Blind Tiger Ale House
281 Bleecker St., New York, NY10014
A year ago, Iris and I made our annual fall pilgrimage to Miami, which we’ve been doing for a while, a much livelier experience now that Joe and Donna Ward live there. On this particular trip we were joined by Dave Yarrington and his girlfriend Liz Scharf, so I knew the decadence would go up a notch or two, and I was already mentally planning another vacation to recover from this vacation. We weren’t disappointed. As soon as we landed, the texts flew back and forth, and we had barely checked into our hotel before I was looking up at the chalkboard at Kush, one of the best beer bars in Miami.
I was barely into my first pint when Donna began talking about the neighborhood we were in, known as Wynwood, a once desolate warehouse district that had become an epicenter for outdoor art (there were giant murals painted on many of the buildings around us), and beer. In fact, people were buzzing about a new brewery set to open right around the corner, called J. Wakefield. Did we want to go? (Rhetorical question) I barely finished my Cigar City before I was out on the street, walking past desolate buildings surrounded by barbwire. The beautiful murals really stood out against the feelings of abandonment. I immediately began researching J. Wakefield, but there wasn’t much. Jonathan Wakefield was a Miami home brewer with a huge following thanks to some killer collaborations he’d made with Cigar City and Terrapin. Now he was turning pro, and as we entered his parking lot on an empty side street, I could see an open garage door with stainless steel shining inside.
Dave and I walked right past the guys standing by the door and entered the brew house, checking out the set up. The guys followed after us, asking if they could help. I pretended to be deep in contemplation, and said, “Hmm..a 15 barrel. Nice.” One of the guys, it turned out to be Jonathan Wakefield himself, asked how I knew that, but instead of answering I said, “You know who this is? Dave Yarrington, head brewer of Smuttynose.” John was as impressed as Dave was embarrassed. Dave turned towards me and said, “And this is the guy who owns the Blind Tiger.” John had spent time in NYC so he actually knew about us. Next thing I knew, he had planned a Wakefield tasting over at Kush a couple nights later, which was when I got to meet Maria, John’s cellar-master and flavor profiler, who used to work at the Modern in NYC.
John was already known for his Florida Weisse beers, his take on Berliner Weisse, each one fermented with different tropical fruits. But what impressed Dave and I was the sheer range of the beers we tasted, and how the sours, IPA’s, and high octane malt bombs, including John’s favorite, La Nada, a Russian imperial stout, were all equally amazing. John and Maria are inspired by the local fruits, spices, teas, and spirits of their area, and they all make ingenious appearances in different combinations. After it was over Dave, the master of understatement, said, “He’s going to kill it.” And kill it he has – his Star Wars themed art deco tasting room, with beautiful murals of its own, opened to huge crowds last January, and I made it back in March, the day he debuted his Detention Double IPA, big brother of Hop for Teacher. That was when we planned an event at the Tiger for this fall, which is finally happening this coming Sunday, Nov 15th, at 3pm. John and Maria will be in the house, with an incredible list of beers, and, more ominously, they’re bringing Joe and Donna as their tour guides. I haven’t been this excited since – well, since I was in Miami.