First Bronx Brewery in a Half-Century Headed to Port Morris

By Patrick Wall on March 7, 2013 8:51am | Updated on March 7, 2013 9:11am

PORT MORRIS — After a half-century hiatus, beer making will return to The Bronx this year as The Bronx Brewery converts a one-time ironworks building into a space for tours, tastings and, of course, brewing its signature pale ale.

The owners of the year-and-a-half-old beer company searched for months for a production space, all the while brewing their ale at a facility in Connecticut, until they found a two-story warehouse with a loading dock and outdoor area for rent in the industrial section of Port Morris.

Last month, they signed the lease.

“We’re excited to actually be making beer in The Bronx,” managing partner Damian Brown, 32, said outside the building at 856 E. 136th St.

When the brewery launches, it will become the borough’s first working brewery since Rheingold Beer shuttered its space on West 169th Street in about 1962, according to the Bronx County Historical Society.

The building sits in the shadow of an elevated Amtrak line in a neighborhood of recycling and printing plants, lumber yards and storage facilities bounded by the East River and the Bruckner Expressway.

“We looked for a long time to find this place,” added co-managing partner Chris Gallant, also 32.

The brewers have big plans for the 1920s brick building, which has previously housed a lace factory and vending machine manufacturer in addition to the ironworks.

The first-floor space nearest the entrance will serve as a tasting room, with a bar and tables for visitors to sit and sample ales. Above that space will be the company offices.

The majority of the roughly 8,500-square-foot building will be dedicated to making beer.

The production floor will be divided into areas for brewing the ale in 40-keg batches within three large vessels, fermenting and conditioning the beer in rows of tanks, dispensing it into kegs and cans and refrigerating the packaged product until it’s shipped out for sale.

At full capacity, the brewery will likely churn out about 3,000 barrels, or some 6,000 kegs, annually, the owners estimate.

Pale ale will remain the company’s signature — and only — brew, with a different seasonal variety, such as rye, black or Belgium, to be released each quarter.

A separate space in the facility will be set aside to age beer for up to six months in oak barrels formerly used to store wine, gin, bourbon, mescal and other liquors, which infuses the ale with a distinct flavor. That beer will be hand-bottled and sold in limited quantities.

Visitors will be invited to tour the facility, then drink freshly brewed suds in a paved outdoor yard where large windows will provide views into the brewery.

Outdoor space will also be reserved for a dog run, since Gallant and Brown expect to bring their French Bulldogs and Border Collies to work.

The owners hope to have the brewery up and running by year’s end, once they’ve cleared out the space, removed a metal walkway above the production area, installed the machinery and designed the tasting and seating sections.

“People have been asking us for the last year and a half if they can come take a tour,” Brown said. “We’re hoping that those people, once we actually have a facility, they’ll come check it out.”

The young company has expanded swiftly in recent months.

Last February, Brown and Gallant were personally schlepping kegs in their black delivery van to about 25 locations in The Bronx and Manhattan.

Today, Brooklyn-based Union Beer Distributors delivers Bronx Brewery beer to some 250 locations in all five boroughs, Long Island and several upstate counties.

When the company’s new 16-ounce cans begin production at the Connecticut facility in April, Bronx Pale Ale will suddenly be available in grocery stores, bars and bodegas across the city and beyond.

“In the last six months, a lot of things have changed,” Gallant said.

He and Brown launched the company in 2011 with two other partners using a $500,000 initial investment.

Last year, by taking out loans and soliciting new investments from more than 50 friends and relatives, they raised another $1.7 million to set up the brewery and hire new employees.

These latest Bronx brewers are convinced that customer demand will keep their brand in business for a long time to come.

“When people think of a New York ale,” Brown said, “they think of The Bronx Brewery.”

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