Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Brains Behind The Bronx Brewery

Coffee or Beer's Matt Hanley meets the polymaths who are revitalizing the Bronx brewing industry. 

Chris Gallant and Damian Brown of The Bronx Brewery
  Three young, smart professionals have banded together in the Bronx to build a new beer company, The Bronx Brewery (TBB). Native son Steve O' Sullivan founded the company but has stepped away from daily operations due to a job at the State Department*. Damian Brown, a Yale grad, was finishing a program at esteemed brewery science school University California-Davis when O'Sullivan visited to find a brewmaster. Chris Gallant (Bentley, B.S.; M.I.T. MBA) was consulting for Heineken in South America when he decided he wanted to return to New York and start a brewery. His wife saw a Yale alum group posting by Damian seeking investors for TBB and suggested Chris meet "the competition." After a meeting, Chris and Damian agreed they had complementary skills and would partner.

The two have made steady progress turning O'Sullivan's idea for a craft brewery in the Bronx into a going concern with a valuable product. Since producing its first commercial batch of Bronx Pale Ale in August 2011, The Bronx Brewery is on pace to sell 1500 barrels this year, and regularly sells out of its monthly output. In February its production will double as it brings a second fermentation tank online. Its barrels command a premium price and are sold at a growing number of well-regarded bars and restaurants in New York City (and at Whole Foods Markets). Backed by a supportive group of investors that includes family and friends, and drawing from the skills developed at our nation's best schools, it appears The Bronx Brewery is assured of reaching its aspirations to be a regional, and then, national brewery.

Why would smart people leave ideal climates for the Bronx? Beer is a factor...

 And yet the ride thus far has not been without bumps. One day a year ago, TBB's then accountant and business representative declared he was forming his own brewery (Jonas Broncks). Suddenly TBB had a well-informed rival (and had to find a new accountant). Then there's the bruises borne of the brutal beer distributors, who in many cases dictate the entire beer lineup of a bar. In at least once instance, a distributor has forced a bar to remove Bronx Pale Ale. In true indie-fashion, TBB self-distributes from their own truck; driving in NYC itself is a hazard (cue opening chapter of Bonfire of the Vanities).  Let's not also forget that for all the fandom of craft beers, they are a luxury and the U.S. is still mired in an economic "recovery" that has all the power of a 3.2% Utah beer. 

  I met Damian and Chris at a launch event in New York City's Amity Hall in November 2011. I had a couple follow up interviews via phone and email. I learned how they got together, how they are presently operating,some plans for the future, and examples of their strategy of "project orientation" and  "smart growth."

Steve is still actively involved, holds a large number of shares, and has a seat on TBB's Advisory Board. 


MH:     What other careers did you consider?
DB:      I have worked in two other fields outside of brewing:  I was an outreach paralegal for a legal services office doing farmworker labor law cases in the Southeast US for about 2 years and have spent several years in software sales and business development.
MH:     Why and when did you decide to become a brew master?
DB:      I'm pretty sure I made that decision after brewing my first batch of homebrew almost 10 years ago.  I knew it was something I'd want to pour my life, time, energy and focus into.

MH:     How many different beers does The Bronx Brewery produce?
DB:      One, the Bronx Pale Ale. But we have a couple in the pipeline.

MH:     Why did you choose to make a pale ale?
DB:      It’s a ‘big’ beer meaning it has a lot of character but it’s accessible and can be paired with a variety of foods. It’s a year-round beer. While almost everyone produces one, very few breweries actually focus on a pale ale. For our flagship beer, we decided a balanced beer like a pale ale was the way to go.

MH:     Describe your pale ale in a few words.
DB:      Robust, assertive, balanced, a big, malt, dry-hopped American style pale ale.

[ Editors Note: Learn more about the Bronx Pale Ale ]

MH:     Steve (founder) talked about using specific elements of the Bronx in your beers. What does that mean?
DB:      Instead of doing the typical, seasonal beers, like an Oktoberfest, we’re finding ways to collaborate with local organizations to source raw materials and influence a second beer. We’re new, so we have to do things that set us apart. We’re taking a project approach.

MH:     Can you tell us about some of these projects?
DB:      We’re discussing a project with The Bronx Botanical Gardens, where they’d produce some floral ingredients for a beer next spring. We are in talks with a rooftop farm to grow hops for an upcoming beer. A local coffee roaster might provide beans for a beer that has some characteristics of coffee.

The New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx will likely provide ingredients for a  Bronx Brewery beer project. 

MH:     That is local. And yet I’ve read that your brewery is in Connecticut. Why is that?
DB:      We are ‘tenant brewing’ at the Cottrell Brewing Co.’s facility.  Our operating mantra is to smartly manage our growth. That affects many of our decisions and actions, such as when and how we raise money, how and where we produce our beer, and how much beer we produce; turning down some accounts because we don’t want to potentially under-deliver to others. It’s a process of incrementally scaling up capacity to provide for growing demand, while being mindful of our capital limitations as a start-up.

MH:     So you're "cooking in Cottrell's kitchen." Is the cookware theirs?
DB:      They have a great facility but they let us enter into our own contracts and use our raw materials. We own the fermentation tank. In fact, we recently purchased a second fermentation tank.

MH:     Can you explain why you bought a new tank and why you chose the particular tank?
DB:      We decided to purchase a second (80 BBL) fermentation tank in order to expand production and distribution of our Bronx Pale Ale.  
Factors we considered in deciding what tank to purchase and where to source it from included volume, timing, quality and pricing.  We decided on an 80 BBL tank in order to maximize production capacity; we'll brew double batches to fill the tank, given that we're brewing in a 40 BBL brewhouse.  Lead time from order to delivery of the tank is 4 - 5 months, so we purchased the tank anticipating where we want our production capacity to be in 5 - 6 months.  Lastly, we purchased our second tank from the same manufacturer as our first 40 BBL tank because we were impressed with the quality of manufacture and pricing.    
[Editors Note: this conversation was in mid-November. The second tank is scheduled to be used in February]

MH:     Is it a long-term arrangement? Will you ever brew in the Bronx?
DB:      Next year, we’ll have a second round of funding that will raise money to begin building a facility here in the Bronx.  Until that’s built, we are happy with the quality and consistency from Cottrell and are glad to have that relationship.

MH:     How often do you work at Cottrell and how do you get there?
DB:      I go up there 2-3 times a month. We have a truck that we use to self-distribute and I drive it up to Connecticut.

MH:     How do you choose a brewery and why did you choose Cottrell?
DB:      It was a three-four month process of investigating a number of breweries in the tri-state area. We chose Cottrell because of its proximity, its available capacity, guarantee of supply, and their willingness to let us be active. 

MH:     You mentioned turning down accounts. Couldn't you just make more?
DB:      We are maxed out on our one fermentation tank. It's created a luxury / problem of limited supply --luxury because we can be picky and strategize which accounts to go for and accept. 

MH:      What do you say to an account you have to turn down? 
DB:      That we’re a new company with limited supply, but we’ll revisit the request down the road.

MH:     What accounts are you focused on?
DB:      Two kinds. First, places that are respected for craft beer. [Ed. note: those places that carry a dozen or more craft beers from around the country ]. Second, accounts that are quality establishments, frequented by tastemakers, and only have a few lines (beers on tap), because that’ll lead to high volume / turnover. They’ll go through 2 kegs per week.

MH:     What about bottled beer? How much do you make of that compared to draft?
DB:      It’s all draft for now.

MH:     Why?
DB:      We’ll begin bottling next year.  But for now it’s a benefit for us to gather as much feedback as possible. It being on draft, in bars, gives us more opportunities to interact with the customer.

MH:     Are you thinking of changing the Bronx Pale Ale formula based on feedback? Or is the recipe locked down?
DB:      It’s not going to change. Sure, I have to make adjustments with the raw materials, as a brewer, to achieve the same results. The flavor profile stays the same.

MH:     Do you put much weight on reviews you see online, like at or
DB:      Those are good for food for thought. The ultimate feedback is sales.

The Bronx Pale Ale is not yet available in bottles. Maybe next year. 

MH:     I noticed at Amity Hall (West Village taproom) that your Pale Ale sells for $7 compared to $6 for a pale ale from Brooklyn. Is that a concern?
DB:      That’s something for Chris (operating manager) to worry about (laughs). It’s an expensive beer to make, and our output doesn’t give us the scale efficiencies yet.

MH:     Steve said that you’ve been surprised at who your customers have turned out to be. Who did you expect your customers to be, and who are they actually?
DB:      Well, obviously, a craft beer drinker is one profile we had in mind. Someone who has a history of favoring quality beer. But the city is diverse, and so customers come from all walks of life. Accounts in the Bronx are different than accounts in Manhattan. We’re very proud to see many locals in the Bronx who were life-long Miller Lite drinkers become regular customers. They gave it a chance because of its name, but they keep drinking it because they’ve come to appreciate quality.

MH:     What new things have you discovered you like to do in the Bronx?
DB:      I really enjoy the diversity of the Bronx.  Every neighborhood offers something unique and interesting.   

MH:     What hobbies that you used to do in Calif. have you had to find a replacement for / or have been more difficult to do here in New York?
DB:      I used to play rugby, both in VA (where I lived before attending the brewing science program at UC Davis) and CA.  It is a sport and culture I love, but I haven't had time to play here in NY given my work at The Bronx Brewery.  

Damian's Tips for Home Brewers
 1. Brew what you like to drink.  This is the best way to stay motivated to make more.
2.  Don't worry so much about style guidelines.  Be creative and make a beer that's truly your own.
3.  Start simple and add complexity as you gain more experience.  Starting with simple recipes and processes will allow you to better grasp the principles of brewing without being overwhelmed.
4.  Share what you make.
5.  Invite people to brew with you.  


MH:     Is it a concern that your Pale Ale is often $1 more than other pale ales at bars?
CG:      Among craft brews, one dollar is not significant to the customer. We don't offer discounts to bars, and our kegs our 2 and a half times more expensive than say, a Budweiser. We're comfortable with the pricing.

MH:     Damian says you'll be bottling beer next year. What's the plan on that? Will I be able to buy it at a corner store?
CG:      We'll revisit it next year. At first we would focus on selling bottled beer to "on premises" accounts, like the restaurants and bars we now serve. "Off premise" accounts like bodegas require a different set of sales techniques, and that will be further down the line.

MH:     So you get to interact with customers at bars that have Bronx Pale Ale on tap. Why is that important?
CG:      Being able to see someone's expression when they sip a beer is important feedback. And for us, being able to tell our story directly to people, that helps the community know who we are and what we care about… what our beer is like.

MH:     You do a lot of events, yet I notice you don't use those, er, 'beer girls' who go to a bar and hand out samples or encourage you to buy a particular brand.
CG:      That type of marketing works well for the macro beers. A craft beer consumer doesn't respond to that kind of thing, because he's focused on taste.  Still, at some events we'll have our wives, girlfriends as extra hands on deck.

MH:     What is the best compliment you've received?
CG:      Reorders.

MH:     When did you feel you made the right decision to return to New York and forsake Heinken?
CG:      When we sold out of our first batch so quickly.

MH:     How did you manage that, as an unknown brand?
CG:      We'd done a lot of trials, samples.

MH:     Any times when you've regretted leaving Brazil and going into business in New York?
CG:      On a cold day on the truck (laughs).  No, it's hard work but I've no regrets.

MH:     What kind of things do you like to do in New York?
CG:      A lot of food and drink stuff: checking out the newest hot spots and oldest NY standby restaurants, local farmers markets and products, food/wine/beer pairings, self-guided food tours (basically just my wife and i picking a neighborhood in one of the boroughs and grabbing food at the 5 or 6 best restaurants there - our favorite so far is either Arthur Ave in the Bronx or Roosevelt Ave in Queens). Otherwise a lot of running in the city, motorcycle touring in NYC and NY state, hanging out in Central Park with our dog.

MH:     What's been the biggest resistance from potential accounts?
CG:      Some bars only deal with distributors.  We've been kicked out of one bar in The Bronx, when the distributor saw we'd taken up one of "their" draft lines.

MH:     I read that another Bronx brewery, Jonas Broncks, is owned by a former associate of yours. How did you react to the sudden rivalry?
CG:      We're glad to have more brewers in The Bronx. But, we've had to revise our business plan. There are nuances to launching with one beer, and we've tweaked those details.

[Note: The Broncks Brewery now offers two beers and is carried by Union Beer Distributors. Its website parrots The Bronx Brewery's idea by stating: "We want our beer to be about The Bronx. The flavor, the look, the beer is all about The Bronx." ]

If Chris's wife and Damian were not both Yale alum, the two would likely be competitors instead of partners.  Chris was feeling the waters for his own brewery when his wife saw a posting to a Yale alum website seeking investors. He made an appointment to meet Damian, and they discovered their skills / background would work well in tandem. 

MH:     Which other breweries in the country do you see as a good example, that you might emulate in some way, or aspire to be more like?
CG:      Breweries like Dogfish Head that have really pushed the envelope and introduced people the new exotic beers; like Boston Beer that is leading the charge to get craft beer into the hands of new consumers every day; like Brooklyn Brewery who were on the forefront of craft beer in NYC. That being said, I wouldn't say we are aspiring to emulate any of them - we're setting out to do something a little different with our beer and company.

MH:     How about, irrespective of industry, other companies you admire?
CG:      I admire companies big and small that really break the mold of their industry, make a quality product, and have excellent customer service: Apple, Bonobos, Warby Parker, Amazon, PomWonderful, Dropbox. I also love brands and products with solid craftsmanship, strong heritage and a great story: Macallan, Levi's, Red Wing Boots, Ray-ban, NY Times.

MH:     What other careers or industries did you consider?
CG:      When I opted to leave my consulting gig, I looked pretty much exclusively at the beverage industry, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic. In the end, I decided on beer because it is the product that resonates most with me and that i enjoy working with best.

MH:     Can you give an example of a big surprise / thing you learned since going into business?
CG:      The real camaraderie in the craft beer industry. It's amazing how much small brewers really help each other out. It's a small industry, especially in NYC, and I really enjoy the people I interact with on a daily basis from our suppliers to our customers to other brewers.

MH:     Any short advice you give to a friend going into business?
CG:      Don't copy what successful beer companies are doing today and assume that will make you successful. Find a undeserved niche that beer drinkers really want and go after it.


In late December, I visited Jimmy 43, a cool European-style basement bar in the East Village that offers a large selection of Belgian and craft beers. Looking at the menu, I asked what the Bronx Pale Ale was like. The young lady bartender said "Everyone likes it. It's one of our most popular beers" but went on to say that she herself found it "bitter" because she is "sensitive to hops." I ordered one, and let my friend try it. He said it was "a good IPA but too bitter." My take was that it was a good beer. I enjoyed it. I only had the one, and I can't recall if I felt that "balanced" means average or that it means "perfect." I was satisfied, and felt it was a winner and just the thing to drink after having had two stronger beers, and seeking to relax but not quit (this was halftime during a NFLgame). 


Let us not assume TBB will be the next Boston Beer, based on its pedigree or because 'it should be,' especially since it could be said that it 'shouldn't be.' In theory, naysayers might suggest Brown and Gallant follow O'Sullivan into public service or in some other way improve humanity instead of risking 'good money' to sell a 'vice.' Both attitudes - that TBB is destined to succeed, or that the resources behind TBB should be allocated elsewhere - ignore one key concept: free will.  On paper, things look bright, but if paper was all that mattered, O'Sullivan could have drawn pictures on a napkin while drinking a Brooklyn Brew and left it at that. 

Free will is embodied in actions--and these are very active men. They have made decisions to create a certain thing and to commit their lives to it. They have moved across a continent and hemisphere.
Damian and Chris are equipped to deal with pitfalls and to turn opportunities into advantages. Nevermind the notion of "give brewing a try and then returning to a corporation or non-profit…" or that "hey, if they make it rich, then they can do some real good kind of like Gates, Rockefeller etc" or that "hey this stock in ten years might pay for a new home or education.." Forget all that!!

The world needs more brewers, but more than that, it needs more smart people doing what they love to do. It's our privilege in the year 2012 that Damian and Chris have committed their brains to the resurrection of Bronx brewing. They have made some key decisions and actions that have put The Bronx Brewery on healthy footing-and given New Yorkers a tasty pale ale.


The Bronx Pale Ale on
The Bronx Brewery Twitter @TheBronxBrewery
The Bronx Brewery on Facebook
Where to Find Bronx Pale Ale on tap


Matt Hanley is a programmer, beer drinker and music student living in New York. @HanleyCan. He put together the COBTE for

Friday, January 13, 2012

Children's POV

A schoolteacher shared this drawing done by a student who was working on a project about the number of coffee drinkers. We're assuming the child has some alcohol-related complications at home...

(the word "Evil" appears on the label of a beer bottle.)

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Developing Situation

Which is a better system for developing film? Coffee or Beer? Well, we don't know of a beer solution.. but a photographer friend informed us of a method for using the morning blend to create some prints...cafenol.

Here is the story in Wired.

And a photo from that story.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Brewmaster Tips for Home Brewers

[The staff has been occupied developing the Coffee or Beer Tendency Exam (COBTE) and will next turn to revising a profile about the partners behind The Bronx Brewery. Here is a bonus section from that article, in which brewmaster Damian Brown gives...]


1. Brew what you like to drink.  This is the best way to stay motivated to make more.
2.  Don't worry so much about style guidelines.  Be creative and make a beer that's truly your own.
3.  Start simple and add complexity as you gain more experience.  Starting with simple recipes and processes will allow you to better grasp the principles of brewing without being overwhelmed.
4.  Share what you make.
5.  Invite people to brew with you.  


As told to Matt Hanley by Damian Brown, Brewmaster, The Bronx Brewery 
Stay tuned for an upcoming profile about the brains behind The Bronx Brewery.