Last Wednesday, the New York City beer community descended on City Winery for beer tastings and gourmet pairings during the third annual Brewer's Choice. Situated right in the middle of New York City Beer Week, this event allowed beer geeks to mingle with local food lovers and chefs as well as brewers and beer reps from around the state. More than 20 local brewers served up samples of a few choice beers to be paired with delicious bites located all around the space. Everything from oysters to grilled cheese to kimchi gnocchi was represented and attendees were well fed — and plied with beer. Over the course of the night, we had more than a few epiphanies about the state of beer in New York. So here are the six things we learned from Brewer's Choice:
1. There are 110 brewers in the state of New York.
Scott Vaccaro, owner of Captain Lawrence Brewing Company in Pleasantville, N.Y., was the night's keynote speaker. During his speech, he pointed out that not 10 years ago — in 2004 — there were a few more than 30 brewers in the entire state of New York. Today, there are 110. That's an increase of more than 260 percent — giving beer lovers that much more variety in the market. Vaccaro went on to suggest that the state is becoming somewhat of a "beer scene" and encouraged the crowd — mostly locals — to support their local craft breweries. Surrounded by the event's organizers, Jimmy Carbone of Jimmy's No. 43 and Dave Brodrick of Blind Tiger Ale House, Vaccaro's words definitely hit home with the cheering audience.
2. Yeast can be collected from the belly of a hornet.
Birreria, the brewpub located on the rooftop of Eataly, produced a witbier (a Belgian-style unfiltered wheat beer) using yeast isolated from the belly of a hornet. Why? Because they can. To be perfectly honest, there was nothing about this beer that made it stand out among its style other than the fact it had hornet yeast in it. It's a great marketing scheme, at least. It should be mentioned that Sam Calagione, a man famous for making beers at Dogfish Head Craft Brewed Ales with some pretty insane ingredients, is one of the founders and partners behind Birreria. You can definitely see his hand in this beer. The brewpub has a variety of delicious beers that are worth a try — including this one. Just don't expect it to taste remarkably different than any other witbier just because of its special ingredient.
3. City Island will soon have its very own brewery.
There's a tiny island located at the northeast corner of the Bronx. It's mostly known for its amazing seafood restaurants but that hasn't stopped co-founder Paul Sciara and his partners from starting City Island Beer Company based out of the tiny island. For the time being, the company is contract-brewing their beer (under their close supervision) in Massachusetts, but they plan to open a location in City Island soon. City Island is the third Bronx-based brewery to open over the last few years. Jonas Bronck's Beer and The Bronx Brewery both launched prior to City Island. The Bronx Brewery is also contract-brewing in Connecticut until they can open their brewery location in the South Bronx, while Bronck's Beer is brewed upstate. I'm hoping to see one of them open their location soon.
4. Saison can be dry-hopped using something called a "hop cannon."
Brooklyn-based bottle and home-brew shop, Bierkraft made quite an impression at the event. The team at Bierkraft is venturing into the brewing realm themselves, opening a nano brewery in their location very soon. To show off their work, they brought their saison and served it by pumping it through a "hop cannon" — a tube filled with Simcoe hops and Buddha's hand fruit. The beer itself was quite good and the dry-hopping process (done by pumping the beer through dry hops — in this case via a "hop cannon") added a bit more citrus flavor thanks to both the hops and the fruit. It is worth noting that the cannon tended to get a bit clogged and this slowed up the serving process, resulting in a bit of a line. But that's to be expected at a crowded event like Brewer's Choice.
5. Kimchi gnocchi is a surprisingly good pairing with dry-hopped saison.
Among the gourmet food served at the event, the Kimchi Gnocchi, served with a slice of pork belly and pickled peppers, was the stand-out. The spice of the kimchi and peppers and the savory pork belly complemented each other perfectly while also enhancing the bitter citrus flavors of the dry-hopped saison. The fact that Bierkraft's table was right next to this one was no accident. So where can you get this delicious dish? Blind Tiger Ale House mixed up this amazing combination. Unfortunately, it's not a regular dish on their menu, but if you visit the ale house, you will find that they've got quite a penchant for kimchi. After that experience, we definitely recommend visiting Blind Tiger for the beer and the kimchi.
6. The brewer from 508 Gastrobrewery is a talented guy.
OK, we admit we knew this already. Chris Cuzme, the man behind the 508 Gastrobrewery's spiced beer made with pomegranate tea called Pompale, is also quite the saxophone player. After pouring beer for event attendees for most of the night, Cuzme got up on stage and serenaded everyone with a few songs. He also did the same thing at the opening party. It wasn't the first time — and it won't be the last. Cuzme has been a home brewer for a long time. Prior to becoming the brewer at 508, he co-founded Wandering Star Craft Brewery in Pittsfield, Mass., in 2011. In addition, he also hosts a regular radio show on Heritage Radio called Fuhmentaboudit with home brewer and beer writer Mary Izett.