NYC Beer Week, which started out in 2008 as a booklet of discounts cleverly packaged as a “beer passport,” has evolved into a full-blown festival eagerly awaited by hopheads and porter fiends alike, and a reason many thirsty New Yorkers look forward to winter.
The New York City Brewers Guild, a nonprofit entity formed in 2011, took over the event at the suggestion of Shmaltz Brewery owner Jeremy Cowan. The guild is currently run by KelSo Brewery owner Kelly Taylor, who explains it “was formed to take Beer Week out of the hands of private enterprise. We were kind of afraid it would go a different route, and we wanted to make sure that it was about the beer and the places that serve it.”
Another change involved moving the fest from September to February, with the goal to drive business to the city during an otherwise slow time. But perhaps the biggest difference from a corporate-run festival is the impressive number of venues holding their own events.
This year, the festivities kick off with an Opening Bash Cruise on February 20, offering unlimited food and drink samplings for $85. “We were trying to find an iconic spot to do the opening party,” Taylor notes. “We were looking at places like the Met, and they’re expensive and only available at night.” For more flexibility, they decided to take to the sea. “There’s nothing more iconic than the Manhattan skyline. I love boats, and they’re heated.”
On land, Taylor’s collaborating on a beer dinner with Colicchio and Sons on February 25 and 26. The five-course prix-fixe menu pairs braised beef cheek with KelSo’s flagship Nut Brown Lager, and their Black Walnut Stout with a toasted marshmallow affogato. “We encourage you to pour the stout over the ice cream,” Taylor adds.
At the heart of any great brew festival are conflicts of intoxicating proportions: Brooklyn Brewery’s brewmaster Garrett Oliver is hosting one of the fest’s most delightfully offbeat offerings, as he opens the brewery doors to free tastings of ten vintages (dating back to 2004) of his Black Chocolate Stout, the same night Other Half Brewery, which currently makes some of the city’s most impressive IPAs, will host a five-course beer dinner at Murray’s Cheese Bar.
Taylor is also hosting “Brewpiphany,” on February 23, in the KelSo taproom. “On the day of the epiphany (January 6), we had 80 homebrewers come in, and we gave them five gallons of wort, some hopped some unhopped, depending on what they wanted. They took it home and fermented it for a six-week period. They’re going to bring it back, and we’re going to have a party with it. We’ll have about 50 different beers here, all made from the exact same wort.”
Brewer’s Choice marks the midpoint of the event, on February 24, with an all-you-can-eat-and-drink extravaganza at Sanders Studios for $80. Most of the forty-plus breweries attending will be serving their Smash brew (made with the same New York State malts, exclusively for Beer Week). In addition, a “homebrewer’s pavilion” will allow festival-goers to discover who will become the next Bridge and Tunnel.
Perhaps the most intriguing event of the week is the Sensory Evaluation for Beer Lovers happening at the Wine Lab, which will focus on developing a palate for recognizing specific tastes in a wide range of beer styles.
Check out the full schedule of events at the Guild’s website. Whatever you choose, Taylor advises, “just go out and celebrate an entire city of beer.”