Monday, November 28, 2011

Brewery Tour: Brooklyn Brewery

My college buddy and favorite drinking partner, Doug, recently moved into an apartment in Park Slope with his girlfriend Sarah and while I’d be much happier with them residing in Philly, that’s not going to stop me from paying them a visit. We had a packed schedule for our Saturday so after a brief neighborhood tour we shot over to Williamsburg to check out the Brooklyn Brewery.

We were a bit surprised to find a line stretching down the sidewalk along the brewery. Perhaps there was some sort of event going on that we didn't know about? Nope, just a packed house for Saturday tours. Eventually we got inside to find yet another line that we had to wait in to get ourselves some tokens good for beers at the bar which had ANOTHER even longer line in front of it but luckily it moved surprisingly fast. We finally made it to the bar and were quite eager to order our drinks, I went with the Radius which is Brooklyn's Belgian Pale that clocks in at 4.8% ABV. This was a light and effervescent ale, biscuity body with those signature citrus and pepper Belgian notes. I hadn't seen or heard of it before and I'm always up for trying a brewery's more limited offerings.

The bar is situated in a large drinking hall where they welcome you to bring in your own food and hang out for the afternoon. While I love having a full-blown restaurant attached to a brewery, this idea is equally appealing to me. Every table was filled with people who had brought in pizzas and what not, I spotted one couple who was simply enjoying a box a Triscuits with their beers. If I was a local I could definitely see myself hanging out there quite often. Not wanting to sacrifice the three tokens it would cost to get a glass of The Companion, I filled up with their IPA before the tour got underway.

Somehow, our massive tour group got organized as we were lead through the original brewhouse and into a much larger space which housed many a fermenter and their bottling line. Our tour guide explained that this was all part of a recent expansion. The original brewhouse is really too small to fit any sizable group so guides have a handy-dandy diagram illustrating all of the equipment and brewing process. Our guide decided to go rogue and basically skipped that whole part that can become a bit tiresome when you've been on a few brewery tours.

Instead he delved into the history of Brooklyn Brewery, something I realized I didn't know much about. The brewery was founded in 1987 by former Associated Press correspondent Steve Hindy who spent a lot of time in Middle Eastern countries where alcohol production, possession, and consumption was essentially forbidden. Steve found that these restrictions led many people to homebrewing and he learned the basics from this underground scene which he had sort of fallen in love with. Once he returned home he realized that Brooklyn was deprived of a local brewery so he, along with his friend Tom Potter, quit his job put together Brooklyn Brewery. One of the cooler brewery origin stories if you ask me.

The lively discussion carried on with a number of other amusing anecdotes like how graphic designer, Milton Glaser (who created the I Love New York campaign) was hired to develop the brewery's logo and branding but wanted to be paid in beer. Or how the local mafia was a little miffed at Hindy and Potter who weren't paying their dues when the opened the brewery.

I also hadn't realized that Brooklyn contracts out the brewing for their 12 oz bottle packaging, that all takes place in Utica. And while there are a number of states that don't get any Brooklyn beers, you'd be able to get yourself some Brooklyn Lager over in Europe and Asia. Perhaps I'm just ignorant but this was all news to me.

I don't think I've been on another tour that offered so much insight into the brewery's history, the stuff I usually find the most interesting. The word "tour" can be a bit misleading here though, our entire time in the brewery was spent surrounding our guide who stood atop a rickety step ladder. The brewery didn't seem to be laid out in a tourable manner and like I said, there were quite a few of us to corral so I don't blame them. Despite the lack of movement, I'd still say this is one of the more unique and informative tours being offered. Just don't expect to learn that much about the brewing process.

The ladies wanted to head across the street to some over-priced thrift store after the tour which was something I just couldn't handle after being filled with that bit of brewery joy so Doug and I headed over to nearby Mugs Alehouse. Browsing the typical tap list I caught one gem at the last minute, Dogfish Head's 120 Minute which had escaped me this year back home was just sitting there waiting for me to order. I knew we had a long day of drinking ahead of us but we couldn't resist the lure of such a brew especially since you would rarely see it on tap down here without any fanfare.

I could definitely fill another post with the rest of the weekends adventures which included a mini Brooklyn bar tour and a few liquid surprises (2007 Weyerbacher Blasphemy anyone?). I'm always thrown off in NYC when the bars don't close at 2 am which always makes for an interesting morning after, nothing that a little brunch can't take care of though.

79 North Eleventh Street
Brooklyn, NY 11211


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