Brooklyn Brewery in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York
Brooklyn Brewery is a craft brewery headquartered in Williamsburg Brooklyn, New York since 1996. They brew six year-round brands, six seasonal selections, a rotating series of Brewmaster Reserves available on draft at the Brooklyn location, two Brooklyn brewed bottle re-fermented ales and a collaborative Hopfen-Weiss between Hans-Peter Drexler of the Bavarian Schneider Brewery and Brooklyn Brewery’s own Garrett Oliver.
I had plans to attend my friend’s surprise engagement party on a sunny Saturday afternoon, and since my wife was staying home with the kids, she urged me to check out Brooklyn Brewery before heading over to the party later that day. I politely told her to shut her mouth and wash the dishes, then ran out of the house in laughter and fear of spousal abuse and vicious reprimanding.
Local New Yorkers can get to Brooklyn Brewery on the subway by taking the L train to Bedford Avenue or the G train to Nassau Avenue and walking over to North 11th Street between Berry and Wythe. Coming from Pennsylvania, I could have taken the Holland Tunnel through lower Manhattan then Williamsburg Bridge into Brooklyn, but I was feeling adventurous and decided to take I-80 to the George Washington Bridge, travel through Harlem River Drive, cross over the Triboro Bridge and reach Brooklyn from Queens on the BQE. The change in direction only added a few minutes to the drive but avoided the ugly transfer from I-80 into the Holland Tunnel, and the northern path provided a more uplifting scenic view of the New York skyline.
The two hour drive over three states challenged my patience, but some blaring thrash metal which repeated some kickass songs over two stations helped ease the way. Midway through New Jersey I changed my pace and kicked my four cylinder ’98 Nissan Altima into high gear only to hit the usual New York traffic. After enjoying two separate rock stations in PA and NJ, I changed the dial to listen to KRock in New York. After a few moments of concentrating on traffic I noticed that the music emanating from my speakers was a candy fizz pop string of songs – then I remembered that New York terrestrial radio not only lost Howard Stern and Opie and Anthony, but also its only true hard rock station.
I arrived and parked near the brewery in good time and went in with child-like excitement and anticipation. Williamsburg has changed since I worked here setting up some galleries in the early ’90s, but exhibited a maturation of the creative direction it was taking when I left New York. It maintained its gritty character while adding a sense of genuine urban cool. Inside, the brewery was alive with people gathering over beers and conversation while others waited for the tour. The sign at the register offered 6 tokens for $20.00 and I thought that’s what you needed to do for the tour. When the nice lady at the register asked me what I needed, I figured I would taste all of their samples – and since they had 8, I bought 8 tokens for $28.00! I didn’t realize the tokens were for ordering full size servings at the bar. Once she figured out I was here for the tour, she tried to refund my credit card which wouldn’t take, then offered to bend the rules and allow me to take home the Local 1 and Local 2 bottles at 3 tokens each.
I was thankful for her patience and ultimately lamented the loss of my New York edge. I’ve lived in this city for 22 years but country life was quickly softening my brain from the hard contrast of the New York hustle.
At the bar, there were eight offerings on tap and I went for the East India Pale Ale, a 6.5% ABV IPA with a sharp hop bite and a smooth malt disposition. It was only a few moments of waiting on line with a good beer that the announcement was made for the commencement of the tour. A large crowd of sixty plus people gathered around and followed our host Tiara into the brewing chamber.
Standing on a platform before some of the huge and impressive brewing equipment, Tiara begins to tell the story of how a former Associated Press correspondent Steve Hindy and former loan officer Tom Potter quit their jobs to start the Brooklyn Brewery in 1987. Hindy’s experiences as a correspondent in the Middle East introduced him to diplomats who shared the art of the bathtub homebrewed beer, a practice established to secretly enjoy booze due to Syrian and Saudi Arabian laws making possession and consumption of alcohol illegal. Hindy brought his brewing talents back home to Brooklyn where he and Potter enjoyed hombrewed beer while watching the 1986 Mets season and ultimately celebrating the New York Mets victory over the Boston Red Sox in game seven of the World Series.
Hindy eventually convinced Potter that the East Coast needed a beer brewed in the style of the pre-prohibition era, a Vienna type Lager popular at the turn of the 20th Century. Together the duo asked their friends and family for financial help, raising an impressive $500,000 in the first year. They hired graphic designer Milton Glaser, creator of the I Love NY logo to design a classic turn of the century sports-like logo. Their first beers were contracted to the Matt Brewing Company in Upstate New York and the pair acquired their first truck in 1989, personally delivering and marketing their creations all over New York City while facing the ravages of 1980’s New York crime.
As their brand name gained popularity and success, Hindy and Potter felt a strong need to add validity to their branding, and the search for a Brooklyn based operation was born. By the mid 1990’s they had secured an 1860’s building in Williamsburg, Brooklyn which had previously been a matzo ball factory. The factory was refurbished and completely renovated into a functional brewery. On May 28, 1996 Mayor Rudy Giuliani cut the ribbon to welcome Brooklyn Brewery into Williamsburg. Brooklyn Brewery was the first successful operating brewery since Schaefer and Liebmann (Rheingold) closed their doors in 1976. Sharing the production between the Brooklyn brewery and the Utica, New York facility, they hired respected and award-winning brewmaster Garrett Oliver to oversee production at both sites. Oliver ultimately expanded their line of beers and even wrote the book on food and beer pairing, “The Brewmaster’s Table: Discovering the Pleasures of Real Beer with Real Food.”
Tiara spends some time engaging her audience in the basic constituents that make beer. A lesson about the brewing process is offered including the malting of barley and the spicing of the hop. She throws in a tidbit about how the hop is related to the cannabis family, which unfortunately falls on shy ears -though the information is exciting for me! She also mentions that the Brooklyn facility brews all their beers from the best water around, New York City tap water, which just so happens to contain all the right nutrients necessary for their beer to flourish.
Between the Brooklyn headquarters and their Utica, New York location, Tiara claims that Brooklyn Brewery produced over 80,000 barrels last year claiming the 20th spot on the Brewers Association 2008 Top 50 Craft Brewing Companies by Beer Sales Volume. Their success compliments the book written by Steve Hindy and Tom Potter, “Beer School: Bottling Success at the Brooklyn Brewery” with a forward by current New York City Mayor, Michael Bloomberg.
Tiara adds that for some time, Hindy and Potter have been looking to expand their Brooklyn operation either into or beyond the Williamsburg boundaries. Unfortunately, rising real estate costs, several zoning laws and complicated legalities have hindered their attempts at local expansion. Given their long and challenging journey contrasted by their current success locally, Nationally and all over Canada, Europe and Asia, it’s unlikely that a little paperwork and some red tape will get in the way of these two accomplishing their goals.
The tour ends right were it begins, and everyone leaves minus some tourists taking pictures on the platform and with Tiara. She asks me who I am and politely offers me a business card from Brooklyn Brewery’s marketing manager – then adds that her current favorite beer is the Intensified Coffee Stout.
I use my remaining token to try this rich elixir with a strong five malt base including Chocolate and American black malt spiced with Willamette hops delivering a strong coffee flavor with 8.5% ABV on tap over a 10.8 degree Plato body. I thank the lady at the register for her patience, take a quick picture of her cat and escape with the Local 1 and Local 2 bottled selections into the wilderness of the street.
The ride into New Jersey from Brooklyn through Staten Island offered a car based perspective new and unique to my previous New York City residential experience. The subway had always been my vehicle and the taxi my ride. But besides delivering some Midnight Dragon posters throughout Brooklyn, partying at a couple of house parties and warehouse raves, and briefly helping out with some Greenpoint and Williamsburg galleries, Jackson Heights and Astoria, Queens had always been my home. I spent the remaining time working in Manhattan after attending College and High School in Chelsea and Midtown while taking advantage of the monstrous New York nightlife that peaked between 1989 and 1995. This regular unfamiliarity with Brooklyn intensified today’s feelings of tourism and disassociation. Or at least I say these things to make me feel better and avoid the realization that I’ve turned into a beer guzzling, razor sharp chainsaw wielding red-neck spic!
Crossing the Goethals bridge into New Jersey, I head over to the city of Rahway were my friend awaits with good food, good people, high spirits, blaring music and a row of Tequila shots ready to meet their destiny. I bring some wine, strong pastries and a hoppy IPA for good measure – ready to detonate and chainsaw the night!
Brooklyn Brewery is located on 79 North 11th Street, Brooklyn, NY 11211. They present tours every Saturday and Sunday at 1 p.m., 2 p.m., 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. while hosting a Happy Hour every Friday at 6 p.m. For more information call (718) 486-7422.
All information in this article has been gathered through the Brooklyn Brewery website, information from the tour and the Brewers Association of America.