We recently sat down with John Dantzler of Torch and Crown Brewing, a brewery a decade in the making. The brewery will serve beer as well as food, which is fitting considering that it will be housed in the location of the old Vandam Diner.
One topic of conversation: How John and his childhood friend Joe Correia plotted their respective paths to starting the only brewery in Soho and how it all began when the two had their fake IDs confiscated as 16-year-olds.
Their Manhattan taproom and brewery is scheduled to open this summer, and they are currently brewing their own beer as well as contract brewing in the Bronx for breweries like KelsO and others who are looking for additional capacity. The Bronx space is the former home of Chelsea Brewing, which they acquired at auction.
BKBR: Tell us the origin story of Torch and Crown.
John: The story starts about 12 years ago at a bar in the East Village called Bar None where my best friend, Joe Correia, and I got our fake IDs taken. After that we thought it was kind of funny that we could buy all the ingredients to make beer but couldn’t buy beer itself. Kind of as a prank but also because it was a Saturday with nothing to do we thought, “What the hell” and bought a Mr. Beer kit and brought it home. We didn’t bother reading any of the instructions and threw everything in the pot. My mom came home right as everything was exploding all over her kitchen and she wasn’t happy but we found something we liked.
So we kept at it and by the time we were 18 we were winning some local home brewing awards that we were sending our dads to pick up because we weren’t legally allowed to try the beer.
Joe and I decided that one day we would open our own brewery. Our skill sets were pretty clear--he was much more science minded and I was much more numbers and business focused so we plotted our routes through college. We would talk twice a week even while we were at separate colleges and we talked about what interviews and moves we were making. I got a computer science degree and went to Wall Street and that was a calculated move to get the financial acumen and to get the investor base. Joe moonlighted at Grand 10 distilling in Boston while he was in school and worked at Angel City in L.A. After college Joe moved to Rogue Ales with the goal of getting experience on all different production scales and systems. Joe learned a lot about the systems and the divisions of labor inside a brewery.
The kicker came in 2015 when the laws in New York changed. New York modernized the laws that had been in place in Prohibition. Before then you could either be a brew pub and have people drink in your bar and eat a burger or you could be a distribution brewery where you couldn’t sell even a can out of your door.
We thought, “what if instead of this distribution scale, this large scale idea, what if instead we thought small but in the same way huge in the sense that let’s keep the breadth of our distribution small geographically but huge in the sense that let’s put it in New York City.”
We are taking this small community brewery model with the strong community feel that you can’t get with a larger distributor but we’re putting that model right in the middle of the largest, most densely populated community we can think of.
Building a brand is more exciting on the micro level with personal interactions and making connections as opposed to just hiring a guy that makes a cool logo. We want people to see the craft of the beer we’re making.
BKBR: What have been the biggest challenges not just in opening a brewery but doing it in the middle of Manhattan?
John: We set out to find a place to build the only brewery in Manhattan and I think we told our investors that it would take us three months to find which is…just…laughable. But we had a great team working with Eric Gelber at CBRE who was awesome. So they took us all around and we started to realize that building a brewery has unique constraints in terms of the building we could use. It had to be able to hold our tanks with liquid in them, it had to be able to accommodate all of the utilities were were going to be using, and we were trying to do all of this in a place where there is no space for anything. On top of all of that, to build a brewery in New York City you need to find a building that is zoned for manufacturing. In the middle of the city there isn’t a lot zoned for that. Also the space is priced incredibly high because retail spaces could go for really large sums. So even if we found a space that was vacant, the owner might be holding out for a higher price per square foot.
After a long, drawn-out process we found this perfect space at 12 Vandam Street.
BKBR: Tell us what beers you’ll be rolling out to start.
John: We started with a hazy IPA because it’s 2019 but we also have a lager coming out. When we were thinking about this we were being conscientious of the cost-effectiveness of IPAs--you’re just able to churn out more beers and they’re beers that we gravitate toward ourselves.
BKBR: Are we going to start seeing your beer around the city?
John: We are distributing to bars mostly in the neighborhood of our Manhattan brewery. I have been going around recently to a lot of the bars and bottle shops and was expecting to get a lot of “who the fuck are you?’ and have been pleasantly surprised to hear more people saying, “We’ve been waiting to try your stuff.” We still get a few “who the fuck are you?” though.
For more about their beers and coming brewery, checkout the website: https://torchandcrown.com/