Farm-to-Bar? Brewers Are Growing Beer Ingredients Above Manhattan’s Waldorf Astoria
There is a garden on the roof of the Waldorf Astoria hotel in midtown Manhattan. It sounds like the beginning of a children’s novel in which a little girl goes on a big city adventure, but it’s true. Though the current garden was started in 2011, the 20-story property on Lexington Avenue has had many iterations of rooftop gardens going back to 1903. And this one is not just for show: though the roof makes a great setting for intimate events, the fruits and vegetables growing on that roof go to good use.
The current set-up features a collection of white wooden beds growing herbs, tomatoes and apples as well a a handful of beehives. Since its construction, the current garden has become a media darling, but what doesn’t get discussed is how proud Executive Chef David Garcelon looks as he talks about his bees. For a hotel chef, maintaining a closeness to the ingredients, the farms and purveyors that make up what you do can be a challenge. All-day service and large-scale catering can take the soul out of food if you’re not careful. So the culinary staff try to use their home grown wares wherever they can and they are equally excited about the results.
Despite their enthusiasm, the harvest from the roof of the Waldorf is not enough to even top all the burgers sold in the downstairs bar. So the kitchens have to be protective and strategic. They’ve developed a few programs to show off their harvests and one is in a perhaps unexpected place: behind the bar.
Last year, the the Waldorf partnered with Empire Brewery in the Finger Lakes to brew a beer using the award-winning Waldorf honey. Olivia Cerio, Empire’s brand manager for New York City, said that Master brewer Tim Butler worked with the Waldorf team to create a beer that they could get excited about, but one that was also widely palatable (a fine line in the craft beer world). They came up with a smooth brown ale cheekily named “Waldorf Buzz”. The ale is nutty and deep like a dark beer, but without the acidic bite of a true stout.
“Some craft beers can be a little bit daunting,” said Cerio. She says that beers with cheesy, funky, sour, and bitter notes can be intimidating for the uninitiated. Cerio continued, “Tim wants it to taste like beer first.”
This harvest season, the collaborators decided to go further and incorporate an herb into the next beer. They smelled and tasted around the garden, and eventually landed on Lemon Verbena, which is traditionally used as a stand-in for citrus.
“Everyone’s eyes widened when we suggested that. We tried it and it came out great,” said Cerio. This time they called the brew “The Greatest of Them Ale.”
The beer is light but still a bit spicy, in the Belgian-style similar to a Witbier. The brewers paired the lemon verbena with a belgian yeast for a decidedly bright and citrusy result.
Empire is a small batch facility, producing only 12 kegs of each brew. They rarely bottle, so each beer is only available for a limited time, but the partnership shows no signs of ending. Most of the time, the Peacock Alley bar will have one of these special brews. “This is something that people get excited about. Especially the exclusivity of Empire only being available on draft and only in New York… For this to be something that people who come to New York can only experience one time adds a really special element to it,” said Cerio.
The last keg of The Greatest of Them Ale may still have a few pints left, but if (and when) it does run out, interested parties can take comfort in knowing that a fresh batch of Waldorf Buzz is on the way, and should be available through the holiday season.