Three Springtime Beers to Crack Open On the Equinox

Spring in the Northern Hemisphere begins on Wednesday. Do you have the right beers for it? Brewers with the ability to create season-specific beers throughout the year are releasing their spring lines now, led by the beery Bostonians at Sam Adams. I tried a trio of their new spring beers over the weekend and started hearing smale fowles maken melodye in my head, if not in my snowy backyard. So, for you Pagans and Neo-Druids out there looking for something to drink at your Ostara party, here’s a quick rundown:

Samuel Adams White Lantern

The idea behind most springtime beers is to split the difference between the spicy, heavily flavored brews of winter and the light, refreshing beers of summer. In the case of White Lantern, they’ve taken a Belgian-style white ale and dumbed it down for warmer weather quaffing. I’m not complaining. I like Belgian ales, but when they go too far into potpourri-land I get turned off. This has just the right balance, with the DNA of a Trappist ale and a peppy zing from the orange zest. It’s tasty and fun without the cloying sweetness of a Christmas beer. To be honest, it’s not really my style, but I liked the restraint and enjoyed drinking it.

Samuel Adams Double Agent IPL

I know what you’re thinking. They misspelled IPA, right there on the label. Embarrassing. Except they didn’t. This beer isn’t an India Pale Ale, it’s an India Pale Lager, which means it has the same hoppy ingredients of an IPA–in this case, West Coast hops like American Citra, Cascade, Centennial, Simcoe, Ahtanum, and Zeus varietals, plus New Zealand Nelson Sauvin hops–but fermented cold with bottom fermentation, resulting in a crisper, lighter drink. I like this one, and found it smooth, dry, a little bit bitter, and very satisfying. I just wasn’t sure what kind of glass to pour it into. I decided on a Spiegelau IPA glass, but felt funny about it. 

Samuel Adams Alpine Spring

Even though I taste all kinds of beers and love most of them, I have a soft spot for simple, clean brews that don’t require me to think too hard. Alpine Sping lands comfortably in that category. It’s a crisp, smooth, flavorful lager that has a great blend of hops and malt, as if they’re balanced on a seesaw at a playground, each with its little legs hanging off the ground. True to its name, it tastes springy and light. At 5.5% ABV, it’s slightly stronger than a standard lager, but clean enough to session straight through to the solstice. Enjoy spring!

All of these beers should run you between $8 and $10 for a six-pack, unless you’re in New York, in which case your bodega guy will probably charge you $14. Still worth it. 

Into weird beers? Drop by one of New York’s best beer bars, like Blind Tiger, La Birreria, and the new Torst

[Related: BlackBook New York Guide; More by Victor Ozols]

This Week’s NYC Happenings: Sea Witch, Family Recipe, Veg Food Festival

THURSDAY: NYC Beer Week Chugs Along
NYC Beer Week is underway, with 300 hopped-up events spread across the city. Catch choice pints at the Williamsburg Cask Beer Festival at d.b.a., Funky Jewbelation Thursday night at Barcade, and the Sunday afternoon closing bash at La Birreria. On Thursday night let one-buck oysters, DJ Teeth, and rare drafts from Smuttynose lure you to neighborhood fave Sea Witch in the South Slope.

Beer and oysters at Sea Witch (703 Fifth Ave., Park Slope) kick off at 7pm on Thursday the 28th. To learn more about the bar, check out the listing at BlackBook Guides.

WEDNESDAY: Sake Goodness
Chef Akiko Thurnauer has been turning out creative Japanese to rave reviews at Family Recipe for over a year now. This Wednesday, join two experts as they pair eight sakes with selections from the winter menu.

The Midwinter Sake Social at Family Recipe (231 Eldridge St., Lower East Side) runs from 8pm to 11pm Wednesday the 27th. Advance tickets are $48. To learn more about the restaurant, check out the listing at BlackBook Guides.

Vegetarian cuisine has come a long way from mock fish and carrot bacon. Check out the fruits of the movement this weekend at the Vegetarian Food Festival, when the likes of The Butcher’s Daughter and Beyond Sushi join the third-annual event at the Metropolitan Pavilion.

The NYC Vegetarian Food Festival at the Metropolitan Pavilion (125 W. 18th St., Chelsea) starts 10am on both Saturday and Sunday, March 2nd and 3rd. General admission tickets are $5. To learn more about the event space, check out the listing at BlackBook Guides.

The 11 Best Beer Gardens in New York this Summer

This summer, beer gardens are back with a vengeance. All across the boroughs, these pastoral drinking establishments are opening at a pace akin only to the Fro-Yo whirlwind of the aughts. Indeed, the German tradition of elbow-bumping, alfresco communal beer imbibing is being adopted whole-heartedly by slightly sweatier, more frugal New Yorkers. The many new contestants in the race to quench our summertime thirst — from Mario Batali’s rooftop haven to Harlem’s very first suds hall — are calling into question what defines a beer garden in the first place (say, the presence of a garden). Even with pretzels and lederhosen falling by the wayside — we can think of, er, wurst things — we embrace the trend with a bro-ish man hug. And since we’re pretty sure we know what we love to drink, and where we want to drink it, we here present a list of our 11 favorite summer watering holes.

Mission Dolores: Park slope Trapped between two buildings, Mission Dolores is a welcoming courtyard with industrial charms, shielded from the elements by a greenhouse glass ceiling. On tap here you’ll find a nice selection of artisanal and hard-to-find American brews joined by few unique European blends. And that’s about it — in a good way. Opened just last year, the bar has quickly become a local favorite, and when full on a Sunday afternoon – which it always is — Mission Dolores seems to magically expand to encompass all would-be drinkers. The random arrangement of reclaimed wood tables proves extremely flexible in hosting groups of all kinds and sizes. Mission Dolores has a jukebox, a fireplace, and a Lord of the Rings pinball machine — not to mention a sufficiently grizzly dive-bar bathroom and absolutely none of those “gastro pub” nibbles you’ll find in the city. Amazingly, the lack of a food menu seems to have created a tolerance toward a BYOS policy (Bring Your Own Snack). Locals come bearing take-out bags. ● Beer selection: Carefully curated list of mostly domestic brews. ● Sweat index: Airflow not quite sufficient to support heavy mingling. ● Size does matter: Flexible layout helps accommodate even large parties. ● Not on Wurst alone: Fully liquid menu. ● Garden variety: Not a patch of green in sight, but a beautiful courtyard makes up for it. ● Special features: BYOS!

La Birreria: Flatiron It’s an inevitability that Mario Batali’s La Birreria, Eataly’s recently opened rooftop beer garden, will become a popular addition to New York City tourist guides. All we ask is for one summer to enjoy it first — just one summer to sip on the wonderful unfiltered, unpasteurized, naturally carbonated cask Ales they poor here fresh from the rooftop brewery, to nibble on some crudo at sunset while gazing, eye-level, at the Flatiron building and the clocked tower of the Credit Suisse building, to be reminded that this hot, sticky mess of a city isn’t so bad, after all… ● Beer selection: The signature cask beers top a wide, unique selection, including bottled beers from American and European artisanal breweries. ● Sweat index: Consider being stuck between office buildings at lunchtime. ● Size does matter: Large format beer bottles are great for friends who like to share. ● Not on Wurst alone: An elaborate menu of Italian descent goes beyond sausage to feature full dinner options, including salads, cured meets, and cheese. ● Garden variety: Located on an airy rooftop, the only green you’ll see is on a plate. ● Special features: Serving original creations from an on-site rooftop brewery. Reservations available for groups of 6-12 starting July 1st.

Spuyten Duyvil: Williamsburg Judging from the heavy metal grate guarding the outside of this perennial Williamsburg favorite, you couldn’t possibly guess at the leafy depths inside. But trust us when we say you’d be wise to arrive here early on a Saturday afternoon, when the bright sunlight at the far end of this dark and narrow bar beckons you out into a beer guzzler’s paradise. A spacious backyard is waiting to be discovered here, where actual trees grow free, and the tall brick walls of the surrounding buildings assist in creating a shelter from the smothering heat. Sprinkled with a variety of garden furniture and plenty of foliage to shade day-drinkers from the glaring sun, this place works as a wonderfully lazy afternoon hangout, turning at sundown into a pleasurably secluded nighttime watering hole. ● Beer selection: Thoughtful mix of Belgian, German, and American brews served by knowledgeable bartenders. ● Sweat index: Plants and a cold beer in hand will ease the heat. ● Size does matter: The garden is large and welcoming to parties of all creeds and sizes. ● Not on Wurst alone: Delicious Cheese and Cured meats, as well as some of the most mouth-searing spicy pickles you’ve ever had. ● Garden variety: A secret garden! ● Special features: Seriously, you should see this garden.

The Lot on Tap: Chelsea Kudos to the Lot for successfully encompassing three of summer’s most prominent trends, the holy trinity of beer garden, food truck, and pop-up. Opened earlier this month in an abandoned parking lot beneath the northern end of the Highline, the Lot on Tap shares a space with another temporary summer installation: the candy-colored blow-up wonderland dubbed the Rainbow City. Although this could potentially mean a slew of sweaty, red-faced toddlers disturbing your delicate beer buzz, the Lot remains an attractive summer prospect. Couched in the shade of the elevated park, it enjoys a surprisingly cooling breeze off the Hudson. A pleasant selection of mostly local beers is offered on tap here, including the signature Highline brew made at the Brooklyn brewery. Also on tap here: chilled summer wines. ● Beer selection: Short and concise and mostly locally sourced. ● Sweat index: Bask in the shade of industrial steal and cool river breezes. ● Size does matters: This lot is big. Bring the gang! ● Not on Wurst alone: A fleet of food trucks will keep bellies happy and minds (relatively) clear. ● Garden variety: Points off for being located in parking lot; points on for the wonderfully green Highline just a few steps up. ● Special features: Who knows? After a few cold ones the Rainbow City might start to look like a pretty good idea. image The Garden at Studio Square

Spritzenhaus: Greenpoint This place is massive, a 6000-square-foot space with a curved bar of anacondean dimensions and a long line of garage-door windows opening to the street, letting the indoor seating overflow out onto the sidewalk. Opened earlier this spring, this hulking hall is guarding the northwest corner of Brooklyn’s McCarran Park, which makes the prospect of scoring a table outside that much more exciting. Inside, the iron beams, red brick, and rough wooden tables, dimly lit by the fire glaring from a massive wood-burning oven (the source of a sauerkraut brined pork loin), seem like the perfect setting for a game of Dungeons & Dragons. A beer list as ambitious as the venue’s size completes the picture. Spritzenhaus is set to attract beer lovers from near and far, but we can’t wait to enjoy it next winter, when the modernized Medieval décor and central fire place are sure to warm us up. ● Beer selection: Points earned for the sheer length of the beer list. ● Sweat index: You’d think keeping a place this big cool is mission impossible. Think again. ● Size does matter: The Texas of bars. And despite filling up quickly, it’s a safe bet for large groups. ● Not on Wurst alone: Brick oven pizza making friends with sausage and soft pretzels. ● Garden variety: Sidewalk seating and views of McCarran park. ● Special features: Bizarro Middle Earth theme, if that’s your bag.

Franklin Park: Crown Heights Giving Tree-like trees create a shaded outdoors at this laid back neighborhood bar, which has been tending to locals’ drinking needs for over three years. Inside, two sturdy, white-tiled bars are like large ships spiriting you to tipsy seas. Even a newcomer to this rarely-explored part of Brooklyn will feel an instant sense of the familiar. The beers offered on tap here are a wise combination of all-time favorites (it’s one of the few beer gardens we sampled that offers Guinness) and unique, craft-y additions — it’s a good, diverse selection that will answer the drinking needs of the neighbors without reinventing the wheel. Soft lighting outside gives this beer garden an organic feel. Even the testosterone-soaked rowdiness of crowds watching the large-screened football games inside can’t burst the bubble of calm that is this garden. ● Beer selection: old favorites + Few crafty additions = good overall. ● Sweat index: Leafy shade and calm vibes will quickly dry off sweaty patrons. ● Size does matter: The outdoors sitting area is small, but rarely over-crowded. ● Not on Wurst alone: Serving the type of things you’d eat with ketchup. ● Garden variety: More of a passage-way, but with trees. ● Special features: Two bars to ease the traffic and a large screen for viewing sporting events.

The Garden at Studio Square: Astoria One look at this crowd – tan skin taut over bulging muscles, blindingly white smiles under a manes of gelled hair — and you might begin to suspect that the beers here are spiked with performance-enhancing substances. The first few minutes in this sprawling, raucous, grassy courtyard in Queens can prove downright frightening. It takes time to get used to the air, thick and dense with GTL and smoke, the latter a product of the massive grilling action going down, which provides the crowds with deliciously greasy, crackling-hot pork bits. But once you settle down with a cold Sam Adams, you might find the loud music and general hustle and bustle a satisfactory accompaniment to your weekend drinking. ● Beer selection: Sam Adams across the board. ● Sweat index: Fire and smoke! ● Size does matter: Apparently, no matter how large you and your friends are, this enormous picnic table landscape has room. ● Not on Wurst alone: A generous, meat-centric menu is a beer’s best friend. ● Garden variety: Big, bustling grassy patio. ● Special features: Tan people making noise, raising hell. Not too bad a way to spend a Sunday.

Loreley: Lower East Side / Williamsburg Shielded from the bustling corner of Meeker and Frost streets by a red brick wall, the quiet Loreley Williamsburg, the year-old sister to the popular LES establishment, looks like a guarded military post. A well kept one, however, with flowers and gravel and broad picnic tables. A concise list of German brews is accompanied by a wiener- and schnitzel-type menu. Similar offerings are available at the original Loreley, a beer-lovers’ favorite for nearly a decade and one of the pioneers of this current outdoorsy drinking craze. ● Beer selection: They take their German tradition very seriously here, with a varied, in-depth selection & old-country decor. ● Sweat index: Quite drippy in the daytime, despite the umbrellas. ● Size does matter: Large groups will be accommodated, eventually, and beer tasting and pitchers are available. ● Not on Wurst alone: A full menu explores the beauty and splendor of Teutonic cuisine. Delicious, if more palatable during the colder months. ● Garden variety: One of the few, real gardens. ● Special features: Authentic German beers ease the heat like the winds off the Baltic. image Standard Biergarten

Bier international: Harlem There’s magic in the air at this singular beer garden in Harlem, open since late last summer. The sun is just kinder up here. Peoples’ smiles are contagious. The beer hall-style communal tables and outdoor seating on the deep sidewalk are the perfect setting for a Sunday brunch or an afternoon beer tasting. Plus, it’s close enough to the northwestern corner of Central Park to work all the beer and currywurst out of your system afterward with the aid of a brisk stroll. The nine brews offered on tap hail from Belgium, Germany, France, Czech Republic, England, and the US. ● Beer selection: Good-size selection of varied origin, sans pretense. ● Sweat index: Blessedly air conditioned. ● Size does matter: Moderate but inviting. Large groups might endure a short wait before being seated. ● Not on Wurst alone: Berlin specialty currywurst, crab cake benedict, and fried chicken – only in Harlem. ● Garden variety: Nothing but sidewalk here, but on a clear day you can see the park. ● Special features: The first beer garden in Harlem. That’s a little special, isn’t it?

Standard Biergarten: Meatpacking It can sometimes be hard to determine whether this is an actual bar or if it’s the biergarten-themed Epcot Center of our dreams. Opened last year outside the elegant Standard Grill, this smartly-designed outdoor hall features New York elegance courtesy of the majestic Highline, which acts as a ceiling, the perfect lighting, and the impeccably dressed beer drinkers. Inside the wide brick court, the masses mingle over large communal tables, plan direct attacks on the two busy bars to score one of three German beers offered here on tap, and shed off the worries of their hectic, high-grossing day. Behind the thick curtain of leaves protecting it from the street, it’s easy to forget the Meatpacking lurks outside. The city’s most elegant beer garden, this is a perfect spot to transition from day to night. Warning: Having to purchase drink stubs upfront may run a risk for those who, like me, have eyes bigger then their alcohol consumption capabilities. ● Beer selection: At only three choices on tap, drinks clearly aren’t the main attraction. ● Sweat index: The highline can create a tight pocket of air on hot days. ● Size does matter: Crowded! If you must find a table, come early — or go somewhere else. ● Not on Wurst alone: Soft pretzels and sausage. Take it or leave it. ● Garden variety: Some greenery exists. Court is mostly wide and bald. ● Special features: If ever there were a sexy beer garden, this is it.

Gowanus Yacht Club: Carroll Gardens This shabby beach shack seems to have landed on Carroll Gardens’ Smith Street from a Caddyshack outtake. Old picnic benches, repurposed diner tables, party lights, and a squeezable ketchup-mustard set on every table sums up the décor. A single plastic tree amply meets the New York standard for “garden.” Here, they sell dogs, beers, and take no bullshit (as evident from the elaborate list of club rules chalked on the blackboard behind the bar). But if you’re neither a sensitive soul nor a clean freak, you can enjoy the laid back, mellow atmosphere and the faint, perhaps completely imaginary smell of the ocean. ● Beer selection: It isn’t really about craft brews here, but with Kolsch, Captain Lawrence, and Duff, there’s a beer to satisfy every palette. ● Sweat index: Not much here to shield you from the sun, but at night breezes blow through this urban beach hut. ● Size does matter: Small but all-encompassing. Private events are not out of the question. ● Not on Wurst alone: Nothing but dogs and burgs. ● Garden variety: Like we said: lone plastic tree. ● Special features: Badass attitude and unexplained rugged charisma.