I profiled Grimm Artisanal Ales for our winter 2014 issue, enabling me to sample oodles of homebrew from Lauren and Joe Grimm at their apartment in Gowanus. Eric Steen’s Brew Pub, which returns at the Food Book Fair on Sunday, April 27, provides a similiar exclusivity, but without the hassle of visiting 25 apartments.
The event, originally presented at Performa 11 in 2011, is a “pop-up speakeasy serving beer from local homebrewers to explore this private hobby in a public setting,” says Steen, a Portland, Oregon-based artist and homebrewer. “For the first one, we built a bar, served beer for two days, and then we tore it down.” This two-session reprise, hosted at Williamsburg’s Wythe Hotel, will feature 25 New York City homebrewers compiled with the help of Brooklyn Homebrew, Bitters & Esters, and the New York City Homebrewers Guild.
“This is a way to showcase this super-interesting, super-geeky culture,” adds Steen. “We all have our own idiosyncratic ways of doing things. This is something we do in our spare time, but it often becomes the thing we’re constantly dreaming about at work.”
Steen also operates Beers Made By Walking, organizing Oregon-area hikes to gather ingredients and inspiration for homebrewing. These have spurred beers with salmonberries, chokecherries and sage. The concept for Brew Pub is similiar, but with a nod to Brooklyn.
“I asked all the participants to create a beer based on the area surrounding the Wythe Hotel,” says Steen. “There is a definite marriage between geography and brewing. We wanted to explore what moves people to create here in Brooklyn.”
Before Brew Pub on Sunday, April 27, we selected five Brooklyn homebrewers — well, almost five from Brooklyn — to breakdown their beers:
Homebrewing: 6 Years
Serving: Bushwick Fig Dubbel
“I made this traditional Belgian dubbel with Turkish Figs and some Mission figs from a tree grown locally in Bushwick. I wanted to brew something that had a more literal connection to the neighborhood since there is so much history around beer and immigrant communities in this part of Brooklyn. I have some friends who live in Bushwick, and they had a landlord of Italian descent named Nico who planted a fig tree on the property and gave figs to the tenants. Nico bought the building in the 1980s, and lived there for almost 40 years. I was privy to a few stories about this guy, and he seemed like a great character. In the mornings he would eat a pastry and drink coffee on the stoop and also grew tomatoes on the property. He liked fishing, and he would bring fresh fish he caught to the tenants, as well. Nico passed away in 2013, and I wanted to make a tribute to him and to older Brooklyn.
“This dubbel is on the sweet side, but I wanted to make sure I didn’t brew a liquid Fig Newton. You won’t get a strong fig flavor from the beginning, but you should get a hint towards the end and in the aroma. There are some fruit esters and a few spicy notes, but I chose not to add any spices. It’s also fairly light in complexion and flavor compared to a lot of other dubbels. Oddly enough, this is my first dubbel. For Eric’s last pop-up, I brewed an ale with butternut squash.”
Homebrewing: 7 Years
Serving: “Captain Wit” White Ale
“This is my second time brewing a witbier and typical to the style, it’s light-bodied, has a clean and citrusy aroma, and is both bright and hazy in appearance. I toasted the coriander seeds and used fresh nutmeg, orange zest and the juice of about ten oranges, some of which was added post fermentation. The yeast has a lead role in creating the distinctive flavor and appearance of a wit and I used Wyeast Forbidden Fruit, which brings a subtle fruit character and tart finish that complements the wheat malt nicely.
“In searching for inspiration for this beer, I started along the water at the Bushwick Inlet Park and began thinking about what it must have been like to ‘discover’ this land. In the early days of North American colonization, the Dutch were first to lay claim to New York City, and I became curious to know who had been the person hired to claim this land. It was Captain Pieter Janse Wit of the Dutch West India Company. Captain Wit negotiated the purchase of the land that we now call Greenpoint from the Keshaechqueren Indians in 1638, and later, settled there himself. Like many other captains employed by an international merchant corporation, Wit had the guts to leave his life behind in pursuit of greater opportunity and adventure. What struck me about him was not just his audacity to lead a crew across the Atlantic and then settle in Brooklyn, but that when he arrived he was able to find humor in the affair. In a letter to then Dutch governor Pieter Stuyvesant, he quipped that ‘Fourteen Frenchmen with a Dutchman, Pieter Janse Wit their interpreter, have arrived here.'”
Homebrewing: 10 Years
Serving: The World is Your Oyster… Stout
“While it stretches a little beyond the neighborhood around the Wythe Hotel, the inspiration for my beer comes from the long history New York City has had with its many rivers, streams, estuaries and coast lines, and that famous mollusk, the oyster. There used to be tons of oysters all throughout New York Bay, but overharvesting and pollution has destroyed that. With the help on institutions like the New York Harbor School on Governor’s Island, though, oysters are being reintroduced into city waters, something that could help filter pollutants and revive the struggling ecosystem.
“To raise awareness, I wanted to make an oyster stout giving notes of chocolate, coffee and a pleasant bitter roast, accompanied by a salinity and brininess from the Fishers Island Oyster Farm oysters I used. It’s a chance for people to not only explore a style they may not be familiar with, but also an idea they may not be familiar with: our bountiful waterways.”
Homebrewing: 5 Years
Serving: Springtime in McCarren Park
“When my parents chose to name me Brett rather than Wilbur Earl IV, little did they know that one day my name would come to represent also the brewer I would become. By sheer coincidence I love the taste and smell of brettanomyces, or ‘Brett’ yeast, which gives all those funky horse blanket, leather, barnyard and fruit notes. After three years of brewing IPAs, stouts and saisons, I started making almost exclusively sours and other ‘brett’ beers, that is IPAs and saisons that feature strains of brettanomyces.
“To me the Berliner weisse is one of the most refreshing beer styles. They’re simple, traditional German wheat beers featuring a very clean, almost lemony sourness. Of course I love a straight-ahead Berliner. But for special occasions I like to kick them up a bit by adding fruit. Much as you would add cherries or raspberries to a Belgian lambic to make a kriek or framboise lambic, I like to add local, seasonal fruit to my Berliner. My first attempt, using watermelon, was a resounding success last summer at a house party in Williamsburg. Now for spring, I’m using strawberries. Lots of them. This beer, born in the depths of our seemingly endless winter, came to me as I thought about springtime in McCarren Park with its dog walkers, sunbathers and soccer games. For character, I added a small amount of a strain of brettanomyces from the Flanders region of Belgium.”
Lars K. Huse & Kevin Jo Hansen
Homebrewing: 8 Months
“We don´t even live in New York — we’re based in Oslo, Norway. Eric put me in touch with Billingsgate Brewery, a trio of homebrewers in Brooklyn, so I made the recipe and brewed a batch and then Billingsgate brewed the batch for the event. I’m going to bring a couple of bottles of my batch brewed in Oslo for comparison, which should be an interesting experience.
“The inspiration for Noorman, our Norwegian-heritage, Wallonian farmhouse ale, comes mainly from reading up on history, in which I found out that the first recorded settler in what is now Greenpoint was a Norwegian man whom the Dutch colonists referred to as Dirck de Noorman — Noorman being Dutch for Norseman, which is also the name of a new brewpub in the neighborhood. He built a farmhouse, farmed the land, and had a Wallonian wife. Also Norman Avenue turns into Wythe Avenue, the location of the Wythe Hotel.
“You can expect great drinkability, complex yeasty characteristics, and the hops — Palisade and Glacier — should provide some fruitiness, a little grass, citrus and herbal notes. There will also be a touch of smoke and some acidic tang, with a slightly dry finish.”