Beer Expert Tinika Green Shares Her Favorite Brews From Around the World

By Nell Alk

Typically this column is reserved for cocktail talents, but we decided to twist it up for once by spotlighting a certified cicerone, the beer equivalent of a sommelier. Tinika Green has been with Blue Smoke for more than half a decade and, in that time, she’s gone from server to bartender to beverage director and assistant general manager. The latest position she’s held for three years, transferring in January from the 27th Street location to the Union Square Hospitality Group’s recent addition in Battery Park.

This is the Financial District spot’s first fall and, by the looks of things when we were there, things seem to be coming along marvelously. The place was packed on the October Friday we stopped by to talk shop, with an hour-long wait for a table. We skipped the vittles and opted just to pick the mind of their Miami born and bred in-house beer connoisseur. She didn’t always adore ale, but she evolved her palate and has plenty to share regarding trends, obscure brands no one shouldn’t know and, for good measure (no pun intended), her favorite mixed drink.

How did you become a cicerone or, in other words, a beer expert?
Tinika Green: Blue Smoke is really focused on craft beer and bourbon. They’re our driving force[s]. When I first started here as a server [six and a half-years ago], I developed an interest. As that interest developed, at the same time the Cicerone [Certification] Program was being developed by a guy named Ray Daniels. That started as a way to qualify people, of making some sort of system to [acquire knowledge and hone expertise about beer]. We started training at Blue Smoke on 27th Street and this became my niche.

Did you always love beer?
It was definitely working for this company that got me interested. Blue Smoke was a part of that push.

What’s the most popular beer you offer here?
We sell a lot of draught beer. People really love our draught selection. The most popular is our Blue Smoke Ale, which is made for us by Brooklyn Brewery.

Are there any trends you’ve discerned here in New York?
It’s been fun watching the craft beer movement, in New York City specifically, especially because New York City isn’t a “beer town” just yet. Not like Philly or San Diego or places like that, where people are super into beer. Watching the move from people drinking big macro brews to slowly coming around to drinking better beer [has been great]. Teaching people how to drink better beer is probably the thing I’m most passionate about.

Speaking of “better beer,” what are some obscure or lesser-known breweries I am likely not to have heard of?
Here we’re focused on American craft beer, but we do have some imports. [For instance,] we have a raspberry Lambic by Lindeman’s in Belgium. There’s a huge push for craft beer internationally, though. It’s picking up in Denmark and Italy. So, there’s a few different breweries out there. Evil Twin in Denmark is one. Beer Del Borgo in Italy makes a tobacco porter. Basically what they do is add tobacco leaves to the beer during the brewing process. It lends it this cigar-like quality that I think is pretty cool. Another beer that is near and dear to my heart is Abita, out of Louisiana. They make great beers. I don’t think enough people, especially in the Northeast, know about them. One of my favorites of theirs is the Turbodog Brown Ale, which we currently pour [here at Blue Smoke]. Another one I really love is Mikkeller, started by two beer geeks. They’re very experimental. They make something like eighty beers and one of my favorites [is] this line dedicated to single hop varietals. Hops are the seasoning agent in beer. They made a beer with centennial hops and another with summit hops [and so on]. You’re able to [zero] in and find that flavor. Another beer I love that’s kind of light but a little bit smoky is Aecht Schlenkerla. They are known for their Bavarian Smoke beers. But, one of the beers they make, which we also carry, is a Helles, [which] isn’t smoked, [but] is made in the same kettle, so it gets this nice, mild smoky flavor. Lastly, a brewery out of Georgia called Terrapin makes a rye IPA, which is fantastic. [They] just started distributing in New Jersey. I’m not sure if they’re in New York yet.

What’s the most rewarding aspect of your job?
Sharing what I know with my staff, getting them excited about it and seeing where the sparks connect for them, so they can share it with our guests.

What’s one of the biggest challenges you face?
Being able to figure out what people want. [We try] to find things that will appeal to a broad audience and keep it special. It’s very interesting watching the trends between our restaurants and seeing what people are drinking in different neighborhoods.

How do the two locations compare?
Twentyseventh Street is a lot bigger and has the jazz club downstairs, so the energy is a bit different. This [location] allows us closer contact with our guests. It still feels like Blue Smoke—it’s alive with energy—but it’s more intimate. It’s probably a step up. A lot of people call us the classier sister.

Very nice. So, I ask everyone this. What’s the most indispensible bar tool?
The jigger. It’s the only way to make a perfect cocktail and ensure consistency. No matter who makes it, you’re going to get a good drink.

Ales aside, what’s your top cocktail?
I’m a big fan of the Manhattan. I make a mean Manhattan.