Friday, June 24, 2016

Paloma Rocket

Co-owner Graham, center, surrounded by beer reps.
Shane from Sly Fox on the right. Paloma Rocket Non-Flash version of the podcast

At first blush, "self service beer bar" sounds like a cheeky gimmick, and we weren't sure what to expect when we visited the Lower East Side's Paloma Rocket, located at 7 Clinton Street, just below Houston. Opening recently with 30 taps pouring a respectable list of craft beers, all but four domestic and with heavy representation of NY State breweries, was this just a clever way to stand out from the other craft beer joints dotting the downtown bar scene?

Maybe... but maybe not. Let's first explain what it's all about and how it works before further contemplation on the subject.

Paloma Rocket could be the name of sultry, kick-ass "Bond Girl".
Stay at the bar long enough and you may have a very Mary Goodnight!

First off, in order to get the beer flowing, you'll need an RFID card -- you get that at the horseshoe shaped bar to the right as you enter Paloma Rocket. You can put whatever dollar amount that you like onto the credit card sized plastic card -- $20 seems to be the average. Each of the 30 taps that line the back wall has a display screen with information about the beer that pours from that tap: brewery name and logo, some info on the brewery, perhaps, name and style of the beer, a brief description of the beer. You can scroll down the touch screen and see the ABV, for example. There is a place above the tap to set your "beer card" to active the tap.

B.R., aka Beer Rocket, can pour her own beer, thank you very much!

When you place the card above the tap, the video screen displays the value/balance on your card and the price per ounce of that particular beer. Prices range from 50-cents to $1.50 an ounce, and can be as high as $4 per ounce for a rare, high-ABV, exclusive brew. Next you select one of many styles of glassware stored on a shelf above the taps, give it a rinse with the upward-spraying rinsers set into the drip tray below, and you're ready to pour your own beer!

Don't forget to tip yourself!

As you pour, you see the ounces tick up (similar to a gas pump or fro-yo display) and your card balance tick down as the beer flows into your glass. You can pour as much or as little as you prefer from any tap. Want to get a one-ounce taste of an unfamiliar beer before deciding to go for a full pour? Done, and done! And if you're not sure how to properly pour a pint, Paloma Rocket's staff is there to give a hand.

The beer cards must be returned before leaving the bar -- they expire in 12 hours after purchase. If there is a balance on the card when you leave, the amount will be refunded to you. As Kenny, one of the owners, noted, "it's probably the only bar where you get money back when you leave!"
  • Check out the beer description on the screen.
  • Activate the tap with your card, and see your card balance (upper right), and the price per ounce (lower left).
  • As you pour, the ounces go up, and your balance goes down, along with the beer bar graph on the right.
  • The cost of your pour is displayed when you're done pouring.

The absence of a bartender to pour your beer has its ups and downs. Though there's always a "bartender" there to add value on to your card, answer questions, and help suggest pouring techniques, it's obviously not the same as having Isaac mix you a daiquiri while giving you tips on finding love, or some Irish brogue crooning lad or lass charm you. The design and layout of the bar -- huge windows, very open, bright, clean, sparse -- lends itself to a bring-your-own-vibe feel. Large flatscreen TVs are there to ogle, showing soccer, hockey, or whatever other sports happen to be on. (Co-owner Graham is a proud ex-pat Londoner, so proper football is often on screen.)

But there are plenty of benefits to this new system, unique in NYC at the moment. You'll never have to wait to get your glass filled (unless there's a run on something on a crowded night, I suppose). Being able to pour any amount is a definite plus. It's conceivable that one could sample all 30 taps with 1 ounce pours, and still be able to leave without stumbling. Then there's the possibility of "beer blending" -- say, mix some Central Waters Nitro Puppy Porter with some Rodenbach Grand Cru Flanders Red? (Which was possible at the time of this posting.)

Clearly, this is not your wood paneled, sawdust floor, dark, worn in, 100-year-old oak bar, and it's not your hip, beer nerd/beer snob, $10-per-8oz-pour, served by your beer sommelier bar. It is a place where you can go learn about beer on your own, if you care to, try as much or little as you like of any of 30 beers, pour your own as you like it -- but hopefully not drink alone! It does have the feel of a sort of "beer arcade" where you can play bartender, which makes for a fun destination for a party. After riding the Paloma Rocket ourselves, we know that, while it might not suit everyone's orbit, we had fun, enjoyed some very good beers, and we'll definitely book many future flights!

Kenny demonstrates the system.
Bob rinses and pours.
NY State in the house. Oh, and Vermont.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Jack's Abby Craft Lagers Jack's Abby Craft Lagers Non-Flash version of the podcast

Though they've been selling in New York State since 2014, Framingham, Mass. brewery Jack's Abby Craft Lagers launched in New York City in mid-April this year, and we got to talk to one of the three brothers, Sam Hendler, who founded and runs the operation. We met in the backyard of Judy & Punch on 30th Ave. in Astoria, Queens.

Sam of Jack's, Gerard from Judy & One Mile House, and Jack's sales rep Chris V.
The brewery was founded in 2011 in a 6,000 sq. ft. space with a 20-barrel system. In their first year they brewed about 500 barrels of beer. Recently the brewery underwent a massive expansion, installing a 60-barrel brew house with 240-barrel fermenters in a space 10 times the size of the original brewery, 67,000 sq. ft., which includes a 200-seat beer hall!

Jack's brews lager beers exclusively, and they make an exceptional authentic traditional German Helles called House Lager. For that beer they import German malts and German hops from a Bavarian farm, employ decoction mashing, and naturally carbonate the clear golden lager with the krausening technique, in which a portion of a newly fermenting batch of the same beer is added to a fully fermented batch, boosting carbonation.

But it's not only about German style Pils, Helles, and Maibocks. Jack's Abby is dedicated to experimentation with lagers, using massive hop additions in some beers, barrel aging others, creating high ABV "lager wines", and basically defying the limited expectations that most people have of "lager beer". Their Kiwi Rising, for example, uses copious hop additions of New Zealand hops, including a dry hopping -- Nelson and Motueka -- to create a very unlikely lager. Their Double India Pale Lager (DIPL), which clocks in at 8.5% ABV and their flagship Hoponius Union (brewed with Citra and Centennial) also redefine what a lager is.

Sam of Jack's, NYC Jack's sales rep, and Adam of Forest Hills Station House.
But their 13% "lager wine" editions, which age in barrels for 9 months and take up to a year to make, really set the bar for untraditional lagers. Their Baby Maker, Bride Maker, and Brewery Maker are all named after milestones in the Hendler family.

Brothers Eric (the numbers guy) and Sam (the sales guy) of Jack's.
When asked why the brewery exclusively brews lagers, Sam explained that when his brother Jack, the head brewer and co-owner, studied brewing at the Siebel Institute, during his time in Munich at sister school Doemens Academy, he was inspired by all the amazing, fresh, classic Pils and Helles beers available everywhere. He wanted to take that back to the States. And we're glad he did! Let's hope they not only keep the old traditions alive, but also never stop pushing lager into the unexplored future!

Sarah, Sam, and Colin of Remarkable Liquids, Dan of Singlecut (and general Queens beer fame),
and an unidentified photo bomber!

Framing Ham.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

500th Anniversary of the Reinheitsgebot Zum Schneider celebrates the 500th Anniversary of the Reinheitsgebot Non-Flash version of the podcast

On April 23, 1516 in Ingolstadt, Germany, at a meeting of the Assembly of Estates, Bavarian Duke Wilhelm IV proposed a law which dictated, among other things, that beer should only be made from water, barley, and hops. It was referred to as the "Surrogatverbot", or prohibition of surrogate ingredients, and later, in 1918, was nicknamed the Reinheitsgebot, or purity agreement.
Sylvester says "prosit!"
500 years later the law endures, and its anniversary causes us to celebrate the bright, clean, healthy lager that has defined German beer, considered by many to be the best beer in the world. Of course, some folks in Belgium and England, and other beer centric lands, might disagree. But on the corner of E. 7th St. and Ave. C in what was Kleine Deutschland in the late 1800s, German beer reigns! Zum Schneider celebrates all week long with special kegs, and a beer-centric menu featuring dishes made with beer!
Freigeist Abraxxxas makes its debut on tap at ZS!
Rather than giving you a 10 page dissertation on the history of the Reinheitsgebot, we'll just give you the short story, and link some other more in depth resources below. Basically, the law sought to preserve the quality and consistency of Bavarian beer at a time when beer was made from a long list of ingredients that varied from hamlet to hamlet. Some used different sources for the sugars, which are converted to alcohol and carbon dioxide during fermentation -- not everyone use malted grain exclusively. And the beer was flavored and colored with all kinds of things: spices, ash, herbs, roots, bark -- pretty much anything was possible. So, by limiting what could go into beer, the beer became more consistent, and the quality was more reliable.
Zum Schneider shakes up the menu with some very special offerings!
It wasn't just beer quality at the core of the Reinheitsgebot, though. The rule sought to act as a price and supply control on grain, stipulating that only malted barley be used for beer, leaving wheat for the bakers, so there wouldn't be bread shortages due to a thirst for more beer! Wheat malt was allowed in beer brewing, but on a very limited basis through special dispensation from the monarchy, and following the end of one such charter, the reigning House of Wittlesbach gave themselves the exclusive monopoly to brew wheat beer in Bavaria from 1602 to 1798.
Fraulein B.R. und Herr Bockenstein.
Here are some good sources of information on the Reinheitsgebot:

The Guardian article about a German brewery's struggle with the beer law
All About Beer article on some history
Beer Sessions Radio featuring Sylvester Schneider and Sebastian of Freigeist
Oxford Companion to Beer with its definition and history
Wikipedia always a good source
Beer and Brewing more on the Reinheitsgebot
The Ja Ja Jas.
A clean, spray-free tapping of the Weissenohe!
Jorge pours the Weissenohe.
The photographer sports a Mahr's hat as he glances at the menu specials. 

Sylvester and the ladies sing.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Kings County Brewing Collective Kings County Brewers Collective Pt. 1 of 2 Kings County Brewers Collective Pt. 2 of 2 Non-Flash version of the full podcast

In the mid- to late-1800s, Brooklyn, and Bushwick in particular, was a brewing powerhouse: the Otto Huber/Hittleman brewery on Meserole, which now houses the 60-tap beer mecca The Well; the old Schlitz bottling plant a few blocks off of Bushwick Ave., currently being renovated into upscale apartments; Rheingold; William Ulmer; Schaefer. At one point there were about 45 breweries in Brooklyn, and the borough accounted for a tenth of the nation's beer production!  A NY Times article provides a map and some history. All of that ended with the closure of Rheingold and Schaefer in 1976, and the borough didn't see a return to production brewing until the Brooklyn Brewery opened in Williamsburg in 1996 (though Park Slope Brewing brewpub was on the scene by then).

L-R: Tony, Pete, Zack, B.R.

But brewing is back in Bushwick! Three partners have leased a 5,000 sq ft commercial space at 381 Troutman St., just off Wykoff, and spitting distance from the Jefferson stop on the L-train. They're building a 15-barrel, 3-vessel brewhouse made by American Beer Equipment, which they'll use to fill four 30-barrel fermentors. Kings County Brewers Collective plans on having a 1,000 sq ft tasting room in the front of the brewery, featuring two 13'x13' open garage doors, to create a bright, open, welcoming feel. 

A test batch.

In addition to offering their brews on 12 tap lines, they'll also sell beer to go in Crowlers, 32-oz aluminum cans filled fresh from the tap like a growler, and sealed on the spot. They also plan on canning some batches using a mobile canning service. The brewery is aiming to have the doors open and beer flowing sometime over the summer of 2016.

The brewhouse, still unwrapped.

Partner and production manager/quality control technician Pete Lengyel said that KCBC will have a barrel aging program right from the start. Having done some work with the barrel program at Brooklyn Brewery, as well as brewing stints at Greenpoint Brewing/Kelso, Rockaway and Finback, we're sure that it's bound for success. He notes that they'll be looking to get a foudre and perhaps some grundy tanks to add capacity for making some funky brett beers. Pete, a native of San Diego, worked in molecular biology before being bitten by the brewing bug.

Floor plan.

Partner Tony Bellis, a former home brewer who has extensive experience in the coffee industry, said that they'll probably have three different IPAs when they launch, out of about 7 or 8 planned debut beers, including a kettle sour, pilsner/lager, and a saison. Before joining the venture, Tony did his time at Greenpoint Brewing/Kelso, starting out at the bottom filling kegs and working his way up to head brewer, where he worked up until November 2015.
B.R., Tony, Pete, Zack.

The third partner, Zack Kinney, whose background is in advertising, also started out home brewing and, like the other two, studied brewing through the American Brewers Guild program. Zack and his partners are hoping to revitalize a great beer culture in Bushwick, focusing on community, education, collaboration, and damn fine beer! 

Lots of great street art throughout Bushwick.

In addition to advanced gear such as a centrifuge and a hopback, they'll have a 1 barrel pilot system. This will allow them the freedom to try out a lot of different styles and techniques, and experiment extensively. We're eager for these talented, inspired individuals to get brewing, and we'll definitely be checking in with them again once the brewery is open for business!

Grain mill.

Looking from the back to the front.
Looking from the front to the back.

Street view.