Since its launch in 1988, Brooklyn Brewery has enjoyed remarkable success…from its beginnings as a small-time producer of a limited range of artisan beers, it now ranks as the 21st biggest among overall brewing companies in the US, and 12th among craft breweries. Despite the brewery eschewing a conventional marketing campaign (it prefers more stealthy tactics such as good old fashioned word of mouth) America (and, indeed, the world), can’t seem to get enough of its sudsy offerings. In fact we now consider it one of the best attractions in all of New York. With plans for further expansion into Japan and Brazil underway, Brooklyn Brewery is set to grow and grow. Get in on the action now with these 20 fast facts.
1. It was founded by Steve Hindy and Tom Potter
Brooklyn Brewery was established in 1988 by friends, Steve Hindy and Tom Potter. Hindy had already learned the craft of beermaking while travelling in the Middle East as a foreign correspondent for the Associated Press. On returning to the US, Hindy teamed up with his Park Slope neighbor, Tom Potter, to found the brewery. Aware of the value of a strong logo, the duo hired renowned graphic designer, Milton Glasser (best known for the I Love New York campaign and the famous psychedelic poster of Bob Dylan) to come up with an original, eye-catching design for their new identity. In reward for his efforts, Glasser received a small share in the fledgling company and a promise of free beer for life.
2. The beer wasn’t originally made in Brooklyn at all
With a name like Brooklyn Brewery, you’d think the brewery was based in, well… Brooklyn. While this may be true today, for the first few years of its life the only connection the brewery had to Brooklyn was Hindy and Potter themselves. Before the Brewery relocated to Brooklyn in 1998, all its beer was brewed by Matt Brewing Company in Utica, N.Y, before being shipped to the district by truck and personally distributed by Hindy and Potter around Brooklyn’s many bars and retailers.
3.The Brewery opened its Brooklyn site in 1998
In 1998, Hindy and Potter had built the business up to the point that it could support its own premises, and naturally, the place they choose to establish their new unit was in Brooklyn. “It took us eight years to get into a position where we felt sure enough about ourselves to invest millions to build a brewery in Brooklyn," said Hindy to the New York Times. "Our intention was always to build a brewery in Brooklyn and we've finally done it."
4. The opening of the brewery was a turning point for Brooklyn
When Hindy and Potter opened their brewery on 79 North 11th Street, Brooklyn, it represented not just a turning point for the brewery, but for the district itself. In 1894, Brooklyn had a huge quantity of breweries to its name (48, to be exact). By the time Brooklyn Brewery opened shop, the number had reduced to zero, the last (the Schaefer and Rheingold breweries) having sold up and moved away over two decades previous.
5. The opening had a famous guest brewmaster
The official opening party for Brooklyn Brewery’s new premise played host to a litany of city dignitaries and local officials. At the helm was then Mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani, who put on his best party hat for the occasion and served as the unofficial brewmaster for the day. Hindy echoed the sentiments of all those present when he toasted his guests with the words "May New York never again be without a brewery."
6. It continued to brew out of Brooklyn
When they relocated to Brooklyn in 1996, Hindy and Potter intended to expand the site’s brewing capabilities and brew and bottle all beer in Brooklyn. However, they were unable to keep up with the growing demand for their products, so continued to brew most of their production in Utca. The relentless gentrification of the neighborhood didn’t help matters either: despite having $15 million to plow into a new property, increasing property prices meant the brewers had little chance of finding anything suitable within their budget. “We are the Brooklyn Brewery, and we want to be in Brooklyn,” Hindy vented to the New York Times. “If we can’t find a place, then who can?” Fortunately for the Brooklyn Brewery (although less fortunate for the rest of the world) the economic recession of 2009 presented the opportunity for them to remain in Williamsburg and expand their site to the tune of a relatively minor $6.5 million.
7. They’re open to the public
Anyone who wants a sneak peek at the beer making process is in luck: the Brooklyn Brewery is not only open to the public, it offers a range of tours (some of which are completely free) that gives visitors the chance to take in the sights, sounds, and history of the famous brewery. While visitors on a free tour don’t get the luxury of a tasting, those who pay for the privilege of a guided walk around the site will get to taste more than a few of the brewery’s famous offerings.
8. They host events
Gone are the days when brewers could put their kids through college just by brewing beer. These days, the sidelines generate almost as much profit as the beer does. In the case of Brooklyn Brewery, event hosting has become a pretty lucrative spin-off to its main activities. Whether you’re planning a party, corporate mixer, birthday, or fundraiser, the Brewery’s post-industrial 4,000 square foot space is apparently THE place to do it… as long as you have between $1000 to $4300 going spare, that is.
9. They’re going green
The Brooklyn Brewery is officially going green. For the past decade, it’s done as much as possible to raise the stakes when it comes to sustainability, firstly by formalizing their efforts by creating a Green Team; secondly by reducing energy demand during the brewing process by fitting their facility with a heat exchange system; thirdly by adding a high-efficiency boiler to reduce energy wastage; fourthly, by adding an anaerobic digester to reduce energy demand and sewage load; and fifthly by recycling and up-scaling old pallets and used shrink wrap. There’s a whole load more to the list, but in the interests of brevity, it may be best to check out their Sustainability page if you want to know more.
10. Their brew master has written a book
Since 1994, experienced brew master Gareth Oliver has headed up the brewing at Brooklyn Brewery. Oliver has form in the industry: in 1989, he joined the Manhattan Brewing Company of New York as an apprentice. In just 3 years, he’d impressed enough to bag the position of brew master. Oliver worked with the company until 1994, when he left to join the Brooklyn Brewery. Since landing his current position, Oliver has capitalized on the company’s fame to further his ambitions in the industry, publishing several well received volumes, including 2003’s The Brewmaster's Table: Discovering the Pleasures of Real Beer with Real Food.
11. They’re award winners
The Brooklyn Brewery make good beer- it’s a fact. Or it is if you believe Esquire, at least. In 2012, the men’s magazine voted the Brooklyn Lager 16 ounce as one of the "Best Canned Beers to Drink Now." The brewery has also picked up a host of other distinctions, including 2010 World Beer Championships: Gold Medal, 2011 World Beer Championships: Gold Medal, 2010 Craftcans.com 3rd place, 2010 Hong Kong International Beer Awards Winner.
12. They are part owned by Kirin
In 2016, Brooklyn Brewery sold off a 24.5% stake in the company to Japanese conglomerate Kirin Holdings. The deal was done in an effort to tap into new markets in Asia and Brazil- an historically difficult region to break into, with imports comprising less than 2% of industry volume. “We think Kirin is a great partner for Asia,” Hindy told Fortune. Critically for the brewery, the stake was a minority one– anything over 25% would have forced them to relinquish their independent “craft” status in the US.
13. It sells half of its production abroad
The brewery has expanded significantly since its inception in the ’80’s, with a lot of that growth seen in foreign markets. Of its annual production, about half is exported (representing a significant 30% of all exports from US independent breweries), largely as a result of its distribution partnership with global brewer Carlsberg. Hindy also credits the strength of the US craft industry for inspiring a beer renaissance across other parts of the world. “Those great brewing countries are now looking to the U.S. for the most innovative and creative brewing that’s happening around the world,” he told Fortune.
14. They’ve published a beer-making bible
In 2005, Hindy and Potter collaborated on Beer School: Bottling Success At The Brooklyn Brewery, a mish-mash of tips on how to be an entrepreneur, a “how- to” guide to beer brewing and an account of how the two developed Brooklyn Brewery into the 12th largest brewer in the US. The book was released by John Wiley & Sons to a positive reception.
15. Its product range is vast
The brewery started out by producing a small number of craft beers, including its flagship Brooklyn Lager. Since those early days, its portfolio has increased exponentially, taking in such craftily titled beers as Defender IPA, Bel Air Sour, Brooklyn Summer Ale, Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout and the roasty Brown Ale. As well as producing the standard, all-year round fare, the brewery produces a range of seasonal offerings such as the Post Road Pumpkin Ale (advertised as a “colonial style pumpkin ale) and the Brooklyn Oktoberfest.
16. It relies on word of mouth
The brewery has traditionally eschewed standard marketing techniques (although that’s not to say they haven’t dabbled in it on the odd occasion – in the 2000’s, they ran a series of radio ads but as Hindy told Business Insider, "(it) never really felt right." Rather, the company prefers to rely on world of mouth, community outreach and sponsoring events held by local foundations such as the Brooklyn Museum and the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM). Their guerrilla approach to marketing has clearly paid off- between 2009 and 2014 alone, the brewery all but tripled their sales.
17. Potter retired from the Brewery in 2004
After working together for the best part of two decades, the partnership of Potter and Hindy ended in 2004 when Potter stepped down from his position as CEO and Chairman of Brooklyn Brewery. While Hindy remains at the helm of the brewery as its President, Potter has moved on to pastures new by launching New York Distilling Company alongside partner Allen Katz. While alcohol is still the name of the game, these days, its gin and rye that Potter crafts.
18. They’re bringing craft beer to the UK
In 2017, Brooklyn Brewery extended its reach still further when it acquired the UK brewery London Fields. The acquisition, which was done in partnership with Carlsberg, their distributor in Europe, represented a major leap forward in the brewery’s hold outside the US. Of the acquisition, Brooklyn Brewery’s CEO, Eric Ottaway, said. “We’re excited to be able to work closely with this great London-based craft brewery. The range of beers, their eye-catching artwork and the great location of the brewery in Hackney makes for a fantastic platform. London Fields Brewery is surrounded by a thriving creative community that reminds us of home, and we’re looking forward to becoming part of it.”
19. They’re behind the Brooklyn Mash Festival
As part of their grassroots approach to marketing, the brewery was instrumental in launching the Brooklyn Mash Festival, an annual celebration of food and beer that sees the brewery hit the road to party down with locals in 9 different cities across the world. This year’s festival saw the brewery hit Washington DC, while past years events have taken in Boston, New Orleans, Göteborg, and more.
20. It’s all about the website
The brewery’s website is at the heart of the brewery’s gorilla marketing campaign; every tweet, every Instagram post, and even every beer bottle label is designed to take the customer, whether consciously or not, to the website, a cleverly designed, jam-packed celebration of the brewery’s history, crafting process, product range and more. With tour information, event booking info, a blog, a store, and the option to sign up for a newsletter, the site is designed to get people excited about their beer and differentiate the brewery’s crafty offerings from the countless alternatives flooding the market. The tactic is clearly paying dividends: in 2018, the brewery ranked 12th in sales out of all craft brewers in the US.
Written by Garrett Parker
Read more posts by Garrett Parker