On Thursday night, The Owl Farm hosted a tap takeover split positioned as an epic battle, pitting celebrated Mainers Oxbow Brewing against our own hop-driven hometown heroes, Other Half. The prolific Park Slope craft haven set the stage with six glorious, carefully selected lines, pushing event-goers to rethink their allegiances with each perfectly poured pint. And yet, by my 9PM arrival, the vibe inside was anything but bitter and warlike — it was downright convivial.
“It’s actually funny that they set it up as a battle,” said Industry City engineer David Kyrejko, found sipping an elegant eight ounce pour of Oxbow’s Space Country Cowboy Ale, a 4% dry Biere de Garde that he later described as crackery and well made. “In terms of ABV, at least, it’s more like nuclear weapons versus bows and arrows,” he continued. “It’s not to say that one is better than the other, not at all. Other Half has all these 8 or 9% malty hop bombs while Oxbow’s stuff is more traditional, with nothing coming in over 6%. It’s just a completely different style of war.”
Kyrejko, who makes his living conjuring liquids far more potent than anything Oxbow or Other Half could legally muster, had a point. The night’s program consisted of three Other Half brews and three Oxbow brews, a lineup that appeared to focus more on range and well executed styles than head-to-head rivalry. Match a twelve ounce mug of Other Half’s piney and explosive Green Diamonds Double IPA with a wine glass of Oxbow’s delicate Grizacca, a citrusy 5.2% ABV Grisette that gently tingled the taste buds, and you’ve got a duel akin to a champion bodybuilder stepping into the ring to face an exquisitely trained ballet dancer. They might both be top athletes in prime physical condition, but they’re not playing the same sport.
At this battle, there were no soldiers to be found, save one particularly militant-looking young man engaged in a serious and fierce solo fight with pinball machine near the ATM. The lack of competition added to the evening’s relaxed, amiable atmosphere, a feeling often experienced when ducking into the dimly lit 9th Street beer hall. It was busy but not unmanageable, with room in the back for more intimate gatherings and groups of happy, chatty drinkers spread about the long, narrow bar area up front. Most of the folks I spoke to seemed a bit world weary, happy to relax with a stiff, flavorful pint after a long work day or, in Kyrejko’s case, before starting up again (he was headed back to the distillery when I left him, eager to makeup for this winter’s many batch-delaying snow days).
Grimm Artisanal Ale’s Joe Grimm, a nomadic fixture of the New York City brewing community, chatted with Union reps near the back while sipping slowly from a glass of amber-hued, hoppy goodness. “I’ve been up since 6:30 this morning brewing,” he said sleepily. Joe’s day, which included boiling up a giant murky vat of bubbling green hops and tasting a fresh run of BFF Belgian Tripel IPA straight from the bright tanks at Staten Island’s Flagship Brewing Co, was well-documented on the Grimm instagram account and I was surprised to see him there, burning the midnight — er, 10PM — oil. Despite his exhaustion, the smiling brewer was in full agreement with his fellow attendees as to whether Oxbow or Other Half dominated the evening’s brawl. “Everything was great!,” he said with an impressive amount diplomatic gusto. “It was all just delightful.”
In addition to the Grisette, Biere de Garde and Imperial IPA mentioned, the event’s menu also included Oxbow’s signature Farmhouse Pale Ale as well as Other Half’s Chardonnay Barrel-Aged Brett Saison and Not My Jam, a roasty Imperial Black IPA. And those were only the specials — the remainder of the Owl Farm’s 28 taps carried an array of ultra exciting options like Two Brothers’ Night Cat, Trois Dames’ La Fiancée Pinot Gris and the Monarchy-Stillwater collaboration, It’s StillWeisse.
As the rest of the industry folks trickled out, I saddled up to the bar and ordered a half-pint of Grand Scheme, the dry hopped Pale Biere de Garde produced in collaboration with Threes Brewing that acted as a sort of ringer for team Brooklyn. The hazy, full bodied brew was pleasantly fruity without being sweet, with an approachable grassy aroma and a subtle, almost saline earthiness that lingered on the palate.
As I finished my nightcap, a thirsty man shouldered in beside me and caught the bartender’s attention.
“I need a beer,” he said, scanning the chalkboard scrawl hung above the bar. “Hmm, what do you have that’s good right now? What would you choose?”
The bartender stared blankly back at the unassuming patron. It was still anyone’s game.