by Paul Deines
Last year, I wrote about Other Half Brewing, the super-hyped Brooklyn crafter of big IPAs and saisons. In the intervening months, Other Half has gathered steam, and more broadly, the brewing scene in New York keeps getting better. More selection, more experimentation, more excitement. These days, walking into a beer bar in my neighborhood is like dropping by a Harlem jazz hall in the 1940s. Vibrant and sustained brilliance.
At such a bar, I can try ten awesome tap offerings produced within the five boroughs, all likely kegged within the last couple weeks. Call this repping for the home team, but it’s exhilarating, the breadth of solid local products. And there’s a defiance to this boosterism in the midst of a beer-drinking community that deifies rare, limited releases. Who needs Pliny the Younger when I have All Green Everything? Why KBS when there’s BQE? Forget the cannonball run to Hill Farmstead: just crack a Telekinesis.
That last example is a delicious farmhouse ale from Grimm Artisanal Ales, a gypsy brewer based out of Brooklyn. Founders Joe and Lauren Grimm home-brewed for a decade before deciding to sell their wares in 2013. There’s no Grimm brewing facility, though: the couple produces wort at facilities in western Massachusetts and northern Virginia. Over the last two years, their beers have become mainstays of New York shelves, with striking labels – designed by Gretta Johnson – that often resemble Magic cards as drawn by Jean-Michel Basquiat.
Grimm became part of my standard rotation after I purchased a bottle of their robust Baltic Porter, Cassiopeia, at the late, lamented (more in theory than in practice) Eagle Provisions grocery. It’s always exciting, since Grimm is not married to one style or tradition, and they put out a new recipe virtually every month. As Joe told me when I asked him how they decide what’s next: “We consider the season and how the beer will pair with the weather. Then we do whatever we find exciting and relevant.”
So, as the weather turns warm, they’ve rolled out Rainbow in Curved Air, an easy-drinking sour farmhouse ale, brewed with peaches, fermented with wild yeast, then conditioned on oak and dry hopped. I’ve been on a massive saison kick of late, so this was an easy sell.
Rainbow in Curved Air pours straw gold. Its nose is more earthy than tart, with a lot of wet grass and lemon. Rainbow in Curved Air isn’t particularly sour or particularly fruity. There’s a blast of unripe apple and citrus with the first sip, but the taste is still mustier than I would expect from the label. The peach notes are slighter, more incidental, and tamed by the pronounced hoppy grapefruit pulp on the back-end. My favorite component of Rainbow in Curved Air is how it weighs in your mouth, substantial but still refreshing, with the heavy water quality of a good saison.
It’s unfair to compare Rainbow in Curved Air to something like the stratospherically loved Peche ‘n’ Brett from Logsdon Farmhouse Ales, but that is the most obvious counterpart. Both are farmhouse ales. Both involve wild yeast, oak barrels and peaches. Whereas Peche ‘n’ Brett is a luscious, juicy bomb (in part because of its higher ABV and the peaches being added later in the process), Rainbow has that subdued earthen musk that is unlikely to inspire a cult of devotees.
But, as I’ve protested in the past, not every beer needs to exist as a meal unto itself.
“We are very focused on elegance and crushability with our sours.” Joe says. “They should be drinkable, refreshing. The acid should be in balance, not melting your face off with vinegar.”
He says he Rainbow in Curved Air is a great hot-day break beer, but I think it cries out for a food pairing. It would be a magnificent mate for a summer salad and some ceviche. I want to eat some shrimp tacos loaded down with cilantro and pico de gallo, and wash them down with this balanced, sweet elixir. That’s the place where this particular ale lives. It’ll never be my favorite saison, but if Grimm brews it again, I’ll grab a few for a picnic.
Which brings me back to where I started: the unprecedented boom in local brewers across this country. The really great thing about this renaissance isn’t resurrecting extinct beer styles or taking market share from AB-InBev. It is that in almost any town in America, there’s a small, scrappy craft brewer close by. Chances are, in fact, there are several. They won’t all be winners, but when you have dedicated craftspeople like Joe and Lauren Grimm providing a fresh, handmade product – well, that kind of access is something beer drinkers haven’t had since before Prohibition. It’s what you call a gift.
RAINBOW IN CURVED AIR (Grimm Artisanal Ales) As stated above, Grimm releases new beers on a generally-monthly basis. Rainbow in Curved Air is still on shelves, but it’s going fast. Bear in mind that Grimm only regularly distributes to New York and Massachusetts, but they do allocate some of their beers to Shelton Brothers, who sprinkle them across the country with no discernable pattern. I’ve seen bottles in Kentucky occasionally, so keep your eyes open.