New York as a craft beer: How Brew Dogs bottled the city
How the Brew Dogs turned an entire apartment building into a brewery, and with help from some local celebrities, created Brooklyn's Big Apple Beer.
Winter arrived late in 2014 — except for 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 the production was looking for — it was their apartment building.
“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.”
Turning an entire apartment building into a brewery required some patience on the part of residents. The BrewDog guys personally knocked on the doors of all Valand's 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.