Tom Potter on Why Brooklyn Brewery Is Still Relevant in Its Home Borough

Photo: Courtesy Brooklyn Brewery

Monday’s ribbon-cutting for the expanded Brooklyn Brewery plant in Williamsburg prompted a long article in the New York Press that argued the suds-maker is “losing sway in its own backyard.” According to Time Out’s new “Ultimate Guide to Beer in NYC”, Eleven Madison Park “will debut two Brooklyn Brewery proprietary beers, a brown ale and a Belgian-style dark ale, aged in bourbon barrels.” But the Press story points to the absence of the brewery’s beers at the Bedford, just down the street, and also at 4th Avenue Pub, Pacific Standard, and Mission Dolores, on Fourth Avenue, Brooklyn’s “beer ‘alley’”; and nearby Union Hall stopped carrying Brooklyn last spring in favor of smaller local breweries like Sixpoint and Kelso. We were curious what co-founder Tom Potter, who is now a consultant for the company but is no longer involved in the brewery’s management, might think of all this. Read on to find out.

Do you agree that Brooklyn Brewery is “losing sway in its own backyard”?
I think that there’s a couple of things at work in the dynamic. One is there’s a completely understandable attention paid to newer and smaller breweries. There was a time that Brooklyn Brewery benefited from that — when we were the new guys, and now we’re not. I don’t think it’s any surprise, the new breweries are making some good products. It comes with the territory when you’re not the underdog anymore.

I think the brewery was hampered in its production of specialty beers that were limited by the [space] constraint … now the brewery will be able to expand its production of those brands. I will also say I’m somewhat of an outsider, but I think the brewery does not get enough credit for the quality of the beers that are made in the Brooklyn plant. The Brooklyn Local 1 is the single best beer being made in the U.S. It’s an extremely elegant, bottle-conditioned, sophisticated beer. Right now it’s my favorite beer being made anywhere in the world. It’s not commonly understood in its own neighborhood how extraordinary that beer is.

Is it just faddishness that causes some bars to favor the smaller brands?
I think it’s a case of sometimes there’s not honor in the hero’s hometown. I think it really is one of the shining stars of breweries around the world. If you were to ask 1,000 beer lovers around the world who the best beer-brewer was, Garret Oliver would get a lot of votes.

Will the bigger plant mean Brooklyn Brewery can focus more on its specialty beers?
It allows the brewery to expand vigorously the part of the market where it excels, and that’s the highest end. The beers made in Brooklyn have been the high-end beers. Brooklyn Lager has always been made in Utica. A big part of the press conference was talking with the mayor about the proportion of beer that can now be made in Brooklyn; it increases the capacity tenfold. The specialty line had not grown much in the last five to six years because it was stuck. Brooklyn Brewery had 20 percent growth in the last year, but that wasn’t coming from that end.

Do you think once there’s growth in the specialty lines, some of these bars who view Brooklyn Brewery as too mainstream might start carrying the product?
It used to be there were only a few good places for beer. I remember in Williamsburg when we first opened, we only had one draught account, and that was at Teddy’s. I think now there are hundreds of wonderful places, and it’s unrealistic to expect Brooklyn Brewery to be in every bar. I don’t think it’s a big deal. My only suggestion is that the local people who may have assumed that the Brooklyn Brewery is only making popular, mainstream beers — they may not appreciate how good the specialty beers are.

I think the smaller breweries probably owe a debt of gratitude to the Brooklyn Brewery for opening markets that were closed to us fifteen, twenty years ago. 90 percent of bars fifteen, twenty years ago didn’t have a single American craft beer. A lot of the stake work was done by the Brooklyn Brewery.

The Brooklyn Beer Battle
[NY Press]

Tom Potter on Why Brooklyn Brewery Is Still Relevant in Its Home Borough