What would you do if you didn’t have to worry about the cost? This is a question Flint Whistler gets to answer every day. He’s the head brewer at the new nanobrewery at Randolph Beer Williamsburg that is outputting some of the most creative and peculiar beer in the city.
In the three months since the nanobrewery has been operational, Whistler has brewed 32 batches, many of them using uncommon ingredients like locally grown bronze fennel flowers, atomized chocolate, hibiscus flowers and cucumbers.
“It’s a one-barrel, punk-rock, do-what-we-want setup,” says Kyle Kensrue, chief operating officer of Randolph Beer.
Because of the small batch size (each brew produces a little more than a single keg), Whistler can test new recipes and ingredients. If his experiment doesn’t work out? No big deal. The results can be dumped, it’s only one keg after all.
Beyond allowing for trial and error, the nanobrewery setup also eases restraints around expensive ingredients.
“The beauty of that system is that you can do anything you want because it’s only a barrel. You can buy those Nelson hops that are $30 a pound,” says Gage Siegel, founder of Non Sequitur Beer Project.
Siegel and Whistler did just that when they collaborated on “The Nelson Special” a dry-hopped grisette inspired by Siegel’s French bulldog, Nelson. Nelson Sauvin hops from New Zealand with white-grape-like flavors were an obvious choice as was using them in a somewhat obscure French style: grisette.
“I think I’ve maybe had one or two other grisettes in New York City. The style is a little hard to nail down, so you don’t see them very often,” says Siegel.
Inspiration can come from anywhere, like a sense of place (the This is New York “TINY” series is made with only local ingredients), an unexplored style (an apple roggenbier was recently on tap), the season or even a color.
“We wanted to do something pink because our logo is pink,” says Megan Rickerson, owner of Someday Bar in Boreum Hill. A tart pink hibiscus IPA called “Pipa” was the result of that collab. It was served at Someday Bar just about three weeks after brew day.
“It was so fun and easy. We stayed the whole brew day and helped by tossing in the hops and the flowers,” says Rickerson. “It’s way different than collaboration brewing at [a bigger brewery], where I just wanted to get out of everyone’s way.”
Randolph Williamsburg’s nanobrewery has already made a handful of brewery collaborations in its first months of operation, including Gun Hill Brewing Company, Jack’s Abby Brewing, Rockaway Brewing Company and ICONYC Brewing Company. Working with other breweries does two things for Randolph Beer Williamsburg: It gets their name in front of more people in the local beer scene and it helps the NYC brewing community flex it’s creative muscles.
“Collaboration allows breweries like Rockaway or Gun Hill, that don’t have the flexibility to make something with whimsy . . . to scratch a creative itch,” says Whistler. “When we’re doing a collab, we make something that they can’t make and sell 30 barrels of.”
The collaborations don’t end with breweries, influencers, bands, beekeepers and even a gym have come in for a brew day at Randolph. Some staff from Session Gym, just down the street, went to Randolph to make a cherry gose with the checky description, “A perfect recovery drink, no matter what you’re recovering from.”
So far the collaborations Randolph has undertaken are doing exactly what Kensrue wants them to, getting people talking.
“The beers [from the nanobrewery] have created a lot of conversations, which I think is just the beginning of people really understanding what we’re doing,” he says. “We want those conversations . . . whether it’s about the classic pilsner with all NYC ingredients or a beer with fennel in it that throws people off guard.”
Photos courtesy of Randolph Brewery.