Gypsy Brewer Grimm Artisanal Ales Finds its Permanent Home in BrooklynJune 29, 2018
Lauren Grimm had heard horror stories about building a brewery in Brooklyn. Flaky contractors, fickle inspectors, paperwork delays, absent architects and bureaucratic red tape formed a gauntlet that she and her husband, Joe, were confident they could conquer while constructing the brick-and-mortar HQ for their cultish gypsy brewery, Grimm Artisanal Ales.
A December or January opening loomed close for Lauren and Joe. Then the building failed a boiler inspection. And the chimney needed to be deconstructed and rebuilt, a six-month setback. Happy holidays, one and all.
“I thought, OK, I’ve talked to all these people about delays and I know how to avoid them,” Lauren says. “And I didn’t.”
With a bank account–bleeding holdup behind them, the Grimms are finally eager to unveil their production brewery and taproom, news that some might greet with a yawn. Another place to drink beer? What makes this one so special? Let me tell you.
The sunny and soaring white-walled brewery, located on a busy stretch studded with artist studios, is the crystallization of a singular vision. The 7,500-square-feet gallery-sleek space features foudres and stacked barrels as design elements, complemented by tropical foliage, towering red-velvet curtains and canopy of dangling light bulbs. Middle-Eastern restaurant Samesa dols out lentil-pistachio dips, chicken shawarma and salad slicked with harissa-date vinaigrette, best paired with the facility’s central focus: Oak-aged sours, some components older than three years, a wide range ready to drink on day one.
“I really feel this is a special place,” Lauren says at the taproom on a sweltering June afternoon. She looks at the bar, where sunlight bathes shelves filled with succulents, stylish stemware and the couple’s personal collection of brewing books and records, which are ready to spin on vintage stereo equipment. Nearby, Joe is brewing a batch of hop-free golden ale, destined for barrels and a date with wild microbes and souring bacteria. It’s the very vision of marital contentment, a new home away from home. “The brewery is like an extension of ourselves,” she says.
Lauren and Joe met at Brown University, where the artists (she studied sculpture and drawing, while he studied music) forged a relationship built on collaborative creations. One night, they attended a talk by fermentation sage Sandor Katz, lighting the fuse that sparked a homebrew hobby they brought to Brooklyn. The intent was to build a small brewery focusing on barrel-aged sours.
“We wanted to do something in the Belgian tradition of renting a warehouse, putting barrels in it and buying wort from somewhere else,” Lauren says. “But none of that made sense at the time.”
Five years back, sours were still a niche and there was no guarantee that puckering ales were a viable business plan. Moreover, NYC laws forbade breweries from selling pints, a high-margin essential in high-rent Brooklyn.
So the couple embraced a gypsy-brewing model, venturing to breweries in Massachusetts to make Belgian-inspired beers such as From the Hip, a blonde flavored with rose hips, and the honey-infused Bees in the Trappe. Production started small, about 20 barrels a month, but the young brewery garnered outsize accolades, including a silver medal for its Double Negative imperial stout at 2014’s Great American Beer Festival, chased by a gold the next year.
The Grimms expanded into highly regarded, aroma-boosted double IPAs such as Lambo Door and Afterimage, canned fresh and sold, well, not as fresh as they would’ve liked. “There’s never going to be a distribution network fast and smooth enough that can match the freshness of selling out of the brewery,” Joe says.
Therein lies the rub: Gypsy breweries can’t control every detail, forever operating according to another brewery’s terms, conditions and fears of unwanted wild-yeast infections. The Grimms were able to begin a barrel program at Virginia’s Beltway Brewing, but the forever goal was opening an NYC brewery, made possible by a 2014 law tweak that permitted taproom beer sales.
“As soon as that law changed, we were like, ‘OK, it’s time for us to put all our ducks in a row,’” Lauren says. “And it’s taken us a few years to get all our ducks in a row.”
In addition to construction hiccups, the couple were blindsided by the sudden closure of Oregon’s Metalcraft Fabrication, contracted to build their brewing equipment. That cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars, headaches and heartache the only return on investment. “We didn’t take the easy route to where we are right now,” Lauren says.
Joe heads to a fermenter and draws off several samples of Today’s Special, a pale ale specially brewed for the brewery’s opening on June 30th. The beer is a little bitter, a little sweet, not unlike the couple’s brewing journey. Lauren and Joe prefer to look at the delays positives, how lots of lunches at the nearby Samesa led the Grimms to partner with the Middle-Eastern restaurant on a food program. Moreover, the extra months helped the couple to adequately prepare for such a seismic shift.
“It’s just been the two of us for five years,” she says. “We’re going from a staff of two people to 20 overnight.” Notable hires include Joe’s brother, Spencer, the lab and cellar director.
Free of the contract-brewing constraints, Grimm plans on inoculating ales with cultures captured in their home garden and spontaneously fermenting beer. Plus, their custom-built brewing equipment will let them create exceptionally expressive IPAs, canned on site and sold directly from the taproom. The brewery is a dream realized after a dream deferred, a brand brought to life with blood, sweat and beers.
“We are looking forward to doing everything we do in a more uncompromising way,” Joe says.