The first time I set foot in a brewery in Queens was just days after the 2016 election, and my friends and I were there to drink beer and plan The Resistance. Of course, we ended up doing not much of one and a whole lot of the other. But we figured out—and as recent events have shown—Queens is a pretty great place to organize acts of protest. And, as the increasing number of breweries here would suggest, it’s also a pretty great place to drink beer.
There’s a certain camaraderie to any drinking den in Queens: The crowds feel more laid-back than those in Brooklyn or Manhattan, and the bartenders look like they’re actually having fun. (Perhaps it’s that feeling of relief that we don’t have to brave the G train to get a decent brew.) In any event, we’re too busy drinking out here in the Wild West (of Long Island) to care what the other boroughs think.
In that spirit, we present an unconventional guide to drinking your way through some of the vibrant neighborhoods of New York City’s most diverse borough.
Best Brewery to Get Picked Up by a Dog-Owner Who Owns a Dog to Pick People Up
Fifth Hammer Brewing (Long Island City)
A few blocks from the subway at Court Square, Fifth Hammer is a testament to just how much space you can get as a brewer if you focus on Queens instead of Brooklyn. Its 15-barrel brewery and taproom is situated in what can conservatively be described as an absolutely massive garage, with windows hung with hammers (“fifth hammer” is a reference to Pythagoras and his theory of harmony) and vessels glinting from beyond a boisterous tap room. You’ll notice that this is a place people like to hang around, from the families in back to the people playing board games at massive tables in front. But you’ll also notice, to put it bluntly, the proliferation of attractive people with cute dogs. “Long Island City is famous as ‘Dog Island City,’” says co-owner Mary Izett. “Most of the breweries are dog-friendly, but I think because of how big our space is, it’s just very welcoming.” While sipping the Autumn Rye, I noticed dogs hitting on each other unabashedly while their owners remained more reserved. Perhaps the true secret to getting some action here is having four legs and a tail.
Best Brewery Named After a Power Generator
Big aLICe Brewing (Long Island City)
Big aLICe sounds like the sister to Large Marge, but it actually harks back to an early nickname for the nearby Ravenswood generator. I hit it up on the same night as Fifth Hammer, and the differences could not be more jarring, but in a good way. The lowkey taproom is about the size of a large walk-in closet, with seats along a single L-shaped counter, while the brewing vessels wink at customers through a large opening in a makeshift divider, where small groups sit at high stools around barrel tables. As if to underscore its remoteness on the far western side of the neighborhood, Big aLICe has proudly named one of its IPAs after the soon-to-be-but-perhaps-never-will-be-built BQX, the Mayor Bill de Blasio-backed streetcar route that would actually benefit this brewery greatly with future foot traffic. For now, though, the smaller space and lower visitor count means you can have a conversation with the bartender, brushing up on your beer-story as you sip a Hibiscus Gose, a Boysenberry Sour, or that signature BQX, a hoppy double IPA launched to celebrate the brewery’s new barrel room in Brooklyn.
Best Brewery for City-Bound Beach Bums
Rockaway Brewing Company (Long Island City)
Rockaway Brewing Company began as a group of friends who got together to make beer after a day surfing out on New York City’s favorite barrier island. It took a move to Long Island City to find space for a taproom, although as of two years ago, they’re back out by the beach as well. The LIC location feels like an updated neighborhood dive, with a cozy bar centered on a smaller number of taps (at least, compared to its neighbors), a long counter with rickety high stools that winds around one wall, surfboards hanging from the ceiling (in case you needed to be reminded of its roots), and at least a dog or two wandering around to gaze winsomely up at you as you sip. On offer are sours, IPAs, saisons, and a particularly good funky hard cider, as well as a single spirit—Van Brunt Bourbon—to accommodate the confused non-beer drinkers who may have stumbled in.
Best Brewery with an Arthouse Sensibility
LIC Beer Project (Long Island City)
The style quotient has been ramped up at LIC Beer Project, a laid-back, garage-like brewery just a few blocks north of Queensborough Plaza. The warmth of its wooden interior and its sleek lines give it the feel of a fine dining restaurant more than a brewery, and every part of it seems geared to appear both comfortable and visually pleasing. The stemmed glassware is elegant and refined, while the colorful and chaotic art on the cans harks back to a time when LIC felt a bit more boundary-pushing than it does now, full of the artists that had been priced out of nearby Greenpoint (and who now, of course, have been priced far out of LIC). The brewery began a few years ago with farmhouse ales and saisons, and quickly moved on to a full roster of porters, sours, and IPAs. In fact, its top seller Higher Burnin’, an American IPA, is dedicated to LIC’s late-lamented 5Pointz graffiti mecca, and a nod to the owners’ arthouse sensibility. “LIC has its own identity,” explains brand ambassador Michelle Pagano, “and [owner] Dan Acosta really enjoyed that. He’s been collecting art for a very long time.”
Best Brewery in Which You Can Actually Have a Conversation with the Bartender
ICONYC Brewing Company (Astoria)
ICONYC’s bite-sized taproom is located on a rather barren, industrial stretch of Astoria near the border of Woodside, with a taco joint as its next-door neighbor, and a Best Buy, Marshall’s, and Home Depot right across the street. You’re not stumbling across this place by accident, and you may be the only one there once you arrive. But if you’ve managed to make it this far, you’re probably here because you heard about this place from a craft beer-obsessed friend. Your proximity to the bartender (there’s one long counter with fewer than 10 seats, and only 12 taps on a pressed tin wall), means you can talk shop to your heart’s content. Maybe you’re an amateur brewer who wants to discuss fermentation techniques; maybe you just went to a brewery in Brooklyn and found it lacking in comparison to Queens. Or maybe you’re a food journalist tasked with visiting and ranking all the breweries in the area, and you just want someone to tell you you’ll get through it all without a massive hangover. Here, the bartender is your connoisseur, your beer chauffeur, and your new best friend.
Best Brewery to Visit for the Merch as Much as the Beer
Mikkeller NYC (Flushing)
When news came that the wildly popular Copenhagen cult brewery was set to open in New York, Scandinavian beer fans rejoiced. When it was confirmed that Mikkeller would set up shop in Citi Field, one can only imagine Manhattanite Mikkeller groupies getting on Google Flights to book their next trip to Denmark rather than taking the 7 train that far out. But those intrepid enough to make the (not-even-that-far) journey have been rewarded with Mikkeller’s signature stouts, sours, IPAs and porters straight from the tap (something previously impossible without that transatlantic flight), along with fellow Queens breweries like LIC Beer Project that Mikkeller, ever the good neighbor, is more than happy to rep. What’s more, the onsite shop means fans can stock up on T-shirts, posters, glassware, and tons of cans and bottles, all covered in the brewery’s recognizable pop art figurines by artist Keith Shore.
Best Brewery That Still Isn’t Open
Evil Twin (Ridgewood)
Much has been made of the rivalry that spawned two of Denmark’s greatest beer establishments: Mikkeller and this soon-to-be-but-not-yet-open brewery at the other end of Queens (the part that Brooklyners often mistake for part of their own borough), Ridgewood. Twin brothers Mikkel Borg Bjergsø and Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø have a well-documented rivalry, so the fact that they’re both opening breweries and taprooms in the same borough within the space of a year can seem like a cruel coincidence or a cosmic joke. While Mikkeller’s brewery is bright and airy and very much in keeping with its baseball stadium location, Evil Twin’s promises a more retro, vintage, and sultry vibe. Both brewers take inspiration from the city in their local ingredients and their names, and both claim a falling out significant enough that they no longer talk to each other. As of publication, Evil Twin is doing a taproom popup with its Ridgewood neighbor Nowadays while selling cans and merch from its own location, slated to open in May. There’s nothing left to do but wait.
Best Queens Brewery That’s Defecting to Brooklyn
Transmitter Brewing (Long Island City)
Visiting Transmitter Brewing requires a bit of courage. That’s not just because it’s located under the Pulaski bridge, but also because to reach it, one must cross a busy highway and some railroad tracks that seem abandoned. By the time I spotted the entrance, marked by a sandwich board and a twinkly string of lights, I wasn’t quite sure whether I would end up getting run over or drinking beer. I remarked upon this to the friendly bartender, who poured me a sample of Tart Rye Saison and took me through my choices. The French- and Belgian-style ales on offer here come from bottles and cans, but Transmitter has a good excuse for that: It’s preparing to move to the Brooklyn Navy Yards. “We’re pretty jammed in here and we knew that we needed more space several years ago,” explains Transmitter co-founder Anthony Accardi. He went on to wax lyrical about the 2,000 square feet or so of taproom space and 14 taps that are currently in the works over there. “Their goal is to add manufacturing jobs to NYC, so a brewery fits well into that vision,” he says, adding “it’s been a long time coming.”
Best Rock ‘n’ Roll Brewery
SingleCut Beersmiths (Astoria)
SingleCut loves its music as much as it loves its beer. The Argentine-born owner Rich Buceta was rumored to have sold his entire guitar collection to fund the brewery. He must have kept at least one, though, because on the evening I visited he was preparing to jam with his very own band Bandsaw, on an impressive stage with a full drum kit where bands perform weekly. “The whole crew are big music nerds and a bunch of us are recovering musicians,” says Dan Bronson, SingleCut’s general manager. “Music is super important for us.” There’s live music every Saturday, and most other nights DJs spin exclusively vinyl. It’s all generally in keeping with an evening that would be normal in Brooklyn, but still feels a bit boundary-pushing here in this odd corner of northernmost Queens, just next door to LaGuardia Airport, across the bay from Rikers Island, and as Bronson is quick to point out, down the street from the legendary Steinway & Sons Piano Factory.
Best Brewery That’s Nowhere Near the Subway
Finback Brewery (Glendale)
While most of the borough’s breweries are clustered relatively close to one another in Long Island City and Astoria, Finback Brewery is an outlier—literally. Located in Glendale, a quiet neighborhood sandwiched between Ridgewood and Forest hills, Finback is a good 25-minute walk from the nearest subway station. But if you like a trek—or happen to be one of the rare New Yorkers to own a car—you’ll be rewarded with Finback’s 12 rotating taps of IPAs, sours, goses, porters, and more.