You Need to Try This Champagne-Inspired Beer Coming Out of Patchogue

Things are poppin’ at BrickHouse Brewery. • Photo by Doug Young

As the clock nears midnight and you await the ball drop on New Year’s Eve, remember to saber—err, savor the moment. And instead of champagne, why not do it with this new bubbly-like beer fit for flutes from Patchogue’s BrickHouse Brewery & Restaurant?

To celebrate the holiday, BrickHouse has made a brüt IPA, called Dress Up Knife, in collaboration with The Brewers Collective in Bay Shore. On a recent afternoon, Paul Komsic, the bearded brewmaster at BrickHouse, explained the name with a wry smile: “I went to a stuffy formal party not too long ago where a sharp object of some kind might’ve come in handy.”

More truthfully, he then told me, the moniker refers to the French art of sabrage, or opening a Champagne bottle with a sword. Best known as sabering, the dramatic display of beheading bubbly is perhaps the ultimate party trick. But it actually dates back to the days of Napoleon Bonaparte, way before a projectile cork could ever be captured on Instagram. It is said to have been developed by the Hussar regiments in the French emperor’s light cavalry, who learned to lop off the heads of Champagne bottles on horseback without dismounting.

Sabering no doubt adds a certain panache to the already stylish act of popping a bottle of bubs. It energizes and excites a room, and enhances the pleasure of drinking. It’s a theatrical ritual that holds no prejudice in performer type, executed by both master sommeliers at the world’s top restaurants and someone’s uncle Hal at a lit house party. There is also notable flexibility in the instrument used; while there are sabers made specifically for the purpose, a belt buckle will work just fine, too.

That the two local breweries decided to partner on producing a brüt IPA for New Year’s Eve is no surprise when you consider how close its hallmarks cuddle to Champagne. The latest emerging subcategory of IPA, beer’s most mutating style, brüt is the brainchild of Kim Sturdavant at San Francisco’s Social Kitchen & Brewery, who added an enzyme called amalyse to an IPA in late 2017 and, in doing so, has perhaps created the beverage for beer fans to toast the arrival of a new year.

Amylase is not new to the brewing world. In fact, a biochemist named Joseph Owades used the enzyme back in the 1960s to develop the world’s first low-calorie beer. Typically, brewers employ if to smack down the sweetness and lighten the body of big, burly styles like imperial stouts, and it does so without sacrificing alcohol content. It breaks down any non-fermentable sugars for the yeast to eat—an extra meal to munch on—making for a drier, thinner beer.

BrickHouse’s brew team: Brian Kosmic, left, and Arthur Zimmerman. • Photo by Doug Young

After using amylase to reduce the sugars in his triple IPA, another style that can easily veer into too-sweet territory if not managed carefully, Sturdavant decided to use the enzyme in a smaller, standard-strength IPA. The result was a beer not unlike Champagne: crisp and refreshing, light in color and body, and bone dry, with huge aromatics and low bitterness from aggressive late-addition hopping. It was also highly effervescent. “I’d been wanting to make a standard-strength IPA with [the enzyme] to just be as dry as possible, and that evolved into thinking ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to make it as light in color as possible and keep the bitterness low and make this super refreshing, pale, effervescent beer?” he told The Takeout. With these characteristics, he named the beer Hop Champagne Extra Brut IPA: a Champagne labeled brut is very dry.

Brüt IPA is seen by some as the West Coast’s clear counter to the creamy, cloudy New England subcategory, which in recent years has become a phenomenon among craft-beer fans, an ascent filling glasses and Instagram feeds. But brüt IPAs are now bubbling up across the country (even the Belgian inspired Ommegang has one). And given the guidelines are few (Sturvadent has only said it should be light, bone-dry from the enzyme, and delicious as possible), brewers are playing with it like Play-Doh, experimenting with different grain bills, at what point to add the amylase, and the types of late-addition hops to employ.

“Both brewers and drinkers are always looking to try something new to taste, especially in the IPA realm,” said Tim Dougherty, one of The Brewers Collective’s five brewer-owners, who with his wife and a partner in the company, Sarah, participated in the brewing of Dress Up Knife. Before the collaboration, which happened at BrickHouse in October, The Brewers Collective had produced two brüt IPAs of its own, Brutal and Less Useful, More Idiot. “We had Paul try those and he loved them,” Sarah said. “He started picking our brain about how we used the enzyme and the ball started rolling from there.”

Dress Up Knife, meanwhile, is BrickHouse’s second take on the spritzy style. The first iteration, Bruticus Hoptimus Maximus, was released in late September and sold particularly well, Komsic said, in part because of customer curiosity. “When they heard that a beer can taste like Champagne, their eyes lit up,” he said. “Watching them correlate the similarities and contributions of each, in one liquid, it’s a built-in learning experience for them and also for me; it’s a style that brewers are still very much exploring and shaping.”

Dress Up Knife exemplifies brüt IPA as a new realm ripe for navigation and interpretation. The beer was fermented with Champagne yeast (most brüt IPAs are not), dry hopped twice, filtered, and then taken on a bit of a South Shore tour, with a portion transferred to The Brewers Collective’s facility for aging in white-wine barrels. After a few months, it was returned to BrickHouse for a third round of dry hopping before being blended back together to carbonate and finish. “We pulled out all the stops,” Komsic said.

If you’re like me, you’re probably wondering how a beer with this breadth of scope and ambition is going to taste. When I asked Komsic, “incredibly balanced” quickly rolled off his tongue. He elaborated that the high carbonation and lush fruit-forward aromatics gained from late-addition hopping play nicely with the incredible dryness derived from the added amylase, while the yeast strain and conditioning time in white-wine barrels adds complexity and amplifies its Champagne-like character. “This is a complex beer with immense drinkability, perfect for sipping on a special occasion like New Year’s Eve,” he added.

To add an even bigger wow factor to the festive liquid, which will be on tap at both breweries starting today, some of the small batch will be packaged in five-liter bottles (brewers are recently embracing oversize bottles, like magnums, for limited-edition offerings) to pop at BrickHouse for a midnight toast. “We had to special-order them from France,” Komsic said of the vessels. “When the ball drops, we’ll fill glasses and pass them out to customers to celebrate the arrival of 2019.” And while he has never attempted to saber a bottle (be extra cautious if you try it), he feels ready if the opportunity should arise: “I’ve been watching tutorials on YouTube.”