Brooklyn’s beer scene is new. The borough, on the western tip of Long Island (across the East River from Manhattan), is one of five that make up New York City, but its culture influence as a progenitor of trends is widely acknowledged.
Despite its size (the population of 2.5 million would make it the fourth largest city in the United States if it weren’t a part of New York City) and vanguard approach to trends, the majority of its ten operating breweries and brewpubs have opened only in the past four years, with at least three additional brewing companies set to open their locations to the public in 2017. Add to that the six or so contract brewing companies—such as Grimm Artisan Ales, Sixpoint, and KelSo—based there, and you’ve got yourself a burgeoning beer scene that shows no sign of stopping.
Many of Brooklyn’s professional brewers sprouted from area homebrew clubs, such as the Brewsers, who meet at a bottle shop and tasting room, Brouwerij Lane, in Greenpoint, and the Brewminaries, who host their bottle swaps at Brooklyn’s only and much beloved homebrew shop, Bitter & Esters, in Prospect Heights. Some are graduates from bona fide brewing schools, and still others have cut their teeth at professional stints before opening their own breweries. But a surprising number of Brooklyn’s brewmasters have entered that role as first-time brewers, and more surprising still, they’re remarkably good at what they do.
For the purposes of this guide, we’ve focused on the New School agents of professional brewing, while making an effort to give credit where it’s due to those who were here before 2010. Bring your walking shoes and Metro Card and get ready to taste some of the best the United States has to offer.
It’s impossible to start a discussion about Brooklyn’s beer scene without starting at the Brooklyn Brewery, which, when it was founded by Steve Hindy and Tom Potter in 1988, unknowingly forged the path for what would become the borough’s thriving scene close to thirty years later. Most of the (now multinational) brewing company’s production happpens upstate, but here you can tour the facility responsible for taproom-only favorites and one-offs. Look for the monthly rotating employee recipe or the latest Brooklyn Quarterly Experiment (BQE, a play on the nearby Brooklyn-Queens Expressway) heralded by beer-media celebrity and Brewmaster Garrett Oliver.
If you arrive on a Friday night, grab a slice of pizza from a food truck outside and settle into the communal-style taproom seating; on a Saturday or Sunday, be ready for lines and standing-room only.
Nearby is Mugs Ale House, an old favorite of craft heads who were here before the neighborhood became a hotbed of trendy shops and luxury condominiums. Likewise is Spuyten Duyvil, which started as a small grocery store and quickly evolved into one of Brooklyn’s original purveyors of Belgian and other rare craft beers (Cantillon even brewed a beer for them back in 2005—an eponymously named lambic aged on New Jersey cranberries).
On the south side of the BQE (as in, the highway), in what north Brooklyn’s more recent settlers call “East Williamsburg,” are choice craft-beer bars, and each brings delight in its own right: Beer Street, for careful curation and candlelight; Sugarburg (pictured above), for a brother-owned, Burning Man−inspired artistic den that achieves the hard-to-find trifecta of good beers, good whiskey, and pub fare spanning po’boys to poutine; and Northern Bell, for more beer and whiskey, this time with mouthwatering barbecue and homemade hot sauces.
Video game−loving visitors will appreciate the Brooklyn location of Barcade, boasting craft-only taps—that means no AB InBev buyouts, either—and dozens of retro arcade games on hand for a quarter to a dollar apiece.
Interboro Spirits & Ales, a brand-new brewery and distillery headed by Jesse Ferguson (pictured above; former head brewer of Carton in New Jersey, who also had a transitional stint at Other Half), is quickly becoming known for its juicy, East Coast IPAs and hip-hop inspiration (Mad Fat Fluid, the Next Episode) while it synergistically creates gins and other unaged spirits using the same brewing system.
This gritty-cum-gentrified neighborhood of Bushwick/Bedford-Stuyvesant combines bohemian art culture with industrial warehouses (and thus, great graffiti peeping tours). It has recently become home to another new brewery, Kings County Brewers Collective (KCBC), the first to open in the area since Prohibition wiped out a once-booming beer scene here decades ago. Look for the hoppy Czech Pilsner, Janiak Maniak, named for the brewery’s colorful landlord, or the locally loved Dangerous Precedent IPA.
In the building of one of the aforementioned breweries of yore is The Well (pictured at top), a beer bar immense in size and selection whose outstanding ever-rotating taps yield rare finds and local favorites and whose happy hour is known to feature “whales, bro” at low prices. Note that weekends often bring dance parties here, so check the events schedule ahead of time.
Pine Box Rock Shop, a vegan-friendly bar in a former casket factory, is worth stopping at for a pint on trivia night, and The Sampler will set you up with a brew, a bite of cheese, and bottles to go.
Those craving whole-hog barbecue in a tap-stacked beer hall might head to Arrogant Swine, where owner/chef Tyson Ho is as likely to roast a pig as he is to partake in a giant Jenga game outside or pour your beer behind the bar.
If you find yourself venturing into Bed-Stuy, head to The Wilky for beer and food or to Glorietta Baldy, where you might catch a beer-trivia night hosted by the Beerded Ladies.
Greenpoint, Brooklyn’s northernmost neighborhood on the East River, is known mostly for its Polish heritage, which openly lingers in the doorways of delis, bakeries, and dives. The flipside to that is the rapid influx of young creatives who occupy themselves with anything from filmmaking to beer making. The area is still relaxed compared to its Bedford Avenue−wielding neighbor, Williamsburg, and best of all for beer lovers, Greenpoint has sprouted a craft-beer scene that rivals many.
Two brewpubs straddle the neighborhood. Greenpoint Beer & Ale (pictured above; formerly known as Dirck the Norseman) is a spacious German-style beer hall with a rapidly growing list of inventive brews that shine in any style (Instant Credibility double IPA is a local favorite, but stouts and sours are not to be missed).
Keg & Lantern (pictured above) is a locals’ sports bar that two years ago, to beer nerds’ delight, sprouted a brewery in its basement that added flavor and variety to the draft lines while keeping the humble pub’s no-frills vibe intact.
Swing around the corner to the sleek and upscale Tørst (pictured above), a Danish-inspired beer bar owned by Evil Twin Brewing’s Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø and Chef Daniel Burns, who helms the secretive Michelin-starred restaurant, Luksus, in the rear (the only such establishment with a beer-pairing program).
Worth the trek northwest toward the water’s edge is Brouwerij Lane, a bottle shop and tasting room with nineteen beers on tap and a world-class selection of bottles and cans available to go or to drink on premise. Selections range from its sister business, Greenpoint Beer & Ale to international imports, Jever and Gaffel Kölsch, along with many other sought-after, small-batch offerings from home and abroad.
Gowanus/Carroll Gardens/Park Slope
Crossing Atlantic Avenue into the beer belly of Brooklyn’s midsection can be a mini beercation on its own. In one of the less glamorous sections, hugging the west bank of the Gowanus Canal in the southeast quadrant Carroll Gardens, sits Brooklyn’s reigning king of New School beer, Other Half, whose generously hopped IPAs (Green Diamonds, Hop Showers), legendary can releases, and long list of beer collaborations have earned them nationwide acclaim since they opened just three years ago.
Although a taproom expansion is in the brewery’s near future, skip the competition and head to nearby Threes Brewing (pictured above), where you’re likely to find both Threes and Other Half concoctions (perhaps even a collaboration between the two) on draft and in cans.
Located on the other side of the canal in Gowanus, Threes boasts a space that’s massive by New York standards, with a full bar, backyard, and pop up−style fare from the Meat Hook; on a semi-second level, a coffee shop and separate seating area often host events such as local bands, DJs, and even Sunday night football. At press time, a taproom is opening imminently at two-year-old Folksbier Brauerei, which sits quietly on a residential street where it creates crisp, clean German-style lagers and ales with traditional intentions.
Also within walking distance as you head toward Park Slope is Strong Rope Brewery, focusing on New York State and regional ingredients and hosting educational events centered on locavore beer making. If you’re aching for a stop between the breweries of Carroll Gardens and Gowanus, Bar Great Harry is a welcome respite with an extensive list of drafts, bottles, and cans.
Park Slope, known mostly for its affluent, stroller-pushing residents, is also home to a handful of bars that deserve recognition as craft-beer pioneers (these pre-date the brewery days): Mission Dolores (pictured above), a Brooklyn-style beer garden (read: spacious, with a semi-outdoor entryway); The Gate, equipped with a prime people-watching patio; The Owl Farm, named for Hunter S. Thompson’s Colorado ranch; and the Double Windsor, featuring hearty fare right on the southwest corner of beautiful Prospect Park.
Atlantic Terminal/Crown Heights
In this hub of Brooklyn commerce and culture located conveniently between Barclay’s Center and the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s performing arts center, notable stops include St. Gambrinus Beer Shoppe, offering a nice selection of bottles and cans, and mostly local taps; Fourth Avenue Pub, for your basic beer-loving needs exceedingly met with free popcorn; and Pacific Standard, for those who miss the West Coast.
Covenhoven, in the adjacent Crown Heights neighborhood, is another local favorite for its New York−centric tap selection, as well as beers to go. Around the corner, Berg’n (pictured above) is a perfect place for weary beer travelers to rest, offering a full craft beer−centric bar, along with pop up−style food offerings of Brooklyn Flea and Smorgusburg fame (ramen burger, anyone?) along with a coffee counter. For a pleasantly scented spectacle, visit Sycamore, a craft-beer bar and flower shop; and to top it all off with a new bar serving exclusively New York State beer, wine, cider, and spirits, head to Cardiff Giant, named after a famous New York hoax about a giant petrified man.
PHOTOS: PATRICK PHILLIPS