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Welcome to the Neighborhood: Bronx Brewery, 64 Second Avenue

Today we welcome a new small business to our neighborhoods — help us welcome the next. Tell us which new independent store in Greenwich Village, the East Village, or NoHo you’re excited about by emailing us at info@villagepreservation.org.

As advocates for local small business, we find great satisfaction in hearing of new independent establishments opening in our neighborhoods. These arrivals give us hope that reports of the death of mom-and-pops have been greatly exaggerated. Whenever such occasions present themselves, we like to share our enthusiasm with the world in the hopes that others will join us in wishing our new neighbors a warm welcome.

“Why brew?” ponders Damian Brown, co-founder of Bronx Brewery. “You have to think about why you’re doing this. If you don’t, you’re just selling liquid.” What’s Bronx Brewery’s reason for brewing? Nothing short of making the world a better place. And, as luck would have it, they have just opened an outpost in the East Village, at 64 Second Avenue, just south of 4th Street.

Damian, a one-time homebrewer who then pursued formal training in the brewing arts, co-founded Bronx Brewery in the South Bronx in 2011, back when there were no more than half a dozen breweries in the city. Since then, the craft beer market has expanded dramatically, and so has Bronx Brewery, going from a self-distributed gypsy brewing operation to a in-house brewery with adjoining taproom and backyard, and distribution in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Sweden(!). As the reach of its beer has grown, so have the brewery’s ties to the South Bronx, fostered by an ongoing series of programs and collaborations. The success of those inspired Damian to seek out a location for an outpost, and his ultimate choice turned Bronx Brewery into, at the moment, the only brewery in Manhattan. He explains:

We’re very proud of what we’ve done in the South Bronx and wanted to bring it to a new neighborhood and community. We looked all over the city. One of the things we love the most about where we are in the South Bronx is the incredible creative energy and the diversity — music and art being such a big part of the culture there in very diverse ways. And the East Village stood out for us in that way… undeniable creative pedigree and energy. It felt like home. This is where I think what we do will resonate.

But what do they do? Well, it starts with the beer. The brewery’s first major release and the one most firmly rooted in its DNA is their American Pale Ale, which combines the biscuit-y, caramel toast character of a British pale ale with the piney, citrus brightness of the classic west coast hops cascade and centennial. As of late, however, their biggest brew has been their take on the increasingly popular hazy IPA. But Bronx Brewery routinely moves beyond their roots, as with their current saison (brewed with pink peppercorns!) and their raspberry vanilla berliner weisse.

The brewery has now also added burgers to its repertoire, courtesy of the progressive Swedish chain Bastard Burgers, which Damian invited to run the kitchen at the new East Village taproom, where they serve their smash burgers, made with Pat LaFreida-sourced beef, and vegan counterparts, in case you’re inclined to “go vegan like a bastard!”.

Beers (and now burgers), however, are not an endpoint, but rather the starting point of what Bronx Brewery does. As Damian puts it:

These are the tools of our trade. We have beer, burgers, and a space. So anything we can do creatively to use any of those things as a platform to do something fun, creative, and good for the community, we’ll explore. We want to do good with what we make, first and foremost, but also build a creative network around and in this space so that we always have interesting angles and people to work with.

The brewery has been doing this sort of collaboration for years. Its Y-series is the result of monthly joint efforts with different creative partners, who contribute artwork for the packaging, offer feedback on the brew recipe, and select the community organization and community direct action that will receive a portion of the sale proceeds. In honor of Women’s History Month, for instance, the brewery worked with Bronx documentarian Adi Rivera on their GEMS Like Us Saison, proceeds from which benefit Girls Educational & Mentoring Services, which supports sexually exploited and trafficked girls and young women.

The brewery is also collaborating with Graft Ciders on twin beer/cider releases, the proceeds of which will support a field trip for a South Bronx elementary school to Graft’s farm in Newburgh, NY, where the students will have a picnic and each receive plant kits with which to grow two of the ingredients in this beer release, cayenne and sage.

Since their opening in the East Village a little over a month ago, Bronx Brewery has hit the ground running, lining up collaborations for the first brews at their new facility. It teamed up with Village Preservation August 2019 Business of the Month Mikey Likes it Ice Cream to produce the Raspberry Beret Berliner Weisse, which was launched at the venue with a vanilla and raspberry ice cream beer float event. A portion of the proceeds go to local activist Powermalu’s plant-based community fridge.

The brewery also released this month Slava Ukrayini (glory to Ukraine) Golden Ale, donating half of the brew for sale at Veselka. Proceeds will support Ukrainian humanitarian efforts. This coming month, it will launch its Common Hope beer, a collaborative effort coordinated by the Michael J. Fox Foundation and aimed at raising funds for Parkinson’s research. The brewery will also host an exhibit, Art of Dopeness, featuring the work of YOBE. 

This sort of programming conforms to Damian’s vision for Bronx Brewery’s new venue as a creative lab for experiments and public interaction.

The idea is to be open and receptive to anyone coming in. If a random person walked in and showed interest in what we’re doing, we’ve asked the brewing team to make sure that they invite them back when they’re brewing. We want brewers engaging with people and explaining the process. All the brew details for what they’re doing are up on the wall. We want to be interactive. As you get more and more people in the business, connections are made, networks are built and it grows from there.

The new East Village venue itself is testament to the commitment to collaboration and eclecticism described by Damian. By design, seating surrounds the brewing space so as to encourage onlooker engagement.

The artwork comes from a range of sources: the back wall and ceiling murals are by Bronx muralist Andre Trenier; the mural mash-up of lower Manhattan and northern Sweden by frequent Bastard Burger artist Marc UÅ; and the tags in the bathrooms are by eminent graffiti artists invited to hold a tagging party. And, to reinforce the point, as if on cue, Wilfrido Vargas’ El Africano started playing overhead as we were leaving the brewery. (If you’re unfamiliar with early ‘80s merengue, just know that it’s not exactly what one would expect to hear.)

We are more than excited to see how Bronx Brewery’s East Village experiment unfolds, and we encourage everyone to take Damian up on his invitation, swing by the brewery, bring your passions and ideas, and throw them into the brew.

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