Before the cocktail craze, there was the craft beer movement.
Sluggish interest in small brewery beers had given big, commercial breweries primacy over the US beer market, which remains one of the largest in the world. We have a romantic notion of idealistic rebels organising a rebellion against the “evil” beer barons. However, we suspect that the movement was simply powered by people who both wanted to make-and drink- beer that was to their liking.
As with all artisanal work, there will be a wide range in quality- from vaguely-beerish-swill to hop heaven.
Brooklyn Brewery is one of the latter, and we’re glad to say that they’re finally launching in Singapore.
Art and Craft
We feel like we must address the elephant in the room: what is the definition of a craft beer?
Craft beer is defined quite loosely as beer “made by a brewer that is small, independent, and traditional”. All three elements are problematic, of course. Small breweries can produce up to six million barrels of beer a year.
Independent means that less than 25 percent of the craft brewery is owned or controlled (or equivalent economic interest) by a beverage alcohol industry member that is not itself a craft brewer, and traditional means that the brewer has a majority of its total beer volume deriving flavour from traditional or innovative brewing ingredients and their fermentation.
These lead to strange situations such as a brewery producing 4 million barrels of “innovative” beer a year being called a “craft” brewer. As misused as the term is nowadays, we have a simple thought about it.
As long as the beer is good, who cares?
Boys from Brooklyn
As strange it sounds, Brooklyn brewery did not start with 3 crusty old brewers sitting around a barrel, deciding to make beer.
In 1988, Steve Hindy, a foreign news editor, roped in his neighbour, banker Tom Potter, to establish Brooklyn Brewery. Hindy had his brush with homebrewing during a six-year stint to the Middle East, where, in a nod to Prohibition Traditions, foreign journalists circumvented strict alcohol laws by brewing their beer in hotel bathtubs. Not long after, graphic designer Milton Glaser joined the duo. The trio worked hard at re-igniting a limp beer scene in New York City. In 1994, Garrett Oliver, James Beard-winning brewmaster, joined the team, and they’ve been chugging along ever since.
Whatever it was, Brooklyn Brewery caught the wave of craft beer’s public awakening in the 80s. They must have done something right; today, Brooklyn Brewery is ranked #11 among all United States craft breweries- and that’s out of 5,231 contenders.
Beer, Glorious Beer
For all our talk about the history of craft beer, the taste is what matters in the end. Luckily, we got to try some of these beers. While the original Brooklyn Brewery beer was the Brooklyn Lager, which remains a signature today, the selection has widened considerably in the decades since its birth. IPAs, English ales and pilsners have joined the original lager.
The core selection, the perennials, are brewed all year long. The brewery also produces seasonal beers like Brooklyn Summer Ale.
Brooklyn Lager: A lager with a generous dose of roasted barley and caramel flavours. Honey is definitely discernible, as is a mild floral note. The hop bitterness is kept to a modest level in the lager, and the finish is mild and pleasurable.
East IPA: A fresh and clear-tasting IPA, with the characteristic hop bitterness of IPA well under control; it’s bitter but not extremely so. A relief; far too many breweries dump hops into the brew like the world is ending. There’s a mild citrus note in the middle that reminds us of white grapefruit. Combined with a good amount of carbonation, the East IPA is a drink that we’d be happy to pull out on a sweltering afternoon.
Sorachi Ace: A pilsner made with Japanese Sorachi Ace hops. The initial nose is sweet with powerful floral and lemon peel elements. The palate is much the same, with sweetness of grain and honey balanced by mild herbal, floral and peppery notes. A dry finish completes the picture on a mild, pleasurable beer.
Naranjito: A pale ale, spruced up with the addition of sweet orange peel. It has an inviting sweet orange aroma, with a little (but enough) mint to remind us of a mojito. It’s medium bitter, with a malty taste in the background, but the dominant characteristic is that of the fruity orange. It’s bittersweet and will make a good companion to spicy food such as curries- or pretty much anything local; we enjoyed it with chicken rice, blistering chilli sauce and all. A new favourite of ours.
Brooklyn Summer Ale: A seasonal brew; sweet, floral and balanced with the flavour of bitter lemon. While balanced, it leans towards the light side in both flavour and body. Good for hot-weather drinking as its name suggests, but it’s not for us; it’s a little too straightforward for our tastes.
A Mad Experiment
Of course, we’re not expecting just a good, but somewhat predictable, range of traditional ales and lagers. After all, given its rebellious background, what would craft beer be without experimentation? We got to try some Brooklyn Quarterly Experiments (BQEs), a limited range of wild brews that are as different from the perennial range as we could imagine.
Kiwi’s Playhouse: Like its name suggests, the key ingredient is the green kiwifruit, which was aged with the beer in red wine barrels. The result is a very strong flavour of kiwifruit- incredible tartness on the palate with a fruity, berried center and a surprisingly dry finish. The tartness was overwhelming, and we don’t think that this beer is for everyone; though those among us who adore kiwi will surely swoon.
K is for Kriek: both a homage and a twist on a Belgian Kriek. The Belgian dark abbey ale was aged for 6 months on top of Michigan state cherries in Woodford Reserve Bourbon casks. Not content with that, our Brooklyn friends bottle fermented the beer with champagne yeast, much as the actual Champenois do. The cherries are of the tart variety, and they lend a sweet-sour aroma to the beer. There’s also chocolate, vanilla and an earthiness on the nose. On the palate, sour cherry dominates, but unlike the kiwi, this has a sturdy, earth-and-wood backbone. It has an astonishingly dry aftertaste that brings the fruity beer back down to earth and gives it a pleasurable balance. Very enjoyable.
Black Ops: Our favourite of the entire range. It was brewed in complete secrecy and was never on the brewing schedule and hidden behind the brewery for 9 months. The style is that of Russian Imperial Stout, and the scent of roasted coffee, bourbon and vanilla waft from the bottle. The flavour is actually on the sweet side; not acrid at all. As we’d expect from stout, it has a strong palate of dark roasted barley and black chocolate, but with a decidedly bourbon-like vanilla and coconut flavour, which carries it into the finish. Sublime.
Hand and Seal: an ode to the British barleywines, which Garrett Oliver brewed for his 20th anniversary as brewmaster. The wort was boiled for 3 hours to get a deep, rich caramelisation, then aged in Four Roses bourbon barrels. A very malty- and wine influenced nose- berries of all sorts can be found. A strong flavour of burnt honey, caramel, butter and sour malt dominate the midnotes. The finish is dried berries and piney oak. Great complexity and deeply enjoyable.
While we were expecting some hits and misses, We’re glad to say that the experimental range is for the most part, excellent. The Black Ops was particularly memorable.
Summing it all up
Wow. Colour us impressed. While we’ve known for some time that Brooklyn Brewery made great beers, we were pleasantly surprised to try such a large range for ourselves. The quality is uniformly good, even if some of the beers are not to our taste.
All is more than forgiven, though. The Naranjito is a superb perennial beer, and there are many gems to be found in the BQE range; the Black Ops in particular was a work of art. We’d be happy to drink it any time, even for breakfast.
With such great beers in their stable, we’re glad that Brooklyn Brewery brews will be made available at KPO Café Bar. For the time being, the brewery will be bringing in their perennials, the Brooklyn Lager and East IPA, which will be on tap. In coming months, the seasonal beers will also be available in limited quantities
KPO Café Bar