This past Sunday afternoon, I caught the B67 bus on the corner of 7th Avenue and Union Street in Park Slope, en route to what remained of Brooklyn’s St. Patrick’s Day parade festivities. The yearly march down Prospect Park West begins, like many, with a 9am mass, then by 4pm quickly transitions into a full on, suds-soaked beer bash. Belligerent revelers have been known to spill out of neighborhood bars big and small, gripping styrofoam cups of Budweiser and belting out drinking songs in a loud, throaty monotone. My scene? Not quite. For the purposes of this article, I planned to observe the mayhem from the vantage point of The Double Windsor, one of the area’s best craft beer bars and the closest thing I have to a “local.”
A beefy doorman let me inside the corner bar’s thick, hallowed walls — not checking IDs, mind you, just there for muscle if the need arose — and I found my way to an empty stool at the bend of the U-shaped bar. Bartender Khara Gilvey, dressed in a green t-shirt emblazoned with “Mom, Dad: I’m Gaelic,” situated me with an Other Half IPA to start (not green, thankfully) while I pulled out my notebook (definitely green, oops) and got to work.
The crowd was relatively well behaved. A small group of amiable-looking ruddy cheeked men in newsboy caps slapped each other’s backs in the corner, slamming golden cans of Miller High Lifes, one of only two “fizzy lifting drinks” offered at the Double Windsor. Every 15 or 20 minutes, the lads ordered up a fresh round of shots, smashing the tiny glasses together with a rousing, “THE I! THE I! THE IRA!” before gulping them down and cheering some more. Each time, Khara winces while Morrissey played soothingly in the background, resigned to muffled moaning beneath the patrons’ sporadic shouting. To my left, a blonde girl in a kelly green tank top and a shamrock headband kept elbowing me in the ribs while the guy she was with yelled over the din about someone wanting to kill him. “They all want to kill me! I swear! All of them!” I felt that.
“I would say we should party, but they’re not doing car bombs this year,” my friend Sean interjected, squeezing in beside me to order another Other Half. Apparently, the no car bombs rule was established by Joe Grimm, one-half of Grimm Artisanal Ales and, that fateful afternoon, one-half of the Double Windsor bartending crew. He told me that someone puked Baileys all over everyone’s coats last year, so this year, the bombs are out. Which begs the question, what were the hooligans drinking instead?
“People keep coming in and asking for a Guinness, so we give them Rockaway Brewing’s Black Gold Stout,” reported Joe, leaning over the bar to hear my question clearly. “They don’t mind the difference at all. In fact, they seem to enjoy it. But nobody’s really interested in anything else today. Other than that, it’s just Miller High Life. Lots and lots of Miller High Life.”
I asked Joe if he thought craft beer could ever make an inroads on heavy-drinking holidays like today, when folks are more concerned with getting hammered on novelty beers than truly tasting a finely brewed, artisanal beverage. “No way — they just want something light so they can keep drinking all day, ” he said, a devilish little smile adding spark to his eyes. “Next year, I was thinking we’d put on some green Cantillon.”
Speaking of green beers, would Grimm Artisanal Ales ever consider adding a St. Patrick’s day release to their ever-expanding portfolio? “Fuck that!” Joe shouted in response, bristled by the mere question. Though, after a few beats and a brief scan around the deteriorating barroom, he seemed to reconsider. “Well,” he began, that same cheeky smile creeping onto his face. “If we ever decided to do it, it would be something crazy, a real shitshow in a glass — like a bright green dry-hopped sour.”
While that dream might never become a reality, my foray into the belly of the green beast proved that, if nothing else, a world of appropriately festive beer existed outside of dyed Budweiser and frothy pints of Guinness. Here’s a quick list to keep you sane while knocking you off your feet this St. Paddy’s Day.
Grimm Artisanal Ales Double Negative (10% ABV)
It’s no dry-hopped, green hued sour, but Grimm’s Double Negative Imperial Stout did take home a Silver Medal at last year’s Great American Beer Festival, so there’s that. This big, bold brew packs a serious punch, littered with notes of coffee, bittersweet chocolate, burnt caramel and even a bit of dark berry to round it out.
Rockaway Brewing’s Black Gold (5.6% ABV)
Brewed in accordance with the Reinheitsgebot, Rockaway Brewing’s Black Gold satisfies all the traditional requirements of the Irish Dry style — a tan, fluffy head, a bit of coffee on the nose, smooth, malty body and a lingering, chocolatey finish. After all, if Double Windsor’s drunken Guinness devotees were okay with it, it must be up to snuff.
Gun Hill Brewing’s Void of Light (7.9% ABV)
This Bronx-born brew took home the Gold at last year’s GABF, sweeping the Foreign/Export Stout category in a surprise victory. It’s all coffee up front, with a lovely, balanced body and a warming sweetness that cuts nicely through the coffee’s bitter edge.
Keegan Ales’ Mother’s Milk Stout (6% ABV)
Keegan Ales, located a few hours up the Hudson in Kingston, NY, has been churning out this reliably well executed brew for over a decade, turning the heads of curious macro-stout drinkers with its nutty, coffee-spiked aroma, silky body and lively carbonation. And, in 2010, it was even declared one of the top ten stouts in North America by The New York Times. You can’t argue with that.
Sixpoint’s Barrel Aged Imperial Otis (10.3% ABV)
For the barrel aged, imperial version of this well-loved hoppy oatmeal stout, the Red Hook-based crew lets the velvety, roasty brew mature in Willet Bourbon barrels for four months before blending it with a bit of unoaked Otis for supreme, piney smoothness and dangerous drinkability.
Brooklyn Brewery’s Dry Irish Stout (4.7% ABV)
One of the lightest options of the lot, Brooklyn’s trusty Dry Irish Stout is everything a beer of its ilk should be: sessionable, mildly bitter, earthy and just a tad sweet. If only Manhattan’s clueless denizens knew such a true classic was being freshly brewed just a stone’s throw away from their favorite faceless, import-pushing Irish pub…
SingleCut Beersmith’s ERIC More Cowbell! Chocolate Milk Stout (6.2% ABV)
Dark, bittersweet chocolate is the name of the game for this pitch-black milk stout, brewed with fresh, fragrant cacao from Brooklyn-based chocolate maker and distillery, Cacao Prieto. If you can find it, ERIC’s rum barrel-aged counterpart is well worth the search — the rum’s syrupy sweetness and earthy spice play extremely well with the stout’s bitter bite and endlessly creamy body.
Carton’s Carton of Milk Stout (Nitro) (4% ABV)
Carton’s sessionable sweet stout is light on booze but 100% Jersey strong on flavor, with a complex mingling of dark fruit, bitter coffee, sweet milk and toasted malt. Poured on Nitro for an extra-satiny mouth feel, this one pairs perfectly with a Full Irish breakfast.
Barrier Brewing’s Lights Out Stout (6.1% ABV)
Barrier’s Lights Out pours dark but glows with a warm reddish tint when held up to the light, reminding the drinker of the friendly face of a wasted Irishman. Smokey, with a floral hop aroma and dominant burnt caramel throughout, this offering expertly occupies a middle ground between a rich, chocolatey stout and a refreshing, coffee-like porter.
Evil Twin’s I Love You With My Stout (12% ABV)
Evil Twin’s heavy hitting Imperial Stout explodes with flavor, smacking you upside the jaw with loads of coffee, dark chocolate, charred molasses, boozy vanilla and rich stone fruit, all set to a thick, toothy malt backbone. Drink if you dare.