Brooklyn Returns to a Heady Time
Robert Wright for The New York Times
MORE TO POUR Shane C. Welch of Sixpoint Craft Ales.
By PAUL ADAMS
Published: October 28, 2008
BROOKLYN produced one-fifth of the nation’s beer as recently as 1960. By 1976, when Rheingold and Schaefer shuttered their Brooklyn plants, the number of local breweries dropped to zero.
Robert Wright for The New York Times
URBAN QUAFF From left, Jeff Gorlechen, Shane C. Welch and Aaron Stumpf of Sixpoint Craft Ales.
Now the hops are stirring in Brooklyn once again.
Sixpoint Craft Ales, which has been brewing an increasingly popular range of beers in a small brew house in Red Hook for four years, just bought a bottling line and a brewing system that will let it increase production tenfold — to about 60,000 barrels a year — and brew the first bottled beer in Brooklyn since the 1970s.
They’re hoping to close a deal on a property in Williamsburg to install their new equipment soon.
“I don’t think we’ll have any trouble selling every drop we make,” said Shane C. Welch, president and founder of Sixpoint.
Brooklyn Brewery re-established the association between the borough and beer when it opened in 1986, though it has the vast majority of its production in Utica. But for the past few years it has been trying to find a location in the borough so it can triple its local production, bottling beer as well as brewing draft beer, which it has been doing at a plant in Williamsburg since 1996.
Steve Hindy, the company’s president, so far has been unable to find affordable property but said he has been offered spaces outside the city by “every real estate broker east of the Mississippi.”
Greenpoint Beer Works in Clinton Hill, which has mainly brewed for the Heartland Brewery restaurants since it opened in 2003, started its own line of craft beers, Kelso of Brooklyn, two years ago. Named for the brewmaster, Kelly Taylor, and his wife, Sonya Giacobbe, it accounts for just five percent of the brew house’s output — about 500 barrels a year, double what it was a year ago.
Sixpoint’s growth in the borough has been the most rapid. Its sales have doubled every year since it started in 2004 with a dozen customers. (It even contracts out some brewing to Greenpoint.) Some 300 bars and restaurants in New York now pour beers from the Sixpoint lineup: Sweet Action, Brownstone Ale, Righteous Rye.
One of the brewery’s hallmarks is a constant flow of experiments, expressions of the brewers’ hobbyist verve that are still feasible because of its small scale. In its four years, Sixpoint has produced 40 different beers, some only once.
Its beers are a staple at beer lovers’ haunts like Barcade in Williamsburg and Jimmy’s No. 43 in the East Village. Gramercy Tavern pours Sixpoint, and Lil’ Frankie’s in the East Village has a pale ale custom-made to suit its pizza. The roster has recently grown to include a dozen bars in New Jersey and about 30 in Massachusetts. At Bierkraft, in Park Slope, where draft beer is sold by the half-gallon growler jug, “every third person who walks in the door asks for Sixpoint,” according to Ben Granger, an owner. It’s the top-selling draft beer at Whole Foods on Houston Street, too, with over 200 growlers sold in an average week.
For Mr. Welch, who moved to New York from Wisconsin, situating Sixpoint in Brooklyn was a deliberate choice.
“We weren’t able to identify any other place in the country that we thought would be as receptive to the type of beers we wanted to make,” he said. “Brooklyn had a history of producing beautiful handcrafted stuff, and it was having a creative renaissance.”
If there’s a unifying character among the various Sixpoint beers, he said, it would arise from “the positive attitudes of the people who work here.” Or it could be the house strain of yeast, a fast-acting agent called 007 that quickly ferments the sugars in the malt, yielding potent brews, and then settles out easily when it has done its work, so there is no need to filter the beers for clarity.
The 007 also accentuates the flavor of hops, like Sixpoint’s favored citrusy Yakima breeds. As a result, Sixpoint beers are quite hoppy. To compensate, beers such as Sweet Action start with a complement of sweeter malts. The mellow Brownstone ale uses 11 different malts, where most commercial beers get by on just a few.