Strong Rope Brewery

The Farmers Bounty

New York's farmers markets are in full swing and with that comes the bounty of the local countrysides or sometimes from our surrounding rooftops. Strong Rope focuses on using as many local ingredients as possible, and while that usually includes hops and grain, our seasonal beers experiment with the amazing harvests from local farmers.

Not only are the markets a great location to pick up fresh meats, vegetables and fruits, they also are an amazing place to inspire Strong Rope Brewery's next beer. Last month, I took home the Brewer's Choice award at the HomeBrewklyn Homebrew Competition and Festival here in Brooklyn with my Farmer's Summer Brown Ale, a chocolatey brown ale brewed with basil and fermented with organic raspberries.

Walking through the market this past week, the sour cherries were screaming to me and they were saying "WE WANT TO BE MADE INTO AN EVER SO DELICIOUS SOUR CHERRY IMPERIAL STOUT", to which I replied "chill out cherries, your wish is my command." So keep an eye out in the near future for Strong Rope's, yet to be named, sour cherry and cacao nib imperial stout! 

Finally if browsing the local farmers markets stalls wasn't enough, last year Governor Cuomo put a law in effect creating a new class of license for brewers, the farm brewery license. This new license, which hopes to increase demand for locally grown farm products as well as expand economic development and tourism, allows breweries some leeway with the previous tax requirements as well as what can be sold at the brewery in terms of pints and tastings. Of course the breweries will need to use at least 20% New York state grown hops as well as 20% for the rest of their ingredients. When the time comes Strong Rope will be filing for the farm brewery license utilizing local ingredients from hop farms like Condzella and Farm to Pint and sourcing malt from FarmHouse Malt. Exciting times!

Starting the Hop Farm

A big part of what I want Strong Rope Brewery to be is a brewery that uses as much local ingredients as possible, from hops to malt to fresh fruits and herbs at the local markets. Its important that I am able to create beers, from dry hopped IPA's to Lavender Blackberry Blonde Ales, and not have to constantly go 3000 miles for the raw ingredients. By utilizing local ingredients I can cut down on the carbon footprint of the brewery by not shipping those ingredients from all over the world, while also fostering relationships and helping local farms to take root in the North East.

With that being said, this past memorial day I had a chance to help get a test plot for hops started back home outside of Rochester, NY. My brother, who has been a landscaper for a number of years now, has taken an interest in the brewing industry, but from the side of the raw ingredients, and this past spring decided to get a small test plot going of 20 plants with 4 different kinds of hops (Nugget, Cascade, Centennial and Willamette).

New York used to be one of the major hop grown regions in the world but was decimated by a blight and prohibition in the early 20th century. Subsequently the hops and farms moved out west to Oregon and Washington, where they have had a strong hold ever since. But now with craft beer growing faster than ever and the desire for local ingredients increases hops farms and yards are hopping up (hehe) all over New York, from the rolling hills of Western and Central New York with Climbing Bines and Foothill Farms, to the Coastal farms of Long Island with Condzella Hops and Farm to Pint.

We were able to create the test plot utilizing materials that were left over on the farm. And while the trellis system is a little unconventional, we dont go quite as high (only about 10 feet) as a normal trellis system, we were able to save on material cost and reuse what we had lying around, from the Base poles to the rebar posts holding the twine. And we will be able to determine if the soil makeup is a good fit to grow the hops. So while this test plot may seem a little odd, it is only the beginning.  And as you can see from the below gallery it is a family affair. 

 

Building Out A System

As I move from the world of homebrewing to that of the professional, it is good to reflect on how far I have come, not just in terms of the knowledge and skills I have gained, but also in terms of how my brewing system has grown. Now from the eyes of some homebrew geeks, even my current system, is a little lowtech. No brew sculptures, no pumps, just an assortment of mismatched equipment including a couple of mismatched pots, a 25' copper chiller and perhaps most importantly a Sanyo mini fridge turned fermentation chamber.

Though i started brewing extract beers back in 2003, it wasn't until my wife got me a 1 gallon kit from Brooklyn Brew Shop as a wedding present in 2009 that I started to brew on a regular basis. Brewing in NYC is not the easiest of hobbies but with the little 1 gallon kits you can brew quite easily on the stove top. The first iteration of my brewing setup was in a little 500 square foot studio. Not much space to brew but the 1 gallon worked, you get a couple of bottles and can try a lot of recipes. But it still takes about the same amount of time to brew a 1 gallon batch as it does a 5 gallon batch, and with such a small amount of beer in the outcome, I upgraded only after a couple of batches.

Of course that was only an upgrade to three gallon batches but, once again the limits of brewing in NYC kept the size of the batch down. The second apartment was a little bigger but not by much. The small stove top burner was not able to deliver the rolling boil for 5 gallons that i was looking for so, keeping it at 3 gallons allowed me to do that while still allowing me to brew every couple weeks.  

At about this time, I also got probably the most important piece of equipment in my brewing arsenal, my fermentation fridge. Having a way to control the temperature on my fermentation made the biggest difference in my beers. Of course it also did double duty as a tv stand (and still does).

 

We finally moved to an apartment that had outdoor space and, (besides having a full size grill, YAY!) I was able to get a blichmann burner, allowing for larger boils and a bit more quantity, moving into the third stage of this upgrade. Also with that came the time to keg. (okay it was more beer and maybe the fact that I had bottle explode over the wifes dresses that then needed to be dry cleaned. An $80 beer that i never got to try)

 

This is most likely the last iteration of my home setup (mainly due to lack of space) before I jump into the larger professional system. And with that jump will come a whole lot of learning and work. As I get a clearer picture on what and where exactly the brewery is going to be, I can start to figure out the specifics on the new system. In the meantime its alot of homework and asking questions of professional brewers and manufactures on the benefits and drawbacks of different brewhouses. And in time I will be able to show you where Strong Rope is heading.

 

Creating Custom Beers For The People

With Strong Rope Brewery focusing on creating beers for a hyper local market, another way we interact with the community could be creating custom beers for special events. Working with people to create a unique beer just for them and their event, whether it is a wedding or birthday or any other event they can think of, is a great way not only to bring recognition to the brewery but also allows you to get away from your normal selection of beers and try something new to expand your brewing horizon. 

Collaboartive exercises with people of different backgrounds are a great way to open up to ideas that you may have never thought of before, and that is important when trying to stay fresh with any job especiially a creative one like brewing.

I have been doing Custom Beer for events (as I am sure alot of homebrewers do) for a while now. From fresh farmers market Peach and Honey IPA and a Rosemary dry "hopped" Amber Ale, to a Cuban-inspired Saison that had plantain, coriander and bay leaves. All were unique and all were made specialy for their events. You can see what I have done recently on the custom beer section of the site

Whether this becomes apart of the business plan for Stong Rope Brewery moving forward waits to be seen. There are alot of things to consider, in terms of time and space and whether the overall pricing structure can sustain such small batches. What do you all think?

Homebrew Hullabaloo Recap

 

Strong Rope had a great time hanging out and pouring our Oatmeal Stout, Trip To Burlington, at Josh Bernstein's Homebrew Hullabaloo at Goodbye Blue Monday

Trip to Burlington is a velvety smooth but fully roasted beer, with notes of chocolate, coffee and a bit of dark fruit. Just a hint of hops helps balance out this black beauty.

This was the first batch of Trip to Burlington and got some amazing feedback from the Hullabaloo crowd. But besides our own, there were some amazing beers to be had from the other brewers there. From Fritz's great, Horniest RYEnocerous Rye IPA, to my neighbor Isaac Deutch and his Robust Porter. Or course I have to give a shout out to Brooklyn Homebrew and their Teething Gremlin IPA and Kyler Serfass's beers as they are always amazing.  

Check out the pics below and a big thanks to Josh for hosting a great party and here's to hoping that it happens again next year!

Cheers!

Me and my neighbor, Isaac

Fritz pouring the Horniest of beers

Moxey, looking cool!

Dude playing piano, and doing it well.

Brooklyn Homebrew with the best setup of the day

Kyle and Pete setting up

Kyler showing off his muscles

The Homebrew King!

...

And now for something completely odd, RODAN!