The Brooklyn neighborhoods of Williamsburg and Bushwick once formed the center of New York State’s brewing industry. By 1890, an area of Bushwick was dubbed “Brewers Row,” home to 14 breweries. F&M Schaefer was the last brewery to leave the neighborhood, in the 1970s.
Now, friends and homebrewers Marshall Thompson and Eric Feldman are opening a brewery in the former beer destination: Braven Brewing Company. Slated to open their venture in Spring 2014, the pair is in the middle of a Kickstarter campaign that will raise funds to brew on a larger scale. BeerUnion caught up with Thompson and Feldman about brewing, Bushwick, and inspiration.
What was the first beer you brewed?
Marshall: We used to hang out at a great bar in DC called the Black Cat and drink Newcastle Brown Ale all night long, so naturally we decided on brewing a Nut Brown Ale as our first beer. Not quite as good as Newcastle, but surprisingly good for our first go.
Eric: Our third time brewing we did a witbier that was really something else. That was the first beer we made that really stood out to our friends and got us thinking that maybe we were on to something here.
Was there anything besides the brewing history that brought you to Bushwick?
M: Actually I didn’t know the extensive history of brewing in the neighborhood when I first moved here. I knew a little bit, but only after I moved here did I start doing more research. I originally moved here because I liked the vibrant art scene, the bars, the restaurants, and the idea that anything was possible for new businesses out here. I’m attracted to being surrounded by creatives and this is the new epicenter of creativity in New York City right now.
Are both of you in charge of the brewing operation or does one of you take the lead?
E: I take the lead on the brewing itself but we always work together on deciding what types of beers we want to make, what flavors we want to taste, and what experience each beer is designed to complement. Marshall and I tend to favor different types of beer but if we can both agree on something being delicious, we’re confident a lot of other people will too. I studied chemistry back in college and am drawn to the geeky science side of brewing. At its core brewing is a simple process but there are so many elements and variables in getting from grain to glass. Choosing the elements and anticipating the variables is fun for me, I get to control every aspect of what goes on with each beer being created. Getting it from theory to actual beer can be tricky but the challenge gives me a great sense of reward when I see people enjoying our creations.
Why did you select two IPA styles to start with?
E: IPAs are popular right now for a reason – they have a strong, distinct flavor profile that is best captured on the craft brewing scale. Both Marshall and I are big fans of IPA style beers as a starting point but wanted to take them in a new direction. White and Black IPA styles are gaining popularity as they retain some of the floral hop power that craft drinkers have come to love while mixing it up with new malt flavors. That smooth wheat character in the White IPA and the slightly roastier snap of a Black IPA are fun surprises for people looking for something new.
What do you see Braven bringing to the New York beer market?
M: Eric and I have been to breweries all over the country and we think New Yorkers are missing out on the creativity going into beers outside of this area. There are a lot of really great local standards (Captain Lawrence Kolsch, Bronx Brewery Pale Ale and Brooklyn Lager come to mind), but we think, as a town so interested in experimenting with food, New York could be interested in experimenting more with beer. Our fall seasonal beer is inspired by the Mexican holiday Dia de los Muertos. It’s an orange, habanero, chocolate stout and it’s received a lot of positive reviews thus far.
E: In addition to the beers themselves, there’s a whole beer culture out there that people in the city will really take to. People like to know about what goes into their food and are just learning more about what goes into their beer. Consumers here are smart and they love variety – they think about how different hops and grains can influence flavor – and Braven will be a center for inquiring beer minds to explore more of what beer has to offer.
What breweries have inspired you?
M: Two breweries come to mind for me. Brooklyn Brewery might seem like an obvious choice here due to its location, but really the story behind how Steve Hindy and Tom Potter started and sustained their business is inspirational. These two homebrewers from very different backgrounds (war journalist and investment banker) somewhat mirrors what Eric and I are trying to do and it’s amazing to see the trail they’ve blazed for small-time brewers like us.
The other brewery that recently inspired me is Pateros Creek Brewing Company in Fort Collins, Colorado. Most people have probably never heard of them, but we visited them during a trip to Colorado last summer. They were brewing some really experimental flavors that were unlike anything we’d ever had in a beer before. The Dill Rye in particular blew our minds with what was possible, so we’ve been tinkering with some of our own innovative flavor profiles that will surely change some people’s ideas of what is possible with beer.
E: Pateros Creek was definitely an eye opener for us. The Dill Rye was admittedly one of those beers that people either loved or hated because of its unique taste. Breweries might not distribute a beer that they knew would totally divide the market but they can certainly offer it up in house and let people decide for themselves. It was a show of how creative we could do given the right platform. I’m from Long Island and am also really impressed with what they’ve done at Port Jeff Brewing Company, located just five minutes from where I grew up. They made the move from long-time home brewer to full time craft beer brewer and they captured the style of my hometown, so it’s great to see them succeeding and making awesome beers. My father’s a tough critic and even he was totally won over by the Schooner Ale.
Images courtesy of Braven Brewing Company