Passionate Homebrewers Lead Brewing Boom in NYC’s Outer Boroughs
By Sarah Annese
When thinking about great beer cities in the United States, Portland, Denver, Seattle and San Francisco might come to mind. But New York? Probably not. At least not yet.
At the forefront of mixology culture and the setting of more than a few wine bars, New York has lacked in local brews. That’s not to say contributions from institutions like Brooklyn Brewery, Chelsea Brewing or the Heartland chain haven’t had an impact on the local scene, but for a long time they were the only names in the game.
Now, a spate of dedicated homebrewers are opening craft and nano breweries throughout the city, particularly in the outer boroughs. These brewers are so committed to improving New York City’s beer landscape that many fit brewing into the off hours from their full-time jobs.
Paul Sciara had been brewing with his brothers John and Jeff for years. Since the response to their beers was so positive, they decided to launch City Island Beer Co. in the Bronx. Their flagship pale ale is contract-brewed at Paper City Brewery in Holyoke, MA, while the brothers look for space for a brewery in their home borough. “We’re a local brand,” says Sciara, who works as an engineer by day. “Craft beer is a big growth area in the city. … It’s more exciting than you can imagine.”
Queens was a veritable brewing desert until 2012 when three breweries opened in the borough. Ethan Long and Marcus Burnett, friends and longtime homebrewing partners, led the trend with Rockaway Brewing Co. As California transplants, they felt New York City needed more local beer. “If Portland can have [more than 70] breweries, New York City can have more than a handful,” Long says. He works for a scenery fabrication operation and Burnett works as a cinematographer during the day.
Though the brewery takes its name from the Rockaway neighborhood, Long and Burnett brew out of Long Island City. Being a part of the brewing trend is “pretty amazing,” Long said. “I was calling it a small wave, but it’s really like a tsunami.”
Bridge and Tunnel Brewery opened in Maspeth, Queens, in late 2012. It’s a one-man nano brewery by homebrewer Rich Castagna. He manages to fit in brewing between family obligations (he has a wife and three kids) and a full-time job arranging exports for a shipping company.
In December Rich Buceta opened SingleCut Beersmiths in Astoria, Queens. Buceta began homebrewing in the ’90s. He aims for SingleCut to be a “true local brewery.”
With a focus mainly on lagers, Buceta takes inspiration from guitar and rock legends, such as Cult guitarist Billy Duffy, who has two of SingleCut’s IPAs named for him. The 19-33 Queens Lagrr is a shout-out to the year Prohibition ended. “I hold the standard very high,” he says. “My heroes are the brewers on the West Coast and in Vermont. Opening a local brewery isn’t good enough. It has to be great.”
This trend of homebrewers going pro in New York City shows no signs of stopping in 2013.
EST Brewing will debut in mid-2013 at the Brooklyn Flea’s Smorgasbar section of its summer food market Smorgasburg. EST is the brainchild of Erica Shea and Stephen Valand, owners of a successful homebrewing kit business, the Brooklyn Brew Shop, along with their production manager, Tim Evans.
“It’s the coolest thing in the world to realize that you can do this at home and serve your friends something delicious,” Shea says. “We like re-creating that experience for people, but we also really like drinking our beer.” EST’s beers will reflect food and flavors of the seasons, the first being a jalapeño saison.
Slated to launch in autumn 2013 is Finback Brewery, started by homebrewers Basil Lee and Kevin Stafford. Lee and Stafford are closing in on a location for their 20-barrel system. Meanwhile, the pair has been bringing beers to homebrewing events. “The homebrewing community is pretty awesome in New York City,” Lee says. “Everyone’s excited and fundamentally interested in making the beer.”