Happy 35th birthday, Brooklyn Lager. The flagship release from Brooklyn Brewery launched in 1988 and served as a watershed moment for the craft beer movement. The lager was the brainchild of the late William Moeller, a fourth-generation German-American brewmaster, who was inspired by a pre-Prohibition American style of lager — it was also a reminder that Brooklyn was once a thriving area of beer production. The beer (which features a logo designed by graphic artist Milton Glaser, who also designed the “I love NY” logo) has since won numerous industry awards, including the 2018 World Beer Cup Gold Medal in the American Amber Lager Category.
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And what better way to celebrate a beer than with a party? Brooklyn Brewery is hosting a two-day fest, starting today at Teddy’s Bar & Grill, the same place where Brooklyn Brewery co-founders Steve Hindy and Tom Potter hand-delivered the first batch of Brooklyn Lager 35 years ago. The event will also feature a number of specialty food items crafted with help from the brewery, from pizza created with Brooklyn Lager dough (via Fornino), Brooklyn Lager Lemon Cake cupcakes (from Ovenly) to ShackMeiser burgers and a limited selection of ShackMeister Frozen Custard from Shake Shack (the brewery’s collaborative project with the burger joint).
Before the celebration begins, we spoke with Brooklyn Brewery’s Brewmaster Garrett Oliver and CEO Eric Ottaway about the impact of Brooklyn Lager, the brewery’s move from its long-time Williamsburg home and how the craft beer was reshaped post-Covid.
InsideHook: What was the impetus to start a brewery in Brooklyn?
Eric Ottaway: [Co-founder Steve Hindy] was introduced to homebrewing when he was stationed in the Middle East for the Associated Press. He learned there was a long tradition of expats brewing their own beer, particularly in countries where you can’t buy alcohol. When he returned to Brooklyn in the early 80’s he began homebrewing himself, and he also discovered that the borough was once home to 50 breweries before the last two- Schaefer and Rheingold- shut down in 1976. Bored with his desk job as Foreign Editor at Newsday, he convinced his upstairs neighbor, Tom Potter, to join him and the two set out to bring brewing back to Brooklyn.
What was missing from the beer scene at the time?
EO: Pre-Prohibition Brooklyn was home to a wide variety of beer styles, many in the German tradition given the origin of many of the local breweries. By the early 80’s all those beers had largely ceased existing, and only mass-market American Lagers or Light Lagers remained. Beer with distinct flavor and character had disappeared.
Can you explain the importance of Teddy’s in the history of Brooklyn Brewery?
EO: Teddy’s was the first bar to take delivery of Brooklyn Lager, and has been a steadfast partner ever since. It’s only fitting that our 35th Anniversary celebration should take place with them.
What are your favorite local breweries that are NYC-based?
Garrett Oliver: I really enjoy the work they do at Wild East in Brooklyn. Very nice lagers but also some great mixed-fermentation beers. Also the beers from our neighbor Talea; the brewing there is headed up by my “protégé” Eric Brown, and he’s doing a great job.
When was the first time you felt like the beer was having an impact?
EO: The growth of Brooklyn was steady but never astronomical, and I used to joke that it took us 20 years to become an overnight success. It was the late aughts when we first crossed the 100,000 BBL mark, which seemed like a monumental achievement at the time. It was around then that we were told by the local Budweiser distributor that we had more taps in Brooklyn than they did. That felt pretty good!
What’s been your favorite limited-time release over the years?
GO: Oh it’s impossible to choose just one. But the barrel-aged barleywine, “Hand & Seal”, which we released to celebrate my 20th anniversary at Brooklyn Brewery back in 2014 – that beer remains singular. Another was Serpent, our collaboration with Thornbridge Brewery and Tom Oliver’s Cider in England, using the wild cider yeast to drive secondary fermentation. That was a ground-breaking beer for sure.
You’re moving! Can you tell me about the new space — and is it bittersweet leaving your longtime 11th St. location (opened in 1996)?
EO: We’ve been looking for a new location for years, and had explored a wide variety of locations both in and outside of Brooklyn. Of course, our desire was always to stay in the great Williamsburg-Greenpoint neighborhood that we helped to put on the map, and we feel very fortunate to have finally found a new spot just four blocks from where we are now. The 1 Wythe location will feature an expanded Tasting Room and Events operation, with both indoor and outdoor seating, and a brewery custom-built for R&D work so Garrett and the brewing team can really work their magic.
It will be hard to leave the historic building that we are in, but 1 Wythe gives us the opportunity to do so many things we’ve only been able to dream about and to host four times as many people, so I think that bittersweet feeling will pass quickly.
Other breweries have branched out into distilling, hard seltzers, etc. Are you always going to be beer-only?
EO: One of the purposes of the new R&D brewery is to be able to push boundaries both within and outside of beer. Where that goes, who knows, but the world is too full of interesting possibilities to be absolutist about anything.
Three years after Covid hit our shores, and two years after talking with Garrett about the future of craft beer in a post-Covid world, do you see some major changes in the craft beer world?
GO: I think it’s too early to know what the long-term effects of COVID will be on the American brewing scene, but we already are seeing a new retail world. Bars are running fewer taps and retailers are taking fewer chances on new breweries. At the same time, some of those new breweries are thriving as self-contained businesses with busy tap rooms. On the beer side, even though IPA remains huge, I think there’s a slow swing back to variety, especially at the taproom level. Pilsners, kölsches, dunkels and other easy-drinking styles are all coming back into the spotlight. And NA beers continue on a tear. So it’s a very dynamic environment for sure.
What can we expect from the party at Teddy’s?
EO: We’re looking forward to celebrating with many of the family, friends, colleagues, customers, and partners who played a role along our still-evolving journey. I’m sure many a colorful story will be told.
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