It’s official: New York City is brewing in every borough. Thanks to the recent opening of Flagship Brewing Company (40 Minthorne Street, Staten Island) on Staten Island, now even residents of “the forgotten borough” can enjoy truly local beer. Headed up by three SI natives, the brewery aims to become a community gathering place while enticing other New Yorkers to cross the harbor.
As the first craft brewery on Staten Island in over a decade (the short-lived Old World Brewery closed in 2003), and the fifth or sixth NYC brewery to open in 2014, Flagship has the feeling of optimism and inevitability. Founders John Gordon, Matt McGinley, and Jay Sykes all grew up in the West Brighton neighborhood of Staten Island, becoming craft beer drinkers in adulthood. McGinley and Sykes both ended up working in the beer industry; Gordon and Sykes brewed their own beer for years. Starting a brewery in their hometown seemed like a natural next step.
“It’s just crazy to me that there’s half a million people on this island and there’s not a brewery,” says McGinley, pointing out that where their head brewer, Patrick Morse, grew up in Maine, a population one-tenth the size of Staten Island’s supported more than a dozen local breweries. “We felt Staten Island was ready for a brewery, and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t have our own brewery.”
Like many of the breweries that have sprouted up across New York in recent years, Flagship has received strong local support, including accolades from borough president James Oddo. Considering the island’s reputation as a suburban subculture isolated from the rest of New York City, it’s no surprise that the partners hope their beer and taproom will become a part of the landscape — a scene that, especially in this borough, is more than just young singles. “It’s very family-oriented,” says Gordon. “There are always children here. It’s Flagship day care center. It’s exactly what we were hoping it would be — kind of a community meeting place.”
Flagship hopes to attract visitors from off the island, too. Located squarely in the area of the North Shore that’s currently undergoing massive redevelopment by the City’s Economic Development Corporation, they’re betting on increased foot traffic in the coming years. “A few million people a year take the ferry and they just don’t get off it,” Gordon points out. “We’re trying to give them a reason to get off, come, and enjoy our local beer.”
Enticing craft beer fans from outside Staten Island also matters because, as McGinley admits, the culture of craft brewing isn’t as strong in the borough as elsewhere in New York City. “Staten Island is probably catching up a little bit in terms of craft,” he says. “We’re trying to convert Bud Light and Coors Light drinkers, so we wanted every beer that we’re launching with to be real approachable.” That’s why you won’t yet find an IPA on tap — it might overwhelm local palates right out the gate.
That doesn’t mean the beers Flagship is pouring resemble the bland brews against which they’re competing, though. The brewery’s three current offerings are flavorful and diverse enough to suit just about anyone’s taste. In fact, the partners chose the brewery’s name because they want all their beers, rather than just one or two, to be “flagship” brands — solid, reputable, high-quality. You can find the three current beers in the brewery’s taproom and, very soon, at bars and restaurants throughout the five boroughs. A forthcoming summer ale will be available at all Staten Island Yankees games.
Flagship American Wit (5.7 percent ABV)
It might smell like the same old wheat beer with notes of orange, lemon, and grapefruit, but a sip reveals a solid bready malt base with a refreshing, clean finish.
Flagship Dark Mild (4.5 percent ABV)
This medium-bodied ale is redolent with espresso and cacao flavors mingling with dark fruits like plum and raspberries and finishing with a lingering coffee flavor.
Flagship American Pale Ale (6.2 percent ABV)
The pale ale is partly hopped with Mosaic which imparts tropical fruits and strawberry flavors that carry the pleasant malt base and sharp overtones into a crisp, bitter finish.