Is New York Really the Best Beer City in the World?
In the mid-aughts, I was living in Philadelphia, and like a lot of Philadelphians, I regularly took the short trip up to visit New York City. New York has always been a great place, but back then, one thing really irked me: the beer. Philadelphia—along with other havens like Portland and San Diego—was an early adopter of the craft beer movement. New York, on the other hand, had a dearth of quality suds. Ironically enough, at many Manhattan bars, the most “interesting” beer you could find outside of Brooklyn Lager was Pennsylvania’s own Yuengling.
In 2008, I moved to NYC, and the beer scene was already rapidly changing. When I moved away in 2016, things were night and day: It saddened me to leave behind brands I’d come to love like Grimm, Other Half, Threes … I could go on and on. During the eight years I covered beer while living in Brooklyn, I often argued that New York City had gone from “off the map” to possibly the best beer city in America.
Now, one huge name in the beer world is doing me one better: Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø, the beloved Danish brewer behind Evil Twin Brewing and Brooklyn’s outstanding Torst beer bar, has just named New York City as the best beer city in the world.
In a recent interview with Bloomberg, when asked to name his top five global beer cities, Jarnit-Bjergsø put NYC ahead of Brussels, Belgium; Charleston, South Carolina; Chicago, Illinois; and Bamberg, Germany. Admittedly, as a New York City transplant who runs both a brewery and a bar in the city, Jarnit-Bjergsø has a lot of skin in the game. Still, he presents some valid arguments.
“If you had asked me five years ago, I would never have said New York is the world’s best beer city,” he told Bloomberg. “The main reason New York was lagging is that it was too expensive to own a brewery here.” He specifically cites the state’s 2014 Craft Act, which made it easier for breweries to sell beer out of their taprooms. However, not mentioned in the article is 2013’s Farm Brewery legislation which also made it easier to open breweries in general. Over 200 new farm brewery licenses have been issued in the past five years, helping to more than double the number of brewers in the state, giving New York City not only more local beer options but many really great options too.
As a result, as New York’s beer profile has improved, outside brewers have also begun to target the city. And as competition within the beer world has dramatically increased (thanks to a nationwide surge to about 7,000 breweries), many brewers have become more selective about where they distribute. One brewery owner recently told me at the Great American Beer Festival, if you are going to distribute, entering the New York City market makes a lot of sense: Not only are you getting served in America’s largest city, but you’re also reaching its massive media community, offering a good chance for exposure. It’s part of why NYC has also seen a higher quality of beer from other parts of the country sold in the area in recent years.
Factors like these mean one thing: After years of lagging behind, New York City is definitely “on the map.” Is it the greatest beer city in the world? Well, Jarnit-Bjergsø didn’t get where he is today by being a conformist. And his top five as a whole definitely demonstrates that he’s once again thinking a bit outside of the box. But I also think it’s safe to say that, at this point, it’s harder than ever to definitely prove him wrong.