It's been said that there is no better time than now to be a craft beer lover in America, and that sentiment most certainly applies to New York City.
After all, there are now more than 2,400 breweries operating in America, according to the Brewer's Association, the most since the late 19th century, and 16 of those are operating out of The Big Apple as members of the New York City Brewers Guild. In short, it's easier than ever for beer geeks to get their craft fill.
This week, the beer industry has turned its spotlight on Gotham as the city has been celebrating New York City Beer Week, a series of festivals, tastings, menu pairings and beer dinners (more than 100 events in total) that showcase the best of what craft beer has to offer. The event is put on by the New York City Brewers Guild, a nonprofit collective of the city's larger craft breweries whose mission is to spread the gospel of drinking local to Gothamites. The immense population of New York means the event, put on by the Brewers Guild, has grown into one of the country's largest craft beer fetes.
I was fortunate enough to attend the week's opening gala event last Friday, held in Grand Central Terminal's Vanderbilt Hall. For those unfamiliar with the layout of the legendary transportation hub, Vanderbilt Hall is the 12,500 square-foot space on the west side of the building. Normally, the hall is just an empty space that travelers walk through and pay no mind, but not on this night. The space was blocked off and its perimeter was lined with beer offerings, many brewed just for the event, from the 16 members of the Brewers Guild as well as some of the country's more notable craft breweries.
Stand-out beers for me were Quad from the Manhattan-based Heartland Brewery, Kelso Beer Co.'s Rye Aged Rauchbier (Brooklyn), Other Half Brewing Co.'s Imperial Stout (Brooklyn) and Six Point Brewery's Hi-Res (Brooklyn).
As I walked around the venue tasting all of the brews, I couldn't help but think it a bit ironic that New York City now hosts such a colossal beer event. After all, it wasn't that long ago that the city rejected one of the first craft brewing endeavors on the East Coast.
It was 1982 when a wine aficionado named Matthew Reich hatched an idea to start a craft brewery right in the heart of Manhattan. After years of brewing by contract in upstate, Reich finally broke ground on the New Amsterdam brewpub in 1986. In short, New Yorkers were more accustomed to wine and cocktails, and thus the brewpub was shuttered but a few years later. (Beer writer Tom Acitelli writes a much more detailed account of New Amsterdam's short life in his fantastic book The Audacity of Hops: The History of America's Craft Beer Revolution, but you can read a condensed version of the history at his website.)
Nowadays, a person can seemingly walk into any corner convenience store or neighborhood supermarket and find coolers full of not only craft beer, but imported beers from Belgium and Germany, just to name a few. Additionally, the city landscape is littered with responsible beer bars that not only offer multiple craft beers on draft, but understand the importance of cleaning draft lines after every kicked keg and serving beers in proper glasses at the appropriate temperatures.
Yes, the craft beer scene has come a long way, and if the New York City Beer Week is any indication, this "trend" as some still like to call it, is here to stay for good.
New York City Beer Week ends Sunday, so there's still a slew of events to check out.