Winter arrived late last year — except for that one random freezing Saturday in an otherwise balmy mid-November week. And the crew of Esquire network’s “Brew Dogs” spent most of it on a downtown Brooklyn rooftop, filming the final scene of their citywide experiment in creating the ultimate Big Apple home-brewed beer.
The show, which travels to different cities in each episode and creates a signature brew there, began its third season last week, and “Brooklyn’s Big Apple Beer” airs tonight.
So what does it take to make beer here?
“New York was kind of different because it’s a kind of crazy place and things can happen very easily or with a lot of stress,” co-host Martin Dickie, one of the pair of Scots along with James Watt who co-founded BrewDog brewery, told Metro.
Since the episode was set in the DIY borough, the beer couldn’t very well be made in an established brewery. Enter Brooklyn Brew Shop, which was started by partners Stephen Valand and Erica Shea in 2009 and now sells stovetop home brewing kits in 26 countries. But it’s not their beer-making expertise that the production was looking for.
“They came up with the whole apparatus of how to brew it,” Valand said. “We came up with the recipe, and they figured out how to make the actual brew day as complicated as possible.”
The production team also didn’t choose just any building — the beer was made in the downtown Brooklyn apartment building where Valand and Shea live. Dickie and Watt knocked on the doors of all their neighbors, even asking a few for help with making the beer by occupying their sinks and installing other distilling machinery.
“We took what is normally something that happens in the kitchen and expanded it so that the entire building was a brew system,” Valand explained. The water was heated on the roof; the mash was stirred on the fifth floor; the wort was boiled in Valand and Shea’s apartment on the third floor; and fermentation happened in the basement. There were pumps, just in case gravity and the elaborate system of tubes failed, but everything went to plan.
“We were surprised,” Valand admitted. “We’ve done TV shows in the past, and there’s a lot of cheating sometimes. We’re honestly really surprised that we made this beer and there were no shortcuts.”
So what goes into a beer meant to represent New York City? Apples from Fishkill Farms upstate, an entire bottle of Apple Jack, a brandy made in New Jersey by one of the oldest family-owned distilleries in the country, and because this is a foodie town, a special ingredient by celebrity chef Wylie Dufresne.
“I was pretty pleased,” Valand said of the final product. “We wanted to make a Big Apple beer, and using apples was also big in the sense of super-high alcohol. I think the final beer clocked in at 13 percent alcohol. It was really big, really boozy. I think we succeeded.”
“Brew Dogs” airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on Esquire.
We grabbed a few minutes with “Brew Dogs” co-host Martin Dickie at the end of the night, by which point we’d all had our fair share of 13 percent ABV beer.
What’s the most fun you had brewing beer this season?
“The easiest one that we’ve brewed this year was in Kentucky, because the whole time we were there, we were semi-wasted on bourbon.”
Are brewers in NYC doing anything crazy like you guys?
“I’ve seen a lot of weird stuff in New York City, that’s just walking down the street. It’s not as weird as San Francisco. The weirdest stuff I’ve ever seen is in San Francisco. It was too much. But earlier today, I was walking in SoHo to a very famous sushi restaurant…”
Oh, I just assumed because of “Jiro Dreams of Sushi.”
“That’s my favorite documentary! But it was filmed in Japan...”
One of his apprentices moved here and opened a restaurant.
“You have to get me in there!”
So you’re a sushi fan.
“I love sushi. Coming from the northeast of Scotland, the one thing they have in plentiful supply is amazing fresh fish.”
Is that something you’ve incorporated into a beer?
“Into a beer no, but with a beer, many times.”