Beer production at SABMiller Plc's Pilsner Urquell Plant (Bloomberg/-)
As a tag line for a beer guide, “Foam is where the heart is” is hard to top.
Where to Drink Beer (Phaidon, $30) is a new handbook that highlights the top places to do just that in more than 1,600 establishments worldwide. The volume includes such idiosyncratic spots as a stall next to the Central Ferry Pier in Hong Kong, a brewery attached to a toy store in Maryland, and a laundromat in Brooklyn. What makes this book notable, though, is the author: Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø, a beer world celebrity, known for his exhilarating Evil Twin brews and for making the concept of gypsy, or nomadic, brewing popular around the globe.
For the inaugural beer guide—an offshoot of the Phaidon guidebook series that includes Where Chefs Eat, now in its third edition having sold more than 250,000 copies—Bjergsø polled 500 of his peers, from Beijing brewers to Brazil beer writers and London pub owners. His thick textbook-style volume doesn’t have compelling pictures of brown ales or bars lined with dozens of taps. It’s geared for geeks: The only decorations are basic maps and quotes where the word “amazing” frequently appears. Instead, the book is dense with the names of places and the categories they fall into (“beer garden,” “local favorite,” and “wish I’d opened” among them).
The best beer city in the world
Based on his research, Bjergsø has a surprising pick as the world’s best beer city: It’s not London or Munich or even the craft beer mecca San Diego; it’s New York.
“If you had asked me five years ago, I would never have said New York is the world’s best beer city,” says Bjergsø, although to be fair, he does have a vested interest in that answer. The Danish-born brewer owns Tørst, an acclaimed five-year-old bar in Brooklyn, and he’s in the process of opening a large taproom in Ridgewood, Queens. But Bjergsø notes that the 2014 Craft New York Act, which cut restrictions on producers, facilitated New York’s ascendancy.
“The main reason New York was lagging is that it was too expensive to own a brewery here,” he says. Beer has always been a cheap product compared with other alcoholic beverages. The Craft Act allowed brewers to sell pints, instead of just samples, from their taprooms. Beer also became a luxury item, going from a standard $5 to up to $20 a pint.
“Ten years ago, if you made 2,000 barrels, it was hard to survive. Now you can make pretty good money with that,” says Bjergsø. “The profit goes from about 15 percent to 80 percent if you sell direct at a brewery.” He adds that Evil Twin selections such as Harlan’s Even More Jesus cost more than $40 a bottle on store shelves. “People buy them like crazy.”
Among the 24 New York spots in Where to Drink Beer are the East Village biergarten Zum Schneider and Cannibal, with its encyclopedic selection. Bjergsø calls out two favorites here that show the range of what’s happening in the Big Apple.
Spuyten Duyvil: “A New York City staple! They helped start the craft beer movement here and are still going strong,” says Bjergsø about the homey, wood-clad Brooklyn spot, with lists of beers—mostly from Europe—written on the blackboard.
The Nomad Bar: The classic, bi-level spot is known for cocktails, but its beer program is equally brilliant, says Bjergsø. “We built up our cellar so that we could offer up a list of vintage beers alongside a wide range of the newest craft selections. The idea is to have something for everyone, the aficionado or the casual beer drinker,” says Nomad General Manager Alex Pfaffenbach.
The best of the rest beer cities
Bjergsø chooses the four runner-ups and favorite bars in each one.
Why: “Tradition, tradition, tradition. In a world where what’s new seems to be the only thing that matters, it’s very comforting to go to a city where the bars and beers haven’t changed much for many years. The quality is some of the best of what the world has to offer, and the people there don’t seem to chase the new trend the same way as in most other craft beer cities.”
Cantillon Brewery: Set in an old house that also includes a lab, this place exemplifies the city’s range of beers. “Cantillon stands out because of the balance between tradition and craziness,” says recommender Pablo Santos, a microbrewer in Bolivia.
Moeder Lambic Fontainas: In the heart of Brussels, the bar has an incredible Belgian beer selection from classics to new-school options.
Why: “The gastronomy world has put a big focus on the city and that has benefited the craft beer scene as well. There are places that highlight the classic brewing styles and others that showcase the new.”
Edmund’s Oast: The brewery that’s connected to the notable restaurant crafts a wide range of selections such as heirloom watermelon-infused beer. Westbrook Brewing Co.: There’s a strong selection of rotating beers, especially seasonal ones, and cool tours of the property.
Why: “Chicago was one of the first major cities in the U.S. to jump on the craft beer wagon; places like Hopleaf have been around for a long time but are still considered among the best.”
The Aviary: The world-renowned cocktail bar, co-owned by star chef Grant Achatz, has a surprisingly great beer list, with specialty brews exclusive to the place.
Hopleaf: The 26-year-old spot, which has a Michelin Bib Gourmand, has been credited with almost single-handedly creating the city’s craft bar scene.
Local Option: The heavy-metal-inspired spot has a wide-ranging selection of brews.
Read also: Jakpost Nightlife: Must-try beerhouses
Why: “For years, Bamberg was the most brewery-dense area in the world! It’s the home of smoked beer and with its long history of breweries, taprooms and bars, it’s still one of the most unique beer places to visit.”
Schlenkerla: The cult favorite that has followers all over the world. Set in a cozy, traditional pub, the selection features smoked beer, as well as rustic German food.