The Big Apple – and I’m not talking Cider

I love New York – it’s a cliché I know but I do and each time I go I feel more at home.   The city feels safe and in my opinion as the unstoppable force of globalisation marches on Londoners and New Yorkers look pretty similar.

We shop in the same shops, watch the same TV and share social media platforms which enable the flow of cultures across borders.

There remain however differences. We moan about our trains but the New York Subway is sparse and grey – we after all have cushioned seats, something I’ve not seen on the New York subway.

If you prefer travelling by car you may be in for a bumpy journey as some of the roads are in a pretty poor state of repair.

But there is one area in which I would argue we here in the UK – this nation of great brewers and beer drinkers could learn a thing or two and that’s the image of beer.

I am sure you don’t need me to tell you about the explosion of beers from the USA in recent years or the subsequent trend over here for British brewed US style beers?   Big exuberantly hopped beers featuring those now familiar names such as Cascade, Chinook and Amarillo.   The emergence of APAs and the growing number of US beers available in supermarkets even in my sleepy suburb.   That’s the unstoppable force of globalisation at work you see – from New York or California to… Orpington!

What a choice!

But it’s not just about choice; here in the UK there are barrel loads of fantastic breweries offering a myriad of beers.    But it is still unusual to see extensive beer lists in restaurants or beer and food pairing notes on menus – even in pubs.   Now don’t get me wrong, things are slowly getting better – I have marvelled at the extensive beer menu at Harrild and Sons in Farringdon, deliberated over the Craft beer section on Byron’s menu and of course the ever growing band of Micro pubs in the South East alone demonstrates the growing interest in beer but I believe we have a way to go.

Now I last visited New York almost nine years ago.  At the time I discovered the Heartland Brewery bar at the foot of the Empire State Building. I remembered a splendid beer selection and was so impressed I bought a Heartland beer glass home for my husband – at least I think I paid for it…

Beer inside Heartland Brewery's Chophouse

Amazingly the glass has survived all these years as I am happy to say have the Heartland Brewery.   The Brewery has in fact been going since 1995 and is 100% employee owned.

During a recent trip to New York I wasn’t sure I’d be able to find the bar again but a quick search on the internet revealed that there are in fact three heartland brewery bars in New York -see

Late on a Saturday afternoon we checked out the Heartland Brewery and Chophouse by Times Square (127 W. 43rd St, New York NY 10036)

Anyone who’s been to New York will know Times Square is less of a square but more manic junction – imagine Clapham Junction tenfold combined with the bright lights of Piccadilly and Leicester square and you get the idea.  It’s more than a tad seedy and commercial but the crowds flock there.

The Heartland Brewery and Chophouse was packed. We managed however to tuck ourselves into a cosy corner at the end of the bar and were given beer menus by a chirpy barman almost immediately.

bar pumps in the Chophouse

Typically for American beers the ABV’s were quite strong so we started with the Indian River Light at 3.50%– more session than light to us Brits.   My husband then opted for the Red Rooster Ale – a malty red ale with a warming 5.5% ABV and I had the award winning Farmer Jon’s Oatmeal Stout which was fantastic at 6% ABV.    We intended to have just two beers but when our friendly bar man offered us another we thought why not and had a final half each.

The atmosphere at the Chophouse was buzzing.   We had dinner reservations nearer our hotel but I hope to go back for dinner in the future.  The menu is extensive and features beer and food pairing suggestions so elusive here in the UK.

Heartland Brewery Chophouse

Not wanting to be amongst the before mentioned chaos of Times Square 24/7 we had opted to stay in a hotel in the Tribeca district where we stumbled upon bars and restaurants offering great beer right on our doorstep.

Visible from our 12th floor window for example was the AOA restaurant and bar so called as it sits on the Avenue Of Americas.

Offering classic meals such as burgers and pizza plus an interesting array of salads – Kale Salad topped with candied peanuts anyone??  AOA also has an amazing beer list comprising both US and export beers.  Twenty six beers on draft and just over eighty bottled!!   We spent an evening grazing on AOL burgers whilst working our way through the beer list on which we made an impressive dent.   My till receipt totals $178.99 – Food $50, Tax $14.59, Service Charge $27.40 and the balance..? yes Beer!

Between us we had from New York Kelso Nut Brown Lager, Bronx Brewery’s Pale Ale and Six Point IPA.  Moving further afield we tried Lagunitas New Dogtown Pale Ale , Founders All Day IPA all at $8 and my favourite of the night Founders Porter $7– quite a hard night’s work!

The food was great and I couldn’t have asked for better so close to the hotel in terms of beer lists.   I implore more UK restaurants to follow suite !

Brooklyn Brewery

Despite having great beer destinations in Manhattan travelling a bit further across the East River to Brooklyn is a must do for all beer geeks as located in the Williamsburg district is the Brooklyn Brewery.

Easily and quickly reached on the subway from Manhattan – so not too long on those hard seats Williamsburg reminds me of the funkier areas of London as there are little cafés, bars and vintage shops full of gorgeous creatures – the male of the species often sporting beards whilst the women look effortlessly bohemianly beautiful.   Round the corner from all this über coolness is the Brooklyn Brewery.

Funky Williamsburg

Brooklyn Brewery has been brewing in some form since the 1980s and has been at the Williamsburg site since 1996.   Brewery tours are available seven days a week but you need to book Monday to Friday.   Even if you don’t fancy a brewery tour (sometimes it’s just enough to enjoy the end product right?) the brewery is a venue in its own right as there’s a gorgeous tasting room which is open Friday night, Saturday and Sunday.  The space is huge – nothing fancy mind just plenty of room to unwind with some great beers.  If like me you like a souvenir or two there’s also a shop that sells merchandise – clothing cool enough to be seen wearing in Williamsburg plus books and beers.   I treated myself to a bottle of Hand and Seal which I am lovingly saving for a special occasion.

Brooklyn Brewery’s Master Brewer is Garrett Oliver who is a beer hero of mine.   Garrett has been Brooklyn’s Brew Master since 1994 and prior to joining Brooklyn had researched beer extensively in Europe including in the UK.

Shop and tasting room, Brooklyn Brewery

If you haven’t got a copy of Garrett’s book The Brewmaster’s Table I would strongly recommend it as it contains a wealth of knowledge on beer types, brewing, beer history and beer and food pairing.

To my delight Garrett had agreed to take some time out of his busy schedule to show me around the brewery.

Garrett started the tour by pouring us a Brooklyn Half Ale, a very drinkable Saison at 3.5% abv before taking us around the brew house which is an impressive set up.

Garrett told us how at Brooklyn Brewery they encourage the brewers to experiment devising trial beers – some never get beyond the brewery walls but others are more successful.   During the tour we happened upon a guy cutting up lemons for an experimental brew…..

A highlight of the tour was going into the room where the barrels used for ageing the beers are stored.  These barrels come from around the world and have in the past been used for spirits such as Bourbon and Rum.   The aroma given off filled the room with the rich evocative smells of Christmas.

Those lovely Barrels

We finished our tour at the tap room where Garrett proceeded to pour us beer after beer to try.  Amongst those we sampled were some of the experimental beers, the fantastic Barley Wine style Hand and Seal which is aged in bourbon barrels and an amazing Kriek.

Whilst enjoying the beers we chewed the fat over matters such as the image of beer amongst the public, brewers and chefs, what the UK beer scene is doing in comparison to the US and sexism in the beer world.

Beers we tried with Garrett

It was a great afternoon and I’m very grateful to Garrett for sparing time to show us around.

If you are a bit of a beer fanatic and are planning a trip stateside be sure to take your beer list and a pen as I am sure you will find plenty of the brown (or gold or red) stuff to enjoy.

Brooklyn Brewery against the New York Blue Sky


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