Braven Brewing Company Works Toward Opening a Brewery, Bringing Brewing Back to Bushwick
Marshall Thompson, left, and Eric Feldman want to revive Bushwick's brewing legacy.
Williamsburg may have been the center of Brooklyn's globe-spanning craft revolution, but it's neighbor to the east, Bushwick, has come on strong in recent years--and as artists and artisans continue to move in, it's unsurprising that we're seeing a steady rise in shops, galleries, and restaurants, and we'll likely soon experience an uptick in breweries and distilleries. Breweries, as it happens, are nothing new for this part of the city: By the 1890s, Bushwick, then a German immigrant community, was home to the thriving Brewers' Row, a 14-block stretch of Bushwick Avenue that housed 14 breweries--and produced a third of the beer consumed in the city. Prohibition hammered the area, but the last of those historic shops held on until the 1970s before it finally dried up.
Now, there's very little physical evidence of the bygone industry, save for a few landmarked buildings. It's only a matter of time, though, before that modern wave of creative DIY-ers revive the craft--and that could happen as soon as next year: Braven Brewing Company is raising funds right now to open a brewery in Bushwick.
Eric Feldman and Marshall Thompson, partners behind the venture, are long-time friends, and four years ago, they started homebrewing in their East Village apartments. But it took a couple of years before they started thinking seriously about making their hobby into their livelihood. "Last summer, the idea for Braven itself got going," Feldman explains. "This June, we said, 'Let's go after it. Let's move from home brewer to pro.'"
Thompson had since moved over to Bushwick, and the guys quickly settled on building their project out there. "When we first started brewing over four years ago, we thought maybe one day we should open a brewery," he says. "We started looking in Bushwick right away even though we were both living in the East Village. We saw the space, creativity, and the people we wanted to be around. But we didn't know the history. Once I got there, I started researching, and I discovered there was this rich brewing history, and it's completely gone. That's something we can revive a bit."
So the guys started putting together plans for a destination tap room and brewery, a spot that would pull beer aficionados to the neighborhood from this city and beyond. "We'd love people to come to our brewery as the place to go in Bushwick," explains Thompson. "You get the best beer when you can get it straight from the tanks through the line and tap and into your mouth--and you don't get that in New York very often. We've gone to a lot of breweries all over the country, and we love going and meeting the brewers. We'd love to provide that to New Yorkers."
Ideally, the pair says, they'd like to set up shop close to the historic Brewers' Row, though they acknowledge that the L train has opened up other parts of the neighborhood. They're exploring space around the Jefferson stop, where they see a lot happening, as well as farther out, where they might be able to get more real estate. They'd love, they say, to inspire other brewers to make the leap, too, since several breweries in one area would revive Bushwick's history and also give beer tourists a central place to get their fix.
Braven via Kickstarter
And as for what they'll brew? "The theme throughout is balance and drinkability," says Feldman. "I don't like getting the beer that's so challenging that if you have one, your palate's wrecked and you can't keep going." He cites the sessionable black and white IPAs they've been doling out to party-goers and friends, and notes that he'd like to revive a bit of Bushwick style history, too, with the altbier and pilsner recipes German immigrants were likely working with in the 19th century.
Thompson adds that the pair also has an experimental streak that will express in much of their lineup. For Day of the Dead, for instance, they're unveiling an orange habanero chocolate stout, which they'll pour at Passenger Bar's Day of the Dead party this Friday night. "We wanted to do a fall seasonal, but everyone has a pumpkin beer," he explains. "We're not going to a pumpkin beer. There's no point. So we said, 'What about Day of the Dead?' It fits with Bushwick, too, because this is very much a Mexican neighborhood."
And as for the name, Braven comes from Thompson's personal history: "I'm big into history, and I'm also into coats of arms," he explains. "My father's is a raven, and my mom's is a buck. I was going to get a tattoo of each one on each shoulder. But I thought, what if I just got weird and matched the two together? My friend was like, 'You should call it a Braven.' And I was like that's weird and stupid but cool. We started as East Village Brewing Company, and we cycled through other names, but we came back to Braven. It's distinct, and no one else owns it."
Feldman and Thompson emphasize that they won't be able to sell their beers until they've built a brewery, which they hope to launch within the next year. In the meantime, they're raising money on Kickstarter to get rolling, opening up a temporary space so they can work on a larger system, and moving to hook in the necessary investment for their ultimate project. And in the meantime, you'll be able to find them at events around town, where they'll be pouring their creations--"This is a great excuse to throw parties," Feldman says. "We're doing as many events as possible so we can find people interested in beer, Bushwick, and brewing history and get them involved. When we launch, we'd like to have a group of people who already know who we are." And when they eventually distribute--something that's way down the line, after they've built a loyal taproom following, they say--they'll roll out their beer in cans.
Check out Braven's Kickstarter page for more details or to make a contribution; the guys are doling out some pretty sweet perks like soccer scarves and pint glasses to backers. And find them at the Passenger Bar (229 Roebling Street) on Friday, November 1 at 10 p.m.
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