A refreshing new IPA is on tap in Brooklyn just in time for spring. You may remember that we spoke with Eric Feldman and Marshall Thompson a couple years back about their new Bushwick-based micro-brew company, just as things were getting started. Now after two years of fits and starts, planning, scrapping, and straight hustling, Braven Brewing has finally become a reality.
We caught up with the brewers Wednesday night at fancy digs– a place called Cow and Clover, which is all poured concrete, reclaimed wood, and refurbished industrial lighting– adjacent to the now long-gone 285 Kent. Despite the close proximity of the staff, noise at the softly-lit “seasonal wood-fire kitchen” barely reached above a polite, pleasant hum at all times. The pair admitted this place was quite different from anything in Thompson’s neighborhood, Bushwick– well, for now anyway.
The guys bought me a beer, their own White IPA, which was surprisingly refreshing and drinkable, for an IPA. I grew up in Michigan, meaning I’ve probably had enough IPAs over the years to drown a decent-sized militia, so it takes a really tasty IPA to be convinced it’s worth drinking.
But Braven’s beer passed my snob test. “It’s a hybrid of a Belgian white and American IPA,” Thompson explained, which gives it the complexity and strength of an IPA, but with an added citrusy character to cut any lingering bitterness.
“From the beginning we have designed a beer that we wanted to drink with our friends, at concerts, barbecues,” Thompson explained. “We have this term, we like to call it a ‘social beer’ instead of a session beer– if you have two Imperial Stouts you’re probably not being too social after that.” And Braven has certainly succeeded in creating a beer you can drink over and over.
When B+B first met the Braven guys, it was 2013 and they were throwing a party at St. Mazie in Williamsburg to celebrate their Kickstarter campaign. Back then, Braven was not much more than several years of experience with home-brewing, a logo, and a business plan. But some strange omens were afoot that night– an acquaintance ended up getting a tattoo of the company’s logo on her forearm, for example. The founders agreed this was a “little weird.” Though Feldman said, “To be fair, it looked awesome.”
Coincidentally, Braven’s name also derives from a tattoo on Thompson’s shoulder, a spirit animal of sorts that combines both of his parents’ family coat of arms– a buck from his mother’s, a raven from his father’s.
If there were tea leaves there that night, or beer dregs in this case, they probably would have indicated good fortune. The Kickstarter campaign was a success. Feldman and Thompson surpassed their $20,000 goal with flying colors.
“We had to wear a lot of hats to complete this thing,” Thompson explained of the process. In fact, he’d left behind a professional business career, betting that this brewery idea would work out. “I was working in marketing agencies and it just didn’t feel real to me. I just felt like I needed to do this brewery,” Thompson recalled. So far, it seems like both Thompson and Feldman made the right leap.
“Now we’ll get these drunk texts from our friends from random bars and restaurants, like: ‘Your beer’s on tap here!’” Feldman explained.
The last two months have been something of a whirlwind for Braven since they began distributing their flagship beer, the White IPA, across the five boroughs, out to Long Island, and even into Westchester County.
But, as Feldman explained, it’s been most exciting to see Braven beer in local spots. “A lot of our permanent taps are in Bushwick and Bed-Stuy,” he said. “Places like Heavy Woods, these are the bars we hung out at when we were making the business plans for Braven, and it’s cool that the bartenders and people who were there for that process are there helping us sell the beer now.” There’s one fairly well-known establishment where Thompson said he’d love to see Braven’s beer pouring out from the taps, but hasn’t been able to seal the deal so far– let’s just say they might have served pizza to Jay Z and Beyonce at one point.
But so far the pair have achieved at least part of the mission they let us in on back in 2013, to bring local beer back to Bushwick. Thompson, who’s a bit of a history buff, explained: “There used to be tons of breweries in Bushwick back in the late 1800s and early 1900s,” and Braven is hoping to revive that tradition. The last brewery operation in Brooklyn, Rheingold, closed its doors in 1976, and for a while the borough that was once one of the country’s great beer producers saw no beer fermentation inside its borders. Then Brooklyn Brewery came along.
Thompson explained how in some ways the pair look to the local beer revivalists for inspiration. Like the guys at Brooklyn Brewery, Thompson and Feldman were first and foremost home brewing enthusiasts. “This is how Brooklyn Brewery got started up the street– they were two homebrewers in Utica,” Thompson said. “We’re very much following in their foot steps.” The pair have known each other for 15 years and both moved to the city after college. “We started home brewing in the East Village,” Thompson said. He assured us that, as one can imagine, the challenges of brewing in a miniscule kitchen are formidable. “But it was so fun.”
“I’d take the day off work and we’d set everything up in the morning immediately after breakfast and start brewing, have a couple beers for lunch, have a couple more beers, and hang out the rest of the night,” Feldman recalled. “Then we’d have a party with all our friends three weeks later– we’d invite everyone over to the apartment to drink beer. It was usually pretty good, not always.”
“There were some hits,” Thompson laughed.
Though they’re both a little busy with Braven to continue home brewing at the same level, Thompson explained it’s still very much a part of their business. “That’s our pilot system,” he said. “It’s how we develop our new recipes.”
However one major difference separates Braven from Brooklyn Brewery– the beer isn’t actually brewed in Bushwick or even Brooklyn. “It’s brewed upstate in Saratoga Springs,” Thompson explained. “So none of our beer ever leaves New York.” We wondered, why upstate? “We can’t afford to buy or rent a huge warehouse [in Bushwick], we just don’t have that kind of money,” Thompson said.
But they haven’t given up on their dream of spearheading a brewing revival in Bushwick. “That’s always been our plan,” Feldman said. The pair were not afraid to share their ambitious projections. “We’re planning to open a small brewery [in the neighborhood] that produces on a much smaller scale– like three barrels of custom, often one-off batches in Bushwick,” Thompson explained. “We’ll have a tap room where people can come drink our beer onsite, where we’re making it.” He said his “ultimate dream, the big goal” is to open a big brewery in Bushwick off the Jefferson stop, adding that he won’t be satisfied until that dream is realized.
In the meantime, Braven still claims Bushwick as its home. The beer names are a nod to the neighborhood, like the limited edition Día, their answer to fall beers and a tribute to the Latino population. “We decided two years ago we didn’t want to do a pumpkin beer– everyone has a pumpkin beer– so we looked toward our neighborhood and decided to do a Day of the Dead beer,” Thompson explained. “It’s an orange, habañero, chocolate stout.” There’s also the soon to be released Bushwick Pilsner, which the pair adopted from an old recipe they discovered that was brewed in Bushwick in the late 19th century.
But really anyone could adopt Bushwick-inspired recipes. Though they’re not brewing in the neighborhood, the pair explained they’re staying connected to the community by getting involved with Bushwick Open Studios and sponsoring local events like a drink-and-draw meet up at Brooklyn Brush Studios, where Braven has their offices.“It was really fun to be a part of that and to support that, because this is what makes Bushwick really interesting right now,” Thompson said. “There are so many artists, musicians, and small businesses here– we want to be part of that community.”