Queens is giving its fellow boroughs some serious craft-beer competition. Adding to the surge in the past years of suds-focused joints like Sunswick 35/35 and Alewife Queens, the city’s east-of-the-river enclaves have become home to new beer bars, microbreweries and specialty stores. From Rockaway Brewing Co. to Astoria Bier and Cheese, Queens is the new poster child of New York’s beer revolution.
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The beach-bum brewers: Rockaway Brewing Company
After three-and-a-half years of home-brewing in their Rockaway Beach bungalows, Ethan Long and Marcus Burnett—a set designer and an Emmy-nominated cinematographer, respectively— decided to go pro, naming their new business after their summmer-home locale. Their first beer, the mellow English ale ESB got a bump from the community last June when Rockaway Taco and Caracas Arepa started pouring the easy-drinking sipper to shaggy-haired day-trippers at their boardwalk stands. Since moving their workplace off the sandy shoreline, Long and Burnett have gotten plenty of love from their new ’hood: Their creations are in the tap rotation at Long Island City’s Alobar and Astoria’s Sunswick 35/35, as well as other locations throughout the city. With the September opening of their commercial brewery, the duo now pumps out 24 barrels each month; and they added a chocolaty Black Gold stout and a light, coffee-accented Fool’s Gold porter in December. Swing by their facility to scope the fermenting equipment and a vintage-can collection, and nab a handle (64oz $15) in the growler room. rockawaybrewco.com
Queens’ burgeoning ’cue scene—including Astoria’s Butcher Bar and Long Island City’s John Brown—got a boost last November with the debut of this beercentric smokehouse. The 9,000-square-foot space serves as an all-American—and indoor—answer to the borough’s European-inspired beer gardens, like the 103-year-old titan Bohemian Hall. Sixteen regional brews flow from the taps, offering barbecue-friendly (read: smoky, refreshing) quaffs such as Bronx Brewery’s Black pale ale—a dark, complex amber— and Pennsylvania’s Stoudt’s Scarlet Lady ESB, a copper-colored, apple-tinged bitter (all pints $7, all pitchers $21). The kitchen serves meats in a wide range of Southern regional styles, including vinegary North Carolina and saucy Tennessee, but the specialty here is the rotating pastrami plate. On a recent night, the version on offer was a standout peppery duck ($14 per piece), its smoldering flavors bolstered nicely by Kelso’s smoked and salted wheat beer Fuku, served in a cool mason jar. Take your tray to one of the large wooden communal tables near the stage and tap your toes to the banjoists that play on most nights.
The beer-and-cheese mash-up joint: Astoria Bier and Cheese
Manhattan’s hybrid bar-shop trend crosses the bridge to Queens with this funky 1,100-square-foot curds-and-brew haven, which sports a bathroom mural of Kim Jong-il milking a cow. At the marble bar, grab one of the ten seasonal, mostly local drafts, like Port Jeff’s Cold North Wind, an American-style barley wine from Long Island (12oz glass $5, 65oz growler $14). There are also more than 200 bottles and cans—organized by style and offered in mix-and-match six packs—that can be purchased to go or opened on-site for a $2 corking fee. Fromage buff Mike Fisher (a Bedford Cheese Shop vet) culls more than 100 selections for the refrigerated case, some of which are also worked into a sit-down menu that includes a cheddar-and-goat beer cheese ($4/ or $10/lb to go) and six different grilled melts (like one stuffed with prosciutto, $7). Aspiring gourmands can get schooled with the pairing plate ($18), which matches four five-ounce pours with cheeses helpfully labeled on a slate board; the harmonic couplings include a hoppy Speakeasy Betrayal ale with the sweet and nutty aged sheep Gouda Ewephoria. 718-545-5588, milkandhops.com
Among the new crop of borough breweries—Rockaway, Bridge and Tunnel, and Big Alice (coming soon)—the 5,000-square-foot SingleCut is the biggest of the bunch: It’s on track to produce 250 to 400 kegs each month (though that’s still small potatoes compared to industry Goliaths like Budweiser). Owner Rich Buceta, who honed his craft at Greenpoint Beer Works, specializes in lagers: Half of his eight-item line falls under that style, and his operation boasts a special lagering tank, a rare investment for small-scale operations, that reduces acetic and lactic acids in a second fermentation. From his current roster, you can try offerings like the aggressively hoppy 19-33 Lagrrr! and John Michael Dark Lyric Lagrrr!, a coffee-inflected seasonal black (pint $4, 64oz growler $13). Request a tour, or pop in Thursdays through Sundays to sip a pint in the 70-seat tasting room, decked out with red-oak communal tables and hanging metallic lamps. Buceta’s operation also reflects another of his passions—music—with an upright Steinway by the bar, and tap handles modeled after guitar necks; the brand itself is named after one style of the instrument.
The pedigreed pub spin-off: Opendoor
In 2005, pioneering hops-head Juan Cruz introduced craft suds to Astoria—then a hinterland for quality guzzling—with Sunswick 35/35. This month, he expands his boozy domain to Long Island City with this stately 98-seat tavern, a love letter to the borough, with vintage photos of Queens, and leather booths hand-sewn by Cruz himself. The brick-walled space—sporting stained-glass lamps and a massive, handmade Pepsi Cola sign–will pour 12 to 14 all-American drafts, with an emphasis on Queens favorites like Rockaway and SingleCut as well as other outer-borough standards such as Kelso. A Belgium-focused bottle list of 40 suds includes the full line of Trappists, like Orval and Chimay, while a 12-item wine list and 16 tequilas round out the drink selection. Plans for beer-pairing meals are in the works, but for now drinkers can order eclectic small plates, like pear-and-pork dumplings ($7) and mini leg of lamb with walnut-date bread ($10), dished out by chef-partner Nick Guitart (ex Balthazar). No phone yet
The probiotic crossover: Beyond Kombucha
At most breweries, employees don’t measure ingredients next to Buddha altars while meditation music jangles during fermentation. But then again, there aren’t many breweries making kombucha ales, or “tea beers,” as the authorities call them. When the Feds began cracking down on drinks with trace amounts of alcohol (more than .5 percent ABV), many makers of the funky, fermented tea reformatted their recipes to comply with the new rules. But Beyond Kombucha owner Spiro Theofilatos applied for a microbrewery license and embraced his new boozy status by creating a 7.1 percent ABV tea beer. The gluten-free Mava Roka—an effervescent, sweet-sour ale laced with vanilla and maple—launched at nearby café-bar Queens Kickshaw in December 2011, gaining a loyal following and dedicated tap line. In July, Murray’s Cheese Bar opened with it on the beverage list, and now top-notch restaurants like DBGB Kitchen and Bar carry the souped-up probiotic pekoe. Theofilatos has plenty of space to grow his solar-powered family business: He brews rent-free in the basement of a warehouse his family owns, and his mother takes care of bottle-label designs. In addition to the Mava Roka and an artisanal vinegar—plus the Love Potion style and seven flavors of traditional, nonalcoholic kombucha—Theofilatos is exploring plans to add a saison beer. For more information, visit beyondkombucha.com.
The homegrown microbrewery: Bridge and Tunnel Brewery
In a 150-square-foot temporary workspace in western Queens, father of three Rich Castagna is living the urban-dad dream, bringing his home-brewing hobby to the next level. Castagna, a shipping agent, started out handing unlabeled samples of his handiwork to barkeeps. His small-batch suds were impressive enough to get his first cask into craft-beer temple d.b.a. Brooklyn last November. Orders from Williamsburg’s Legion Bar and Beer Boutique, as well as Sunswick 35/35 and Astoria Bier and Cheese, soon followed. In true nanobrewery fashion, Castagna, who is keeping his day job for now, focuses on the scaled-down artisanship of the time-honored craft, making roughly 18 kegs each month without the assistance of computerized timers or temperature controls. The concoctions’ appellations have a personal bent: Angry Amel was named after an off-kilter neighbor from Castagna’s youth, though the aromatic dunkelweizen (a dark, German wheat) itself is well balanced. Tiger Eyes—a recently launched toasty brown ale with hazelnut notes—is an ode to brown-eyed women. For more information, visit bridgeandtunnelbrewery.com.