The Braven Brewing Company reveals its latest lager this week: The Bushwick Pilsner is inspired by classic recipes from the once dominant Bushwick brewing culture of the 19th and 20th centuries. This pilsner is a smooth, effervescent drink with a golden hue; its timely arrival couldn’t have been better, for this lighter lager features just enough bite to recognize its 5.5 ABV which pairs well with the balmy summer season.
Eric Feldman and Marshall Thompson – the founders of Braven – crafted the Pilsner after discovering a lost article featured in a now-defunct magazine, which detailed the deep past of Bushwick breweries.
“History kind of helped us find this one,” explains Feldman. “We came across some information about how to brew a Bushwick pilsner from an old article in the Nineties with just the basics: This is what Piels did, this is what Trommer’s did, Rheingold, and all the different pieces.”
Corn is a key ingredient in this American-styled Pilsner, as the German immigrants who originally developed this approach relied on the resources of the New World, rather than what they were accustomed to using in Europe. Crafting beer with corn is one of the main differentiations between American and Bohemian pilsners.
“It’s the most American thing you can pick,” says Thompson, with good humor, about the common grain plant. Feldman, his friend and business partner of 16 years quickly chimes in, “If you guys want to fit in, put some corn that beer!”
Thompson and Feldman say the Bushwick Pilsner uses the same hops as their German forebears, and with a very similar malt bill. The corn is a flavor piece, not an additive, and it’s meant to have a little bit more texture to create a crisp and dry feel, along with that little hop-kick.
Braven Brewing will be the first brewery to open in the Bushwick neighborhood in 40 years. Feldman and Thomson plan on debuting their brew house by the end of this year. They’re currently on contract with a brewery in Saratoga Springs, and the brewers note this specific location was of the upmost importance in maintaining the water consistency in the brewing process.
Prior to Prohibition, 10 percent of all the beer produced in the United States came from Brooklyn breweries such as Schaefer and Rheingold. At the heart at this massive beer pump was a collection of 14 breweries in Bushwick, all saddled next to each other in what was known as Brewer’s Row, near the intersection of Bushwick and Montrose Avenues. The negative repercussions from Prohibition and the Great World War (since these were mainly German-owned breweries) eventually gutted the area; the last of the remaining breweries tapped its final keg in 1976. What was once a brewing capital for not just the city, but the entire country, dried up.
“Very, very few people have heard about it. They’re like, ‘really – are you serious, there used to be that many?’” Thompson says. “And the fun part is when you find some old-school New Yorkers, especially if they lived in Bushwick and if they’re old enough, they’ll remember it like, ‘oh yeah, my dad used to drink Schaefer all the time or Rheingold was his favorite.’
“I was talking with someone the other day, whose family has lived in the neighborhood their whole lives, and he said after World War II his uncles worked for the breweries in the neighborhood,” Thompson continues. “So the people who have been around a long time know it and they’re thrilled when I tell them we’re going to be opening a brewery. But we’re not going to be employing the whole neighborhood yet,” he laughs; then pauses to reiterate the word yet.
The Bushwick Pilsner will be available at various bars and markets throughout the city by the end of July. It will also be available during Braven-sponsored events such as their Fourth of July BBQ at Left Hand Path in Bushwick from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.