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|NYC Mayor Cuts Ribbon on Brooklyn Brewery Expansion|
|Written by Tony Forder|
|Friday, 18 February 2011 18:24|
At first I was worried about being too early and having to kill time. But, then as I crawled down the FDR on Manhattan’s east side, I began to be concerned about arriving in time for the 1030 a.m. ribbon cutting for Brooklyn Brewery’s expansion, phase 1.It had been a while since I drove into the city, much less Brooklyn, for an event like this…I long ago learned the wisdom of taking public transport to beer events. But, this was a morning event, albeit Valentine’s Day, and my new car (3-year-old Nissan Versa) was itching for a NYC scuffle.
As it happened, our timing was perfect – no thanks to the efforts of the Tom Tom GPS lady who tried to take us into Atlantic Heights instead of Williamsburg; ok my bad, I input 11th Street, Brooklyn instead of N. 11th. Luckily I knew where I was going. I’d been there before … a few times.
We parked on the neighboring block; it was a nice day – the first time I hadn’t needed an overcoat this year I believe. As I turned the corner on Brewery Row (as this block of N. 11th Street is now signposted), two black, including windows, Chevy Suburbans turned the corner. Ah ha, I thought, the Mayor. I was a literal minute from on-the-spot paparazzi, catching the entourage alighting from the vehicles. (er, this was a ribbon cutting press conference, so I guess paparazzi doesn’t really apply…like I said it had been a while since I had fired up the big camera and this was the Mayor…I was getting excited…journo adrenaline). But that was OK, they kind of gathered in the entryway for a quick briefing with Brooklyn Brewery President Steve Hindy and event planners, and I started snapping away.
Inside there was a semi-circle of TV cameras waiting – this was big! Steve Hindy and his crew have a knack for PR. This wasn’t the first time they’d hosted NYC’s Mayor for a ribbon cutting. Rudolph Giuliani cut the ribbon on the brewery’s first ribbon cutting back in 1996. It was his birthday and he had fun pouring beer and telling us how his Dad was a bartender. It was Bloomberg’s birthday too -- on Valentine’s Day! Funny that. Wait there’s more. It was also the birthday of Borough President Marty Markowitz. Now that’s almost the trifecta! “The Mayor is thinner and richer,” quipped Markowitz, “but I’m younger and better looking.”
The feel-good proceedings got underway with Mayor Bloomberg touting Brooklyn Brewery as exactly the kind of small business enterprise the city needs, creating jobs – 10 new ones now and 15 more to follow. The brewery almost didn’t stay in Williamsburg; spiralling development and real estate costs frustrated expansion attempts. Where once the brewery was practically the only business on its block, there’s now a huge bowling alley/concert hall, whisky bar, smokehouse grill, condo high rise and several boutiques. It wasn’t until the economic downturn two years ago that Brooklyn began to look good to neighboring warehouse owners, and they offered the brewery a lease they could afford.
The expansion, planned in two phases, will bring Brooklyn’s in-house capacity to 120,000 barrels, more than doubling the brewery’s 2010 output, most of which was brewed at the Matt brewery in Utica, NY. Brooklyn’s sixpack production at Matt will remain unchanged by the Brooklyn expansion which will produce mainly draft and Brewmaster’s Reserve corked beers.
The upstate connection helped the brewery secure an $800,000 grant from the Empire State Development Corp. (10% of the $8 million total price tag). Said its director, Peter Davidson, “Brooklyn Brewery is a great example of a business with feet both in New York State and in New York City.” The politicians had fun hamming it up and drawing groans from the crowd for profusive puns on the hop word. In his press release, Bloomberg was quoted thusly, “Cheers to Steve Hindy and the entire Brooklyn team. We couldn’t be hoppier for you.” In his remarks, Markowitz, turned to Hindy and said simply, “Thank you for brewing in Brooklyn.”
After the feel-good speeches and ribbon cutting – I wonder how many of those Bloomberg has done – the Mayor invited questions, and while some were brewery-related – one concerned the original character, wooden beams and exposed brick of the 1870s warehouse that the renovation has been at pains to preserve -- it was clear the press would rather resume petty squabbling with the Mayor’s office. Chief among current peeves was why wouldn’t Bloomberg admit that he was a passenger on his private jet that was the last plane to land at La Guardia (returning from Bermuda) prior to the December 26 snowstorm. The Mayor insisted his private movements would stay that way, private. When asked if he wouldn’t just say if was or wasn’t on that plane, he said no. When further pressed he replied, “Which letter in NO do you not understand?” Naturally this was a comment that made the nightly news. A Fox News reporter of oriental origin asked if Bloomberg had anything further to add to his apology for apparently insulting people of Irish origin the week before.
I asked the Mayor if he had a favorite Brooklyn beer. Always the politician, he replied, he liked them all. He did let spill though that he put ice in his beer – hmm, just like my father-in-law.
Birthday cakes were cut and beer was poured – Main Engine Start – a type of pale ale brewed with Brooklyn’s Belgian yeast strain. “It’s like Local 1, without the kick,” said original partner Mike Vitale. I ran into Tom Potter, co-founder, who is in the process of installing distilling equipment, also in Williamsburg, for his label, New York Distilling Co. “It’s a bit different from the last ribbon cutting in 1996,” he said. I told him, “I remember taking a photo of you and Michael Jackson and Mayor Giuliani.” “I remember that,” he said. Indeed, he had requested a copy.
I remembered, too, walking into Brooklyn Brewery in 1992, when it was on the other side of the street, when there was no brewery, just a warehouse with trucks delivering Brooklyn and other neonascent craft beers. My partner, Jack Babin, and I had come to meet with Steve and Tom and present an idea, our fragile concept for a beer newspaper for the New York area. After listening to our pitch, Steve, a journalist himself, paused for a while, then said, “We wanted to do something like that, but we just haven’t had the time. Sure, we’ll help you.” They agreed to distribute Ale Street News in the five boroughs of New York and to advertise on the back page. Outside, Jack and I looked at each other in disbelief. “Tony, we have a business,” Jack said.
There’s not too many people left from those days. Mike Vitale, as mentioned, Gerald (G) the warehouse manager, Hindy, and long-time rep, now in Florida, Rich Novak. Even brewmaster Garrett Oliver was not yet on board; The Ottoway brothers, Eric and Robin, came on as partners in the late ‘90s. “We even have a marketing department now,” Steve said, “four people.”
In the meantime, brewers are busy with the newly-installed 50-bbl Bavarian-built Rolec system, and they want you to come see it. Instead of just Friday nights the brewery’s tasting room will be open throughout the week. The original 25-bbl brewhouse is being retained for test batches and special in-house brews.
|Last Updated on Tuesday, 26 April 2011 16:05|