8.4% ABV on draught
I got into a friendly argument with my friend The Captain the other day, and it really wasn’t even an argument cause he was just regurgitating what he had heard others say. So I guess I was really getting into an argument with faceless and nameless people I don’t even know. Or, better put, I was just arguing in my head with myself and my “voices.” That’s why I need to drink, the drinking turns the multiple personalities into one. One asshole personality, but still.
Any how, The Captain had finally gotten to enjoy some lower-level Brooklyn Brewery beers (their solid IPA and their bleh Pennant Ale) and though he had generally enjoyed them, he had not been blown away by either. Nor should he have been by the ones he’d had. He noted on his blog that Brooklyn was like the east coast’s version of Leinenkugel, “not undrinkable, but not great.” Being an unabashed hater of Leinenkugel–my lawyer advises me not to further discuss them, pending the outcome of our poisoning case–and a shameless homer toward Brooklyn, I had to quickly take umbrage without even further considering what he had said. I am a knee-jerk reactionary, no doubt about it.
Later, I started thinking about the reasons Brooklyn Brewery is not hailed in the upper echelon of craft breweries even though they probably deserve to be. And, what I’ve concluded is that this is because Brooklyn makes a lot of “pay-the-bills” beers. You know, B-grade stuff that every one likes: lagers, pilsners, the boring shit. You’re never gonna get a masterpiece of a lager or a pilsner, and not surprisingly, the bigger boys in the craft brewing game–Stone, Russian River, Lost Abbey, et al–don’t even make them. And I would wager it is because they don’t wish to besmirch their fine names with such mainstream styles. It would be like Daniel Day Lewis appearing in a sitcom. You would think him appearing on “Two and a Half Men” wouldn’t make his work as Daniel Plainview any less “good,” but yeah, it would to most. That’s just how people are.
Brooklyn, just like Sam Adams, makes “accessible beers” that non-beer geeks can understand and enjoy. And while I’m not saying they should be honored for this, they shouldn’t get demerits for this charity work either. I think we need to consider Brooklyn Brewery as being two breweries: their Joe Sixpack brewery and their actual craft brewery. Conveniently enough, that is almost literally the case as Brooklyn’s so-called boring beers are actually bottled–prepare for a quasi-dirty little secret–at the Matt Brewing Company up in Utica, while their interesting releases, of which I will discuss in a second, are presided over by the legendary brewmaster Garrett Oliver at their Williamsburg, Brooklyn plant*.
I don’t even think a lot of beerdrinking New Yorkers realize that Brooklyn makes stuff beside their bottled products, most specifically their ubiquitous and solid Lager. But it is their draught stuff–and these only come on limited draught save the Local 1**–that is by far their best stuff, stuff that puts them in the majors with the big swingin’ dicks of beer. Called the Brewmasters Reserve, every few months Garrett Oliver releases them to select bars in the city. And very few bars at that.
These beers are always really interesting, unique, and ambitious stuff: abbey beers and imperial IPAs and helles and saisons and a lip-smacking dopplebock I had last year that I would have given an A+ to if I’d had my blog at the time. It absolutely floored me.
Their most recent release is their Grand Cru, an always cocky designation for any beer, put perhaps especially for a witbier. But goddamn it’s a good one. Wheat yeast comes through strong on the nose with a very fragrant orange smell. In addition to those, potent tastes of spicy coriander and a nice honey sugarness too. It’s also has an uncharacteristically high ABV for a witbier which truly makes this one a minor classic.
It kind pisses me off that Brooklyn doesn’t bottle its beers like the Grand Cru and make them more accessible. I can find their Lager, Brown Ale, etc. on bottle in even the crappiest deli and on tap at even the crappiest bar here in Manhattan. Yet even being a huge beer geek with a lot of time on my hands and a lot of drinking hours to fill in my week, I’m lucky to have even a single pint of each new Brewmasters release. Makes no sense to me. Why can’t I get these beers bottled to enjoy in the comfort of my uncomfortable tiny apartment? To exchange with my friends that live in more boring cities and states? This needs to happen.
Back-tracking a bit, if it sounded like I am ripping on the Lager and the other “normal” Brooklyn beers, I’m not. Those are certainly not bad beers, and I frequently get loaded on all of them. And am happy to. In fact, Brooklyn–and Sam Adams–are damn near heroic for guaranteeing that the absolute worst beers you should ever have to drink in an east coast bar are from one of their breweries. But because of their prevalence, the bottled Brooklyns and mainstream Sams are the general public standard bearers for the breweries when they certainly shouldn’t be. Sam Adams should be judged for their Utopias while Brooklyn should be judged for their always winning Brewmasters Reserve beers. If that was the case, then both breweries would be considered greater in esteem than they generally are.
Just make the Brewmasters Reserves more accessible, Garrett!
*Which amusingly enough used to be a matzo ball factory. Only in New York, kids.
**Brooklyn Brewery’s website is annoying to no end. Why do people continue to make flash websites? Look, I’m just going to your website–like I go to all websites that aren’t re: nekkid ladies–to cull information. And when I have to pass through all sorts of slow-moving bells and whistles just to learn minor things, it really fucking pisses me off.