I found myself last week underground and beneath the warm, sticky East Village streets at a dimly lit and crowded high-top table with a pack of beer journalists. Snifters clinked, half-opened bottles littered the wooden table and half a dozen conversations filled the cool air while our host, Jimmy Carbone of Jimmy’s No. 43, kept graciously pulling bottles out of his cellar for us to enjoy during a somewhat rare time away from covering an event, signing books or reviewing beers.

Why were a bunch of beer writers congregated there and lying down on the job? We had just come from the Beer Book, Blog and Video Fest, hosted at the South Street Seaport Museum by The Good Beer Seal for July Good Beer Month.

Beer writers John Holl and Josh Bernstein compare their canine companions.

The Good Beer Seal is one of Jimmy’s many endeavors in the beer world and “separate[s] the wheat from the chaff by identifying bars that serve quality craft beer and demonstrate a commitment to the community in which they do business.” Think of it as a restaurant health rating but for beer bars in the five boroughs of New York City.

Each July, the organization further fosters the beer community by organizing a month-long celebration of beer that “almost [feels] like an old-school town meeting, and it makes you remember that there was a time when taverns were community hubs where people got together to talk about real issues.” Mayor Bloomberg even declared that July will always be Good Beer Month.

The Beer Book, Blog and Video Fest last Wednesday intended to create that “community hub” by bringing together authors such as Horst Dornbusch (Assistant Editor, The Oxford Companion to Beer), John Holl (Massachusetts Breweries) and Erica Shea and Stephen Valand (Brooklyn Beer Shop’s Beer Making Book); bloggers such as Jimmy Carbone (Beer Sessions Radio (TM)), Giancarlo and Sarah Annese (The Beer Union), John Kleinchester (Beertography) and yours truly (All About Beer Magazine); and filmmakers such as Seth Wright (Beer Nation), Jeff Cioletti (Beerituality) and Ian Jenkin (The Brewery Show).

For approximately two hours that evening on the fifth floor of the South Street Seaport Museum, attendees had the opportunity to sample beer from Shmaltz Brewing Co., Long Trail Brewing Co., Thomas Hooker Brewing Co. and others while chatting with some of the people behind their latest nightstand reads and watching brief clips of recent beer-themed films on a few projectors. In case they needed nosh to pair with the beer, conversations and book signings, Jimmy’s No. 43 provided open-faced sandwiches and Sigmund’s Pretzels handed out, well…small-batch, handmade pretzels.
The festival culminated with recognition of Giancarlo and Sarah Annese of Beer Union, who visited all forty-one Good Beer Seal bars in a month. But the night didn’t end there. As I previously mentioned, about ten of the festival presenters corralled at a dark table next to the wall in the below-the-street Jimmy’s No. 43.

Horst Dornbusch, prolific writer and speaker who’s done everything from authoring an entire book on Altbier to winning a GABF Bronze Medal, sat across from John Kleinchester, editor of Beertography and local beer festival curator. They both ordered late-night burgers and shared the Pretty ThingsAmerican Darling bottle sitting between them. At the other end of the table, John Holl, author of the recently-released Massachusetts Breweries and contributing writer to All About Beer Magazine, compared dogs with Josh Bernstein, Brooklyn-based beer, spirits, food, travel and bicycling journalist and author of Brewed Awakening.

We didn’t need a formal festival in a fancy museum to have our town meeting. Late-night beers at this too-small-of-a-table on a Wednesday night made us remember that there still is a time when taverns are community hubs.