A poster inside the elevator of La Birreria, Eataly’s rooftop brewpub/”beer garden”/foodie paradise, promises that although Dante Alighieri states that the third circle of hell is reserved for the gluttonous, one should embrace this, and that the 14th floor of this building will reveal heaven to you. I guess that depends on what your interpretation of heaven is.
The rooftop bar/brewery, located in the Flatiron district, is approaching its first birthday, and like any spirit, is maturing with age. It should be more accessible than last summer, where long lines often left a bad taste in my mouth. This spot is much more of a destination than a local hangout, and would best be enjoyed on a sunny afternoon as opposed to a weekend night.
A retractable roof allows Birreria to be open year round, rain or shine, but its three cask-conditioned original brews are what sets it apart from any other Manhattan rooftop, thanks to the brewing genius of Brooks Caretta, Birreria’s brewmaster. Carretta is a true Italian-American in the sense that he is American born but Italian raised, and I don’t mean just in the sense of a traditional Sunday pasta dinner variety, or a Jersey Shore-esque, Italian flag-touting, “Guido,” as the stereotyped reality shows endorse. No “Situation” here, Caretta is the real deal, pretty much raised in Rome until this project brought him here. He is the human collaboration of American and Italian brewing techniques.
The brews are influenced by a trifecta of brewery collaborations, two Italian, one American. While Baladin and Del Borgo represent Italia, State-side, the Delaware-bred Dogfish Head (one of my favorite American breweries) is the third head of La Birerria. Together, they make up the Birerria Brothers. So, she wants to know, how is the beer?
At any given time, Birreria will offer three CASK-CONDITIONED ales, in addition to their ten draughts and 30+ bottle selections. On this particular May afternoon, the rooftop-brewed selections were Gaia, Wanda, and the lovely Gina. Ahh, three Italian-American women with no drama, only a love for good taste. (Versace? Gucci? Prada)?
While pints will run you $10 a pop, a flight is available. The flight option is not mentioned on the menu, and will cost you $12 for three 4oz. pours, on this particular day served in small brandy snifters. Due to the fact that cask-conditioned ales are still “alive,” (actively fermenting inside their casks), served at a temperature that ranges from 50-55o F, and are also hand-pumped, there may be inconsistencies among the beer’s tasting at any given time. Hey—even these gals can have a bad day.
First, Gaia–a Saison brewed with Red Wheat and Rye from the Hudson valley and slightly bittered with New York State grown Chinook hops. Golden-yellow in color, her aroma is fruity and citrusy, like a warm summer day spent sweating out on the fields. A Saison is often referred to as a Farmhouse-style ale, and although traditionally Francophone, her Italian counterpart, Gaia, grew up in the Hudson Valley. Saison literally translates to season, and this is Birreria’s current seasonal offering. Perfect for spring, this beer would pair well with one of the establishment’s cheese plates.
Her cousin, Wanda, is darker and more robust—with coffee notes, this mild brown ale is moderately dark but traditional, brewed with chestnuts. It had a strong malt character with almost no hop influence. Wanda is like that native Italian nonna, providing you with a hearty meal complete with Sunday sauce. Warm and comforting.
And then there is Gina—sweet Gina is an American-style pale ale brewed with fresh thyme. It didn’t take me too much time to fall in love with her though, as she seemed to be the most drinkable and agreeable to my palate. My fellow beer-tasters agreed.
I highly suggest getting a flight on your first visit so you can pick out which of these Italian ladies fits you best (just like trying on an Armani suit).
While La Birerria does offer food (cheese plates, charcuterie as well as salads and entrees), I have yet to eat there. In fact, the only way to snag a seat at one of the tables is to order food (this is not your traditional beer garden). But hey, who doesn’t love Italian sausage?
In addition to the casks, my beer-drinking buddies and I had a Madamin, brewed by LoverBeer, which was a Flanders-style brown sour beer (Oud Bruin) that tasted tart but was balanced with caramel maltiness, and a L’Olmaia Karkade, a flowery, spring beer brewed with hibiscus. Both these Italian brews, available on draft, were served in Birerria’s “Teku” glasses, which resemble long-stemmed beakers and supposedly enhance the flavor of the beer, like a large snifter. Oh, and it looks fancy too.
Whether La Birerria fits your view of heaven or not, one thing can be said—Italians do it with style and flavor. Salute!