The 5 best beers at NYC Craft Beer Festival (Fall 2016)

The NYC Craft Beer Festival has proven itself one of New York City’s most consistently enjoyable events, as it encourages beer fans, both novices and die hards, to step outside of their malted comfort zones to sample new beverages—even those that appear unappealing on the surface. I’m a prime example of this of this idea. I really, really hate IPAs, but will give one a chance if it carries a particularly interesting flavor hook. Plus, to quote the great Space Ghost, “I will put anything into my mouth that is given to me. Whether it’s supposed to go there or not.” Such gusto opens the door to many discoveries. 

Fortunately, the event boasts dozens of tasty, sample-ready craft beers, including ales, lagers, porters, and stouts. My 2-ounce tasting glass leaned heavily toward the heavier brews, but I made certain to sample as much as I could before Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” blared throughout the Lexington Avenue Armory, signaling the festival’s end. I admit to a certain bias for drinks with gimmicky flavors, which is evident in my five beers-of-the-show picks.

Abita Peach
It’s difficult to find a brewery that crafts a truly excellent fruit-based beer, as many overwhelm you with sweetness or skimp on the flavor so that you can barely recognize the fruity elements. Yet, Abita finds that balance with this peach lager, a refreshing treat that’s brewed with fresh, handpicked Louisiana peaches.

Breckenridge Vanilla Porter
I didn’t know what to expect from a vanilla porter, but Breckenridge Brewery delivered a pleasant surprise with this excellent blend that combines the chocolate and roasted nut flavor of a classic porter, with a vanilla punch.

DuClaw Sweet Baby Jesus
Sweet Baby Jesus can be summed up in four words: Chocolate Peanut Butter Porter. Oh, and “delicious.” It’s smooth and thick, with a creamy chocolate, coffee and peanut butter flavor that makes for a perfect after-dinner drink. Pairs well with vanilla ice cream, too.

Guinness Antwerpen
The Guinness brand is forever associated with its classic stout, but the company has made strides in the last two years to expand into the craft market. The result is handful of flavorful beers, with Antwerpen being one of my favorites. Light and creamy, this sweet stout boasts vanilla, butterscotch and dark fruity flavors.

Southern Tier Pumking
I’ve professed my love for this gem last year, so I won’t do so again here. Just click here. And then buy a six pack. TRUST ME ON THIS ONE.

Sweet beers ruled my tongue this time out, and will probably do so again when the NYC Craft Beer Festival Spring 2017 show rolls around.

The Pumking rules at NYC Craft Beer Festival (Fall 2015)

Hipsters are the one demographic who New Yorkers publicly shame and ridicule without remorse, but I give my bearded, tight-pants-wearing friends credit for delivering the five boroughs from beer hell. The Big Apple once suffered the plague of Budweiser, Michelob, Colt 45, and the like, but it now drifts in a sea of tasty beverages that delights and amazes.

Halloween weekend’s New York City Craft Beer Festival celebrated the renaissance. My $55 general admission ticket granted access to drinks from breweries within city limits, upstate, and across the country, and supplied me with a small, commemorative 2-ounce tasting glass. I initially thought the glass was too diminutive for proper tastings, but when my eyes fell upon the dozens of vendors, and even more drinks, I realized that it was the perfect size to sample suds without getting absolutely hammered within the first 30 minutes.

Southern Tier Imperial Pumking

The Southern Tier Imperial Pumking at the New York City Craft Beer Festival.

There were many delightful brews in Metropolitan West’s two-story space, but the one that I deemed the best of show was Southern Tier Brewing Company’s Imperial Pumking. The seasonal wasn’t the only pumpkin-flavored beer at the festival, but it was the one that instantly made me James Franco.

Imperial Pumking tastes like a liquefied slice of grandma’s pumpkin pie that was given a proper chill. I was shocked by its robust pumpkin flavor during my first tasting; rich and sweet, but not at all a candy-like. Many pumpkin brews taste like they are made with pumpkin spices; Imperial Pumking tastes like it’s made of real pumpkin, and has a consistency to match. It’s a heavy beer, with a heavy flavor.

Pumking is best sipped, not guzzled, as the taste comes in waves. The first is the strong ale flavor; the second is  the delicious pumpkin. Drinking Pumking was not unlike drinking two beers at once, and that is not at all a slight.

I’m not so bold as to say that Imperial Pumking is now one of my all-time favorite beers after sampling just four ounces, but it’s certainly a drink that I’ll be searching out in the very near future. In fact, I may order a case, or five, from a distributor, so that I’ll have the deliciousness at hand throughout the holiday season.