Update (09/29/15): Strong Rope Brewery’s Kickstarter is funded!
The reemergence of Brooklyn’s brewery community is more exciting than finding an unopened case of Ecto Cooler!
Editor: Hmm. That’s cute, but can you add some pertinent factzZz to the above?
Sure! The reemergence of Brooklyn’s brewery community is more exciting than finding an unopened case of Ecto Cooler, the iconic (and tragically discontinued) fluorescent-green fruit juice developed by Hi-C in 1987 as a product tie-in to The Real Ghostbusters?
Editor: Sigh. You really need to rewrite the above, which is below the initial above, and include some pertinent factzZz. Please, Niko?
Absolutely! The reemergence of Brooklyn’s brewery community–in a smaller form than its most prosperous period in the second half of the 19th century, I should note; in 1898, the borough supported 45–has revitalized production in a place that was producing nearly one-tenth of the nation’s beer as recently as 1962. Cool?
Editor: Bingo, Niko! Nice! Can you now mention that, as a result of the continuing repopulation of breweries, borough-made beer has reached a new and exciting level of aplenty?
As a result of the continuing repopulation of breweries, borough-made beer has reached a new and exciting level of aplenty. This has certainly excited local beer loons, and it has also fattened the itinerary for my upcoming sleepover with Slimer, one of my bestest friends, in November. We plan to snag some cans of IPA at Other Half and meet Greg Doroski’s recent collaborations at Threes Brewing. We’ll probably guzzle some Greeneyes Pale Ale at Keg & Lantern and stay in Greenpoint for Dirck the Norseman, the mighty brewpub housing Greenpoint Beer & Ale Co.
We also hope to share a beer with Jason Sahler, who is set to open Strong Rope Brewery in Gowanus next month. Sahler, an award-winning homebrewer with 12 years of experience, has launched a Kickstarter to crowdsource the funding of his nascent business’ tasting room before production starts. The outlook is promising: with two days remaining in the campaign, 100-plus backers have pledged more than $17,000 toward the $20,000 goal.
We chatted with Slimer about Strong Rope.
We chatted with Sahler about Strong Rope.
Niko Krommydas: How did you start homebrewing?
Jason Sahler: It was basically a progression from drinking better beer and wanting to try my hand at making it, like most people that get into brewing. I had traveled to Scotland my senior year of high school and really enjoyed the beer culture there. The stuff I drank there, they were really nice, malty Scottish ales. Some cask beers too. So different than the light lagers I was used to back home at the time. That did it for me.
NK: Where was home, and what year was that?
JS: I’m originally from Rochester. That was probably around the late ’90s. I would go to a really good beer store called Beers of the World. That’s where I bought my first homebrew kit.
NK: How did your first beer come out?
JS: It was an amber ale. It surprisingly didn’t come out that bad, at least in my minds-eye 12 years removed. If it had, I think I might have gotten a little turned off or might not have known that I could actually make beer I liked and kept pushing the hobby. That also helped me later because even when subsequent batches actually were bad, I had enough confidence to tell myself I can make good beer, so I’m going to keep working at this. I actually still have some bottles in my mom’s basement. They’re oxidized as hell, but they’re relatively clean otherwise. I break one out every once in a while when I go home. Good to see your roots.
NK: I assume you started homebrewing regularly at that point.
JS: Yep. I brewed off and on for about six years at my friend’s place. His family was nice enough to house everything, but it was tough to get over there regularly and we had some mishaps where we had to dump beer. But that’s all part of learning. So yeah, homebrewing with him, that was off and on until my wife bought me a kit for a wedding present. We were living in Brooklyn by that time. Soon after that’s when things started to click. I entered a bunch of competitions and my beers did consistently well. I took first place at the Brooklyn Wort with my brown ale [J.J. Bollerack’s Big Brown Ale] in 2011. That’s when I started to feel I wanted to take it to the next level.
NK: By starting a brewery.
JS: Right. I was working in the advertising industry while I was figuring everything out. I started working on the plan, developed recipes, daydreamed about leaving that computer behind. And that just happened last month. It’s a really good feeling to see things happening and moving forward.
NK: Congrats! Strong Rope is based in Gowanus. When did you start looking for a space?
JS: In 2012, really early on actually. My wife and I started looking for spaces as we were fleshing out the business plan. We had a number of false starts that fell through. We kept looking in Brooklyn: Sunset Park, Crown Heights, even the waterfront at Brooklyn Bridge Park. Finally after all the ups and downs we got lucky and saw a Craigslist ad for a small spot in Gowanus and reached out. It was a quick courtship and we signed a lease earlier this year.
NK: You live in Gowanus, right?
JS: Yeah. So Gowanus was always our first choice for the brewery. We really wanted it close to where we live. And the cool thing is, it’s 574 President Street, the former space of Brooklyn Brine and Mile End Deli before that. I think with what I’m aiming for, it’ll be a great continuation of the culinary tradition that they started.
NK: Are you going to focus on food-inspired beers, for lack of a better term?
JS: Well, a lot of my beers are influenced by the culinary world so I guess you could say that. Looking to chefs and how they pair flavors and develop these little packages that deliver layers of complementing and contrasting tastes is fascinating to me. Sometimes it feels like people think of beer as this very narrow thing; even brewers, they can be very shortsighted in what beer can be. I like to see flavors and ideas come together in unique ways and I want to apply that to my recipes.
NK: Can you talk about some of the beers you’ll be making?
JS: Sure. To go with what I was just talking about, I have a basil-raspberry brown ale and a strong blonde ale fermented with peaches and thyme that’ll be aged in a whiskey barrel. I also have my core beers, about six of them that I’ll make regularly. One is Young Lion of the West, a cream ale made with pale malt and corn and a touch of hops to back it up. Another is the J.J. Bollerack’s Big Brown Ale that won the Brooklyn Wort competition.
I would say my recipes involve using a lot of seasonal ingredients that make sense. No pumpkin beers in July. We’re licensed as a Farm Brewery and we’re going to really take that license to heart and work with a lot of local growers.
NK: What size is your brewhouse?
JS: It’s small. Two barrels, or 60 gallons. But we have seven fermenters, so we’ll have a chance to make a lot of different beers and have a quick turnover.
NK: There’s an interesting history to your brewhouse, right?
JS: Yeah. It’s already toured the city’s brewing community. [Laughs.] In the spring of last year we were lucky enough to hear about Rockaway Brewing expanding and that they were selling their old system. I thought the size was perfect to start with so reached out, spent a day at the brewery, and we bought it. Of course we didn’t have a space to store the equipment in, so our friends at Finback Brewery did it for us at their place in Queens. I’m fortunate to have had a lot of people help me when they didn’t need to. I’m hoping we can continue that extension of good nature when we open.
NK: When are you hoping that’ll be?
JS: We just received our conditional approval for the state license and now we’re working on getting our federal one approved. Once that happens, we can start production. I’d say I’m looking at mid-to-late October to start brewing.
NK: Let’s get to the Kickstarter. What was behind the decision to launch it?
JS: I want Strong Rope to be a community-focused brewery, and I wanted the public to be part of our space coming together. We have the production side of the brewery all laid out and ready, so this wasn’t a tactic to fund something that wasn’t coming already. But we’re looking for that final push to make the tasting room the best possible place.
NK: What’s your vision for the tasting room?
JS: I want to have a place where we can showcase the beers and for people to visit and share their own stories. We want them to be able to talk with the people behind the beer, to talk to the farmers, the craftsmen and everyone else that’s involved. We want it to be more than a place for just selling beer.
As for the layout, I really want it to be a comfortable space with room for about 40 to 50 people. Brooklyn SLaB is going to design and build it from slabs of a black walnut tree that fell during Sandy. And Ben Granger is putting together our custom draft system with eight drafts and two dedicated lines to growlers. The goal with using Kickstarter is that this piece will be something tangible that the backers can come in and say, “I helped get this space made.”
Help support Strong Rope’s Kickstarter here.