Gowanus, Brooklyn, is quickly becoming a mecca for breweries looking to set up shop in New York City. The neighborhood already boasts two beloved spots, Threes Brewing and Strong Rope Brewing, within a three-block radius of each other and a regional powerhouse, Sixpoint, is scheduled to open in 2020. Rumor has it that a few other major New York players will be revealing plans shortly as well.
One of those breweries moving into the neighborhood this fall is Wild East Brewing. Located on Sackett Street just a stein’s throw from their brewing neighbors, Wild East is setting out to create outstanding beers across multiple styles with a special fondness for wild ales, and offerings made with the yeast strain brettanomyces. We sat down with founders Brett Taylor, Tyler March and Lindsay Steen, to hear more about how they’ll be adding their own twist to the neighborhood’s beer scene.
BKBR: How did you come up with your name?
Wild East (Brett): Wow, Remember when finding a name was like the stress? That was so easy relative to what we’re doing now.
Wild East (Tyler): We went through about 100 names. We had one shared list and we kept adding and adding to it. The funny thing about Wild East is, before we even got that far, Brett invited some friends over to help with naming. We did an exercise where everyone would write down 10 names, then pass it to the left and write 10 more.
Wild East (Brett): They’d circle the good ones and write more, and then pass it on. All friends of ours and home brewers.
Tyler: I wasn’t even really involved yet, that was the beginning of my partnership with Brett.
This is a long story that might not matter in the grand scheme of things, but we had hundreds of names and I had written down Wild East in the first 10. No one had circled it and it kind of got lost in the shuffle.
Brett: We spent hundreds of dollars going through other names with a trademark attorney, and the attorney shot a bunch of them down. I actually think my wife, Patty, found it on the original piece of paper and said, “What about Wild East, from Tyler’s sheet?”
Tyler: It’s got two parts. It’s a play on wild yeast, which is what Brett is exceptionally good at brewing with, and was the original concept for the brewery, kind of all brett (the yeast strain) brewery but we soon realized that doing that isn’t so feasible. With styles and trends and stuff we couldn’t do only that, but we still want it to be what we’re known for and be the heart of the brewery. That play on wild yeast, but also wild west, anything goes kind of thing.
BKBR: Lindsay, Can you talk a little bit about how you got involved in the project?
Wild East (Lindsay): I had started my own project around the same time that Brett and Tyler started theirs, but I had started it with somebody else. I had done a lot of work and my business partner, when she had two very unexpected deaths in her family--her grandfather and then three months later her father. They were all farmers in Colorado, and she was the sole inheritor of 4,000 acres of farmland so she had to go back and learn farming.
So I kind of crawled into a hole and thought, “What am I going to do?’”A lot of the work I had done was writing certain parts of the business plan and putting together the financials of what a brewery is. At some point I thought I really need to meet people and I came across Tyler and Brett, and I reached out to them. They got back to me pretty quickly and I thought to myself maybe I should know these people but I decided I would feel it out. I was pretty pessimistic but I just felt the chemistry there in understanding their plans, philosophy and business model.
I did come back to our second meeting with notes on every single page of the business plan asking about things. We met a few times and they decided my skill set fit well, and I thought everything went really well with everything I had in mind for a brewery. It took off from there and we blended the work we had done and melded our plans together.
Brett: We met a lot of people who wanted to get involved. Some people wanted to take over and some people who for a minimal amount of equity input wanted to be a full partner but brought no skills to it. What do you bring to the table? Then we meet Lindsay and she’s got an MBA and she’s a home brewer and has a lab background. She had all the skills we needed to add, plus she has 10years of sales experience.
Lindsay: I did 10 years of sales in biotech and pharma. I’m a science geek and then a sales geek.
Brett: I don’t know anyone that has traveled as much as Lindsay for beer.
BKBR: Originally it was going to be all brett-focused beers, can you talk about your brewing philosophy moving forward?
Brett: That was my concept originally when it was just going to be me by myself. I think we’re past the idea of, “Let's open a brewery because we’re going to make good beer.” In New York you might be able to still get away with that but generally you can’t. You should have a focus, you should have a point of view. My point of view was always going to be something like mixed fermentation and brettanomyces. It was never going to just be brett, even though I did want to call it Brewery Brett. That was quickly shot down. We have our trademark attorney based in Boston, and he’s been up against some big breweries and he said it isn’t a battle you want to fight. You just can’t name your company for an ingredient, it just doesn’t work even if it is your name.
BKBR: With that said, are you guys still hoping to have a focus on beers with brett, mixed fermentation, etc?
Tyler: I hate the word focus, because nobody wants to be known as they only do this, or they only do that. It happens and works out well for some people. Some breweries are known for IPAs and some are known for lagers and that’s great because they’re good at those things.
Lindsay: I’d say it’s like our niche. That’s kind of what we’re going to be good at.
Tyler: I think it would be great to be the answer when someone says, “Who makes the best mixed fermentation beers in New York City?” To instantly come to mind we be great. But also have people say, “They make great IPAs and great pilsners too.” I’m not saying that we want to be great at everything. Well, actually we do.
Lindsay: We don’t want our sours to get diluted among everything we’ll have. We want to make really good beers and have people say their sours are particularly amazing.
Brett: We want to be more like Hill Farmstead. Every fucking beer they make might not be the best in its category, but they don’t make a bad beer. That’s the approach we want to have. When you think of Hill Farmstead you think of a few things specifically--their mixed fermentation beers, their hoppy beers and more and more their lagers. They also make a ridiculously good porter.
Brett: If you look at what we’re doing, we’re starting with 60 barrels of oak capacity and large volume and we have very specific agendas for those, and we have a stainless conical tank set aside for mixed fermentation beer as well. We have one side for mixed fermentation, the funky stuff and the other side of the brewery is going to be the clean, hoppy stuff.
BKBR: What’s the timeline for opening at this point?
Lindsay: We’re looking at October 2019 right now [this interview was recorded in July]. We should hopefully have some pre-parties even in September but the grand opening will be in October.
BKBR: How many beers do you anticipate having in at one time? Plans for canning and bottling?
Lindsay: All that good stuff. We have 20 taps for the tap room, some of those will duplicate some of the more popular beers and we also have a farm license so we’ll be selling New York State wine and cider. That will vary between those 20 taps what will be duplicated but I’d say probably 10 to 15 of our own beers.
Tyler: Ideally one day we’d want to have 20 of our own beers on tap. We’ll have as many as we can, six to eight when we open. Canning yes, we will do, probably not immediately because we want to get the beers dialed in and see what we’re really liking. We’re hoping to have that up and running by Thanksgiving, assuming we open roughly on time.
Brett: It’s one thing to be producing beer, which we’ll be doing as soon as humanly possible; even if the taproom isn’t totally ready we’re still going to be getting some stuff out there.
Tyler: We’re going to be doing bottles probably closer to the end of the first year, since that will mostly be stuff going into barrels. Our own barrel aged stuff will be more second half 2020.
BKBR: Do you think you’ll release most of those cans and bottles from the brewery?
Brett: As much as possible here. I think the Other Half model works really well. If you can sell all of your cans and bottles in house then do it. You’ll be the one making the money on it. It takes some time to build up to that but even if not, we can send beer out even internationally. At Fifth Hammer they’re starting to get into the international game and they’re sending beer a lot of different places. Fifth Hammer just sent a ton of beer to London for this event and that’s really cool so we’ll look into that as well.
BKBR: Everybody here has a home brewing background; how has that helped you guys get started in this community?
Tyler: We know Jason at Strong Rope from our home brewing days, and it really helps build this network of people that you know who end up being brewers, beer buyers for bars, working for breweries in different capacities. I think Brett said it best when he called it the “farm system for brewers in New York State.” There are other ways to get into the system, but I think it's a natural progression. Almost every home brewer at one point thinks of starting a brewery, or working at a brewery or becoming a professional brewer of some kind. It’s a realistic dream, it’s tangible, probably more so than being in the farm system of Major League Baseball.
Brett: The Brewminaries are a really good example. We started a much smaller home brew club at the same time as the Brewminaries, called the Brewdies. It was Jason from Strong Rope, me and Tyler, one of the founders of the app BeerMenus, and some other big time members of the home brew community. We started as a seasoned group of home brewers, with years of experience. The Brewminaries were starting up with a huge group with some people who were elite brewers, but a lot of people with no experience. You were expecting the beer to just be home brew, and now they’ve taken over and they make the best beer, they’re one of the best home brew clubs I’ve ever seen and they’re totally this farm system for breweries. You’re starting to see the Brewminaries get jobs in the community at Grimm, at Strong Rope, at Mikkeller and I think you’re going to see more and more of that. There aren’t enough brewers for the number of breweries in New York.
BKBR: What are you thinking about in terms of food at the brewery?
Lindsay: We won’t have a restaurant because of the different licensing but we want to support other businesses who make food. We’ll have catering, or food trucks for sure.
BKBR: What was the search for this location like?
Lindsay: New York is just tough. It took us a year and a half and we had to negotiate for five months at this place that we ended up with. It’s everything we wanted in a location and a space and we’re so happy with it.
Brett: We had an agreement in principle on a place near KCBC and all the terms were agreed to but then they wanted us to agree to a close that could kick us out if the neighborhood got zoned for residential. That was a non-starter for us.
Tyler: This neighborhood is really booming for breweries and hopefully one day it will be like Asheville with a ton of breweries within walking distance.
BKBR: Do you think there is still space in Brooklyn for new breweries?
Lindsay: Absolutely! If you compare with the other cities that had the craft beer boom and how many breweries per capita are in those cities vs in New York City, New York City is really underserved. When you think of serving your locals here that come in for a drink in the taproom and distributing your beer there is a lot of room in this area for growth.
Brett: To quote our business plan, in 1890 there were like 95 or 100 breweries in NYC for like four million people. So three or four times as many breweries for half as many people. They were all making the same lager and by and large everyone is making IPA now, and still finding a way to sell all that.
Lindsay: At some point in time people were looking for craft, now people want local craft and they respect the freshness of getting it local from just down the street. People are starting to appreciate the freshness and locality of the beer, not just that it’s craft.
Tyler: What’s exciting is that New York City is becoming known for the quality of its beer. Everyone from outside was trying to get in New York City because it’s such a great market to be in. Now that there are so many breweries in New York more bars and restaurants can dedicate space to New York beer. They aren’t doing that just because we’re here, it’s because the beer here is world class. We want to aspire to be on the same level as those breweries.