So a few years back, Mayor Bloomberg declared July to be “Good Beer Month,” in New York City, due to a campaign from a few specialty craft beer bar owners who wanted to have their devotion to carefully selecting good beers (domestic craft/specialty imported) in their independently run establishments to stand out. With this decree, all beer bars that fit the specified criteria receive the “Good Beer Seal,” of approval, a red insignia marked with a sea lion holding a beer. This sea lion obviously has good taste. Why one month should be devoted to good craft beer I’m not sure, as I devote all months of the year to craft beer, but anyway, it’s a great excuse to plan craft beer-centric events and visit all these good beer bars, even including a few in the outer boroughs! (Hooray to my home borough of Staten Island finally being included, with not one, but two local favorites!).
One of the originators of this movement was Jimmy Carbone, owner of Jimmy’s No. 43 in the East Village. Having never visited until tonight, this place seemed like a legend—a sanctuary of good beer, an untouchable fountain of specialty ales and great ideas (as well as great food). Needless to say, I was not disappointed. But right next door lies another “Good Seal” bar, Burp Castle. Before descending down the stairs of Jimmy’s No. 43, we stopped in for a few beverages at the “Temple of Beer Worship.”
After my recent visit to Cooperstown and the Ommegang brewery, I seem to be recently bitten by the Belgian beer bug. While I have always appreciated this diverse style of tripels, dubbels and even quadrupels, and the more recent emerging popularity of Flanders-style Oud Bruins (sours), and wild ales, having never been to Belgium to revel in the first-hand experience, I am limited to what New York has to offer. And I have to say, that’s quite a lot these days. While more and more Belgian-themed beer bars seem to be popping up all over this city lately, one of the first, and I would say, well known, is this oddly named testament to good brews.
I’ve heard a lot of people refer to this joint as a “shush-bar,” like it’s a genre that actually exists. But I feel like it may be a term intended solely for this place, in that at any time that the noise level rises above a happy medium, the bartender will respond with a gentle “shhhhhhhhhhhh,” very much like your old librarian in grade school. Now, while at first this may seem be a bit insulting—after all, this is a bar, right? I can make as much noise as I want! It’s actually well respected and very much appreciated. Look, this is not a bar you bring your old frat brothers or sorority sisters from college—there are plenty of places just around the block for that. This is a place where people bring dates or actually sit and read a book while enjoying a great beer. The shushing allows the noise level to remain at a low level, and hell, maybe even to enjoy your beer even more. Needless to say, I didn’t feel like a complete weird-o taking notes while sitting in the quiet atmosphere.
So whether the genre exists or not or this is just another gimmick or “theme bar,” it really doesn’t matter. Because people who venture here are usually already aware of the shushing or will find out soon enough, and the beer selection is always pretty decent. I like to start off my night here (they open weekdays at 5 pm and on the weekends, at 4) and move on from there. Ideally, it will be a Sunday, Monday, or Wednesday night, when “frites,” from nearby Pomme Frites will be placed at the end of the bar and one can help themselves to a paper plate full with a variety of dipping sauces to add to the double-fried potato deliciousness. Not only tasty, the Belgian style fries are good for “soaking up” alcohol and allow the endurance for a second or third beer.
This night, several of the beers on tap were ones I’ve tried before (like Southern Tier’s Jah-va Imperial Stout or Ommegang’s Bier D’Hougoumont) so I went for something different yet not overly foreign. Wandering Star’s Barley Wine, Rude Man, was not my ideal selection, given the high ABV of most Barley Wines, but being a big fan of Wandering Star and with a little coercion from the bartender (“it’s not that strong”), I opted for this selection. The beer poured a cloudy, reddish-grape color and was served in a wine glass. It was surprisingly smooth and not overly sweet and fruity, like many barley wines tend to be. In fact, it had a bit of a roasty, smoky aftertaste. It also didn’t taste overly alcoholic the way many barley wines do. I later found out that it has 10.6% ABV—yikes!
When craving a sour beer, the bartender informed me they didn’t currently have one on tap, the closest being the Rodenbach, a famous Belgian beer that is now owned by Palm. The distinct style is that of a “Flemish Red,” and has a similar tasting profile to an Oud Bruin, but this particular beer is created by blending two-year-old oak-aged beer (25%) with new beer (75%). Apparently, the late, great Michael Jackson, beer writer/connoisseur called Rodenbach “the most refreshing beer in the world.”
Another unique beer offered on this past Monday evening was Mikkeller’s Palisades IPA. Those of you familiar with this Danish company know that they produced 19 IPAS, each one showcasing a single hop, so that one can taste the different aroma and bittering profiles that individual hops add to a beer. Palisades hops come to us from the Pacific Northwest (Yakima) and are similar to Golding and Willamette. The Mikkeller series is especially great for homebrewers and avid beer drinkers alike to distinguish different hop profiles, but this beer stands particularly drinkable on its own. While not bitter, the Palisades is more floral and is a hop used for aroma.
Burp Castle also had St. Louis Framboise, Maredsous Dubbel, Steen Brugge Tripel, Wurzburger Pilsner, Well’s Banana Bread, and Fuller’s Honey Dew on tap, which I considered to be both an eclectic and well-rounded selection of both authentic Belgian ales and both American and European beers in a variety of styles.
So if you don’t mind getting shushed and appreciate monk humor (the walls are covered with murals depicting hilarious debaucherous scenes involving outlandish monk behavior) and are craving a Belgian brew or perhaps another type of hearty beer, Burp Castle is a great place to visit in the East Village. Start your night of beer drinking here and then head downstairs next door at Jimmy’s No. 43, another great bar with the “Good Beer Seal” of approval.
Burp Castle is located at 41 East 7th St. in the East Village. Nearest subway is the 6 train at Astor Place.