For many brewers, making good beer is only half the battle of running a successful brewery. Handling equipment, rent and myriad other responsibilities demand ongoing attention—unless you happen to be a gypsy brewer. Gypsy brewers bypass the challenges of setting up their own brick-and-mortar outfits, opting instead to use equipment at existing breweries. It’s a business model that has its own obstacles, but a small number of craft brewers have gotten their start this way, including Grimm Artisanal Ales, which after five years of roving has opened a permanent location in Brooklyn.
Founders Lauren and Joe Grimm met in Providence, Rhode Island, almost a decade before launching Grimm Ales. At the time, Lauren was making video art installations and Joe was a touring musician and grad student studying experimental music. “We immediately jumped into art, music and fermentation collaborations,” Lauren recalls. While earning MFAs from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, they grew increasingly interested in homebrewing, tinkering with everything from ginger beer and hard cider to kombucha and eventually falling in love with Belgian-style ales. After hosting pop-up projects at music events and galleries in Chicago and launching a CSA to distribute beer to friends, the duo decided to focus fully on brewing. They couldn’t afford to launch a full-fledged brewery, so they turned instead to the idea of collaboration. “We wanted to keep our brewery as an independently owned business so that we could prioritize our beer rather than the profits,” Lauren says. “Gypsy brewing allowed us to experiment with our beer, our labels and our company in general.”
Their freewheeling approach earned Grimm a cult following and numerous awards and accolades, but after a few years, the lure of the road started to wane and their dream of having a brick-and-mortar brewery resurfaced. “Gypsy brewing is very, very difficult, and there haven’t been many breweries to ever make it work at the highest level of quality. Although we’ve been fortunate to work with great brewing partners, at the end of the day, we realized it wasn’t going to be possible for us to achieve the tip top level of excellence until we had full control over every aspect of production,” Lauren says.
They received a$4.2 million loan from the New York Business Development Corporation to open their first permanent brewery—a 7,500-square-foot warehouse that serves as Grimm’s new home. The facility opened last month with a full taproom, 30 bbl brewhouse and space dedicated to the production of barrel-aged sour beers—a focus that will expand to include long-term oak-aged sours that will always be on the menu.
For the design, they collaborated with New York architecture firm inc_a to bring their aesthetic to life. “We wanted a light-filled space that would blend the industrial nature of brewing equipment with organic materials,” Lauren says, citing materials like wood, textiles, plants and hand-drawn wallpaper. “We were inspired by the ’70s California aesthetic of indoor plants and ceramics, as well as the David Lynch’s red curtains in Twin Peaks.” Other design elements, like a large custom-spalted maple bar top and wallpaper in the bathrooms designed by artist Gretta Johnson (who also designed the custom glassware) help define the interior. “Ultimately, we wanted the space to embody the spirit of our beer labels, and I think it does that well,” Lauren says.
In the new facility, the Grimms will continue to experiment with styles and brew new beers every week. “For the time being, we don’t have plans to release a flagship beer,” Lauren says. For the opening, favorites like the Flow State (a Golden Sour aged in oak for one year and Saison aged in orange bitters barrels for three years, fermented with a mixed culture and dry hopped with Galaxy hops) shared billing with an American Pale Ale hopped with Mosaic, Citra, Simcoe, and Ekuanot and a Double IPA called Zero Anniversary, made with Mosaic, Galaxy, Bravo, Simcoe, and Sorachi Ace. “Our approach to brewing is based around continuously evolving and refining our brewing techniques. We like to try out new processes and ingredients all the time in an effort to make the best beer that we possibly can,” says Lauren. “For five years, we’ve brewed the beer and designed the packaging. We’re now able to focus on the experience of enjoying the beer. It’s fun to think that the sky is the limit.”
Like what you see? Get more of the best of liquid culture when you sign up for our bi-monthly magazine. Subscribe now and save up to 59%—it’s just $21.95 for one year or $32.95 for two years. Click here for details.