Tasting the Rainbow: Europe Comes to Torst, in Greenpoint

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rainbow project at torst

When I first glimpsed the flyer for The Rainbow Project, a narrow pink sheet with soft white letters and set against a faint orange sun etching, I immediately assumed it was listing a fundraiser for a sick children’s charity or local LGBTQ organization. “This is nice,” I thought, moving my cursor over to Maybe. “Too bad it’s on a Tuesday. I really should do more for the community.”

Upon further examination, however, I realized just how wrong I was.The Rainbow Project was no inspirational do-gooders ball, but rather an ingenious international brewing project–and this was the only North American stop on their pint-pouring tour. Greenpoint’s Tørst, arguably Brooklyn’s best beer bar, was playing host to our collective country’s one chance to taste the project’s experimental batch of specially brewed beers currently taking the global craft scene by storm. Tuesday be damned–this was a premiere drinking event!

The Rainbow Project is the drunken brain-baby of Ryan Witter-Merithew, current Head Brewer at Siren Craft Brewery, an innovative craft outfit located about an hour west of London. The project, now in its second year, pairs 14 internationally acclaimed brewers and challenges each duo to brew a one-off beer inspired by a single color in the rainbow. The resulting seven beers, each named after their corresponding color, are then released in very limited quantities of bottle and draft, traveling far and wide alongside their brewers to wow the palates of curious imbibers the world over. On Tuesday, Tørst showcased the full ROYGBIV lineup on their uber-snazzy Flux Capacitor draft system, pulling perfect pours of each unique brew and serving them up for just $6 a pop — which, for Tørst, is literally peanuts.

The beers were tapped at noon, and when I arrived at 6:45PM, the vibe inside was still relatively mellow. The after-work crowd, my colleague and I amongst them, was beginning to file into Tørst’s moody, wood-clad interior. Beer geeks bellied up to the bar in succession, scanning over the elegantly printed tap list and picking their colors with serious intent. An ambient Beach House tune set the tone for the small, happy groups of record execs and magazine editors, chatting contentedly about their days. There was literally no sign that an international event was taking place at this candlelit establishment — the pink flyers that fooled me once were hidden out of sight and aside from the slightly higher-than-usual number of industry folk, a guy crouching in a corner with a fancy camera and the strangely named draft selections (Yellow Belly, Indigo Child), the average drinker would have zero idea that history was being made within those beautifully erected walls. It seemed, believe it or not, as though Tørst was too hip even for its own party. “Very European,” my friend remarked. “Very cool.”

“I wasn’t sure how to order them,” an enthusiast named Danny told me after joining his friends at one end of a long communal table. “Do I get them all at the same time, or…?” I hadn’t the answer and neither did his buddies, but we were all glad the cozy bar was so surprisingly airy.

“So many of these things are just packed, like when you go to Barcade or something for a tap takeover. You can barely move!” he went on, scanning the room. “Not even crowded at all. This is ideal.”

At the wide marble bar, I asked for Green, Orange and Indigo, and was only a little disappointed when the bar’s signature argyle wine glasses didn’t match up color-for-color with my order. Back at the table, we got down to drinking. Indigo Child, a gooseberry wild ale, represented the collaborative efforts of Italy’s Birra Toccalmatto and England’s Wild Beer Co. The color was fantastic, reaching a hue so close to true indigo that I suspected food dye. It wasn’t doctored, of course, and the funky, fruity aroma and lingering tart taste fully delivered on the appearance’s promise. Spain’s Naparbier and London’s Beavertown Brewery were responsible for Orange (AKA The Sun Also Rises), a 9% ABV Saison aged in fragrant Sherry barrels with a sweet, boozy nose and refreshingly dry finish. While Indigo and Orange did well by their colors, Green was my favorite of the first round. A product of Norway’s Lervig Aktiebryggeri and the UK’s Hawkshead Brewery, the fittingly piney American DIPA was hopped with bitter juniper berries and earthy hemp, herbs that balanced out its juicy, tropical aroma with grace.

We went back to the bar for more, empty glasses in hand. By then it was about 7:15, and the touring brewers had begun to arrive. Tørst co-owner and Evil Twin Brewing’s main man Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø held court in the back corner, greeting his fellow collaborators from Buxton Brewery and Magic Rock Brewing with bro hugs and handshakes. The crowd was growing denser, but procuring the final four colors was well worth the wait. While Blue, Mikkeller and Partizan’s Cognac barrel-aged Belgian Quad, Yellow, Buxton and Omnipollo’s Peanut Butter & Bisquit Imperial Stout, and Violet, Siren and De Molen’s Imperial “Empress” Stout, were all noteworthy, it’s only appropriate that the undisputed belle of the Rainbow ball was Red, Evil Twin and Magic Rock’s delicately layered and insanely well balanced Hoppy Flanders Red. Red, or Pogonophobia (the “fear or hatred of beards,” according to Wikipedia), is perfection in a glass. It opens with a syrupy, boozy aroma, then a tart burst of flavor gives way to velvety richness reminiscent of raspberries and bitter dark chocolate. I literally could not stop drinking it.

By the time we ducked out around 8PM (Tuesday, remember?), Danny and his friends were rounding the corner on their last colors, huddled around their smart phones and fervently checking in on Untappd. “Is there a badge or something?” One of them asked, presumably addressing the room. No one responded, each group of drinkers too involved in their own private trips through the rainbow to pay much attention to such low-brow inquiries. “Very cool,” I thought, as we exited through a cluster of tall, chic women preparing for a smoke. “Very European.”

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