You’ve heard of farm to table, but what about farm to taproom?
BIG aLICe BREWING CO., named for the Queens landmark “Big Allis” generator (and of course, its origin neighborhood), is taking its New York State Farm Brewery license seriously — sourcing local ingredients from city and state as much as possible, especially so as they expand with a new location in Industry City, Brooklyn.
Started by homebrewers Kyle Hurst and Scott Berger in 2013 on a 10-gallon pilot system, the duo later added a small taproom and expanded production in their LIC location on 43rd Road off Vernon Boulevard. In the following six years, they’ve increased distribution throughout the five boroughs, Long Island, greater New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, and most recently, opened a dual location in Industry City with a full taproom and much more space for their barrel-aged beer program.
“When we first started out, it was more or less me and a fellow homebrewer thought we could get everybody else to pay for our hobby,” co-founder Hurst said with a chuckle. “After our first year open, we got the bigger equipment you see in Long Island City. Two years after that we got bigger fermenters, and another two years after that we added this place. So it’s been kind of a continual growth… it’s been a fun ride.”
They team was passively looking for opportunities for expansion, and when they saw the new space at 52 34th St. on a whim, they knew they “needed to figure out how to make it happen,” Hurst said.
Being a licensed New York State Farm Brewery means that Big aLICe’s beer is primarily made from locally grown farm products. Hurst said his original brewing partner was in a community-supported agriculture program, so they’d try to use whatever came in that week or month’s delivery in their brew, and then “that just translated into what we’re doing now.”
When they were first starting the business, Hurst said they were sure to include language in their operating agreement that they would “source local or sustainable products, to our own detriment, if necessary.
“We wanted that language so if we ever took on partners later, they would know we’re operating that way intentionally,” he said. “Not necessarily what’s best for the bottom line, but what’s best for the environment.”
The LIC location is also run on 100 percent renewable energy, using only wind and solar power, and they were just deemed a “Green Power Partner” by the EPA.
If an item isn’t locally grown, the team still tries to source it locally. They have coffee roasted by Native Coffee Roasters in LIC, and the lemongrass for their "Lemongrass Kolsch" is from a small Thai grocer in Queens.
“We try to support other small, local businesses,” Hurst said. “We probably could go direct to a source for something we get a lot of (like the lemongrass)… but it’s a nice little relationship we have with those other vendors."
The cherries for “Fistful of Rubies” — a red wine barrel-aged sour ale that strikes just the right balance between the required tartness of a sour and the juicy sweetness of cherries — are from a homebrewer who lives in Queens, whose family owned cherry trees and offered to give them to Big aLICe if he could have some of the finished beer. The jalapenos for the Jalapeno Rye are grown right in Hellgate Farm, a network of rooftop gardens in Queens. And the brewery sponsors its own beehive, so they get rooftop honey in LIC, as well.
Expanding to Industry City
One of the main purposes for the new space, besides a proper tasting room, is to grow their barrel-aged beer program with room for up to 60 barrels.
“We’re all about creativity in our beers, and it [barrel-aging] was the way to add another level of complexity,” Hurst said.
Their first foray into barrel aging was a saison aged in gin barrels from Breuckelen Distilling a couple years ago, and it came out so well they decided to try again. That led to adding more barrels, getting a barrel rack, and then quickly reaching peak capacity in LIC with 16 or 20 barrels.
“We knew we liked what barrel-aged beer was, and we knew didn’t have enough room to do it in earnest,” Hurst said.
Right now Big aLICe is still brewing and fermenting everything in Queens, and then bringing it to the new Brooklyn location to age. Depending on the barrel, aging can take weeks, months or even a year. For instance, Hurst said they aged an imperial stout in Islay Scotch barrels, and because of how peaty the scotch was, it only needed to be aged for a couple weeks.
The beer menu is similar to the LIC taproom — with favorites like Ways and Beans (a coffee porter) and the Queensbridge IPA available in both locations — but there are also some exclusive to Industry City. This includes the barrel-aged “Jalapeno Rye,” whose spice counteracts its malty flavor nicely; “Fistful of Rubies,” one of the only beers Hurst said they get a line for; and Biere de Fierté, a lemongrass Belgian Tripel aged in white wine barrels, brewed for Pride 2018.
Another brew exclusive to the Brooklyn location is the rum barrel-aged “A Ship in Harbour,” which Hurst thinks is one of the coolest experiments they’ve done so far.
“We got a rum barrel from Long Island Spirits, gave it to our coffee roaster to age coffee beans in… and then we put a stout in,” Hurst explained. “And then we gave it back to Long Island Spirits and they put rum back in it. So in a couple years we’ll get that barrel back and do the whole thing all over again.”
That “coolest experiment” title could be beat with their current local collaboration experiment: using the yeast from Brooklyn Kura’s sake to see how it ferments in their beer. Hurst says maybe they’ll try to get a barrel from another local distiller and make in a three-way collab.
Also expect live music in the Brooklyn space, and new releases over the next few weeks, like the barrel-aged version of “Sleep Now in the Fire,” a smoked porter, and “Gritsette,” a grisette-style beer made with grits in a collaboration with a South Carolina brewery.
Industry City is only a block and a half from the N/R/W/D 36th St. Station, and there is even a private shuttle bus from the Financial District.
“We can’t control whether or not you like our beer, but we do try to make sure you have a great experience,” Hurst said. “We’ve got great people behind the bar, and great people sitting alongside you at the bar. We set it up so the tables are communal seating, so you can sit with some people you don’t know and hopefully have good conversation about, or around, beer.”