I’m not much of a writer
But I want to do it
I’m gonna do it
It’s a great idea
I’ll get you it soon – Cheers!
Jimmy Carbone has sent me a string of late-night texts, a seemingly unprompted burst of inspired thoughts that I’m initially unable to decode while stumbling from the bedroom to the bathroom a few hours before sunrise. That afternoon, though, following a few cups of coffee, I remember: Before appearing as a guest on the previous week’s episode of Beer Sessions Radio, I had casually posed a question to Carbone—he’s host of the long-running weekly program on the Heritage Radio Network—concerning his pioneering basement-level bar in the East Village, Jimmy’s No. 43, and its 10-year history as a playground for beer loons. (An anniversary event was held in October.)
“You’ve poured a lot of different and great beers in 10 years. If you had to pick the beers that made Jimmy’s, what would they be?” I asked him.
“Man. I don’t know. That’s tough,” he replied, yanking at the sleeves of his trademark pink blazer.
“That’d be a cool story,” I said. He nodded in agreement before offering his hand for a high-five, another of his trademarks, which I accepted. A few seconds later, the show started …
It’s a great time to be a beer drinker—let’s name him Joe Brew—in New York City. At the moment, Joe Brew can likely find a dope IPA or porter at his nearest bodega, and even the most mediocre of bars are bound to have a couple of craft drafts in their lineup to satisfy him. But there is an upper echelon of spots for Joe Brew, places he continues to visit, places that still lure and enlighten him after many years and many beers. Jimmy’s No. 43 is one of those places.
A few weeks after those aforementioned late-night texts, Carbone, who is also co-founder of The Good Beer Seal and organizer of a gazillion local food and alcohol events, chose five brews that helped build Jimmy’s into an influential beertopia. He explains the criteria used to pick them: “These are beers that not only helped us develop our brand in the early days but they still remain favorites to this day. Without these and the people behind them we wouldn’t have gotten here, which is why you’re likely to see any of them on tap at any given time. I’ll never forget it.”
Carbone will also never forget the afternoon of March 26, 2015, when a massive gas explosion in a nearby tenement on Second Avenue caused two deaths, and the resulting fire leveled three buildings near Jimmy’s. His bar and several other surrounding businesses were forced to close indefinitely. (Jimmy’s reopened after two weeks.) “This year was definitely our toughest and at times I thought we wouldn’t survive it,” he says. “That’s another reason why I wanted to write this piece. There’s been a lot of good in the last 10 years. I think focusing on the good can help anyone get through anything.”
Sixpoint, Bengali IPA
Before the birth of Jimmy’s No. 43, the basement at 43 East 7th Street was home to a Ukrainian speakeasy that had been in business for over 100 years. In the summer of 2005 when I was negotiating the lease to take it over I would usually grab a beer either next door at Burp Castle or upstairs from our future home, at a great sports bar called Standings. An interesting note: Before it was Standings the bar there was Brewski’s, where the first New York City Homebrewer’s Guild meetings were held. After we opened I started referring to us three as the “Brewmuda Triangle,” because you could come for one beer and get lost drinking for hours.
Being a sports bar, Standings was where I would watch baseball and usually I was joined by the owner, Gary Gillis, who was a trailblazer in terms of pouring a lot of great beers before a lot of other spots. It was during these visits that I had my first taste of Sixpoint, then a new local brewery out of Brooklyn that I loved immediately and knew I would carry when Jimmy’s opened.
Sixpoint had been the only new local to open in NYC in many years, joining the older operations like Brooklyn Brewery and Chelsea; Greenpoint Beer Works, home to KelSo and Heartland, also came around this time. I remember enjoying a lot of the early brews by Sixpoint founder Shane C. Welch and his crew, small-batch beers like East Coast Amber that came out of the original brewery in Red Hook. My favorite of those recipes was the Bengali Tiger IPA, now shortened to Bengali. I hadn’t been drinking many IPAs at the time—Victory’s Hop Devil was basically the only one—but Bengali changed that. Hoppy, refreshing and easy to drink, it blew me away.
Bengali became a staple on my draft list for the first several years. More influentially, as someone taking over a beer-only license for the first time beers like this made me feel that the time was right to open a place in the city that focused on serving great beer. In addition to still pouring Sixpoint, now we regularly serve many of the younger local breweries such as Barrier and Other Half. I think they all would agree that Shane and his crew helped pave the way.
During the first year Jimmy’s No. 43 was open, our draft list was largely influenced by my love of European beers that developed way before I started selling imports at my previous bar, Mugsy’s Chow Chow (which had also been in the East Village), and dated all the way back to when I was 18 and lived in Munich for a brief period.
Even though I was there only three months, living in Munich really exposed me to the great beer culture in Germany. I saw firsthand that beer is a big part of everyone’s daily life, and that’s why later I hosted an annual Oktoberfest party at Mugsy’s and why at Jimmy’s No. 43 we serve Franconian gravity casks every year. I’ve always tried to do my part in honoring Germany’s rich beer traditions.
Now for the pick. While Chimay Tripel and Strubbe Pils were European standbys during our early years, my favorite was Aventinus, a German doppelbock or strong dark wheat beer. Dark and chocolaty but easy to drink, this was one of the first beers that local beer drinkers would actively seek out and geek out over. Even years later I still think it’s the best transitional beer to drink as the weather starts getting cooler.
De Ranke, XX Bitter
During our second year in 2006, Dan Shelton of the great Shelton Brothers imports company came into my bar and we immediately struck up a friendship that’s still strong today. (On a side note his two brothers were playing with their band at Joe’s Pub that night; their name was Jesus H. Christ!)
When Dan looked at my beer list that first time, he was blunt and very confidently told me all of my beers sucked and that none were as good as the ones he was carrying. He later came back with some samples and let me try De Ranke’s XX Bitter, a hoppy blonde Belgian ale that wasn’t sweet and made with candied sugars like most of the Belgians I had tasted up to that point and after one sip I was blown away. There were the typical drier, fuller Belgian flavors but there was also this strong bitterness, which reflected the brewery’s attempt to revive bitter Belgian beers that predated the popular American IPA. (Another historical hoppy Belgian beer is Poperings Hommel Bier.)
From the moment Dan brought in De Ranke I became a Shelton Brothers convert—even if I don’t agree with his opinion on some of NYC’s local beers—and for several years I devoted half of my 12 draft lines to pouring their great imports, which also include Beersel and Mahr’s Bräu.
Green Flash, West Coast IPA
After several years of focusing on specialty imports, I had another awakening around 2008 that led me to start having more faith in American craft beer. That year the owner of a great beer store in Rome called Johnny’s Off License came in, and I proudly showed him my selection of European beers including the Shelton Brothers brews. He kindly complimented my list but said he had access to all of them in Italy and really wanted to drink some U.S. beer. All I had at that point were maybe two bottles along with a couple lines of Sixpoint. He enjoyed those but I realized that I should try to seek out more of what was being made here in the states.
Robert Hodson of Union Beer Distributors was instrumental in helping me do this. I had known him since the ’90s when he was leading the craft-beer movement in NYC via the Craft Brewers Guild. He’s a legend in the craft-beer scene and has been one of the biggest supporters of Jimmy’s No. 43. So it was through him that I met Green Flash’s owners Mike and Lisa Hinkley, who also supported the bar and even visited a couple times when they were in NYC. One of these times was in December of 2011. The Hinkleys were here with their head brewer, Chuck Silva, and they came up with the idea to host a Christmas-Hanukkah Brewer’s Brunch which became an annual tradition now called the Orphans and Expats Christmas Day Lunch. We get a great turnout for craft-beer lovers who either don’t celebrate the holiday or don’t have anyone to celebrate it with and want to be part of a beer family.
With its aptly named brew, Green Flash introduced me to the West Coast style of IPA with its assertive hop profile and higher ABV. While it was my go-to IPA for a few years it was also my gateway to going nuts for American craft beer. It wasn’t very long after that that my draft list was stacked with American beers and hardly any European. In fact, Jimmy’s No. 43 now carries a great many Belgian-style American beers that we feature annually at our Battle of the Belgians event. Green Flash was one of the first American breweries I discovered making these American-Belgian hybrids, such as Rayon Vert and Le Freak.
Kiuchi, Hitachino Nest White Ale
Coming out of Kiuchi Brewery in Japan, this Belgian-style witbier was the hottest thing you could get on draft back during our first few years. It was scarce to find on draft and their packaging—the owl, the Japanese characters—brought a lot of buzz. Plus it was amazing! We often poured it along with Hitachino’s Red Rice Ale and Classic offerings.
The first time I tried White on draft, I was fascinated; this was different than typical Belgian wits. At the time, Hoegaarden was the entry point for Belgian wits and Coors’ Blue Moon was catching on. So wit was an easy style to sell, but Hitachino was leaps above any others. The quality of ingredients, pronounced cardamom spices and yeast flavors made for a grownup witbier!
Hitachino is distributed by another great American import company, B. United, and we worked closely with them to have Hitachino regularly on tap. I’m also proud to say that Hitachino’s owner Mr. Toshiyuki Kiuchi has visited us several times during our 10 years. Because of this, after the horrible Japan tsunami in 2011 which spared the brewery but destroyed several others in the region, we hosted a fundraiser with Brooklyn Brewery called “Brewers4Brewers” that ended up raising $12,000. It was the largest benefit dedicated to helping Hitachino and its local area. Reflecting back on it now, I know how it feels to be that close to losing your business and watching your friends suffer from tragedy. We were impacted by the East Village explosion earlier this year, but we’re back on our feet again thanks to the support of the beer community. It’s great that we all come together in times of need.