Drink Local: NYC Beer and Brewing History

When we moved into Crown Heights almost four years ago, there was really only one bar to get good craft beer. Fast forward to now, and we not only have about six more bars to choose from, we’re also getting a bottle shop. A bottle shop. Within three blocks of our apartment. Be still our hearts.

Dubbed Covenhoven, the soon-to-open shop in Crown Heights welcomed a crowd this Monday during Beer Week, for a panel discussion about NYC beer and brewing history.

Moderated by Meredith Heil, founder of the Beerded Ladies blog (and a contributor to BeerUnion), the panel featured craft beer author Josh Bernstein, who wrote Brewed Awakening and The Complete Beer Course; David Naczycz, owner of neighborhood tour company Urban Oyster; Sam Richardson, brewer and co-owner of Other Half Brewing Company; and Ben Wiley, co-owner of Bar Great Harry, Mission Dolores, The Owl Farm Bar and Glorietta Baldy.

(L-r) Meredith Heil, David Naczycz, Ben Wiley

Josh Bernstein (l), Sam Richardson

It was an interesting and also thought-provoking discussion, covering topics ranging from New York’s early lager days, bar culture in the last few years, how different political administrations have affected the brewing industry, and the craft beer boom and bust in the ’90s. The panelists also touched on Prohibition – “The saddest 13 years in American history,” acknowledged Heil. Attendees drank some delicious brews from Other Half, Finback Brewery, Peekskill, Barrier and Kelso, while chowing down on Pelzer’s Pretzels and BuzzCakes.

While New York City was once a booming epicenter of beer and brewing by the 1970s the last two breweries had closed down. And though it’s now home to over a dozen new breweries, there’s still a long way to go.

“We’re the first brewery to open in Brooklyn in nine years,” said Richardson. “We’re just at the beginning of a brewing renaissance in Brooklyn.”

Stringent regulations and laws, combined with the astronomical cost of doing business in the city have made it difficult for breweries to open and stay in business. “There’s no infrastructure… New York doesn’t know how to open breweries,” said Bernstein. It’s been so long, the industry has to basically catch up to itself here.

Bar culture is shifting in the city, noted Wiley. “It’s not about getting drunk, it’s about hanging out. There’s a focus on the product father than its results. Knowledgable bartenders are prized… there’s a bespoke element of liquor and beer.”

The final sentiment was expressed by Naczycz. “We’re at an inflection point in beer history. Two hudnred years ago people made beer locally because they had to. There’s only so many taps at bars. Instead of drinking national beer, there’s an opportunity now to go back to what we had locally… Having breweries in the community is a good thing,” he explained, and ended with a call to action: “Become a local beer drinker.”

Well said. And at this point in New York’s beer scene, important to keep in mind.

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