2. Let This Newsletter Be Your Seat at the Bar

A soft opening of sorts for a weekly discussion of beer, bars, and ~feelings.~

Of All the Gin Joints, You Walked Into Mine. Thanks!

I’ve had a Substack set up for over a year now, because everything has become a bad internet joke and the media industry has been taken over by companies that have absolutely no business being there, like Dollar Shave Club. Newsletters are booming because us writers are everyday increasingly squeezed out of jobs at publications that will pay us, so we’re trying to find a place for our voices and hopefully at some point another source of income. 

This entire time, though, I’ve done little more than write titles for posts and stare at the blinking cursor until my eyes glaze over. This is for various reasons: I’ve been lucky enough to be what some might call “busy” with other writing work, the pandemic has done weird things to productivity for all of us, and putting something out there in the world with your own identity all over it can be mortifying, especially for a chronically insecure neurotic like yours truly.

However, the push that got us here finally, with this thing in your inbox, is that not only have I been losing gigs, but I’ve been losing places to cover the stories I care about. Breweries email me about cool things they’re doing, and I hate that I often have no outlets to which I can even pitch the story. I had a weekly column spotlighting breweries and distilleries for amNY before it was bought out, and I really feel its absence these days. (Plus, I never had an outlet to editorialize or, say, write about a beer’s Proustian effect on my life.) 

The goal all along, too, has been to have a space in which to highlight the more diverse voices in beer, in terms of coverage from the jump, and later, hopefully, in terms of some paid features that will benefit different initiatives, causes, and scholarship funds. Then, with the recent tidal wave of crushing reports of sexism, sexual abuse, and sexual assault within the beer industry, it became clear to me that I needed to also use this space to have the kind of frank discussions that aren’t always possible considering how few publications are left covering beer. If you’re new here, hello; please go back and read that first issue. It is absolutely the most important conversation to be having about beer right now. Then, we can revisit this bit of pandemic-related optimism about beer, especially in NYC.

Recently, I visited the new TALEA Beer Co. taproom in Williamsburg. It was one of those first truly radiant days of spring and everyone seemed to be in the best mood they’d been in since maybe the last warm days of fall 2019. The crowd outside was so lively that you could almost forget they were also perfectly spaced apart and being served under strict safety protocol because of a stubborn pandemic (but you shouldn’t forget, of course). There were so many people waiting for tables that the line was divided between reservations and walk-ups.

Having interviewed the brilliant TALEA founders Tara Hankinson and LeAnn Darland a year and change earlier, when this taproom was in planning stages, it was frankly a thrill to not only see it living and breathing in an impossibly chic space, but to see it making such an impact. In addition to dedicated beer geeks, this spot was magnetically attracting passers by to the walk-up line, Brooklynites heeding the siren call of beautifully hued brews in elegant glassware and perfectly curated cheese plates like cartoons are entranced by the visible streams of a pie on the windowsill’s delicious aroma.

As my husband and I sat marveling over a flight of distinctive yet harmonious hazy IPAs, and tasted TALEA’s first West Coast IPA, a raspberry peach sour IPA, and a raspberry lime gose at a prime-spot corner table, we found ourselves directing families to the line after they stopped to marvel over the food and drinks they couldn’t help but gawk at as they passed. I got this feeling, which is actually a combination of two feelings, one long familiar and the other an abrupt 180 from any 2020 feelings. The first is a swell of New York City hospitality-scene love. The second was hope.

Before this pandemic, I was itching to leave the city and actively planning the escape. Only maybe a month into this waking nightmare, though, I was finding myself constantly overcome with loyalty for the businesses that have made my entire life in this city what it is, which is something I love. I felt proud to be able to know them and visit them. I felt enraged about the ways they were being treated, from the government to anti-mask customers. I felt that I wanted to stay in the city where they were. It made me realize I hadn’t wanted to move because I was over New York, but because I’ve lived here for a decade, as well as living only 45 minutes away for my entire life before that. I still want to spend some real time in maybe Berlin and perhaps Detroit, but only to experience some scenery changes before settling back here, home.

The hope thing is new and weird, though, friends. Things have been so bleak for so long. But while there’s still an uphill road ahead, at least there’s a road at all. I felt it while working on a story covering all the NYC breweries opening first or second locations this year, stealing precious moments from very busy and very generous brewery owners who filled me in on their plans and painted a sunny outlook for this city’s beer/hospitality scene.

Alewife is serving outdoors at its new location in Sunnyside while working on the indoor taproom. Big aLICe has opened its Finger Lakes location. Bronx Brewery is working on its East Village spot. EBBS is getting ready to do business in Williamsburg. Endless Life opened in Crown Heights. Evil Twin is prepping a second spot in Dumbo, which is opening June 2. Finback opened a second location, in Gowanus, and will open a third upstate. Non Sequitur is on the verge of opening in Bushwick. Other Half opened another location in Domino Park. Strong Rope established a pop-up at a soon-to-be Red Hook space. There was of course the aforementioned TALEA opening. Threes quietly set up a new shop on Long Island. Torch & Crown, Wild East, and That Witch Ales You opened right in the middle of this pandemic. 

Both literally and metaphorically, summer is coming. In my head, this actually sounds less like Ned Stark and more like Larry David, so let’s say, “summer is…eh…it’s coming!” I am so happy for the people working and trying to run businesses in this industry that they are starting to feel some extra room to grow and exist; that consumers have shown enough devotion to their beer that there’s a bit of freedom in how you assemble your operation, from delivery to to-go to outdoor-seating-only to indoor-seating-also to all or some or any of the above; and that, in general, we’re allowed some kind of return to some kind of life again. But, sorry to say, there are a few caveats, and they’re far from insignificant. 

First and foremost, I really hope it starts to become a habit for all beer drinkers to consider a brewery’s culture as much as their beer styles, hops, can art, and taproom atmosphere. It’s imperative we prioritize breweries’ efforts in creating safe, inclusive workplaces; improving diversity and representation; and making sure all employees and patrons enjoy equality and safety. Only once a brewery meets those standards can we then talk about who makes the best mild. 

Additionally, the drop of the mask mandate and the exasperating continuation of the government’s complete muddled mess of rules and messaging mitigates any joy and relief for breweries and bars as capacity restrictions relax. Suddenly, the CDC has empowered those who somehow don’t feel any obligation to, like, not endanger innocent bystanders by announcing that vaccinated people don’t have to wear masks. Only 45% of people are fully vaccinated in NYC, so even if you are, how could you possibly waltz into a taproom or bar and just assume everyone in there is, as well? If you’re outdoors and distanced, sure, show off that new mustache you grew during quarantine or enjoy the feeling of wearing lipstick again, but when interacting with others and especially indoors? As always, the government’s guidance positions hospitality workers as some sort of expendable resource that no one cares to protect.

Workers are left vulnerable and business owners left without clarity on what rules they still have to enforce, lest they be subject to crippling fines. Don’t get it twisted: it’s still a goddamned mess out there. But now that we can more safely gather and patronize the places we love, I think it’s safe and healthy and a good thing to embrace some optimism and happiness. Just please, be careful and considerate while doing so. That’s truly the only way forward here.

I want to keep talking about the hope, the obstacles, the new experiences, the old experiences, the work to be done, and the things to love about bars, breweries, and craft beer. So, here we are. This is my sort of bar in the most basic “let’s all gather here and talk about why being able to do so matters, and let’s wax poetic about what we’re drinking” aspect of what a bar is. Thanks for stopping in. I can’t wait to talk about great breweries and weird trends and bar nostalgia and tough but vital topics with you.

Beer Tarot!

I pulled the Eight of Swords. Which is interesting, because last week I pulled the Nine of Swords.

As a reminder, Swords is the suit of air, which means the mind, intellect, and decisions. The Eight of Swords is about restriction and isolation. There’s a sense of being separated from civilization, even though there’s all this building energy. This all could translate to feeling trapped, in a relationship, in a job, or, IDK, in your pocket-sized apartment because of a raging global pandemic? Frankly, this card is ~very~ 2020-21. Whether it’s productivity with no place to put it or anger that anyone is suggesting you should feel productive; you’ve got a mismatch of energy and outlets.

One thing you can do, which is another theme of the Eight of Swords, is free yourself mentally. Explore new ideas, learn about new things, try new hobbies or TV shows or, of course, beers. If you’ve been sticking to tried and true favorites lately, it’s not that you should stop, but you might get a little thrill from shaking things up. Personally, at the aforementioned TALEA visit, I had a sour IPA even though I typically don’t like anything sour, and whaddyaknow, it’s now one of my favorite beers…ever? So, I’ll go ahead and recommend that beer, the Raspberry Peach Tart Deco. It’ll broaden some horizons for sure.

This Week’s Boozy Reading Rec

The story of craft beer’s reckoning with its sexism (as well as its ongoing reckoning with its racism) is only just beginning, and we now head into chapter two: the response. While we will no doubt continue to hear more disturbing accounts, we are now researching and calibrating how we are going to do the aforementioned uprooting and re-planting of the beer industry in a markedly more equitable manner. So, I recommend reading Dave Infante’s piece for VinePair, As Allegations of Harassment and Abuse Send Shock Waves Through the Craft Beer Industry, Will Workers Take Action?, which examines the power employees have (or don’t have) in exacting change at their breweries. With examples from the likes of Modern Times, Infante discusses unions, tactics like work stoppages, the shortcomings but also limits to the abilities of the Brewers Association, and more.

Until next week, here’s Darby staring at an Other Half IPA the way we all stare at that beer we love just before we sip it for the first time in a while.