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An industrial street in the shadow of the Gowanus Expressway probably isn't the first place you'd look for a craft brewery. It certainly wasn't for Matt Monahan, co-owner of Other Half Brewing. He and his partners, Sam Richardson and Andrew Burman, had been searching for space all over the edges of the city when they found their current building, located in the very southern tip of Carroll Gardens, on Craigslist.
"We really lucked out on this space. It was really cheap because it was nothing," Monahan told me. The space was basically empty when they got it; the guys built rooms for their boiler and mill, built a refrigerated space for kegs, and turned the front office into a taproom. Once they finished, they had a working brewery just blocks from the subway, a quick ride from Manhattan.
Now, the focus is on making all the beer they can. Since debuting in December, demand has consistently exceeded supply—they gathered over a hundred accounts within the first few months. With just two pairs of hands and a couple of fermenters, Monahan and Richardson can only brew so much.
What they are brewing leans heavily towards hops—including several IPAs and pales, a Cascadian dark ale, and a well-hopped imperial stout. Monahan and Richardson see their focus being largely on IPAs, but they also intend to offer some sour beers. When I visited, they had a farmhouse ale working in their 15-barrel fermenter.
The bottom line is that Monahan and Richardson want to brew beers they like. So far, the New York beer scene has let them be uncompromising in their vision: "There's so many beer bars and progressive-thinking restaurants that want beers like what we're making that we don't really have to compromise on what we're doing. We make what we want to make, and there's a market for it," Richardson says.
Brewing in NYC
New York might not be the first city beer geeks associate with local brewing, but Monahan and Richardson wouldn't want to be anywhere else.
Being in a city with an underdeveloped local brewing scene—unlike, say, Richardson's native Portland—has brought advantages. It only took them a few weeks to raise capital from eager investors, and they're excited to be brewing at a defining moment in the city's beer scene. "We get to help really shape where New York is going with beer," Richardson says.
Opening a brewery in New York City hasn't been all smooth sailing, though. Dealing with the Department of Building and utility companies was painfully slow, stretching the ten weeks of work needed to build out into a year-and-a-half ordeal. The guys hope that the city will streamline the process to accommodate what they see as a coming explosion in the brewing scene.
"I think there's gonna be a lot of breweries opening...I just think that we're still like five years out from it. I think people are realizing it can be done here," says Richardson.
Monahan and Richardson are still working out of just a few fermenters and delivering all their beer by hand, but they don't want to stay small forever.
In the immediate future, the plan is small-scale distribution out of their taproom, which will open soon. They plan to hand-bottle their sours and high-ABV beers, and eventually bring in a mobile canning operation to can their IPAs.
But that's only the start. Richardson learned to brew at large breweries—he spent three years at Pyramid, then came to New York to work in the contract brewing facility Greenpoint Beer Works. As long as the beer stays great, he's happy to keep growing.
"The bottom line for us is how good the beer is," Richardson says. "I look at Sierra Nevada, that's a f*cking huge brewery that does really good beer. It's possible to grow like that and still make amazing beer."
Monahan's dreaming big, too. The French Culinary Institute-trained chef has hoped to open a brewpub for years. Has the plan changed? Monahan now says he wants to open a couple.
Want a peek behind the scenes at Other Half? Head over to the slideshow »
Monahan and Richardson don't quite have an empire yet, but they're making some great beer out of their humble brewery. Here's my take on a few recent batches.
Doug Cascadian Dark Ale
An homage to Richardson's northwestern roots, this CDA pours deep black. The roast you'd expect from the color hits you up front, but fades away to reveal a controlled bitterness and slight piney flavor. This drinkable beer is definitely worth seeking out.
Other Half IPA
Packed with Cascade, Centennial, Chinook, and Simcoe hops, this is a big, West Coast-style IPA. Citrus dominates, with grapefruit flavors hitting the hardest, and pine coming through in the background. There's just enough sweetness to keep things balanced. If you're in New York looking for a fresh local IPA, this should be one of your go-tos.
This big, warm stout clocks in at 11% ABV and isn't shy on the malt character. Unlike a lot of stouts though, Other Half's offering is flavored with a huge dose of earthy hops. This assertive beer has me thinking red meat—I'd love to pair it with a thick, well-charred burger.