On Tap

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bl1.jpgFormer Spuyten Duyvil bartender Dave Herman helped us compile this beer lover’s guide to Brooklyn in 2007 — which explains obvious omissions like Beer Table. But the bars below are still worth checking out, armed with Herman’s pointers on becoming an aficionado: 1) the quality of bottled beers often exceeds drafts, which are dependent on clean pouring lines — not always a given; 2) a large selection of Belgian beers, particularly rare Trappist ales, is a tip-off that you’re in a serious beer bar; 3) a beer on cask is like a draft beer, only gas isn’t used to force it through the line, giving it a truer flavor according to some purists; and 4) beer geek speak for light, easy drinking beers is “session beers.” At each bar on the list, Herman suggests a light beer and a complex one to contemplate rather than quaff.

Rebar (147 Front St., Dumbo, 718-797-2322) 4.5 pints for selection
The layout of this Dumbo bar feels like a mall food court, but the selection — a long list of bottled imports and 15 beers on draft — is stellar.

Light: Adnam’s Sussex Special Bitter (SSB)-Despite the name, this traditional English pub ale in a bottle is actually very mild. There’s a slight & well balanced taste of both caramel and bitterness. English subtlety at its best.
Complex: Great Divide Oak Aged Yeti Imperial Stout-A Colorado beer with classic imperial stout flavors of heavily roasted espresso and bittersweet chocolate up front, and an underlying sweetness and a vanilla finish from the oak. (side note: Imperial stouts were first brewed to stand up to the long trek from England to Russia for Catherine the Great).

Spuyten Duyvil (359 Metropolitan Ave., Williamsburg, 718-963-4140) 5 pints
“Rare and Obscure” is the bar’s motto and the beer list’s ethos. Heavy on bottled beers with six beers on draft and one on cask that can rotate as often as several times a week. [Ed.’s note: by many accounts, the best beer bar in all of NYC, and one of the best in the country.]

sput.jpgLight: Mahr’s Ungespundet- A terrific, light bodied, easy-drinking German lager with a clean aftertaste, and a favorite of many of my co-workers.
Complex: Cantillion Kriek Lambic- Not for the faint-hearted, but great, traditional and very hard-to-find Belgian farmhouse ales. Incredibly tart and acidic, funky and complex. The “kriek” means it’s been fermented with cherries which adds more sourness as the yeast is allowed to ferment nearly all the sugar from the fruit.

The Diamond (43 Franklin St., Greenpoint, 718-383-5030) 4 pints
Recently opened by former SD bartender Dave Pollack and his wife, their beer is listed by ease of drinking for the uninitiated. A great backyard & table shuffleboard are nice additions.

Light: Schneider Weisse- This is the original German wheat beer, and still the best. German wheat beers are among the lowest in calories (and mild on the alcohol), plus they provide quite a bit of vitamin B. Hints of bananas and cloves dominate the flavor, and the carbonation combined with the fact it’s unfiltered gives it a creamy feel without adding real weight.
Complex: Liefmans Goudenband- A traditional Flemish bottled brown ale with champagne-style carbonation and a wonderful sweet-and-sour flavor. Fairly rich and has great depth and finishes with ripe plums.

Barcade (388 Union Ave., Williamsburg, 718-302-6464) 3 pints
A warehouse space crammed with 1980s arcade games and 25, American-made draft beers. One of the partners produced the documentary “American Beer” in which he and some pals went to 40 U.S. breweries in 40 days.

barcade.jpgLight: Penn Oktoberfest- A small brewery that does only traditional German styles, this is an amber-colored lager in the “Marzen” style. Hints of spice play off a subtle nutty sweetness and balance with a slightly bitter undercurrent, finishing dry & clean. (side note: Most “Oktoberfest” beers are Marzen beers — brewed in March to drink in the fall.)
Complex: Dogfish Head 90 Minute India Pale Ale (IPA)- At the forefront of the American obsession with hops (the bittering & preserving agent in beer), this beer features an explosion of bitterness riding on a caramel-sweet undercurrent.

The Brazen Head (228 Atlantic Ave., Cobble Hill, 718-488-0430) 2 pints
A small place as likely to cater to local blue-collar workers as gentrifiers, they’ve been serving good beer longer than most places and host a twice-yearly cask ale festival (the next one is Nov. 2-4).

braz.jpgLight: Kelso Extra Special Bitter (ESB)- The Clinton Hill brewery’s take on a classic English ale is only slightly more potent than the Adnam’s SSB and has a sharper bitterness. It’s on cask instead of draft, which means it will have muted carbonation in the traditional English fashion.
Complex: Chelsea Black Hole Stout- A solid draft imperial stout, quite sweet at the open with a noticeably bitter finish. Not as nuanced as the Yeti but still pleasant. Very rich and rather high-octane.

Brooklyn Brewery (79 N. 11th St., Williamsburg, 718-486-7422) Only open Friday 6pm-11pm and Saturday noon-5pm. Unrated, since their selection is limited to their beers. At least one seasonal beer and most of their year-round styles are available on draft, and often in bottles.

local1.jpgOf note: Similar in style to a Duvel or La Chouffe Belgian golden ale, Local 1 is the first beer especially made for their recently-installed Belgian bottling line. Light-bodied, champagne carbonated, slightly sweet and quite yeasty, it’s a wonderful unfiltered ale and the best thing they’ve brewed. Pairs really well with rich and creamy foods like a “triple cream” cheese.

Look for Local 1 (and many of the above beers) at Thrifty/American Beer Distribution Co. (256 Court St., Cobble Hill, 718-875-0226), Bierkraft (191 Fifth Ave., Park Slope, 718-230-7600), and Spuyten Duyvil Grocery (218 Bedford Ave., Williamsburg, 718-384-1520).

Photo of beer at top by Troy McCullough. Photo of Brazen Head by ultraclay!. Photo of Spuyten Duyvil taps by David Hollier, and Local 1 courtesy Brooklyn Brewery.

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