What could possibly be better than an ice cold beer, especially in this sticky sweaty sweltering summer heat? How about… 300 ice cold beers! I walked into The Sampler, Bushwick’s brand-new craft beer emporium on 234 Starr Street, one warm summer night knowing next to nothing about beer and came out a few hours later much the wiser (and a little drunk) after having completed an impromptu crash course in beer appreciation. Whether you’re like me and know nothing about beer but want to learn, or a craft brew aficionado looking to further expand your palate and discuss favorites with fellow beer-lovers, The Sampler is the place to be.
Walking into The Sampler feels like walking into a cooling cave, the worn-wood bar and towering shelves of hand-tagged beers make it feel like a homey oasis away from the real world. The walls are decorated with paintings and photographs by local artists, and the menu is filled with locally-made snacks (jerky, pickles, chips, Koean BBQ). Even on a Monday night, only a week after the bar opened, there were already a few regulars stopping by to check out the newest beers or request a hard-to-find favorite. And it isn’t surprising that they already have a dedicated clientele, as the best part of The Sampler is the passionate and knowledgeable staff.
Our photographer Marianna and I were immediately poured a sample of Mexican Cake, brewed by Westbrook, an imperial stout from South Carolina. Manager Rafael Martinez walked us through the layers of taste— the initial blend of chocolate and vanilla bean with a hint of cinnamon which gives way to an aftertaste of habanero pepper. This was followed by samples of another imperial stout, the Lil’ B. Brewed by the gypsy brewers Evil Twin— gyspy brewing meaning they travel and rent space locally for brewing, using local ingredients to create small, experimental batches. The beer had a rich sweetness despite its staggering 11.5% alcohol content. (Evil Twin has no shortage of fun when naming their beers; in addition to the Lil’ B some of their brews include the Ashtray Heart, the Even More Jesus, the Justin Blåbær, the Monk Suffers Serious Sugar Rush On Barbados, the Naked Lunch in A Heavenly Copenhagen Resto, the Ryan and the Beaster Bunny, the Who’s Drinking Gilbert Grape?, the Wag N’ Wisdom Wit, the Sour Bikini, and the Stalk You Like A Hurricane).
Next was a taste of the Cellar Door brewed by Stillwater in Baltimore, which was my personal favorite. A perfect counterpoint to the darker beers, this saison had a crisp, clear, floral flavor. This was my personal favorite, which I agree is the perfect summer beer. We proceeded to sample pretty much all of the 18 beers on tap, from the Clown Shoes by Happy Feet (a cross between an IPA and a stout, where hops are roasted instead of mashed to create the stout flavor for this “black IPA”) to the Brooklyn Brewery experimental Scorcher #366 (brewed with only one type of hop). And we weren’t getting any special treatment. The staff was sharing their knowledge with all the other patrons at the bar, pouring samples and recommending favorites.
The Sampler has 18 beers on tap, with a strong focus on local breweries such as the Brooklyn Brewery, Single Cut, Kelso, Pigskill, and Clown Shoes. Of the beers on tap they always have at least one gluten-free beer and one cider. They have flights of four samples, glasses, and growlers. They have their own growlers for purchase or you can bring your own to fill up, and they use the Pegas CrafTap systems which adds CO2 to the fill so even if you open up your growler weeks later it will taste fresh from the tap. In the future they will be hosting events such as lectures and classes from “brewistas,” and sampling theme nights with beer and food pairings.
Before we left Rafael shared some of his favorites with us: the Fully Malted Jacket from California (“a smoothie at the bar”), the Equinox by Brasserie Dieu du Ciel, a husband and wife brewery in Montreal (“a cloud of coffee brewing on my tongue”), and any beer by Left Hand or Omnipollo. These were only a few from the hundreds of bottles on the wall of beer, each tagged with a handwritten description by the employees. For example, the Stillwater “Existent” tag reads: “Saison/Farmhouse Ale. ‘…and if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also at you.’ —Nietzsche. An ale of mystery. Dark yet dry, bitter yet smooth, roasted malts and Belgian yeasts.”
The Sampler is located at 234 Starr St., between Wyckoff and Irving, right off the Jefferson L stop. Draft beers range from $3-$9. A flight (four different four ounce samples) is $8. Bottled beers range from $2-$44. A 64 ounce growler is $5 for the bottle and between $18-$22 for the fill. Open Monday-Thursday 12-11; Friday-Saturday 12-12; Sunday 12-9.