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Beer Lover's Guide to a New York Christmas

beer lover guide new york christmas

The movies and made-for-television specials make a New York Christmas out to be a magical experience filled with the joy of the season, good cheer,and warm memories that will last a lifetime and beyond.

The reality is that New York during Christmastime is a cold and crowded place where tourists in bulky parkas cram into Rockefeller Plaza for a glimpse at a four-story tall Christmas tree and line up for hours to get a few minutes on the ice rink below. Broadway shows will be sold out or outrageously expensive, the department store windows along 5th Avenue are decked out in elaborate displays that you’ll no doubt enjoy seeing if you can break through the throngs of fellow onlookers. Yes, Santa is at the Macy’s on 34th Street, but the miracle will be whether or not you can make it through the line to see him in less than two hours.


macy's on 34th street in new york at Christmas
While it may be true that Santa can be found at the Macy's on 34th street (above), the miracle will be whether or not you can make it through the line to see him in less than two hours.

Photo Courtesy Flick/John Wisniewski


Midtown is where the holiday action is, and in the final month of the year, also has what the city calls “gridlock alert days” where it’s virtually impossible to get where you want to go by car. Now, if crowds and jostling is your thing, then by all means go for it and have a holly, jolly good time, because I’m not here to be Scrooge and dissuade you from snapping selfies with the Santa hat-wearing Elmos in Times Square.

However, since you’re reading a beer-themed publication let’s assume you are looking to find your cheer in a pint glass among fellow beer enthusiasts. Your options in midtown are few and far between. Sure, there’s standards like the Ginger Man on 36th Street or Treadwell Park on 42nd  Street, but to get a real experience of the city during the magical time of year, get on a subway, cross the East River, and go exploring the neighborhoods. That’s where you’ll find most of the breweries. (Although you can find Death Ave Brewing on 10th Avenue and the soon-to-open Torch & Crown Brewing Company in Manhattan.)

Pro-tip: If you do want to see the tree and all the other outdoor spectacles, plan to go in the pre-dawn hours of the morning or well into the night. The lights will be on, but the crowds will be thinned and there’s a certain thrill that comes with seeing these landmarks on off-hours in the city that never sleeps.

No matter what, be ready for the weather. Because even though you’re leaving the tourists and day trippers behind, the harsh winter winds that swoop down the concrete canyons of New York streets will find a way to penetrate all of your layers and chill you to the bone.


christmas decoration sculptures in new york
No matter what, be ready for the weather. The harsh winter winds that swoop down the concrete canyons of New York streets will find a way to penetrate all of your layers and chill you to the bone.


Finding a place where you can get respite from winter is paramount, and there is perhaps no better place for the beer lover than the Blind Tiger on Bleecker Street in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village. There’s a literal warmth that exudes from the cozy corner bar thanks to a working fireplace that ads a cheery glow to the room and warms your appendages.

It’s true that just within the last few years New York has become a better beer city than it was. There are breweries in every borough, bars and restaurants have upped their tap and bottle list to match the fine cuisine and even the corner bodegas have at least a few craft options available for to-go purchases.

Long before all of that happened, the Blind Tiger was the oasis for hop lovers, stout drinkers and enthusiasts looking for relief from the bland light lagers that dominated the city’s beer scene. Given their place on the calendar and as much as the winter holidays are a time of celebration, they are also a time of reflection and traditions. Maybe that’s why so many of the breweries in the city create special cask ales or hold real ale festivals during this time of year.

Strong Rope Brewery in Brooklyn celebrates its anniversary every December. This year, on the 14th they will hold their annual cask festival.

“We usually have 8-10 casks, featuring breweries from around the city as well as a few specialty beers of our own,” says Jason Sahler, the owner and brewer. “This year we'll be pouring an imperial stout aged in a whiskey barrel and a special collaboration barleywine with Fifth Hammer (in Queens) as well as lots more still being confirmed.”


people ice skating at rockefeller plaza during christmas
Despits its mythical sheen, the reality is that New York during Christmastime is a cold and crowded place where tourists in bulky parkas cram into Rockefeller Plaza for a glimpse at a four-story tall Christmas tree and line up for hours to get a few minutes on the ice rink below.


The brewery also hosts a festive sweater and cookie party where they welcome customers to wear their best festive sweater for a free beer and encourage everyone to also bring cookies or other treats to share.

Also, on the 14th, in Queens, Bridge and Tunnel Brewery will host its second annual Holiday Photo Shoot where both kids and dogs are welcome.

“We have a fireplace in the brewery, says Rich Castagna. Proceeds will go to the SCO Family Shelter in Bushwick, which we also did last year, and it was great to contribute to someone in the neighborhood.”

Because the season is a time of giving, expect to see bins for local food shelters, Toys for Tots, and other charitable tip jars on bars that go to helping out causes that are important to the brewery you’re visiting. It’s just further proof of the importance breweries play to their local areas. 

At Randolph Beer, a brewpub in Williamsburg there’s the annual, limited release of Flexible Flyer a ruby-colored winter warmer full of spiced toffee notes and caramel.

“Its complex malt presence will be complemented by an infusion of ginger, allspice, nutmeg and a touch of clove throughout the brewing process, says Kyle Kensrue. “To tie it up with a bow we are aging the brew on maple syrup and bourbon-drenched maple wood spirals for that little something extra.”

It’s a given that pretty much every brewery will be tapping something special to celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah, giving your data plan and check-ins a healthy workout, similar to the one you’ll get marching from place to place, likely at a quicker-than-usual clip to mitigate time in the elements.

 


randolph beer interior
At Randolph Beer, a brewpub in Williamsburg there’s the annual, limited release of Flexible Flyer a ruby-colored winter warmer full of spiced toffee notes and caramel.


While not every place you visit will have a fireplace, there is a certain communal warmth that comes from hanging out with fellow beer enthusiasts all coming together in search of a hearty pint. The NYC Brewers Guild has put together a brewery map on its website that helps with planning out a proper brewery crawl. If you’re traveling to New York for just breweries, plan to spend at least a half-day in Long Island City, Queens and at least two in Brooklyn.

When you wander through the streets of New York in December you’ll see the real spirit of the season. Sure, there may be some Grinches along the way, but away from the tourist magnets you’ll see Christmas tree lots set up on corners, cabs and firetrucks adorned with wreaths, and lights and decorations twinkling in apartment windows.

For those who brave the boroughs, the reward is a more authentic New York Christmas experience. Get restaurant recommendations from your bartenders and brewers for a meal that will be more memorable than the chains clogging Times Square.

Look, I know it can be tough to squeeze everything in and if you’re traveling with family all your brewery visit dreams might be tough to achieve, so that’s why the Blind Tiger is so great. Easy to get to from just about anywhere in the city, it has one of the most extensive and diverse tap lists in the area and many of the offerings are from area breweries, giving you a true taste of the city.

Shake the snow off that jacket, stomp your boots at the door and join the other revelers at the bar for some cheer and a toast to the upcoming year.


attractive arch in new york
Photo Courtesy Flickr/Charley Lhasa
Header Photo Courtesy Flickr/John St John


 

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