“You just missed them.” That’s what the friendly bartender told me at Brooklyn’s Owl Farm when I asked what wonderful person was responsible for making my Tesseract—a fruity and potent double IPA I finished a little too fast. The couple I had just missed was Lauren and Joe Grimm, the wife-husband team behind Brooklyn’s Grimm Artisanal Ales. The Grimms occupy an odd niche in the craft beer boom: gypsy brewing. That means they have to work without a space of their own, renting out fermenters in whatever brewery will make space for them.
Considering this semi-stable arrangement, their continuing hit parade of sours, IPAs and stouts is even more laudable.
When you talk to Lauren about gypsy brewing, she’s clearly of two minds about it. “[Gypsy brewing] frees us up to be more experimental. We repeat beers once in a while, but for the most part every month we make a different style of beer. When you open a brick-and-mortar brewery, you have a lot of bills to pay, which can limit what beers you can put out.” But lest you immediately romanticize the life of a gypsy brewer, this sort of freedom comes with a price. The Grimms don’t always know where they will be brewing their next batch of beer and often suffer rejection from breweries that simply can’t accommodate them. They were fortunate to recently connect with Flagship Brewing Company in Staten Island, where they finished their latest batch, but they have had to travel as far as 250 miles to Virginia for a single brew. The other problem when you have to work in whatever extra space a brewery can provide is that your batches must stay small. The Grimms brew 30 to 60 barrels at a time about once a month. By comparison, craft brew juggernaut Oskar Blues plans to put out close to 200,000 barrels total in the coming year.
But to me, the most impressive aspect of the Grimm’s entire process—and the one that should make a glint appear in the eyes of homebrewers with higher aspirations—is that they still develop all their beers in their garden apartment in Brooklyn. “We still make all of them all right on the stove,” Lauren admitted. So homebrewers, take note: If you can’t put down hundreds of thousands of dollars to set up a brewery, gypsy brewing could be your way in. As long as you can tolerate a living room completely overrun with fermenting beer, Lauren says.
Even with all these limitations, Lauren and Joe continue to produce outstanding, creative beers. Their Double Negative Imperial Stout took home a silver medal at the Great American Beer Fest, beating out some of the beer world’s most established craft breweries. And according to Lauren, they just signed on with an importer, so Grimm Ales may soon be at a bar near you. If you’re lucky though, you’ll be at a bar where they still drop off the kegs themselves—that way you can thank them in person.