My search for the best beer in New York continues….
The Eataly empire is a madhouse. I usually get intimidated and anxiety ridden when I walk in. They fit so many food options and kiosks in this space that there’s really nowhere else for them to add anything. So in true New York fashion, they decided to expand in the only possible way: build up into the sky.
La Birreria opened this summer on the rooftop and crowds have lined up to get a taste of refined Italian bar specialities, a beautiful view of Manhattan, and beer. Lots of beer. What’s even more exciting about this addition is that they’re not only serving Italian and local beers, but they’re making their own. This is another brewery to add to the growing number in New York City.
We arrived late in the afternoon during the week when most self-respecting New Yorkers were still hard at work. We walked right onto the elevator and up the stairs, passing all the brewing equipment and paraphernalia as if we used the Fast Pass on a ride at Disney World. When we finally made it up to the open-air restaurant, it felt very big and exciting – even though there weren’t too many people sitting at the tables. I could see why this place fills up and is such a hot spot. There is so much to look at between the big beer casks, the beautiful Manhattan skyline, and the neat retractable glass enclosure that will protect drinkers from the harsh cold winter, but not inhibit that breathtaking view.
The beers are the collaborative effort of brew master Brooks Carretta, Sam Calagione (from the groundbreaking Dogfish Head Brewery in Delaware), and Italian brewers Teo Musso and Leo DiVincenzo. I’m sure it’s no coincidence that all four of those men have Italian last names. Mama mia!
There are three constant beers, all cask conditioned, unfiltered and unpasteurized, which are named for famous Italian women. And seasonal beers will make some appearances as well. Unfortunately, when we came they didn’t have their Gina, which is a pale ale with thyme and peppercorns, so we decided to try the other two. These beers are all $10 and not what you might expect.
These are not your usual American beers. They’re both pretty dark, watery, and without any discernible carbonation. And they’re served on the warm side, which I found to be a bit higher than the recommended room temperature for cask ales. Not everybody at my table was prepared for this and most didn’t really like it.
I suppose it is an acquired taste. As I sat there with both beers and thought about them, they opened up and I started to appreciate their complexity. But neither were brews I’ll really crave in the future.
Let’s start with Wanda. She’s a dark amber ale that they’re calling a mild chestnut ale. I’m surprised this is brewed year-round since the flavors of chestnut make me think of Christmastime. Turns out the chestnut flavors are quite subtle. There was a little sweetness with a very mild nutty character. The big complaint we had was that this was very watery and the flavors were not terribly bold. They began to open up with some cherry notes, but everything remained rather subtle throughout.
The other beer they offered was the Nerone, which was not very dissimilar to the Wanda. This was a porter of sorts with a pitch black color and a dark brown head. I got more hop characteristics to this and it reminded me of a black IPA, only fruitier with some yeasty bubble gum notes playing with minor roasted coffee flavors. But it was still watery and without much discernible carbonation.
A few weeks later, I returned to Birreria to see if I could find that third house brew. They didn’t have the Gina on the menu any longer, but now featured something (or someone?) called Ruby. I ponied up my $10 and got a taste.
The reddish color was a definite change from their other beers. It had barely any head, but was quite bubbly and hazy throughout. I couldn’t discern many aromas on the nose, except perhaps hints of cherry. My first sip of this amber wheat ale was incredibly interesting. It’s brewed with dried figs and mustard seeds. And the sweet and spicy flavors confirmed that. I got lots of bright cherries and figs with a subtle balance of exotic Christmas spices. The more I drank this, the more the flavors dissipated. Perhaps that’s my palate. But this is another watery beer without much body. This one had slightly more intense flavors and a clean yeasty finish.
I find it strange that all these beers were a little too subtle and bland. Based on the flavor components on the menu, I was expecting big and bold. These were like teas that hadn’t been steeped long enough. But I’m sure some Italian beer guru would tell me this is the way it’s supposed to be. And perhaps it is, but it left most at my table uninterested. I, however, will still return to try a few other offerings. Maybe I’ll find one that suits my taste. Everybody else at Eataly seems to.
Is La Birreria the best brewery in the NY area? I love the atmosphere and this brewery/restaurant is a definite destination, which earns it an 8 out of 10 but the cask ales they brew are a little too subtle and perhaps authentic for my tastes.
Is La Birreria’s Wanda the best craft beer in NY? I appreciated it’s subtlety but found it slightly one note at first and wished there was a stronger chestnut flavor.7 out of 10.
Is La Birreria’s Nerone the best craft beer in NY? It gets a 6 out of 10 since this one walked the line between hop and coffee flavors, but neither sang and I wanted more boldness.
Is La Birreria’s Ruby the best craft beer in NY? This one was fuller flavored and would make a great Christmas beer. Perhaps I’m getting used to the subtlety and lack of body because I give this one an 8 out of 10.
|LA BIRRERIA AT EATALY|
|200 Fifth Avenue (between 23rd and 24th Street),