by Rachel Khona
I slammed down my Borscht Back– a shot of moonshine followed by a shot of borscht soup–and wiped my lips. I do not like shots and I have a strong abhorrence of beets. Yet Ben Roshia had convinced me to try both and like them to boot.
Convincing people to try new things is only one of Roshia’s many talents.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I stopped by the One Stop Beer Shop, a new beer bar in East Williamsburg, to visit owner Ben Roshia. For some, the idea of a bar specializing in beer conjures up images of loud, boisterous beer halls or frat-like pubs. But Roshia is all about flipping convention on its head.
The stage-lit copper pipes, brick walls, and retro Edison bulbs give One Stop Beer Shop the feel of a comforting neighborhood bar; the perfect place to bring a date, meet your neighbors, or pull up a chair and sip on a cocktail while browsing through an early-twentieth century travel guide from the impressive library shelves. A raucous beer hall this is not.
“It’s a neighborhood bar, people should know each other. What did we do before TV? We talked, we hung out. I built a bar for writers, artists, musicians, and business people to come create stuff and talk and have meetings.”
One Stop Beer Shop doesn’t just serve a rotating selection of local and foreign craft beer – they specialize in beer cocktails, made by mixing beer with a variety of spirits, including the aforementioned moonshine, with fruit and aromatics.
“There are a really only a few people dabbling in beer cocktails in New York, but they’ve been getting more and more popular on the West Coast in recent years. I thought, why not bring them to Brooklyn? Most people here have never had a beer cocktail. I think the idea kind of scares people at first, but they like them once they try them.”
Having been in the business for awhile, Roshia was familiar with the ins and outs of running a bar. His grandfather owned a bar upstate and his family has a long history in the hospitality business. But he really cut his teeth working in the trenches at a series of restaurants. Unlike many, he didn’t just hustle so he could make some moula – he actually learned a thing or two.
“I worked at established restaurants that had people who had been working there for thirty years. You just ask people. Questions are the key to learning everything. I would always ask the bartenders what they were doing. I would ask, ‘Why do you chill the martini glass? Why did you put vermouth on the rocks?’ And they would tell me.”
Together with the bartenders, or tapsters as Roshia calls them, the One Stop Beer Shop staff gets together to recap what’s working and what’s not, and to decide what beers to feature every two weeks. Though a handful of his favorite beers are always on tap, most beers are rotated out every three weeks to keep their stock fresh and interesting. For example, Narragansett is one of the permanent choices. “It’s just a solid, cheap house lager. For a beer on the cheaper end, Narragansett beats PBR by leaps and bounds. And it’s very cool too; they drank it on Jaws.” Film buffs and hipsters take note.
Trying to strike a balance between the familiar and the unchatered waters of beer imbibing, Roshia opted to offer customers both the regular suspects and a few lesser-known varieties. “We had to be sensitive to the fact that it is a community bar and we knew we would have people coming in who would only be comfortable having Brooklyn Lager, because that’s what they always have. I wanted people to have something that they were familiar with when they came in here, so I keep things like the Brooklyn Lager, and Duvel on draft. But then we have things like Piraat, a pretty rare, very strong Belgian beer that you almost never see, and people love it. The Piraat is one of our favorite beers.”
At $9 for a half pint, it’s a testament to Roshia’s instincts and beer knowledge that it remains one of their best-sellers. “People who aren’t avid beer drinkers might be shocked at spending that much money, but we aren’t. You have to teach people about different beers, and about what makes them special. And most people want to learn about them. Our tapsters here all love beer, and they’re happy to talk about any of our beers. Or the beer cocktails.”
As it turns out, those beer cocktails are surprisingly tasty. Throw out all the old wives’ tales about mixing spirits with wine or beer; those old wives don’t know jack. An unexpected element in a cocktail, the beer adds a refreshing burst and the bitterness of the hops balances the sweetness associated with more run of the mill mixed drinks. And there’s something for everyone from those who prefer lighter ales to those who prefer heartier brews: “We have a cocktail for a stout drinker; we wanted to keep it defined as a stout, but make it different. So we took a stout, and added a little gin and nutmeg.”
One of the more popular beer cocktails is the Sinfully Originally, a Roshia concoction made with black tea-infused Tito’s vodka and Original Sin Cider. But I found myself gravitating towards the Clandestine Moon, an intoxicating mix of Southampton Brewery’s Double White, Drambuie, Original Moonshine, agave, mint, and blueberries. No reason one can’t get some anti-oxidants in while drinking.
While the cocktails here will make you think differently about imbibing, what really sets One Stop Beer Shop apart from your average bar are the gleaming growler-filling stations. “I first noticed growlers when I was in Russia on vacation. I saw these shops everywhere, where people would go in and fill up their jugs of beer to take home. And I loved the idea. The problem with growlers is that most places just fill the growlers directly from the taps. If you do that, the beer is going to go flat in a matter of hours. Our growler-filling machines are counter-pressure systems – they inject carbon dioxide into the bottle, forcing the oxygen out and creating a perfect atmosphere for pouring the beer without losing carbonation, and for sealing the growler. Beer in growlers poured on our system stays fresh for weeks. Really – we’ve tested it. We poured beers from a five week-old growler and it was just as fresh as it would be coming from the tap.”
And for those who prefer to enjoy a beer at home, One Stop Beer Shop delivers: “You can call for a growler delivery anytime we’re open. We’ll deliver growlers at one o’clock in the morning. We actually had special insulated growler delivery backpacks made. We keep them in the cooler. We normally deliver just in the neighborhood, but we had a guy call from DUMBO a few weeks ago. He was visiting from out of town and he was having a bunch of people over and he wanted eight growlers. That was way out of our delivery range, but he was visiting New York and trying to have a great experience here, so we helped him out.”
As much as Roshia loves beer and the craft of it, at the end of the day it’s not all about the booze.
“It’s funny, I have a friend that works at a bar that’s been open for thirty years, and they have people who come in to propose to their girlfriends because because their parents got engaged there. And I thought I would love to have a bar like that some day. On New Year’s Eve, when we’d only been open for three days, we had a couple propose.”
Looks like Ben got his wish.
One Stop Beer Shop is located at 164 Kingsland Avenue, at the corner of Beadel Street, in East Williamsburg.