Despite being one of America’s most populous states, New York has long lagged behind when it comes to beer. Sure, the state’s had its highlights, and those were major contributions: Brooklyn Brewery is one of the forefathers of the craft beer movement, and Cooperstown’s Brewery Ommegang was one of the first American breweries to master Belgian-styles in the U.S. But as beer culture exploded in other nearby states in the Northeast over the past decade, for some reason, New York seemed hesitant to join in on the fun.
That’s the case no more. According to the New York Brewers Association, the number of breweries in the state has doubled recently, going from just 95 in 2012 to 207 in 2014, practically turning New York into a full-on beer destination. For compiling this list, we took a balanced approach, considering many of New York’s newest hotshot breweries alongside some of more classic craft beers that the state has been churning out for an entire generation of beer lovers. Coming up with a top nine wasn’t easy—though I must admit, the years of research I’ve put in have been thoroughly enjoyable.
9. FLOWER POWER
Ithaca Beer Company, Ithaca
In today’s current brewing climate, it can be hard to remember that back around the turn of the millennium when Ithaca started brewing their Flower Power, not every brewery had a signature IPA. Ithaca’s offering immediately became one of New York’s most acclaimed craft beers, and it still holds up today: simultaneously piney and pineapple-y, both floral and slightly sweet, and balanced in a way that, a decade later, many IPAs still can’t quite get right. Modern IPAs might be more tropical fruit forward or provide a bit more kick, but compiling a list of great New York beers without Flower Power would be like calling Don Mattingly the greatest Yankees first baseman because you forgot about Lou Gehrig.
8. RUN LIKE AN APRICOT
Prison City Pub and Brewery, Auburn
Though only open for less than a year, this small brewery near the Finger Lakes has already burst onto the scene with a diverse profile of beers from Belgians to Berliner Weisses. While the former landed them a silver medal at this year’s Great American Beer Festival, my tastes lean towards the latter. Prison City’s Run Like an Apricot is an extremely well executed Berliner full of lactic tartness and delightful apricot notes; the kind of beer that will draw in the uninitiated but also please the most ardent beer geeks.
7. DOUBLE WHITE ALE
Southampton Publick House, Southampton
Another brewer that’s earned its stripes, Southampton’s take on a “double strength” Witbier is as big as it purports to be: a massive mouthfeel that gives way to plenty of complimenting orange citrus tang and coriander spice. And yet it’s anything but oppressive, still maintaining the delicateness and drinkability you’d hope for in a Belgian-style white. Double White is the kind of beer that’s been so steady for so many years, it’s sure to please anyone without much controversy.
Southern Tier Brewing Company, Lakewood
Back before pumpkin beers (along with pumpkin everything else) became so popular they emerged as practically the joke of the brewing world; Southern Tier unleashed an imperial pumpkin ale that was truly worthy of its “king” nomenclature. Pumpkin brews can focus on everything from seasonal spices to fresh harvest flavors. Meanwhile, Pumking tastes like shoving an entire pumpkin pie down your mouth, sweet graham cracker crust and all. The dessert-like intensity might be a bit much for some people, but at 8.6 percent ABV, that might be for the best.
5. CUVEE DE CASTLETON
Captain Lawrence Brewing Company, Elmsford
If you’re only familiar with Captain Lawrence’s core lineup of year-round beers, like their super quaffable Liquid Gold and Freshchester Pale Ale, you might be surprised to see the brewer included here. But among their cavalcade of specialty beers are a number of unique, acclaimed and exquisite barrel-aged brews including Cuvee de Castleton, a delicate sour made with Muscat grapes and aged on French oak.
4. DOUBLE BARREL JESUS
Evil Twin Brewing, Brooklyn (kind of)
Is Evil Twin even a New York brewery? It’s debatable. The website for the brand from famed Danish gypsy brewer Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergso ends in a “.dk,” for god’s sake. And are we supposed to ignore that the beer I’ve included here, the renowned Double Barrel Jesus, is produced at the Westbrook Brewing Company in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina? That said, ever since Jarnit-Bjergso decided to move his family to Brooklyn in 2012, many have come to label Evil Twin as a New York City-based brewery. For those who buy into that logic, we’d be remiss if we didn’t include one of his brews—like this velvety and viscous, chocolatey and complex barrel-aged imperial stout—on our list. So though you can debate this beers inclusion based on location, you’ll have a tough time doing so based on its quality.
3. RAINBOW DOME
Grimm Artisanal Ales, Brooklyn
Speaking of gypsy brewers, few brewers—peripatetic or no—are on as much of a hot streak as Grimm Artisanal Ales. Though this married couple, Joe and Lauren Grimm, don’t currently have a facility of their own, their Brooklyn credentials are a bit more secure as every beer they release starts with a test batch in their Gowanus neighborhood kitchen before they seek a plausible place for production. Yes, their Double Negative Imperial Stout has medaled in two consecutive Great American Beer Festivals, but for my money, I love their Rainbow Dome, an oaked and dry-hopped wild ale brewed with apricots with an unfolding diversity of flavors from fruity to tart to dry that takes your taste buds on a colorful trip.
2. SIMPLE SOUR
Peekskill Brewery, Peekskill
Don’t let the name fool you: Though Simple Sour might go down easy, this hybrid beer is surprisingly complex in design. Based on the already slightly sour Berliner Weisse style, Peekskill hits the brew with brettanomyces yeast to give it a little extra pucker and funk, but balances out those flavors by using not only wheat, but also corn in the mash, for a touch of added sweetness. The result is delightfully tart and quaffable with a bit more complexity lurking beneath the surface if you actually remember to slow down and savor it instead of just crushing pint after pint of this awesomely sessionable 4.5 percent ABV brew.
1. BOOGIE BOARD STUNTZ
Other Half Brewing, Brooklyn
Other Half certainly didn’t need any help to land a spot on this list. Pretty much any of this hop-forward brewery’s amazing single, double or triple IPAs are worthy of inclusion —or even this top spot. That said, when one of New York City’s best new breweries collaborated with one of Maine’s best new breweries, Bunker, the resulting beer, Boogie Board Stuntz, set the standard for how a delicately-hopped, delightfully drinkable summer beer should be—a Kolsch brewed with Maine oats and Mandarina Bavaria and Mosaic hops. That’s right. New York State’s best beer is a Kolsch. Deal with it. Or better yet, go drink it.
WATCH HOW TO PAIR BEER AND CHEESE