Hometown Hideouts: Learning How Brooklyn’s Breweries Scale Their Operations

Here’s what our Collective members learned when they woke up super-early one Tuesday to drink beer.

Greenpoint Beer and Ale Co. - photo credit: Facebook/Greenpoint Beer and Ale Co

Greenpoint Beer and Ale Co. is working on scaling up, as Collective members learned.

Join the Edible Collective and you’ll be joining the Edible Community. Think of it as a roundtable where bartenders, chefs, makers and farmers share ideas, education, enlighten and enhance skills. The Collective is made up of the people who make what we eat and drink. 

1 p.m.: It’s still considered morning for most New York City Bartenders. And what better way to start a 90-degree day than with an ice-cold beer? That’s why, to kick off a recent Tuesday, Collective members, mostly local bartenders, explored three local breweries: Brooklyn Brewery, Greenpoint Beer and Ale Co. and Keg and Lantern, as part of the Collective’s Hometown Hideouts series, which is about discovering the local treasures that make hospitality possible. (We last visited Van Brunt Stillhouse.)

Visiting these breweries back to back created a clear juxtaposition of scale. Scott Simpson, lab technician of Brooklyn Brewery, explained the challenge of consistency. “For us, whatever we make it needs to be scalable… If we can’t scale it, then we can’t make that beer, even if it’s really cool.” Collective members were awe-inspired by how much Brooklyn produces. But they also don’t skimp on the fun. “Every employee, in order of seniority, gets to make one beer for bottling in our experimental fermenter… pretty much nothing’s off the table.”

Greenpoint Beer and Ale brewers take cues from their time working at Brooklyn Brewery, but applied to a more manageable scale. Greenpoint’s brewery is nestled in the back of its spacious brew pub. We barely squeezed into the fermenting room, but it was worth it to learn about how head brewer, Erik Olsen, and his team manually transfer wash to fermenter and how they manage fermenting multiple beers at a time. Greenpoint stocks only the brew pub, but is soon moving to a larger space, so some bottles will be available for local distribution. Members were most entertained by learning about how Erik comes up with the cheeky names (sometimes on the fly) and hearing about one brewing disaster while using Brettanomyces.

Brettanomyces is no challenge for former Greenpoint employee Jeff Lyons. Jeff is the head brewer at Keg and Lantern, just a few blocks from Greenpoint, and he brews in a basement under the brew pub upstairs. “Our biggest limitation is height. There’s only so much equipment that’ll fit.” Brettanomyces is a genus of fungus that’s less tame than the highly domesticated and commonly used yeast, Saccharomyaces. “Saccharoymces is like a dog. Since it’s so domesticated, it’s more predictable, whereas Brett is more like a cat; it’s domesticated but harder to control.”

We learned all of this while crouched around the fermenters. Keg also only serves the brew pub, and most beers are only produced once. “We want to cater to our local community and give variety. We could reproduce beers, but it’s more fun to push the limits and see what we’re capable of.” Jeff’s a huge fan of collaborations and loved the idea of collaborating with Collective members on a beer—keep your eyes peeled for our collaboration, likely to be named Kitten Mittens.

The brewing community is small, but there is a ton of support for each other and for the craft. Professional brewers cultivate the home brewers, who will someday become the next generation of professional brewers, we learned. But alongside that is fun, and it was clear throughout each brewery that’s the driving force for what keeps the community alive, healthy and refreshed.

Note: Huge thanks to Collective member Brian Winget, of Barcade, for helping make this event possible!

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