My search for the best beer in New York continues….

This has all happened so fast. Regrettably, I have slacked off on staying up to date with the newest breweries opening in the city. And while I think I have some pretty good excuses (a new baby in my life), they have started opening at high speed.

When I started writing about local beer back in 2012, I decide to include breweries from Long Island and just north of the city since there were not quite enough to fill these spaces with NYC breweries alone. Well times have certainly changed.

In those five years we have more than tripled our brewery count. As of this writing, I believe there are 36 breweries across the five boroughs. And while I’ve been to at least half of them, it’s gotten harder and harder to keep up. Excuses, excuses.

Well hopefully that will change in 2018.

Let me start this year with one of the more surprising ones. Circa Brewing Company.

First off, it’s a shock that this huge 6,000 square foot facility opened right in the heart of downtown Brooklyn. It’s part of the massive changes happening in this area. And it’s one of the few breweries in the city that are brewing their beer (at least for now) specifically for in-house consumption. You can’t get these anywhere but right here.

Something about downtown has always felt like a big shopping mall to me. Probably because it’s mostly big chain stores up and down Fulton Street.

And I’m afraid the ambiance here (and at nearby DeKalb Market) doesn’t change that for me. Walking in to this faux-industrial brewpub brought me back to visiting a generic mall restaurant in the suburbs – one that has an entrance from the parking lot and also one inside the mall itself.

Perhaps for some that is a nice feeling to be transported from the fast energy of urban Brooklyn. But it felt a little generic to me.

Thankfully, the beer focus and menu did not feel as generic. The bartender I sat with was very helpful and when discussing the flight, he said I could pick four or he could curate it for me. I let him pick four of their signature beers, which might be tough since they are often changing the menu and styles.

I also decided to order a pizza since that is another specialty of this place. The Bruckert brothers bring the craft to Circa. Luke Bruckert heads up the wood-fired pizza program and his brother Danny (formerly of Sixpoint Brewery) handles the beer. And of course, we all know pizza and beer pair very well together. Look for a separate review on the pizza.

For this column, it’s all about beer.

The price of the flight ($16 for four pours) was a little high. I would have rather had smaller glasses and tried more styles at that price. That being said, the bartender did a pretty good job choosing four varying styles for me.

I started with a very clean Pilsner which was completely transparent and featured fresh cereal grains on the nose.  The beer opened up with wet grains that quickly dissipated. As it should be, it’s a very light beer that’s easy to drink. Flavorwise, it’s fresh and clean without too much complexity.

Next up, the Belgian Pale Ale. This one had more color and a slight haziness. Nothing revealed itself on the nose, but the flavor was nice and yeasty with some spices up front. This one was still approachable but stronger and chewier. Unlike the pilsner, too many of these could cause some trouble.

The New Zealand IPA was the most unusual of the flight. These are not as common as the now ubiquitous New England IPA (Circa sometimes makes one of those as well). Here, as you can imagine, the hops are all from New Zealand (rakau, pacific, ahtanum) and not seen or experienced as often in beers on this side of the pond.

It’s not your expected IPA. The flavor is more herbaceous and funky. The hazy ale still has a bitterness but not what most American beer drinkers expect. It finishes with a touch of tropical fruitiness.

The darkest of this lineup, the Belgian amber was actually darker than I would have expected from its name. It also smelled like chocolate and baking spices. And despite the strong malty flavor and nuttiness, it had a rather light body and strong carbonation. It was also quite clean and fresh making a nice candidate for the colder months when you don’t want a full-on stout.

I am eager to go back and try some others on the list. I was especially intrigued by the nitro run dry hopped amber ale.

Circa is more of a restaurant than a traditional brewery experience. They even have a great Happy Hour.

I did see two other guests at the bar being lead around the brewing equipment. Turns out the brewer was around and these two were homebrewers so  they got an impromptu tour which is nice. But there is no official tour here as of yet.

And that’s where this brewpub differs from those corporate ones in most shopping malls. There is a sense of community and family here (the cocktail menu is done up by local bar-owner Damon Bolte). And to be fair, you have to try both brothers’ offerings – pizza and beer. Don’t mind if I do.

Is Circa Brewing Company the best brewery in NY? It feels like a suburban shopping mall brewpub but with a bit more style and sense of community  While the beers are well-made, they are a bit expensive. Not official tours yet, but flights available and plenty of food make this a worthwhile place to hang out. 7 out of 10.

Is Circa Brewing Company’s Pilsner the best beer in NY? This is a very drinkable pilsner – clean, dry, and refreshing without much complexity. It gets a out of 10.

Is Circa Brewing Company’s Belgian Pale Ale the best beer in NY? It gets an 8 out of 10 because I enjoyed its balanced spice and its easy finish.

Is Circa Brewing Company’s New Zealand IPA the best beer in NY? A refreshing change from the grassy, piney pale ales, it gets an 8 out of 10 for its herbaceous bitter quality and mellow fruity backbone.

Is Circa Brewing Company’s Belgian Amber Ale the best beer in NY? Nutty and roast, but also surprisingly light and fresh. It also earns an 8 out of 10.

CIRCA BREWING COMPANY
141 Lawrence Street (between Willoughby and Fulton Street),
Downtown Brooklyn, Brooklyn
(718) 858-0055
circabrewing.co
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Category: Beer

About the Author

Brian Hoffman is a classically trained actor who is now a full-time tour guide, blogger, and food obsessive. He leads food and drink tours around New York City, which not only introduce tour-goers to delicious food, but gives them a historical context. He also writes food articles for Gothamist and Midtown Lunch in addition to overseeing this blog and a few food video series, including Eat This, Locals Know, and Around the World in One City.

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