This is the second in our irregular series of interviews with the industry's cutting edge brewers. Grab a beer and enjoy the ride.
DB: How did you get into brewing and how did it become a business idea?
SW: I got into brewing while drinking a stein of beer when I was two years old. Seriously! When I was a kid, I would sometimes nab my father's ceramic stein from the coffee table. It was filled with cold, sweet, delicious beer, and when he had either left the room or fallen asleep the stein was unattended. I knew it had to have something special inside...it was such a fancy glass, and my Dad always seemed to drink out of it and enjoy it. So I hoisted that oversized ceramic container over my head with my little kid hands and chugged it! My parents were shocked and amused by the whole ordeal...so they took a photo of me. Birth of a brewer.
I don't know the exact point when it became a business idea...but I image it was sometime when I was making beer at home at 19 years of age and then decided to drop out of college so I could homebrew full-time and seek the job of professional brewer. Haha.
DB: Can you highlight a few of the unanticipated challenges of starting a brewery?
SW: Where to start? Haha. Let's see...never having enough money, running out of beer, not enough space, can't seem to find out where your kegs went, mechanical failures in the brewery, random complaints at accounts at 1am calling your cell phone, burglaries at the brewery, getting jumped and mugged outside of the brewery at dusk, accidental fire that almost burned the brewery to the ground, you know....the usual.
DB: When you’re not brewing what are you doing with your free time?
SW: Hanging out with my girlfriend, being a total beast and romping around the park with my dog, riding my bike, reading books, drinking tea, kicking back with a cold one, exploring NYC and beyond.
DB: You rather proudly brew “by hand” using your own hand made mash paddle. Given this old school style, is consistency more of a challenge for you than it is for those more apt to rely on aluminum paddles and computers?
SW: You may think that you are stirring the mash with a wooden mash paddle, but you're actually stirring up the raging beast within yourself. Nuff said!
DB: Anything other equipment hand made?
SW: Just about the entire brewhouse is hand made! Everything from the custom control panels, to the vapor condenser, keg grant, CIP system, hard-pipe network, keg racker, etc. Its a big collection of salvage parts from auctions that have been repurposed and engineered to make a bona fide Frankenstein craft brewery.
DB: Can you tell us about the brewery system (number of barrels, who designed and manufactured it, etc)?
SW: Its a Frankenstein system - a collection of tanks, vessels, and apparati from all over the world. Its a 15 bbl system, but we have some 15, 22, and 30 bbl tanks. Much of the recent engineering and overhaul was done by our in-house guru and engineer, David Liatti.
DB: We notice that Brooklyn Brewery is not on your list of “allies”. Do you live in their shadow, peacefully co-exist, or consider them friends and colleagues?
SW: They're definitely an ally, and we peacefully co-exist. We're in the process of renovating the website, and I think that section will be removed altogether. The reason why is the issue of inclusion vs. exclusion. Once you say, "here are our allies" then by default some people think if you did not mention someone, then you're automatically not friends with them. Not true. You simply don't have the space or recollection to name every single person whom you love and respect. Thus, we're going to disable that link.
DB: Brewing with lava rocks. Is this legit or a marketing ploy (or a little of both)?
SW: Its totally legit. That movie was put together on a whim and shoestring with an old college roommate and friend of mine. We didn't know what to expect from it, and we were just having fun. No one would have anticipated the viral sensation it became. It actually has a historical connection and significance, and an educational aspect to it. We're happy to share it with the world, and apparently they liked it as well.
DB: We ask this for very selfish reasons but when can we expect to find Sixpoint available in the Washington, DC area?
SW: Yikes. Well, we can't promise anything soon. We have all to do right now to meet the demand in NYC. Once we can take care of our folks here, then we'll maybe consider DC.
DB: Want to tip your hand on upcoming, yet to be announced brews?
SW: We're making our first-ever pumpkin beer next week. Its going to be a collaborative effort among the entire brewing staff at Sixpoint. The dudes are psyched!
DB: Your love of Brooklyn is unabashed. Do you support local events in and around the community? How does Sixpoint give back?
SW: We support events all the time! We give back with a simple principle - we try to build strong relationships with individuals and the community at large - and be a fountainhead of positive karma.
DB: Many mirco-brewers have a bit of a green bent. Sixpoint lists Mother Nature first on your list of allies. What does Sixpoint do to protect her?
We have company meetings where we get together to discuss how we can be less wasteful as a company. In the past several years, we have designed the brewhouse so that we can effectively curtail the waste from our manufacturing processes to their lowest levels possible. One of the biggest waste streams is actually invisible - that of heat energy loss. Breweries use a ton of energy, but most of this thermodynamic energy is lost. The best thing about this though is the heat can be recovered, repurposed, and redirected back into the throughput cycle. As a result, we have designed and implemented systems to recover the heat energy from different processes of the brewing stages to be redirected back into the system. The result? We cut our natural gas usage by over 30%! Its just one of the things we've done on a small scale to make it more environmentally friendly.
DB: Brooklyn is Burning or No Sleep ‘Til Brooklyn?
SW: Let me put it to you this way: Brooklyn is the new frontier; Manhattan is yesterday's news.
DB: Yankees or Mets?
I prefer the Brooklyn Cyclones.
SW: What else should we know about Sixpoint Craft Ales?
Our intention is to exceed your expectations.