Interview: Travis Kauffman, Folksbier

We sat down with Travis Kauffman of Folksbier to talk the recent opening of their Carroll Gardens based taproom, future expansions, and balancing tradition with modernity in beer.

Travis Kauffman, Folksbier

BBR: Tell us a little bit about Folksbier

Travis: Folksbier has been making and distributing beer in New York City for 3 years now...3 years in May. We started with literal handfuls of beer and we've been distributing to bars and restaurants since then. We're up to maybe 40 accounts throughout the city. We just added this space and opened this tasting room which is great to have a face for the beer. We are also working on an expansion that's going to happen in August. That'll be a 20 barrel decoction brewery at some point later this year. So we are doing three things, the construction, the tasting room, and we're rocking our nanobrewery like 80 miles an hour on a ten speed bike style. It's exciting times at Folksbier. All our beers and what we do is sort of a work in progress. We work through everything organically.

BBR: With the expansion are you guys planning on distributing? Making more beer? Canning and bottling?

Travis: We are definitely going to can and bottle. We'll probably start hand bottling sooner than later. We're doing step mashes so bottling is an easier rung for us on the ladder to hit.

BBR: How did you decide on Carroll Gardens and this space?

Travis: I've been a business member in this neighborhood for going on 15 years. I opened a couple of restaurants in the neighborhood (Frankies 457 and Prime Meats). The space were we actually started the brewery was actually the storage space for the restaurants. I started homebrewing there, took over the lease, left my partnership with the restaurants to open the brewery and got the rest of the space and now I'm building up on it.

BBR: What was the impetus for you to start brewing?

Travis: I started homebrewing when I was 20 years old and I grew up on a farm in Michigan. My parents instilled this idea of 'make your own everything' and I had this idea about fermentation from making sauerkraut on the farm. Once I got interested in drinking I wanted to try it myself. I had a friend who taught me how to all grain brew with a homemade system and so I was doing that pretty consistently leading up to this project. 

BBR: It seems like there is a lot of German influence with the beers, the name. Talk about that for us.

Travis: Yea we aren't totally beholden to German styles but the inspiration is German in the fundamentals of our process. We do step mashes and we're moving into decoction mashes for our lagers. We go for a clean, malt driven style of beer that is very drinkable. We aren't driven by style and I'm often reluctant to add styles. German styles weren't derived by people thinking about style. You were in a place and time as a brewer and did the best thing you could for your audience and doing the best you can given your circumstances. So more than brewing German styles that's what I'll try to get us to think about. What is profound to our community and the ingredients available to us. Of course now we have a lot more ingredients available to us so it's more about not doing things. More about the notes you don't play than the notes you do play. Restraint and balance is definitely something we take from German beer. That and the idea of balance.

BBR: Your styles are a little more unique for a budding Brooklyn craft brewery. Most craft beers tend toward the hoppier stuff. Do you go for these styles because it's what you like to drink or because you think there's a demand for these styles?

Travis: I think it's a little bit of both. I think its from my own love of light crisp beers and also from a lack of them in the market when I started this 6 years ago. It's a much different climate now but I was in the restaurant business then and Six Point was doing a great job and Brooklyn Brewery was doing a great job but there wasn't that beer that I wanted to drink all the time. Now we're branching out a little bit but all the people that work here are all on the same page about wanting to make really refreshing well balanced beers. We do communal decision making, we have a decision making body called a "braugeist" where we get together and talk about the beers we're going to make, and the different styles, and its sort of like a creative brainstorming session for beer and an open forum where the brewery production team can voice their own opinions. We're all on the same page at Folksbier about what we want to make. That doesn't always mean making lighter beers, we'll make a bigger beer, but we'll balance it.

BBR: Tell us more about the "Braugeist"

Travis: I take responsibility for the final call on everything but it's important for me to hear different perspectives and for the brew team to be invested in the process of the beers we're making. I think it's imperative that they feel ownership in the process and the decision making or at least have a forum where they can say it and voice their opinions. It's really an integral part of any business, not just going through the motions but really believing in what you're doing. So it's an effort to include them and also from my perspective, gaining enlightenment from their opinions whatever they are. I know my palette isn't the only palette. A couple of beers that have from that process have been great. The Berliner weisse came from that process, Recurring Dreams, Solar Boar came from that process.

BBR: If there's one thing you want people to think of when they think of Folksbier what is it?

Travis: Balance between tradition and innovation.

Check out Folksbier's recently opened tasting room at 101 Luquer St. Brooklyn, NY 11231