Heartland Brewery represents a chain of brewpubs based in New York City comprising seven separate, unique locations (I specify the individuality of the spots because each one has its own charm and its own high and low points and, as such, I will rate each location individually though the beer will be referenced generally since the brews offered are relatively uniform at all of the locations.) I have downed many pints' worth of beer at numerous Heartland Breweries, as much because of the dearth of brewpubs in the city as the merit of the beer itself. I find it amazing that in a city as populated and cosmopolitan as New York, there are exactly eight brewpubs on the island of Manhattan: the seven Heartland Breweries and the Chelsea Brewing Company (to be reviewed at a later date in time). Granted, the sheer volume of pubs and "beer bars" for craft beer enthusiasts more than make up for it...but, at least to me, it's still a curiosity. Perhaps the costs associated with setting up a brewpub coupled with the space one requires are the biggest contributing factors (especially when you consider the turnover of restaurants in the city--imagine going through the hassle of constructing a brewpub and watching it close two months later) but I really just don't know.
|HB's House Brews|
Without question, my two favorite offerings are the deliciously malty Red Rooster Ale and the award winning Farmer Jon's Oatmeal Stout--arguably my all-time favorite Oatmeal Stout and top five stout in general. Many brewpubs offer an American Amber/Red Ale that serves as its maltiest brew; you'd be hard-pressed to find a better one than the Red Rooster. And as for the Farmer Jon's? No matter what I wind up drinking over the course of a session at Heartland, I always have at least one pint of their acclaimed Oatmeal Stout. It's smooth, creamy, and has just the right hint of chocolatey-coffeeness. If there's only one beer you try there, let it be a Farmer Jon's.
|A sample snapshot of seasonal brews|
One of the best aspects of the brewpub (and, truly, something that should be a standard across the board) is the fact that it offers samples of every one of their beers. You can get a "Voyage of Beer"--a flight that is comprised of five ounce samples of all six of their house beers, or a "Seasonal Voyage," which consists of the six house brews as well as two seasonals (sometimes they choose one for you, like the Empire State Premium or another beer that they might be featuring--it all depends upon the individual location). It's a great way to try a fairly wide variety of brews for a reasonable price (the Voyage runs around 10 bucks for the thirty ounces of beer--roughly five bucks a pint, which, if you think about it, is market price in Manhattan; the Seasonal runs closer to 14, which means you're shelling out two bucks per seasonal...but it's worth it AND I find that the waitstaff is accommodating when you order the Seasonal Voyage and ask for samples of the other seasonals later on, which is the best way to try everything they have available on tap.
Aside from the standard beer offerings, Heartland also has an interesting Beer Cocktail list as well as a gimmicky "Beer Goddess" that you can try. The former is great for anyone who enjoys mixing beer and liquor but unfortunately I am not one of those people. The Raspberry Blonde is pretty good as is the Almond Sunset...but they're things you'd probably try only once. The full list (along with their other cocktail offerings and brews) can be found here at this sample menu from the 8th Avenue location:
The Beer Goddess is a three liter, 101.4 ounce glass that you can fill with a selected Heartland Brew. It seemed AMAZING when I first started to frequent Heartland...but that was six or seven years ago when the novelty of such things still struck me (a very green beer drinker, at the time) as awe-inspiring. I remember wanting to put the consumption of a Beer Goddess on my list of lifelong things to accomplish but the years have been kind to me and I've rethought that decision. For one, it's insanely expensive and for another, it's extremely impractical. Think about it--you're talking about two and a half forties of beer! How quickly could someone possibly drink the entire thing (assuming they were to in the first place)? By the time you'd even reach the halfway mark, the beer would be warming up and going flat at an ever-increasing pace. Three-quarters of the way through? The last thing you'd want after drinking eighty ounces of beer in one sitting is another twenty one flat and warm ones to go.
Now...we've covered most of the positives so it's time to get our hands dirty (literally, in one case) with the negative aspects. As far as the beer is concerned, the biggest downside is the fact that they often run out of one or more of their seasonals at any given point. This irritates me because many times I will stop in specifically to try the new seasonal only to be told that they've run out because it has been selling really well. Though I am happy that the beer sales are high for their seasonals, I cannot understand how they can run out of a given brew, especially now with a few years' worth of sales data to show which beers, historically, have sold well. The Pumpkin Spice Ale is John Harvard's biggest seller in autumn, drawing tons of people there solely for that brew...and I have never had a single instance of them running out of it. I would even say that the number of times I have visited John Harvard's in autumn probably rivals the number of times I've visited Heartland Brewery in general and in the case of the former, I've never had a beer run out due to popularity whereas in the case of the latter, it seems to happen every time. I just wish they would manage that better, particularly because the beers are so good.
As far as the food goes, it seems to vary greatly from location to location in terms of its overall quality. The taste might be better at one spot but the proportions might be off. I find it surprising that there can be so much inconsistency between the various spots given that they are all local (versus, say, one site being in New York and another in Omaha) and all serve relatively homogenous offerings. The only location where the food was great both times I was there was the Radio City location.
Ambiance, too, changes from one location to the next. This is unsurprising given the issue of space as well as surrounding neighborhoods and sites. Far and away, the worst is the South Street Seaport iteration. I've seen rats running around inside and it just has an overall run-down look and feel to it. Thankfully, it is the only one that I've been to that's like that. The best ones are the Empire State location (34th and 5th at the base of the Empire State Building) and the Radio City location (the corner of 51st and 6th). The former has a spacious first floor with bar seating, bar tables, and a smallish dining area. Downstairs though is an enormous eating area that is perfect for small and large parties as well as for families. We actually had my wife's birthday celebration there back in 2009 and it was an awesome experience. The latter is also great because of the large quantity of booths and the fact that they are very open to having children as guests (you need only check your stroller at the hostess' station)--something that you don't think of until you have kids...and then realize how un-children friendly some locations are. The Union Square spot is great to grab a drink after work...but it is incredibly cramped and if you get claustrophobic it might not be the place for you. I would rank the top three locations as follows:
1. Empire State (34th Street)
2. Radio City (51st Street)
3. Union Square (17th Street)
Overall, I give the Heartland Brewing Company a grade of B+ because of the above-average beer offerings (with a few exceptional brews thrown into the mix) and the decent variety of food that they offer. The biggest downsides are the fact that they seem always to be out of at least one if not more seasonals and the huge disparity in consistency from one location to the next in terms of food quality and ambiance. On the flip-side, they are very beer-oriented (sponsoring the NYC Brewfest in 2010 and holding a homebrewing competition earlier this year) and the quality of the beer is always on-point. If you're a beer fan and you're in New York City, you'd be remiss not to stop in and have a pint at a Heartland Brewery location; it, and the Farmer Jon's Oatmeal Stout, in particular, come recommended!
BEERS SAMPLED AT HEARTLAND BREWERY LOCATIONS
(Note: beers sampled at the Heartland Brewery sponsored NYC Brewfest in 2010 are being omitted since they were not enjoyed at one of the brewpub locations.)
Full Moon Barleywine
Indian River Light
Harvest Wheat Beer
Indiana Pale Ale
Red Rooster Ale
Farmer Jon's Oatmeal Stout
Not Tonight Honey Porter
Oren's Daily Porter
Empire Premium Beer
Indie 500 Pale Ale
Mr. Atlas Imperial Pale Ale
Smiling Pumpkin Ale
Summertime Apricot Ale
Berry Champagne Ale
Bavarian Black Lager
Grateful Red Lager
French Toast Ale
Kelly's Quad Bock 10th Year
Mother's Milk Maibock
Blueberry Mint Golden Ale
--Beer Whisperer Matt
For any further information about Heartland Brewery please visit their official website found here: