Monthly Archives: January 2013

From Lebanon, With Beer: Meet 961

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961 Beer founder Mazen Hajjar.

When it comes to foreign beer being imported to the U.S., there’s plenty of buzz about brewers from Denmark, Italy and even Spain and France, a nation better known for its love of grapes than grains. But the craft beer revolution is not confined to continental Europe. Lately, craft breweries have begun to crop up in Beijing, India and, perhaps most surprising of all, Beirut, Lebanon.

This month marks the stateside arrival of 961 Beer, Beirut’s first craft brewery. The firm was founded in 2006 by Mazen Hajjar, a former investment banker who ran two airlines before catching the brewing bug. “I bought every book on beer on Amazon and taught myself to brew,” says Hajjar, who took his greatest inspiration from Beer School by Brooklyn Brewery founders Steve Hindy and Tom Potter.

Hajjar began homebrewing, taking his inspiration from Britain’s balanced brewing traditions. He tinkered with porters and English-inspired pale ales, conducting endless “research sessions” with friends and colleagues.

Then one day came a knock at the door. Continue reading

Meet the Haute New Hops of 2013

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Like pinwheel caps and Cosby sweaters, hops—the bitter flowers used to flavor some of your favorite beers—are forever going in and out of fashion. For a while, brewers couldn’t get enough of super-citrusy Centennial (found in beers like Stone Ruination and Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale), before being smitten by piney Simcoe. Then along came the white wine–like Nelson Sauvin and tropical Citra, which stole the hearts of brewers and beer lovers alike.

But craft brewers are a restless bunch. In their quest for novel flavors, they are forever seeking out new hops that they can use to transform familiar recipes, or use as building blocks for something entirely.

Curious about the eight of the hottest hops you’ll be hearing about in 2013? Check out my full story at First We Feast.

A Toast to Long Island

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This post originally appeared on Craft Beer New York.

After a long, well-lubricated holiday weekend, the last thing I need is another beer in my belly. I should stick to water, with a cleansing salad thrown in for fun. But common sense has never been my strong suit. Tonight, I’ll no doubt find myself with a beer in hand. After all, it’s the charitable thing to do.

Today marks the release of Surge Protector IPA, which was brewed to benefit the food bank Long Island Cares and Barrier Brewing. Though the Oceanside brewery is now back up and running after getting socked by Sandy, the bill for repairs topped more than $100,000. To help defray the costs, Long Island’s best brewers gathered at Blue Point in December to brew a collaborative beer.

Representatives from Greenport Harbor, Blue Point, Blind Bat, Long Ireland, Spider Bite, Port JeffGreat South Bay and Barrier all bandied about ideas for the brew, settling on an easy-drinking IPA that checks in at a quaffable 5 percent ABV. Each brewery donated ingredients for what became a 30-barrel batch of Surge Protector.

While most of the beer is earmarked for bars and bottle shops on Long Island, a small amount of Surge Protector will wash up in New York City. Look for the IPA at Brooklyn’s 61 Local and Alewife Queens, as well as the Bronx Alehouse and the Hell’s Kitchen location of Pony Bar.

Don’t feel guilty for having a second, or even a third pint. After all, drinking is merely the charitable thing to do.

P.S. Check out this video detailing the process of brewing and bottling Surge Protector.

Craft Beer in Rome

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Photo: Parla Food, which offers awesome craft beer tours in Rome

Last time I was in Italy, I was a pimply collegiate backpacker subsisting on cheap pizza, even cheaper wine and the desperate desire to find a lass to lay me in a hostel. I failed miserably on that front, leading me to drink even more rotgut wine to drown my perceived sorrows. I left Venice and Florence with vile hangovers and an unhealthy dose of regret.

Was it the lack of love? Hardly. Celibacy was the unfortunate status quo on that trip. The bigger regret was that I never made it to Rome, a city I foolishly skipped because…I don’t remember. I was drunk a lot during that European backpacking sojourn. I made many terrible, irrational decisions with my travel itinerary, most notably sleeping in an Amsterdam park after ingesting hallucinatory mushrooms. Let me tell you: Being awoken at dawn by drug-peddling bicycle riders is, quite possibly, the world’s worst alarm clock.

Now that I’m older and (somewhat) wiser, I wish to correct a few of my youthful missteps. Crowning my list is a long-delayed trip to Rome. The journey is not for the museums or restaurants, but rather the beer. Stick with me here. In the mid-1990s, there was virtually no craft beer commercially produced in Italy. Today, there are around 400 breweries, 140 of which were established between 2008 and 2010. Italian breweries are using indigenous ingredients such as basil, chestnuts, grapes and roses to create beers every bit as complex as wine. Continue reading

Radio Is in Session

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Jimmy Carbone on Beer Sessions Radio.

Last night, I appeared on the excellent, suds-soaked show Beer Sessions Radio with an all-star cast of beer-industry pros: Evil Twin‘s Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø, Bierkraft‘s Ben Granger, Jimmy Carbone and Alex McDonald from New Hampshire’s gruit-focused Earth Eagle Brewings.

In between knocking back cans of Heady Topper and plenty of delicious Evil Twin ales (the Femme Fatale Brett was an excellent wild yeast–fueled IPA), I had enough brainpower to discuss Craft Beer New York. Curious? Take a listen.

Snake River Brewing Slithers Into Town

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Photo: the River in the Pines

Living in New York, we’re in a privileged place when it comes to craft beer. Though we lack the critical mass of breweries and brewpubs that are found in Portland, Asheville, Seattle and Chicago, our tap lines overflow with excellent beer from cultish breweries such as Firestone Walker, Ballast Point and AleSmith.

I call this the “show pony” effect. New York is still the nation’s nerve center for media, and the city’s journalists and taste makers can quickly elevate a beer brand’s standing. Add to that the bustling tourist economy (around 50 million folks annually), and New York is a massive stage for craft breweries. The latest brewery to take its turn in the spotlight in our fair metropolis is Snake River, which might be the best brewery in Wyoming.

Don’t scoff. Over the last couple years, Wyoming’s breweries have been earning armloads of medals at the Great American Beer Festival. Thai Me Up took top honors for its IPAs, and Black Tooth Brewing, Wind River and Altitude Chophouse also earned some shiny hardware. Still, few Wyoming breweries have been as consistently excellent as Snake River Brewing.

Some breweries tend to have a single specialty such as, say, hoppy beers, stouts or crisp pilsners. That’s not Snake River’s style. Head brewer Cory Buenning is well versed in West Coast hop bombs, Czech pilsners, German lagers and English ales, showing a firm grasp on the brew kettle.

Brooklyn’s American Beer  distributors released Snake River’s beers a few weeks ago, and let me tell you: I have not been this impressed about a new brewery in eons.  Snake River Pale Ale is a citrusy easy-drinker, while the Snake River Lager is a smooth, caramel-licked dream. Like hops? Pako’s EYE-P-A is firmly bitter without blowing your taste buds to smithereens, while Zonker Stout is a rich and roasty rebuttal to winter.

Go on, get a pint. Being snakebit has never been so delightful.

This was previously published on my app, Craft Beer New York.

Port Jefferson Comes to Brooklyn

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A decade ago, the Long Island craft brewing scene could be boiled down to two major players: Blue Point and Southampton. Besides them, craft brews were tough to come by on Long Island, much less New York City. But in the last few years, breweries in Long Island have been popping up like mushrooms after a spring rain.

Greenport Harbor, Long Ireland and Blind Bat are among the many breweries that are crafting excellent beers for Long Island residents and New Yorkers alike. And the latest Long Island brewery to expand distribution to New York is Port Jeff Brewing Company, the brainchild of Port Jefferson’s Mike Philbrick.

After more than a decade spent homebrewing, Philbrick decided to go pro. He turned a Christmas-supply shop into the first brewery in this harbor-hugging town on Long Island’s North Shore. On a seven-barrel system, Philbrick crafts full flavor, no-hops-spared beers that honor the town’s shipbuilding past.

The flagship Schooner Ale is the most approachable beer, a malty-citrusy marriage of English and American brewing traditions. Better still is the Runaway Ferry Imperial IPA, which is made with smoked malt, and the Low Tide Black IPA that receives a tropical edge due to Citra hops. The honey-sweetened porter also ain’t half bad, and come summer you’d be happy to sip the White’s Beach Wit.

Tonight at 7 p.m., Bierkraft hosts the brewery’s big Brooklyn debut. Seven Port Jeff beers will be on tap, including Schooner, Runaway Ferry Imperial Smoked IPA, Low Tide and a couple cask ales, notably the Starboard Oatmeal Stout primed with Port Jeff Birch Beer.

Trust me: This brewery will be your favorite new port of call.

This post appeared in my iPhone app, Craft Beer New York.