From Briefcases to Brewskies: Long Island Home Brewers Can Expand with New Incubator
At the end of the day, plenty of people like to kick off their shoes and crack open a cold beer, but most people don’t drink something they brewed themselves.
For those who do, a new craft brewery incubator will open in Copiague in the next couple years. Located at 1305 S. Strong Avenue, it will offer 25,000 square feet of space for 10 rotating home brewers to take their product to the next level and forego the barriers to production like space, equipment and acquiring permits.
For Brendan Byrne, who operates a home brewery with his cousin David Cristelot, the incubator will allow them to grow and sustain a beer-making business.
“We have every intention of getting as big as we possibly can,” Byrne said. “We want to get bigger but we need the space...being able to work with a system like that (at the incubator) would be a godsend.”
Byrne and Cristelot began brewing around two years ago after noticing the rise in popularity of craft beer and discussing the idea of making it themselves during Christmas.
“I’ve always been interested in different kinds of beer and I’ve gotten further into it and enjoyed different kinds of beer and figured, ‘Why not start making our own?’” Byrne said, adding they try to brew at least once, sometimes twice, a month.
Byrne and his cousin primarily make porters, because of the flexibility in the creation of the flavor profiles, he said, but they also make flavored versions every few months and have tried their hand at Belgians and IPAs, which they are beginning to perfect.
The pair named their venture 231 Brewing Company after State Road 231, which runs through Deer Park, where Byrne has lived for 30 years, and Cristelot’s native North Babylon, where he grew up.
Byrne, a database administrator, and Cristelot, who works for a finance company, embody the trend of home brewers taking on the task as a hobby in addition to their day jobs.
Sam Schuster works at a consulting company and began brewing four years ago after trying more craft beers and changing his focus from wine, which he loves, to craft beer.
Schuster enjoys the ability to make his own beer at home “and it comes out very good, depending on how well you do it, and it’s really not that hard,” he said.
Schuster prefers to make English- and Belgian-style beers, porters, pale ales and stouts. He makes his beer from barley.
Schuster named his venture Main Stage Brewing Company because of his love of music, which combines well with beer and makes him a hit at social gatherings.
“As a home brewer, you’re not allowed to sell it,” Schuster said. “I share it with friends and family, wind up having a lot of friends come over and it’s fun and a part of the whole thing. It also gives you a reason to make more beer.”
Schuster hopes the incubator will allow him to make that leap to selling his product.
“I think it will be a great opportunity for new brewers who are starting out without having to make the capital investments all by themselves,” Schuster said, adding that an independent brewer would have to raise start-up costs from $250,000-$750,000.
“As with anything, you can go way down the rabbit hole and get very involved with it and spend thousands on equipment and you can make really good beer,” Schuster said.
It is this hole that many home brewers are hoping to be able to tumble down with the new incubator.
“It’s a very exciting thing, what these guys are doing, and I’m hoping and optimistic that they are going to get everything lined up and into place,” Schuster said. “It’s a good thing for the craft beer environment.”
Bryan Hadler also wants to be a part of that environment. He forwent the typical college experience of downing low-quality beers and decided to make his own with his roommates. Not that his tasted much better in the beginning, but that didn’t stop him from continuing and improving on the art of beermaking.
“I brewed a batch with a couple guys in my suite and it did actually not come out too well,” Hadler laughed. “Later on, I started doing it with one of my friends and my brother. Those were hit-or-miss but that’s when the bug really bit me and I started doing it on my own.”
Hadler makes “all different things,” he said, but recently has made a series of dark German lagers including doppelbock, Munich dunkel and eisbock.
He began using beer-making kits made of different extracts instead of buying and mashing the grain, but recently made the switch.
To educate himself, Hadler, who is a messenger at Mount Sinai Hospital, uses books and the Internet, but is also a part of Facebook groups and is a member of the Long Island Beer and Malt Enthusiast, a local beer club, where he says there are members from “all walks of life.”
“I’m finding it just as fun to brew the beer as drink the beer,” said Hadler. “There’s so many different little nuances you can put into brewing beer. There’s a lot of flexibility with it.”
Hadler has used the same principal of experimentation with cooking, which he loves, as he does with beer-making. He brews out of his garage and has made batches from five to 10 gallons.
Because of the high cost of equipment and materials, Hadler has gotten creative, converting a kettle into a mash tun and hot liquor tank.
Hadler named his venture Strong Avenue Brewery after the street he lives on, coincidentally also the name of the street where the incubator will be.
“Having access to that, at not-exorbitant prices would be an incredible benefit right now since I’m still just homebrewing,” Hadler said of the incubator opportunity.
Babylon Industrial Development Agency, which launched and is overseeing the incubator project, received a $700,000 grant by Empire State Development in December for the $12 million project, which is estimated to be completed in about two years, with funding secured by spring, a year and a half of construction and six months of equipment installation.
The acquisition was no small undertaking, and was not accomplished without reaching out to the community first, said Matthew McDonaugh, CEO of Babylon IDA, adding his team behind this project went door-to-door in a 500-foot radius of the building and talked to elected officials, school representatives, the fire department and neighbors.
“It has basically been a community outreach and brewery outreach and we’ve gotten feedback from both,” McDonaugh said, adding the idea to turn the space into a craft brewery came from hearing about the challenges of small brewers to find space, acquire permits from the health department, and afford equipment.
“Our intent is to really be a landlord and develop with brewers, not be some sort of industrialized space they tuck themselves into or retrofit,” McDonaugh said. “From the very first stage, this will be built for brewers.”
The incentive behind the fact that craft beer is part of a $400 billion industry doesn’t hurt, either, McDonaugh said, adding, “It’s a marriage of doing something that would be a community development project and an economic project.”
“It has been an overwhelming positive experience,” McDonaugh said. “The building has been so derelict for so long, it has basically become a nuisance.”
With the revitalized building, McDonaugh hopes to bring and retain local business.
“People are still going to commute to Brooklyn or Manhattan to visit a beer garden,” McDonaugh said. “We should be working to keep that on Long Island.”