CARROLL GARDENS — A brewery, particularly one located in the shadow of the BQE and across the street from a scrap-metal yard, can be noisy. There are steaming, boiling, fermenting and milling noises, of course, and also the clanks and bangs of kegs, sacks of malt, pallets on forklifts, rattling metal garage doors. But one sound you don’t generally expect to hear is a meow. Or, in the case of Other Half Brewing Company, the piercing cries of Gangster Cat and Melissa Joan Hart, resident felines. “They found us,” co-owner Sam Richardson says with a shrug. “We’re hoping they’ll keep the rats away.”
Rats are about the only thing that the cats of Other Half can hope to keep away from this IPA-driven craft brewery and tasting room on Centre Street, at the outer limits of Carroll Gardens. Since opening last winter, Other Half has produced 2,000 barrels of beer from five fermenters, and has become a mainstay at hop houses such as Bierkraft, District Tap, Mission Dolores, Berg’n, Blind Tiger and Jimmy’s No. 43, as well as at trending restaurants like Eataly Birreria, Roberta’s and Gramercy Tavern, to name just a few. Their tasting room — the former office of a Georgian imports warehouse, minimally decorated with reclaimed wood shelves, industrial lighting, and the requisite antlers — is routinely packed with visitors from as near as Bed-Stuy and as far as Charlotte, North Carolina (per a recent Saturday survey), toting growlers and ordering flights of beers with names like “All Green Everything” (a triple IPA). “I guess you could say we’re beer-searching,” the couple from Charlotte explained, before turning back to Anthony, Other Half’s designated “bar manager and all-around diplomat,” for another glass.
What brings so many suds enthusiasts to an unmarked door facing a charmless stretch of Hamilton Avenue? It’s not the McDonald’s drive-thru across the street. It’s not fancy marketing (Other Half has a Twitter feed, and not much more). It’s the insistently fresh beer that Sam and co-owner Matt Monahan are making every day.
“IPA has to be a local style by nature,” Matt explains. “It’s all about timing: you want to keg a beer, drop it off and have it tapped that day.” For this reason, they prefer not to bottle most of their beers, although cans are in the works. But it’s not just the pungent, hoppy, California-style India pale ales that are short-lived: Whether it’s a Doug Cascadian Dark Ale, a Chardonnay Barrel Aged Veldrijden Love (a saison), or a Short Dark and Handsome stout, drinkers should expect Other Half beers to disappear from their distributors about as fast as it takes to drain a pint.
“So like I said, #gone. 1/2 bbl [barrel] @OtherHalfNYC Nel- son IPA done in 9 hours,” Park Slope’s venerable Bierkraft tweeted last November. This is a delicious concept but also a limiting one: How can you reach world domination if most of your beer should be consumed the day it’s kegged?
For Sam, Matt and partner Andrew Berman (chef at the Runner in Clinton Hill), it’s all in the timing, and Other Half’s has been serendipitous. Sam and Matt met in 2010 while working at the industrial brewery Greenpoint Beer Works, where Sam served as head brewer for brands including Heartland and KelSo. Matt, who trained as a chef, had just switched careers in order to make time for his growing family. “Sam made the best beer I’d ever tasted,” Matt marvels, and he set about learning everything he could from him. After the three collaborated on a supper club organized by Joel Tompkins of the L.I. Bar and Restaurant, there was no turning back, and the search for a brewery space began. Other Half was supposed to open on a Red Hook pier, but the deal fell through shortly before Hurricane Sandy, to their ultimate good fortune.
The Centre Street location was a Craigslist find, “cheaper than Bushwick,” Sam says, and its location, just blocks from Court Street Grocers, where Matt and Andrew Berman once cooked, and from local-beer champion Doug Crowell of Buttermilk Channel, ideal. “They make such wonderful beer,” Crowell wrote in an e-mail about Other Half, which Buttermilk carries and has created special menus around. “They always strike a balance between appealing, approachable beers and more esoteric, aggressive stuff. I just love everything they make.”
Timing also dictates the beer itself, naturally: “Sam spends most of his time looking for hops,” Matt says, and Sam agrees. “We use a lot of hops for a brewery our size,” he says, ticking off Oregon, Washington, New Zealand and Australia as chief providers, while the malt is mainly from the venerable Fawcett company of West Yorkshire. As befits their locavore brewing philosophy, they have also recently collaborated with Indian Ladder Farmstead Brewery and Cidery in Altamont, New York, to produce a rich stout made with New York barley and hops. Here, again, serendipity was at work: “I was giving a talk at a hop farming conference in Rensselaerville,” farmer Dietrich Gehring recounted, “and I commented that it was hard to find someone to buy our hops, now that we had successfully grown them. From the back of the room, I heard Matt shout, ‘We’ll buy all of them!’” A partnership was born, and Gehring looks forward to another joint venture with Other Half next fall, after his next harvest.
In the meantime, the brewers stick to their manifesto of “don’t test it, just brew it,” and the beer aficionados of New York City and far beyond seem more than willing to help them drink the results.
“The philosophy is fun, but the product is fantastic,” says George Grella, music editor at the Brooklyn Rail, as he stops in for a flight, adding, “I organize my weekly schedule around my growler pickups.”
Matt Ross of Court Street Grocers agrees: “We are lucky enough to have a pretty sweet trade of kegs for sandwiches going on,” he confided in an e-mail, “and always get to have a fresh stash of the latest and greatest from OHB.”
Other Half ’s ambitious brewers have space for six more stainless-steel conical fermenters in their current location and are in negotiations for a brewpub space nearby. Someday, they hope to run multiple breweries, the better to keep their product local. “We want to grow as much as possible,” Matt explains, “but in the right way.” In the meantime, they steer clear of the “media blitz,” as he puts it, and let the beers — and legion of fans and purveyors — speak for themselves, loudly. Just like the cats.
Photo credit: Matt Furman