Written by Larry Hanzo
In the mid-20th century, New York City had about 45 local breweries. Up until the late 1960’s there were still a number of local breweries in operation. By 1976 the local presence was over when Schafer-Reingold closed down. This was not isolated to New York City, it was happening throughout the country. National brands with their massive advertising budgets and large scale distribution networks started to control the majority mind set of the beer drinking public.
National beers weren’t necessarily bad, they were merely very common. It was around this time that it became very important to drink what the “good looking in-crowd” was drinking. If you were guy, good looking women would find you sexy. If you were a woman, the opposite would apply. Style became more important than substance when corporate “big beer” dominated the industry.
By the late 1970’s, real beer lovers started to become disenchanted with the universal taste of national brands. Imported beers began to have a huge impact. The public was seeking something different. It all went back to the inherent differences in beer, i.e. taste, style, and variety.
About the same time craft beers began popping up in those areas where people were passionate about beer. Mind you, in some areas of the country, several local breweries endured the big beer onslaught and even prospered. They, along with the new craft breweries, were posed to grow, speared on by the renewed interest in artisanal beers.
Brooklyn Brewery began making beer in 1988 in borrowed facilities with the goal of producing the best beer possible. As interest in their beers expanded, distribution also grew. (They are now available in 23 eastern states and 6 foreign countries. In 1996 they opened their new Brooklyn, New York brewing plant and the rest is history. Brooklyn Brewery is now among America’s top 40 breweries.
I originally found Brooklyn Brewery by way of their Brooklyn Pennant Ale. Anyone wacky enough to memorialize a sporting event that happened 45 years ago for a team that no longer resides in their fair city got my attention. I had already tried most of the ales in the market and as I said, the name got me. Very quickly it became my favorite ale. Ales are a must with grilled meats. The malt and hop flavors tweak the taste buds and make charred foods taste better.
I soon discovered that Brooklyn Brewery has a great array of seasonal and specialty offerings. Before we go further, let’s renew a few beer basics: (1) Beer can be divided into three general types: ales, lagers and all others. (2) Ales are produced using top fermented yeast and are fermented at warmer temperatures. (3) Lagers are made at colder temperatures using bottom fermented yeasts. This is a longer process because after the second fermentation the beer is stored (laagered) for several weeks and can go up to seven months. (4) The “all other” category includes lambics, steam and other small production hand crafted brews.
A lot of people forget that beer is better with food and that the many varieties of beers, ales and others go with all types of food and preparations. For example, if I want something refreshing and easy drinking to go with pizza, Mexican food or brats, I’ll choose the Brooklyn Lager. Brooklyn uses the centuries old dry hopping method of cold fermentation period to enhance the flavors and bouquet. This extra step puts it levels above its competitors. If I’m having fish, Asian food or spicy sausage I’ll select the Brooklyn Pilsner with its smooth, complex flavors nuanced with a crispy, snappy bitterness.
If you want to taste a couple of absolutely stunning beers that will change forever your perception of just how flavorful and complex a beer can be, try their Black Chocolate Stout and/or Monster Ale. Both are high gravity beers with over 10% alcohol. The Black Chocolate has a distinctive sweetness in the rich body while the Monster Ale is a well designed barley wine. These beers will age for several years. They’ll drink well now but in a few years they’ll be even better.
The newest releases are Local 1 and Local 2. Currently available, Local 1 is a pale ale that is bottled flat with some yeast added. It then goes into a conditioning room for a second fermentation. The process is similar to the way Champagne is made. They actually call the process “Methode Brooklynaise”. It’s a Belgian inspired beer that only comes in 750 ml bottles complete with a cork stopper and wire cage retainer. It is absolutely delicious with a strong but smooth flavor profile. In March Local 2 will be introduced. It will be a dark ale that will include caramelized sugars, malt, wild honey and sweet orange peel in the process. It will be made using the same “Methode Brooklynaise” as Local 1. Brooklyn is the only American brewery pursuing the refermentation process.
If you are also a wine drinker like I am, you’ll know that its not the winery but rather the terrior and the winemaker that determine what you drink. At a brewery, the Brewmaster is the most important person in assembling the final product. There is however one major difference in that when making beer, the terrior exists in the mind of the Brewmaster.
At Brooklyn Brewery they have a great one in Garrett Oliver. Garrett is the foremost US authority on the subject of traditional beers. He started out as an amateur brewer and in 1989 began as an apprentice at the Manhattan Brewing Company. He was appointed Brewmaster there in 1993. He soon became widely known for his flavorful interpretation of traditional brewing styles and as an avid and entertaining lecturer and has written many articles on the subject of fine beers. He is a regular contributor to beer and food related publications and has authored the Brewmaster Table, a book which is a huge favorite among beer and food connoisseurs.
If you want to know more about the brewery and about specific ingredients of each of the beers in the article, check out their website: BrooklynBrewery.com.