THE BRONX — A pair of beer-makers based in the Bronx are teaming up with the neighborhood's gardening communities this summer, in an attempt to craft a new brew with a super-local appeal — using ingredients grown in the borough.
The Bronx Brewery, a small beer-brewing start-up based in Mott Haven, has teamed up with the New York Botanical Garden and a number of local community gardens to launch the Urban Hop Project, planting hop plants across the Bronx to be harvested and used to brew a special batch of beer with true neighborhood roots.
"I think it's sort of a natural thing as a brewer to want to use whatever raw, local materials you can," said Damian Brown, head brewer at the Bronx Brewery. "Being in the city poses its own challenges to something like that."
He found a solution in the New York Botanical Garden, which agreed to lend some earth in its Ruth Rea Howell Family Garden to the growing of cascade hop, a climbing, vine-like plant whose green flower clusters are used for flavoring beer. About 10 or so community Bronx gardens, tended to by neighborhood volunteers, also agreed to participate.
Overall, 125 cascade hop plants were sowed across the borough, and Brown is hopeful for a fruitful harvest come late summer or early fall.
"This is the first time I've done them, but my understanding is that they're pretty easy to grow," he said, adding that the vines can grow up to 10 to 12 feet in length and are attached to strings and wires for support.
Once the hop flowers are harvested, Brown and his Bronx Brewery business partner Chris Gallant will use them to make a special batch of Urban Hop beer. All proceeds from sales of the new brew will go to the Bronx Green-Up, a community outreach program run by the New York Botanical Garden, which trains Bronx schools and community groups in gardening and horticulture.
"Bronx Green-Up is extremely grateful to The Bronx Brewery for their planned donation," said director Ursula Chanse. "The funds will help Bronx Green-Ups efforts to support urban gardeners by providing valuable growing information and planting materials, keeping the community gardens beautiful and viable."
According to the Botanical Garden, there was once a time when hop-growing in New York was a regular business — in the 1880s, the state was one of the largest hop producers in the country.
The flavor and taste of the Urban Hop brew will depend on the harvest, Brown says.
"If the timing works, we can sort of pick them all at once in a day or two, but if the harvest is scattered a bit until we can collect them all, we'll dry them," he said.
"Wet hop," beers, or beers made with hops brewed immediately after they're harvested, have a different flavor than beers made with dried hops, he said.
Urban Hop beer will be the third beer released by the Bronx Brewery so far, joining its signature Bronx Pale Ale on the roster of offered brews (Brown says the brewery plans to release its second beer, the Bronx Rye Ale, sometime in July or August, before the Urban Hop).
Founded by Brown and Gallant in 2011, the Bronx Brewery currently sells its kegs to dozens of restaurants and bars across the city, from local watering holes like the Bronx Ale House in Kingsbridge to beer meccas like The Ginger Man in midtown.
Though their offices are based in Mott Haven, the two beer-makers don't do their actual brewing in the Bronx — they're still putting together enough funds to open their own location, and for now use equipment at a brewery in Connecticut.
But Brown says they're starting a second round of fundraising this fall and are on track to move the rest of their operation to its namesake borough soon enough.
"We're hoping to break ground by the end of they year," he said.