For nearly two centuries now, beer has been brewing in Brooklyn. The borough’s first brewery opened in 1822 and was followed by more than 100 breweries in the decades since. Though the last of these brewers closed in 1976, forced out of business by larger Midwestern producers, it wasn’t long before local breweries began sprouting up again. With one of these, Kelso of Brooklyn, celebrating its third anniversary this Sunday*, we thought now was the perfect time to get better acquainted with Brooklyn’s top three brewers.
Considering how nearly ubiquitous Brooklyn Brewery signs are in the borough today, it’s hard to imagine that the company started as two neighbors-turned-business partners delivering their own beer in a hand-painted truck. Steve Hindy, a former AP correspondent with a homebrewing hobby, and Tom Potter, a former bank lending officer, started Brooklyn Brewery in 1987 intending to reintroduce New York to the robust, flavorful beer America had enjoyed prior to Prohibition. They commissioned William M. Moeller, a fourth-generation German-American brewer, to create a recipe for their flagship beer, Brooklyn Lager, and then spent the next several years trying to get local bar owners to carry it. At the time, most distributors had little interest in working with a small brand like Brooklyn Brewery, so Hindy and Potter initially distributed the beer themselves.
Out of necessity, Brooklyn Brewery contract-brewed out of a facility in Utica, New York, until 1996, when they opened their own plant in Williamsburg. The plant was designed by Garrett Oliver (above), a well-known and respected brewmaster whom Hindy and Potter hired to expand their line of beers beyond just their lager. Today, Brooklyn Brewery’s repertoire consists of several core beers (a pilsner, IPA, and brown ale among them), a few seasonals (such as a pumpkin ale, an Oktoberfest, and a winter and summer ale), and a number of rotating small-batch brews. Because the Williamsburg plant can’t handle the volume at which the brewery produces and bottles beer today, 80 percent of Brooklyn Brewery’s beers are still brewed in Utica.
Finding Brooklyn Brewery Beers: Let’s be honest — who doesn’t carry at least Brooklyn Lager on draft, and what bodega or grocery store dosen’t carry their bottled beers? Brooklyn Brewery also distributes to much of the country, as well as overseas to Sweden, Great Britain, and Japan (check their website for a complete list), so you can get a little taste of home while you’re traveling.
New Beers on Tap: Brooklyn’s Brewmaster Reserve Series produces a new, one-time-only beer every two months. Up next: Brooklyn Cuvee de Cardoz, a Belgian-style wheat beer, followed by Brooklyn Sorachi Ace, a saison (or farmhouse ale) featuring a new hop from Japan, developed just a few years ago, from which the beer takes its name.
Touring the Brewery: Tours of the Williamsburg plant (at 79 N. 11th Street) are offered Saturdays and Sundays, every hour on the hour, from noon to 6pm.
Procuring a Keg for Your Party: Visit Whole Foods or a beverage center; Brooklyn Brewery does not sell beer directly to the public.
Sixpoint Craft Ales
When Shane C. Welch was 20 years old, he had already begun his life’s work: brewing beer. After apprenticing at a Wisconsin brewery for three years and experimenting with homebrews on his own, Welch felt ready to pursue his calling on a grander scale. And so in 2004, at the age of 25, he moved to Brooklyn and, with an old college friend named Andrew Bronstein, started Sixpoint Craft Ales in an old brew house in Red Hook. Welch and Bronstein picked Brooklyn specifically because it has long been a haven for pioneers and artists, and because it had a reputation for having food and beer audiences with adventurous tastes.
Today, Sixpoint has produced more than 40 different beers — evidence of Welch’s love of experimentation — and has expanded its distribution to include New York State, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and, as of this past April, Philadelphia. The transition from homebrewing to brewing for mass consumption has not been without its hiccups. “We’ve been through everything from our boiler malfunctioning and causing a small fire in the brewery to running out of beer because demand increased so rapidly that we literally didn’t have any kegs to fill with the beer,” says Jeff Gorlechen, director of promotions. “Then we bought more kegs and then ran out of beer to put in them.” Their growth continues even now: Sixpoint is currently planning to install larger brewing tanks in its brew house, with the ultimate goal of increasing production 200 percent.
Finding Sixpoint Beers: Look for them at any number of Brooklyn bars and restaurants, such as Brazen Head on Atlantic Avenue, Barcade and Fette Sau in Williamsburg, Carroll Garden’s Bar Vendetta, The Smoke Joint in Fort Greene, and the new Washington Commons in Prospect Heights, all of which currently have at least one Sixpoint beer on draft.
New Beers on Tap: Sixpoint just brewed its first saison, the Paul Saison, for the Modern Restaurant at MOMA; the beer will be unveiled at a dinner at the Modern on May 11.
Touring the Brewery: By appointment only. To schedule a tour (at 40 Van Dyke Street), email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Procuring Kegs for Your Party: Contact your local distributor, or buy growlers (half-gallon jugs) at Bierkraft or GRAB Specialty Foods in Park Slope, or Brooklyn Beer & Soda in Prospect Heights.
Kelso of Brooklyn
Kelly Taylor and his wife, Sonia Giacobbe, had always wanted to brew their own beer. In 2006 they got their chance when Greenpoint Beer Works — located in Fort Greene — decided to expand its production beyond New York’s brew pub chain Heartland Brewery. (Greenpoint Beer Works now contract-produces Sweet Action, too, one of Sixpoint’s more popular offerings.) Taylor, Greenpoint’s brewmaster then and now, approached his bosses about brewing his own beer at the facility, and Kelso — a combination of his and his wife’s names — was born.
In the beginning, Kelso only brewed one product: The Nut Brown Lager, a malty beer at a drinkable 5.75% abv, designed to fill a void that Taylor saw in the craft beer market. “A lot of microbrews have a tendency to be higher in alcohol and really strong in flavor,” says the brewer. “We’d go out and have a microbrew somewhere, and it’d be 7 or 8 percent alcohol — you get tired after that beer.” Once Taylor started getting requests to make different kinds of beers, Kelso expanded its product line; they now produce two year-round offerings in addition to their flagship beers (a Belgian golden ale and a pilsner) as well as four or five seasonals. The new beers still retain the Kelso ethos. Only last winter’s Chocolate Lager was stronger than 5.5 percent.
Finding Kelso Beers: Brazen Head, Park Slope’s Fourth Avenue Pub and Union Hall, Moe’s in Fort Greene, and Spuyten Duyvil in Williamsburg regularly have Kelso on tap. (For additional locations, check Kelso’s website).
New Beers on Tap: Kelso’s next seasonal will also be a saison (popular in the summertime), which Taylor describes as tasting “like a summer day in a Belgian field.”
Touring the Brewery: By appointment (at 529 Waverly Avenue, in Clinton Hill), usually in groups of 10 or 12; contact them at email@example.com.
Procuring Kegs for Your Party: Kelso sells 5-gallon kegs (two cases’ worth of beer) for around $60, and 13-gallon kegs for around $120. Just be sure to contact the brewery ahead of time to arrange for a pickup.
Other Recommended Area Breweries
Chelsea Brewing Company, Manhattan
This restaurant/microbrewery, situated at Chelsea Piers, produces two fine beers, the Checkered Cab Blond Ale and the Sunset Red Ale. The brewery is open for tours.
Blue Point Brewing Company, Long Island
Long Island’s sole microbrewery, and makers of the popular Toasted Lager and the Hoptical Illusion IPA. Try their Blueberry Ale once summer rolls around — a perfect warm-weather beer.
Brewery Ommegang, Cooperstown, New York
Residing in the same town as the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, these brewers make delicious Belgian-style beers, best represented by their flagship Ommegang Abbey Ale and their Rare Vos Amber Ale.
River Horse Brewing Company, Lambertville, New Jersey
Brewing since 1996, this brewery rotates special reserves and seasonals in with its standard lineup of lagers and ales. We recently enjoyed their Imperial Cherry Amber Ale, whose bitterness is evened about by its tart cherry aftertaste.
BB LINK: The excellent Propeller Group, who put the piss and vinegar back into Shakespeare’s classics, returns to BAM May 6-17 with a characteriscally fresh, physical (and men-only) staging of Merchant of Venice. The fifth and sixth persons to tell us the reason behind their name wins a pair of tickets to the May 6 performance, opening night.
*Earlier today we mentioned Kelso’s BBQ and open house, but they’ve since informed us that they are maxed out for the event. We apologize — but we hope you toast them anyway!
Sent by Nicole. Text by Nina Pearlman. Photos from top courtesy Brooklyn Brewery, julitattallah (Garrett Oliver), Sixpoint taps courtesy Barcade and kegs courtesy Sixpoint, Kelso photos by Jerri Chou..