Beer has come a long way in New York City. Once considered a craft brewing backwater, the city is now teeming with hundreds of specialty beer bars, dozens of bottle shops, and almost twenty of our very own breweries. It’s also home to a thriving homebrewing scene, with numerous clubs, societies, and organizations.
Along with the rapid growth come numerous ways to become versed in craft beer’s newly established territory, from bar and brewery tours to homebrew and tasting classes. Some classes teach the fundamentals of how to brew beer for your own consumption at home, while others offer tips for those aiming to join the craft beer craze as semi-professional homebrewers.
Several of the city’s former homebrewers have now gone professional, including Rich Buceta of SingleCut, Eric Feldman and Marshall Thompson of Braven, and Basil Lee and Kevin Stafford of Finback. But they all started by making beer at home — something you can learn yourself at one of dozens of homebrew classes offered throughout the city.
At Bitter & Esters (bitterandesters.com) in Prospect Heights, everyone from the absolute novice to the most experienced homebrewer will find something to take in. “A majority of our classes are geared towards beginners,” says owner John LaPolla, “but we also teach some very advanced homebrewing topics.”
Brewshop 101, a three-hour elementary workshop course and the shop’s most popular class, covers the basics of what beer is and how to make it. More esoteric courses cover topics like culturing and propagating yeast strains, brewing with whole-cone hops, and scaling up to larger brew systems. The shop also offers group classes for companies and organizations.
“We brewed a brown ale together, as a group, for our staff holiday party,” says Maggie Sidun, a server at the NoMad restaurant. “We got to touch, feel, and taste the ingredients throughout the entire brewing process. John couldn’t have been a better instructor.”
Similar courses are taught at DUMBO’s Brooklyn Brew Shop (brooklynbrewshop.com), where co-owners and professional homebrewers Erica Shea and Stephen Valand demonstrate the ins and outs of making beer at home with introductory-level classes and kits that focus on seasonally inspired brews, like their Chocolate Maple Porter, Chestnut Brown Ale, and Jalapeno Saison. South Slope’s Brooklyn Homebrew (brooklyn-homebrew.com) also offers introductory classes as well as more advanced classes on brewing sour beers at home.
The city’s most intimate beer tour, meanwhile, takes place in the living rooms and studio apartments of some of the city’s finest homebrewers. Hosted by beer writer Josh Bernstein, these Homebrew Tours will let you learn from homebrewers themselves how they make beer within the confines of their diminutive New York City apartments, and taste their suds right from the source.
“Most of the tour takes place in the kitchen of the homebrewer, where people tend to gather and drink anyway,” says Bernstein. “It puts everyone in a social mood. They get to mingle with the crowd and talk to the brewer.”
Bernstein says his tours are geared more toward people who like to drink beer than toward those who are looking to gain some homebrew tips. “I ask the brewers to not talk too much about the brewing process, to just let everyone enjoy themselves and have a few drinks.” Tours are offered throughout the year, and always sell out quickly: Check joshuambernstein.com for more information.
If you’re more interested in drinking beer than making it, you can also check out the classes at Top Hops (tophops.com), a craft beer bar and bottle shop on the Lower East Side. Certified Cicerone (the beer equivalent of the Master of Wine certification) Brendan Woodcock teaches intermediate and advanced-level courses like “The Various Shades of IPAs,” “Under the Radar But World Class Beers,” and blind and deductive tasting classes. The Institute of Culinary Education (recreational.ice.edu) in the Flatiron offers recreational beer courses like “The Beers of Allagash Brewing Company” (hosted and taught by Allagash founder Rob Tod himself) and “A Hops Primer,” an overview and educational tasting of hops’ unique flavors and bitterness.
Urban Oyster (urbanoyster.com) also offers Craft Beer Crawl, a Beer 101–style tasting and pairing course that takes place during a progressive bar crawl of four of the best beer spots in either the East Village or Williamsburg. You’ll learn about basic styles, how to evaluate and taste beer, and how to pair it with food, all while hanging out with some of the coolest bartenders and most knowledgeable beer experts in the city.
Finally, there’s plenty to learn about Brooklyn’s lengthy beer history: The borough’s ten functioning breweries may feel like a boom now, but that’s peanuts compared to pre-Prohibition times, when forty-eight breweries called Brooklyn home. By the 1970s all of them were either boarded up or abandoned, but you can still visit some of the old buildings and learn about the borough’s historic beers on Urban Oyster’s Brewed in Brooklyn tour. Start with a beer at the Brooklyn Brewery’s North 11th Street headquarters — smack in the middle of an area once known as Brewer’s Row — and end with a suds-soaked romp through the Well, a sprawling new craft beer bar and music venue inside the old Hittleman Brewery on Meserole Street.