Once upon a time, a new brewery opening in New York City was as uncommon a sight as, say, a dolphin in the Gowanus Canal. But these days, nary a month goes by in the Big Apple without another beer maker appearing on the radar. Or completely flying under the radar. I pride myself on staying current on the newest craft breweries in town, so I was a bit blindsided (in a good way) by this week's arrival of Radiant Pig Craft Beers. Where had they come from? And, more importantly, what was up with that name?
First things first, the brewery is the brainchild of Rob Pihl and his girlfriend, Laurisa Milici. For years, Pihl had been an avid homebrewer in his Manhattan apartment. Milici loved drinking beer. So it was sort of a no-brainer that, when they were looking to make a break from their advertising gigs, that they turn their passion into a profession.
Pihl spent several years trying to dial in the recipe for a moderate-strength IPA with plenty of citrusy aromatics. You know, something you could drink by the growler and not be a slurring, stumbling wreck. Finally, he hit upon the perfect hop to use: Falconer's Flight, a proprietary blend of seven citrusy, tropical, floral varieties.
"It was a blend that was perfect for us," Milici says. "It brings a unique flavor to the beer," which became known as Junior IPA—the offspring of a pale ale and an IPA. It would be the flagship of their brewery, which would be known as Radiant Pig.
The first part of the name comes from the couple's favorite artist, Jean-Michel Basquiat, who was known as the "radiant child." The second part of the name comes from the couple's affinity for great food—pigging out, if you may. Smash the words together, and you have a distinctly New York–flavored brewery.
However, the painful truth of real estate meant that opening a brewery in the city was out of the question. Instead, Pihl brews Junior at Connecticut's Thomas Hooker. This is not a simple contract-brewing situation, wherein a faceless staff makes the beer. "One of the things that was important was that we’d be able to be part of the brewing process," Milici says of Pihl, who travels to Thomas Hooker to craft 40-barrel batches.
Currently, the first kegs are hitting tap lines around town. Demand has been so great that Pihl is heading back to Connecticut in a few weeks to brew his next batch of Junior. For now, the duo is sticking to this single sessionable IPA. "We don’t want to just put out beer for the sake of putting out beer," Milici says. "We really believe in Junior."
Care to give the IPA a taste? Look for it around town at these bars and bottle shops.