“It was surreal to me, maybe a joke. I had no professional experience,” recalls Patrick Allen. He’s vigorously zesting an orange on a recent, unseasonably humid afternoon in the canopied backyard of Keg & Lantern, a popular bar in Greenpoint. It’s a bar that, in August, converted into Brooklyn’s second brewpub, Keg & Lantern Brewing Company.
Allen is Keg’s brewmaster. Its owner, Kieran Breen, conceived the idea of starting a brewery in the building’s tiny basement at 97 Nassau Avenue, so he applied for the required federal and state licenses—before hiring someone to make his beer. (This course is dissimilar to Threes Brewing‘s, whose trio of partners pursued Greg Doroski at Greenport Harbor for the forthcoming brewpub in Gowanus.) After obtaining permission to brew, Breen also used an unconventional method to find a brewer: He made a post on Craigslist. Allen was the first to reply. “I brought in a couple of homebrews and [Kieran] liked them a lot. I was basically hired on the spot,” Allen says, his lanky arms seesawing over now a full bowl of orange zest (it will be used to brew Nassau White, Keg’s Belgian-style witbier).
As a new hire, Allen was responsible for ordering the brewery’s equipment. He chose a three-barrel brewing system and eight three-barrel fermenters, with the idea of making small batches (each roughly 90 gallons) to rotate quickly. There is also an octet of three-barrel bright tanks in the basement, which send beers directly to the bar’s taps without kegs. Allen’s workspace is, quite simply, cramped. “I’m really not sure how it all fits down here,” he says.
I was surprised to discover that Allen hadn’t been actively seeking a professional brewing job. He relocated from D.C. to New York in 2008 to pursue photography and became manager of Ken Allen Studios in Williamsburg. “Brewing was just a hobby, something I loved to do,” he says. It continued as such, too, and soon he was brewing weekly at his apartment in Ridgewood. He also joined the Brooklyn Brewsers Homebrew Club, meeting Erik Olsen and Chris Prout, the duo that would eventually become the brewers at Greenpoint’s other brewery, Greenpoint Beer & Ale Co. (housed inside of Greenpoint’s other brewpub, Dirck the Norseman). At one meeting, Breen’s post was announced to the club and Allen, on a whim, sent him an email. “I figured, Why not? And I’m happy I did. It’s been a great learning experience every day here. Some of the first batches were too bready. Some were too bitter. But you learn and improve.”
Opened in 2009, Keg & Lantern is an anomaly in the rapidly transforming neighborhood of Greenpoint. The brewpub simultaneously attracts the vestige of a once-thriving Polish community, many in the form of blue-collar men who share pitchers of Coors Light on weekday afternoons, and the present-day swarm of transient twenty-something transplants and adult professionals who admiringly sip Rodenbach Grand Cru. Allen must brew accordingly to satisfy this diverse crowd of drinkers rubbing elbows and, so far, he’s been successful. Keg has dedicated one-third of the bar’s 24 drafts to the brewery, and several show promise. They are divided into four year-round beers—2 Hop Pale Ale, Nassau White, Golden Ale, and GreenEyes IPA—and four that will regularly rotate and lean toward experimental. While he zested like a boss, Allen dissected each of the eight beers available this week at Keg & Lantern:
2 Hop Pale Ale: This is a way to keep things consistently fresh by switching up the two hop varieties in the recipe every time. The first was Amarillo and Cascade, and the second was Ahtanum and Cascade. The latest batch on tap right now has Columbus and Centennial hops, and it’s super dank, especially compared to the fruitiness of the Ahtanum and Cascade. This was the first beer I made at Keg and the flavor was much maltier then I had anticipated. It tasted more like an ESB then an American-style pale ale, so I had to dial down some of the specialty malts. In general, I notice that I’m getting a lot more malt character from the grains on this system then I was at home. It’s all about learning.
Nassau White: A Belgian-style wheat beer brewed with a heap of wheat, spiced with coriander, chamomile, and fresh orange zest, and named for the street we’re on. I zest about 70 oranges for each batch—my hands are cramping up a little less each time—which injects a really bright orange character into the beer. I get my spices from Kalustyan’s in Manhattan, which my wife, who is a chef, turned me on to when we first moved to NYC about six years ago. Walking around the shop is a great way to get inspired by some unusual ingredients. I went last week and picked up sumac, hemp seeds, dried Chanterelle mushrooms, and a few types of dried peppers. I’ll probably use all of them to brew.
Golden Ale: This drinks like a light lager, but a lot of with flavor. I originally brewed this for my wedding last August and called it “Mac Lite” for my less “crafty” guests. Considering it was gone before the wedding was over, I’d say it was a success. I had a feeling it would fit in well at the Keg as well, and now it’s Kieran’s and several bartenders’ favorite beer on tap. It’s technically a cream ale brewed with rice and sugar to keep the body “lite.” Hallertau and the American offspring Crystal provide a really pleasing noble hop character.
GreenEyes IPA: A heavily hopped IPA with notes of citrus, grapefruit, and pine, backed up by a pale malt sweetness and a dry finish. I double dry-hop to get a really saturated hop flavor. I was having a tough time finding the newer varieties of hops that I had used on my homebrew test batches, so I had to try and build some complexity into this hop bill with some of the older, more common varieties. There are six different hops in this, which is typically more then I like to use. But I think the blend works really well. I was having a hard time coming up with a name for this one but my wife has green eyes. Now I can tell her I named a beer after her. Ha.
Grassroots India Pale Lager: This is a mash-up, a beer hopped like an IPA with citrusy American hops, but fermented with a clean German lager yeast so it finishes crisp like a pilsner. I had never made this beer before but really liked the concept and it came out very close to what I had envisioned: a modern American pilsner but with no adjuncts like rice or corn. While there may be too much flavor for your grandfather, it’s just right for the current craft beer movement which has by and large been a grassroots movement to drinking better beer.
PumpKing County: Made with real pumpkin, maple syrup, honey, and a blend of pumpkin pie spices giving it great depth of flavor. I go light on the spicing and let the maltiness of the grain bill enhance the pumpkin flavors. I made a butternut squash porter last year which came out well but I wanted to go more in the direction of an old or strong ale with a higher alcohol punch, so the alcohol sweetness would help bring those desert flavors to mind. Brewing with pumpkins presents its own set of challenges as it acts like glue in the mash. Even with the aid of rice hulls and a brewing buddy it was a fight to prevent the mash from turning into a cement block. It paid off, though. Everyone digs it. This probably won’t be on tap much longer.
Atlantic Lager: An amber lager but more specifically a Vienna lager, like a mini-Oktoberfest but less intense and lower-in-alcohol. It has a really rich malt character which comes mostly from Vienna and Munich malts but it finishes dry, making it very drinkable. When doing research for this recipe, I found some larger breweries use standard 2-row malts and adjuncts to keep the body light, but I find them lacking in character. I didn’t realize how much I liked Vienna lagers until I made this one. Since the style traveled across the Atlantic from Austria to Mexico, the name is an homage to those brewers that kept the style alive.
Baron’s Red: A hoppy amber ale with as much malt flavor as there is hop character. This was a regular beer in my apartment’s kegerator as a homebrewer, which now that I’m brewing at Keg is now always a limited supply. When designing an amber there are so many combinations of specialty malts you can come up with to set your beer apart from the next brewer’s. Throw in all of the combinations of hops that you can blend and you can make this style hundreds of different ways. The first one I made at Keg had much more malt character then my homebrewed version and I have since been tweaking it to get it just right. Before Keg & Lantern took over the space, it was a Polish cafe called Baron’s Cafe. I thought the Baron could use his own beer.