No-Li Brewhouse’s master brewer Mark Irvin and co-founder John Bryant
The Brewers Association traded the Beltway for Broadway for the sixth edition of Savor, its craft beer/food pairing extravaganza, hoping the one-year detour to the Big Apple would boost craft’s profile in the eyes of the country’s largest media and food market.
The annual rite of late spring had made its home at Washington, D.C.’s National Building Museum.
“Being in New York puts craft brewers on center stage,” Brewers Association craft beer program director Julia Herz told Beverage World during the event at Manhattan’s adjoining Metropolitan Pavilion and Altman Building. “In D.C. we had brewers on an amazing stage, but New York is a great home for a year and we’re reaching a different audience.”
The organization already had hosted 6,500 at the Craft Brewers Conference (CBC) in the nation’s capital in late March and decided one event in the first half of 2013 in the District was enough. Savor had provided an opportunity for brewers to meet with their legislators, but CBC fulfilled that objective this year.
Missing from last month’s event were the National Building Museum’s stately, atrium-style high ceilings and towering columns. However, the classy, low-lit cocktail party vibe was still intact at the New York venue, as was the foodie’s paradise of culinary creations prepared under the direction of chef Adam Dulye.
But despite New York City’s cred as a media and gastronomic center, the city still lags behind places like Portland, Ore.,
Philadelphia and Chicago when it comes to being considered a “beer town.” That’s been changing, especially with the efforts of established locals like Brooklyn Brewery and Sixpoint Brewery, as well as a host of new startups in the city.
Additionally, Manhattan Beer, S.K.I. and L. Knife-owned Union Beer have been leading in New York on the craft distribution side. New craft-centric beer bars seem to open every month as well; the Good Beer Seal was created to recognize such destinations. Still, New York’s been a tricky market, especially when you consider how much competition there is for the drinker’s attention. And, of course, space isn’t something that’s in particular abundance there.
John Bryant, co-founder of Spokane, Wash.-based No-Li Brewhouse had considered the market but has been hanging back, largely because of packaging issues. “We were looking at New York and we were advised early on that the 22-ounce bottle package, which is what we’re in, wasn’t really relevant to the city,” Bryant explained as he poured from those same bottles of No-Li’s Jet Star Imperial IPA and Wrecking Ball Imperial Stout. “They were saying a lot of the smaller stores, up and down the street, are carrying six-packs, but they weren’t doing a lot of 22’s on the shelf.” Bryant said he hoped Savor would attract a new level of attention. “New York’s where trends start,” he declared.
Eugene, Ore.-based Ninkasi Brewing Co. isn’t available in New York either, but part-owner and founding brewer Jamie Floyd had an eye on the bigger picture. “It’s kind of more for the broader, national exposure,” Floyd revealed. “We also spend a lot of time working on food and beer pairings.”
As for opening New York: “We never say never,” Floyd said. “We’ve talked about it but we’re not looking for East Coast distribution at this point.”
One West Coast brewery that is available in the city is Hood River, Ore.-based Full Sail, though it took about 24 of the company’s 26-year history to finally get there. Founder and CEO Irene Firmat was pouring a pilsner from Full Sail’s LTD series and its Pub Series extra special bitter. “[Savor] is a celebration of beer and food and taking it seriously, but still having a whole lot of fun,” Firmat said. Full Sail’s Savor participation extends back to the first edition in D.C. back in 2008. So which host city does Firmat prefer?
“I’m a native New Yorker,” she said, “so I’m a little biased.”