Walking up the steps to Eataly's brand-spankin'-new (and yes, long-awaited) rooftop beer garden, Birreria, is a little like that iconic scene in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The initial peek into this seemingly elusive world inspires that same kind of pinch-yourself-twice, is-this-really-real moment of amused wonderment and awe.
Except here, in the place of a chocolate waterfall, you find a compact one-room windowed brewery, its shiny new stills glistening and churning from their 14-stories-up perch. Instead of an edible candy playground there is one of a different variety — a sleek open-air patio in the shadow of the Flatiron and Empire State buildings where craft beer geeks will soon set up camp in contented boozy bliss. You half expect the red T-shirt-clad crew to break out into an Oompa-Loompa-like song (in Italian, of course) swinging beer glasses in hand. Kidding.
All jokes aside, the "world of pure imagination" theme does hold true. This is, after all, Italian craft beer we're talking about. Free of the restrictions placed on the country's better known alcoholic beverage — wine — the young upstart world of craft beer has emerged as a platform for creative expression and experimentation. You can find a beer made with the resin of an Ethiopian tree, another crafted using tobacco (not legal in the U.S., sorry).
True to form, Eataly has secured some big names to spearhead the project. The biggest names in the business actually — Birra Baladin's Teo Musso and Birra del Borgo's Leonardo Di Vincenzo — as well as a local star of no insignificant reputation, Dogfish Head Brewery's Sam Calagione. The trio's combined efforts have produced what is sure to be one of the city's must-hit drinking destinations (cue the "Aw man, just when the lines at Eataly were dying down" refrains).
We got a behind-the-scenes tour and taste of Birreria's exciting brews and rustic Italian fare. And it seems, as was the case with the opening of Eataly last September, it will have been more than worth the wait.