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After years of working as a bartender and a marketing guy for Anheuser-Busch, Ted Kenny decided to test out his beer chops by opening up a store of his own on the Lower East Side, Top Hops Beer Shop (94 Orchard Street, 212-254-4677), where you can grab a pint to stay or a growler to take home. Of course, we had to ask him for a St. Patrick’s Day beer pick — he likes O’Hara’s, an Irish microbrewery known for its stouts and red ales — but we were more interested in some long-term beer advice. He gave us some great tips for switching over to growlers, and how to pair beer with spicy chocolate.
Where is most of the beer at Top Hops from?
We definitely have a concentration of local beers, especially on the draft lines. Draft lines hold fresh beer, so we try to keep them local. We have five lines that are dedicated to local breweries and we picked each one from a different region: Tröegs from Pennsylvania, River Horse from New Jersey, Kelso from Brooklyn, Captain Lawrence from Westchester, and Greenport Harbor Brewing from Long Island. Those breweries are always on draft, and we rotate through their portfolios.
What about the bottles?
We have 700 different bottles of beer. I am personally very fond of Belgian beer, so we have 93 or 94 Belgians right now — that selection’s getting pretty big. And we’ve got a lot from Germany. We’ve also got some beers from Sri Lanka, India, Australia, Tasmania, Colombia, Peru, and Brazil. And then we have all the locals — all the beers from Brooklyn, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, Pennsylvania, Ohio. There’s a 50-50 split between domestic craft and import.
You hold a lot of tastings and events at the bar. What’s the most interesting one you’ve done so far?
The Mast Brothers chocolate and beer pairing was a lot of fun. One of the Mast Brothers guys came down and brought in four different kinds of chocolate and we paired them up with four beers from different breweries. We paired a Serrano pepper chocolate, a truffle-oil chocolate, a smoked vanilla chocolate, and a maple walnut one.
What was the best pairing?
A lot of time you’re going to pair chocolate with either coffee stouts or milk stouts because there are a lot of chocolate and coffee notes in those beers. But when we paired the Serrano pepper chocolate, we did it with Clown Shoes’ Tramp Stamp, which is a hoppy Belgian IPA. The Serrano pepper has a little bit of heat and needed a beer that was hoppy and could stand up to it so that the beer wouldn’t get overpowered completely.
What advice would you give a first-time growler user?
Growlers are a great way of getting fresh beer. The growlers usually come in two sizes — 32 ounces and 64 ounces. If you’re hanging out on your own, a 32-ounce growler works; if you want to go to a dinner party, go for 64 ounces. If you don’t open a growler, the beer will last for a week or two, depending on the growler’s seal — that’s from just a regular tap fill. But people usually finish growlers in the first two days after they buy them anyway.
Are there specific beers that keep well in growlers?
Most beers take to growlers well. But they are not good for nitrogenated beers like a Guinness or a Boddingtons. Those beers cascade in the glass and that doesn’t work so well in a growler.
Is there an upcoming beer that you’re particularly excited about?
On March 22, Left Hand Brewing is coming out with a nitrogenated bottle called Milk Stout Nitro, which uses a new technology. It’s unlike other nitro bottles that have what they call widgets, little plastic balls that contain the nitrogen, which is released when you open the bottle. Somehow, Left Hand came up with a bottle that doesn’t have the widget, but the beer is still nitrogenated. I’m dying to see this works because I just don’t get how you can force nitrogen into beer without the widget and have it work. March 22 is the launch in New York, and we’re going to have a launch party here between 5 and 8 p.m. at the store. This is brand-new technology, pretty interesting stuff.