Just back from a few days in Manhattan. I only stopped by four or five key beer haunts, and while nowhere near exhaustive, I got a decent view of the current scene indeed national since so many beers now are being made available there from different parts of the U.S. especially California and Colorado but also Michigan, Florida, Texas, etc.
Strong Beer Rules
I think the session movement has been a damp squib since most of the beers seemed to be between 6 and 9% ABV or more. It was hard to find a 5%-er.
Pale Ale/IPAs Rule
While other styles are in evidence, pale ale/IPA, always in the American mode (strongly citric/piney/floral), are still the most popular. I did find though Metropolis from Speakeasy (SF) at Beer Authority (40th Street and 8Th Avenue) which was a more moderated version, apparently a common in style in fact. Very drinkable and fresh throwing lacy rings on the glass. It was a part of a Speakeasy feature there. It was hard to find Ballantine IPA, I had just missed it on draft and one place (DBA) had a keg in the back but the rotation time wasn't right to connect it.
Finally I found it at Whole Foods, $11.00 and change for a 6 which is a bargain actually.
My notes on the legend that is Ballantine IPA can be read on the "Ballantine Pale" thread.
I had a disappointment at Southampton Ale House (drove out there). A Burton IPA was, in my opinion, clearly damp paper oxidized, but there just wasn't time to discuss this with the staff and I left most of it untasted. An Imperial Porter was better albeit with that intense aged soy taste which to my mind is an autolysis effect, but it is unquestionably one style of old porter and this is a matter of personal taste.
Flavoured pale ales, e.g. with peach or apricot, are popular, Gingerman had one on cask, I think from Heavy Seas.
The one non-flavoured pale ale I had, on cask from a Maryland brewery, was so-so but this was more the condition in which it was served.
Prices seem to me getting really up there. $8.00, $9.00 pints for imports or even some American beers. The sizes too seem generally to be getting smaller. This is something I never tracked in the past but net net my impression was good beer is expensive in midtown. Rattle n' Hum has their "HH" marking system which brings the basic pint down to $5.00 which is very nice and they don't do it for beers past their prime since I had a couple and they were fine.
The Belgian beer craze seems as strong as ever, with e.g. Gingerman having a few interesting beers from there. And there are a couple at least of new stand-alone Belgian style cafes. However the Belgian stuff is not really my preference so I stood away from these. Ditto the new German beer halls since I find the beers just don't do it for me in general, however Paulaner on Bowery is wonderful (all brewing is onsite) and unfortunately I didn't make it there this time.
As usual, there are never enough of these, and what there is is almost always flavoured today in some way (coffee usually but it can be anything under the sun). One place had Sierra Nevada Porter and I mention it simply because it was relatively rare to find a product like this.
Condition of the Beers
In general, condition was good, not as bad as some years ago. Sometimes of course it is hard to tell if a beer is off or that is the taste, especially for imports. I had tastes twice of Urquell draft, supposed to be shipped cold to the U.S. and possibly unpasteurized, but I didn't like it, the taste reminded me of the canned profile of a lot of North European beer in North America. However,a Murphy Stout, something I never drink, was extremely fresh and for once I could see what people say about fresh stout in Ireland. (I did have to let it warm for 20 minutes but that goes without saying). It had a rich chocolately palate, a sharp non-aromatic hop undertone and just a great balance and drinkability. I had a draft Bud at a wedding and the familiar Bud profile came back to me, however the beer was just too fizzy and adjunct-laden for my personal taste. Still, it wasn't actually that bad, both the condition and the taste.
Best beers of the trip: The Speakeasy Metropolis with the Murphy a close second.