Brewing Bad

No longer a Boy Zone.
Image courtesy of Alison Shanik.

SingleCut Brewery hosts “Ladies’ Night” seminars on beer every month at their brewing headquarters and taproom in Queens.

Footage of the Rolling Stones was projected on a wall and stacks of records were on display behind the bar. Welcome to SingleCut Brewery, one of New York’s finest breweries, located (more precisely) in Queens. Last month, I attended “Ladies’ Night: Pint of Reference” seminar on beer, facilitated by Amanda Mayer. Mayer is the brewery’s general manager and an instructor of zymurgy (the practice of fermentation).

Immediately after Alison Shanik, my beer companion, and I entered the microbrewery, the vibes were ineffably good. I like it here, I said to Alison. The seating area of the brewery was divided between thick, blonde-wooden tabletops with tall stools. Candles buried in pint glasses filled with barley grains illuminated the tables while all around us were the components of beer-making: Bags of grains stacked on top of each other and rough wooden barrels with the name of the brew and a date marked on the side.

Mayer explained that part of her work involved opening up the world of brewing, a male-dominated field, to include women. Mayer’s entry into education was “one of those late twenties decisions,” she said. “Gotta pick something I’m good at,” she laughed. Educating people about beer seemed to come naturally to her; she kept her descriptions of the vaguer points of beer drinking to short, simple terminology.

Touring breweries is the most ubiquitous of activities in my ex-hometown of Portland, Oregon, but despite a two-year love affair with homebrewing, I don’t consider myself a very knowledgeable brewer. Any brewer who attempts to lure my attention span with revelations of acetaldehyde, dextrin, esters, and diacetyl runs the hazard of sending me directly home for a post-beer drinking nap. Much to the detriment of my brewing finesse, I don’t pay much attention to that technical stuff. However, the sensory elements of brewing—the rich aroma of a bag of newly milled grains and the caramel steam that clings to kitchen walls during the boil cycle—captivate me. I was enthralled with Mayer’s demonstration of the path that the wort (the sweet product of steeping grains in the mash tun for an hour or so) was transferred to the kettle and then to the fermenter by a series of pipes. I climbed up some steps and peered into the stainless steel mash tun and kettle, both blindingly clean.

While the terminology that accompanies an otherwise jolly brewery tour often leaves my eyes glassy and my glass empty, Mayer distilled the information in appropriately short packages. The esters, she said, bring a fruitiness to beer, while lager is clean and crisp (its fermentation process being so cold that it prevents the beer from developing esters). SingleCut specializes in lagers, Mayer said, with one “cold crisper” stacked horizontally on top of another with its contents kept at lower temperatures than the rest of the brewery’s fermenters.

**Informational sidenote about sour beers**
The process of creating this beer involves leaving the mash tun open overnight to accumulate the natural yeast strains in the brewery. Creating a sour beer has its hazards. The yeast can influence other beers that are fermenting and potentially run an entire batch. “There are billions of organisms in a batch of beer,” Mayer said. “It’s literally survival of the fittest.” SingleCut has specialized a sour hibiscus lager, appropriately named Kim (after the Sonic Youth bassist), that might just make you wilt with desire.

Seminar attendees discuss the dark beers.
Image courtesy of Alison Shanik.

After the tour of the brewery, we reseated ourselves at one of the big tables for the sampling part of the seminar. Mayer instructed us to hold the sampling glasses in both hands to warm the beer up a bit before sipping our first beer: an American brown porter from Smuttynose Brewery. “Aroma hides in the head of the beer,” she told us. “Take a few quick sniffs.” I sniffed obediently and smelled the rich roasted barley as vividly as if I was stirring grains in a steaming mash tun. But while the “chewy taste” of a darker beer was enjoyably decadent at first, I wearied of it after a bit. One of the women across from me commented that if she was only going to order one beer in a night, she typically chose a dark beer with the brown porter.

As you may have already guessed. SingleCut names all of its beers after musicians. Another beer we tasted was a sweet milk stout from SingleCut, the Eric More Cowbell! Milk Stout, named for Eric of Blue Oyster Cult. Mayer pointed out the instant scent of chocolate milk that the beer carried with it, along with a lack of head which was due to an absence in carbon dioxide and the lack of roasted barley. I loved this beer and found it more pleasant to drink than the brown porter, which lingered too long on the palate for my taste. When I mentioned my preference to the milder stout, another woman laughed and said that she preferred the complete opposite. Mayer noted that often one person would prefer the “chewy mouth feel” while another would “prefer the body” of the beer.

After enough edification, the seven of us chatted companionably about brewing culture and New York City’s deficit of homebrew stores and microbreweries. A few more homewbrew shops and microbreweries might be expected from a city of over eight million, a fact that we ladies commented on at some length. Maybe the rent is too outrageous to allow a microbrewery to set up in this area? we wondered. In Oregon, investing in brewing equipment—and space!—is certainly less daunting than it is in the city that never sleeps. Though after cozily discussing beer with a group of women in a rocking brew pub for a night, I ventured home to my own borough wondering just how much better brewing could get.

Next month’s Ladies’ Night seminar will be held Thursday, April 3, at 7 pm.
The subject of study will be Trappist vs. Abbey-style Belgian beers.
19-33 37th Street, Astoria, NY 11105

March’s seminar focused on dark beers.
Image courtesy of Alison Shanik.

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