At WSJ on the Archie Shepp/Jason Moran duets

‘Let My People Go’ by Archie Shepp and Jason Moran Review: Way Down in Jazz Land

The saxophonist and pianist collaborate on an album featuring new duet versions of standards by John Coltrane, Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk.

Archie Shepp and Jason MoranPHOTO: ACCRA SHEPP

By Martin JohnsonFeb. 8, 2021 3:43 pm ET

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Saxophonist Archie Shepp and pianist Jason Moran are both jazz titans: Mr. Shepp, age 83, is an NEA Jazz Master and was an important protégé of John Coltrane ; Mr. Moran, 46, is a MacArthur Fellow and artistic director for jazz at the Kennedy Center. The two men met backstage at a Belgian jazz festival in 2015 and, despite the nearly four-decade difference in their ages, a musical relationship began. They played together whenever the opportunity allowed, and a common interest emerged—recasting the blues within the classic jazz and gospel repertoires. “Let My People Go” (Archieball, out now), a collection of duets, is their first progress report.

The music was recorded at two concert halls—in Paris in 2017 and in Mannheim, Germany, the following year—but much of it has a gritty, unvarnished quality, as if played in an out-of-the-way roadhouse. And the intimate duet format feels very of the moment, the Covid-19 pandemic having put a hold on many midsize and large ensemble recordings and having led to an abundance of solo, duo and trio performances.

Before their collaboration, Messrs. Shepp and Moran were on convergent paths; each had moved beyond jazz to establish a voice in other genres and disciplines. Mr. Shepp remains best known as a firebrand whose work, both as a leader and with the New York Contemporary 5, was a cornerstone of the ’60s avant garde, but he also recorded three remarkable duet settings in the late ’70s and ’80s with pianist Horace Parlan that focused on similar repertoire to that heard in “Let My People Go.” Those albums helped rebrand Mr. Shepp as a savvy veteran. Age has not robbed the saxophonist of his ambition. Last year he released “Ocean Bridges” (Redefinition), a collaboration with his rapper nephew Raw Poetic and the multi-instrumentalist Damu the Fudgemunk that found common ground between jazz, hip-hop and new millennium funk.

Since winning his MacArthur in 2010, Mr. Moran has been exceptionally active both in jazz and in the visual art world. His artistic activities, which range from paintings and drawings to installations that focus on the spaces in which music is heard, have landed him a solo exhibit at the Whitney Museum in 2019 and shows at many other internationally known venues. All of his recent recordings have been of solos, duos or trios, and when not working as a leader he has collaborated with elders like bassist Dave Holland and saxophonist Charles Lloyd in small configurations. The pandemic seems to have done little to slow Mr. Moran down. In addition to “Let My People Go,” he recently released a solo disc, “The Sound Will Tell You” (Bandcamp). Made in conjunction with his show of the same name at New York’s Luhring Augustine gallery, which runs through Feb. 27, it was recorded in the first week of January and released on the 15th of that month. His larger, multidisciplinary production “Two Wings: The Music of Black America in Migration,” with his wife Alicia Hall Moran, toured major concert halls across the country in 2019 and is slated for performances this summer.

Messrs. Shepp and Moran’s 94-minute “Let My People Go” begins with a wistful, slow rendition of “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child,” and each man’s instrumental solo heightens the sense of melancholy. Then Mr. Shepp sings for the final few minutes in a fragile tenor that further deepens the mood and effect. The next track, by contrast, is “Isfahan,” a Duke Ellington /Billy Strayhorn classic best known for its solo by the great saxophonist Johnny Hodges. In their elegant version, both Mr. Shepp and Mr. Moran echo aspects of Hodges.

“He Cares,” a Moran composition, was presented as a solo piece with electronic samples in Mr. Moran’s exhibit at the 2015 Venice Biennale; here he and Mr. Shepp perform it as an up-tempo piece redolent of open roads. Coltrane’s “Wise One” is played reverently—an optimal choice, as it allows Mr. Moran to display his passion for McCoy Tyner, an essential member of the saxophone great’s iconic quartet. The duo returns to Strayhorn for “Lush Life,” which is given two contrasting treatments. It is first played at a midtempo bustle, with Mr. Shepp jovially quoting Thelonious Monk’s “Epistrophy” in his solo, as if the Strayhorn masterwork were exuberant jam session material and not a wistful evergreen; then it quiets to the original’s world-weary sensibility with Mr. Shepp singing at the end. The program closes with “Round Midnight,” the Monk classic that sparked Mr. Moran’s interest in jazz when he was growing up.

Even casual jazz fans will quickly recognize most of these numbers, yet the versions here are not overshadowed by past recordings. With Mr. Moran’s unique rhythmic conceptions and Mr. Shepp’s concise playing on tenor and soprano saxophone, this music feels effortlessly distinctive.

—Mr. Johnson writes about jazz for the Journal.

Copyright ©2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8

Appeared in the February 10, 2021, print edition as ‘Way Down in Jazz Land.’

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October 24, 92Y

Big A–ed Reds

92Y, October 24

Instructors: Martin Johnson (The Joy of Cheese), Michael Whidden (Regal Wines)

Carol Shelton “Wild Thing” Zinfandel 2016 (Mendocino County, California)

Spirited and zesty, satisfying deep body, with lively cherry and smoky cracked pepper flavors that frolic on the long finish toward well-groomed tannins.

Cheese:  Beaufort D’Or (raw cow’s milk, France)

Rejadorada “Temple” Crianza Toro 2015 (La Mancha, Spain)

Deep aromas of rich, ripe black fruit well balanced with the aromas from the oak: vanilla, cinnamon and cassis. It is balanced and potent in the mouth, with nice, well-polished tannins.

Cheese: Manchego 1605 (raw sheep’s milk, La Mancha Spain)

Roucas Toumba “La Grande Terre” Vacqueyras 2017 (So. Rhône, France)

Violets intertwined with generous blackberry character and notes of black currants and black pepper.  The wine finishes with lovely licorice florality and fine tannins.

Cheese: Blauschimmel (pasteurized cow’s milk, Germany)

Chateau Bouscasse Madiran 2014 (Gascony, France)

Harmony and power.  A delicate yet intense riot of black fruits, cassis, cloves, cedar, lavender and exotic savory notes (think black sauce in Chinese food), held together by firm tannins and a velvety body, provide a real treat for the palate.

Cheese: Camembert di Bufala (pasteurized water buffalo milk, Piedmont, Italy)

Plani Arche Montefalco Sagrantino 2014 (Umbria, Italy)

Intense black and red fruit with brambley and herbaceous undertones.  Supple, deep body with lively tannins and an extended finish.

Cheese:  Brabender (pasteurized goat’s milk, Holland)

Next class:  Bubbles Bubbles Bubbles December 5

Information:  Martin at

Adult Education at 92Y

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At VinePair on Pilsners

Pilsners Are an Elegant Outlier to the Craft Beer Hype Machine


Pilsners have one of the most dynamic backstories in beer. The style was developed in the Czech village of Pilsen in the first half of the 19th century, and soon became a dominant global force. In the early 20th century, the style comprised more than 90 percent of beer consumed worldwide, according to the “Oxford Companion to Beer.”

Yet pilsners and their role in craft beer currently raise questions. Today’s craft beer drinkers gravitate toward brews with strong, bold flavors and vivid colors. India pale ales (IPAs) have come to dominate craft beer bar tap lists and are the third most popular style in America. Dick Cantwell, founder of Elysian Brewing Company, says “we are living in the heyday of the IPA.” Sours and stouts have emerged from their niches and are edging toward the mainstream. Pilsners, on the other hand, are bready, crisp, and subtle.

Are pilsners on the verge of becoming the Bordeaux of the craft beer world — e.g., a respected style favored primarily by older drinkers and contrarian geeks? Or is there a change coming that suggests pilsners will find solid ground and mainstream success amid the rapidly shifting trends of craft beer of 2019?

One advantage that pilsners have over trendier siblings like double India pale ales (DIPAs) and imperial stouts is a lower alcohol per beer volume (ABV). Most pilsners check in around 5 percent ABV, whereas some imperial stouts run into the teens.

Kevin Bradford, co-founder of the craft beer bar Harlem Hops, says this is a factor among his clientele. “We have customers that will come in only looking for pilsners,” he says. “These customers usually comment that they’ll want to drink more than one or two rounds of beer and still be in control of their mental awareness!” The bar always has a pilsner on the draught list and two or three can options.


Some pilsners have figured prominently in craft beer’s rise, too, such as Post Shift Pilsner from Jack’s Abby, Pivo from Firestone Walker, Prima Pils from Victory, Pils from Lagunitas, and Pony from Half Acre, just to name a few.

One of the most popular pilsners in the New York craft community is Vliet, the flagship brew of Brooklyn-based Threes Brewing. The beer was named the best beer brewed in New York State in the 2017 Governor’s Excelsior Cup, besting more than 600 entries. (The brewery’s grisette, Passing Time, won the 2018 competition.)

“From the day we started conceptualizing what Threes Brewing would be, we knew making pilsners would be an important part of the project,” two of the brewery’s co-founders, Justin Israelson and Josh Stylman, write in an email to VinePair. “While the style isn’t as fashionable as the bolder, hoppy ales that American craft breweries have become known for, we believe that pils is the perfect representation of what beer can and should be.”

They recognized that they were going against the grain. “We could have chosen a style that had a more obvious product-market fit; many so-called insiders warned us we could not sell a premium pils (Vliet is expensive to make and thus sell!), but this style is now 20% of our overall production and featured on the menus in some of the best restaurants and beer bars across the state.”

Phil Schwartz, Lower Manhattan territory manager for Remarkable Liquids, is one of the insiders on board with pilsners. His experience suggests that beer enthusiasts’ palates evolve.

“I had a pretty serious distaste for pilsners when I first started getting into craft beer and was really attracted to the stronger flavors found in IPAs, stouts, and sours,” he says. The more he got into beer, however, the more he appreciated pilsners for the skill reflected in brewing.

“There are no adjuncts, or huge amounts of hops to hide flaws,” he adds. “Since I started getting back into pilsners, it’s honestly great to be able to have a handful of crisp, clean beers without getting full or buzzed too quickly from an IPA or stout, or heartburn from a sour.”

Now, some breweries known for other styles are introducing pilsners into their mix. Oxbow, best known for superb farmhouse ales, is making Luppulo; Crooked Stave and DeStihl, two breweries best known for sours, have introduced Normal Pilz and Von, respectively; and Grimm, a Brooklyn-based brewery that has elicited cultish attraction for its IPAs and sours, makes a few pilsners, most notably Chronos and Topos.


“Since many of the beers we make are so flavorful and hazy, we love the contrast when we get to brew crisp, clear, subtle beers,” says Joe Grimm, who co-founded the brewery with his wife and fellow brewer Lauren Grimm. “Our pilsners are some of the most traditional that you will find — they are step-mashed with five separate temperature rests, cold-fermented, and lagered.“

He notes some aspects of pilsners may surprise even the most avid beer enthusiast. “Pilsner is a very hop-focused beer style!” he says. “Ours are very hoppy indeed, but since we are using low-alpha, old-world noble hops, the flavor is in a completely different world from what an IPA fan is used to; instead of the citrusy, tropical, and cannabinoid flavors we get from American hops, our pils is floral, spicy, and elegant.”

Meanwhile, at Threes, experimentation is key — not to bring pilsners in line with current trends, either, but to take it back further into its traditions. The brewery recently introduced Kicking and Screaming, an unfiltered pils.

“It initially started as a bit of a goof,” write Israelson and Stylman. “Our team had spent a lot of time experimenting with wood fermentation and aging, but mostly with farmhouse ales. We were curious what Vliet would taste like if it went in our newly procured foudre (a giant oak fermentation tank), so we tested a batch and were pretty blown away by the outcome. The final result had a substantial oak character that added depth and creaminess to the crisp lager without overpowering the style’s simplicity. The wood adds a subtle toasted marshmallow note that softens the hop character.”

Rather than moving away from the tradition, they cited classic wood-aged, bottom-fermented beers like Pilsner Urquel and Schlenkerla Helles as antecedents for their experiments. Israelson and Stylman weren’t sure how the market would respond, they say, but Kicking and Screaming has become a staple.

”Between [the popularity of] Vliet, Kicking & Screaming, and the other lager beers we’re making right now, we’re hopeful that we’re at an inflection point of consumers tastes in beer evolving yet again.”


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Fromage of the Day, Collected

For about five years, approximately 2009-2014, I did a regular blog post called Fromage of the Day where I introduced and paired a cheese then I compared it to a cultural touchstone. Here’s a grouping of them.

Colston Bassett Stilton 01

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At VinePair on Cheese and Craft Beer

This isn’t your usual what IPA to pair with Roquefort kind of piece.

The Craft Beer and Cheese Businesses Have a Lot in Common, But Only One Is Surging

The Craft Beer and Cheese Businesses Have a Lot in Common, But Only One Is Surging

On a blustery, wintry day in January 2014, Matt Monahan and Sam Richardson, two of Other Half Brewing’s three founders, sat down with a reporter in their just-opened brewery in Brooklyn’s Gowanus neighborhood. The space was barren but for the tanks that lined the perimeter of their big open space. They gathered three folding chairs from a small office and put them down in the middle of the brewery for the conversation.

They spoke with the ardent enthusiasm of businessmen about to realize their dream, but it was underpinned with a world-weariness that told of the obstacles they overcame to get there. The men built the brewery themselves on a shoestring budget. Then, when what little seed money they had ran out as the finished structure was waiting to pass inspections from New York City’s infamously cumbersome bureaucracy, they went back to their former employers, Greenpoint Beer Works, and brewed some beer under the Other Half name to provide cash flow until they could legally open their doors.


Fast forward to early 2019. The Gowanus brewery is thriving. There’s a second space nearby lined with barrels aging beer exclusively for select clients, including some of New York City’s most admired restaurants. The taproom next door is a destination for beer lovers from around the world, and, most impressively, it’s not the only Other Half venue. There’s also a newly opened and bustling facility in Rochester, a third Other Half brewery being built in the Washington D.C. area, and plans are underway for a second, massive tap room in Brooklyn near the Williamsburg Bridge.

The Craft Beer and Cheese Businesses Have a Lot in Common, But Only One is Surging
“Creative and constantly changing labels keep craft beer exciting,” says Holly Diehl of NYC’s Milk and Hops, a beer bar and bottle shop that sells artisan cheese. Credit:

Other Half Brewing’s growth from a hardscrabble labor of love to a booming, small business is emblematic of the growth in craft beer. During 2013, as Monahan and Richardson built their brewery, craft beer sales in America totaled $14.3 billion, according to the Brewers Association’s estimates. Five years later, as Other Half negotiated the construction of new spaces and opened in Rochester, those sales had nearly doubled to $27.6 billion, and that tidy sum excludes some breweries that were part of the 2013 tally. (Lagunitas, Ballast Point, Blue Point, and others sold significant stakes of their businesses to big beer and were no longer included.)

With such robust growth, it seems that there might be lessons for other artisan food sectors. Many mention the potential parallels between cheese and craft beer.

The late Ray Deter, a founder of d.b.a., one of New York’s first craft beer bars, used to say in classes that paired beer with cheese that they were natural pairings due to beer’s carbonation and cheese’s salt. Yet artisan cheese sales pale, so to speak, in comparison to craft beer’s numbers. According to the American Cheese Society, artisan cheese sales in America total about $4 billion with steady 15 percent growth.

“In the cheese business we talk a lot about craft beer as a parallel industry from which trends and best practices can be gleaned,” says Liz Thorpe, a cheese expert and author of “The Book of Cheese: The Essential Guide to Discovering Cheese You’ll Love.” “I find this both optimistic and problematic.” She cites perishability (a Camembert, for instance, has a lifespan of less than two months, less than even the most temperamental IPA); and supply chain issues, given the risk of mishandling by a distributor or retailer.

“It’s typical that major retailers are selling cheese that should have been tossed weeks before,” she says, “but no one knows this, so consumers come in, take a risk on something they’re unfamiliar with, have a bad experience, and don’t buy it again.”

The Craft Beer and Cheese Businesses Have a Lot in Common, But Only One is Surging
In the years since Brooklyn’s Other Half Brewing opened, national craft beer sales have nearly doubled. Credit:

Holly Diehl, a buyer and bartender at Milk and Hops, a beer bar/bottle shop that sells artisan cheese in NYC, notes the importance of word-of-mouth marketing. “Social media, especially Instagram, is vital to craft beer promotion,” she says. “People enjoy seeing hops being picked, recognizing the brewers standing near a fermentation tank, or viewing the final product poured into proper glassware. I’d love to see an adorable goat that contributed milk for the cheese or the family that runs the dairy farm.”

She also feels cheese could up its merchandizing game. “Creative and constantly changing labels keep craft beer exciting, too,” she says. “Cheese, on the other hand, seems static. Rotating imagery with a cohesive theme or labels that feature the same artist are a significant part of craft beer branding.”

Lisa Witkowski, a Los Angeles-based Cicerone, CSM Certified Sommelier, and beverage consultant who worked on several leading cheese counters in New York City before going west, sees price as a key component. “If you want to try some craft beers, it’s not expensive,” she says. “Artisan breads and pastas are similar in that regard. If you enjoy the experiment, wonderful craft beers and outstanding bread are cheap enough to incorporate into your every day.”

In general, though, Witkowski sees beer as having cultural advantages that make comparisons with other artisan foods and beverages awkward. “It’s an ancient and fairly universal product that’s followed humanity across thousands of years and many civilizations,” she says.

“We may feel like it was unloved during those few decades after Prohibition and the world wars, but real beer is woven into our lives in a way that’s not easy to erase. That isn’t to say you can’t start a kvass revolution or get a fountain pen back in everyone’s hand; those are just uphill battles in a way that beer is not.”

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At WSJ on Beer

When I’m not in the food biz, I work as a freelance journalist and my most visible regular outlet is the Wall St. Journal, where I write about jazz. In 2014, they let me write about beer on occasion.  These are the results.

This story focused on the rise of gypsy brewers.

More New York City Craft Brewers on the ‘Gypsy’ Bandwagon

More New York City Craft Brewers on the ‘Gypsy’ Bandwagon

These Brewers Concoct New Recipes at Home, Then Rent Brewery Space Upstate or Out of State

Joe and Lauren Grimm, itinerant brewers who live in Brooklyn, at Paper City Brewery in central Massachusetts. ENLARGE
Joe and Lauren Grimm, itinerant brewers who live in Brooklyn, at Paper City Brewery in central Massachusetts. Richard Beaven for The Wall Street Journal

Joe and Lauren Grimm, itinerant brewers who live in Brooklyn, at Paper City Brewery in central Massachusetts. ENLARGE
By Martin Johnson
Feb. 27, 2014 10:23 p.m. ET

After years of making artisanal ales in the kitchen of their Brooklyn apartment, experimenting with ingredients such as rose hips and caramelized Belgian beet sugar, Joe and Lauren Grimm began brewing commercially last July.

But unlike most craft brewers who graduate to the next level, the Grimms haven’t opened their own brewing facility. Instead, each month, they make a roughly three-hour drive to the Paper City Brewery in central Massachusetts, often with their latest favorite ingredient in tow. Before making the trek to craft their limited-edition “Bees in the Trappe” ale last year, they stopped at Manhattan’s Union Square Greenmarket to load 300 pounds of wildflower honey into the back of their car.

The Grimms are part of a growing movement of “gypsy,” or itinerant, brewers, ambitious New York City-based producers who concoct new recipes at home, then rent unused brewery space upstate—or out of state—to scale up their production.

The Grimms produce 20 barrels, or just more than 600 gallons, a month of one-off brew, sold mostly in keg form to beer bars around the city and state.

“This way, we get to experiment more,” said Mr. Grimm. “If we had a brick-and-mortar facility, we’d have to make what everybody else brews—an IPA [India Pale Ale], a Pilsener, a Stout—just to pay our rent.”

Brewers say it can cost anywhere up to $1 million to open a brewing facility in the U.S.—and even more in New York City, where the heavy real-estate premium can discourage space-hungry startups.

The flexibility of microbrewing on the move, combined with a growing consumer palette for exotic and “oddball” beers, has brought gypsy producers to the forefront of the craft-beer world, said Dave Herman, spirits-and-wine general manager for, an online purveyor of small-batch specialty foods from around the U.S.

“I’ve seen a big trend in beer bars and stores highlighting the latest interesting twist from these nomads,” he said.

During the first half of 2013, some 7.3 million barrels of beer were sold by small and independent craft brewers, up 14% over the first half of 2012, according to the Brewers Association, a nonprofit craft-brewing trade group. A barrel equals 31 gallons.

The Grimms say their small contribution to the industry always sells out within six weeks of release. Their concoctions are often celebrated in launch events at beer bars around New York.

Labels for some of the 'gypsy' beers made at Paper City Brewing. ENLARGE
Labels for some of the ‘gypsy’ beers made at Paper City Brewing. Richard Beaven for The Wall Street Journal

Labels for some of the ‘gypsy’ beers made at Paper City Brewing. ENLARGE
Labels for some of the ‘gypsy’ beers made at Paper City Brewing. Richard Beaven for The Wall Street Journal

Many itinerants say they were inspired by Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø, an early gypsy brewer who began almost a decade ago. Beers from his company, Evil Twin, which include flavors like chili, sour cherry and marshmallow, have garnered numerous awards and are served not just at beer bars, but at more rarefied restaurants like Eleven Madison Park and Momofuku Ko.

Mr. Jarnit-Bjergsø said he has no plans to open his own space, and has contracted with two breweries in Connecticut to produce the dozens of varieties of Evil Twin released each year.

Working in someone else’s brewing space can require compromises. Some owners are particular about not allowing certain yeasts to be used on their equipment, for example.

“One of the challenges for us is to maintain the consistency of the beer,” said Rob Pihl, an itinerant who launched the Radiant Pig brewery with partner Laurisa Milici last March, after more than four years of brewing in their Manhattan apartment.

Focusing on a single beer called Junior, a cross between a Pale Ale and an IPA, the couple now brews in Connecticut, and says it isn’t always easy to replicate a recipe when the strength and availability of ingredients is constantly in flux.

“We got used to changing things on the fly,” Mr. Pihl said.

Some critics in the craft-brewing world say that so-called contract brewing can diminish the singular artistry of a master brewer, when a host facility’s staffers become part of the process, or even work on their own from a provided recipe.

Itinerant brewers like the Grimms say they are very much hands-on throughout the entire process.

While some makers choose the gypsy path by choice, others say it is a way to drive revenue and build buzz while financing their own facility. Brooklynites Matt Monahan and Sam Richardson, who worked together at Clinton Hill-based Greenpoint Beer Works (which produces beer for Heartland Brewery)), had taken a lease on a building near the Gowanus Expressway to launch their label, The Other Half. After permit and inspection delays drained their initial investment, they began brewing some beer at their former employer’s space. Sales from those batches, they said, enabled them to stay afloat until they were cleared to begin brewing beer last month.

Indeed, Zach Mack, co-owner of Alphabet City Beer Co., an East Village craft-beer bar, said he sees the nomad-brewing trend as a crucial interim step for many in the business, including The Other Half and other recently opened local microbreweries such as Finback, Rockaway and SingleCut.

“Their trail was blazed with the high-quality local itinerants,” he said, proving “New Yorkers are thirsty for the good stuff.”

The next one was during the summer and focused on barrel aging.

Barrel-Aged Beer Is Making a Comeback

A growing cadre of brew masters is aging beer in casks that once held bourbon, brandy or wine.

By Martin Johnson
Aug. 18, 2014 4:45 p.m. ET

Owner Matthias Neidhart holds a glass of Zymatore beer and a glass of the beer in its original format. Andrew Hinderaker for The Wall Street Journal

With its barn, greenhouse and bucolic fields of camomile and berries, B United International Inc., from the outside, doesn’t look like a typical warehouse beer distributorship.

And inside the Oxford, Conn., facility, there is another anomaly: a room where beer is being aged not in huge industrial steel tanks, but in hundreds of hand-me-down wooden barrels. That is where B United, which distributes aficionado brands like Germany’s Schneider Weisse and Japan’s Hitachino, is giving some of its clients’ brew a secondary round of aging—in containers that formerly held wine, whiskey and other alcoholic beverages.

The Zymatore room at B.United International. Andrew Hinderaker for The Wall Street Journal

“Select beers can actually soak up the flavors and aromas of the spirit previously housed in the wooden barrel in a way that…makes it highly interesting,” said Matthias Neidhart, founder and owner of B United.

Mr. Neidhart is among a small, but growing cadre of respected artisan brewers using pre-used wooden barrels, in the belief that the residual flavors and lingering microflora from whatever liquid they previously held can enhance a beer’s aroma and taste.

Those elements don’t transfer from wood to beer automatically, brewers said, but are teased out during a secondary fermentation process involving wild yeast.

“Barrels that once stored a Syrah or Chardonnay to maturity can bring out so many more complexities in flavor,” said Zach Mack, co-owner of the Alphabet City Beer Co., an East Village bar that offers more than 350 varieties of craft brew.

The enthusiasm for barrel aging was first rekindled nearly a decade ago, when brewers discovered that aging beer in bourbon barrels could add tasty vanilla overtones to their porters and stouts. More recently, some have begun expanding their container repertoire, using barrels that have held everything from Sauternes and Scotch to brandy and rum, seeking flavor notes that range from sour to tannic.

New York area brewers are among the leading-edge wood-barrel users.

Garrett Oliver, brew master of the Brooklyn Brewery and editor of “The Oxford Companion to Beer,” said he is partial to bourbon barrels, which are typically made of virgin American oak and used only once before being sold. His brewery’s facility in the Brooklyn Navy Yard currently houses more than 2,000 wooden barrels for aging beer.

“Bourbon wood is quintessentially American, and that’s a big appeal for me,” said Mr. Oliver.

Brewmaster Ben Neidhart in the Zymatore room with barrels used to age beer. Andrew Hinderaker for The Wall Street Journal

Matt Monahan, co-owner of Other Half Brewing Co., which opened in January in Gowanus, prefers wine barrels. “If you age a beer in a bourbon barrel, it tastes like bourbon,” he said. Other Half is currently using barrels that once housed Zinfandel, Sauternes and even the cult California Cabernet Opus One.

Wooden barrels aren’t exactly new; for centuries, beer was stored and aged in them. But after Prohibition, the American brewery industry dramatically consolidated, and growing companies seeking larger-capacity storage with greater sterility turned to massive stainless steel tanks.

The return to wood-barrel use comes at a time of greater experimentation among craft brewers with more traditional, less industrialized materials and techniques. Some Pale Ale makers, for example, are using techniques like “dry hopping,” popular in the 19th century as a way to stabilize beer and enhance its flavor, by adding hops during the beer’s secondary fermentation.

Wooden barrels usually slow down the aging process. Basil Lee, co-owner of Finback Brewery, which opened in January in Queens, said his company ages beer in both bourbon and wine barrels and chose its 13,000-square-foot space because it had room for longer-term brewing projects.

“I have tasted beers where you wished that they had aged more,” he said. “We sought out a space that would enable us the freedom to age beers for a year or two if necessary.”

Many large-production commercial beers typically age for one month; some lagers take up to four, experts say.

Mr. Neidhart of B United said slower barrel aging allows natural processes to take their course, rather than artificially helping them along with, say, rigorous climate control.

“Conventional brewing is all about controlling the process,” said Mr. Neidhart. “We are trying to return the control to nature.” He ages some of his clients’ beers for two or three years.

“Clients ask us when their beer will be ready and we tell them we don’t know,” he said.

Owner Matthias Neidhart holds two bottles of Zymatore beer. Andrew Hinderaker for The Wall Street Journal

For all the effort, Mr. Neidhart said his barrel-aging program accounts for just 2% of his business, moving over 400,000 case-equivalents of beer annually.

And to be sure, barrel-aged beers are still a niche part of the $14.3 billion annual U.S. craft beer market. But their influence is spreading nationally. California craft breweries like The Bruery and Firestone Walker Brewing Co., for example, have recently launched extensive barrel-aging programs.

In New York, drinkers can find them in beer bars like Proletariat, Terroir and Owl Farm.

And some are beginning to show up in local restaurants. Other Half, for example, is brewing several barrel-aged beers exclusively for Roberta’s, a popular Williamsburg eatery. That is because barrel aging not only adds to overall complexity, said Mr. Monahan, but also tends to soften a beer’s finish over time, helping raise its food-friendly quotient.


Then later in the year I wrote about the rise of the NYC brewing scene. In fact, several of the gypsies interviewed in the first scene are now opening their own breweries.

Breweries Keep City Hopping

Eight New Production Facilities Opened in NYC in 2014

Greg Doroski, head brewer at the brewpub Threes, which is part of the burgeoning craft-beer scene in New York City. ENLARGE
Greg Doroski, head brewer at the brewpub Threes, which is part of the burgeoning craft-beer scene in New York City. Photo: Andrew Hinderaker for The Wall Street Journal

By Martin Johnson
Jan. 22, 2015 8:27 p.m. ET

It is 3:30 p.m. on a Saturday, but the din at Threes, the newest brewpub to join the city’s craft-beer scene—just a short walk from Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn—screams midnight.

There is a wait for seating. Big wooden tables are jammed with a lively, diverse crowd sampling Threes’ house-produced brews—including an IPA described on the menu as “juicy, pine, citrus, fresh bread, soft bitterness,” and a saison listed as “rustic, melon, grain, hay.” Also on offer: exotic brews like tripel and Flanders red from other craft producers and food from local purveyors who rotate in “residence” in the kitchen.

“It’s too early to call this success,” said Justin Israelson, one of three owner-partners in Threes, which opened to the public in December after a four-year ramp-up.

It isn’t too early to call it part of a New York brewing renaissance. Not since the early 1960s, when nearly 10% of the nation’s beer was produced in Brooklyn, has the city seen this much brewing activity. Threes is one of eight new craft-beer production facilities that opened within the five boroughs in 2014.

The newcomers aren’t just in the artisan mecca of Brooklyn. Threes, Other Half Brewing Co. and Folksbier Brewery are, but Transmitter Brewing and Finback Brewery set up shop in Queens; Gun Hill Brewing Co. and the Bronx Brewery operate in the Bronx; and Flagship Brewing Co. opened on Staten Island. In all, more than two dozen breweries and brewpubs, which make at least some of their offerings on premises, have opened around New York City in the past 30 months.

They are launching against some pretty steep odds—not the least of which are astronomical real-estate costs. Two renowned Manhattan brewpubs, Heartland Brewery in Union Square and 508 Gastrobrewery in West Soho, closed their doors in late 2014, while many of the newly opened facilities situated themselves on the outer fringes of the outer boroughs.

Patrons at Threes in Brooklyn. ENLARGE
Patrons at Threes in Brooklyn. Photo: Andrew Hinderaker for The Wall Street Journal

Patrons at Threes in Brooklyn. ENLARGE
Patrons at Threes in Brooklyn. Photo: Andrew Hinderaker for The Wall Street Journal

Brewery startup costs in New York City can run in the neighborhood of a million dollars—about twice as much as a comparable venture in Chicago or Atlanta, estimates Bart Watson, chief economist of the Brewers Association, a trade group. Some of the area’s new brewers said they had to craft their beer elsewhere—sometimes for years—to raise the startup capital and ride out bureaucratic waits for inspections and permits.

Then there is the New York consumer mind-set. “Many states, like Vermont, Michigan or Oregon, are very loyal to their local brands,” said Steve Hindy, co-founder and president of Brooklyn Brewery, which launched in 1988 and grew to become one of the best-known craft-brew brands nationally. “New Yorkers want the best of everything, and many do not care where it comes from.”

But the recent rise in New York City’s brewery scene reflects broader bullish trends, industry experts say. National craft-beer sales topped $18 billion in 2014, said Mr. Watson, up 26% over 2013.

Demographics are expanding. More women and minorities are tippling craft brews, said industry consultant Jen Schwertman, and the millennial generation has come of drinking age in an era when beer options expanded significantly past a handful of dominant national brands.

In New York City, homegrown brews are also infiltrating upscale bars and restaurants. “We make sure a large percentage of our beer list comes from local breweries,” said Hayley Jensen, beer sommelier at Taproom No. 307, a craft-beer bar with nearly 100 offerings. Artisan brews, with their unique, complex flavors, are increasingly being treated as pairing fodder for haute cuisine at such epicurean destinations as Eleven Madison Park, NoMad and others.

When Brooklyn Brewery opened in 1988, it sparked a revival of the city’s proud brewing tradition, which began in the mid-19th century and dried up by 1976. But the two dozen area breweries that opened after Brooklyn Brewery’s launch have failed, mainly because traditional beer distributors were reluctant to take on their product, Mr. Hindy said.

These days, he said, “you do not have to explain why your beer is dark or hoppy, or why it is strong and tastes like cherries or peaches or whiskey.”

Chris Gallant, co-founder of Bronx Brewery, said he hopes to follow Brooklyn Brewery’s example. But, he noted, “when Brooklyn started, there were just a few Goliaths like Bud and Heineken. Now, there are a lot more Goliaths, and they’re one of them.”

Back at Threes, Mr. Israelson described a culture of camaraderie between New York’s newest brewers.

“There’s a lot of sharing,” he said. “When possible, we go over to Other Half and bring them a growler of what we’re working on, and they have done the same for us many times.”

All of which raises the question of whether a New York-style beer might be in the offing.

“It would certainly have to be bitter…not overly fruit forward,” speculated Cory Bonfiglio, general manager of Proletariat, a Lower East Side beer bar, tossing out taste profiles like “confident and bold,” “robust yet brisk” and “a little funky on the back end.”

“I think we’ll strive to find our own tastes,” said Zach Mack, owner of Alphabet City Beer Co., a craft-beer bar and store. “Because if there’s anything a New Yorker is good at it, it’s forming an opinion on what is good and what is not.”

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When Will They Get It

I wish owners owners of places with great beer programs would understand the value of what they have. Last night, I was at a bar/casual restaurant, a couple of barstools down from two young women and the owner was chatting with them. The women were contrasting two of the recent Grimm releases, Lambo Door and Pulse Wave, and said that is why they had paid the place a visit. The women intelligently parsed the beers and complimented the owner on the beer program. His response enraged me. “Yes, it’s good but I hope the beer drinkers don’t scare the wine people away.”

I pulled out a book and pressed my nose into it so far that I nearly touched the spine to keep from saying something.


A classy drink, no?

The remark reminded me of a gig I had a few years ago running a retail beer program at a place near Central Park. Yes, I had seriously upscale beer fanatics. One of them would pre order entire cases of Maine Beer Company brews and pre-pay for it!! Not just Lunch, but Zoe, Peeper and Tiny Beautiful got this treatment. Another customer drove a Lambo and came every coupla of weeks to grab as many Hof Ten Dormaal barrel aged project beers (typically $20-25 per box) as he could; he sometimes dropped more than $200. After one of his roundups, the owner came to my station, beaming over the sale. Then said “too bad beer people aren’t our people.”
I still don’t know how I didn’t start screaming and yelling. It still bothers me that I didn’t. I don’t work there anymore.

But seriously, what does it take to move the needle? “Beer people” are serious gourmands and desirable customers. Why some business owners don’t get that is a mystery to me.

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What’s the Difference Between Working in Cheese and Working in Beer

So what’s the difference between working in cheese and working in beer?

I get that question about once a week from my regulars at the job at Westside Market’s East Village location in Manhattan.  My answer depends on how much time I think they have.  If they are in a hurry, then I’ll hit ‘em with a quip “beer doesn’t get moldy” or something like that.  If they have some time, then I’ll give them a longer answer and it’s drawn from the information below.

First, here’s some background.  About two years ago, I shifted from cheese into a position where I dealt mostly with the craft beer program.  The primary motive was financial.  After nearly 30 years of working in cheese and significant notoriety from the New York Times, New York Magazine and Wine Spectator, I was looking to leave my position as Cheese and Beer Manager for a small epicerie on the Upper West Side, and most of my cheese contacts told me to go get work that paid somewhere around $15 an hour.  They weren’t being mean (well maybe one guy….), but rather that’s the artisanal cheese economy in NYC (there’s a discussion for another time about whether the business model is broken).  My potential employers readily acknowledged that my purchasing, merchandising, and marketing skills could probably increase sales by 2K a week; it didn’t matter, that was the going rate.  I figured it was time to get going and see what the world of craft beer was like.  I’d put together a nice small program at the epicerie, where I worked from 2011-2014; after a brief consultancy for a small chain that failed to understand either beer or cheese, I landed a job at Westside Market’s East Village location I’d have a chance to apply my philosophies to a large scale program.  To give you a sense of the change, at the epicerie, we carried about 75 types of beer; I took over a program at Westside that featured close to 400.


I do miss Winnimere

Here’s what’s similar in selling both products.  In each case you’re talking with customers who are aware of somewhat better product (in cheese the general public is familiar with fromage like Humboldt Fog and Cave Aged Gruyere and in beer the parallel is anything brewed by Lagunitas or Sierra Nevada) and introducing them to what’s on the higher end, say cheese from Neal’s Yard Dairy or the Cellars at Jasper Hill or beer brewed by Pipeworks or Stillwater.

In general the clientele welcome this counsel.  There’s a LOT of really great cheese and EVEN MORE really great beer on the market today.  It’s easy to get intimidated by sheer volume of deliciousness that is available.  The initial challenge was to give people more than a product; I wanted to give them a road map into case, so that the next time, they’d have clearer agenda.  That meant introducing an IPA lover to a brewery that does several really good ones and if they weren’t an IPA lover then my first tack was to get them on board with saisons.  With cheese lovers the game was to get them familiar with certain affineurs.  Even in a big pre cut and wrapped cheese case like ours  at Westside, there are cheeses from leading European affineurs like Rolf Beeler, Caroline Hostettler and NYD.

From there, however, things diverge.  Beer customers are much clearer on the connection between agriculture and flavor.  People seem to have little trouble grasping that beer made from oh say, Citra hops, will be much fruitier than beer made from Chinook hops.  OTOH, talk to people about cheese and bring up grass from different seasons or different breeds of cows and I see their eyes glaze over and a thought bubble over their head might read “ya know, Jarlsberg isn’t so bad.”


Beer labels are the best

That situation is indicative of another key difference.  People are better at grasping the outline in beer than they are in cheese.  In beer you start with the style of beer, IPA, lager, stout, etc.  The next step is the producer and then the ingredients.  A parallel inquiry could be made into cheese but the general public is far less aware of how cheese is made much less how to parse the differences between cheeses.

Some of that may owe to the fact that every major American city has several breweries these days and many, if not most, give tours.  Dairy farms don’t typically exist in cities, so a tour involves a road trip, and there usually aren’t drink tickets in a tap room at the end.

One thing that cheese has all over beer is in the reputation of the experts.  Cheese experts like Max McCalman, Anne Saxelby, Tia Keenan and others are known for being enthusiastic, warm and articulate.  While Garrett Oliver, the public face of craft beer in New York is also enthusiastic and articulate, that reputation doesn’t filter down to the front lines.  The stereotype of a knowledgeable beer professional is of a hops snob eager to stare down their nose at you for not knowing the latest unfiltered IPA.  I see that all the time when people ask me on the beer aisle where the Corona is.  I don’t roll my eyes.  They aren’t buying it for me.  If a six pack of Corona makes their life a little happier, I’m fine with that.  Yet, that customer will grab their beer and scurry off the aisle as if they are avoiding a withering gaze.

I graduated high school 38 years ago, long enough to have a pretty good handle on the idea that life isn’t high school even if there are often striking resemblances.  The “cool kids” act of some beer geeks isn’t helpful.  Fortunately the beer information pipeline dwarves the one in the cheese world, and many craft beer consumers get their information that way and avoid snobs.

Whether I was running a beer department or a cheese department, my goal is create community.  I work in New York City; there are dozens of places to buy even the most rarified product.  If that customer feels an attachment to our place, it gives us a competitive advantage.  That community has been easier to build and maintain in beer.  First off there’s Instagram and second both my boss and I enjoy chatting with regular customers about beer.  Essentially, we’re succeeding in making an impersonal space, an aisle with more than 400 varieties of often crazily packaged beer, into a convivial area.

Do I miss cheese?   Sure, I miss Winnimere.  I miss Rush Creek Reserve.  I miss coming on to the counter on a Saturday afternoon and getting six different picks of the week from my fellow mongers.  OTOH, in 30 plus years of working in cheese, rarely did a customer bring me some.  It happens every week on the beer aisle.  It’s even better than drink tickets at a brewery tour.


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NYC Beer Renaissance Notes

Inspired by legwork on this article

NYC Beer Renaissance

And Local Cheese to Match

92Y January 28, 2016

Instructor Martin Johnson

Stillwater Yacht (Lager, 4.5% ABV, gypsy)

Nancy’s Camembert (Pasteurized Sheep’s Milk, Chatham, NY)


Finback Age of Reason (Saison 5.7% ABV, Queens)

Beecher’s Flagship (Raw Cow’s Milk, Manhattan)


Finback IPA (India Pale Ale, 7.2% ABV, Queens)

Beecher’s Flagsheep (2/3 Raw Cow’s Milk, 1/3 Sheep’s Milk)


Finback Starchild (Grapefruit Sour, 4.6% ABV, Queens)

Jos Vulto Miranda Raw Cow’s Milk, Walton, NY)


Finback Massif (Baltic Porter, 8.4% ABV, Queens)

Beecher’s Smoked Flagship (Raw Cow’s Milk, either Manhattan or Seattle)


Evil Twin Even More Jesus (Imperial Stout, 12% ABV, gypsy)

Arethusa Blue (raw cow’s milk, Litchfield, CT)


Beer Resource

Cheese Resource:


Next Class: Bubbles, Bubbles, Bubbles February 11.



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Beer and Cheese Pairing Notes January 5

Beer and Cheese Pairings January 5, 2016

My series of pairings featuring dark beers and blues got off to an excellent start. Both Sunday and Monday, people were receptive to the offerings, and that was my primary concern. In the past when Westside Market East Village shoppers were offered blues or darker beers, they shied away.

On Sunday, I chose St. Agur, a creamy, peppery French blue to pair with Stillwater Surround, an Imperial Wheat Stout. The idea was that the lighter texture and hints of chocolate from the beer would pair nicely with the more gruff overtones from the cheese. Not only did people engage the samples, but they parsed the pairing and some people even bought the cheese.

Mondays are often problematic as New Yorkers are on their worst behavior. This particular Monday I saw three different customers deliberately ram another customer from behind to try and get past them. I felt as if I should don a striped shirt and whistle and put yellow flags in my back pocket (I’m sorry sir we’re penalizing you for that personal foul, yep gimme that rotisserie chicken you can’t have it…yeah I know it’s the last one…) In that context I was wary of wandering the crowded aisles with the board, but it worked out fine. I chose the Point Reyes Blue which is lighter and crumblier and paired it with Wulver, a barrel aged Scotch Ale from Thirsty Dog. I thought the pepper and earth of the cheese would be balanced by the caramel notes of the beer. I also thought that on a chilly January evening, NYers would warm to the idea of a 10% ABV brew.

Next time out I’m eager to try a sweeter blue, perhaps something from sheep’s milk, like Ewe Blue, and pair it with a drier dark beer.

Colston Bassett Stilton 01

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