Like many breweries nationwide, a growing number of local operations are now canning their beers. Gowanus’s Threes Brewing is the borough’s latest producer to offer canned beer—and starting last Friday, you can now buy Vliet and Day of the Dead in six-packs of 12-ounce cans from the brewery’s headquarters on Douglass Street.
The location also holds Ninth Street Espresso‘s only Brooklyn location, a kitchen-residency program that rotates local restaurants (e.g., Roberta’s, Insa, DBGB) and a music venue named Tiny Montgomery.
The brewery component, helmed by Greg Doroski, produces a number of delicious beers with playfully nihilistic names like I Hate Myself and Words Have No Meaning. Doroski, who is also a partner, says offering cans—which were once synonymous with mass-market brands like Budweiser and Coors—has been a goal since the company started. The move comes after a recent entry into bottling with two releases, both part of an ongoing series called Eternal Return. The first, Eternal Return Chardonnay, is a Brettanomyces-fermented beer aged in oak barrels with chardonnay must, and Eternal Return Raspberry is a Brettanomyces-fermented beer aged in oak barrels with raspberries. Both sold out in one day.
On that sunny sellout afternoon, we chatted with Doroski about Threes’ new packaging and what we can expect from them this summer.
Edible Brooklyn: Both of these bottles are part of a larger series called Eternal Return. What’s the idea behind the series, and what can we expect from future beers?
Greg Doroski: We’re hoping the idea behind the series makes more sense over time, but it starts with a concept that runs though some of Nietzsche’s writings. Taking a wide-angled view of human history and beyond, [Nietzsche] highlighted the centrality of recurrence and found metaphysical comfort in a cyclic, repetitive state of being.
EB: What’s the connection?
GD: So, the Eternal Return beers are all fruit driven. But we’re not just releasing different fruited beers and moving on. They’re certainly thought up and made as unique entities, but they’ll also function as parts of a greater whole. Years down the road, we want to revisit the different fruits we use again and again but with different bases and different techniques and treatments to make them—aging in barrels, using wild yeasts and so on. And through that we hope to find and highlight the essential nature of various elements that come together in each beer.
As we step back and look at the path we’ve traveled, and as we continue to push forward with new beers, I think differences that once seemed important will fade as recurrent elements assert their dominance. That’s what we want to explore.
EB: That’s an interesting approach. Can you tell us about any future releases in Eternal Return?
GD: The plan is to put out a cherry variant in the next few weeks. And later this summer, one with apricots and one with sauvignon blanc grape must. Aging beers with grape must is really exciting and I’d like to keep doing it in the future.
EB: Switching to cans [you released two on Friday]. What are the beers, and why did you choose to can them first?
GD: The first two we did are Vliet, our pilsner, and Day of the Dead, which we just made with the band the National.
From even before we started up the brewery, Josh and Justin [Stylman and Israelson, respectively, Threes’ other partners] and I knew we wanted a beer like Vliet to be the cornerstone of our portfolio. And in the summer, there’s nothing better than cold, fresh pilsner.
EB: What about Day of the Dead?
GD: Day is an IPA we did to mark the release of a Grateful Dead tribute album that [the National] put together. We had the release party for the album here a few weeks ago, and we released the beer with it.
EB: Why decide to can something new over your other more established beers?
GD: Well eventually, we’ll be canning a lot of our portfolio. But we were really happy with [Day of the Dead] and we decided it’d be cool to make it again and can it. I think it seemed more weird to brew a beer with the band, release it on draft and then come randomly back to it months later. So we did it again right away.
EB: You’re working with Iron Heart Canning, a mobile-canning company, to package Vliet and Day of the Dead. What intrigued you about mobile canning, and why are you choosing this method over, say, buying a canning line?
GD: Well, when you’re running a brewery, the first step with any new addition or project always starts with the same two questions: “Do we have the space?” and “Do we have the capital?” With canning, we didn’t have room to store a canning line or the money to buy one, so mobile canning was the best way to get it done. Plus we went to Other Half [Brewing] not too long ago and watched Iron Heart work their equipment, and I couldn’t imagine jumping into a complex process like canning without a team of pros like that. I think there’s good reason why mobile canning has become so popular in the industry.
EB: How often do you expect to can?
GD: We’re planning to package two times a month. Those could either be cans or bottles, but the plan right now is to put out something every other Friday. We’re still in the early stages and learning a ton, so like everything else we do that could change over time.
EB: How do you decide what gets packaged in a can or bottle?
GD: We’ll be doing some beers in both formats, but it basically comes down to the style of beer and what packaging works best for that style. Most, if not all of our IPAs, pale ales and lagers will go in cans. Beers like Chronic Myopia, Unreliable Narrator and Superf*ckingyawn, which is now SFY.
Our saisons, wild beers and anything that benefits from bottle conditioning, those are gonna be bottled; Wandering Bine, Table Beer, Atomic Swerve and all of the Eternal Return beers.
EB: The first two bottles were limited releases, only in the hundreds. Will this always be the case? Will can releases also be this limited?
GD: Bottle releases are probably always going to be more limited than cans. I think as we grow and scale up production, we’ll have the ability to do more bottles. But it’s always going to be a challenge when you’re aging or barreling beers; you’re setting aside a substantial portion of product for the future and making a bet it’ll work—and that’s not even to mention the real estate it takes up. With these Eternal Return beers, we paid Brooklyn rent on them for over a year. [Laughs.] All that said, even our can releases, which will be beers that have a quicker turnaround, they’ll also be limited. We only brew 15 barrels at a time now, which is roughly 200 cases of cans.
EB: Can you talk about the label design? Are you going for a specific theme or look overall?
GD: Approaching the design part of it all was a really challenging thing to try to wrap our heads around in the beginning. We had planned on packaging beer from day one, but we wanted to make sure we knew which beers. And then it was that we knew what we wanted for the design, but we had a hard time articulating what that exactly was.
So we happened to be almost lamenting this fact to some friends who are regulars at Threes, that also own a branding agency called YARD. We never even thought to ask them to partner with us because based on their work, we thought we’d never be able to afford them. But, thankfully, they asked us if we’d be interested in collaborating, and we’ve had a phenomenal rhythm working together since. What do you think of them?
EB: They almost look like book covers.
GD: I’m glad you said that; we were really inspired by old beat novels and other stuff we’ve read through the years. The goal was for them to have a certain timeless quality. We wanted them to suggest a narrative direction of the beer, but also be compelling and beautiful on their own. We’re all really proud of them.
Before ending the conversation, we asked Doroski to speak more extensively about three beers Threes will release this summer in either cans or bottles:
5.1% ABV, 12-ounce can
I’m proclaiming this summer the Summer of Pilsner. And since Vliet is our pilsner, you should drink Vliet this summer. Our pilsner is German in style, with a bunch of Saaz and Spalt Select hops imparting their herbal and floral flavors. Crisp, light and right around 5 percent ABV, it’s perfect to crush at any hour, mostly anywhere.
Eternal Return: Cherry
6.9% ABV, 500-milliliter bottle
We aged a brown base beer with a nice malty foundation in cabernet franc barrels from Long Island winery Macari Vineyards with a mix of sweet and tart cherries we sourced from our friends at Wickham’s Fruit Farm, also on Long Island. We added over two pounds of cherries per gallon of beer, a healthy dose, that gives this a rad “pit” character. The beer is nice and dry with a bunch of layers of cherry.
9.4% ABV, 16-ounce can
This is an IPA we initially called Superf*ckingyawn, but the [Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau] didn’t think cursing on the can was a good idea. Regardless, SFY is one of our most popular beers, and with it being dangerously drinkable we foresee it being a perfect vehicle for the #instadrunk shotgun experience once canned. Brewed with Mosaic, Simcoe and Columbus hops, you’ll get juicy tropical-fruit flavors and aromas with a hint of fresh pine.