Hurricane Sandy will definitely affect Brooklyn Brewery’s distribution in New York City, New Jersey and the rest of the metro area. But the big storm did not physically damage the brewery or our Brooklyn warehouse. The East River rose about 14 feet above normal, but that left it about a block from the brewery and warehouse.
Our distributor, Phoenix/Beehive, was not so lucky. Their operations are on the piers in Red Hook, Brooklyn, a low lying area south of the brewery.
First reports indicated there was five feet of water in the Phoenix/Beehive warehouse, but owner Rod Brayman said Monday the water was only a foot and a half deep. The main damage was caused by the wind, he said.
They will be repacking a lot of cases that were destroyed by the storm waters.
Many of our customers were not so lucky either. Power was out in much of lower Manhattan. Many areas near the Hudson and East rivers were under water. That means the cellars of many restaurants and bars were flooded.
All the East River train, car, truck and bus tunnels flooded. Subway service across the city was canceled. Many subway tunnels filled with salt water, an enemy of the electrical equipment that powers the trains. This means the commuter traffic on Wednesday was horrendous. Mayor Bloomberg later declared that only cars carrying three passengers could use the East River bridges.
Some of our employees were not so lucky either. Chris Rom was without electricity in North Jersey; John Boegel lost two trees in his backyard in Jersey. Karl Knoop’s bungalow on Breezy Point on the seashore in south Brooklyn escaped the inferno that destroyed 80 homes during the story. But Karl was not sure how the storm surge affected his property.
I rode my bicycle to work today. It looks like that may be my main mode of transportation for a few more days.
I attended the David Byrne & St Vincent concert last Saturday at Williamsburg Park, just down the street from the brewery. It was a fantastic marriage of two generations of music. David Byrne, 60, and Annie Clark, 30, came together with songs from their new album, Love This Giant, and some Talking Heads favorites, like “Burning Down the House” and “Road to Nowhere.” Clark told the audience that she first remembers hearing Byrne when she was four years old, and she could not believe she now was on a stage with him. The lovely Clark was stunning in electric black hair, blue skirt, halter top and yellow guitar. Byrne was handsome with his trademark white hair, white shirt and slacks, navy blazer and red guitar. The crowd of 5,000 was spellbound by the two performers and their brass section back-up. The lead singers’ and back-up musicians’ movements were carefully choreographed. The audience knew the words to the current songs and the Talking Heads revivals. The Williamsburg Park concerts are a continuation of a seven-year Williamsburg tradition that began at McCarren Park Pool, moved to New York State Park on the East River and finally to Williamsburg Park, the first phase of a city plan to develop waterfront parkland from North 5th Street to North 16th Street. The concerts raise funds for the Open Space Alliance for North Brooklyn, an organization that I serve as founding Chairman. OSA is dedicated to creating new parks and improving existing parks in all of North Brooklyn—the area defined by Greenpoint and Williamsburg.
Teddy’s Bar & Grill was one of five customers we delivered to on our first day in business, March 30, 1988. For a long time, Teddy’s was our only customer in Williamsburg. There was no sign on Teddy’s. I think it was named for the Polish owner who preceded the three people who bought it in 1987-Felice and Glenn Kirby and Lee Ornati. The bartender was Eddie Doyle, an old timer who recalled the days when local breweries like Schaefer and Rheingold owned the beer business in New York. Before Prohibition, Teddy’s had been owned by one of those old Brooklyn breweries, Peter Dolger. Eddie pushed Brooklyn Lager on Teddy’s daytime regulars and the eclectic nighttime mix of artists, musicians, construction workers, firemen and cops. I remember when Glenn, astounded, told me Brooklyn was selling as well as Bud. And then I remember Felice giving us a second tap when we opened our brewery on North 11th Street. We are grateful for Teddy’s business. We are happy to help them celebrate their 25th anniversary and wish them another 25.
If there ever was any doubt that Brooklyn can travel, it was dispelled by the BROOKLYN, SWEDEN music festival. I was in Stockholm for the two-day festival at top Swedish music club Debaser. The festival also played Debaser’s club in the artsy southern city of Malmo. Sixteen Brooklyn-based bands headlined by “Blonde Redhead” and “The Hold Steady” played to avid sell-out crowds. Debaser CEO Annalie Telford told me that Debaser got more press and social media action with this festival than with any show they have ever produced. The bands were treated to beer dinners featuring a broad range of Brooklyn beers, and the beers were on sale at each venue. Annalie said the beers got as much press as the music — a reflection of the excitement that Brooklyn Brewery has been able to create in Sweden. We’re brainstorming with our international partners about how to bring even more Brooklyn on the road.
There were some wonderful surprises when we launched Brooklyn Lager in the late 1980s. To our amazement, Spike Lee, the Brooklyn filmmaker who startled the film world with Do The Right Thing in 1989, used Brooklyn Lager in an important scene in the movie.
Actor Ossie Davis, who plays a life-long resident of Bedford-Stuyvesant, finds only two beers in the cold box of his corner deli—Miller Lite and Brooklyn Lager. He asks the Korean deli owner for Miller High Life. The puzzled deli owner, who knows nothing about beer, refers him to the cooler.
“Where is the Miller High Life?” rages Davis.
Thus Brooklyn Lager is used to demonstrate the gentrification of Brooklyn. Not only is Bed-Stuy being invaded by educated interlopers, Miller High Life has been replaced by Brooklyn Lager.
OK, not the most flattering portrayal of Brooklyn Lager’s contribution to Brooklyn history, but an accurate one. We ended up meeting Spike Lee and pouring Brooklyn Lager at some of his legendary release parties.
And I am happy to report we will be pouring Brooklyn Lager again this summer when his latest movie, Red Hook Summer, is released.
– Steve Hindy, President & Co-founder
UPDATE // AUG 7 The release party for Red Hook Summerwas a hit, with party-goers including Mike Tyson, Laila Ali (pictured below), Cassidy, and cast members from The Wire. And a handsome Brooklynafied step-and-repeat. Check out more pics here.
Small brewers in New York State are facing their biggest legislative challenge ever. On March 28, the state tax department struck down the small brewers’ excise tax exemption in response to an importer’s claim it violated the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution because it favored NYS brewers over out of state brewers. The exemption was for New York brewers under 200,000 barrels.
The Legislature had approved the exemption in 1989 to encourage the small brewing industry in the state. And it worked. There are more than 90 breweries in the state today. This additional tax will cost the Brooklyn Brewery $600,000 this year alone. What an unwelcome surprise. It could force us to raise prices to cover the tax.
Our legislators and the governor reacted quickly with a plan to enact a production tax credit for beer brewed in New York. It is believed that would pass muster with the Constitution. We sure hope so. New York is one of the most expensive places in the world to brew beer.
Small brewers employ more than 3,000 people in New York, and our breweries are a big attraction for the state’s booming tourism industry. We hope our legislature moves quickly. There are only two weeks left in the current session. Meanwhile, Brooklyn Brewery paid about $50,000 in unexpected taxes in April, and the May bill is on the way.
I’m at the Craft Brewers Conference in San Diego this week. The 4,500 participants could not be more excited or confident about the future of craft beer in America. Craft’s share of market has doubled to about 6% since the conference was last held here in 2004.
Virtually all of America’s 2,000 craft brewers are expanding capacity in numbers that will easily push us past 10% share in the next decade. And there are more than 1,000 wannabe brewers busily honing their business plans.
That is a very exciting prospect for the hundreds of equipment fabricators and other industry suppliers in attendance. There also is a huge contingent of distributors at the conference, all of them enthusiastic about the fastest growing segment of the alcoholic beverage industry.
This year’s CBC includes the World Beer Cup awards, to be announced Saturday. There are more than 4,000 entries this year from 29 countries. That is a river of beer for the 215 judges, including our brewmaster Garrett Oliver, to taste. A tough job, but somebody has to do it.
It’s been 17 years since we brewed the first batch of Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout. It was the first beer Garrett Oliver brewed for us, and it was inspired by a homebrewed stout that I used to make. Garrett did it much better, of course. I recall my partner Tom Potter was nervous about making 6,000 cases of a stout beer. Tom noted that our distribution company, The Craft Brewers Guild, only sold a couple of thousand cases annually of stout beers, from Samuel Smith’s, Grant’s, Sierra Nevada and others. Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout was bigger and stronger than any of them. We believed that it would be a winner and we took a chance. It sold out by January 1995. This year, we’ll sell 12 times that much. It’s a winner.
The “Brooklyn Night Bazaar” planned for Dec 15-17 at 149 Kent Ave with DJ James Murphy, and bands Fucked Up and The Hold Steady takes me back to a similar extravaganza on the Brooklyn waterfront in 1989, the Cat’s Head*. Of course there are significant differences. The Cat’s Head was completely illegal. As I recall, it was created by a group of early Williamsburg settlers –Robert Elmes, Jessica Nissen and Fred Valentine. They squatted in an abandoned industrial building on the waterfront. No one had insurance; no one had any official approval from the Building Department or the Fire Department or the Police Department. No one had a beer license, but they somehow managed to buy and sell Brooklyn Lager. There were radical art installations, towering sculptures, exploding watermelons, nude performance art, even a tennis match between Paul Campbell and Reggie Hodges in a grain silo, when the event was held in the Mustard Factory on Grand. There were great bands. It went all night. It was utterly raw. As I recall, there were two such Cat’s Head happenings. The shadowy organizers took the profit and went to Berlin and did a Cat’s Head there.
The Brooklyn Night Bazaar will be much more buttoned up, but it continues a great Williamsburg party tradition.
– Steve Hindy, President & Co-founder
*I seem to recall a severed cat’s head on the property gave the event its name.
If you have been to the brewery lately, you could not fail to notice our new mural. The Egyptologists among you will appreciate the hieroglyphs that translate: “Beer has dispelled the illness which was in me.” Our translation was done by Dr. Kent Weeks, the world’s leading Egyptologist. I met Kent in Egypt in 1981, when he was a visiting professor from UC Berkeley. Kent resigned his cushy job at Berkeley and took a seat at American University of Cairo to lead the Theban Mapping Project, an ambitious effort to map all the tombs in the Valley of the Kings and Tombs of the Queens in Luxor, Egypt, using the latest remote sensing equipment. In the course of those explorations, Kent uncovered important new tombs in Luxor, making him the most prominent archaeologist since Howard Carter dug up King Tut.
Kent now divides his time between Upper Egypt and Connecticut. Indiana Jones has nothing on this guy.