Bridge and Tunnel Brewery is a true labor of love. Rich Castagna, who operates the Ridgewood business with his wife, Lisa, has a separate full-time job. So his day off on Saturday is a marathon: He begins brewing by 4 a.m., composts his grains in the afternoon and mingles with customers in the evening. When he leaves around 11 p.m., he is exhausted, but also invigorated.
“I say to myself, ‘What would I be without this?’” Rich explains. “As tired as I am, as long as my day was, it’s the best day of my week.”
For the two decades they have known each other, Rich and Lisa have sought out craft beer together. More exotic beers were harder to find in the early 2000s, Lisa recalls, but cites places like Greenwich Village’s Peculier Pub as a spot she and Rich would visit for European brews and the odd craft beer.
The hobby evolved when they joined the New York City Homebrewers Guild. Rich, who pre-brewery owned a clothing line, had always wanted to homebrew but was too nomadic for the time- and space-consuming task. Once he and Lisa settled into a home, he got to work experimenting.
The same entrepreneurial spirit that guided Rich through his clothing line inspired him to take his beer public. He started out with a small garage brewery in 2012 (at a time when there was only a handful of breweries in the city, Lisa notes) before opening the doors to their Ridgewood space in November 2015.
Rich built much of the spot himself; the taproom’s eclectic décor includes things he made, as well as items the couple repurposed.
“For most of the stuff we’ve put in there, we’ve tried to have the philosophy of using things already in existence,” Lisa says. “We have three kids and a lot of animals, so we’re always trying to minimize our footprint and try to reuse materials as much as we can.”
Because everything, down to the brewery’s canning line, is self-built and they don’t owe contractors, they have the financial freedom to play around with the brews they want to make.
“We’re the rare case where we’re the brewery operating completely debt-free,” Rich says. “I don’t have to follow trends. I don’t have to jump on the IPA game, I’m not under that pressure to keep the register flowing. If we have a batch that’s not so popular, maybe I won’t do it next time, but it’s not the end of world.”
Instead, Bridge and Tunnel’s beers are in the pursuit of flavor.
“Whatever the beer has in its name, we want you to taste that,” Lisa says, referring to creative brews like a lobster saison, an oyster stout, a chai stout, a pumpkin beer, a habanero IPA and a chipotle porter (Lisa loves spicy beers). There’s also the popular milk and oatmeal stout, which recently won a silver medal in the New York State Brewers Association’s Craft Beer Competition.
Among the taproom’s 16 drafts, you’ll always find a few dark beers, a couple takes on IPAs and more seasonal variations. One tap is always reserved for kombucha; the two love the beverage, and Rich is always up for the challenge of learning to make something new, Lisa says. The brewery serves flights so people can try more brews; Rich and Lisa want people to have a unique experience every visit.
Bridge and Tunnel also has a mug club to honor regulars and encourage new customers to become regulars, too.
“We wanted this to not be just a place where people pass through,” Lisa says. “We wanted it to be a place where people could be at home.
"We are the owners, we make the beer, we host the events, we clean the space, we run this business, we work the bar," she adds. "[We] want this to be community-focused.”
Bridge and Tunnel Brewery is located at 15-35 Decatur Street in Ridgewood. More: bridgeandtunnelbrewery.com.