Brewmaster O’Sheiss Uses Gowanus Canal Water in His Beer


A cool frothy glass of Sheiss Weiss Dunkel

Brooklyn breweries pumping out craft beers are now common enough, so it takes a new approach to cause a splash, and that is just what Sanford O’Sheiss, founder of fledgling Olde Gowanus Brewery, has done. This Stevens Institute graduate began his project (How else?) with a Kickstarter campaign early last year that eventually netted him $75,000. He plowed that money – quite literally – into a property on Brooklyn’s Second Avenue, in the shadow of the F tracks on the lip of one of the Gowanus Canal’s tentacle-like arms. Sheiss partly bulldozed, partly rehabbed the three- story brick structure dating from the 1880s that was there already. It had been a chemical factory for most of its life, then was converted to a day-care facility during the ’90s. FiTR caught up with O’Sheiss in the brewery office, which is in the newer half of the building – a soaring, international-style atrium that’s all glass and reflective surfaces.

FiTR: How did you come up with the name Olde Gowanus Brewery?

SOS: Well I looked in my own back yard, and there was this canal, and I thought, why not name my brewery after the body of water? I’ve been hearing that the canal is going to be cleaned up, and someday it’s going to be like Venice around here.

FiTR: California or Italy?

SOS: I’m not sure.

FiTR: Do you plan on taking advantage of the setting?

SOS: We’re actually planning on building a terrace over the water with volleyball, arcade game machines, and a beer bar made of coiled rope embedded in polyester resin. We found a barrel in the basement — love the smell! It’s going to be pretty cool. In the summer, we plan on putting in a bungee jumping structure with a sixty-foot crane on the top of the older section of the brewery leaning over the canal.

FiTR: Tell me about your brewing facilities.

SOS: Well, we’ve got three huge copper boil kettles. We actually found them in a vacant lot near the bus garage up the street. You can imagine, they were crusted in this green stuff, but we hosed them out and now they’re good as new. We have a bottling machine capable of turning out one case per minute.

FiTR: Have you actually started brewing already?

SOS: Yes, we’re on our third beer, we’ve already done two.

FiTR: Would you say your brewery has a house style? What makes your suds distinctive?

SOS: You know, everyone is doing lagers and pilsners, light stuff, so we decided to brew all darker beers, no matter which type, just make everything darker. We have an extensive hops library, and can pretty much do whatever we want to the taste, but we try to make the beers taste darker, too.

Turn page for more! “It’s in the water.”

View of the canal from Olde Gowanus Brewery’s back porch

FiTR: What was the first beer you made?

SOS: It’s called Sheiss Weiss Dunkel. I had to name it after myself. It’s a wheat beer, but a very dark one. You don’t drink this one with a slice of lemon, we recommend you coat the rim of the glass with coarse-cut orange marmalade. [He reaches over to pour me a glass from a handsome bottle with a picture of the Union Street Bridge on it, after first lubricating the rim of the glass with his fingers dipped in a jar of Cooper’s Marmalade.]

FiTR: I’m tasting the beer now and find it really interesting. The flavor is assertive, and I find a distinctive undertaste, almost chemical, mixed with a delightful earthiness. It also leaves a slight burn in my throat. Are there chilis in there?

SOS: Well, maybe. We fiddled around with that recipe for several months. We’re still holding the beer off the market, though we do have it on tap at several Tribeca bars, to let the expectation build.

FiTR: I assume you brew with New York city tap water, like nearby Sixpoint and Kelso breweries.

SOS: Well, yes and no.

FiTR: What do you mean, “Yes and no”?

SOS: Well, it was probably tap water once. Now it’s canal water: we’re using canal water to brew our beers. It’s like that Rocky Mountain spring water they use to brew Coors, only it’s pure canal water. It gives our beers a distinctive flavor, and we feel like we’re being environmentally progressive to use that water rather than demanding the city give us water. It was so easy, we just put a hose into the canal, and got the suction going.

FiTR: Well, that’s unusual, I’d think. Anyway, thanks so much for this interview, and we look forward to your beer being available around the Village Voice offices at Cooper Square.

“You can’t beat the canal water for richness of flavor,” says O’Sheiss.

Happy April 1 from Fork in the Road!