An Odd Kind of Wine

We were planning on visiting some appellations on Long Island while we were on a recent sojourn to New York City. The weather, however, had different ideas.

Buried car
The car's not on the other side of the snowbank - it's in the snowbank! Sad face.

Our friends Kristen and Corner had volunteered to drive to the tasting rooms on Long Island from their home in Astoria. Sure, we could have shoveled their car out from under the snowpile but then we’d still have had to navigate the treacherous (i.e. not thoroughly-plowed) roads of Queens to get to the tasting rooms, and that just seemed like a recipe for regret.

Luckily Corner knew of a magical place in Williamsburg (gotta love the subway!) that is making an odd kind of wine. Instead of using grapes they use barley, and rather than adding oak they add something called “hops.” The wines are all sparkling at this intriguing location. We decided to check it out, so we trudged several blocks uphill through hip-deep snow (both ways!) and visited the Brooklyn Brewery.

Cheers to Brooklyn Brewery
Beer in hand. Happy Face!

They call their strange wines “beer” which includes such varietals as “ale,” “porter,” “stout,” “lager,” “pilsner” and more.

A steel tank at Brooklyn Brewery
Now in mini-kegs!

Upon entering, turn left and visit the front counter to buy wooden tokens which you can exchange for beer in the indoor beer-garden. Six tokens costs $20; you can purchase smaller quantities, but six for 20 is the best value. Most of the beers are one token, with some of the super-specialty items costing two tokens. There are two extra-super-specialty beers that cost three tokens; the third, however, seems to cover the very swanky keepsake glass that beer’s poured into.

Our tasting
Clockwise from top: Beer, beer, beer, beer, beer. Center: fancy beer

I called it an indoor beer garden rather than a pub or bar because it really has a beer garden feel. Seating is all at communal tables, most of which are large picnic tables. The expansive room features exposed brick walls and beautiful wooden rafters. The bar is at one end of the room opposite the entry.

Many other people had braved the snow to visit the brewery. It was quite lively, and we were fortunate to find a table (a plywood disc screwed to the top of a large barrel) that could accommodate our party of four. We enjoyed our beers while waiting for the 2:00 brewery tour to begin.

The brewery tour attracted a large group. We convened in the entry area between the token booth and a row of stainless steel tanks, then our guide got our attention and led us into the brewery part of the facility.

Steel tanks in brewery
I'd tap that.

The tour was a bit truncated because the brewery is undergoing a major expansion, and it was not safe to have people wandering about among the construction and the new brewery equipment. We really just stayed at one end of the cavernous space and listened to a lively, humorous and informative speech about the origins of the brewery, the initial development of the Brooklyn facility and the current expansion.

Brooklyn Brewery germinated in the head of Steve Hindy, an AP Middle East correspondent who couldn’t get beer when he was stationed in that region. When he returned to the US in 1986 he pitched his idea of starting a brewery to investment banker Tom Potter, who was skeptical. After Steve went to a microbrewer’s convention in Portland OR, his enthusiasm overcame Tom’s reluctance. They became business partners and started brewing beer in Utica NY in 1987.

They mainly did contract brewing for other labels while offering their own line of craft beers. In 1996 they opened their brewery in Williamsburg (in Brooklyn). The Brooklyn Brewery is the first commercial brewer in all of New York City since 1976, and they did it in a borough that once had 100 active breweries. Prior to its highest calling as a brewery, the Williamsburg facility was first a steel mill, then a matzoh ball factory.

80% of their product originates from the Utica facility with the remainder brewed in Willamsburg. When their current expansion is complete the balance will be closer to 50/50.

The Brooklyn Brewery logo was designed by Milton Glaser, the man responsible for the original “I ♥ NY” design.

Brewery tour in the new expansion
This shows maybe half the room

When the tour ended several people lingered to ask the guide questions. At that point we decided it would be better to drink more beer, so we headed back into the beer garden and did just that.

The Beers


Mike: Pretty middle-of-the-road. Heavier than I expected from a Pilsner. A bit sweet and malty up-front, a little bitter on finish.

Nikki: Darker and fuller than expected. Really full flavors – citrus and enough hops to underline the carbonation.


Mike: Darker than most lagers I’ve had, and heavier. Red color. Looks, tastes and feels more like an ale.


Nikki: Sweet, yeasty and tasty! Not a lot of hop flavors.


Nikki: Almost red-winey. Elements of oak and flavors I’d expect in a pinot. Plus chocolate! Worth every splinter of the three tokens.

Mike: Is that why I didn’t get to taste this?


Nikki: Take a non-Guinness stout (something thicker) and put a chocolate bar in it. That’s this beer.

Mike: Fruitier, tangier than I expected with richer/nuttier finish.


Mike: Unfiltered. Estery but not as banana-y as my general idea of weissbiers. Nice finish. My favorite of their brews.

Nikki: Tasty! Not as estery as I expected. A little underlying citrus.

The Wrap-Up

Brooklyn Brewery was a fun place to spend time and enjoy some craft beers with friends. We’ll definitely drop in again when we’re in New York.