I’m exhausted. We’ve finally reached the final day of Listmas, the seemingly endless period marked solely by the Internet’s deluge of year-end lists on everything, even lists, and now my category-crammed, overly informed brainbox desperately desires only one thing in the moments preceding New Beer’s Day: BEER!
EditorzZz: This fictional scenario is likely too difficult for the reader to follow, Niko. Beer Street and Brouwerij Lane are both names of excellent beer-focused bars in Brooklyn, not names of roads. Can you just introduce Cory Bonfiglio and his list of favorite beers? We have a staff party in 20 minutes and you need to leave the premises before it starts.
Me: Sure! I got y’all some gifts, by the way. Merry Listmas! Happy New Beer! Should I—
EditorzZz: Hush. The story on Cory. Now.
As general manager of two of the city’s bestest beer-focused bars—Beer Street, located on the corner of Graham Avenue and Withers Street in Greenpoint, and Proletariat, in Manhattan’s East Village—Cory Bonfiglio is responsible, among other duties, for building the always-impressive menus at both. At any moment, he tells me on a recent afternoon at Beer Street while raising a Teku filled with a few ounces of Grimm’s Echoplex, he’s “overseeing the status of about 75 beers [in total] while ordering and organizing kegs for the next week.”
While the position involves the securing—and sometimes squirreling—of many types of beers from across the world, from aromatically erect IPAs made on Long Island to limited Lambics, as well as a constant exercising of his encyclopedic knowledge and discerning palate, what’s most rewarding is being able to share his infectious enthusiasm for craft beer (and Motorhead) with customers. This is especially evident as he discusses the local-brewery boom in 2015. “We have a humbling number of international guests [at Proletariat], and many of them come to drink our local beer. The city’s local-beer scene has exploded this past year and it’s a great pleasure to share that with them,” he says.
As we move to the fourth and final beer of our hourlong interview, Alvinne’s Cuveè Freddy, I put my tape recorder in my pocket—but not before I ask Bonfiglio to summarize his job. “I offer beer that I believe in, made by people I admire, to folks who for the most part want to learn about it.” He pauses for a few seconds. “I get to keep my self-respect and they get to drink good beer. Everybody wins.”
Bonfiglio’s favorite beers poured at either Beer Street or Proletariat in 2015:
Grimm Artisanal Ales, Telekinesis
A mixed fermentation American wild ale thoroughly dry-hopped with the ever expressive Mosaic, Citra and Falconer’s Flight varieties. A lush, overripe citrusy masterpiece that ushered in this new wave of soft, hop-saturated sour ales. Telekinesis helped rewrite the definition of both “hoppy” and “sour” for many and Grimm have continued to expand upon that premise since.
LoverBeer, BeerBrugna (2013)
An oak-fermented wild ale. Secondary fermentation begins with an addition of Piedmontese ramassin plums, imparting itself on the nose otherwise redolent of musky, earthy wood, and subtle malt. We typically see this vintage-dated beer one to two years out and luckily enough, the 2013’s complexity was peaking this year which led to one of the more enjoyable fruit-forward sour ales I poured.
Other Half, All Green Everything
While traveling both domestically and abroad, seldom am I excited by the offer of a high-alcohol triple IPA. Leave it to our friends at Other Half though to bring the absurd amounts of high alpha-acid hops, dense and sweetish malt, and alcohol heat into harmonious balance and focus. This is one of few of their beers that sees regular production, thankfully. Dank, full bodied, dry as a bone, massive presence yet exceptionally well balanced. File under “Dangerous.”
Leelanau, Michilimackinac Line 5 Stout (Batch 1)
Admittedly, the notion of a sour stout left a bad taste in my mouth. I’d had sour stouts before—they were those unfortunate and unintentional firkins that were being sold days past their short shelf life at less than scrupulous beer bars. However, the deliberate combining has resulted in some exceptional beer. For me, the pinnacle of this style was reached with Leelanau’s first new beer in many years, an incredibly complex and well balanced sour imperial stout fermented in bourbon barrels called Michilimackinac Line 5. (Named as such to bring awareness to a precarious and old oil pipeline that runs under the Mackinac Straits, the waterway between Michigan’s Lower and Upper Peninsulas.) This one was painfully limited to a mere 10 barrels but I know bottles are still floating around out there and must be tracked down!
Stillwater Artisanal, Yacht
A dry-hopped lager. Yes, lager. This beer is permanently on draft in my living room. One of the cleanest, freshest, easiest-drinking (yet not for lack of complexity) beers on the market. Sleek, sexy, vibrant and readily available. I’d marry it if it could cook. Makes for a perfect aperitif, digestif, or “FTW I’m staying home tonight” crushers.
A strong American sour ale aged in bourbon barrels. Six months in charred, single-use whiskey barrels imparted a lovely hint of wood, vanilla, and smoke as one might expect, though with a base of a strong amber sour ale, the complexity was upped in the form of citrus, stone fruit, grapes, hay, and balsamic. Elegant and impressive.
De Struise, Pannepot Grand Reserva (2010)
With all due respect to the OG strong dark Trappist ales, there will never be a time where I choose one of them over any iteration of Struise Pannepot. This “Old Fisherman’s Ale,” named for the fishing trawlers on which men would risk their lives to feed their families, sits somewhere in between a Belgian strong dark ale and a stout. The Grand Reserva sees roughly two years in wood between clean oak and calvados barrels. With a bit of time on it already, this particular vintage was a treat for all who were present to enjoy it.
De Molen/Anchorage, Mud & Funk
Collaborative beers don’t always have the allure they once did, though this joint effort immediately caught my attention. De Molen and Anchorage have individually held my attention close over the years with nary a flaw amidst their more adventurous offerings. De Molen’s strong, dark ales—be it stouts, Belgian styles, or anything in between—have been some of the top in their field, while Anchorage’s barrel-aged, multiple yeast-fermented sour ales rival any of the old pros in the game. So what are we looking at here? A Brettanomyces-fermented imperial oatmeal stout aged in wine and bourbon barrels. Unfuckingbelievable. Menno [Olivier, De Molen’s brewer] and Gabe [Fletcher, Anchorage’s brewer], if you’re reading this, please don’t let this beautiful concoction fall out of constant production. Love, Cory.