A True Bronx Brew
Beer. The very mention of the stuff drives palates to distraction. There’s nothing so hallowed as the pouring ritual of a heady stout, or a casual evening get-together at the local taphouse. But while imported brews and stadium fare may have claimed the lion’s share of the industry until recently, today’s beer market is all about toasting the lagers, ales, and lambics of America’s craft scene. And at the root of some of these varied flavors lies a simple flower cluster, a key ingredient to any trophy-winning brew. That’s where the Urban Hops Project comes in.
With a push that could make devoted locavores of us all, The Bronx Brewery and The New York Botanical Garden have partnered up to carry the roots of beer back to New York, just in time for the New York Historical Society‘s celebration of our state’s rich beer-brewing history. In addition to efforts from Bronx-based community gardens and the Cornell Cooperative Extension, we’re throwing in our chips for a true New York brew, a beer made with ingredients grown right here in the city. Better yet, right here in the Garden. Over 120 Cascade hop vines have been planted between the Ruth Rea Howell Family Garden and community plots throughout the borough, laying the foundation for a beer so local that it only has to travel a few neighborhoods to reach your glass.
As key beer stabilizers and flavor enhancers, hops have been grown for centuries–namely in Germany. But growing hops in The Big Apple? It’s not all that unusual! In fact, New York was the largest producer of hops in the United States from the 1840s into the 1880s. And while later decades saw the decline of hop farms throughout the country, there’s a renewed surge of growers working to bring the crop back to the Empire State.
“There are a number of reasons why more farms are beginning to grow hops in New York,” explains Damian Brown, Master Brewer for The Bronx Brewery. “These include suitable climate, historical precedent, growth in New York’s craft beer industry, and increasing interest in the origin and story behind what we consume.”
That interest is a major motivator behind the Urban Hops Project, raising hops to create a beer that is not only as local as it gets, but sourced from a program that’s built around supporting the borough it’s based in. All profits from the sale of the Urban Hops beer will go right into the Bronx Green-Up initiative, working to boost and better the community gardening movement throughout the Bronx.
As the brainchild of The Bronx Brewery, the Urban Hops Project does a fine job of representing its creators’ ambitions and values.
“Our interest in growing hops in the Bronx is to educate and involve the community in the brewing process,” says Brown. “I think a key part of the ethos of a craft brewer is to use the highest quality and most local raw materials available in producing a beer. It’s a pretty natural instinct for a brewer to want to imbue the beer with as much local character, participation, and flavor as possible. We want to brew a beer the borough and the city are proud to call their own, while being active and visible members of the community and having fun making a product that brings people together.”
If the NYBG partnered with the borough’s brewer laureate isn’t a match made in heaven (it is), it will at least taste like one. You only have to take a sip of Damian Brown’s break-out offering–Bronx Pale Ale–to know that. It’s unfiltered, unpasteurized, undeniable deliciousness in an amber-gold package. And, true to form, it joins the ranks of many fine beers to have been brewed in New York through American history–hence its appearance at Beer Here: Brewing New York’s History, the New York Historical Society’s toast to the forgotten heroes of NYC’s beer legacy. Here you’ll not only have an opportunity to meet Damian and sample some of the city’s up-and-coming brews, but experience the ongoing story of New York craft beer from its origins in the European settlements of the 17th century. Tickets are available online, where you can register for The Bronx Brewery’s 2 p.m. or 4 p.m. slot.
Next week I’ll attempt to pry open the science and history behind this spicy and fragrant beer ingredient, while stifling my complaints that there isn’t a cooler full of microbrews in our office. (I don’t think I’ll make any headway with that campaign.)
Bronx Pale Ale logo courtesy of The Bronx Brewery.