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Beer freak: Coney Island’s head brewer keeps it weird

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He’s keeping Coney Island hopping!

Over the last few months, the tiny Coney Island Brewery beneath MCU Park in Coney Island has been quietly producing some of its most creative, best tasting beers since it opened in 2015. The man behind the latest batch of brews says that creating new varieties of beer is the perfect way for him to fuse his culinary background with his love for craft beer.

“I’ll be eating something, and think of a beer that would go with that food, or that has similar flavors,” said Matt McCall, whose first major beer at the brewery was a “Cinnamon Toast Kolsch” designed to go with French toast at brunch.

McCall, who lives in Bay Ridge, took over as Coney’s head brewer last fall, but he started his career in brewing early — in his dorm room at age 19, when he noticed that there was no law against people under 21 purchasing brewing supplies. The resulting experiment, he said “wasn’t very good, but it gave me something to do. You’ve got to start somewhere.”

He later went to culinary school and worked as a chef, but his interest in beer drew him towards a commercial brewery near Allentown, Pennsylvania — one that brewed, among other things, Mermaid Pilsner, Coney Island’s flagship beer. And when the Coney Island nano-brewery began hunting for a new head brewer, McCall was a natural fit.

Now, he says, many of his inspirations come from Coney Island and its community.

“Coney has the benefit of so many things to draw inspiration from — there’s the freak show, the beach theme, the history, local cultures,” he said. “The amount of things you can draw inspiration from is endless.”

For instance, the brewery currently carries McCall’s “Incubator Doppelbock,” an homage to the early 20th Century sideshow attraction of premature infants kept in the first incubators. Other brews are built from collaborations within the tight-knit Coney Community: his Porter Man beer is made with sweet potatoes that were roasted in the ovens of Gargiulio’s Italian restaurant, just a block away.

And McCall is still being inspired by food — but now most of them come from the seaside.

“Right now I’m working on a tarragon and lemon gose,” he said. “I was eating a lobster roll, and realized that lemon and tarragon work together really well.”

Experimenting with new flavors is part of the joy of brewing, he said.

“Half the reason is to look for things we can scale up,” he said. “The other is having fun, and just having a crazy variety at all times.”

Coney Island brewery puts out between 15 and 20 new beers each year, with most hitting during the busy summer months, so its taps are ever-changing.

“Every time you come here you should be able to try something new,” said McCall.

And whatever is on tap, you should always find something that appeals. McCall is determined that the nine taps at the brewery’s tiny bar feature a wide selection of lagers, ales, and other beer varieties.

“Some places have eight IPAs and two other beers — I’m not going to do that,” he said. “I want the taproom to have something for everyone.”

Coney Island Brewery [1904 Surf Ave. at W. 17th Street in Coney Island, (718) 996–0019, www.coneyislandbeer.com]. Open Sun–Thu, noon–9 pm; Fri, Sat, noon–10 pm. Free tours daily at 2 pm, 4 pm, and 6 pm.

Reach arts editor Bill Roundy at broundy@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–4507.
Updated 5:41 pm, July 9, 2018
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