Beer Cellars, Whiskey Tastings and the Women Bringing Them to Life

The New York Times - Beer Cellars, Whiskey Tastings and the Women Bringing Them to Life - Treadwell Park
The New York Times - Beer Cellars, Whiskey Tastings and the Women Bringing Them to Life - Treadwell Park

Anne Becerra, the city’s first female certified cicerone (basically a beer sommelier), created the Cellar at Treadwell Park, a tasting room dedicated to the best beer in the world. Credit Adrienne Grunwald for The New York Times

Treadwell Park on the Upper East Side looks like any other sports bar. On game days, it can get packed with young business-casual types gathering to cheer at oversize screens, play foosball, and eat burgers and fries at communal wooden tables.

Downstairs, however, is a hidden lair for less rowdy types: a tasting room, dedicated to the best beer in the world. A former storage space, it can accommodate only about 10 people. This detail, however, didn’t stop the Samuel Smith Brewery, a prestigious beer-making family in England, from choosing the cellar to host one of the first-ever tastings in the United States of its oatmeal stout.

“It might be the most utilized space in the city,” said Sean Ellwanger, the New York City sales manager for Merchant du Vin, a beer importer.

Anne Becerra, the city’s first female certified cicerone (basically a beer sommelier), who oversees the beer program at Treadwell Park’s two New York locations, had the idea for the exclusive room, called the Cellar. “I love being upstairs. I think it’s fun. I love playing the games,” she said. “But sometimes you want to talk quietly and share a great beer somewhere private.”

Ms. Becerra filled the Cellar with artifacts from breweries around the world. There is an old clock from a Trappist brewery in Belgium and a panel etched with the Reinheitsgebot, the German beer purity law of 1516. Mugs and glasses from traditional English pubs are on display.

A leather-bound book listing the beers available, along with their vintages, ingredients and back stories, sits on the one table in the room. In the corner a mounted screen will often show reruns of “The Beer Hunter,” a 1990 television series about the English beer critic Michael Jackson, who went on a global quest for the finest ales, porters, stouts, malts and lagers. “When I took the cicerone test it was new, and there weren’t study guides or classes,” Ms. Becerra said. “I learned a lot of what I know from that guy.”

Ms. Becerra has single-handedly elevated the New York beer scene, Mr. Ellwanger said. “She highlights ancient beers, local beers, quality beers we’ve never heard of,” he continued. “If someone wants to get really deep into it and ask super-in-depth questions, her bar is where you are going to go.”

From small-batch whiskey distillers in Brooklyn to indie breweries in Queens and bartenders becoming their own brands and getting book deals, New York is full of ambitious people who are constantly innovating the city’s drinking culture.

What’s different these days is that many of them are women.

“Without a doubt, there has been tremendous growth of women leaders in New York City’s spirits scene since I first started in the industry more than six years ago,” said Kelley McDonough, the director of public relations for the Distilled Spirits Council. “Some studies have shown that women have a better sense of smell and taste, which might give them somewhat of an upper hand,” she said.

Last year, Kristin Tice Studeman, a writer and wine fan who contributes to publications like Vogue, W magazine and The New York Times, started noticing that rosé wasn’t getting the same respect as other wines.

“It was the Gatorade of the Hamptons, the summer water, the ‘rosé all day’ drink,” she said. “People didn’t understand that it is a serious wine, and there are people making good ones, and it can pair well with food.”