THE BRONX — Chris Gallant and Damian Brown came to New York a couple years ago with plans to revive the Bronx’s faded tradition of beer-making.
The venture isn’t as romantic as it may sound.
Gallant and Brown are part-owners, and the only full-time employees, of the Bronx Brewery. They work out of a former ink cartridge warehouse in the shadow of the Third Avenue Bridge in Mott Haven.
They spend most of their time filling out paperwork, lugging 160-pound kegs around the Bronx and Manhattan, documenting their travels on Facebook and Twitter and figuring out how to raise enough money to achieve their dream — opening up their own brewery/tasting room/meeting space in the South Bronx.
“We both made good livings before, and we took pay cuts to do this,” Brown, 31, a Yale-educated former software engineer, said during a bumpy trek in their delivery truck.
“And it’s more stress knowing that the success of the company is squarely on your shoulders.”
“We’re stressed, but happier,” added Gallant, also 31 and a former beer industry consultant who left a gig with Heineken to help Brown run the business.
The romantic part — the communal drinking and friend-making and discussions about the art of brewing — comes when the deliveries are done. Several times a week, Gallant and Brown attend festivals and bars to spread the word, one pint of The Bronx Pale Ale at a time.
“It’s still surreal to go to a bar and witness someone order a pint of the beer you make,” Brown said.
Their path to The Bronx happened by chance. Neither of them is from New York. They were brought together by Steve O’Sullivan, an entrepreneur from Riverdale who thought it would be cool to open a brewery in his native borough.
The Bronx had once been home to several breweries, the last being Rheingold, which left in the 1960s.
But O’Sullivan had no idea how to make beer. He found Brown at a brewing school at the University of California-Davis. Brown found Gallant through his wife, who also went to Yale. They immediately clicked.
After coming up with a recipe, business plan and $500,000 from investors, they hit the market late last year with The Bronx Pale Ale. Their launch party was held at The Bronx Ale House in Kingsbridge, where The Bronx Pale Ale is a best-seller.
“People are excited to support local industry, and Bronx people have a certain pride in their borough,” said Majella Kelly, 29, a bartender at The Bronx Ale House. “They see the beer and they’re like, ‘Yes, the Bronx!’”
Gallant and Brown do not — yet — brew their beer in the Bronx. They can’t afford to.
Instead, they use equipment at a brewery in Connecticut, where they produce 80-keg batches about twice a month. That’s enough to supply their 25 or so regular clients in the Bronx and Manhattan, but not enough to expand.
So they have ordered a second fermentation tank that will soon allow them to triple their output and reach into other boroughs. And they hope to break ground on their own facility in New York later this year.
“We want it to be in the South Bronx, Port Morris or Mott Haven, because there’s good space. It’s close to the rest of the city, and there’s a great vibe,” Brown said. “A lot of small businesses are popping up.”
They also have competition from Jonas Broncks’ Beer Company, formed by an accountant who used to work with Brown and Gallant. The split wasn’t amicable, but Brown and Gallant try to put a positive spin on it.
“We’re just excited that there is more craft beer in New York, and the Bronx, and that it’s continuing to find new markets,” Gallant said.
On Monday Feb. 6, The Bronx Brewery will be at bier international’s Wurst Pairing at 2099 Frederick Douglass Blvd at 113th St. starting at 6 p.m.