In 1987, Boogie Down Productions released “The Bridge Is Over,” a scathing rebuttal to MC Shan’s “Kill That Noise,” which was a rebuttal to Boogie’s “South Bronx,” which was a rebuttal to Shan’s “The Bridge.” “TheBridge is Over” was immediately a defining moment in hip-hop, one that simultaneously flatlined the Juice Crew’s pulse during The Bridge Wars, an intensifying interborough ping-pong battle of bravado between Queens and the Bronx, and successfully cemented the latter’s legacy as the culture’s birthplace. It also launched the prolific career of KRS-One, who, in the nearly four-minute wallop, unabashedly proclaimed Manhattan keeps on makin’ it/Brooklyn keeps on takin’ it/Bronx keeps creatin’ it/and Queens keeps on fakin’ it with a reggae-inspired flow.
KRS, like most emcees, is no stranger to lyrical blowharding, and has even occasionally trumpeted the “prophet” designation. If we, er, fittingly apply these iconic lyrics from “The Bridge Is Over”—particularly the bolded third line—to the geographic spread of breweries operating in New York City between, say, 2004 and 2013, however, The Blastmaster’s edict of his hometown’s supremacy is farcical: Queens and Brooklyn built and bustled, and Manhattan kinda-sorta did, too (though primarily in the brewpub mold). But the Bronx created zilch. Zero. Nada, Kris.
This drought ended in January, thankfully, as Kieran Farrell and Dave Lopez revived brewing in the metropolis’ northernmost borough by opening Gun Hill Brewing Company in Williamsbridge, the first since the closure of Rheingold’s facility in 1961. It wasn’t an impuissant venture, either: Gun Hill has created some potent Bronx Bombers, including Void of Light, which recently won a gold medal in the Foreign-Style Stout category at this year’s Great American Beer Festival (Chris Sheenan, Gun Hill’s brewmaster, has deftly snagged seven medals throughout his career, mostly for stouts). Before Farrell and Lopez, though, another duo of beermakers had started to inject credibility into KRS’ braggadocio for the Bronx: Chris Gallant and Damian Brown, partners at The Bronx Brewery.
As a columnist for Yankee Brew News, I email regularly with Gallant and Brown, who joined after Steve O’Sullivan and Niall Henry (a pair of Bronx natives) founded The Bronx Brewery, to get information on new releases, projects, events, etc. Our monthly correspondence, until this September, had largely focused on their effort to convert the company, which was partnering with both Cottrell Brewing and City Brewing to make their beer using an alternating proprietorship since 2011, into a brick-and-mortar operation in the borough’s Port Morris neighborhood (they had an office in Mott Haven, initially). Gallant would always and quite joyfully declare an opening date, but as each of my columns was published, each of them proved wrong. I really thought house-brewed beer was arriving in May, after their equipment was delivered from Prince Edward Island in April, but again, nothing. This crawl to completion is fairly typical in the industry: building a brewery is a grueling and unpredictable (and expensive) process full of paperwork, more paperwork, and wires. Gallant understood this, but he still felt increasingly disingenuous with every passing month.
“It was incredibly frustrating,” he reflects. “You think it’s really opening at that time, so that’s what you tell everyone. But we had massive delays with upgrading the water, gas, and electric systems. Things were out of our hands. I’m just glad we’re brewing here now.”
It’s true: After nearly three years of out-of-state brewing, Brown and Gallant are making beer at their 10,000-square-foot space on East 136th Street, an active industrial stretch of low-rise warehouses (as is the majority of Port Morris). They started at the beginning of October, around the time of my first visit to meet the duo operating the pale ale-focused brewery—a concise and well-executed focus that will continue to drive their brand. “We love [pale ales],” Brown says. “It’s what we like to drink and what I like to brew.”
While Brown, Bronx’s bespectacled brewmaster (and a homebrewer of 10 years), will keep exploring the highly malleable style in his recipes, some big changes were instituted since last month. Bronx Rye Pale Ale, previously a fall seasonal, is now one of three new year-round beers. The other two are Bronx Belgian Pale Ale, formerly its spring seasonal, and Bronx Session IPA, its newest recipe, which debuted on October 22. Brown is particularly eager to discuss the latter, his version of a new and popular sub-style that packs the flavor and hoppiness of a full-blown, Amurrican-made IPA with a lower alcohol content. Bronx’s is only 5.0 percent. “We worked on it a while. It’s light enough that you could easily knock back a few,” he says, also using “papaya” and “mango” to describe the beer’s aroma. This was accurate: when I taste the beer, it’s light, refreshing, and oozing tropicalness. It’s easily one of the brewery’s best efforts to date.
After Session IPA, we shift to Bronx’s second-newest beer, Bronx Autumn Pale Ale, released in August. Gallant had originally suggested “something pumpkin based” to replace Rye as their fall seasonal, but Brown insisted on this crisp and slightly tart mash-up of cider and beer constructed by infusing wort with fresh-pressed apple juice from Soons Orchards in Orange County. “I’m really glad he pushed for this,” Gallant admits. “The apples add a lot of tannic qualities to the beer, a layer of complexity you don’t find with straight-up beer.”
We refill our cups with more Autumn, then walk into the brewery’s production area, toward a crew of monstrous tanks that immediately commands my eyeballs. Another attraction, albeit more temporary and unsturdy, is nearby: a ceiling-high fortress of roughly 150,000 empty cans awaiting fillage of Belgian, Rye, and Session IPA. While Bronx will continue to brew and package at City Brewing, all other canning will be performed on-site with a four-head canning line capable of filling thirty 16-ounce cans per minute. “It’s going to allow us to can some smaller releases, too, which is pretty unique for the city,” Gallant says. “We’re pumped. The cans are what we’re known for.”
Bronx also plans to bottle barrel-aged beers on-site, as Gallant directs our short tour toward a group of wooden vessels stacked three high and eight wide. “We’ve been aging them all between 18 and 24 months now and we’ll start releasing them over the next few months,” he says, referring to: Pale Ale in both bourbon and zinfandel barrels, Autumn Pale Ale in pommeau barrels, and Black Pale Ale in mezcal barrels. The latter is slated as the first to empty into bottles, with a tentative release of Black Friday.
While I dig the brewery’s 5,000-square-foot backyard, which is nearly canopied by a railroad trestle used by Amtrak and Metro-North, my favorite area of Bronx’s new brewery is our last stop, its four-draft taproom (now open Wednesday through Sunday). Brown is also preparing exclusive and oddball casks here—a rosemary-infused Bronx Pale Ale and bacon-stuffed Black Pale Ale were poured recently—but my fancy is purely based on ambiance.
I’ll declare now: Bronx has the chillest taproom in New York City, often a sparsely designed afterthought predictably adorned with the usual industrial trimmings and stiff seating at most breweries. Bronx’s, however, has the coziness of my parents’ basement. A small corridor divides the 1,000-square-foot room into two sides, and each is supplied with a doughy sofa. A foosball table neighbors one of the sofas, while a framed poster of Dr. Dre’s seminal album, The Chronic, hangs above the other near the seven-stool bar. My only complaint is here, with the choice of artist: I think KRS-One would be more appropriate.