Ferguson, along with Laura Dierks, will operate both a brewery and distillery from a one-story warehouse at 942 Grand Street. We chatted with him about his brewing history, the plans for Interboro and the Kickstarter (launched yesterday) for a pilot brewhouse.
Edible Brooklyn: Hi, Jesse. Before we talk about Interboro, let’s learn more about you. When did you discover craft beer?
Jesse Ferguson: Ok, sure. Well, I grew up in Colorado, went to high school in Fort Collins, so I was positioned in a really good area early on. I remember my buddy’s older brother used to get us bombers of Fat Tire when we’d ask him to buy us 40s of Mickey’s or St. Ides. And my dad’s go-to beer was 90 Shilling from Odell. So good beer was kinda there from the beginning. Then I learned more when I moved to New York and started working in the music industry. I was exposed to beers here that I couldn’t get in Colorado.
EB: How did someone in the music industry become a brewer?
JF: It all kinda happened by chance. In 1999 I helped start a record label called Def Jux—
EB: Wait. Def Jux? I listened to a lot of Cannibal Ox, Company Flow and Aesop in high school.
EB: Yeah. I still have my signed copy of Float somewhere at my parents’ house.
JF: That’s wild. Yeah. I’m still friends with El-P and all those guys.
EB: Can you make a beer called El-PA when Interboro opens?
JF: [Laughs.] You got it.
EB: I interrupted you. So how did someone in the music industry become a brewer?
JF: It’s cool. Yeah, while I was at Def Jux I worked on a record called Gran’dad’s Nerve Tonic by my friends Junk Science. That was in… like 2007. And to help promote it we brewed a beer with Sixpoint that was only available at Bierkraft and at venues where the group played. That was the first beer I ever got to help make, and I was pretty much hooked. I started homebrewing a little after that.
EB: What about professionally?
JF: I had two internships before we opened Carton. One was in Georgia at Terrapin, where my brother-in-law was a cellarmaster. Then I came back to Brooklyn and interned at Greenpoint [Beer Works] while Sam [Richardson, one of Other Half’s partner] was head brewer and Matt [Monahan, Other Half’s other partner] was in the cellar. Those guys taught me a lot then so it’s pretty cool that we’re all back together even if it’s for a little bit.
EB: Did you know you were starting Interboro when you joined Other Half?
JF: Yeah. After I left Carton Matt and Sam asked if I wanted to work with them, and I told them about the brewery. They said cool, work with us until you start it. That just goes to show you what kind of guys they are.
EB: When did you start developing the plans for Interboro?
JF: I left Carton in January. I’ve been working on it with Laura since then.
EB: How did you meet?
JF: It’s a great story. Laura lives next door to my wife’s family in Brooklyn. She wanted to open a distillery, and I wanted to open a brewery.
EB: Before you met, were you planning to include a distillery?
JF: No. When Laura and I met, we were each pursuing our own projects. But we really hit it off, and after we started talking we realized the creative possibilities of combining a distillery and brewery are really limitless. It all made sense.
EB: Is she handling the distillery side?
JF: I’m going to be both the distiller and brewer. She’s CEO, so more of the day-to-day …strategy, financing.
EB: Do you have any experience in distilling?
JF: I’ve been doing a ton of research, and I took a distilling course in Kentucky where I got a lot of hands-on time with a still. That’s where it really clicked into place for me.
I realized early on that making distilled spirits involves all of the same skillsets as being a brewer, with some additional technical knowledge on how to operate the still itself and the sensory training to be able to identify the various alcohols, ketones and other compounds that vaporize along with the ethyl alcohol. You have to be be able to separate the desirable ones from the ones that should be discarded. And flavors that are normally undesirable in beer, like diacetyl, amyl acetate, or acetaldehyde, can be desirable in distillate that’s going to be aged in barrels… I’m still learning. But the more I learn, the more fun it all is.
EB: Can you tell us about the space?
JF: Sure. It used to be a specialty wood-flooring workshop. It was called Norwegian Wood, which we love; that’s a great beer or whiskey name. It’s about 5,400 square feet. We’re going to dedicate about 75 percent of the existing floor space to production and the rest will be for a tasting room, bathrooms, and a small kitchen.
EB: What types of beers and spirits and can we expect from Interboro?
JF: For beer, I love hops. I love session beers… I’m having a ton of fun learning about mixed ferment beers here at Other Half, so we’ll definitely be doing those. We’re gonna have our own spirits aging in barrels so we’ll be doing a lot of barrel aging and barrel fermenting. And I shouldn’t forget lagers. We’re gonna have a pilsner for sure. Basically I’m gonna make beers that I want to drink.
Same thing for the spirits side, stuff we want to drink. We’re going to focus on whiskey for aging, but we’ll be playing with gins and amaros as well.
EB: Have you developed any recipes yet?
JF: I’ve got some homebrews I’ve been working on. One is called Devil’s Son. It’s a Brett pale ale with mint and mango. I harvested the yeast from a bottle of Almanac Devil’s Advocate. That was good, so we’ll probably revisit that.
EB: What about the equipment?
JF: We’ve ordered a 30-barrel brewhouse and 240-gallon still for our main systems.
EB: You launched a Kickstarter today for a second, pilot brewing system. Can you tell us more?
JF: The idea behind it is drinkable research basically. At Carton we had a 20-gallon brewhouse that we used to experiment with new ingredients, we’d split batches between different yeast strains … sometimes we’d brew four or five iterations of the same
beer. Really geeky stuff.
When we put them on draft in the tasting room people would love it and it’d go quick. They’d love giving us feedback too. That’s the type of stuff we want to do with Interboro. We’re going to work to bridge the gap between distilling and brewing and we want to involve the community in that.
EB: How do you plan to involve the community?
JF: We’re going to make lots of smaller batches on our pilot system, and the people that donate on Kickstarter, they’ll be able to help us decide what small batches from the R&D program get moved up into larger production.
EB: That’s with the R&D Project memberships, right?
JF: Right. We have different levels of prizes, but at the membership level you’ll receive a growler to purchase fills of R&D beers for the first twelve months. That way you can also help with quality control from your apartment.
Another incentive for the Kickstarter is being able to come in and brew, or brew and distill with us, and then have a party here to share your R&D beer or spirit with your friends… We’re really trying to reach out to and identify people who want to geek out with us on breaking down barriers between spirits and beer.
EB: Lastly, when do you expect to open?
JF: Definitely 2016. We’re aiming for the spring.