Beer Trails: Rock Shop’s Freaktoberfest Inaugurates NY Craft Beer Week

New York Craft Beer Week got off to a fast start at the Rock Shop’s Third Annual Freaktoberfest Boutique Beer & Music Fest in Brooklyn’s Park Slope, Sept. 24. A superb showcase for those seeking deeper appreciation for handcrafted microbrews, this dingy, indie rock-friendly sportsbar certainly satisfied its appreciative audience.

Along with Celeb-stoner blogger (and Reefer Movie Madness co-author) Steve Bloom, I elatedly consumed a few unconventional libations to be featured ‘round town the coming week for $3 on tap with the purchase of a $10 NYC Beer Passport. Thousands will rejoice around the five boroughs as an outstanding lineup of special events and promotions’ take hold.

Several hardened beer enthusiasts were invited to enjoy the warm autumnal twilight at the newfangled Rock Shop as friendly bartenders served their every need while taking in a few circus sideshow freaks in anticipation of a radically-designed pumpkin-tapped stout. Though a bit crowded by nightfall, guests were never left carrying empty plastic tumblers. And the brew selection ran the gamut from non-conformist India Pale Ales to deviant Imperial Stouts.

As we enter, Bloom and I receive the jigger-sized sampling cups. We then proceeded to wallow in our own crapulence. Across from the ground floor front bar stands top-hatted Pretty Things colleague, Jim Barnes, our guiding light for the first half-hour. We compare hazelnut-sweetened moderate-bodied Ithaca Brown Ale to the sharper-grained, chestnut-pecan-moderated Nebraska Brunette Nut Brown before settling on the analogous Barnes-sponsored, hop-roasted, macadamia-bound Pretty Things Saint Botolph’s Town English Brown Ale.

Making our way towards the stairs leading to the two-room second floor, we rub elbows with tonight’s host, Donny Vomit, The Human Blockhead, a Shmaltz Brewing-inspired circus tent MC sidling scantily-clad burlesque wench, Nasty Canasta. The curious twosome announce the tapping of Cape Ann’s authentic, gourd-poured Pumpkin Stout at the roof top patio but we bravely sidestep the crowd, sojourning to the backroom where various bottled and kegged offerings satisfy our thirsts first.

Dry-hopped, dunkelweiss-styled Sly Fox Oktoberfest fit the seasonal mood with its resinous, orange-oiled sourness and twiggy maple-leafed bittering. But more exhilarating were cereal-grained, chestnut-roasted, almond-fruited Mc Neill’s Imperial IPA and extremely peculiar earthen sage-herbed, lemon-dried, pine-limed Smuttynose Greenpoint Harbor Disorient IPA; few ambitious New England beers via Vermont and New Hampshire that’d otherwise never make it down to the Big Apple if not for Freaktoberfest. Colorado’s Avery Kaiser Imperial Oktoberfest may’ve bested both with its glistening, candi-sugared, citric-juiced, Chardonnay-Almondine buttering. But Bloom would disagree, labeling Avery a wine-y runt.

Things got even more interesting when we investigated California’s Lagunitas Fusion III and Brooklyn’s own Sixpoint Old Krusher Barleywine. The former, an eccentric Imperial Stout, dismissed the usual chocolaty coffee theme in favor of a nutty chipotle-peppered Muscat-burgundy wining. The latter, perhaps closer to a less woody, more alcoholic IPA, brought floral-pined, grapefruit rind bittering to a spice-hopped apricot-tangerine tang.

Then we finally stepped out to the back deck and consumed the last drops of Cape Ann’s Organic Cask-conditioned Pumpkin Stout with Steve Beery (head honcho from well-stocked Bethpage watering hole, Mr. Beery’s). A soil-y, peat moss earthiness drenched the pumpkin-seeded, consommé-souped, fungi acridity, saddling its backend mushroom-capped, black tea bittering. Some may’ve thought the brew a bit outlandishly deviant due to its raw vegetal extremism and unlikely, non-carbolic flatness.

Cape Ann head brewer, Jeremy Goldberg, who I’d befriended five years back when he and some associates organized a 40-day 38-brewery tour for the film travelogue, American Beer, offered salient comments concerning the aforementioned Pumpkin Stout.

“We take our most popular seasonal brew, which uses pumpkin to accentuate, not dominate, the flavor and treat it as a cask ale. It was conditioned in a pumpkin for one week and then we tapped directly into the gourd. It didn’t obtain as much carbonation as I’d like, but we sealed the pumpkin in beeswax and caramelized the interior with molasses and took a blowtorch to it,” Goldberg claims.

With our heads a little lighter (helped along by some smoked herbal medication) and our bodies a little less sweaty thanks to the open-air deck’s outdoor breeze, we ventured downstairs to sample another unconventional brew.

However, I wasn’t totally impressed with Schmaltz’s Coney Island Freaktoberfest, a ruddy magenta cereal-grained malt-toasted amber lager with fig-sugared chestnut-roasted orange-dried cherry slur. It paled in comparison to the loftier fare being so graciously handed out.

Nevertheless, as we stepped to the black-red dartboard-floored stage area, impromptu three-piece band, Lambic Jones, came onstage to deliver heady, instrumental jazz-rock rumblings that shook the floor and pleased the two-dozen patrons ambling by this cozy backroom space. Later on, with the crowd tightening, three burlesque girls and a juggler entertained the quaffing minions.

I surveyed a few less inebriated guests on which beer they enjoyed the most. I was surprised when three people chose barnyard-wafted, fizzy-hopped, lemon-candied Victory Sunrise Weissbier. I thought its minty, ginger tingle and white-peppered, banana-pineapple-papaya tropicalia would’ve been too unusual or under-whelming compared to Fusion III or Old Krusher.

My personal favorite might’ve been Ithaca Brute, an exquisitely detailed, Belgian-styled golden sour ale with lusty cider sharpness and oaken cherry tartness that’d go fine with dessert or as a stand-alone aperitif. Adding depth to this voluptuous, grassy-hopped fruit-soured dry body were lemon-candied, peach tartness, Granny Smith apple pucker and vinous grape esters.

I only wish I could’ve made more Craft Beer Week events. I missed City Winery’s small-batch beer with food pairings and Voyage Of The IPA (a South Street schooner sail hosted by Brooklyn Brewery’s Garrett Oliver to educate India Pale Ale lovers). I also failed to consume Shmaltz Brewery’s whiskey-barrel aged Geektoberfest on draft. Better to enjoy what I got than be disheartened by what I did not. Cheers.

POST-SCRIPT: To bookend my Kings County fun with Mr. Bloom, I ventured to multifaceted venue, Brooklyn Bowl, two weeks hence to celebrate the release of Reefer Movie Madness: The Ultimate Stoner Film Guide. Co-authored by Bloom and Shirley Halperin (whom I’d written for in the ‘90s when she started New York’s, now-defunct indie rock monthly, Smug Magazine, finding fame as a celebrity reporter thereafter), their latest stoner tome worthily follows up their mini whole Earth marijuana catalogue, Pot Culture.

Not as star-studded as the California book party at L.A.’s Space 15 Twenty purportedly was, this assemblage instead brought High Times staffers, fellow bong-hitters, sundry friends, guests and press together for a night of sneaky debauchery. With most in the crowd buzzing from specially made cookies while enjoying fine local beer, The Wizard Of Oz was synched to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon on multiple TV monitors and a steady stream of bong-hitters tried to break a hundred on Brooklyn Bowl’s narrow lanes.

Though it took an hour to reach my brain, the herb-doused cookie I consumed came into affect on the ride home to Jersey, just after crossing the Washington Bridge. All of a sudden I was roaming the poppy fields with Judy Garland drifting off to see the wizard. Needless to say, I was comfortably numb for the remainder of the evening while catching the Rangers-Rays playoff ballgame from the comfort of bed.