JP’s Food Adventures: Top Hops is Top Notch

Top Hops, 103 Orchard Street. Photo by Cynthia Lamb.
Top Hops, 94 Orchard Street. Photo by Cynthia Lamb.

I like Top Hops. The name sounds like a play on London’s Topshop, which took fashion cues from my buddies in the Strokes a number of times. Their music was playing when I walked into the shop, at 94 Orchard Street, making me feel at home. Beyond that I like Top Hop’s nerdiness. Before I was a food and wine nerd I was a beer nerd. I brewed my own beer, learning the nuances of roasted grains and “bittering” verses “finishing hops.” The difficult part back then was tasting examples of wide-ranging beer styles.

Top Hops solves that problem. Tasting a variety of beers here is easy, and the selection changes often. There are safe bets, like Fuller’s ESB, but they also offer flights, making it simple to sample their more exotic on-tap offerings.

The decor is slick enough to jibe with their stylish Orchard Street address, without being posh or pretentious. The place is as much a beer store as it is a beer bar (or tasting establishment). Refrigerators in the cave-like back room have a wide variety of bottled beer for sale, and all tap beer is available for purchase in growlers. The large board behind the bar is a stylish  homage to d.b.a., that East Village temple of beer and whiskey geekdom. They go a step further here, not only listing origin, alcohol content and price, but also the date of the tap line’s most recent cleaning. They’re on top of things.

Top Hops is also serious about being part of the neighborhood. When I walked in and saw their bread was from Pain d’Avignon, their cured meats from Heritage Meats, the olives from Formaggio Essex and cheese from Saxelby (all Essex Street Market favorites) – that got my attention. Those are places I shop. I came for the good beer, but I appreciated the spirit. The owner, Ted Kenny, recognizes the importance of supporting other neighborhood businesses.

He also appreciates beer as a Great Equalizer. Holding a large bottle of dry Belgian cherry lambic, he pointed out that many of the world’s greatest beers are affordable luxuries. The bottle cost just over $12. World class anything for that price is noteworthy. For those feeling less adventurous, Budweiser is always on tap.

JP Bowersock is a professional musician and music producer who has toured the world repeatedly, eating at top restaurants and hole-in-the-wall joints. He is a serious home cook with over two decades’ experience cooking for family, friends and fellow rock and rollers. Mr Bowersock keeps a toe in the wine business as well, consulting for the wine lists of several neighborhood establishments, including Clandestino, 35 Canal St. When not on tour or in the recording studio he’s scouring the neighborhood for frugal food finds.

Bigi Vipra Rossa, 2010 is a very approachable red wine from Umbra, Italy. It’s a blend of Sangiovese and Merlot grapes that spent just enough time on oak to balance the fruit. While not terribly complex it is satisfying by the glass or with food, and a deal at $11. Available at Seward Park Liquors.