While brewing at home is great fun, the Brooklyn Brew Shop team likes to get out and grab a beer every once and a while. Who doesn't? With that in mind, we would like to give our fellow beer drinkers the scoop on some of the best beer bars in our area. From Brooklyn to Manhattan to the occasional stop out of town, here's where you might find us drinking tonight.
Before even setting foot in Cardiff Giant, you're greeted by a sandwich board. Rather than feature daily specials or trending Internet humor, the Clinton Hill establishment has elected to quote F. Scott Fitzgerald: “Here’s to alcohol, the rose colored glasses of life.” Inside, simplistic, white-washed walls and a backyard with wire-frame furniture is balanced by a booming collection of liquors, beers, and ciders stacked on the wall behind the bar.
Owner Stephen Baird, a delightful man with a gruff beard, tells me something almost unbelievable about his collection of spirits. “Every drop of alcohol in this bar is from New York."
Remarkable as it may seem, it's absolutely true: Cardiff Giant is the only bar in Brooklyn that serves alcohol exclusively from New York-based breweries and distilleries. The bar may be new - they opened shop just over a month ago - but the team behind it is as experienced as they come. Over the past several years, Baird has run Park Slope's The Owl Farm with the Wiley Brothers, the craft bar gurus also responsible for Bar Great Harry, Glorietta Baldy, and Mission Dolores. After working his way up to manager of The Owl Farm, Baird decided he wanted to pursue a longtime dream - open a bar that serves exclusively New York-sourced drinks. And so Cardiff Giant was born.
Baird attributes the project's viability to his connections within the local beer scene. “I have a pretty good relationship with most local producers from Owl Farm. The great thing here is I get to really focus on local producers, whereas Owl Farm is the whole world, so there is a very unique, niche focus here.” Some of his favorite NYC breweries include Other Half, Barrier, and Finback, but the rest of the state is also full of great, budding breweries and distilleries, and they're all welcome at Cardiff Giant.
However, there's still room to grow. The menu is largely focused on beer and ciders by necessity while the NY liquor industry gains more steam. Craft distillery regulations are still evolving, with major relaxations to serving laws coming as recently as 2014. As a result, craft spirits are only now becoming a viable business option. “There is no New York Campari-style producer," Baird says. "If anyone reading this article wants to make New York state bitters, like Campari or Aperol or Amaros, they should.”
The goal is to introduce customers to fresh, new options, but also to cater to classic tastes. Though the current focus is mostly beer and cider, Baird also puts emphasis on their mixed drinks. "[They're] great because a lot of these liquors are brands no one has heard of and they’re all New York producers...You may have not heard of Taconic Rye, but you’ve heard of an Old Fashioned, so it gives you a sense of where that is on a scale.” The idea of the familiar drink with an unfamiliar spirit is perfect for Cardiff Giant, where using the comfortable to fuel exploration is a guiding principle.
It’s clear that Baird truly believes in the prospect and promise of sourcing solely in New York. The main reason, he elaborates, is to keep local business intact. “I think that anytime someone comes by and buys a drink made in our state, it stays in our state. I’d rather pay somebody I know than some faceless corporation.”
It's a compelling (and canny) idea, automatically promoting local business and fostering an inherent sense of community. Uniting the Brooklyn beer scene with the larger family of New York alcohol is no small feat, and as for us, we can't wait to taste what's next.