Why New York Is the Best Beer City in the USA

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[Illustration: Zac Overman]

I spend far too much of my day goofing around on Reddit. I never post, just lurk, seeing what the world's most all-knowing 18-year-old shut-ins are eagerly perpetuating on the internet. Last year, though, some bonehead started a thread I couldn't ignore. After a single night exploring the lamest parts of Midtown Manhattan, the poster returned to his Days Inn and wrote on r/beer: "Found a bar close to my hotel that has a poo selection. Walks to time square and didn't find anything interesting...I'm coming from Wisconsin, so far, not impressed with the NY beer!" (sic)

Maybe it was because I'd been drinking; maybe it was because I'm a knee-jerk New York loyalist, but I couldn't let that dumb comment get upvoted. I quickly responded, "It's like you went to Disneyland, saw a concession stand selling Corona, and decided you weren't impressed with Southern California beer."

Of course, that would never happen—everyone knows SoCal beer is great—but examples like the aforementioned often occur in New York because there's long been consensus that NYC is a crappy beer town. I get it. When I moved here in 2001, there were three breweries total, and the only places to get "good" beer were Belgian restaurants or German beer halls. That was a long time ago, though.

Today, the five boroughs have nearly 30 breweries, and many of them are good. And several, like Grimm Artisanal Ales—which makes a wide range, including super-juicy IPAs, avant-garde goses and Berliner weisses, and award-winning imperial stouts—are undeniably world-class. Except, perhaps, for DC, whose lax import laws allow stuff like Russian River, 3 Floyds, and Surly to pop up in the district, New York has arguably the best distribution of any place in America, too. Pretty much every top 50 out-of-state brewery makes the shelves here. Similarly, we get distribution from many of today's highly coveted small guys, like Vermont's Hill Farmstead, Maine's Oxbow, Austin's Jester King, and Belgium's famed Cantillon. Of course, we also have an insane number of places to belly up and drink great beer.

It cracks me up when yet another two-bit town is named America's "best beer city" in some pathetic poll. Why? Because all five bars on Main Street have craft beer on tap? Because of some "per capita" nonsense? ("We have one brewery for every four people in town!") New York achieves its greatness in pure volume.

Sure, there's still plenty of "crap on tap," macro-only establishments in New York. You know we have a total of 23,000 bars and restaurants, right? And most of the good stuff, beer-wise, is not occurring in the few areas of Manhattan where your average huckleberry of a tourist—say, one who probably visited the Times Square Applebee's and now thinks New York has a "poo selection"—is going. You're going to have to venture into the Villages to find legendary spots like Blind Tiger or Proletariat. Or cross into Hell's Kitchen or over Houston Street to land at, say, The Pony Bar or Fools Gold.

Craft beer is not "everywhere" in New York, as it is in other great beer cities, like Madison or Grand Rapids—but that's because our citizens actually have interests outside of stouts and sour ales. So, myopically, New York does not always look like the country's greatest beer city.

It's certainly not like Denver, where craft beer is so ubiquitous that even a place called Coors Field is overwhelmed with small-batch stuff. Or Portland, Oregon, where strip clubs somehow have saisons on tap. Or Burlington, where I once ordered a Heady Topper with late-night room service. You have to try a little harder in New York to achieve greatness—you always do here. Most people would agree that New York has the best pizza in the world, while simultaneously realizing that the $1 slice shops on every corner are not helping us keep that crown. So why, then, do visiting beer fans assume that every "plastic Paddy" Irish pub is gonna have a sick bottle list?

Venture out to Brooklyn, where I live, taking any one of several subways to the Barclays Center stop. From there, you can walk just a mile down Fourth Avenue and hit a slew of brilliant beer bars, like the Fourth Avenue Pub, Pacific Standard, Mission Dolores, and The Owl Farm. You can likewise visit Threes Brewing, one of the finest brewpubs on the East Coast. Walk another 10 minutes west and you'll find Other Half, where innumerable geeks line up Saturday mornings to nab canned IPAs like All Green Everything.

Up in Williamsburg sits Brooklyn Brewery, the old dog of New York beer, helmed by Garrett Oliver, one of the country's foremost beer experts. Nearby is Tørst, perhaps the best beer bar in the country, and Luksus, the world's only Michelin-starred beer restaurant. Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø, who owns those two joints along with nomadic brewery Evil Twin, chose to leave Europe in 2012 and move to Brooklyn to set up shop: "I was sitting in Denmark, doing my thing," he told Edible Brooklyn, "and just thought, 'Why not live where it's actually happening?'"

It's certainly happening, not just in Manhattan, or Brooklyn—which has a new bar, Cardiff Giant, devoted exclusively to New York beer—but in Queens, too. This oft-ignored borough, with top-notch breweries like SingleCut and Finback, and bars like Alewife and Astoria Bier and Cheese, has a better beer scene by itself than many of America's so-called top beer cities. Thus, in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens, you're essentially getting three great beer cities wrapped into this one behemoth.

This isn't just my opinion; it's a lot of people's. Draft—a Phoenix outfit, so don't scream, "East Coast bias!"—lists 10 New York spots on its 100 best beer bars list (Portland and Philadelphia are tied for the second most, with six each). Plus, RateBeer has New York with an amazing 24 drinking establishments scoring in the 90th percentile or higher. (Portland has 14 and Philadelphia just 11, while Brooklyn has nine by itself.) The sheer number of stellar beer joints in New York is truly overwhelming. How to choose?

Which is the final reason New York is the best beer city in America—you don't have to choose.

Here, you can actually beer-hop quite easily, and drink your face off quite handily. Try hitting most of San Diego's top beer locales in a single day—you'll have a DUI by mid-afternoon, or several hundred bucks in Uber charges by morning.

But in New York City?

You can always have one more beer. And that's why it's America's greatest beer city.