Hidden among the slender streets of NYC's Lower East Side, Culturefix stands as a haven for beer snobs, foodies, art aficionados and really just anyone looking for a good time. The slightly labyrinthine multipurpose space splits its talents among three floors, starting with an impressive selection of nearly impossible-to-find beers and curious dishes at the bar downstairs. A ramp at the back of the bar leads you to the ground floor, which is home to their event space and gallery. Work your way upstairs from there and you'll come across the Recession Art at Culturefix storefront, which peddles a discerning range of original works by an array of emerging artists.
Within moments of exploring the space it's easy to see owners Cole Schaffer and Ari Stern have a firm grasp on the finer things in life, namely food and drink. To take advantage of their vast knowledge and overall generosity we asked Schaffer to suggest five of his favorite rare beers from Culturefix's rotating selection of international craft brews. Stern, a "retired chef", balanced that out with insights into what would be the perfect dish to accompany each ale, all of which we highlight below.
Professor Fritz Briem's 13th Century Grut Bier
One of the most interesting beers found at Cutlurefix, Professor Fritz Briem's Grut is soft, smooth and incredibly delicious. Dating back to the 1500s, before the widespread use of hops, the traditional grut brewing style leaves little more than locally grown flora like bay leaves, ginger, caraway, rosemary for flavoring— remnants of which can be found in each unfiltered bottle.
CS "This sour, gingery and floral beer has found its way into many dishes and our hearts since the very beginning."
AS "It goes great with our Miso-Mussels, the base for which is made with Korean fermented miso, grut, chili paste, onions and garlic. The slow cooked mussels retain their tenderness while soaking up the delicious liquid."
Bayerischer Banhof Berliner Style Weisse
Another ancient beer, the weissbier style originated in the 1600s, leading to a time where an estimated 700 weissbier breweries existed in Berlin alone. The unconventional brewing process renders the beer extremely acidic, which is commonly cut with a syrup mixer.
CS "The Bayrischer Bahnhof interpretation is a slightly softer, more mellow version of the "Berliner Weisse" style with a beautiful balance of tartness, fruitiness, and sweetness. Mellowed only by a mixture of Guava puree and honey—its a great spring and summer refresher. "
AS "Along side our Goat Cheese polenta with tomato braised mushrooms, the Berliner Weisse becomes a relief from the richness of the polenta and the earthiness of the mushrooms, making each bite and sip combination a new treat."
Bayerischer Banhof 'Leipziger' Gose
Falling out of favor over the last 30 years, the Gose style is extremely difficult to find outside of the two German cities where it originated, Goslar and Leipzig, although it is currently experiencing a small resurgence thanks to three European breweries. One taking it up again is Bayerischer Banhof, which produces a top-fermented wheat beer made only from traditional ingredients—oats, coriander and salt for flavoring.
CS "Salty and Citrusy, the Gose is Ari's favorite summertime beer. I think of it as hard lemonade for someone who hates hard lemonade. "
AS "This beer goes well with any food, which makes for an easy pairing, we usually will suggest our empanadas with homemade sofrito as a natural choice. The peanuts and raisins in the empanadas are brightened by the citrus notes of the beer, and the crisp dough is lightened by the bitter finish of this southern German classic."
Brasserie Die Du Ciel
Earning it's beautifully rich color and soft, slightly acidic fragrance from the use of hibiscus flowers in the brewing process, the Rosée d'Hibiscus is a humble wheat beer with plenty of body.
CS "On first sight, this beer looked thick and viscous, but it drinks light and refreshing with only a hint of hibiscus sweetness (not to mention the most beautiful color a glass has ever held). Its the perfect thirst quencher on a hot summer day."
AS "This combination of sweet and sour, goes great with our XO marinated shrimp and kimchi bok choy. The ultra-savoriness of the shrimp and intense spice of the bokchoy and tempered by the weight of this beer. The hibiscus flavor seems to lessen the spice and allow the eater/drinker to do more of both."
Founded in 1988, Brasserie Fantôme has gained international attention and somewhat of a cult following among craft beers enthusiasts for its secret combination of herbs, spices and fruits that fall in accordance with the season, allowing each beer to be unique and made only once.
CS "Far and away the best beer we have ever had, always consistent, always incredibly complex and different from year to year. The First year we carried the Fantome summer saison, it was smooth with light hop and berry notes. This year, we are carrying the Hiver, and it is more aggressively hopped and less fruity, as if the brewer knew how MY tastes changed and created a beer for ME. "
AS "Pairing food with such a complex and rich beer can be challenging, and for its size we needed to think of a dish that eats a bit 'longer', our enchiladas made with a traditional salsa verde from puebla, roasted chicken and its crispy skin, and queso cotijo was the perfect fit. The richness of the corn tortillas, and the 'brown' flavor of the cheese, makes for a great combination with the real 'King of Beers'."
Photos by Graham Hiemstra