Drink Beer. Live Better.
Beer in the town the Waltons built, NYC Beer in the nineties, and some lager appreciation
I’m home from yet another beer trip to previously-uncharted territory for me: Northwest Arkansas. The region, a sprawling stretch of subdivisions, office parks, bike trails, and the occasional charming downtown, has grown rapidly as result of companies like Walmart, J.B. Hunt, and Tyson, who have a presence there. I had mentioned in last week’s newsletter than I had initially planned a trip here six years ago, mainly to see a concert and seeing Crystal Bridges (which is well worth carving out a day to visit, as I did on Saturday). The overwhelming consensus of locals in the know when it comes to beer said they were glad I waited, as the scene had definitely grown and matured in that time.
Indeed, there was plenty of good beer to go around in the region. It didn’t take long at all, as a stop at Crisis Brewing in Fayetteville netted some tasty beers in some rustic outdoor surroundings, including their Fayzed NEIPA — a hazy brew with an unusual dry-hopping bill: Simcoe and Mandarina Bavaria. It didn’t taste like any NEIPA I’d ever had, which is a nice departure from the norm.
It took a whopping seven breweries before I found a single lager on tap on the trip, which kind of surprised me given the trends in craft beer these days. But once I visited Core Brewing in Springdale, Arkansas’ second-largest brewery, the trend flipped. Core’s Pre-War Pils, followed by a Keller Pils at the month-old Goat Lab Brewery (where I sat in their “Goat Throne”), was the start of a venture into more adventurous territory as I made my way toward Bentonville.
In that neck of the woods, the gorgeous Bentonville Brewing impressed me with their Experimental Strange: Soursop/Tangerine Sour, Hawk Moth Brewery in Rogers had an on-point cream ale called The Howler, and Ozark Beer Company stood out with their small batch beers, including the Shagbark Brown, a toasty brown ale brewed with tree bark. Natural State Beer Company was my first stop on a sunny, warm Sunday afternoon, where I sat on their porch overlooking a lake and watched cyclists ride up and down the adjoining bike trail while sipping on a slew of Reinheitsgebot-compliant lagers. That more than made up for the dearth of lagers on the front end of the trip.
I capped off my trip with a second visit to the spot that is this week’s Brewery Visit of the Week. Stay tuned for that after we take a trip back down memory lane.
The State of New York City Beer: 1994
Next Wednesday night, I’ll be on a panel at Torch & Crown Brewing Company discussing the history of beer in Manhattan. Much of that will be focused on an era of beer that many present-day drinkers might not be familiar with — the 1980s and 1990s beer scene. Ahead of that panel next week (tickets are still available), let’s take a step back to a snapshot in time.
New York boasted the first brewpub on the East Coast in Manhattan Brewing Company as early as 1984. That’s where Garrett Oliver, one of next week’s panelists and now brewmaster of Brooklyn Brewery, got his start brewing in New York City. Then, the early 1990s brought on a larger expansion, and by October of 1994, New York Magazine offered a six-page spread on where to find craft beer around New York and the region. The landscape has certainly changed over that time, but it’s interesting to see who weathered the storm.
There are plenty of parallels between now and then. At the time, three establishments brewed beer on premises in Manhattan; three completely different brewpubs exist today. Just as brewers in New Jersey struggle with a challenging regulatory environment today, our neighbors to the west had just legalized brewpubs that year. And most of the terminology is still the same, save for overuse of the now-outmoded term “microbrew,” and a highly-amusing Zima reference (though that could just as easily be replaced with a White Claw reference today).
To get a feel for the rise of the beer scene in New York, check out the piece’s listings of beer bars with American craft on tap at the time. Some of the beer bars in Manhattan mentioned in the piece still exist today. David Edelstein, the author of the piece, tells us that what was New York’s most famous beer bar, McSorley’s, had become a shadow of its former self. He states that the once-flavorful house beers had become “watery contract brews in a setting conducive to teetotaling.” Indeed, the brewing of McSorley’s beers had just been passed off for the second time in two decades to Stroh’s, which would soon be scooped up by Pabst.
He calls Peculier Pub “grungy” with “past-their-prime bottles” and is “creeped out” by Burp Castle, which even then had a regular “shushing” policy. He calls Brewsky’s, the previous incarnation of Standings, “cramped, tired, and sour-smelling,” but celebrates that it regularly poured Anchor Liberty Ale, an early entrant into the American IPA category and then a recent arrival in New York.
A couple of bars from the era were fairly recent closures, including the Waterfront Ale House, which closed its Manhattan location last year, and Chumley’s, which had a checkered history throughout the late 2000s and 2010s before its permanent closure during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Of course, there was a down period for the beer industry in New York between then and now. None of the brewpubs open in New York City in 1994 are still open today. The Flatiron District’s Zip City, founded by Kirby Shyer, who will also join next week’s panel discussion, shuttered a few years later. The previously-mentioned Manhattan Brewing Company, the Westside Brewing Company on the Upper West Side, and Brooklyn’s Park Slope Brewing Company could not stand the test of time, either. But this trend definitely paved the way for some breweries that bridged the gap from past to present: within months of this article, Heartland Brewery opened its first on-premises brewpub in Union Square and didn’t cease production in New York City until 2016. Chelsea Brewing Company opened the year following this article and left Chelsea Piers in 2014 for the Bronx until they ultimately closed in 2018. And Garrett Oliver, who left Manhattan to work for Brooklyn Brewery in 1994, is still its brewmaster today.
Brooklyn Brewery founder receives Brewers Association Recognition Award
Speaking of Brooklyn Brewery, its co-founder Steve Hindy was awarded the Brewers Association Recognition Award at this week’s Craft Brewers Conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The award is given to an individual or brand that has contributed to the craft brewing movement through inspiration, enthusiasm, and support.
Hindy founded the brewery with friend Tom Potter and launched the brand in Williamsburg in 1988. The beer grew into a local and then global brand, now sold on five continents and in thirty countries. Hindy, a former AP correspondent who became fond of homebrewing while reporting in the Middle East, wrote The Craft Beer Revolution in 2015 and co-authored Beer School with Tom Potter in 2007.
With the Brewers Association, Hindy served as chair of its board of directors, created their Market Development Committee, chaired their PR and Marketing Committee, and helped develop the independent craft brewer seal.
The Brewers Association produced this video in recognition of Hindy’s accomplishments:
Total brewery count: 2,680
Total breweries visited in 2022: 151
Total breweries visited in Arkansas: 25
Brewery Visit of the Week
Brewery #2674, Social Project Brewing Co., Bentonville, Arkansas (Visited 29-Apr-2022)
Social Project is doing the thing. And when you’ve been to as many breweries as I have, you know what the thing is the second you look at their tap list. “The thing” is appealing to hype-beast beer drinkers. It’s hard not to notice when more than half the beers on the menu are IPAs of varying degrees of strength and the rest of the board is almost entirely fruited sours and pastry stouts. But Social Project is doing the thing rather effortlessly, in a clean, airy, but sparse taproom that shares a building and parking lot with a bank branch. In other words, they’re relying on their beer to bring people in, and the beer is very, very good.
It started as a dream between friends Chris Spence and Travis Banks, and after finishing up a business plan just before the pandemic, powered on to open Social Project last September. The brewery’s location is in a growing neighborhood and just a stone’s throw from the Northwest Arkansas Airport, and there was a steady crowd when I first visited on a Friday night (and its proximity to the airport explains why I came back Sunday before my flight).
Travis spent two years brewing at Celestial Beerworks, which might help you understand why the beer is good if you’ve spent anytime in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex in recent years. The seven-barrel brewery is churning out one new beer every week. They’re mainly IPAs, but with unique spins, like a Raw IPA named Any Place is Better with Idaho Gem hops and a berry-like TIPA called Where You Ben with Belma, Barbe Rouge and Strata hops. After trying these and their all-Citra Rivers and Roads IPA, I needed a hop break. Lucky for me, this past weekend’s release was a Mexican Lager called Ole All Day. It was winning over the beer-curious “I-don’t-like-IPAs” crowd at the taproom for good reason, but it won me over, too. When I ran into him in the taproom on Sunday, Chris cracked open some of their Succa For You Saison with mango, lemon peel, and basil for me, which was an herbal and citrusy can of joy that was also delightfully not an IPA.
Keep doing the thing, Social Project. Hope it works out for you, because I sure as hell enjoyed it.
Social Post of the Week
Beer of the Week
Kings County Brewers Collective (Brooklyn, NY)
It’s May, and that means it’s KCBC’s annual Lager Appreciation Month — a monthlong celebration of their love of lagers, complete with… a lot of lagers on tap. It’s my favorite time to hang out in what’s my local taproom, and I rushed home from LaGuardia on Sunday night to kick off the month with this beer, a pilsner with Czech Saaz hops (how traditional!) along with Motueka and Riwaka hops from New Zealand (how untraditional!). It’s a delightful hop-forward brew with a cracker-like snappiness and grassy and citrusy aromas, and it’s a gentle 4.8%.
Long Read of the Week
A brief break from beer in this space: as someone who appreciates a good snack with a beer at a brewery or pub, I’ve always been amazed with the variety of chip flavors when I travel internationally. From Ketchup and All-Dressed in Canada last week to Cheese and Onion and Tikka Masala in the U.K. in March, it’s been more top of mind for me than ever. So why don’t we have those cool flavors here? Because the chip market sucks here, as Jaya Saxena explains on Eater.
One More Thing
Happy Anniversary to Finback Brewery, who turns eight years old this weekend with some special beers and festivities at both locations in Queens and Brooklyn. And next Saturday, the 14th, it’s Flagship Brewery’s turn to celebrate their eighth anniversary on Staten Island. And while we’re talking milestones, NS Beer in Bushwick will celebrate the release of their first beer brewed in Bushwick that same day.
Finally, here’s a photo of a phone in the taproom at Crisis Brewing in Fayetteville, Arkansas that’s a direct line to the barbecue joint across the parking lot: