“These aren’t your typical winter warmers,” Tristan Colegrove, bar manager and resident beer geek at Manhattan’s Haymaker Bar & Kitchen, told me as he placed a neat row of six Christmas beers on the bar in front of me. As is proven par the course at Haymaker since its inception in October, the beer bar and gastropub is doing the “seasonal” thing a little differently.
December is winding down its final days, but Colegrove is ramping up his repertoire by including more impressive beers on the sophisticated list than ever before.
Yes, he has De Dolle Stille Nacht, the slightly sweet, boozy Belgian Strong Pale Ale that beer bars clamor to have on tap each holiday season—but then, so do Jimmy’s No. 43 in the East Village and Brouwerij Lane in Greenpoint.
True, he’s managed to get his hands on two rival brothers’ very different takes on winter ale: Mikkeller Winbic, a blended Spontan Ale and saison from Denmark that you won’t find anywhere else in the city (imported by the Shelton Brothers) and Brooklyn-based Evil Twin‘s Xmas Eve in a NYC Hotel Room, an imperial stout that’s oily, delightfully dry and delicious without being aggressively spiced—but the latter can be found all over Brooklyn.
What really stumped me on the menu — even among such stuff that beverage managers’ and drinkers’ dreams are made of (Prairie Christmas Bomb! Chesterfield Dreams by Other Half and Garage Brewery in Barcelona!) — was La Vermontoise.
The Vermontoise is a spelt saison brewed by Brasserie de Blaugies, a small family brewery in Blaugies, Hainaut, Belgium and Hill Farmstead of Greensboro, Vermont. Blaugies founder and patriarch, Pierre-Alex Carlier and his family have been brewing at their famed French-border brewhouse since 1988, specializing in unfiltered saisons that capture the quiet countryside in each bottle conditioned sip.
By chance, on a recent trip to Belgium (my first, actually), I happened to have the immense pleasure of meeting this brewer and his young grandson, Ethan at the Modeste Bier Festival, a family brewery-focused festival that celebrated its fifth year this October at/next to De Koninck Brewery in Antwerp, Belgium.
At the time, I was star-struck. Pat and I had first seen Pierre and Ethan appear on an episode of Brew Dogs earlier in the year, and at Modeste, I recognized them right away. After a brief, bewildering chat about his saison-fueled friendship with Shaun Hill, the brewmaster at Hill Farmstead, which is also a small family farm brewery, Pierre was kind enough to gift me the sign for one of his beers he was serving at the festival, la Vermontoire.
I hadn’t expected to see that beer again—let alone in Midtown—and the sighting is a testament to Tristan’s beer buying prowess as much as it is an attestation to the incredible heights craft beer has climbed here in the past few years. When I saw it on the menu at Haymaker, I felt that same sense of fascination with my luck in the world.
Lightly sour, bitter and letting off just a little bit of funk, the special brew will cost you $1 an ounce (it’s $8 for an 8 oz. pour), and it’s worth every penny. Make the trip to Haymaker when you get the chance—you won’t find a beer like this anywhere else—except, perhaps, at a family farm in Belgium.
Belgium, Oct. 4, 2015 — meeting Brasserie de Blaugies at Modeste Bier Festival.