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Double threat: Real Ale and an award-winning pilsener are a winning combination for Manhattan Brewing Co.

Double Threat

Real Ale and an award-winning pilsener are a winning combination for Manhattan Brewing Co.

European pilseners are one among many beer styles judged in blind-tastings every year at the Great American Beer Festival. In last year's tasting, two of the three medalists in the category were brewed by Mark Witty, brewmaster for Manhattan Brewing Company, under contract at F.X. Matt Brewing Co.

The gold medal was taken by the company's Manhattan Gold, and the silver was taken by its D'Agostino Fresh, an unpasteurised pilsener in a similar vein.

Although Manhattan Gold has been available in the New York area for a number of years, the D'Agostino brand is relatively new and is being offered exclusively through New York City's D'Agostino grocery chain.

Before getting into contract-brewing, the Manhattan Brewing Company pioneered the brewpub concept in New York City, ever since opening early in the 80s. It remains the only working brewery in the city, located in a former Consolidated Edison substation on Thompson Street. The floors in the building are four-and-a-half feet thick, built to support transformers, and of more than adequate strength to handle Manhattan's brewing vessels.

Mark Witty is a versatile brewer. Despite the obvious merits of his award-winning Germanic pilseners, the style is something of a departure for him, since his background is in brewing English-style ales. His resume includes stints at Samuel Smith's and Whitbread in his native England, before circumstance brought him to New York.

He produces a slew of interesting cask-conditioned ales in his New York City brewhouse, from the flagship Royal Amber to a City Light ale. Witty also brews a monthly special in varying brewing styles. One month it might be a Yorkshire Bitter, another a Belgian Ale. The pub uses traditional British beer engines to bring the beer up from the cellar, resulting in the uniquely smooth pints that were once only available in the U.K.

Witty reports the New York market's increasing interest in beer has to led to many inquiries about installation of hand-pump draught systems in bars. Manhattan Brewing now supplies their cask-conditioned products to several area bars that have installed the traditional beer engines, and plans to expand that niche.

"A brewpub cannot live by beer alone," Witty points out, "it needs a broader identity." The restaurant end of the pub concentrates on Texas barbecue, an incongruous mix with British-style ale, but an apparently successful one. Manhattan's barbecue has recently been touted by the N.Y. Times as the most authentic in the city.

In addition to growing success on the brewpub end, off-premise sales of the contract-brews have grown significantly. The gold and silver medals awarded at the Beer Festival haven't hurt business any. "The fact that we won that category has brought us a lot of attention," reports Rick Noble, Manhattan's director of sales and marketing. "That, coupled with a redesigned package for Manhattan Gold, has really boosted sales.

"New York City has been called every marketer's dream and nightmare," Noble observes. "There are sales of 75 million cases annually here, but there are so many nationalities here that it's a market filled with niches.

"We are looking to position Manhattan Gold between micros and the domestic `super-premiums'," Noble continues, "it's got more body and taste than a lot of the mainstream products in that category, and it's a beer that seems to have broad appeal."

"New York is a tough market," Noble states. "There are a lot of barriers and costs here that we wouldn't have had to contend with somewhere else. But," he says, "it's obviously a huge market, and we've got aggressive plans for the future."
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Title Annotation:1990 Microbrewery Report
Publication:Modern Brewery Age
Date:May 14, 1990
Previous Article:Brewing down east; the D.L. Geary Brewery brings traditional ale back to Maine.
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