Gypsy Brewers

No brewery? No problem. A visit to Lauren and Joe Grimm’s Gowanus apartment confirms their penchant for experimentation and reveals the philosophy of Grimm Artisanal Ales.

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A visit to Lauren and Joe Grimm’s Gowanus apartment confirms their penchant for experimentation and reveals the philosophy of Grimm Artisanal Ales. An assemblage of fermenting carboys, including four different versions of a stout, covers their countertop, and boxes of bottled prototypes, each labeled with a different symbol to denote name and batch, appear to outnumber furniture.

The couple, which started the venture in July, has developed a hardcore devotion to fermentation. They began homebrewing in 2006, inspired by Sandor Katz’s book Wild Fermentation, tinkering with kombucha, kvass and “anything we could throw organic blueberries in to propagate the wild yeast from their skins,” says Lauren.

An introduction to lambics and saisons during a visit to Belgium, however, shifted their focus to beer. The complexity of Brasserie Cantillon and Brasserie d’Orval also intensified their adoration of yeast.

“We were amazed at these flavorful and complex beers that had very few ingredients,” says Joe. “We believe that yeast, not malt or hops, is a beer’s primary ingredient. We’d taste beers and say, ‘This only has pilsner malt, but why does it taste like peaches?’”

As both attended the Art Institute of Chicago, their Belgian-influenced exploration flourished. They brewed saisons with ginger, cherry bark, lemon peel and elderflowers and served them at friends’ art exhibitions. After graduating and relocating to Brooklyn in 2010, however, their attempt to open a brewery quickly stalled.

“There was basically no way to get a loan with no sales record,” says Lauren.

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The solution was a wholesaler permit, enabling them to lease space and beer-make at other breweries. An absence of address may seem restricting, but with no commitment to property or schedule “the creative options are infinite,” says Joe. The nomadic alternative was birthed with a one-day June visit to Paper City Brewing Co. in Holyoke, Massachusetts, to create From the Hip, a Belgian-style ale with rose hips.

“If we had a physical brewery, the main focus would be brewing to pay the bills,” says Joe. “This allows us to play around and make what we want, when we want. Each beer is a statement.”

Grimm’s statement is a new single-batch release every six weeks, often featuring local ingredients. Bees in the Trappe, a bière de miel brewed with wildflower honey from Tremblay Apiaries, was released in September, and Going Awry, an abbey-style ale brewed with rye malt from the Finger Lakes, followed in October. The use of honey purchased at a Brooklyn farmers market or grain malted at Valley Malt, only 20 miles from Paper City, “thickens the plot of what ‘local’ means,” says Lauren. It also “allows us to combine our experiences as New Yorkers and gypsy brewers in our beers.”

While they will create one batch of With Love From Grimm, a Belgian-style tripel brewed with rose petals, at Paper City in January, future hosts are undecided. A facility for barrel-aging and wild fermentation is also slated for 2014, but again, the location is undetermined. Grimm has demonstrated, however, that ideology, not geography, is foremost.

“This is about the idea of doing something different,” says Joe. “Emphasizing innovation and a lack of a fixed address, we want to explore alternate possibilities for how a brewery can operate.”

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Niko Krommydas has written for Tasting Table, BeerAdvocate, Munchies, and First We Feast. He is editor of Craft Beer New York, an app for the iPhone, and a columnist for Yankee Brew News. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.