For most of us, the word Oktoberfest means one thing: beer. And, sure, sometimes you just want a pilsner by the liter (preferably with sausage and a big ol’ pretzel), but what if you want to really learn something about beer? New York has plenty of places to spend an afternoon knocking back the pints, but there’s another set of bars that truly take beer seriously, where you can sample little-known brews and get the info on each from the knowledgeable bartenders. Here are five of the best places in New York City to learn about beer — while drinking it, of course.
This new Greenpoint bar is more like a temple to beer than a bar. The sleek, minimalist space is decorated primarily by the 21 taps along its back bar. The wooden tap handles run in a spectrum from light to dark, as does the beer they dispense. These aren’t just any beers, of course. Tørst specializes in difficult or nearly impossible-to-find brews and treats them with extreme care. The ultra-sophisticated draft system controls carbon and nitrogen pressure on each individual tap, along with temperature — allowing the staff to calibrate each beer to exactly the specifications needed. If this is the future of beer drinking, we’re on board. 615 Manhattan Ave., Brooklyn, 718-389-6034, torstnyc.com
The owners of excellent cocktail bar The Randolph next door recently branched out into beer, with this warm, spacious NoLita venue. Their 36 draft lines pour brews conveniently categorized on their menu — divided into “light,” “hop,” “rich,” and “malt” quadrants, then arranged from most to least intense. It’s a great way for novice drinkers to get a sense of what they’re ordering, without asking three dozen questions of the bartender. Can’t make up your mind with so much choice? Opt for a flight: try three short pours for $10, or five for $15. 343 Broome St., 212-334-3706, randolphnyc.com/beer
What Proletariat lacks in size, it makes up for in beer knowledge. This slim East Village bar sources according to their motto — “rare, new and unusual beers” — and it shows. The name is clearly tongue in cheek, as these aren’t beers for the masses; no Bud Light or Blue Moon to be found. Instead, you’ll find the day’s offerings arranged in plastic magnetic letters on the overhead menus; taps change often, so don’t fall in love with a single beer too hard. The upside? There’s always a new reason to come back. 102 St. Marks Pl., 212-777-6707, proletariatny.com
There’s a lot to love about this Williamsburg bar, not least its spacious back garden and proximity to sibling restaurants St. Anselm (next door) and Fette Sau (across the street). But let’s talk about the beer. While PBR Tall Boys tend to be the norm in Williamsburg, Spuyten Duyvil sources from across the globe, including many little-known brands and styles. Nothing look familiar? (We didn’t know what Wallonian beer was, either.) Ask the beer-savvy bartenders, who’ll steer you right, either from their six taps, single cask, or hundreds-deep bottle list. 359 Metropolitan Ave., Brooklyn, 718-963-4140, spuytenduyvilnyc.com
Not new to New York, but still one of the best. This beer and whiskey bar, with a sister bar in New Orleans, brings a wide selection of draft and bottled beers to the East Village, all listed on their overhead chalkboard menus along with cider, cask ales and a formidable liquor list. And unlike many of their serious beer brethren, they’ve got a happy hour and ample room to hang out; if the bar’s too crowded, head out to their back garden. 41 First Ave., 212-475-5097, drinkgoodstuff.com