I have to admit, I’m a little clueless when it comes to beer. I can hold my own with wine or bourbon, but presented with a choice of beer, I’m likely to choose the mildest of the bunch (no light beer though, I’m not that much of a novice). And because many of my comrades here at The Manual are quite seasoned in the world of craft beer, I wanted to play a little catchup.
It all started when we went to Marta for brunch back in March. In addition to an incredible food menu, featuring Roman-style pizza from Chef Nick Anderer, the restaurant’s beer program, run by Corey Gargiulo, is one of the best in the city. He did a special pairing with each course so we could try as many brews as possible. When he brought out an IPA, I was shocked at how much I enjoyed it, as that particular variety is typically too bitter for me. This was lesson number one: just like one cabernet is different from the next or some bourbons are smoother than others, not all beers of the same variety are created equal.
Marta truly has a local focus when it comes to their beer menu. “There are several factors taken into consideration when selecting a new beer for our list,” Corey Gargiulo said. “First, does it fit within the parameters of our local focus? For our drafts, we try to maintain a focus on NY/NYC breweries. But if there’s an inspiring brewery or beer not from New York, is it close enough to home to maintain a local feel? New York City is experiencing a really exciting renaissance of craft beer and brewing. The ability to develop relationships with these brewers, taste their beers fresh and serve them so close to the source is the ideal way to go.”
But to have a well-curated menu, locality isn’t the only factor Corey takes into consideration. He looks for beers that appeal to everyone, from the new beer drinker to seasoned craft experts. And just like Marta changes its food menu to reflect fresh, seasonal ingredients, Corey shifts the beer selection to compliment warmer weather. “As winter comes to a close, brewers historically begin production of lighter, more thirst-quenching styles of beers in preparation for the warmer spring and summer months,” he said. “As we creep into these months, we can expect a shift away from higher ABV and darker winter beers to more quaffable styles such as Wheat beers, Session Pale Ales and Saisons.”
As we wrapped up our meal, Corey offered to take us to Tørst, a spot in Greenpoint, Brooklyn that might be New York’s best – and best looking – beer bar. When you walk into the space, the first thing you’ll notice is the stunning white marble bar situated in front of 21 unmarked wooden and steel taps, each one a slightly darker finish than the last as you move down the line. Slide open the door in the back of the bar, and you’ll find Scandinavian-style restaurant Luksus tucked away inside.
When Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø – owner of Evil Twin Brewing and consultant to Tørst – and Daniel Burns – co-owner and head chef of Tørst/Luksus – opened the spot back in 2013, both parties were hard pressed to find a bar that served good beer in a comfortable, stylish atmosphere, especially in Brooklyn where Jeppe had just moved to from Denmark. Being beer novices, we weren’t sure what to expect entering the space. But with friendly vibes all around, and a very knowledgable staff guiding us through the menu, we instantly felt at home. As we started to go down the line of taps, from lighter beers to dark, Corey pointed out an intricate system behind the bar, designed to control the carbonation of each beer individually.
“Gabe Gordon designed the original draft beer control panel you see behind the bar for his restaurant Beachwood BBQ in Seal Beach, CA,” Jeppe and Daniel said. “He dubbed it the ‘Flux Capacitor’ and it allows us to accurately control the gas pressure and gas blend for each draft line. There is a series of tubes and ports that runs down the right side of the Flux, similar to an old fashion telephone switchboard. Depending on what port it’s plugged into, we can run 100% CO2 to each draft line or as little as 25% CO2 and 75% Nitrogen – or a different ratio between the two gasses.”
The Flux makes for accurate beer pours and can even “fix” problematic kegs if they arrive over- or under-carbonated. As we went down the draft line, which is rotated with different beers every two weeks, we noticed the beers were being served slightly warmer as well.
“When beer is cold, flavors are suppressed which may or may not be a bad thing,” Jeppe and Daniel said. “Tørst maintains two separate walk-in coolers for beer. Taps 1-14 are generally reserved for lighter colored beers and kept around 36-38 degrees. Taps 15-21 are kept warmer, around 45-48 degrees, and usually reserved for darker beers. By the time the beer reaches the tap and eventually your glass, the beer is 5-10 degrees warmer, the perfect drinking temperature. Good beer should not be consumed ice cold! You lose a big part of the flavors and aromas the brewer worked so hard to put into that beer. This is especially true for most dark beers like stouts and porters. There are pleasant roasted coffee and chocolate notes that come forward as the beer warms up.”
After working our way down the line of taps, we went downstairs to check out the coolers, kitchen and cellar. Their selection of bottled beers is beyond impressive, as is seeing the inner workings of the Flux. To soak up the hours of beer tasting, we ate a plate of Tørst’s delicious Welsh rarebit, a thick piece of toast topped with melted cheddar cheese and Worcestershire sauce. The food at both Tørst and Luksus is meant to be accompanied by, you guessed it, rather than wine or cocktails like many tasting menus across the city, beer. And just like at Marta, they’re passionate about pairing food and beer that compliment each other to highlight individual flavors.
“You might look for a bright and acidic beer like a Berliner Weiss to cut the salinity of olives, a porter/stout to compliment a rich piece of chocolate cake or the bitterness of an IPA to offset the fat from a steak,” Jeppe and Daniel said. “There is an incredible array of flavors available in beer, much more than wine, and price of entry to explore these flavors is very low. Spend $20 at your local beer store, and you’ll walk away with 4-5 bottles of beer that will cover a wide spectrum of flavors. From there, you can start to discover which flavor combinations work for you.”
We left Tørst buzzed, educated and with a new favorite type of beer – Sours. With more and more places around the city – and country – putting an emphasis on beer rather than other types of spirits, it’s easy to step out of your comfort zone and try a new brew that would have never landed on your radar. To learn more about the spots featured here, visit them at martamanhattan.com and torstnyc.com.
Beer image credits: Alice Gao