Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Road Trip: NYC

I don't often go on road trips with beer in mind: beer just comes along inevitably. 

But this weekend, I went to New York City to spend some time with friends and to search for some good beer—beer that I typically can't find in Ottawa.

And I hit pay dirt. In the two-and-a-half days that I was away, I visited three craft breweries and sampled 15 different beers. That's not saying how many glasses of beer I drank: what happens in New York, stays in New York!

On my first night, I devoted my time to my friends, so even though we went to a restaurant and then to a basement pub, where the beer was aplenty, I only made mental notes of the ales I tried: no written notes.

Of the four beers I drank that night, one stood out: Racer 5 India Pale Ale, from California brewery, Bear Republic. It was a wonderfully citric and hoppy IPA, the kind that gets me remembering the taste days later, and craving more. I looked for it in the beer section of Whole Foods, but sadly I found none.

On Saturday, I had a couple of breweries in mind, and so my buddy, Stuart, and I ventured to one for lunch. I'll review that brew pub today: the other, I'll talk about in the next day or two.

The first brewery we hit was the Heartland Brewery, near Union Square (across from the market). This two-story establishment is only one of the seven locations for the pub. I'm not sure if all locations boast breweries, but the Union Square location certainly did. Originally, I had wanted to visit the South Street Seaport location, but according to their Web site, it's closed due to Hurricane Sandy.

Stu and I were seated on the upper level, which looked down towards the main-floor bar and the brewing facilities. The pub was smartly decorated and gave the feeling of a warm and inviting setting.

I ordered the six-glass sampler of their regular lineup, preferring to leave their seasonals and special beers for another visit (yes, I decided before I tried any of their beer that I would probably return). And, after trying the sampler and eating their food (the pumpkin and sage ravioli was incredible), I know I will be back.

Here's the lineup of samplers, in the recommended tasting order:

Harvest Wheat Beer (5.0 % ABV)
  • Appearance: a slightly hazy, deep gold with a white, foamy head that slowly dissipated to a solid cap.
  • Nose: closed, not much was offered (possibly, too cold?).
  • Palate: definite oranges and grass, with a nice, delicately hopped finish.
  • Overall impression: this was a great start to the tasting. This ale is light and fresh but has good, solid flavours.
  • Beer O'Clock rating: 3

Cornhusker Lager (5.0 % ABV)
  • Appearance: a clear version of the Indian River (the colour and the head).
  • Nose: again, the aromas seemed closed, perhaps due to the cool temperature of the sample. Eventually, the bouquet released hints of citrus and grass.
  • Palate: my mouth felt as though I had filled it with a Molson or Labatt product. Images of university campus beer halls filled my head as I struggled to swallow it. The finish left me with intense, grassy malts.
  • Overall impression: I didn't like this one at all. After my first sip, I put the glass down and never touched it again.
  • Beer O'Clock rating: 1.5
Indian River Light Ale (3.9 % ABV)
  • Appearance: a cloudy, golden yellow with a white, lacy head. Served with a lemon wedge.
  • Nose: creamy citrus.
  • Palate: the initial flavours are of a lemon creamcicle, with wheat on the tongue and light malts that culminate in a short finish of cilantro.
  • Overall impression: this was a nice palate-cleansing beer that was nice to have at the midpoint of the tasting, so that my taste buds could make way for the heavy-hitter beers.
  • Beer O'Clock rating: 2.5

Red Rooster Ale (5.5% ABV)
  • Appearance: a murky toffee-brown with a light taupe head that dissipated to a fine lace.
  • Nose: once again, the nose offered little. I would suggest that the pub not serve its ales so cold.
  • Palate: burnt caramel, rich malt, and hints of an espresso roast in the finish, which is nice but I found that it dropped off a little too quickly.
  • Overall impression: this is a nice, rich, well-balanced ale that I could easily drink again.
  • Beer O'Clock rating: 3
Indiana Pale Ale (5.9% ABV)
  • Appearance: an unfiltered, deep gold.
  • Nose: grapefruit rind and strong hops. This was better.
  • Palate: tea-like tannins and intense hops, though not as intense as some Ontario IPAs like Mad Tom or Hoptical Illusion. And lots of grapefruit.
  • Overall impression: this is a classic IPA. I'd drink this ale any day.
  • Beer O'Clock rating: 3.5
Farmer Jon's Oatmeal Stout (6.0% ABV)
  • Appearance: a clear mahogany brown with red highlights, and a taupe head that dissipated quickly.
  • Nose: roasted malt, coffee, and a hint of chocolate.
  • Palate: a creamy chocolate with coffee and a mild, malty finish that not only drops of quickly, but leaves a watery feeling in the mouth.
  • Overall impression: while this is a beautiful stout, it could have been perfect if not for the watery finish. Typically, a beer will leave me wanting to taste more; this one left nothing behind. Still, I really enjoyed the intense flavours at the start and the aromas.
  • Beer O'Clock rating: 4
This was a nice overall offering from Heartland. I really loved the stout and IPA, and the red was worth having another pint at a future visit. I would, however, suggest a change to the tasting order: instead of moving through the lineup from lightest to darkest colours, and lowest to highest alcohol content, I would recommend that Heartland place the IPA at the end. The flavours are so intense that they may have interfered with my tasting of the stout. An intense flavour should go last.

I'm definitely going to return to Heartland in the future, possibly trying out their other locations. If you're in NYC, give them a try for yourself.


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