A farm-to-kettle approach makes New York’s newest nano the most exciting foodie brewery around.
The Friday before the guys at Big Alice Brewing dig in for their monthly marathon brewing session, Robby Crafton and Kyle Hurst hit the local markets for ingredients. Cherry peppers are in season, so they fill a bag to add to their rye-oat stout. Carrots will headline a new swing on the imperial IPA, a beer’s meditation on vegetable stock. And pomegranates, which Crafton will spend an entire Saturday picking apart, will color a Belgian wheat stout (and also dye his hands red).
After five days of peeling, chopping and brewing, a menu of eight seasonally flavored beers will be bubbling; three months later, they’ll land on the tiny brewery’s tasting room shelves.
“Beer is preservation,” explains Crafton. “Much like canning, we’re capturing the ingredients’ flavors at their peak, so they’re still available three to six months later.”
That is, if you’re lucky enough to snag a bottle. The brewery is impossibly small, and its 10-gallon system produces just enough beer to fill about 45 bottles of each recipe. Once the beer’s gone, it’s gone for good. Each month a new eight-beer lineup debuts at the brewery’s tasting room (open just a couple hours a week on Friday nights), where NYC beer geeks pop in to scope the latest recipes.
“Right now, we’re making such small quantities,” admits Crafton. “But it’s still interesting for our customers—they get to see seasonal flavors change over the months.”
We caught up with Crafton after he hit the farmer’s market for spring beer-ingredient shopping. Here’s what he made:
Pomelo Pale Chocolate Stout: “Since so many American imperial stouts are bleeding into IPA levels of bitterness and hop aroma, it seemed like a safe bet to pair the grapefruitlike pomelos with this beer.”
Mango Orange Multigrain Ale: “All of the great citrus shows up in the winter—it won’t be around by late spring, but we’ll still have the beer to remind us of those citrusy winter days.”
Burdock Root Rye Ale: “I don’t have any idea what people are supposed to do with it, so I bought some to make beer. It takes rye malt in a different direction: back to the soil.”
Black Currant Tea Wheat Ale: “I figured that if you can make tea out of hops, then you should be able to make beers with tea.”
Kiwi Belgian Ale: “I paired the kiwis with crystal malt and oat malt to replace the sweetness that the yeast will eat, and add a smoother dimension to the ale.”
Jalapeño Rye Ale: “I’ve been cooking with jalapeños since I was a teenager. Their flavor works beautifully with so many things; I paired them with rye malt, known for its spicy flavor.”