Despite our city-wide affinity for drinking, many Brooklyn booze crusaders may not realize it can take years to open a beer or spirits business here in New York. For Jesse Ferguson and Laura Dierks, co-founders of East Williamsburg’s Interboro Spirits & Ales, it took nearly two —from early 2015 to late 2016 — to build their dream business.
Even though their valiant effort and success in opening a small alcohol-making business here was not unique, Interboro brought something special to Brooklyn — and to New York as a whole — last summer, when we were lucky enough to sit down with Ferguson to chat and make a video about what Brooklyn is in for now that Interboro has arrived.
Interboro Spirits & Ales is New York City’s first and only brewery/distillery, producing both delicious beers (from pilsners to saisons to stouts to IPAs) and as-of-yet unaged spirits which have so far included apple brandy, whiskey and gin. Thanks to his history in the music biz, each beer Ferguson brews is a hip-hop homage, like Mat Fat Fluid, an IPA that takes a lyric from NaS’ ‘ “Halftime”; Super G-O-L-D, an IPA brewed in collaboration with popular hip-hop duo, Run the Jewels, touting their eponymous track from the RTJ3 album; and the Next Episode, a double IPA that doubles as a nod to Dr. Dre.
Each of these beers has been on tap in the tasting room along with being released in slickly designed cans, their street art-esque sexiness thanks to the Heads of State, illustrators of the Brokelyn Beer Book (and whom, Ferguson told us, he found thanks to peeping one of our Beer Books at Sycamore). Soon, Interboro plans to put out mixed drinks in cans, another first for NYC.
We sat down with Ferguson last summer to learn more about the new brewery/distillery’s background and their plans for the imminent future. To our credit, we knew the beer would be awesome — Ferguson’s past stints included founding brewer at New Jersey’s Carton Brewing, and a transitional period brewing hopped up IPAs at Gowanus’ obsessed-over Other Half Brewing — but we didn’t know that in just over half a year, Interboro would put out dozens of different brews (there are 37 unique beers listed on Untappd), several spirits, throw a party with rap stars and prepare to launch the first Brooklyn-born craft canned gin and tonics. Not to mention, being designated by Beer Advocate as one of the best new breweries of 2016.
Here’s a bit of what Ferguson shared with us back in August about his blossoming business. View it in video form here (produced by Cat Wolinski/Beer Affair and shot and edited by Patrick Phillips). If you’re still thirsty for more, which we know you will be, head over to this tale we loved in Draft Magazine by Brooklyn-based beer writer Josh Bernstein, who delves into Ferguson’s unbelievable past pre-Interboro, which involves freight train-riding around the world, heading up an East Village punk rock pirate radio station and managing a hip-hop record label.
Interview with Interboro Spirits & Ales Founder/Brewer/Distiller, Jesse Ferguson
When did you first start planning Interboro?
We started working on it conceptually in the very beginning of 2015. We raised money, found a space in the summer of 2015, started construction in December of 2015 and here we are in August 2016.
How did you and [business partner] Laura meet?
Laura and I met through my wife’s nephew, a good friend of hers. I wanted to open a brewery and she wanted to open a distillery, so we started meeting. Initially, what we were doing was figuring out how similar the two processes were. It was lot of educating each other on processes and then deciding what we could do.
What were some of the challenges or benefits of opening both a brewery and distillery?
A lot of distilleries have a hard time getting enough capital to stay open until they’re able to bring out a four year whiskey, which is one of the marquee products, and for a lot of breweries, long-term revenue becomes a struggle of constantly trying to increase capacity.
Strictly on the business side, [opening a brewery and distillery] alleviates [both of these problems]. Beer is ready to sell after two weeks, and when we do bring the whiskies out in four years or however long it is, there will be a significant bump in revenue.
Even more importantly, I think we spent a lot of time thinking creatively about the two processes and playing with flavors. [Laura] spent a lot of time figuring out whether or not we could actually do it in terms of the licensing side … and I think once she realized that it is an option to have this facility that does both, that’s when she got really excited that this could be a business that would be a first of its kind in New York City, and give us the opportunity to do something totally different than anybody else is doing.
Are there any upcoming products you foresee utilizing both still and brewhouse?
We’re hoping for a lot of combination products, playing with barrels, using the same mashes [the grains soaked to create fermentable sugars] for a beer or spirit. For example, making a rye beer and distilling from that same rye mash to make a white rye whiskey unaged. Then, two years down the road, the same mash becomes an aged rye whiskey and four years down the road you’ve got a four year old rye and people coming to the tasting room will have been tasting that beer the whole time and tasting different iterations of the mash.
[Another example is] with these two containers of apple cider from Indian Ladder Farms, we’re going to make apple brandy and back blend that with hard apple cider from Indian Ladder Farms.
Between those two examples there are a lot of opportunities to do fun stuff—using the stills to fortify beers, distilling different mashes to make gins with mashes we’re also going to make beer with, turning one into an IPA and hopping a gin with a similar hop.
My goal is to only be limited by our imaginations and our access in terms of what we can do.
Do you plan on sourcing local ingredients, other than the delicious cider from Indian Ladder Farms?
We do plan on working with New York State products. We have five licenses: microdistiller, microbrewer, farm distiller and farm brewery. More and more vendors are making New York State grown products more available; [I think they’re] seeing the writing on the wall with the licensing [Editor’s note: Farm brewing and farm distilling licenses promote the use of locally sourced ingredients, offering New York alcohol producers tax and retail incentives for using grains and hops grown within New York State.]
That being said, I’m using Czech pilsner malt and Pacific Northwest hops … I think part of the beauty of American brewing is we’re very unbound by ingredients in that it’s a huge market here for brewers, the whole world is growing cool stuff and sending it here for us to make products with, so I want to embrace that but also build local relationships with local growers.
There’s a lot of room to play.
How has your reception been in the Brooklyn beer scene thus far?
People are happy to see us and we’re happy to be here. A lot of bars in Brooklyn have been very happy to get [our beer] on draft and it seems like people like it, so we’re happy. Having gone from brewing at Carton to Other Half to this project … a lot of the beer buyers, I’ve been seeing at events all this time in between, so there’s a good community where a lot of people know each other and are supportive of each other. Threes Brewing and Transmitter Brewing were anxious to do collaborations with us before we even opened, so when we opened, we could get the name out there and have something to put out.
It’s a great community of brewers. Now I get to actually have beer in Brooklyn and be a part of it.
Interboro Spirits & Ales is a member of the 2017 Brokelyn Beer Book. Get yours here.