Things are brewing in Brooklyn–homebrewing, that is. Robust red ales, cloudy hefeweizen and chocolaty stouts have in the past several years laid claim to a growing number of cabinets and corners throughout Kings County.
At 465 56th Street in Sunset Park, beer has, “pretty much taken over,” says Danielle Cefaro. She and her husband Benjamin Stutz are the couple behind Brooklyn Homebrew, one of Brooklyn’s new crop of brew-it-yourself supply stores. In this recession, Brooklynites have seen salaries, hours and jobs cut. With thinner wallets, a thirst for craft beer and a wealth of free time, locals have embraced an old tradition and made it new. Brooklyn Homebrew is one of several businesses that has stepped up to the plate. Brooklyn Brew Shop arrived this summer online and at the Brooklyn Flea, plying mini-kits that allow for stylish brewing in small spaces. Williamsburg’s Brooklyn Kitchen Labs also plans to add homebrew supplies to its array of pots, pans and pectin.
This July, Cefaro and Stutz lined the walls of their living room with clinical white tubs and filled them grains called Cara Hell, Black Patent and Victory. They sourced spices and honeys, called suppliers, bought a tabletop mill and opened shop. For Stutz, the impetus to the growing homebrew movement is simple: “If you make it yourself, you get better beer, cheaper.” It also allows the adventurous to get positively alchemic–cherries, molasses, sage and even lobster shells have wound up in brewed-at-home beers.
Chefs by trade, the couple had for years used the precision and experimentation of their kitchen training to cook up batches of unusual beer. When Little D, the restaurant where they both worked, shut down, they decided to turn the brewing into a business. And it’s booming. The couple has expanded inventory, added brew kits for first-timers, and is already hunting for a new location.
On a recent afternoon, Stutz sliced open a large silver package of bright green hops. Out wafted the distinctive bitter, herbal aroma of an India Pale Ale. Online vendors can describe their wares (in this case a hybrid of Magnum, Hallertau, Fuggle and Galena hops), but this brownstone-and-mortar shop grants customers a licorice-laden whiff before they buy.
Cefaro thinks old-fashioned tangibility sets the Brooklyn Homebrew apart. “There’s something to seeing things,” she says, “being able to touch and hold them.”
Then there’s the pragmatic side. “A lot of homebrew equipment is fragile,” explains Stutz. “Before, if you broke a thermometer part way through the process, you’d have to wait two weeks for the mailman to come.” Now, brewers can stop in from Tuesday to Sunday for mash paddles, carbonaters, yeasts and grains sold at $1.50 to $2.75 per pound.
With the help of these shops, more Brooklynites from Greenpoint to Bay Ridge and beyond will capitalize on the economic slump, raise a glass and recite the movement’s mantra: Relax, and have a homebrew.
Text and photos by Lisa Riordan Seville, sent by Annaliese.