a big shout out. (They have a hippie theme going there.)
Reichenbach’s Take: “Great guys, great beer.”
Middle Ages Brewing
120 Wilkinson St.
Brewing Since: 1995
Beers: Apricot Ale, Beast Bitter, Black Heart Stout, Double Wench, Dragonslayer, Druid Fluid, Grail Ale, Highlander Scotch Ale, ImPaled Ale, Kilt Tilter, Old Marcus, Raspberry Ale, Swallow Wit, Syracuse Pale Ale, Tenth Anniversary Ale, The Duke of Winship, Tripel Crown, Wailing Wench, Winter Wheat, Wizard’s Winter.
Reichenbach’s Take: Favorites include the Wailing Wench and ImPaled Ale, in part due to the their names.
Other notes: Dinosaur BBQ carries a house brew made especially for the iconic barbeque rib joint.
Otter Creek and Wolaver’s
793 Exchange Street
Brewing Since: 1991 (Otter Creek), 1998 (Wolaver’s)
Otter Creek Beers: Copper Ale, Pale Ale, Stovepipe Porter, Vermont Lager, Solstice Session Ale, Russian Imperial Stout, Imperial IPA, Quercus Vitis Humulus, various seasonals.
Wolaver’s Beers: Pale Ale, India Pale Ale, Brown Ale, Oatmeal Stout, seasonals.
Reichenbach’s Take: “Session” (as in Solstice Session Ale) means drinkable, versus some beer that are so intense, they can be called “pallette wreckers.” Also, since these brewers feature an organic line of brew, he makes sure to highlight them in his bars for Earth Day.
Sixpoint Craft Ales
40 Van Dyke St.
Brewing Since: 2004
Beers: Apollo Pale Wheat Ale, Bengali Tiger American IPA
Vicidomini’s Take: “They’re epic in Brooklyn, a native son that everyone loves.”
40 Bowden Square
* Brewing Since: 1996
* Beers: Double White, Altbier, India Pale Ale, seasonals.
* Reichenbach’s Take: “Phil Markowski: Great brewmaster, award-winning.”
Victory Brewing Co.
420 Acorn Lane
Downingtown, PA 19335
Brewing Since: 1996
Beers: HopDevil, Prima Pils, Golden Monkey, Storm King Stout, Hop Wallop, Victory Lager, Donnybrook Stout, V-12, Helios Ale, Festbier, WildDevil, seasonals.
Reichenbach’s Take: Both his bar on Saint Marks Place and Victory’s signature beer (no relation) take their name from a creature of legendary Belgian folklore, a sort of gremlin who might spoil a batch of beer should you displease him in or near your home. Many Belgian beers tend to have diabolic names and themes.
Other Notes: Follow Victory’s beer blog at http://www.victorybeerblog.com/.
Weyerbacher Brewing Co.
905 Line St.
Easton, PA 18042
Brewing Since: 1995
Beers: Double Simcoe IPA, Hops Infusion, Blithering Idiot, Old Heathen, Merry Monks, seasonals.
Vicidomini’s Take: “A great brewery, tiny. They make a lot of strong, full-flavored beer,” some lots of barley wine and oak-aged beers, strong in both flavor and alcoholic content (so-called “big beers”).
Looking for more?
Lucky for you, Big Apple beer lovers love to blog about beer…
- The New York Beer Meetup Group: Join more than a 1,000 members posting their tastes and getting together now and then to prove who’s right.
- New York City Beer Guide: Clay Irving’s authoritative snapshot of what’s on tap in the city.
- MurphGuide Beer Bars: Tracks how many beers are on tap and available in bottles at various NYC bars.
- Beer Menus: One of the best online resources for tracking exactly who has beer specials on any given night.
- New York Craft Beer Week: Highlights events from the end of September into October.
- Brewtopiafest.com: A celebration of beer during Labor Day weekend.
- The Gotham Imbiber: Billing itself as “New York City’s grassroots beer resource,” includes a map of beer hotspots.
- New York Pubcrawls Meetup: Pick a starting location and follow along as the group walks from venue to venue sampling the available wares.
- The New York City Beer Pong Meetup: Out of the dorm, into the city; find your shot at some low-brow competition at its best.