These days, it’s hard to navigate a New York City beer blog and not hear frequent mention of the many great craft breweries taking over the city. There’s Other Half, Grimm, Finback, Singlecut, Transmitter—the list, like the road, goes ever on and on. But before this city gave us $8 craft beers, there was a small brewery based out of Williamsburg, struggling to revitalize the city’s rich and storied history of beer brewing.
On Sunday, news broke that this “small” brewery would be expanding to the Navy Yard, and made plain just how successful Brooklyn Brewery has been at reviving the local craft beer scene, here and abroad. Since they opened their doors nearly 30 years ago, the brewery has not just expanded its reach locally—it’s gone well beyond Brooklyn. Roughly half of its beers, most of which are brewed upstate in Utica, are sold outside the city of New York. It’s what’s made Brooklyn Brewery the 12th largest craft beer brand in the country and number one exporter of craft beer in the U.S.
But over the next decade, Brooklyn Brewery hopes to cement its legacy and presence in the city of New York. The crown jewel of this plan is this week’s announcement that the 28-year-old company will open a new 75,000-square-foot brewery, complete with a rooftop brewpub and restaurant—in the 215-year-old Brooklyn Navy Yard’s Building 77. Once the operation is up and running in 2018, Brooklyn Brewery will produce about 130,000 barrels of its beer within city limits (the Williamsburg location currently brews 80,000 barrels a year).
“The history of the Navy Yard is unbelievable,” said brewery co-founder Steve Hindy, who added that his own father was briefly stationed in the Yard during World War II. “And [it] was always very attractive to us because there are so many interesting companies there and so many kindred spirits, you know, entrepreneurs and people with big ideas.”
According to Hindy, the team at Brooklyn Brewery began looking for a second location in earnest as far back in 2003. A space at Pier 6 in Brooklyn Bridge Park seemed promising, but the measure that would have made it possible was ultimately killed by the City Council. From there, the company considered sites in Red Hook, Sunset Park, and other parts of North Brooklyn, including Bushwick.
However, all these potential spaces would possibly meet the same fate as the original brewery, which after being rezoned for commercial use in the 1990s is now surrounded by nightclubs, bars, and hotels overflowing with young Brooklynites and tourists. (“We’ve been a victim of our own success,” says Hindy). Building 77, on the other hand, is a $143 million, 1 million-square-foot project that will remain wholly protected from unchecked development for the foreseeable future. With a 40-year lease in hand, Hindy and the Brooklyn Brewery team can rest easy knowing that Brooklyn nightlife won’t encroach on their territory or that of their soon-to-be-neighbors.
“I think it’s going to be cool being in the Navy Yard with David Steiner from Steiner Studios and the Mast Brothers and Kings County Distillery and Brooklyn Grange,” says Hindy. “It’s going to be fun to exchange ideas with them and have a beer with them.”
And the expansion won’t stop there. The brewery has been jockeying for at least two years to open a 200,000-square-foot production plant on Staten Island. The implications of such a move would be massive for the company as Staten Island’s harbor location could cut overseas shipping costs while the island’s rail system would make it easier to ship in raw materials like grain and hops. Above all, a location on Staten Island would allow Brooklyn Brewery to shutter its Utica operation, which currently produces 240,000 barrels per year, and brew all its beers in New York City for the first time in its history.
“It opens up having tours on Staten Island, having tours in Brooklyn,” says Hindy. “And it would be the biggest manufacturing venture in New York City in 30 years.”
As for the original Brooklyn Brewery? Hindy says those rumors that it will close once its lease is up in 2025 are unfounded. In fact, the former journalist hopes to add a restaurant to the space and perhaps even a museum tracing not just the Brooklyn Brewery’s history, but the history of the long-forgotten breweries that came before it in the form of a sizeable vintage beer can collection.
“I’d really love to keep that space in Williamsburg,” says Hindy. “Not only is it a very cool, quirky space, but that’s the original Brooklyn Brewery. It’d be amazing to preserve that for the future.”