But this weekend, I went to New York City to spend some time with friends and to search for some good beerbeer 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
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.