Of Brooklyn’s three craft breweries—Williamsburg’s mighty Brooklyn Brewery, the pint-size Kelso in Clinton Hill and Red Hook’s quirky Sixpoint—the last one best embodies this borough’s contemporary culinary spirit. All three make small-batch beers by hand from the heart, but only at Sixpoint does that include feeding spent grain to the company chickens, who cluck around in a rooftop coop the bearded head brewers built on a recent Sunday afternoon.
Of course that’s probably made possible by their Red Hook location, literally at the end of the borough’s earth in a converted garage behind the Liberty Heights Tap Room, a bar whose neighbors are a weed-filled school-bus parking lot and the recently Ikea-ed waterfront. Sixpoint’s harbor view, especially when taken from their blossoming rooftop farm—which includes rainwater collection units, dozens of kegs reclaimed as planters and a few claw-foot bathtubs where hops now bathe in sunlight—is stellar.
The main office, meanwhile, up a twisty staircase from the brewery itself, built on the leftover brew works from the now-defunct Park Slope Ale House, includes an old Baldwin piano, a Kegerator filled with whatever’s newly made, and chief brewer Shane Welch’s very well-behaved dog, Barley.
Welch is the type of business owner who celebrates his five-year-anniversary by deejaying a pizza party at Roberta’s in Bushwick, where a motley assortment of kegs were tapped—including those made by brewers-in-training who get creative in between batches of Righteous Rye and Brownstone Ale on a tiny homebrew system set up just for experimentation. That most micro of breweries is used for business, too: It just provided the Vanderbilt in Prospect Heights with 15 gallons of citrussy saison, a beer made with fragrant wild French fennel sourced by the chef himself.
Sixpoint’s heady handiwork is celebrated beyond our borough’s borders, too: The murky, malty, toasted-marshmallow flavors of Dr. Klankenstein, a medieval steinbier made by tossing hot stones into the wort, is available only at the Modern. And a recent visit to PDT, the East Village mixology mecca run by Jim Meehan, revealed that the only beer on tap was Sixpoint’s new Autobahn, a super crisp India Pale Ale inspired by a recent brewer trip to Germany.
It’s proof of how serious the brewing part of the business is to Welch, who runs the place with Jeff Gorlechen, a marketing master who jettisoned his old clients in exchange for equity. If Gorlechen is the more garrulous PR guy about town, Welch is Sixpoint’s introspective artiste: Soft-spoken and earnest, he worked full-time as an assistant brewer in Wisconsin while completing a double major in math and history, then bartered bottles of homebrew in exchange for a rental van to move East.
His plan was to start a brewery in Brooklyn, and for the first year he ran every single step of the brewing process himself: “I wanted to develop a system and a method and a company culture,” says Welch, “a real brewing culture.” That culture turned out to be real Brooklyn, too.
Michael Harlan Turkell is Edible Brooklyn’s photo editor, and the photographer behind The New Brooklyn Cookbook, due this fall from William Morrow/HarperCollins. Sixpoint’s Mason’s Black Wheat is named after his cat.
Editor’s note: Liberty Heights Tap Room has closed.