Drink First: Brooklyn Brewery
Starting with the King of beers, also their most popular: Brooklyn Lager.
My brewery tour experience is not vast, nor is my knowledge of beer. I've been on the Heineken tour in Amsterdam, where you can drink as much as you want at the end, which I did, and then, a bit wobbly, I continued backpacking my way across Europe. I’ve also toured Anchor Steam, the small brewery located in the Potrero Hill neighborhood of San Francisco. The Anchor Steam tour starts at 1pm, so you end up skipping lunch (which isn’t smart), and then you drink every beer they make at the end (which isn’t smart). I recall being very drunk and talking to my coworkers about the celebrity who had just been found dead: Anna Nicole Smith. It was 2007.
Both tours did what is the norm: tour first, drink after. Not so Brooklyn Brewery, who offers tastes of four of their beers before their tour, followed by a whirlwind tour (“no questions please”), followed by another 45 minutes of drinking. Total tour time: 15 minutes.
I’ll admit that in the first half of the tour, whilst drinking, I was also learning, and since I’m a writer I was scribbling it down. I learned about the four ingredients in beer: malt, hops, yeast and water, and I even got to smell and taste them in their original state. I also learned the very good story of the Breweries founding, 26 years ago in 1988.
Taste #2 was an Irish Stout. The difference here is what they do with the malt (how long they roast it, how long they leave it in). I always thought that stouts were rich and heavy, but it was actually light, and, according to our tour guide, it has less calories than the double IPAs that I love. Maybe it's time to start re-thinking those IPAs?
There isn’t a lot to see at Brooklyn Brewery, other than shiny silver tanks, but the story of their founder, Steve Hindy, reached out and grabbed me. Here is the condensed version from my scribbled notes:
From 1979 to 1984, Steve Hindy was a Middle East correspondent, living in both Beirut and Cairo, for The Associated Press (AP). He reported, risked his life, and at night went home to his wife and children. During his period in Cairo he was invited to try his colleagues, Jim Hastings, homebrew. Apparently the Inspector General for the U.S. Agency for International Development knew his way around porters, stouts, hoppy ales, malty ales and more. Tindy was impressed, noting he hadn’t ever tasted a beer like that.
Back on the job, he was embroiled in all kinds of life threatening events, he was captured and taken hostage and later, at a victory parade held in Cairo, he witnessed the assassination of Anwar Sadat. Later, and understandably, his wife came to him and says, Either we return home together, or you stay here alone (I’m paraphrasing). Hindy gave notice and at his going away party the AP gave him a home brewing kit. He, his wife and two kids, and the home brewing kit, flew home to Park Slope, Brooklyn.
A special 25th-Anniversary beer from 2013. This beer really impressed me, and was the one I wanted to buy and take home. It is double fermented and the 2nd fermentation is with Champagne yeast giving it a wonderfully sweet and effervescent taste. It's also super high in alcohol content, so beware.
In 1986 Tom Potter, who became the co-founder of the brewery, moved into the apartment below Hindy and his family. The men watched their kids in their shared backyard while sharing their passion for craft beer. Eventually the men went into business together, although it took Hindy quite awhile to convince Potter it was a good idea, and an even longer time for the brewery to make money.
Shiny tanks make happy people.
Did I mention famed I-heart-New-York designer Milton Glaser designed their logo? So Hindy decides he wants this one guy to design his logo. But Glaser is like No thank you. Hindy calls every day (are you surprised?) until Glaser’s secretary finally concedes and says he can have five minutes of his time. The two founders bring their impressive business plan, and more importantly, their beer, to share with Glaser. Hours later the job is agreed to. Glaser requests two things: free beer for life and a small percentage of the company. Done.
Fancy robotic components in the newly expanded production space. I don't know what this does but it looks cool, and has a great name: 7032 Re-Bier.
When they started bottling their craft beer Brooklyn Brewery was one of about 50 craft brewers. Now there are upwards of 2,500 craft brewers, with more being added all the time. Brooklyn Brewery still brews Brooklyn Lager, both their first and most popular beer, in Utica, which is where they originally brewed their beer, but all other production has moved to Williamsburg, where they have expanded their production significantly.
The tour is well worth your time, and getting a chance to try beers you don't easily find on tap is great, just plan your diet accordingly.
Want to read more about Hindy's time in the Middle East? Check out his story on Vice. Also, here's a great interview with him from Nona Brooklyn.