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.
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."