Beer Trails: Manhattan’s 404 Hosts Triumphant Beer Bar Fest NYC

Hundreds of beer geeks joined ranks Saturday, Dec. 10, for the first Beer Bar Fest. Hosted by prospering New York City Homebrewers Guild bellwethers Chris Cuzme and Mary Izett at a hot new venue, this merry two-session gathering culled eight new-sprung Big Apple beer bars serving ‘the choicest small plates’ of artisanal food alongside unrivaled craft beer ‘under one roof.’

And that’s no small boast. While the Guild continually educates people on the interesting array of progressive-thinking micro and nano breweries popping up in the last few years, Cuzme and Izett keep developing close relationships with the freshest local eateries promoting craft beers.

“Hopefully Beer Bar Fest will biannually showcase new beer bars across New York City,” Cuzme explains. “For far too long beer bars haven’t been given deserved respect for the fantastic booze they serve and the awareness given to craft beer. As bar menus showcase better beers, it’s fun and exciting to pair them with food.”

An enthusiastic group of appreciative gormandizers congregated at the luxurious 15,000 square foot club known only as 404, a chic West Side art space with cement-floored white interior, exquisite cocktail bar and pristine loft used as a banquet hall, reception area or for special events. The distinguished assemblage of tapped beers on hand went extremely well with the recommended food pairings, widening the palates of many zealous goblet-palmed quaffers.

I preliminarily headed upstairs to the loft, where famed British-American Real Ale fanatic, Alex Hall, held ground at the center serving stations at high noon. The stacked half-keg barrels behind Hall housed eight rangy cask-conditioned brews. The salty seafood brining of raw oysters from Sayerville’s Naked Cowboy Oyster Bar complemented the soft-toned elegance of these smoothly unpasteurized libations.

The cask version of gypsy brewers’ Wandering Star Raindrop Pale Ale contrasted pleasant honeyed sweetness against fig-dried grape and woody earthen herbage. Sixpoint Little Frankie’s Pale Ale spread peanut butter across orange marmalade. Flying Dog Gonzo Imperial Porter Cask brought mellow dark chocolate to peat-dewed dried fruit, bettering its glorious filtered version.

Grabbing a few more oysters, I ventured into the cask-conditioned Firestone Walker Pale 31, which balanced its sour citric impetus against floral-dried rye breading. Meanwhile, the remaining four cask conditioners made a good overall impression on a smattering of beer espousers at this 4-hour afternoon session.

I then decided to venture into a few previously untried Belgian-styled ales, sans food post-haste. A moderate aperitif, Wandering Star Zingari Witbier (brewed with cardamom, India fenugreek spice, lemongrass and a splash of coriander) brought delicate herbal pungency to crisply clean-watered citric fig. Contrarily, Greenport Harbor 2nd Anniversary Ale (a complex Belgian strong pale ale) draped creamy caramel malts and candi-sugared Belgian yeast atop a not-so-subtle grapefruit-peeled juniper bittering and refreshingly floral-spiced mint stint.

After dipping into Brooklyn-based Sixpoint Mad Scientist, a light-tongued, black-chocolate-spiced, cocoa-dried altbier, I drifted back downstairs to Chelsea’s Guilty Goose table, where this mod American Brasserie held court. I paired the resilient, rice ball-like Bacon Cheddar Risoto with California’s Lagunitas Bay-Styled Doppelweiss, an adjunct weizenbock contrasting brisk, mustard-seeded hop sharpness against creamy, rum-spiced Bananas Foster lacquering. Guilty Goose’s Duck-Smoked Pork paired fairer with Wandering Star Berkshire Hills 01201 Saison, boosting its meaty aspects with sharper, sour-fruited, fig-prune musk and fresh-watered citric spicing.

A Napolean Dynomite-attired Santa Claus named Wildman joined me for the next few tastings. I thusly paired Café D’Alsace’s exquisite uptown French cuisine with a few gypsy brews by Brain Strumke, whose engaging Stillwater fare gets contract brewed in Belgium, Netherlands and Maryland.

Stillwater Cellar Door, a Belgian saison with white sage, deepened its white-peppered, basil-thyme conflux against sharp, hop-spiced orange liming while capturing the savory tenderness of lamb-oxtail, pork-smoked Baeckeofe Alsatian Casserole. Picking up even more illusionary complexities alongside D’Alsace’s meat casserole, Stillwater Our Side IPA/Saison deepened the thyme seasoning of the Pinot Gris-braised dish, raising its herb-seasoned grapefruit rind bittering above fresh rosewater nuances.

Crisper and cleaner than the previous two, Stillwater Stateside Saison tossed resinous earthen hops at taut apricot-pear fruiting and rye-spiced orange souring. Perhaps the most expressive, Stillwater Folklore Belgian Dark Ale latched lactic schwarzbier-like cocoa bean dryness and dark chocolate spicing onto dried fruits, gaining a dusky earthen soiling that may’ve constricted the meaty food pairing. Our host, Mary Izett, enjoyed the Alsatian casserole with Allagash Black, a Belgian-styled stout with nutty chocolate spicing, hop-charred molasses bittering and cappuccino notes.

Astoria-based Sunswick 35/35 broke out Buffalo wings for six notable Denmark-brewed Evil Twin elixirs. Dry moderation, Evil Twin Williamsburg Hipster Ale, countered woody-hopped grapefruit rind bittering and dried orange tartness against caramel-malted toasted almond. A commendable stout brewed with orange peel, Evil Twin’s The Talented Mr. Orangutan delivered Belgian chocolate spicing to its coffee-roasted core.

Eloquent coffee roasting also affected Evil Twin’s fudge-y molasses-espresso-vanilla-draped Yin Imperial Stout, a wonderful changeup to tropical-fruited Yang IPA (where fresh-watered floral serenity dapples apricot-pear-pineapple-orange-apple fruiting in an approachable manner). Combining both dark chocolate malts outdid Yin & Yang Black & Tan’s currant-nipped dried fruits. Thereafter, extraordinary Soft Dookie Vanilla Imperial Stout rendered molasses-sugared crème de cocoa, brown chocolate and vanilla creaminess.

Then it was off to Madison Avenue-based Rattle N Hum’s table to consume shellfish sliders with Netherlands’ strikingly illuminating Emelisse Barleywine, a slow-sipping, cognac-like almandine pleated with red cherry, caramelized chocolate, honeycomb and rye. Equally fine was Rattle N Hum’s squash-pureed Wild Boar, paired with Greenport Harbor Black Duck Porter, a robust combination plying schwarzbier-like chipotle-sauced chocolate creaminess to tender pork crisping.

Lower East Side’s Idle Hands catered mini onion-sauteed jalapenos burgers, a casually-spiced delectable well-suited for Vermont’s zesty Hill Farmstead Harlan IPA, a tame, herb-spiced fruit juicer juxtaposing slightly wooded, grapefruit-peeled, orange rind bittering with creamy, crystal-sugared pineapple, peach, red apple and plum tones.

Long Island City’s Alewife Queens supplied peppery, veal-pork parmesan meatballs to go alongside Greenport Harbor Strong Ryeland ESB’s hop-spiced tea acridity. And Gramercy Park’s Taproom 307’s thin-crusted prosciutto pizza complemented Italy’s spectacular Sangria-like Baladin Nora.

For a closer, I figuratively visited my childhood neighborhood, combining Bronx Ale House’s braised short rib chili with Bronx Pale Ale’s supple, almond-toasted caramelizing, spicy orange-backed dried fruiting and minor wood pining.

The response for Beer Bar Fest NYC was overwhelmingly positive as attendees loved the food, beer and atmosphere. And the night session, apparently, had a higher attendance. I can’t wait for the next Fest.