After the Final Pour, Brooklyn Lager Prevails in Battle of N.Y. Brews
How a Onetime Reporter Crafted A Champion Beer
And then there was one. After a great deal of serious sipping and ale analyzing by our five panelists, Brooklyn Lager emerged as the champion of the Sunday Source’s first— and, who knows, maybe last — Beer Madness tournament. Though our blind taste contest of American brews had its naysayers (mostly crankypants beer snobs who wished we hadn’t included Bud, Pabst and Miller), nothing can take away from the impressive win for the beer from the 20-year-old New York brewery. From the outset of the randomly seeded tournament, Brooklyn Lager performed admirably, dispatching Coors, Samuel Adams, Rolling Rock and Ellie’s Brown Ale before clinching the title with the votes of four of the five panelists in a showdown with Saranac Pale Ale. (For more on the winning brew, read beer columnist Greg Kitsock’s appraisal at right.)
Though just over a third of the original 32 beers were from the East Coast, the region produced three of our four finalists. Two beers — Brooklyn and Saranac — hail from New York state, while Dominion Ale is from nearby Ashburn. Ellie’s Brown Ale of Colorado was the only non-East Coast beer in the semifinal group. (In choosing brews for the contest, we stuck to those of moderate alcohol content that are easy to find in our region.)
For our panel, the semifinal matchup between Saranac and Old Dominion was a one-sided affair. It was the only contest in the tournament in which all of the panelists agreed on the same beer. Saranac’s 5 to 0 victory brought an end to Dominion Ale’s admirable run through the brackets. In the second semifinal, Brooklyn slipped past Ellie’s on a 3 to 2 vote.
Congratulations, Brooklyn. And for the rest of you beers, remember: There’s always next year. — Joe Heim
Before he founded the Brooklyn Brewery in 1987, Steve Hindy was a Mideast correspondent for the Associated Press. In his book, “Beer School” (Wiley, 2005), co-authored with partner Tom Potter, Hindy recalls sitting in the grandstand behind Anwar Sadat in Cairo when the Egyptian president was gunned down in 1981.
Some of Hindy’s colleagues, who had learned to make their own beer in officially dry Saudi Arabia, introduced him to the art of home-brewing. After getting one too many mortars lobbed in his direction, he finally decided to seek a safer profession mixing malt and hops back in the States.
Hindy consulted with a retired brewmaster named Bill Moeller in formulating his first and still flagship brand, Brooklyn Lager. Based loosely on Vienna-style beers of the 19th century, Brooklyn Lager is an all-malt beer (no corn or rice adjuncts) with a spicy hop character backed by a smooth, caramel malt sweetness. The use of Pacific Northwest hops gives the beer a slightly pine-citrus aroma, a distinctly American touch. Brooklyn Lager goes well with a variety of foods, from pizza to Tex-Mex to fish and chips to sushi, says Brooklyn Brewery brewmaster Garrett Oliver (who has penned his own book, “The Brewmaster’s Table”).
Hindy began as a contract brewer, renting other people’s tanks. In 1996, he opened his own plant in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood. But capacity there is limited, and Brooklyn Lager is still contract-brewed at the Matt Brewing Co. in Utica, N.Y.
Since Hindy sold his first case 20 years ago, the Brooklyn Brewery has released a spectrum of beers, including the hoppy East India Pale Ale; the intensely roasty, warming Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout; and a potent barley wine appropriately called the Monster.
But Brooklyn Lager remains the company’s most balanced and quaffable beer, suitable for picnics, ballgames and evenings at the pub spinning your own war stories. Greg Kitsock is editor of Mid-Atlantic Brewing News and associate editor of American Brewer magazine. He is also the beer columnist for The Washington Post’s Food section.