If two former bankers and a master brewer have their way, the Bronx’s first microbrewery will open in the historic Banknote building in Hunts Point this summer.
Steve O’Sullivan, Niall Henry and Damian Brown, all under 30, plan to produce six different beers with tongue-in-cheek names, including Riverd(ALE), Mother Hef’n Bronx, Hip HopStout, Bronx Bomber Red Ale and Woodlawn Wheat Ale.
They say they will work with government and non-profit organizations, including the South Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation, Sustainable South Bronx and BronxWorks, to make sure the Bronx Brewery is supplying the residents of Hunts Point with more than just beer.
They plan to co-host community events and sponsor local sports leagues and fund-raisers. They have even proposed joining the urban farming movement by growing hops–the main ingredient in almost all beer–on green roofs.
The three founders of the brewery are in negotiations with Taconic Investment, the financial backer of the Banknote, to set up shop in the 400,000 square foot building on Lafayette Avenue. If they succeed, residents will be able to sample their wares on draft in a tasting room in the Banknote.
They also intend to offer New York State’s first brew-on premise facility, which would allow people to actually make their own beer. Customers would be able to select a recipe or create their own and return weeks later to pick up a keg of their brew. As O’Sullivan, 29, told me in an email “we hope to use it as a way to engage the people of the Bronx and to teach them about the brewing process.”
From time to time, the brewery would host a local competition to determine the best customer-created beer, and the winner would be given an opportunity to work directly with Master Brewer Brown to brew, name and distribute his creation.
Initially, plans call for selling the product of the brewery in kegs and casks to local bars. Bottling, for stores and restaurants, would come later. To pay homage to the Bronx, down the road, the company plans to produce 40-ounce beers.
But the partners need to raise the better part of a million dollars in start-up capital before their beers can actually be made in the Bronx. (Right now, they’re produced in small batches for promotions.)
With a flair for publicity, the Bronx-born O’Sullivan, head of sales, marketing and development, has orchestrated events like a tasting in February at the Bronx Ale House in Kingsbridge, to attract press coverage and investors. The event offered a glimpse of what a brew pub in the Banknote might be like.
The scene was full of excitement, with most bar-goers in their late-20s or early 30s. They pronounced a favorable verdict on Riverd(ALE), an American pale ale, that was the object of the tasting.
The ale was the brainchild of Brown, the Bronx Brewery’s chief operating officer and head brewer. Brown graduated from the prestigious Master Brewers’ Program at the University of California, Davis. These days he is spending his time brewing up test batches and tasting a lot of beer.
But the character of the product is not the only concern. Miquela Craytor, executive director of Sustainable South Bronx, thinks the brewery might attract other artisanal food producers.
“Breweries spin off other industries,” she said, recalling a study she did years ago when she worked as a planner for the Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation. Restaurants that buy craft beer might also buy locally-made gourmet products, if they could pick them all up in a single trip, she said.
John Robert, district manager of Community Board 2, wants to know about how much truck traffic the brewery would bring to residential Hunts Point.
Saying he has a wait-and-see attitude, Robert noted that economic development and jobs are crucial to the neighborhood, and said any new business that provided them would be a plus for Hunts Point. But he stressed how crucial it is to keep the number of trucks that rumble through the neighborhood from increasing. He wants to a chance to sit down with the founders to discuss their plans.
The Brewery is also considering the Port Morris section of the Bronx for its location. Both Hunts Point and Port Morris are New York State Empire Zones, where businesses can qualify for property tax, business tax and income tax credits, and investors can also get a tax break.
The company executives say they have about $200,000 of the million they need in hand, and they’re already selling pint glasses glasses, polo shirts and hats with the company logo on-line.
They hope it won’t be long before customers are able to purchase the product that is the real selling point of The Bronx Brewery, beer.
A version of this article appeared in the April 2010 issue of The Hunts Point Express.