Four of us ventured to Williamsburg on a frigid February day to visit Brooklyn Brewery. The Reel Feel™ was −24° C. (Top tip: Reel Feel™ takes into account wind chill, so I tend to heed it when travelling to grid-plan cities.) We were travelling from Lower Manhattan, so walked the Brooklyn Bridge and then took the East River Ferry; the Hudson was full of icebergs and the water in Jennifer’s bottle froze en route. Paula was wearing tights, leggings and jeans, and in fact later in the day the crotch of someone else’s jeans split because of the pressure from the layers of clothes underneath.
On weekends Brooklyn Brewery opens its Tasting Room to the public, a beer hall-type affair with communal benches and beer tokens purchased at the door. While you’re there I’d recommend taking part in one of the free brewery tours, as we did. Much of the draft and speciality beer is made here, though bottles of the classic Brooklyn Lager are brewed at another facility in Utica. We were keen to try as many of the in-house brews as possible and, I think, we eventually tried everything that was on tap that day. Here are our uninformed tasting notes, ranked in order of preference.
- Unsung Hero (4.75%; lemon/lime saison). Light and refreshing, reminiscent of lager and lime. This was a Worshipful Company of Brewers beer, where “each member of the Brooklyn Brewery brewing team will design and create a batch of his or her own draft-only beer, to be served exclusively at the Brewery Tasting Room until the last drop has been squeezed from the taps”. So it’s no longer available. A nod to J R Jordan, the brewer responsible—it was our favourite and we think they should make it permanent.
- Brooklyn Brown Ale (5.6%). Deliciously smooth, tastes like Newky Brown. It would probably suit a Strongcastle (½ Newcastle Brown Ale, ½ Strongbow cider), but do not insult the brewmaster by doing this1.
- East IPA (6.9%). Not overly hoppy or gassy like many American craft IPAs, very drinkable, like drinking bitter, would recommend this for if you’re planning a heavy session (eight pints, no problem).
- Dry Irish Stout (4.7%). Sugary Guinness, dark chocolate.
- Wild Horse Porter (6.5%). Burnt treacle sponge, coffee and chocolate. Quote: “a mocha treat for your palate”. This is one of Brooklyn’s Brewmaster’s Reserves, a one-time limited-edition creation, and so is probably no longer available.
- ½ Ale (3.4%; session-saison). Combines the robustness of saison with the drinkability of session beer—which, I guess, is so called because you can comfortably drink many in a short “session”. British people would probably just call it “mild” and be done with it. We still found it too complex and certainly couldn’t do a session on this.
- Sorachi Ace (7.2%; farmhouse saison). Like Champagne, this goes through a second in-bottle fermentation, it is the sour sister of ½ Ale and was too aromatic for us, can’t imagine glugging it, we agreed that we’d struggle to finish a pint.
- Greenmarket Wheat (5%; weiss-style). One of us compared it to drinking from a stale ashtray, the others were less harsh, citing “cereal notes” and “smokiness—like cinder toffee”.
Beer drunk, we headed next door to the Whiskey Brooklyn, where we enjoyed some picklebacks—a shot of bourbon, followed by a shot of pickle brine, a drink allegedly invented in Williamsburg—more lager and some fried foods. At this point we were feeling very gassy and went in search of a decent bottle of wine, something we had thus far failed to find. The previous evening we had managed to procure a bottle from the supermarket, but its ingredients were listed as red table wine, sulphur, sugar. We found what looked like a wine bar, it had a wine list at least, and purchased a bottle of Malbec: it was vile. A swift exit and onto the Kent Ale House, a friendly pub with various IPAs, stouts and pilsners on tap, with an emphasis on local stuff.
At some point we lost our beer jackets and the walk between pubs became excruciatingly cold, even my fillings were hurting, so we called it a night. Not wanting to risk the ’bergs by taking the ferry, we caught a taxi back and chatted to the Bangladeshi driver about his new life in New York. He seemed surprised that we talked to him and asked where we were from. Later he gestured at Carly, saying it was nice of her “to show her English friends around the city”. “But I’m not from New York.” “Oh, you are swearing so much I thought you were.” Concerned that he’d caused offence, he offered the rest of the ride for free.
The night ended back at our apartment in a tediously prolonged fiasco of attempted pizza ordering and failed delivery on account of the snow. It never arrived. On balance, we were more tired than hungry and fell into a placid, beer-sodden sleep.
Sarah Toms (Bristol, November 2015)
Sarah is from Canvey Island in Essex, she is a trained palaeontologist, but now works in publishing. She enjoys wine, beer, cider and malt whisky, while being partial to an occasional cocktail.