Inside the Making of the Next Great Canned Beer
America’s next great canned beer is about to be unleashed in a somewhat unlikely place: New York City.
Any beer fan will tell you: Despite being America’s largest city, New York has always lagged a bit behind in beer culture. Sure, the venerable Brooklyn Brewery has been churning out amazing beers since 1988. And Sixpoint—which opened in 2004—was at the forefront of the hopped-up canned beer movement, selling four-packs starting in 2011. But as those breweries continued to grow, achieving national and international recognition (I recently saw both brands available at London's Heathrow Airport) in more recent years, the rest of the Big Apple’s beer scene has seemed a bit stagnant.
But recently, a new generation of craft brewers has emerged in NYC. Brooklyn’s Other Half Brewing has led the charge, and with new canning plans under way that will expand its reach, the secret of New York’s burgeoning beer scene is about to be let out of the bag.
Tucked under the towering shadow of Intestate 278’s elevated Gowanus Expressway, the Other Half brewery occupies a dilapidated warehouse building across the street from the glowing neon of a McDonald’s. Until just a couple months ago, the front door to the taproom—which is open only four days a week and fits just one table—didn’t even have a window. Instead, patrons took a chance entering through an industrial metal door into the unknown. In true Brooklyn fashion, the brewery still doesn’t have a sign.
But people still found Other Half, which just celebrated its one-year anniversary this past month, because the brand was putting out amazing beers. A lot of them. “We’ve brewed 45 beers in our first 12 months,” said Matt Monahan, one of the brewers and co-owners. Monahan met fellow brewer Sam Richardson while working at Brooklyn’s Greenpoint Beer Works. Along with co-owner Andrew Burman, the trio saw an opening to start churning out unique beers in the New York market.
Out of the gate, Other Half was focused mostly on “hop bombs”—the IPAs and Imperial IPAs that for a time came to define American craft beer. Their flagship Other Half IPA made a name for itself by giving Brooklyn a big West Coast-style IPA, a somewhat underserved flavor profile in NYC’s beer scene. But despite racking up praise for their hoppy brews, they’ve refused to rest on their laurels, spitting out all sorts of styles from saisons to stouts.
Initially, that bevy of beers was available only on draft and in only a handful of places: in the taproom and at select bars around New York City (setting aside a few very limited bottle runs). But last week, just days after celebrating a first year that saw highlights that included being featured on the cover of Beer Advocate Magazine, Other Half celebrated another milestone: their first canning.
They enlisted the help of a company called Iron Heart Canning, which operates two mobile canning units from New Jersey up to Vermont. Instead of investing in a permanent canning line—which can cost over $100,000—these guys will come to a brewery, help you get the beer in cans and be on their way.
As fun as drinking beer may be, mobile canning is not glamorous work. Though the unit was up and running quickly, calibration was slow and dozens of under-filled beers had to be tossed to the side, though no one seems too concerned—most people grabbed one to pop open and drink themselves. Though this initial batch will be for sale, it’s essentially a test batch: The cans don’t even have labels. The brewery’s staff had to label all 7,500 beers from this first run by hand. Because of that, each can had to be hand-wiped of condensation before being hand-placed into cases and walked into the cooler. For this batch at least, the canning process itself seemed as handcrafted as the beer.
These first 300 cases are a beer called Superfun! At only 4.5 percent ABV, it’s a “session pale ale,” far lower in alcohol than most Other Half beers. But as I took a sip from an open-topped can, I found the beer bursting with hop aroma and flavor due to liberal use of Simcoe, Galaxy and El Dorado hops.
As delightful as Superfun! is, it’s Other Half’s next canning project where the brewery is really set to shine with one of its signature hop bombs.
On Feb. 20, Other Half hopes to release 16-ounce cans of Green Diamonds—an Imperial IPA that’s earned favorable comparisons to The Alchemist’s Heady Topper, another hop monster that has achieved legendary status among beer geeks. It is only sold in its home state of Vermont and has inspired fans and bar owners alike to make pilgrimages to the Green Mountains just to score a case.
Initially, Other Half will only be canning 280 cases of Green Diamonds and only selling them out of the brewery. It could make this initial run a hot commodity for people who want to show off Other Half’s beers to places outside New York City. The brewery’s goals were more straightforward, though. “We want an easy way for people to get the beer,” Monahan said. “Instead of getting a growler, they can grab a case.” Eventually, they plan to distribute canned four-packs throughout much of New York state, meaning a lot more people will be exposed to this small Brooklyn brewery.
And from there, the brewery doesn’t want to slow down. By April, they’re hoping to have at least three more big, hoppy beers in cans: their signature Other Half IPA, their Hop Showers IPA and the lusciously hopped (and possibly my personal favorite) All Green Everything Triple IPA. If their first year of brewing was any indication, who knows how many different types of canned beer the brand may have in rotation throughout their second year.
I see it this way: If a small brewery under the freeway can convince people to enter an unmarked door to fill growlers, how hard will it be for them to convince people to buy cans at a convenience store?
Superfun! Session Pale Ale went on sale this past Sunday. Green Diamonds Imperial IPA is scheduled to be released on Feb. 20. Sixteen-ounce cans are being sold by the can, four-pack and case while supplies last. For the time being, both beers will be available exclusively at the brewery’s taproom, which is open during select hours Thursday through Sunday.