There was a time, not so long ago, when compiling a list of the city’s best beers was a breezy task, merely a matter of cataloging the limited amount of good grog the five boroughs had to offer. Things have changed. Drastically. As of 2015, the Tri-State area is brimming with micro-breweries, dozens of which released ales and lagers worthy of inclusion here. If you are currently drawing breath within the five boroughs, congratulations: There’s never been a better time to be a craft beer fanatic than right now.
Listed below are the top ten reasons — a selection of releases from throughout the year demonstrating how the scene continues its ceaseless climb. Ever upward, New York.
10. Flagship Brewing – Metropolitan Lager (5.6% ABV)
As a fairly uncontroversial style, lager often fails to captivate the attention of “loud” beer lovers. That’s a shame, as a brewer’s steady hand is never so apparent as in a gentle, nuanced offering. Staten Island showed the craft crowd how it’s done with its Metropolitan Lager: a smooth-bodied refresher with a beautiful balance between Old World malt and hops. No single ingredient takes center stage, yet each provides a pivotal supporting role in every sip.
9.Threes Brewing – Superfucking Yawn (9.5% ABV)
There’s IPA, and then there’s IPA! Entering a supremely dense field of highly hopped craft ales, Gowanus’s favorite brewpub knew they had to bring theirs with a bang. Mission accomplished. This explosive hop bomb with undertones of tropical fruit and sticky pine resin hits you hard. As it should, with its elevated alcohol content, hovering near double digits. But any brewer with a lone limb can dump endless amounts of hops into a batch. Setting Superfucking Yawn apart is its floral aromas, whisper-light body, and a satiating juiciness that lasts for days in the finish. Nothing sleepy about any of that.
8. Cuzett Libations – Revenge of the Emu (5.4% ABV)
It was quite an eventful year for brewers Chris Cuzme and Mary Izett. The two prominent members of the local craft scene formed their own brewery, tied the knot, and took a trip to Australia to explore the fermented flavors of the Southern Hemisphere. The voyage Down Under informed the couple’s second release, a sessionable blond ale named after the outback’s most notorious flightless bird. Revenge of the Emu was fruit-forward, hinting at white grapes and passionfruit. Reining in the sweetness was a dry blanket of kölsch yeast and pilsner malt. A thoughtful and complex arrangement suggesting a bright future — professionally and personally — for the newly minted husband-and-wife brewing team.
7.Captain Lawrence – Seeking Alpha (11% ABV)
Unapologetically bitter from start to finish, Seeking Alpha was the beer New York hop-heads were waiting for. When it hit shelves this past February, it didn’t stick around for long. Which is appropriate, as IPAs are meant to be consumed fresh. The name of the beer itself refers to the alpha acids responsible for bitterness. Yet Seeking Alpha was almost as much about its dank, citrusy aroma, courtesy of a dynamic bouquet of four separate hops, including bold Citra and assertive Tomahawk. A faint two-row malt backbone teased out dryness upon the discerning tongue. Be on the lookout for its return later this winter.
6. Transmitter Brewing – H1 Zinfandel Harvest Saison (6.5% ABV)
Saisons are on the rise. Complex, with hints of fruit and funk, they come equipped with many of the characteristics to make connoisseurs gush with glee. And no one in this part of the world has the style on lock like the folks at Transmitter. In 2015 they flexed their muscles with this crisp, effervescent ale, aged in oak alongside a hearty dose of zinfandel grapes. The resulting liquid was brimming with berries, tannins, and any number of adjectives commonly associated with high-end wine. Although H1 will never be precisely replicated, if you missed it, learn from your mistake: When Transmitter releases a saison, you grab it, and you don’t let go for quite some time (the style ages gracefully in the bottle).
5. Finback – Plumb and Proper (6.3% ABV)
With a rapidly evolving sour-beer program, Finback brings serious street cred to the Queens craft scene. Originally brewed near the end of 2014, this dark and tart offering became considerably more accessible after a bottle release in August ’15. Made with plums and wild yeast, there are notes of brown sugar and molasses to accompany an unexpected smokiness. A creamy mouthfeel is accentuated by ever-so-slight carbonation. For those seeking a bold drinking experience, Plumb and Proper is not to be missed.
4. Carton Brewing – Irish Coffee (13% ABV)
Carton Brewing (out of Atlantic Highlands, NJ) continues to push craft beer in an unexpected direction with ingredient-forward releases, designed to emulate all sorts of food and drink heretofore unassociated with suds. In 2015, they tackled the classic combination of caffeine and whiskey, their Irish Coffee evoking the familiar flavors of its namesake. There’s an immediacy of mint on the nose, followed by acidic, roasted bean notes that are first to hit the tongue. The darker elements soon fade, however, revealing oak, hazelnut, and cream in a lengthy finish. And that creaminess will leave you coming back for more. To find a beer this smooth containing this much alcohol defies imagination. Par for the course for a brewery proving themselves as the Willy Wonka of craft.
3. Grimm Artisanal Ales – Barrel Aged Double Negative (10.2% ABV)
Overflowing with oak, vanilla, dark chocolate, caramel, and anything else needed for a delicious dessert, Double Negative is the pinnacle of what a bourbon-barrel-aged beer can offer. The jet-black stout, produced by Brooklyn husband-and-wife gypsies Joe and Lauren Grimm, was injected into Heaven Hill casks in 2014, where it rested patiently until ready for 22-ounce bombers last winter. Some could come close, but you won’t find a more well-rounded imperial stout in the land. And after winning a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival this September, Double Negative now has the hardware to prove it.
2. Other Half Brewing – Street Green (7% ABV)
It’s hardly a secret how Other Half Brewing has ascended the ranks to claim the mantle of New York’s Greatest Craft Brewery: hops. A whole helluva lot of them. Although the all-star operation on the outskirts of Carroll Gardens excels at any number of more esoteric styles, they attract the greatest fanfare for consistently producing the freshest, fiercest IPAs in this part of the world. With so many of them deserving inclusion on this list, the primary reason why Street Green edges out the rest is because it’s, well, the freshest and the fiercest. Brewed with an ungodly abundance of Amarillo, Simcoe, Galaxy, and Equinox hops, Street Green hit cans just last month, reeking of grapefruit, pineapple, and kiwi juice. It flogs the palate in a wondrous, tongue-tingling tropical bath. You’re gonna want to sit down for this one.
1. Greenpoint Beer and Ale Company – Pendulum (6.1% ABV)
This one-off from early 2015 was a wild ale like none other. Brewed entirely with Brettanomyces, an unruly yeast commonly associated with funkier notes, Pendulum relied on a variant called Brett C. This offshoot strain endowed the beer with juicier esters, arriving as over-ripened citrus fruit on the tongue. Best yet, these tonalities tangoed effortlessly with the resiny hop strains at its core. In the aroma, and in the mouth, Pendulum provided an unforgettable drinking experience. Brewers of Greenpoint Beer: On behalf of New Yorkers everywhere, please bring this beer back in 2016!