The only acceptable use of the term ‘craft’ is in relation to ‘beer’. No hipster start-up dealing in chocolate bars, homebrew kits or potting dirt has any legitimate claim to the word, and though I’m open to arguments for craft spirits, for now let’s stick to beer. Every store front in Williamsburg boasts craft/artisanal/handmade everything including, of course, the Brooklyn Brewery. By definition, they are craft—independently owned, more malt than adjuncts, under 6 million barrels produced annually—but are they Metal? That’s exactly what I rode the L train to find out…
I want to believe in Brooklyn but approach most of their 12 oz bottles with the same suspicion I do Sam Adams. Now I know why; contract brewing. The bulk of their beer is made upstate by FX Matt and has been since 1988. In BB’s defense—the rent is probably too damn high for their facility in Billyburg to brew for 25 states and 17 countries, but instead of opening a second location in Stockholm (with Carlsberg), how about a site exclusive to their own beer in greater NYC? For the sake of US relations with Sweden, we’ll give co-founders Steve Hindy and Tom Potter a yellow card since most of the group visiting that day was notably Nordic. Seems like a fair trade for IKEA.
Our tour guide’s sleeve tattoos were a work in progress, as was the tour, and I’m still waiting for a straight answer on what they consider Vienna lager. Every sentence that began with “Brooklyn” ended with “cool”. Location, location, location. We sampled their flagship Brooklyn Lager as well as the silver anniversary edition, I Wanna Rye It (rye beer) and Scorcher #366, a session pale ale. The dominant flavor in all four was lager yeast and NYC’s municipal water supply. Brooklyn Brewery claims to strive for balance and a unique spin on traditional European recipes. The spin? Modern branding courtesy of Milton Glaser:
Why is it so difficult for the bulk of tri-state brewers to make a non-sessionable pale ale or IPA? Bronx Brewery does extra dry pale ale, with flavor that stops the moment it starts; Greenport Harbor and Carton Co. taste like my first attempt at homebrew. I’ve said before that a cocktail of prohibition and Carrie Bradshaw set urban brewing so far behind, but it never occurred to me institutions like Brooklyn might prefer living history over creating it. Their brewmaster, Garrett Oliver, is certainly among the most scholarly, and much of his taste is a tribute to nearly 50 breweries that operated in Brooklyn prior to 1920. It’s not Metal, because Metal didn’t even exist. Now that BB is the only brewery to occupy a newly resurrected Brewers Row, I’d say it’s time to put down the ukulele and pick-up a guitar.
Bottom line—I want my IPA. No hopped-up lagers, no skimping on malt. I ❤ NY but not its most branded brewery. So long as I don’t have to settle for any beers typically sold by the MTA, we’ll see where else it takes me.