Tag Archives: beer fest

BK Pour…a smashing success as usual

14 Oct

It’s 1:30pm, and already people are lined up 100 deep outside the old Williamsburg Bank building, tickets in hand, waiting eagerly for the doors to open. There’s a palpable excitement as friends meet up in line, waiting to taste offerings from some of their favorite craft breweries from around the country at the third annual BK Pour here at Skylight Hanson in Fort Greene.

As the doors open and thirsty festival goers begin to pour in for the VIP hour, they’re greeted with a pamphlet detailing all 66 breweries in attendance, as well as the 125+ beers they’ll be offering and a map to their booth’s location. The venue itself is tremendous, with soaring ceilings and subtle reminders of what used to be one of Brooklyn’s largest banks, including old-school teller windows, wrought iron bars, and massive vault doors separating the different areas of the venue. Some pause to plan a route to their favorite brewers, while many more simply settle for those closest to the door and ready to fill their 2oz. tasting glass.

Most head upstairs to the VIP lounge area, where they can sample complimentary food from brats to pretzels, as well as some rarer offerings from their favorite breweries including Stone, Cigar City, and Harpoon (the Stone 17th Anniversary IPA being a favorite among those who sampled). The lounge is perched in the mezzanine level of the building, overlooking the floor and booths below. For the initial VIP tasting hour the space is filled with a droning buzz of patrons enjoying the relaxed pace of tasting, but as the general admission doors open at 3pm that buzz grows into a roar.

Among the breweries represented, New York breweries made a strong showing at the festival, including established players like Brooklyn Brewery, Sixpoint, Ommegang, and Heartland, as well as up-and-coming NY State brewers like City Island Beer Company in the Bronx, Grimm Artisanal Ales from Brooklyn (technically a nomadic brewery creating one-offs brewed at fellow brewer’s facilities), Three Heads Brewery from Rochester, and 508 Gastrobrewery from downtown Manhattan. Chris Cuzme, head brewer at 508, noted of the festival “It’s not necessarily the beer fest for beer geeks…this is serving a bigger and more important role”. Other brewers seemed to echo that sentiment. Geoff Dale, from Three Heads Brewing, said “This is our first festival here, we’re enjoying it, I love Brooklyn Man…I love the vibe. What I love about Brooklyn, this is an inclusive society, they accept you for who you are, and a beer fest is the same vibe”.

Another NY State brewery in attendance was Barrier Brewing, which was hard hit during Superstorm Sandy in 2012. Representative Patrick said “It was tough. We were down for about 4 months, but we’ve recovered and we’re stronger than ever right now”. Despite the challenges of the last year, they were excited to be back out in front if the beer-loving public, saying “It’s a good turnout, it’s my first time at the Brooklyn Pour so this is awesome”. Barrier was arguably serving one of the more unique beers of the afternoon, their seasonal “Saazsquash Butternut Squash Ale”. By their own description “It gives you the pumpkin essence with a little more sweetness, it’s amazing”.

Other than excitement for the festival, a common theme among the NY State brewers (and all brewers in attendance) was plans for expansion moving into 2014. City Island Beer Company, out of the Bronx, opened in February of 2013 and is excited about plans to open a facility on their namesake City Island within the next 12 months. “Right now we have a small system where we do all of our development, and we do our production offsite” said Paul Sciara, president. “We’ve got a site that we’re really interested in…we’re looking for about a 20 barrel system…we’re hoping we can pull this off within the next year”. When asked about plans for 2014, Cuzme of 508 commented “It’s a very exciting week to ask that question. I do have new tanks coming in next week, and we did just get license to sell outside 508…you will start seeing 508 out a little bit…it will probably go to the beer bars that are by beer lovers for beer lovers”. Plans are equally as exciting at Rochester’s Three Heads Brewing. “We are actually going to be doubling up to 10,000 barrels this year, and we have four new beers coming out…baby steps to take over the world” laughed brewer Geoff Dale.

In addition to the copious amounts of beer flowing from the taps (and perhaps to soak it up), attendees could head downstairs into what was formerly the bank’s vault for some bites from Cariño Cantina, Yayo’s of Brooklyn, Los Perros Locos, and Jarlsberg Cheeses. Later in the afternoon the vault played host to a series of discussions ranging from “Urban Homebrewing” (homebrewing within the frequently cramped confines of NYC spaces) to beer photography and apps.

 

By the third hour of the event it had become apparent that beer, even in two ounce increments, will catch up with even the most seasoned drinkers. Many had turned their attention to collecting beer SWAG, from Sam Adams Oktoberfest hats to mysterious fake moustaches that seemed to permeate the crowd. Attendees made their way towards the doors, having had their fill of excellent craft beers and food, and already planning their return trip to BK Pour in 2014.

 

 

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Being Brewer for a Day at Empire Brewpub in Syracuse!

19 Apr

 

Last month (yes it’s been awhile since I’ve updated my blog!) I wrote about Empire Brewery’s “12 Pack Challenge,” that my bf and I completed during New York City Craft Beer Week back at the end of February.   So it turns out, we won! (Ok so he technically won but I’m sharing the credit since it was definitely a joint effort!).

Next thing I know, we’re being whisked off to Syracuse (in an Amtrak train) and put up in a sweet hotel so that we can spend the day brewing with Empire at their brewpub located in Armory Square, a trendy neighborhood in downtown Syracuse. 

Being at the brewpub is like hanging out with your family: the cooks, servers, and bartenders, and the staff in general are all just a great group of people who seem to really enjoy their work.  The pub serves up great grub as well as their signature beers and is definitely worth a visit (or 2) if you happen to be in the area. 

While Empire brews their beer both on premise at the brewpub (where we brewed) and on contract at Greenpoint Beer Works in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn (a brewery where Kelso and the Heartland chain also brew their beer), they are about to break ground for their own farm-house brewery in Cazenovia, New York, a town about 30 minutes southeast of the city of Syracuse.

David Katleski, owner of Empire Brewing Co., and president of the New York State Brewers Association, has been super-busy with this project but was still able to spend some time with us during our upstate visit.

 He was most recently awarded the F.X. Matt “Defender of the Industry,” award at this year’s Craft Brewers Conference and it is a well-deserved title for this pioneer who has had a heavy hand in aiding with the passing of some new brewer-friendly laws that were recently approved in New York state.  Plus, he’s just a really nice guy who acted as a gracious host during our brief visit up there last week.  I can’t wait to follow the progress of this new brewery, sure to be a state-of-art facility with an emphasis on local ingredients and resources. 

So what was it like to brew at Syracuse’s Empire Brewpub?  Amazing, of course.  After a hearty Monday dinner at Dinosaur Barbeque (you can not visit Syracuse without eating here—it’s a definite must!) and a few beers afterward at the brewpub, Brewmaster Tim Butler reminded us to get a good night’s rest (aka don’t be too hung-over tomorrow) since we would meet him bright and early the next morning to start the brewing process.

Thank goodness for the hearty breakfast served up at our hotel, The Jefferson Clinton, conveniently located a stone’s throw away from the Empire Brewpub.

We entered the brewery (a pretty small space) and were greeted by Tim as he searched for the recipe we’d be making that day.  He had a special surprise in store for us and while some home-brewers and brewmasters may scoff at the idea of brewing a simple pale ale, I believe it’s a benchmark brew that every great brewer should master.  Empire does not currently have a Pale Ale on tap and brews the style seasonally (at harvest time using fresh hops from local Central New York farmers).

Nat, the assistant brewer, showed us to their storage room (where they keep their grain), requiring a walk through the kitchen.  We helped him left 10 bags of malt, each weighing in at 55 lbs. (those bags were heavy!) and wheeled them back to the brewing room. 

The brewing room is located behind the bar and adjacent to the dining room, so if you are having lunch or an afternoon beer at the pub, you can watch the brewers at work. 

We (kind of) helped Nat empty the grain bags into the mill where a long black pipe carried the grains into the mash tun.  Tim stood above the tun making sure the mash temperature was correct and stirring in the grains.  While we were there to brew, I have never worked on commercial equipment before (just a stove in my kitchen) so Nat and Tim pulled the levers and set the temps while explaining the process to us.

Next we helped empty one of the fermenters, which was full of their delicious coffee Scotch Ale, Local Grind, and was probably the last of the batch for this year, since the beer is more of a winter seasonal.  The fermenter yields about 12 barrels which are then stored into the cooler or driven down to NYC.  The brewpub serves 10-12 of their house-made beers at any given time, but they only brew about twice a week on a regular basis. 

Throughout the hours-long brewing process we watched Nat work his butt off, making sure everything stays clean and sanitized at each step along the way.  The brewing room felt like a sauna, and we were told it becomes unbearably hot in the summer time. 

Brewing beer is tedious and physically challenging as I discovered that day, and although the process is essentially the same as it is home-brewing in our kitchen, it is of course on a much larger scale.  Time for a beer break (because we were there to drink as well as brew): I went for their seasonal maibock, Empire Strikes Bock, which seemed an appropriate beer to drink during a long day of brewing. 

After mashing, the wort is piped into the brew kettle where it has to reach a boiling point.  This is the fun part: adding the hops!  We added a series of hops every 15 minutes or so, finishing off with Chinook (for aroma) and after 60 minutes, the brew is cooled before being blasted off into the fermenter where the hungry yeasties lie dormant, waiting for their meal. 

Overall, it was a simple process, and we did a lot more watching than brewing but we enjoyed the experience fully.  Nat talked us through the entire process, letting us know exactly what he was doing with every pull of the lever and every hose that he hooked up. 

In a few weeks, we hope to drink our beer with the Empire crew on their next visit down to New York City! 

After lunch and brewing, we went across the street to the Blue Tusk, which seems to be the spot the Empire crew hangs out at while not working at the pub and it’s easy to see why!  The “Tusk,” as it is fondly referred to by the natives, has an amazing tap selection that ranges from local to rare to imports.  Certainly a well-curated collection, as the owner, Mike, truly knows his beer. 

Knowledgeable Brewmaster, Tim Butler, gave us a mini-tour of the surrounding area, describing a scene on the Armory’s grassy lawn where he revived a man during his days former to being a brewer. A native of Syracuse, Tim told us about the history and the architecture in the neighborhood and made a great tour guide.

After a nap (completely necessary after a day of brewing and imbibing some brews), we were treated to a lovely dinner at the brewpub and plenty of Empire schwag to take home with us, including a couple of growlers filled with their well-balanced and easily quaffable IPA and one of my personal favorites, Deep Purple.

I can’t wait until their new brewery is up and running, and the building of it is a process I will be following closely.  Thanks to Tim, Dave, Nat and all the crew at Empire for showing us a good time and letting us brew at their facility!  I can’t wait to try our beer…