Visiting Casa Herradura, Birthplace of Tequila

This past Christmas break we went to Guadalajara and during our time there couldn’t miss out on a trip to the area around the town of Tequila to learn more about Mexico’s national drink. That’s how we found ourselves at Casa Herradura in the town of Amatitán, a functioning hacienda that claims to be the birthplace of the distilled agave liquor known as tequila.

The best part was seeing how the history of this hacienda is still being lived with a mix of tradition and modern methods. At Casa Herradura, history, agriculture, and chemistry come together in the bottle and it makes for a fascinating story.

History

In Spanish America, an hacienda was a rural estate, and by law had to produce a product and contain housing for workers and a church. This system was carried over after Mexican independence and continues at the Hacienda de San José del Refugio, which was known colloquially as Hacienda del Padre, as it was originally owned by a priest. Today, two thousand workers as well as the current owners live at the hacienda. Some families have worked there for six generations!

At this hacienda, tequila was produced, first illegally, from 1820-1870, then legally since 1870, explained our guide, José Manuel. Tunnels across the property date to this era and were used to hide both tequila and priests during the era of the Cristero Rebellion.

At one point during this conflict, government officials came searching for priests and the owners flooded the basement cistern to provide a hiding place. The priests survived by breathing the air left in pockets against the ceiling while the distillery owners insisted to officials that there was “only water in down there”.

This wasn’t the only memory of the past. Our next stop was the old distillery, where the stone basins now museum-ready were used as fermentation vats were used until as recently as 1963. We saw as well the remnants of boilers from this era which were shipped from London to Veracruz and delivered overland by mule.

At the time of its founding, distilling was a dangerous industry. Our guide told us that 80% of tasters died. These tasters were the ones that sampled the tequila to test whether it was ready for consumption and I imagine consumed the “head” and “tails” as well as the “heart” of the distillation before modern chemistry intervened to save lives.

My thoughts at this point turned to the value of a commodity over that of human life at that point in history, though perhaps this was common across all industries at the time. It’s not like coal mining was ever portrayed as good for your health, for example.

Luckily, these historical production methods have both stayed true, yet improved, safety-wise. Tequila’s rarefied historical and regional status is protected by law, much like French Champagne. While there are 126 types of agave, there is only one variety that produces tequila, tequiliana weber, and only five states can produce this beverage officially, mainly Jalisco.

Growing

Growing the tequila plant, agave azul, is no easy feat. An agave plant takes 25 years from seed to be ready for harvest. After 3 years the agave becomes a mother and gives children which are replanted and ready in 7-9 years, which I imagine is like having a giant spider plant. Each agave is then tested and must pass 26% sugar content to be ready for harvest.

The field hand in charge of preparing the heart of this spiky plant is called the jimador. He shaves off the spines of the agave until the heart is exposed, leaving the spines behind to compost. This heart varies in size from 80-200 pounds(!) (see photos below) and roughly 12 pounds of agave is needed for a single liter of tequila, hence each heart produces 6 or more bottles of tequila! The jimador can shave as many as 120 “pineapples” or hearts per day.

Such a reliance on a single region and a single plant with a multi-year gestation period produces anxiety among producers. There is a reserve of millions of liters of tequila to smooth out dips in supply due to any unforeseen circumstances, such as an infestation, which happened several years prior.

Fermentation and Distillation

As a homebrewer, I recognize parts of the tequila preparation process, with a few key differences. First, the hearts are split and baked in an oven for 26 hours to release the honey, which smells like malted barley or sweet potato. These ovens take quite a lot of punishment and have to be repaired or rebuilt after a year and a half, a process that was underway when we visited. This honey or syrup is then held in a giant stainless open-topped tank.

What amazed me from the start is how much of this process takes place essentially outdoors. The ovens, the fermentation, even the distillation all take place with only a roof overhead, no doors and nearly no walls.

That is, fermentation is open to the air and takes 4 days, using a mixture of 51% agave juice and 49% honey, the latter of which is the thick syrupy product of the baking process mentioned above. This is an improvement over the 19th-century process, which we saw indoors in those stone vats, used to take 20 days. Fermentation at that time happened spontaneously as the vats were exposed at night to a a patio outside their window that was lined with fruit trees. Fruit trees, in fact, are still scattered around the property.

Distillation is where my knowledge gets a bit fuzzy. This is the process that concentrates the alcohol from fermentation into liquor. Here’s what I caught: the ordinario is the first 25% of the distillation, which is sent back. It’s used as fuel or for washing and sanitizing bottles before the bottling process. The end product, the “heart” is 55% tequila, which is then diluted with distilled water.

We were taught by José Manuel to rub it on our hands and smell (smells like tequila), and to shake a bottle of the liquid to see if it’s clear. If it’s milky or turbid, it’s not safe. I imagine sampling these bad parts is what drastically shortened the lives of those 19th-century tasters I mentioned earlier.

Aging and Bottling

After distillation is the aging process, which to my surprise is the only difference between the different grades of product from light to dark. Certain special labels may select the best of the agave hearts, but within the normal product range, it is aging alone that accounts for the difference in flavor.

Plata or silver is aged for 45 days, reposado for 11 months, and añejo for 1-3 years. The newly coined extra añejo is aged for 3-5 years. Up to 50% is lost in the aging process through evaporation or absorption into the oak casks.

Bottling is the only part of the process that resembles a modern food production facility. We were only able to see the bottling line from outside, looking through thick double-pane UV-tinted glass. I was fine with not getting closer; after all the initial steps feeling so close to the land, the bottling line looks like any other production line elsewhere in the world.

Tasting

If there wasn’t a chance to taste the product, nobody would come on these tours. So with a bit more of a sunburn than when we started, we sat down to try some tequila. I can’t say that I remember much other than how the tasting is performed:

  1. breathe out;
  2. swish the sample around in your mouth and consume.

The purpose of this exercise is to limit intake of alcohol vapors, which in my personal opinion seems to be the element that makes most straight liquor go down with a shudder. This process was reminiscent of using mouthwash, made my gums tingle, and did seem to cut down on the “yuck” factor, making the tasting more enjoyable.

Generally, the tequila gets smoother and smokier as it ages. The plata always seems a bit harsh to me, though now I know it’s the same as the añejo, only younger. In fact, aficionados can buy a one- or two-liter mini-cask at Herradura and age their own product from plata up to the point of their choosing. That’s about as DIY as you can get without breaking the law.

Carlsberg Brewery, a simple surprise

Carlsberg, a beer known for its unobtrusive presence at many English pubs. Its name is vaguely German-sounding, yet this flagship brew is definitely not a typical malty Bavarian lager. Instead it’s clean and refreshing, yet nothing fancy. Which is fitting, because the Danes are not quite German and have a rather clean, refreshing, and well-designed city, despite lacking the flashy skyscrapers and monumental architecture of other world capitals. Beauty in simplicity, I’d say.

Thus, as we took an off-the-cuff reroute on our first full day in Europe, passing through downtown to the train station in suburban Copenhagen of the same name, I had low expectations for the Carlsberg Brewery. As is often the case when I set my sights low, I was pleasantly surprised. The Carlsberg Brewery was a revolutionary place in its time, and we were able to see some of that shine.

The Back Story

J.C. Jacobsen, the founder, built his first brewery in 1847 on the outskirts of the city of Copenhagen, for better access to land and clean water. He named his brewery Carlsberg, after his son, Carl. It also happens to be the name of a town in Germany, which was well and good because even in that time German beer was known for its quality.

In fact, Carl was sent away to Germany at a young age to study brewing, which I suppose fueled the resentment of his heavy-handed father, whose mansion stands on the grounds of the brewery. When Carl returned he opened his own competing brewery, Ny (New) Carlsberg, right next to Old Carlsberg.

Years later, the two companies merged, under Carl, and with subsequent acquisitions the company is now the fifth largest beer producer in the world. On a side note, Carl donated the famous sculpture of the Little Mermaid which can be seen in Copenhagen Harbor.

Open Source Brewing

For those that enjoy enjoy craft beer, “Give me a light lager, please!” are words spoken never, yet Carlsberg has a special place in beer lore. At their laboratory, Danish mycologist Emil Hansen first isolated the lager strain, Saccharomyces carlsbergensis, known today as Saccharomyces pastorianus.

In the name of science, J.C. Jacobson agreed to share the findings freely, thus boosting the scientific quality control of mass-produced beer around the world. For that matter, this strain was shown to have come from the first yeast brought to Carlsberg from the Spaten Brewery in Bavaria. So you could also thank the Germans for that one. Either way, you’re able to try a few approximations of those early beers, using the original yeast, on site.

Low-Brow, High-Brow

Main operations of Carlsberg have since moved to a much larger and newer facility outside the city. Mass-produced lager needs mass production facilities, and this 150-year old space wasn’t cutting it anymore, though it is a beautiful building. Not surprisingly, the brewery was not particularly hopping with work, though we did get to explore the lagering tunnels under the old facility and meet the (ceremonial) dray horses. The tunnels seem to have been used recently as storage space, as they’re full of leftover barrels and the detritus of 150 years of brewing history and the horse barn was the cleanest I’ve ever seen.

What is left at the facility is a tourist destination and craft brewery called Jacobsen, which serves up a selection of experimental small-batch beers that aren’t available outside of Denmark. Their beers are small steps for such a tradition-bound place. No over-indulgence in aroma hops as we often have here in the US craft breweries, but we did get to try some historical recipes and a few weird ones, such as a brown ale made with baobab. The bar and event space is impeccable, all gleaming brass and marble and well worth a visit, as it has space for a few hundred. I imagine it’s used as a conference center for visiting beer dignitaries.

There Goes The Neighborhood

Since the brewery moved out in 2008, there is a lot of land up for redevelopment and the neighborhood is in the process of adding space for over 7,000 people, we were told. This new neighborhood is called, fittingly, Carlsberg, and its development master plan that has won international awards. Given the scale of the construction, it might take them a while.

Carlberg Brewery is located at Gamle Carlsberg Vej 11, 1799 København V, Denmark. Open Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 5pm and closed on Mondays. Entrance is 95 DKK and includes 2 beers. More information at visitcarlsberg.com.

Hydration and Fermentation: The Beers of Barbados

In Barbados it may be expensive to get a bite to eat, but the same can’t be said about a cold beer, which is never more than $1-2.75 US. The taste is reminiscent of Mexico or other Caribbean countries: brands that I have never seen or heard of, yet flavors that I definitely have.

On the plus side, and unlike Puerto Rico, none of the beers have that sugary sweetness that I associate with cheap American beers, and all are served in clean glass bottles. Most are the tiny bottles you find in the Caribbean, which I imagine have the low glass-to-beer ratio to keep them cool.

The Beers (with ratings)

Banks (2/5) tastes like a slightly maltier Corona. This seems to be the official beer of the island which you’ll find everywhere.

banks
Banks, beach, Barbados. Credit: Tommy White

Deputy (2/5) reminds me of a Rolling Rock, yet more malty and less sugary. Paola loved this one, I was less than impressed.

Pola Beer (2/5) is a simple and crisp beer with a fun name that is imported to the island from Trinidad. It can be found all over the island, often as cheap as 5 x $5 US.

pola
A Pola Beer at the Gold Cup races, Bridgetown, Barbados. Credit: Tommy White

Mackeson (2.75/5) is a milk stout that tastes a bit more like something along the lines of Yuengling Porter. It is one of the priciest beers at $2 US and also the best.

10 Saints (?/5) is a rum barrel-aged beer that I brought home in my suitcase and haven’t tried yet. It’s a caramel-colored liquid in a clear glass 12oz bottle. I’m expecting the worst but hoping for the best, as this one doesn’t appear to be barrel-aged in the style of Bourbon County.

The Verdict

Drink the beer, drink the water, drink the rum punch. Bajan beers are low in alcohol, mild in taste, and best for staying hydrated, so drink them often. Also, make sure you use plenty of sunscreen.

Ranking 11 Breweries in New York (The first half)

It’s been a while since I’ve indulged the hops side of Hops, Trains, and Backpacks: it’s New York City Beer Week and here’s the run down of the breweries we’ve visited over the course of the past year. I’ve graded each on a 1-5 star scale on three points (beer-ambiance-fun):

  • Beer: Quality and inventiveness of the product;
  • Ambiance: Is it pleasant or novel to spend some time here;
  • Fun: Are there things to do while you’re here to entertain yourself.

I’ve then ranked them in reverse order, subjectively, from 11th – 1st, with the most emphasis placed on good beer. Of the 24 beers produced in New York City limits, 21 have taprooms or are brewpubs (see this article from Brew York for a full run down). That means we’re about half-way through. Here’s a map of the ones we’ve visited (in green) and the ones we haven’t (in yellow) to follow along:

[googlemaps https://www.google.com/maps/d/embed?mid=zEsOW87RyKdo.kbssccH6e7PM&w=640&h=480]

Beer rotations are changing constantly and these breweries are one-upping each other with more inventive ingredients and more hops, these rankings are based on the time at which I visited. By the way, follow me on Untappd (it’s like Facebook for beer). That said, here goes:

  1. Strong Rope Brewery, Brooklyn (Website, BeerAdvocate) 2-3-2
    This Gowanus, Brooklyn brewery is around the corner from Dinosaur BBQ and this amazing chicken wings hole-in-the-wall called Wangs. The beer was weak on the ingredients and I simply couldn’t find one I liked, let alone remember in retrospect. They did, however, have live music at their opening. I suppose the plus side is that they’re just starting out and can turn on a dime, though the same could be said of any of the above, with the possible exception of Brooklyn Brewery, which is doing fine on its own.
  2. LIC Beer Project, Queens (Website, BeerAdvocate) 3-2-1
    A small bar tucked in between auto repair shops hosts this upstart brewery. Their selection is mostly Belgian saisons and the like that to my taste were sharp and needed a bit more time to mellow out, though their dry-hopped IPA (WonderLIC) was a standout, and was worth grabbing as a birthday present. Nice neighborhood spot, not worth going out of the way for.
  3. Transmitter Brewing, Queens (Website, BeerAdvocate) 3-1-1
    We visited here on a cold, rainy day and it just didn’t feel welcoming like the others. A very small vestibule is their tasting room, and samples are poured from the bottle, like at a winery. Wasn’t really impressed by the beers, other than their nice packaging. They’re not bad and were fairly interchangeable, though their Community-Supported Brewing model is fascinating and I hope it catches on. They’ve reached the ninth spot on the strength of their beer alone, that said, the strength of their beer selection qualifies them for the ninth spot, though I would give them a second chance.
  4. Big aLICe Brewing, Queens (Website, BeerAdvocate) 4-2-1
    Another brewery tucked away in a nondescript industrial area, Big aLICe has the most inventive selection of rotating beers in the city with wild ingredients. The space is small and nicely decorated with wood panels and lights, though with nowhere really to sit and relax. It’s worth it for the beer — order a full flight. When we visited, I recall a salted caramel beer (Salted Caramel) and a white stout (White Coffee Stout), among others. Looking forward to our return visit to see what they’ve cooked up lately.

    f34a9-bigalice
    Ever-changing draft list at Big aLICe brewery in Long Island City, Queens
  5. Keg and Lantern Brewing Co., Brooklyn (Website, BeerAdvocate) 4-3-2
    This pub has food, we came here for breakfast, and it makes its beer in a custom setup in the basement. I’ve met the head brewer at a New York City Brewers Guild meeting, and he’s trying out inventive, small-batch stuff. Big plus here is the ability to order a meal. This was where we started our brewery tour of North Brooklyn and Long Island City, and I recommend their breakfast if you’re looking to begin your brewery crawl on a strong note.
  6. Greenpoint Beer and Ale Company, Brooklyn (Website, BeerAdvocate) 4-3-3
    Formerly called Dirck the Norseman and now renamed to match its brewery, this cavernous space is a bar and live music venue, and when the weather is nice they open up their window-paned garage doors to let in the fresh air and give you a nice view of the tank farm at Bushwick Inlet (n.b. The Tank Farm at Bushwick Inlet will surely be the name of the forthcoming condo project when this area is eventually repurposed to take advantage of its waterfront location). Their seasonal rotation of beers is excellent (just take a look) and they’re walking distance from Brooklyn Brewery, Brooklyn Bowl, and the Brooklyn Night Bazaar.

    d8276-dirckkolsch
    Sun shining on the day’s first beer at Greenpoint Beer and Ale Company
  7. Brooklyn Brewery, Brooklyn (Website, BeerAdvocate) 3-5-4 (2 fun if you’re stuck in line)
    Probably the most well-known NYC brewery, you’re either in for a big surprise or a big disappointment, so lower your expectations, steel yourself for waiting in line, and you’ll be fine. After at least 30 minutes and up to an hour, you’ll be let in, a bit like a fancy club except they check your moustache and not your shoes. Once you get in, you’ll feel obligated to stay all night to make up for the wait.
    The space itself is huge and has lots of tables for sitting and drinking, beerhall-style. You’ll get to know your neighbor, because this place is so packed that there is never free space to sit without squeezing in somewhere. Beer is cheap (5 for $20) and you can sample pretty much every brew they make. Their Brooklyn Half is not bad, as is Sorachi Ace and their new Insulated Lager, though you’re not getting anything here you couldn’t get at the grocery store.
  8. Rockaway Brewing Company, Queens (Website, BeerAdvocate) 4-4-4
    A bit of a misnomer because their tap room is not in the Rockaways but instead in a section of Long Island City that appears to be conjuring skyscrapers and a brand new neighborhood from the post-industrial muck (which has been replaced by a park and soccer fields). The beer is all sessionable, their English bitter (Rockaway ESB) and stout (Black Gold Stout) stood out, and they give you free bags of Cape Cod potato chips, which are the best potato chips. The vibe is beach-like and light-filled and you feel like this could be a popular neighborhood haunt, as opposed to an industrial site visit.
  9. Other Half Brewing Co., Brooklyn (Website, BeerAdvocate) 5-4-3
    By far the best beer in the city and the most hyped, with good reason. Other Half makes you trek out to Smith-9th Street and search for an unmarked door next to a McDonalds because the best beer in the city is inside. It’s fun hanging out there because you feel like you’re sharing in a secret and the lights are low and feeling is like a rustic cabin, but really the beer is the main attraction — hoppy, strong, knock you off your seat (All Green Everything, Green Diamonds, Hop Showers). They have session versions of their big guns (Small Green Everything, Baby Diamonds) without the bite. I’ve yet to come on a release day (check their Twitter for the latest), but I’ve heard that the line is around the block to pick up some beer trade bait cans.

    other-half-brewing-brooklyn
    Waiting line for limited release cans at Other Half (source: idrinkgoodbeer.com)
  10. Threes Brewing, Brooklyn (Website, BeerAdvocate) 4-5-5
    In New York City, space is money, and Threes has the long tables and relaxed vibe of a German beer hall on a Sunday afternoon, though including a piano, a game selection (or was this just on game night?) and periodic live music. Plus their beers are sessionable, sour, farmhouse, wild ales or dry-hopped and deceptively strong (Superf*ckingyawn), and all around tasty. Their kitchen hosts a rotating chef, and I’ve yet to sample the food, though it looks great.
  11. SingleCut Beersmiths, Queens (Website, BeerAdvocate) 4-5-5
    Large open space with concrete floors, high ceiling, and roll-up doors makes it feel like you’re having a party in the loading bay of a Home Depot, but in a good way. Their varied beer selection includes sours (Kim Hibiscus Sour Lagrrr!), English session ales (Keith SW4 English Pale Ale), and piney hoppy West Coast (can’t remember name). A massive selection of free board games, including Cards Against Humanity, and a rotating record selection on the turntable make you want to stay here for hours.

On a closing note, New York City has some amazing breweries, and I’m looking forward to the stream of new releases and seasonal offerings when I’m feeling thirsty. Try all of them and start at the top of this list.

New York Breweries: Queens (Part II)

This entry is a continuation of a series on breweries in Brooklyn and Queens. You can download my hand-drawn brewery tour map here and follow along.

Inspired by a meeting of the New York Homebrewers Guild (every third Tuesday at Burp Castle, 41 E 7th St, New York, NY), this trip, an attempt to visit all the micro- and nanobreweries within New York City has stretched over the course of four weekends and counting.
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SingleCut Beersmiths (website19-33 37th St., Astoria, Queens), is a short hike from the last stop on the N/Q at Astoria-Ditmars and the famous Bohemian Beer Hall (website2919 24th Ave, Astoria, Queens) and well worth the walk. By New York standards, it feels like the end of the earth, since the area is surrounded by grass and not far from a power plant and LaGuardia Airport, though the building itself feels new, open to the good weather, and overall an inviting place to have a few beers. Their bar area is stocked with free board and card games and they keep classic vinyl on the turntable.

The beer does not disappoint either. At the time of our visit in May the beer lineup included, most memorably, both the Hibiscus and Tart Cherry Sour Lagrrr! and the piney hopped Dean PNW Mahogany Ale. Their beers tended towards the light and drinkable, with a few hop-bombs thrown in for good measure, such as the latter beer mentioned above. Their brews can be found across the city as well, including at one of my favorites, Drop-Off Service (Yelp211 Avenue A, Manhattan), home of the $3 ’til 8pm craft beer happy hour.

LIC Beer Project (website39-28 23rd St., Long Island City, Queens), is a small brewery space tucked in between the auto repair and warehouses of Long Island City. Their small selection was heavy on saisons at the time, which I usually prefer in a bottle and aged to smooth out the bite. Their WonderLIC Belgian pale ale, however, was a great treat, full of floral dry-hoppiness and not too heavy on the bitter or the alcohol. Worth a trip if you’re in the neighborhood or if they’re unveiling a big beer. All in all, the last in a series of quality offerings in between the skyscrapers going up in LIC.

New York Breweries: Brooklyn (Part II)

This entry is a continuation of the posts on breweries in Brooklyn and Queens and we will pick up on the third Saturday. You can download my hand-drawn brewery map here and follow along.

Inspired by a meeting of the New York Homebrewers Guild (every third Tuesday at Burp Castle, 41 E 7th St, New York, NY), this trip, an attempt to visit all the micro- and nanobreweries within New York City has stretched over the course of three weekends and counting.

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Arriving via the Bedford Av (L) train, the third weekend of our New York City beer tour began with an 11am brunch at Five Leaves (website, Yelp, 18 Bedford Ave, Brooklyn, NY). I can say this place is home to possibly the best pancakes I’ve ever had: light, yet moist, and served with just the right amount of cinnamon butter and fresh fruit on top. The secret ingredient and key to the pancake batter was, incredibly, ricotta cheese, a food that I’ve strongly disliked since ricotta-heavy lasagna in childhood. Whatever the reason, it works really well in pancakes (!)

Dirck the Norseman (website, 7 N 15th St, Brooklyn, NY), the next and only stop on our beer tour this Saturday, was less than a ten-minute walk from the restaurant. Spacious and newly renovated, the space could stand on its own as a food or live music venue, of which it has both. Though we were here to sample the production of Greenpoint Beer and Ale Works (beer menu). The selection included mostly low-alcohol sessionable lagers and ales, with a focus on classic German styles like kolsch, rauchbier, Berliner weisse, and doppelbock, or at least it did at the time. See my notes on the afternoon below:

Paola spent the afternoon sketching and enjoying the weather and the garage door-style windows that open up to the outside. The sketch below was inspired by one of the other bar patrons and she gave it as a gift (it turned out it was the girl’s birthday!):

I also took a stab at sketching, inspired by the moment:

On the walk back to the subway, you pass through some industrial and semi-abandoned areas, lots of prime real estate for some creative Banksy-esque graffiti:

We’ll have to return, if not for the brewery tour (yes, I know they’re all basically the same, but this one has beer tastings) then for the live music at night.

New York Breweries: Queens

This entry is a continuation of last week’s post on breweries in Brooklyn and we will pick up on the second Saturday. You can download my hand-drawn brewery map here and follow along.

Inspired by a meeting of the New York Homebrewers Guild (every third Tuesday at Burp Castle, 41 E 7th St, New York, NY), this trip, an attempt to visit all the micro- and nanobreweries within New York City has stretched over the course of two weekends and counting.

Promotional map from NYC Beer Week
After departing Brooklyn Brewery and a walk along picturesque Manhattan Ave. in Greenpoint, we went up and over the Pulaski Bridge into Long Island City. For those of you unfamiliar with LIC, it’s an industrial area that contains much of the machinery that makes the densest areas of Manhattan habitable: taxi bases, recycling centers, distribution centers, repair and construction businesses, and light manufacturing. It is also undergoing an impressive highrise condo boom, with skyscrapers mixed in among low-slung brick buildings. 
A healthy lunch at Rockaway Brewing Co.
Transmitter Brewing (website, 195 Centre St, Brooklyn, NY) blends in with this mix of industrial uses. It’s a small building with a small tasting area not much bigger than a bedroom in the East Village. The beers here are poured from the bottles in which they have been bottle-fermented. They offer a small range of summery farmhouse and sour styles, which I wasn’t really feeling at the time, the weather being cold and rainy, however their innovative Community Supported Brewery program has me wanting to support to see what they brew next. Much like a CSA, members pay in advance for a selection of beers over six months. This is something I’ve never seen and hopefully allows them to capitalize their brewery and expand their offerings.
A short ten-minute walk took us to our next stop, Rockaway Brewing Company (website, 46-01 5th St., Long Island City, Queens, NY). From reading older reviews on Yelp, it seems that they’ve been doing a lot of work to make the place inviting, and it shows: the space is big and spacious and feels like you’re either at the beach (based on the stuff lining the walls) or in a factory (polished concrete floors). Their beers tend towards the mild and drinkable, with a few nice malt-heavy options. Their stout was amazing, looking forward to when we can get it in bottles and not just in growlers from the bewery. Best of all, free Cape Cod potato chips! Can’t wait until they figure out how to add a patio or deck somewhere for the summer months.
Big beer board at Big Alice
Another short ten-minute hop took us to Big Alice Brewing (website, 8-08 43rd Rd., Long Island City, Queens, NY). This place is small but looks shiny and brand-new. Wood bars and black chalkboards memorializing current and former beers line the walls. Overflow space is alongside the brewing equipment on the other side of the walls. Of all the breweries on our tour, Big Alice had the most innovative beers. Among the most memorable was the Salted Caramel beer, which was sweet and sour (in a beery way) and the Queens Honey Brown, made with real honey. We also had a smoked saison, aka “bacon beer” for its tasty smoked smell, and a White Coffee Stout, which I couldn’t really pinpoint as a coffee-flavored beer or a stout given its light color and smooth finish.
We haven’t quite exhausted what New York City has to offer, so there will be at least one more Saturday beer tour. Here are the breweries we have yet to see in Queens:

Coming soon, the remaining breweries in Manhattan, Queens, and the Bronx.

New York Breweries: Brooklyn

Ready for a Saturday beer tour, just print and go.

Believe it or not, there’s more to microbrewing in New York City than Brooklyn Brewery.

Inspired by a meeting of the New York Homebrewers Guild (every third Tuesday at Burp Castle, 41 E 7th St, New York, NY), this trip, an attempt to visit all the micro- and nanobreweries within New York City has stretched over the course of two weekends and counting. The majority of the breweries shown on the map below can be reached with minimal walking and a trip along the G train, with its 4-car trains, the redheaded stepchild of the MTA. Your starting station, Smith-9th Sts is one of the more picturesque stations in the system.

You can print and use the hand-drawn map below to plan your own trip. We started in Southern Brooklyn and worked our way north, though you could also start in Long Island City, Queens and head south.

First Saturday
Our first weekend began with brunch at Buttermilk Channel (website, Yelp). No chicken and waffles for breakfast, but say hello to chicken and pork schnitzel. Highly recommended.
Enjoying the first one of the day at Other Half Brewing

Once fueled up, we headed to Other Half Brewing (website, 195 Centre St, Brooklyn, NY). An unmarked door across the street from McDonalds was the entryway to this small tasting room and brewery. We figured it out by following the families with babies in tow into the unmarked industrial building. They offer samples, full pours and growlers of a selection of hop-heavy beers and regularly sell tallboy cans of their IPA. Growlers are returnable (!) to encourage repeat customers. We’ll be going back for sure.

Next stop, after a 20- to 30-minute walk, was Threes Brewing in Gowanus (website, 333 Douglass St., Brooklyn, NY), a short walk from Atlantic Avenue station in Downtown Brooklyn. Threes had a deep selection of flavorful, drinkable session IPAs, saisons, and a Berliner weisse. The space is expansive, with plenty of seating, big long tables, and an outdoor patio area for the summer months. For the non-beer drinkers, they also have a food menu and a cafe on location. We’ve already been back here once since our initial visit.
Second Saturday
 
Beer brunch at Keg & Lantern hit the spot.

Our second weekend started on a rainy Saturday at 11am at Keg & Lantern (website, 97 Nassau Ave., Brooklyn, NY), reachable at the Nassau Av (G) stop. The brewmaster at this brewpub, P.J., was the guest speaker at the NYHBG meeting on the night I was inspired to plan this pilgrimage, so of course his home brewery had to make the list. After a hearty breakfast of bacon, eggs, and sausage and a half-pint of beer, we were able to check out the all-electric brewing setup in the basement of the building. Beers here are very drinkable and change often, so we’ll be back.

The next stop was a 10-minute walk to the iconic Brooklyn Brewery (website, 79 N 11th St., Brooklyn, NY). Being iconic and well-known also makes you crowded. Wait in a long line, get inside, buy your tokens, 5 beers for $20, and wait in line again. The pluses of Brooklyn Brewery are its dirt-cheap pints ($4), Brewery-exclusive beers, and their Brooklyn logo gear, of which I’ve purchased one of their metal signs ($15). On their short brewery tour we learned that Milton Glaser (of I heart New York fame) designed the logo 28 years ago and was paid in beer for life.
Near Brooklyn Brewery and not yet visited are:
Our tour continued along Manhattan Ave. in Greenpoint, Brooklyn and over the Pulaski Bridge to Long Island City, Queens, detailed in the next entry.