"Home brewing is sort of about your willingness to have your apartment be overrun by beer," says Lauren Grimm, who's currently developing a blackberry-spiked variation on an Oud Bruin, a Belgian sour ale, with her husband, Joe.
This Brooklyn-based couple, who founded Grimm Artisanal Ales, is among the city's growing number of gypsy brewers, beer-loving nomads who've turned their favorite hobby into a full-time job but lack space to finish larger-scale production at home.
"We started with a beer CSA while we were living in Chicago," explains Grimm, who met Joe, a musician, while she was studying sculpture. "People were basically helping us fund our home brews," she continues. When the pair, who've been homebrewing for nearly a decade, moved to New York two years ago, they began exploring ways to share their beer with a larger audience.
Lauren and Joe Grimm
Rather than invest in a microbrewery, they began researching commercial breweries and contract brewing facilities that would allow them to rent empty fermenters.
"Gypsy brewing is a way to feel out the industry without putting in a gigantic investment," says Laurisa Milici, who operates Radiant Pig Craft Beers with her boyfriend, Rob Pihl, out of their 500-square-foot Gramercy apartment. There, they develop and perfect small, pilot batches before traveling to existing breweries to craft their beers on a larger scale. Once they're kegged, they're distributed to bars around the city where Radiant Pig is available on draft.
Finding an existing brewery to work with, says Milici, starts with a lot of phone calls over a long period of time. In fact, it took about two years for both Grimm and Radiant Pig to start brewing commercially.
"We reached out to people, asking how big their facility was, asking if they had availability and if we could brew there," she explains. "Then we asked about their brewing process to make sure that it matched up with ours."
Sampling an imperial stout and grains
It's not unusual for these brewers to work with a variety of commercial breweries either, or to jump from state to state. Milici and Pihl have a few beers in the works in Bloomfield, Connecticut, and now they have moved some of their production further north to a brewery in Massachusetts. There, they're be able to can their low-alcohol Junior IPA, a cross between a traditional IPA and a pale ale, which will hit NYC stores this spring. Meanwhile, Grimm is working on their first year-round offering, which may be a Belgian-style saison with a solid, hoppy profile.
"We like to tell people that we're gypsy brewers, and it's really become part of our brand," Grimm says. "But this is also a full-time job for me and Joe."
"You definitely need to get your hands dirty, which isn't always easy," Milici adds. "But at the end of the day, if you really love beer, there's just nothing to complain about."
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