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Couple Turns Former Convent Into Brewery

By Janet Upadhye | March 27, 2013 8:57am

DOWNTOWN BROOKLYN — Cracking open a cold beer after a hard day's work can feel like a religious experience.

And Brooklyn Brew Shop takes that feeling to new extremes by setting up its home-brew company headquarters in the former convent of The Cathedral Basilica of St. James, the church of the Diocese of Brooklyn on Jay Street.

“We joke that we are making Trappist ale,” said co-owner Stephen Valand, referring to beer brewed by monks within the walls of a monastery. “It is a unique experience to create beer recipes in [what we were told was] a priest’s kitchen.”

From its divine location, the small company hopes to transcend the local pub by introducing home-brewing to the mainstream.

“We create beer-making kits that make brewing beer feel more like cooking,” Valand said. “They simplify the home-brewing process and make it possible in space-strapped New York City apartments.”

Valand, 27, and his girlfriend, Erica Shea, 29, first came up with the idea after Shea came across her father’s 20-year-old brewing equipment in his basement. The two decided to give home-brewing a shot but couldn’t find good instructions on how to get started.

“Everything instructional we found was either too dumbed down or too technical,” Valand said. “We quickly discovered a need for a functional recipe that made it simple.”

And Brooklyn, home to 45 different breweries at the turn of the century, was just the place to get started.

They began to experiment by ordering hops, grains and yeast in bulk from the Pacific Northwest and concocting boozy potions in their small Prospect Heights kitchen.

Eventually they created a one-gallon beer making kit that includes a glass fermenter, a chambered airlock, a thermometer and blends of barley, hops and yeast with special ingredients that make beers such a Chocolate Maple Porter, Chestnut Brown Ale, or Coffee and Donut Stout. They set up a booth at the Brooklyn Flea to sell their kits in 2009.

And beer lovers flocked.

“We were shocked at how quickly the idea caught on,” Valand said. “The kits are hugely popular.”

One Brooklyn Brew Shop customer, Dave Buisson, recently tweeted, "It was really smooth, I had a blast doing it, and got two of my brothers to buy their own kits! We're all hooked!"

Now customers can order kits online or buy them in Whole Foods, Williams Sonoma and Urban Outfitters. They are also sold internationally in Canada, South Africa, Norway, Ireland, Scotland, Denmark and Switzerland.

And as spring approaches, the beer-vangelists are warming up to new recipes such as the crisp Grapefruit Honey Ale or the spicy Jalapeno Saison.

For more information, visit brooklynbrewshop.com.