“We’re trying to come up with a sign,” Blake Jordan told me yesterday afternoon inside the newly opened Hops & Hocks on Morgan Ave as we discussed growler etiquette. “It’s about respecting the brewmaster by respecting the quality of the beer so we’re not degrading the product.” The 64-ounce jugs known as growlers have become a staple in recent years for beer geeks looking to take draft beer home and Hops is a beer geek’s dream. The beer shop and charcuterie that opened last week currently has 17 carbonated beverages on tap (including local kombucha and sodas), 13 of which are dedicated to beer with more to come.
But with growlers’ handiness for taking fresh quality brews home comes a level of responsibility. “Oxygen and bacteria are the natural enemies of beer,” Blake explained, so growlers must be clean and dry before filling. Furthermore, “just like a coke you open you know it won’t be as good the next day.” Once a growler is open it starts to lose carbonation and the integrity of the beer is compromised. Brewmasters worry that customers who aren’t familiar with growlers might not understand the basics and blame handling issues on the beer itself.
My photographer and I sampled several of the tasty beers on tap at Hops & Hocks before landing on Southern Tier’s 2X Steam for our growler pour. I was making butternut squash and salmon Thai curry for dinner and we thought the 2X Steam would pair nicely with the savory fall dish. First brewed in the Bay Area in the early 1800s, steam beers are technically lagers but they have the sweet body of an ale due to the yeast used. Like any living creature, yeast do their thang best under the right conditions, and it’s hard for them to freak what they’re feelin’ unless the temperature is just right. Lager yeasts get freaky at around 50°F, but when San Francisco brewers were cooling their lagers back in the day the cheapest means was to chill it on the roof in the brisk sea air. Often this meant the temperature was better suited to an ale yeast, which can get down at 70°F. As legend has it, the result was a style unto itself, named after the steam that rose off the beer as it cooled.
Modern steam beers are not cooled in fresh rooftop air, but rather combine the properties of ales and lagers to make unique American style. The 2X Steam pours a light tawny orange with a beautiful creamy head that quickly fades in the glass. It has a bready, slightly fruity smell and a full caramel flavor when it hits your tongue, coupled with a grassy bite of hops. Because it’s a double, the flavors and alcohol content are amped up – it comes in at 8% – but it’s still a drinkable beer, particularly when sipped over the course of a hearty dinner. The toasted caramel went well with the rich sweetness of the butternut squash and the clean finish nicely offset the spices and heat of the Sriracha in the dish. Success!
Hops and Hocks sells their beer in three different sizes, 16 and 32 oz jars, and 64 oz growlers, priced accordingly; all of which can be purchased on premise then refilled. Customers can also bring in their personal jars and growlers so long as they’re consistent with the shop’s sizes. They have a strong representation of local breweries – Brooklyn, Bronx, and Barrier included – and the beers are constantly rotated according to the discerning taste of Blake Jordan, who worked with owners Michele Pravada and Patrick Watson at their last venture, Stinky Bklyn. The other folks behind Hops include Ben Cavicchio, the other part owner, and Sydnee Mejia, who helps curate the charcuterie and designed the shops sharp signage and front mural. They stock a plethora of goodies: cured meats from places like Creminelli’s and Charlito’s Cocina in Queens, pretzels from Bronx Baking Co and Pelzer’s, and breads from Sullivan Street Bakery. After eying all their decadent selections I was wishing I hadn’t bought the salmon for dinner so that we could stuff ourselves full on bread and cured meat and cheeses instead. This is definitely the new destination to get all the yummy fixings for your next boozy picnic or the best way to impress dinner guests without doing any cooking at all!
Southern Tier’s 2X Steam 3.5/5 stars, 1 for its intense doubling of the style, 1 for its toasted caramel scent and flavor, 1 because it’s featured on the kick-ass tap list at Hops & Hocks, and 1/2 for it’s tasty pairing with the fall Thai curry.
Hops & Hocks is located at 2 Morgan Avenue, just past Flushing. It is open daily from 11am – 8pm. 64 oz growler pours ranger from $12 – $24, with the reusable growler costing $4. Their cured meats range from $20 – $34/lb, and their sandwiches are all $6 or $7. The shop also stocks a variety of cheeses and other tasty treats.
Bushwick Brews is a weekly column dedicated to the exploration of Bushwick’s finest beers written and curated by brewista Erin Wicks. Let her know what you’re drinking and where via Twitter and Instagram, hashtag #bushwickbrews.