After five years, nomadic brewery Grimm Artisanal Ales has found a permanent perch in Brooklyn, overcoming construction, equipment woes and more. I chronicle their arduous journey for October.
As recently as last year, you could count Brooklyn’s professional breweries with three fingers. There was Brooklyn Brewery, Sixpoint and KelSo—and there was nothing else. As the rest of America, from Alaska to Alabama, cultivated homegrown brewing scenes, Brooklyn built restaurants with affinities for exposed brick and heirloom potatoes, as well as bars serving drinks in mason jars.
Breweries required space, and space was a valuable Brooklyn commodity snapped up by condo developers. But where some saw daunting odds, others saw a return to normalcy. As recently as 1962, Brooklyn was cranking out 10 percent—10 percent!—of American beer. We made Rheingold, we made Schaefer, we made the country good and drunk. Now, breweries are slowly repopulating Kings County. In Greenpoint, there’s Dirck the Norseman and Keg & Lantern, while Carroll Gardens’ Other Half is hammering out hop bombs lickety-split.
Brooklyn’s breweries now have company, and the newest entrant—slated to open mid-October—is a brewpub named Threes. Like baklava, the name is multilayered. The first one is most obvious: the address is 333 Douglass Street, right off Fourth Avenue in the Gowanus. The second layer is the founding trio: Sycamore co-owner Justin Israelson, tech entrepreneur Josh Stylman and lawyer and playwright Andrew Unterberg. Lastly, there’s Threes’ mission. It’s by turns a brewpub and a coffee shop, but it’s also an event space, a future home to trees and hop trellises, bands, stroller-pushing parents (like me!), homebrewers and any ol’ Brooklynite who likes beer. Or cocktails. Or music. Yes, that’s more than three. But it’s tough to put a number on what the threesome aim to accomplish.
“We all live in the area and wanted a place in our community that we hope will become a pillar in the neighborhood for a generation to come,” Stylman says.
Spread across 5,000 square feet, the massive Threes aims to be a sunrise-to–last call hangout. Starting at 7 a.m., sleepy locals can prop eyelids with Ninth Street Espresso, which will open its first Brooklyn outpost in the building. Then there are the brews. “If we do our jobs, this place will be a Mecca for people who are into craft beer,” Stylman says.
To accomplish that, Threes tapped former Greenport Harbor brewer Greg Doroski. His initial lineup will have a farmhouse focus, featuring beers fermented with saison yeast and funky Brettanomyces strains. “As much as we could be called a yeast-driven brewery, I’d like to think of us as more flavor profile–driven,” Doroski says. And before you start wondering, hoppy beers will certainly be on tap. “We are launching with an IPA, if only so people don’t ask when we’re brewing one,” Doroski jokes.
Given the style’s ephemeral nature, in which aroma and flavor quickly dissipate, Doroski is eager to have full control over his liquid’s life cycle. “We are committed to only serving the freshest IPA and don’t foresee ever distributing it off site,” he says. “We are also ready to pour it down the drain if it gets old.” (There’s also a hoppy pilsner in the pipeline, but given the style’s extended production time it won’t be ready for Threes’ debut.)
This is simply the start. One benefit of Threes’ system is size: 15 barrels. (One barrel equals 31 gallons.) This may seem big for a brewpub (for comparison’s sake, Dirck the Norseman rocks a five-barrel system), but larger batches provide flexibility, Doroski says. He could split batches and ferment half with Brettanomyces, condition beer with a variety of seasonal fruits and, in the future, age beer in wine and spirit barrels. That’s part of the long-term plan, as is bottling and off-site distribution. (Growlers will always be available.)
While house-brewed beers will dominate taps, guest brews from local breweries that the team admires, such as Greenport Harbor, Peekskill, Barrier and Other Half, will fill in gaps in Threes’ portfolio. “That frees us from the Golden, Brown, Black paradigm that can stifle creativity in a traditional brewpub setting,” Doroski says of having to brew, say, a stout or a light-drinking ale. “Without guest taps, I think it would have been difficult to launch with three different farmhouse-style beers.”
To complement the beer, the Threes team enlisted Nick Meyer, a former sous chef at Blue Hill and Eleven Madison Park. Though the menu is still being finalized, one certainty is that food will be cooked in a wood-fired oven. “We hope to be known for our simplicity, unpretentiousness and freshness,” Stylman says.
Concerning the future, plans are afoot to turn the 3,300-square-foot backyard into a garden filled with apple and hornbeam trees, as well as a 16-foot trellis suited for hops and ivy. That transformation will come in due time. For now, the Threes team is focused on getting its doors open, in both manufacturing craft beer and community. From Park Slope to Carroll Gardens and downtown Brooklyn, “we see Gowanus becoming a great central gathering place for all these neighborhoods.”
With only 30 or so spots on my homebrew tours, it's tough to accommodate everyone that would like to attend. And that is where Chip Walton comes in play. Walton, who runs the excellent online show Chop & Brew (homebrew lovers, check it out), was on hand to chronicle a Brooklyn tour that took place in September. Settle in with a good beer and check it out. http://youtu.be/9gy84f5pLuU
Braven Brewing's Marshall Thompson (left) and Eric Feldman.
The path to professional brewing often starts on the kitchen stove. As the batches stack up, skills are refined. Recipes are perfected. Friends clamor for another pint of bitter IPA, or maybe it's a coffee stout. Accolades stack up like poker chips. "You should start a brewery," someone suggests, planting a seed inside that grows into an all-consuming desire to turn a hobby into a career.
Over the last four years of running my homebrew tour, I've watched this journey play out like an endlessly looping film reel. Rich Buceta went on to launch SingleCut. Jonathan Moxey now works for Perennial Artisan Ales. Kevin Stafford and Basil Lee are opening Finback. To the list of homebrew-tour gone pro I will soon add Marshall Thompson and Eric Feldman, a duo formerly known as the East Village Brewing Company.
Back in 2010, I crammed 30 strangers into Feldman's Manhattan apartment to sample the Avenue A-le and Stuy Town Nut Brown. The beers were delightful. The crowd was impressed. Perhaps these guys have a bright future, I thought, making a mental note to follow their online exploits. But months later, their website went dark. Posts fell off a cliff. Was this another case of a hobby fizzling out?
Hardly. Three years later, the East Village Brewing Company has been reborn as Brooklyn's Braven. "We want to tap into Bushwick's brewing tradition," Feldman says of the brewery, which takes its name from a chimera-like combination of a buck and a raven. Once upon a time, you see, Bushwick got America good and drunk. By 1962, 10 percent of America drank Brooklyn beer, and a dozen-plus brewers dotted the blocks. But by the 20th century's close, breweries like Rheingold and Schaefer were historical footnotes. Today, there's nary a brewery in Bushwick.
That's a void that Braven aims to fill. "We're hoping to be a destination brewery," says Feldman, a lawyer who envisions a laid-back taproom where friends, families and their dogs can mingle together. Currently, the twosome are searching for a space, preferably around the Jefferson Avenue stop, and are perfecting their launch brands. Driven by the notion of being bold and crafty (the bold buck + the crafty raven = Braven), the friends are working on a lineup of balanced, approachable beers that are full of flavor, not booze.
"I love IPAs, but many of them hit you with 7 percent ABV," says Feldman, who will be handling the brewing while Thompson focuses on sales and marketing. "That's a lot of alcohol. I like having a few beers throughout the evening."
The crisp, quaffable debut brews will be a white IPA heavy on citrusy, floral hops such as Cascade and Centennial, as well as a black IPA likely dosed with piney, woody Simcoe. While the allure of hoppy beers is undeniable, Braven will also look toward classic styles such as the altbier and pilsner, as well as brews that tie into Bushwick's Hispanic and Mexican population—hello, Day of the Dead–themed orange habañero chocolate stout. "We're trying to make a beer that captures the spirit of the neighborhood," Feldman says.
As for timing to buy these beers, don't hold your breath. Right now, Braven is running a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for a pilot brewery. Furthermore, the friends are seeking out a regional brewery where they might be able to contract-brew, or perhaps they'll set up a smaller brewing system inside an existing restaurant or bar. (Realistically speaking, Braven is still at least 12 to 18 months away from opening, which means the end of 2014 or spring 2015.)
"One of the big problems is trying to find a space," laments Feldman, who is still cranking out five-gallon batches in his East Village apartment. Though Braven can't legally sell the beer, Feldman and Thompson are doling out samples at parties and events around Brooklyn. "The first couple times I handed out beer to people and waited for feedback, it was terrifying," Feldman says. "Alternately, this project will be super-exciting and super-scary, but nothing makes us any happier."
This post originally appeared on Craft Beer New York. Check it out!
One fortuitous day in Providence, Rhode Island, artists Lauren Carter Grimm and Joe Grimm decided to attend a talk by fermentation evangelist Sandor Katz, the author of Wild Fermentation. Though the DIY duo had never given much thought to the culture of fermentation, they were so inspired by Katz's talk that, soon after leaving, "we started fermenting everything," says Joe, a musician who has performed with the Dirty Projectors, 33.3 and solo as The Wind-Up Bird. "It was like, 'We can pickle that!'"
Soon, the twosome were dabbling in mead ("It was really bad," Lauren recalls), kvass, kombucha and hard cider, before gravitating toward beer. At first, the extract-based brews were pretty sad, the sort of beer you'd drink only if the fridge were empty. And perhaps the experiments would've ended there, the brew kettles put into a closet to gather dust if it were not for another serendipitous turn of events. While on tour in Brussels, Belgium, Grimm was introduced to dubbels, tripels, saisons, lambics. "People were feeding us all these wonderful Belgian beers," recalls Joe, who returned home with a renewed commitment to brewing.
The couple moved to Chicago, where they both attended the Art Institute of Chicago and refined their approach to fashioning saisons and Belgian ales flavored with herbs, spices and flowers. Seeking an outlet for their beer, they started a beer CSA. It failed. "No one wanted to pick up their beer," Lauren says. Unbowed, they started selling beer at art-gallery shows and continued refining their recipes. After Joe (2009) and Lauren (2010) graduated, the couple, who later married, watched as their friends flew the Windy City coop to New York City. They followed suit, landing in Brooklyn's Gowanus neighborhood with a plan to start a brewery called Grimm Artisanal Ales.
They met with lenders for funding, but quickly ran into a small problem. They had no sales record, much less experience working at a brewery. But Joe did toil at Double Windsor, and he and Lauren mined their local contacts and began making the rounds of New York bars to gin up interest. "People were like, 'That's really cute. Sure, we'll put the beer on.'" But first they needed to brew the beer. Without the funds to build their own facility, they decided to go the nomadic route, tenant brewers in the vein of fellow husband-wife brewers Pretty Things. They began calling breweries around the region. The no's stacked up like chips at a poker table.
At last, Holyoke, Massachusetts' Paper City Brewing Company said yes. Last month, Team Grimm traveled to the brewery and crafted From the Hip, a Belgian-style blonde ale (7 percent ABV) flavored with plenty of rose hips. It's floral and spicy, with a smooth mouthfeel and billowy head thanks to a healthy measure of wheat. Starting later this month, the beer will be available around town on draft and in 22-ounce bottles adorned with a delicate, gallery-worthy drawing depicting ladies with roses blooming from their bodies. "They're the sort of graphics you'd find on an ancient Greek vase," says Lauren, who notes that they're trying to combat the notion that beer should just be marketed to men.
While it is the inaugural release, From the Hip is not a flagship. In fact, Grimm's plan is to not to toss all their hops into one brew kettle. Instead, they're focusing on releasing limited-edition, seasonally focused beers with a Belgian bent. (Up next is a Trappist-style tripel made with honey called Bees in the Trappe.) Blink and you'll miss the chance to drink them. "We wanted to make very specific beers that we enjoy and grow the definition of craft beer," Joe says. "The world doesn't need us to make another IPA."
Over the last four years of running my homebrew tours, I've watched Brooklyn's DIY beer scene boom. Where once aspring apartment brewers were forced to order grains and hops online or drive into Long Island, now there's a bounty of brew shops such as Bitters & Esters, Brooklyn Homebrew and Brooklyn Kitchen, all of which stocks ingredients and offer classes. This has led to a swell of brewers in Brooklyn and across the city, with kegerators crammed into every nook and cranny. Now, the best thing about homebrewing is sharing it with your friends. But if you're brewing two or three times a month, that's a fair amount of five-gallon batches of beer taking up space in too-tiny apartments. And even if your friends are lushes, there's a limit to everyone's beer intake. The solution, then, is a homebrew festival.
The latest one to arrive is Pride of Brooklyn, which will debut this Saturday, April 27, at Gowanus' Littlefield. The festival will feature 25 New York–based homebrewers, as well as pro offerings from Lagunitas, SingleCut and the brand-new Yonkers Brewing Company.
The mastermind behind the homebrew madness is Casey Soloff, an advertising copywriter who has been brewing beer for about a year. "I know a lot of good people in the homebrewing community," says Soloff, a Brooklyn resident. "I put out a call a call for entries and people responded almost immediately."
The homebrewers will pour a variety of ales and lagers, including the likes of a pilsner, rye black IPA, spiced milk stout and cherrywood-smoked porter—in other words, you won't go home thirsty or bored. Additionally, there will be food for purchase from Fletcher's and Mexicue, and attendees get $2 off drafts at Mission Dolores until 8 p.m.
Come get a taste of the next generation of New York City brewers.
Pride of Brooklyn Homebrew Festival Saturday, April 27, 1 to 5 p.m. Littlefield (622 Degraw Street, Gowanus, 718-855-3388) Tickets: $25 (buy them here)
Beachwood Brewing's high-tech Flux Capacitor, which might just be the future of draft beer.
At last October's Great American Beer Festival in Denver, Colorado, I drank enough beer to swell my liver to the size of a cantaloupe.
This is as pleasurable as it is painful. I do not recover from hangovers quite as quickly as I used to, forcing me to wear sunglasses indoors and swallow Ibuprofen by the fistful. But my desire to overindulge is an important one, dear readers: to inform you about the best new breweries I wish we had in New York.
One of my top discoveries in 2012 was Long Beach, California's Beachwood Brewing. On a tiny 10-barrel system (a bit more than 300 gallons at a time), the BBQ restaurant (it also has a location in Seal Beach) cranks out a dizzying array of top-of-their class IPAs such as the tropical, resinous Amalgamator; citrusy and melony Citraholic; and the Hop Ninja, which is dry-hopped four times with Simcoe, Amarillo and Columbus hops. The bitter gems are complemented by globe-hopping beers including the toffee-touched Full Malted Jacket Scotch ale, nitrogen-dispensed Bulldog dry Irish stout and Mocha Machine, an imperial-strength coffee and chocolate porter. Sounds tasty, right?
Darn skippy. Too bad most of Beachwood's beers are reserved for its two BBQ restaurants and a handful of accounts in Southern California. To get another taste of these terrific nectars, I'd need to book a flight to the West Coast. At least was the case until March, when a plane ride was exchanged for a train ride.
Not far from the G train in Greenpoint you'll find Tørst, the sleek, Scandinavian-style game-changer run by an all-star team including 12 Percent Imports' Brian Ewing, Evil Twin's Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø, Momofuku vet Daniel Burns and Jon Langley, formerly of DBGB. When the crew decided to open the bar, they wanted to showcase the best and brightest in craft beer in America and around the world. That meant plenty of Cantillon, Hof ten Dormaal and selections from Stillwater—basically, anything that was funky, smoky, hoppy or interesting. Such a pedigreed selection of beer did not deserve to be dispensed via a standard draft system.
Most tap lines are set up to dispense beer at around 36 to 38°F, a chilly temperature range that is optimum for mass-market lagers such as Budweiser and Miller Lite. That's because frostier temperatures mute a beer's aroma and flavor and accentuate carbonation's trademark tingle. (Ever had a warm Bud? Blech.) However, beers such as imperial stouts, barley wines and IPAs should not be served as cold as the Rocky Mountains. At warmer temperatures, aromas unfold and blossom.
Furthermore, warmer temperatures demand different blends of gas and nitrogen. The industry standard is a 60/40 (carbon dioxide to nitrogen), which is just dandy for Coors Light. But if, say, you were to pour a strapping stout at a more appropriate 54°F, you might need a 95/5 ratio to serve a spot-on pint. Compounding matters, most bars have taps with permanent settings, meaning a stout tap must always be used to dispense a stout or a similar style.
"It’s unacceptable that we let Bud, Miller and Coors set the standard for how we pour beer," says co-owner Gabe Gordon. Seeking greater control over his beers, Gordon created the Flux Capacitor, a custom-designed, draft system that allows bartenders to instantly adjust gas blends. Under-carbonated draft beers, especially on kegs that might take a week to kick, were a thing of the past. "If your first pour was the way the brewery wanted it, shouldn’t the last pour be just as good?" says Gordon, whose system can also adjust over-carbonated beers on the fly.
Tørst saw the Flux Capacitor was the future of serving beer. The team hired Gordon to install a version of his high-tech draft system at their bar in Brooklyn, which was designed with both a cold room and a warm room that stored beers at 54°F. With such a perfect system in place, wouldn't it make sense to pour more perfect beers? Like, say, offerings from Beachwood?
With the assistance of 12 Percent Imports, Gordon ships a half dozen kegs to Tørst each month—the only bar in the Big Apple to serve Beachwood's beers on draft. Even sparing this small amount can be a big headache. "What we send to Tørst we have to strategically save up," Gordon says. "It’s just real informal right now. I would love nothing more than to expand distribution, but we’re just tiny. I’m honored that they asked for my beer."
What are you waiting for? Go on, get to Tørst on the double. There's no telling when the next shipment of Beachwood will wash up in Brooklyn.
Three years ago, the folks at NYC Craft Beer Week asked me to lead a tour. I called a few homebrewer friends, set an itinerary and the Homebrew Tour was born. I thought it would be fun to give people a peek into their world, to let tour takers try these beers and learn what makes the brewers tick and decide to brew in these tiny, tiny apartments.
The tour was supposed to be a one-off. But after the first one, attendees asked, "When's the next tour?" So I did a second tour, then a third tour, then dozens more. Which brings me to today.
For Homebrew Hullabaloo, it's time to celebrate the tour's third anniversary. On Saturday, September 22, from 2pm to 6pm, We're taking over the backyard at Goodbye Blue Monday, my favorite Bushwick gallery/music venue/bar/offbeat community space. I've enlisted 12 of my favorite homebrewers to make special batches especially for the event. In addition to boatloads of beer, you'll be well fed too. Each attendee will receive one of the following: Burger and fries, Portobello burger and fries, Deluxe grilled cheese and fries, Veggie chili.
There will also be music. And surprises! So many surprises. Can't wait to share a beer with everyone.
Oh, hi there. Despite New York's gnat-size apartments, NYC homebrewers refuse to let space limitations detract them from their mission: crafting some of the city's tastiest beer. On this tour, you'll venture inside the homes of three of the city's finest amateur brewers, who will display their set-ups, discuss their craft and, most importantly, open up their stash of superlative beer.
This tour will take us across Williamsburg and Greenpoint. Brooklyn. We're starting in Williamsburg with the hoppy beers of Ryan McMahon, before heading to Greenpoint to meet Pete Lengyel, the founder of the Brooklyn Brewsers homebrew club. Lastly, we're wrapping up in Greenpoint with Brooklyn Homebrew's Kyler Serfass. (Check him out in this video!)
On sale: Thursday, April 19, 10 a.m.
Buy them here! Sorry, we're sold out.
On Saturday, April 7, my next Brooklyn-based homebrew tour will take us from Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, where we’ll meet SustainaBrew’s Jason Sahler. Next, we’ll hit excellent Prospect Heights homebrewer Keith McCullum. Lastly, we're wrapping up at my apartment down the block. Am I pouring my own beers? Nope: I'm importing New Jersey's in-the-works Bolero Snort brewery and having them pour beers at my place. Three all-new brewers. This is going to be a blast.
Three stops in all with 10-plus beers to sample. And I may pour samples from my booze credenza. Yes, my booze credenza.
Tickets are on sale now. There are only 25 slots and, as always, they sell out in a jiffy. Click here to purchase them.
Hurry up! They're selling out quickly. Sorry, we're sold out.