Brooklyn Brewery expansion keeps a-‘head’ of the borough’s beer scene

The Brooklyn Papers / Tom Callan

Brooklyn Brewery’s Steve Hindy may not be the father of craft beer in New York City, but he is certainly the cool uncle.

And now, after 23 years in brewing, the former foreign correspondent is about to expand his Williamsburg brewing complex — an announcement that couldn’t be timed more perfectly, what with New York Craft Beer Week about to pop the cork next Friday.

When Hindy’s space becomes operational in December, the brewery will be 14 times larger — able to accommodate more experimental blends as well as produce more of Hindy’s beer in Brooklyn (most is currently produced upstate).

Just as when he worked for the Associated Press, Steve Hindy knows what he’s doing. The rest of the country may be experiencing a downturn — hell, even beer sales were down two percent last year — but Hindy, and the craft beer movement of which he is at the vanguard, is certainly experiencing a boom. Craft beer sales rose seven percent last year, and Hindy’s sales were up 20 percent, he said, riding a wave of growing appreciate for fuller-flavored suds.

So Brooklyn Brewery is the ultimate 15-year overnight success — and perfectly located in a borough that has had a long history with brewing.

In the 19th century, German immigrants brought a taste for good beer to New York — and from 1870 until the 1950s, Brooklyn was one of the largest producers of beer in the country. The borough was once home to 48 breweries, but by the time Hindy and partner Tom Potter founded Brooklyn Brewery in 1987, there wasn’t a single successful commercial brewery left.

It seems odd today, but Hindy and Potter struggled in their quest to bring “good beer” to New York, as bar owners were skeptical of the full-flavored lager.

“Back 25 years ago, Brooklyn was not a place you thought of producing cool products,” added Potter. “When we started the Brooklyn Brewery, sticking Brooklyn in the name was almost defiant.”

Hindy adds that investors seriously questioned putting “Brooklyn” on the label. Even in Brooklyn, initially only one bar, Teddy’s Bar and Grill in Williamsburg, stocked Brooklyn Lager.

Hindy's work at Brooklyn Brewery inspired craft beer makers, including Kelly Taylor, the brewmaster for Kelso of Brooklyn.
The Brooklyn Paper / Aisha Gaward

The amber-colored, slightly sweet brew — the brewery’s first beer — was a hard sell in the 1980s, but today it’s largely looked at as a run-of-the-mill beer. The shift in the paradigm of craft beer has led the brewery to produce more esoteric brews, like the highly lauded beers of Brewmaster Garrett Oliver’s Brewmaster’s Reserve series.

And nearly two decades after Brooklyn Brewery opened, two new breweries sensed a market for good beer and opened in Brooklyn: Sixpoint Craft Ales in 2004 and Kelso of Brooklyn in 2006.

New York City has seen upwards of 20 breweries come and go over the past two decades, but truly the only successful breweries have come from Brooklyn.

“Brooklyn Brewery was definitely paving the way for local craft beer for a long time. I think the fact that they were really the only one for so long inspired more people to take beer into their own hands,” said Kelso’s Kelly Taylor, noting that even when Kelso came on the scene in 2006 selling craft beer in Brooklyn was still a struggle.

Today, even bodegas stock commonplace Brooklyn Lager to imported Trappist ales — and it seems a new craft beer bar opens nearly every month.

Perhaps, Brooklyn will one day be know worldwide for its proficiency in all things beer — in July, Brooklyn Brewery even began exporting to India.

“I do think we were kind of a pioneer,” said Hindy. “And in a lot of cases pioneers end up with arrows in their back.”

Or in this case, they end up with 16,000 additional square feet of brewery space.

Brooklyn was once home to more than 100 breweries, many with their own beer gardens, like the former Trommers Evergreen Brewery.
Brooklyn Historical Society

New York Craft Beer Week runs Sept. 24-Oct. 3. Visit www.nycbeerweek.com for information on participating bars and events.