The Best Bike Route In LIC, NYC... like 95% sure
When you think of New York, you almost certainly aren't thinking about beer. They aren't exactly known for it. Unless they have pizza and bagel flavored beer, there probably isn't much to consider, right? Those were my thoughts as well. Their big popular brewery, the only one there that distributes widely enough to be known, is Brooklyn Brewery, so once you've done that, you've done it all... right? Yeah, you guessed it... WRONG. Wrong as I was when I first started searching. Turns out there are a ton of breweries there, and between them they make some of the best beer I have ever had. Must be the same water that lets them make perfect bagels.
Or maybe it's the competition. Huge amounts of competition separates the cream from the chaff. With rent like it is in New York, only the wheat can rise to the top. It also forces most breweries out of Manhattan and into the slightly cheaper (though still expensive by Seattle standards) Brooklyn and Long Island City neighborhoods. Out here, it takes a quality product and a top tier space to keep people's interest long enough to turn a profit. The razor thin margins of the brewery industry don't leave any room for error even more than normal. These two relatively small neighborhoods have a surprisingly thriving collection of breweries that run the whole gamut of fashions. While not quite as dense as we are used to here in Seattle, they are just dense enough to bike between breweries with glee and make walking only a slight chore. The perfect candidates for a Cycling Cicerone Route.
I'll start with Long Island City, or LIC as it's known there, and move on to the southern Brooklyn breweries next time. I hate to say it, but I wasn't able to try out every brewery in the place. In addition to breweries there are also plenty of bottle houses and bars that the locals rave about that I also won't be able to include. Because of this, all I can do is share my experience and let you use it as inspiration for your next trip to LIC. I think I more or less nailed it and can heartily endorse this same itinerary for anyone looking to ride a brewery circuit in LIC, but I also won't bluff you and tell you that I know for a fact that this is the best route. So while I regret that I can't tell you anything about places like 5th Hammer which wasn't open yet, without further ado, here's the Cycling Cicerone approved route of LIC.
Total Distance: 2.3 Miles
Route Type: City
The route takes you south to north from the quirky and eccentric Transmitter Brewing, past the hot and industrial Rockaway Brewing Company, over to the shiny and cramped Big Alice, and lastly to the expansive LIC Beer Project. It takes places entirely on city roads, many of which have dedicated bike lanes, so with the minor exception of getting past highway 495, it’s a breeze. If you don't want to bike, that is ok too! At a short 2 miles and change, it's also quite walkable: just about three quarters of a mile between each place will burn off some beers for you. This part of the city is very industrial though you can tell that people are starting to move in as the invisible hand of gentrification begins to take over. The roads are wide and you can still see the sky in most places, unlike the more claustrophobic parts of Manhattan. Nearby parks and parking lot food truck fests make this a great route to take slow. If you are down for a few more beers and a few more miles and want to hit the famous Brooklyn Brewery, the nearby Greenpoint Brewery, and the locally lauded Torst beer bar, then start at the north side and run the route backwards, then from Transmitter head south until you get to Brooklyn!
Before we begin, if you arent familiar with the ranking system of the week, here is a quick summary. Skip down to Transmitter if you want.
Smell – on a scale of (0–2), a 2 means you are really in a working brewery and you can tell. It's got "The Smell." A 0 means you are technically in a place that serves beer they brew, but they might not brew it on site or they brew it in a back room and keep the place so sterile you'd never be able to tell. A 0 or a 2 isn't bad or good, it just depends on your style. I personally like The Smell, so higher numbers are smellier, but you might love low smell places.
Local-ness – a measure of how homegrown a place feels. If you can tell this place has rich corporate sponsors that decided this tourist neighborhood needed a brewery, then it gets a 0. If it’s a Gordan Biersch, its gets a 0. If you like Applebees, you might like it there. A 2 means it’s a local small business and the owner and head brewer might pop out at any minute to say hi. 1 if you can't quite tell. I like my places to be local, so higher numbers are more local, but you might be fond of tried and tested places that are less local. I think you're wrong, but that’s not my business.
Eccentricity – this is a (somewhat) objective rating of how weird the beers at the brewery are. A 0 is a standard lineup of hair color beers: an amber, a red, a blonde, a brown, a stout – stuff like that. I find that a lineup like that is generally a let down designed to appeal to maximum number of people with the minimum amount of work, but you might enjoy a little less decision fatigue. 1 is a typical lineup with some wildcards thrown in, or maybe they brewery follows a non-standard theme. It's a respectable rating, and I find I prefer 1s most of the time. A 2 rank mean a brewery has an extremely non-standard theme or tons of beers that are clearly deliberately beyond typical style guidelines. 2s certainly aren't necessarily better than 1s. I like to throw sour and farmhouse style breweries in with the 2s.
Beer – on a scale of (0-2) + 3. It is notably difficult to rank a brewery's entire lineup of beer in terms of subjectively good they are. Your opinion of their beer is determined by factors mostly unrelated to quality of the beer like how thirsty you are and how much you are in the mood for their best one. Small brewery's batches change from month to month, so any ranking I put here could be wrong by the time you get there to test it. However, sometimes a brewery just brews objectively bad beer. If their beer doesn’t taste like they say it will, it drastically departs from the style they claim they are going for, and/or is downright objectively flawed, they get a 0. A perfectly good beer from a brewery I would fully recommend gets a 1. Every brewery gets this rank as a baseline if they brew competently. A 2 is a difficult rank to get. Like, I said, so many factors impact how much you enjoy a beer, so unless this place has truly mindblowing beer across the board, enough to keep me coming back to test it time after time, you'll not see this rating. After deciding the beer ranking, I add 3 to the score so that people casually looking at the list don't see a 1 and think the beer is bad. Instead they see a 4 and know it is perfectly good. There's no way to get a 1 or a 2 due to this Game Informer type rating inflation, but that is ok. Since you read this, you know that this is a code designed to gently guide people who don't read all the way towards the correct impression.
Without further ado...
Transmitter Brewing is a small space bursting at the seams. You enter through the tasting rooms and take your seat nestled between bubbling fermenters and barrels and the office. This place stands out because they don't do the standard taproom thing where you buy beers at the bar and stand around. This is more akin to a wine tasting room. Here, you get a free tasting of three of the day's beers. Which three you get to try is up to chance. After your free tastings, you can buy bottles to-go or drink them at one of the two picnic tables jammed in among the brewery equipment. On a warm day, the garage doors are opened up and chained off to let a breeze through, but more likely you'll be chugging water to keep cool.
The experience can be a bit jarring if you were expecting a normal taproom, especially since the otherwise charming bartender didn’t seem to notice my confusion. Do I pay for this tasting? I assumed the menu was referring to the more familiar flight type model, so imagine my surprise when the tasting turned out to be free. After your tasting you get the chance to buy bottles. They aren't cheap, but are more or less the standard price for premium fancy-pants beer: $13-$20 per bottle. While they specialize in barrel aged beers and sours, they have more mellow pilsners and stuff for sale as well for the standard drinker. Their naming scheme looks indecipherable at first, but after I found out I was embarrassed I had even asked. S-4, F-1, P-6... The letter indicates the type: S for Saison, F for fruit, P for Pilsner and so forth. And the number is the recipe iteration that updates every time they try a new recipe. Born of one the owners disdain for pun based beer names.
Overall, I really liked this place. It was a bit pricey, so it doesn’t make for a great marathon drinking stop, but it's a good place to start while you are still sober so you can get the most out of your fancy beer. It also isn't a bad place to end, so you can grab some bottles for the road.
Rockaway Brewing Co.
To say Rockaway was the weakest of the breweries we visited that day is a bit unfair. It was still a very strong showing and only loses out by a little bit to the others. Their flagship ESB was amazing, but it was the only beer I could try while I was there. I was forced out by the unbearable hot air in the place. Packed to the brim with people who love Rockaway's beers, the tiny AC unit that was cooling the single room was struggling to keep up. Combined with a complete lack of seating, barely any access to a place to set your beer down, only one single spot under the air conditioner offering a slight semblance of comfort, loud music, and no patio offering the chance of respite, this place almost was begging you to leave. So I did. The beer was great, but choking down anything but a Bud Light in the 100% humidity created by the steam of a recently completed brew in the back room was nearly impossible.
There is not a doubt in my mind that this place is amazing on a less crowded, autumn day, but in the middle of the summer, a surprising number of people were able to tolerate it. Their brewery is in a back room separated by a door, so you don’t really feel like you are in a brewery. Instead the place creates much more of an angry bar vibe, which, hey, might be your scene. Depending on the day, this will either be the linchpin of your route or a merely quick stopover to explore.
Weird capitalization intended. LIC businesses seem to really love jamming "LIC" into their name one way or another. Big aLICe included. Big aLICe is not so big. I'm seeing a trend here in New York. Breweries here are small and have standing room only. Big Alice has a dumpster patio out in the back (literally nestled between the dumpsters of recycling) and, like, one table inside. The rest of the four dozen people here are all standing, huddled in corners among the fermenters and equipment. Before you start to think I disliked the place, let me assure you that was not the case! A few key differences make this experience better than at Rockaway: air flow chief among them. As you drink, you might have to dodge the busy staff trying to do dishes in the sink right behind you, but that seems to add the appeal here.
Their beer is solid and well done, and they have a few quirky ones thrown in like the Sweet Potato Farmhouse and Lemongrass Kolshe that probably won't be there by the time you visit. C'est la vie! Overall, this is a much more appealing place to chill and have a few.
LIC Beer Project
2 words: Brew Cat. As in there is an adorable cat running around here probably named "Hops" or something. But this place is more than just that cat, though I can think of a certain person who might disagree (that's right, Tim! I'm talking to you!). Right when I was ripe to be proven wrong about how tiny all the breweries here are, this place pops up. It's by far the largest of the breweries in the area, it even has room for cornhole, a completely unprecedented move in cramped NYC. The brewery area is chained off from the drinking area, but you are within full view of it the whole time, and through the window to a secret room, you can see their open fermentation vessel bubbling away. NEAT!
Their beers are fairly standard with a strong focus on IPAs and other medium strength beers. Of the breweries I visited today, this one had the most staying power, with just enough to do and just enough interesting beers to keep you wanting to try more and more. Charming bartenders are a major plus too!
There you have it. Four breweries on the BEST bike and brew route in LIC. I'd conservatively guess and say that previous statement is 95% likely to be completely true. I highly recommend making a day of it and hitting every place I mentioned and more if you can, but if you have only have an hour to two to burn, then I suggest LIC Brewing project for the most unique and enjoyable experience in the area. Their combination of open space, solid beers, and cornhole make it a must visit!
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