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Greenpoint, Brooklyn: An Outpost Turned Destination

June 16, 2017

By Orr Shtuhl, June 16, 2017

Let's not beat around the bush; Greenpoint is New York’s best neighborhood for drinking beer. Its watering holes span the spectrum, from local cult favorites to Nordic-chic destination bars (yes, plural).

Of the city’s 30 or so breweries, two sit just blocks apart here in Brooklyn’s northern tip. Much of the development is new, as Polish businesses face closure amid spurts of condo development and tech start-ups. But its roots still show at restaurants like Karczma, where in winter you can still drink mulled beer with your blood sausage and pierogies.

When I started giving neighborhood beer tours, it was expressly to evangelize Greenpoint, where I live and drink. Today I take people all around the city, but Greenpoint finds its way into conversation no matter where we go. Here are six reasons why.

Getting Around

The best way to navigate Greenpoint is on foot. Its two subway stations are just a half mile apart, marking north and south poles on Manhattan Avenue, the main commercial strip. Franklin Avenue lies parallel, and the two are connected by Greenpoint Avenue.

Take the time to roam off these roads and into the collection of leafy residential blocks in between, including the surreal cathedral of trees on Guernsey Street. But make it back out of the woods for a must-have donut and Peter Pan and a rose-jam pazcki at Polka Dot across the street. And of course, the many beer highlights that won't fit into this guide; I'll do my best to call them out along the way.

Cory Smith / Good Beer HuntingGreenpoint's namesake brewery owes its start to Brouwerij Lane.

Brouwerij Lane

Beer in Greenpoint starts with Brouwerij Lane, the bottle shop and tap room crammed into a nook with a wood stove and a pint-sized courtyard. When it opened in 2009, this corner on Greenpoint Avenue would've been considered remote, though today it's the center of the Franklin Avenue strip. Today, bottle shops around the city follow their beer shop-cum-tasting room model, similar to City Beer in San Francisco. Their tap list changes with every kicked keg, and mixes local pours from Grimm, Threes, Folksbier, with cult brews from afield, like Jolly Pumpkin.

The man behind it all is Ed Raven, who got his start as a Brooklyn Brewery rep when they were the only game in town, then opened Raven Imports to bring in beer garden staples like Gaffel and Jever, then opened Brouwerij Lane, and eventually the brewery Greenpoint Beer & Ale, which we’ll get to shortly.

But crucially, Brouwerij Lane is the home of the Brooklyn Brewsers homebrew club, which has met monthly there since 2010. Its alumni now dot the map of New York's beer scene, helming the Bronx's on-the-rise Gun Hill, and both of the breweries in Greenpoint. Fortunately, one of them is just around the corner.

Cory Smith / Good Beer HuntingEnjoy Greenpoint while sitting at Greenpoint thanks to their colorful open patio.

Greenpoint Beer & Ale

Leave Brouwerij Lane and make a left on Franklin, and you're a block from Threes Brewing's Greenpoint outpost, where you can get your Triple IPA fix as long as the semi-permanent pop-up keeps its home. Make a right, and you'll find Greenpoint Beer and Ale, which along with Other Half and Threes was part of the 2014 slew of openings that touched off Brooklyn's brewery explosion.

Greenpoint traverses beer styles unlike any of its classmates, churning out on-trend IPAs as adeptly as it does traditional English Gitters and <ilds, as well as a host of tart brett beers, Berliners, and Goses. Runner, their Porter, is singed but pillowy-soft, a testament to its English roots. All their IPAs hit, like their Heady Topper clone, Instant Credibility, and kudos to them for Flannel Shirt, the deep, dank ale that, maybe, can revive the northwest red IPA (RIP Sierra Nevada Flipside). It’s a mix of variety and quality you’re hard-pressed to find in a brewery.

Cory Smith / Good Beer Hunting"No one can hold a candle / Nothing else is quite the same."

The Diamond

"Diamond" Dave Pollack might be New York City beer's only iconoclast. The name is a nod to his Van Halen obsession – a band you'll find among the cassette tapes that decorate the bathroom walls as well as the CDs in the Dave-curated jukebox (just the David Lee Roth years).

Similarly, the beer menu is a personal mixtape. Dave likes: session beers, needle-sharp Pilsners, the occasional Sour, and proper Cask Ale. He's coming around to hazy IPAs, but they still take a back seat to favorites like Sly Fox Pikeland Pils (the de facto house beer) and De Dolle Oerbier. Before opening the bar, Dave was a rep for the importer B. United, and their portfolio makes its mark on the deep (and deeply odd) bottle list, where Lost Nation Gose mingles with profoundly uncool classics like Sinebrychoff Porter.

Oh, and this neighborhood staple hosts regular chili cookoffs, Mario Kart tourneys, and an annual ski trip upstate. It's my favorite bar. Please don't all come at once.

Cory Smith / Good Beer HuntingPinball, laundry, and beer – of course.

Sunshine Laundromat

The walk down Manhattan Avenue is dotted with anachronistic appliance stores, the consumerist mark of a Polish population that fled Communism. One store advertises, on a sheet of printer paper taped to the window, "We match Amazon prices." Somewhere in this mix is Sunshine Laundromat, squeezed into half a storefront in the shadow of a big red Catholic church.

It's operated as a functioning laundromat for years, with a rotating cast of lovingly preserved pinball machines that garnered it a national reputation. (I once visited the Seattle Pinball Museum, and when I said I'd come from New York – not Brooklyn, not Greenpoint – their immediate reply was, "Oh, do you know Sunshine?")

In 2016, they renovated a back room that most people didn't know existed, and turned it into a brick-and-skylight hideaway with 20 pinball machines and a gorgeously restored backbar. I go for the beer as much as the games. Taps regularly include locals like Greenpoint Beer & Ale, and the can list is usually good for some Stillwater and Evil Twin. Throw in a tall stack of board games and some frozen Roberta's pizzas, and it makes for a great place to while away a day or a night.

Cory Smith / Good Beer HuntingTørst boasts clean lines, in more ways than one.

Tørst

What is there to add to the buzz about Tørst, the minimalist shrine to Evil Twin that Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø opened between between a Chinese takeout joint and a Thai takeout joint? It's most likely to attract out-of-towners, Untappd pulled up on their phones. Local beers take a back seat (unless you count Evil Twin itself, which is planning a new brewery in Ridgewood, Queens).

But here's why I go: they consistently feature buzzy breweries before they hit the rest of New York. Reading their menu is like following beer Twitter; it's how i first heard about Burial (Asheville, NC), Cloudwater (Manchester, England), and Pizza Boy (central PA). And they're also the only bar to sport three imperial Stouts on tap in July, god bless them.

Keg & Lantern

Tørst is one of a few beer destinations within spitting distance of Nassau Avenue. Around the corner, daydrinkers and tourists mingle with stroller parents at Spritzenhaus, which pours Other Half IPA alongside half-liters of Radeberger. But years before either of these opened – in fact, before Evil Twin even existed – Keg & Lantern was serving Greenpointers craft beer in their unassuming sports bar. The vibe was hot wings and TVs, and while some of us would flock there for a rare taste of Ballast Point (way before their billion-dollar acquisition), the crowd was all Bud Light and Okocim.

Fast forward to 2014 (there's that explosive year again). I pass their storefront on my walk from the subway, and I notice a new decal: "Keg & Lantern Brewing Company." There's no other visible changes. That's not what that means, I think. Maybe a zealous owner wanted to advertise their craft selection, and whiffed on the wording.

One way or another, they all trace back to the same group of homebrewers.”

I inquire inside, and sure enough, they say they've built a three-barrel system. I look around the dim structure of brick walls and vintage beer cans: unchanged. They installed it in the basement, seemingly overnight and with no alterations to the bar, which is now approaching its 10th birthday.

Their flagship Green Eyes IPA – "brewed every 14 days" on the menu – is thankfully off-trend, a classic seven-percenter brimming with C-hop pine and citrus. It reminds me of the first time I drank Smuttynose Finestkind. Today, the program is expanding ambitiously, with barrel-aged Sours, tropical-hop IPAs, and flinty English Bitters and Brown Ales.

The flagship recipes are courtesy of departed brewmaster P. J. Allen, a former photographer who got his start at Brooklyn Brewsers meetings. (The owner found him on Craigslist.) Today, Keg & Lantern is scaling slowly, their kegs cropping up on tap lines around the city in a trickle. The brewing is now led by Jeff Lyons, who cut his teeth a few blocks away at Greenpoint Beer & Ale, under Erik Olsen – yet another neighborhood guy who started at the Brewsers.

One way or another, they all trace back to the same group of homebrewers. Back when Brooklyn was just the name of a brewery, these two were swapping bottles of their early batches at Brouwerij Lane, along with dozens of other makers of the city's future.

AB InBev is an investor in October through its venture capital arm, ZX Ventures
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