Thoughts on Beer and Whiskey in New York Today

img_20161203_113321I hadn’t been to New York in seven or eight months and renewed acquaintanceship. We stayed in Queens just over the Queensboro Bridge, part of Long Island City, for a few days.

I liked being in a different borough. Although very close to Manhattan the feel is quite different, more “neighbourhood” and the surroundings more like you see in upstate New York, Buffalo and similar.

Prices were more reasonable and the Ditmars section had excellent restaurants, one memorable night was spent at a Greek restaurant there, Stamatis. It was all locals having a great time. We sipped Greek red wine, eschewing for once the beer.

I’ve mentioned on Twitter how American whiskey prices have skyrocketed in recent years – a victim of its own success. Store owners told me there is large demand in Asia for bourbon and rye and it has put pressure on domestic stocks and therefore prices. Of course stateside, demand has spiked too. Still, there are good values for the persistent. Heaven Hill, more as a public service I think than anything else (a nod to the working people who kept bourbon going for decades before hipsters cottoned to it), keep the price of Evan Williams Black Label reasonable, and there are one or two other values, and specials and reductions, for those who look.

Otherwise, be prepared to spend from $40-$80 and more for stuff that cost half or less 10 years ago. By the standards of malt and single potstill whiskey, still a good deal I suppose. The cocktails scene seems to have lessened in intensity, and the “Prohibition” craze in ratio.

The standards remain, like Manhattan, Sazerac, Old-Fashioned. The craft distilling scene is where the action is but prices again are understandably high with a riot of flavours and distilling approaches.

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My feeling is, the small guys should focus more on straight bourbon and rye. Four years or less in some cases can produce some fine whiskey and I feel they would do better with this than all kinds of fruit and unusual wood flavourings. Beer Barrel Bourbon (the only new element being finishing in ex-beer barrels) shows the way, as it is a very good shot of whiskey by any standards. But then too, one can’t gainsay experimentation and coming up with that “new” flavour that may catch on. Clearly many are still trying, as at home, more power to them.

On the beer side, the established craft specialty outlets are still going great guns. Interest is as high as ever. On the licencee side (bar and restaurant trade), midtown at least a changeover has occurred from five years ago and more when many still carried Bud Light, Coors Light, Miller Lite, Corona, Mich Ultra, maybe Heineken, maybe Sam Adams or Guinness. Or a variation on that theme.

Now, the default beer offering is craft: Goose Island, Sam Adams or its excellent Coney Island spin-off, Brooklyn Brewery, Lagunitas, and similar. Heineken and Corona still sell well too, and Stella Artois is omnipresent. It’s significant though that the mainstream bars have turned the corner in this way.

The craft speciality bars are as strong as ever, featuring a wide variety of styles and tastes. But it’s in the larger market where you see that the penny has dropped. I predict that will happen nation-wide too in about five years, certainly in ten. This is why the large brewers have bought up craft properties, they know it’s coming. While big craft or macro tend to dominate that craft availability, nonetheless it shows public tastes have changed. The big urban centres are always the harbingers.