Sixpoint Craft Ales and Pacific Standard Brew A Craft Beer Love Child
Brooklyn was one of the biggest beer brewing cities in the country from the 1870’s until the 1950’s. When Rheingold and Schaefer closed their doors in 1976, the industry disappeared completely from the borough until craft brewers like Red Hook’s Sixpoint Craft Ales, along with Williamsburg’s Brooklyn Brewery and Clinton Hill’s Kelso of Brooklyn, began pioneering a revival over the last decade.
Since their debut in 2004, one of the hallmarks of Red Hook-based Sixpoint Craft Ales has been their prolific creativity. They’ve brewed almost 80 varieties of beers to date, and expect to hit 100 by the end of the year. Many of their beers are brewed in relatively (or in some cases very) small batches. Some surface seasonally, or from time-to-time throughout the year, while some make appearances only on special occasions and others are brewed just once.
The constant flux in the availability of many of the brews keeps their fans paying close attention to what’s available at any given time and where it can be found. The Sixpoint crew don’t do much advertising – they keep their devotees apprised of the latest offerings largely through twitter (where they have over 20,000 followers), facebook, and good old-fashioned word of mouth.
Want examples of that Sixpoint creative streak at work? The past couple of weeks alone have seen the debut of the Sehr Crip Pilsner, the first of a whole new line of lagers; Pumpkin Brewster, their original take on a new kind of harvest-season classic; Purple Rain, a limited-edition plum beer created in collaboration with Red Jacket Orchards, and another small-batch special: the Missionary Style IPA, a west coast-style beer brewed to celebrate the 3rd anniversary of Park Slope watering hole Pacific Standard.
At their 3rd anniversary party last Tuesday, Pacific Standard cleared the taps to mount a blow-out lineup of over 14 Sixpoint drafts, and most of the Sixpoint crew was on hand to help them celebrate.
I sat down with Sixpoint founder Shane Welch and Pacific Standard co-owner John Rauschenberg at the party to try some of Sixpoint’s latest creations and to talk about the brewing and pouring of craft beers.
First, I asked Shane about the creative zeitgeist so evident in Sixpoint’s ever-evolving selection of brews.
Nona: One of your hallmarks, and I think one of the things your fans love most about Sixpoint is your creativity. You’re always rolling out something new. What provides the inspiration that generates so many ideas?
Shane: “Part of it is the community of people we work with and hang out with. We spend a lot of time with creative, like-minded people who make and serve great food and drink, and who work with all kinds of different products that aren’t necessarily standard beer ingredients. We make an effort to get out there and spend time with artisanal chefs, brewers, farmers and all kinds of tastemakers in Brooklyn and beyond. Seeing their passion for what they do inspires us and really gets the creative juices flowing, and we look for ways to incorporate what they do into what we do.
But I think that the most important thing behind our creativity is that everyone making beer at Sixpoint started out as homebrewers. They all developed their craft in ways that forced them to be creative while working with limited resources, but also without the constraints that come with a lot of larger-scale brewing efforts. They’re all inherently creative and passionate brewers, and they bring that spirit to everything we do at Sixpoint.”
Have you always featured such a wide variety of beers, or did you start with a few core brews and expand as you grew?
We had a lot of pent up recipes that we wanted to share by the time we launched in 2004, so we came out with guns blazing. We immediately released 12 different beers. We’ve brewed 78 different varieties to date, and we’ll be up to 100 by the end of the year.
Who were some of the first local spots to pour Sixpoint?
We worked hard to get a few restaurants and bars to tap our beers in the early days. Barcade and Spuyten Duyvil in Williamsburg, Brooklyn Social in Carroll Gardens, Waterfront Ale House on Atlantic, Franny’s in Park Slope and Kettle of Fish in Manhattan were some of the first. Since then, we’ve gained a lot of momentum: There are a few hundred spots pouring our beers in Brooklyn today.
Many people clearly love your beers, your creativity, your approach, and the way you represent Brooklyn. How do handle the increasing demand?
We’ve made the choice to manage our growth ourselves, rather than letting the market dictate what we do. There is a very high demand for our beer, and if we produced more we’d sell more, but we’re committed first and foremost to quality. Our ability to retain the quality and integrity we want in our product is our top priority. Producing and selling more beer is secondary.
For us, it’s not just about getting the formula and ingredients right once, then recreating it over and over – we’re committed to continual refinement. We’re determined to make each batch of each of our varieties better than the last.
Balancing the integrity of the product with the intense demands of a supply chain that wants mass production can definitely be challenging. Most of our focus right now is internal – on building a culture, a process, and chemistry that will allow us to grow in the way WE want to grow … not necessarily in the way the market wants us to grow right now.
So we won’t to be seeing Sixpoint ads featuring bikinis and beach volleyball on TV anytime soon?
That actually brings up a good point – Marketing is another thing that we’re really careful about. We’re all saturated with advertising and marketing that throws honesty out the window by design, in order to get us to buy all kinds of things – from mass-produced beer and food, to cars, political messages and … everything. At Sixpoint we have always been and will always be very careful to communicate our message and our story honestly, authentically and with integrity. That’s really important to us.
One question that always comes up about Sixpoint is, “Why don’t they bottle their beers?”
Early on, it was partly due to size, space, and capital-intensive reasons – we simply didn’t have enough of any of those things to make it feasible! But that’s not the total story. The reality is, when you launch a company that has its entire focus on the quality of the product – NOT where its from, or the name of the owner, or some gimmick, but rather the QUALITY of the product, we think the best way to cultivate that kind of brand is to have no packaging at all. With good packaging, sometimes the consumer will buy the product entirely based on appearance. They’ll walk down the aisle and simply buy whatever catches their eye.
That can’t happen with our beers because we have no packaging. We are a draft-only brewery so the only thing the customer sees is the tap handle. For us, it’s all about what’s INSIDE the keg, versus the exterior facade. So we sell our product based on its merits, not on the “brand.”
Another thing I like about the draft-only approach is that it helps promote a sense of community – it forces people to go out to local restaurants and bars to find your latest brews … that creates a different dynamic than picking up a sixer at the corner bodega and drinking it at home in front of the TV.
I wholeheartedly agree. Beer is a social beverage – it incites ideas, conversation, and conviviality. Contrast that with someone wearing headphones, grabbing a six-pack on the way home from work and drinking alone on their couch while watching TV. We want people to go out, and to get to know the people and establishments pouring our beers.
I know you grew up in Milwaukee, a place pretty steeped in brewing history. What brought you to Brooklyn?
Brooklyn has a real magnetic quality to it. I think that’s why so many immigrants, writers and artists have settled here through the years. This borough right now is one of the epicenters of culture in our country – amazing things are happening with food, drink, music and art, right now. I was drawn to Brooklyn for lots of reasons, but mostly I just thought this would be a real home for us – A place where people would be receptive to what we do and how we do it. I thought that people here would appreciate our approach to brewing our beer.
What are some of your favorite food and drink spots in Brooklyn?
There are just so many. I live near Franny’s – I love what they do, they kick ass. I love Frankie’s on Court Street and Calexico Carne Asada on Union. The Stumptown coffee roastery is a neighbor of the brewery in Red Hook. They’re amazing. Whenever I’m feeling a little ragged I walk over there for a cup of their coffee. The stuff is like nectar.
Any food pairing favorites? Do you have any personal favorite combinations of food and Sixpoint beer?
I do. One of my absolute favorite pairings is a traditional Thanksgiving dinner with our Brownstone Ale. There’s just something about the savory flavors of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and all that other good stuff that fits perfectly with the rich, roasted flavors of the Brownstone. It’s actually a Sixpoint tradition going back to before we launched in 2004. I don’t do Thanksgiving without Brownstone.
One last thing: You know we’re big fans of the burgeoning urban agricultural movement here in Brooklyn and all it represents. Tell us about the rooftop garden you started this year at the brewery.
Sure. We had all these used kegs sitting on the roof – we needed to so something with them. So we starting talking about it. Should we send them to the scrapyard? We thought, wait, there’s got to be some practical use for these. They’re steel…maybe we can repurpose them into something functional…Eventually we realized they were already on the roof…we could just cut the tops off and use them to create a roof garden! So we did.
The garden fed us all summer. We had amazing tomatoes; heirloom herbs like thyme, sorrel, basil and tarragon; these great purple viking potatoes that we fried, mashed, scalloped, baked and roasted; great early-season snap peas and lots more.
Did you get a chance to incorporate any of your rooftop harvest into a beer?
Oh yeah – getting enough for a big 500 gallon batch from the garden is a challenge, but we had enough for some small batches that we’re experimenting with.
How’d you get to know the Pacific Standard guys?
Ha Ha. These guys have been buying beer from us since 2005, right when we opened. That was a couple of years before they opened the bar. They had a kegerator in their apartment and would come down to the brewery on Saturday afternoons to get beer. They loved our beer because it was the closest thing to “California-Style” beer (aggressive and hoppy) they could get in NY. Making the Missionary Style IPA with them was fun and easy – they just wanted something hoppy!
While Shane went to grab another pint, I sat down with John to talk about Pacific Standard and their long-term love affair with Sixpoint.
So how did you end up opening a west coast-inspired beer bar in Brooklyn?
John: I moved to New York from Northern California in 2001 to pursue a career in book publishing. I noticed right away that in New York at that time there was just a total lack of bars with the laid-back vibe and focus on great local beer that you’d find everywhere in the bay area. It seemed like all the bars around here fell into two categories back then: dives that featured $2 PBRs, and upscale places that featured $16 appletinis. It seemed like there was room in the middle there for bars that were laid back but passionate about serving quality craft beers.
My friend (and co-owner of Pacific Standard) Jonathan Stan was back in Berkeley at that time, working at Chez Panisse. We’d talked for years about opening a bar that was all about great beer, and on a visit back home a few years after I had moved to New York, we decided to do it. Jonathan moved out, we spent about a year scouting locations, another year on construction and bureaucracy, and we opened in 2007.
Brooklyn was an easy choice. After living in Manhattan for a few months I had moved to Brooklyn and just loved it. It felt to me like the Berkeley or East Bay of New York. There was a real laid-back vibe and an interest in artisanal food and craft beer that reminded me of home.
Shane mentioned that you were one of their original customers … that you got to know each other a few years before you opened Pacific Standard. How did you discover them?
My book publishing job actually led me to Sixpoint. I grew up with good west coast beers, and one thing I missed about Northern California was the ready availability of laid-back bars that showcased great craft beer.
Luckily, my office was a few blocks from The Ginger Man, one of the few bars in Manhattan that really featured and promoted craft beers at that time, and they had Sixpoint on draft very shortly after they launched. I loved the beer, and heard through a friend that they did brewery tours, so I went out one weekend, met Shane and the crew, and I actually became one of their first customers.
This was before you opened the bar?
Yup. I used to take the bus from Park Slope out to Red Hook, stop by the brewery, talk to the guys, hang out a bit, buy a keg and call a car service to take me home, where I’d hook it up to the kegerator system in my kitchen.
I just loved the beer and loved how they were doing it. It didn’t feel like a business. It was just 2 or 3 guys with a dream and all the right ideas about how to make great beer, how to source the right ingredients, and how to do it all in the way they wanted to do it…what they were doing felt so local and authentic. I was a big fan from day one.
Tell me about the Missionary Style IPA collboration
It was kind of like a dream come true – we had talked with Shane for years about doing something together. I think this year was the first time they really had the manpower and capacity in place to do a small batch special brew with us.
We thought a lot about what style of beer we wanted to do, then realized we were being dumb. Jonathan and I are from Northern California. We grew up loving west coast-style IPAs…why not just go with that? Sixpoint hadn’t done a west coast IPA before, and they had a lot of fun going crazy with the hops. Shane used a Kolsch yeast – a traditional German yeast used for for really light, dry, summer beers. Using Kolsch in the IPA gave it a west coast twist – a dry, tart, tangy dimension. The Kolsch dried it out, lightened it, and gave it this great pungent aroma.
I’m really happy with it – I think it came out great.
Shane mentioned that the Missionary Style IPA was brewed in a pretty limited edition. How long do you think it’ll last?
They brewed a one-time 30 keg batch that’ll just be available here at Pacific Standard. We hope it’ll last until around Halloween, but we’ll see…
You’d better act quickly if you don’t want to miss out on Sixpoint’s latest limited-edition creation. The Missionary Style IPA will be available only at Pacific Standard until it runs out.
In order to celebrate Sixpoint’s creativity and Pacific Standard’s 3rd anniversary, we’re giving away two pints of the Missionary IPA each to five lucky Nona subscribers this week. For your chance to win, just email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line ‘Sixpoint’ by Thursday, September 30. We’ll announce the winners in next week’s newsletter.
You’ll also have the chance to try another Sixpoint small-batch concoction on Sunday at the Atlantic Antic. All of the bars participating in the Antic will be pouring the Atlantic Antic Amber, a special beer that will be available only on Sunday, only at the festival.