Monday, November 1, 2010

Nanobrewery Interviews: Rocky Point Artisan Brewers (Part 1)

While most of us have just toyed with the thought of starting up a nanobrewery, others have taken the plunge. To find out who these people are and what makes them do what they do, Tom and I embarked on a series of interviews with regional nanobreweries to get their stories.

Rocky Point Artisan Brewers Inc.
Rocky Point, NY

Next in our series of nanobrewery interviews, Lug Wrench got the opportunity to speak with Donavan Hall, one of the partners of Rocky Point Artisan Brewers (RPAB) in Long Island, NY. RPAB is still in the opening stages of the brewery's life. Incorporated in 2008, the company is still working through the process for all its licensing before the first sale. 

Brewing on a 55 gallon Blichman system, the RPAB partners have embraced the local movement and intent on only selling the beer as close as possible to the brewery (within 20 miles) while still being commercially viable. The brewery is planning to be online and generating sales by the summer of 2011.

Below is the first part of our two part Q and A interview with Donavan.

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Lug Wrench (LW): What inspired you to start-up Rocky Point Artisan Brewers?

Donavan (DH): Rocky Point Artisan Brewers started as a homebrewing partnership between Mike Voigt and I in 2006. The inspiration (if you can call it that) for starting a nanobrewery came from two directions. Mike Voigt felt that the beer he was brewing was better than most commercial beers, so he didn't feel like a homebrewer anymore. He thought it would be a good idea to take the necessary steps to give the public access to the best possible beer. For me, an avid homebrewer and beer writer (I'm the author of the Long Island Beer Guide), I believed that E.F. Schumacher was right when he said, "Small is Beautiful." So when Mike Voigt approached me about the possibility of starting a nanobrewery, I said, "Heck, yeah!"

In 2009, Voigt and I added another partner, Yuri Janssen, a relatively new homebrewer and fellow Rocky Point resident.

LW: What made you select the name Rocky Point Artisan Brewers for your brewer?

DH: Most breweries pick names like X Brewing Company. While that's fine, Mike and I thought that it wasn't so much the brewery that was important, but it was the brewers. We always thought of ourselves as Artisan Brewers since the word "homebrewer" and "homebrew" had acquired a slightly negative connotation over the years. The word "craft" is overused and is close to being a tired modifier of the monosyllabic word that stands for our favorite beverage. So "artisan" seemed like a good term to substitute for craft. Of course the grammarians might complain and say it should be Rocky Point Artisanal Brewers, since artisanal is the appropriate adjective form, but they think artisan works not as a modifier of the word brewers, but as a co-noun.

LW: How have you involved the community in your brewery? Do you interact with local homebrew clubs?
DH: Early on, Mike and I were looking for ways to involve the community in the brewery. Since Janssen and I were members of local CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture), I asked, Why don't we try to run our brewery like a CSA? We'll call it a CSB! Well, the state of New York doesn't recognize CSBs, but Mike and I want RPAB to be the community beer. Mike insists that the beer must be affordable. One way to keep prices down is by offering beer shares to people in the community. The details of how this will work and how the state of New York will view it are unknown.

As for homebrew clubs, Mike and I have long been involved in the homebrew clubs on Long Island. Together with Rich Thatcher, we started the Long Island Beer and Malt Enthusiasts (LIBME) which is now an AHA recognized homebrew club with well over 100 members. LIBME is one of three active homebrew clubs on Long Island, but it's now the largest and most active.

LW: You mentioned the concept of a Community Sponsored Brewery (CSB) - can you describe a few ideas on how to implement something like a CSB?
DH: The East End of Long Island is farming country. Unfortunately the farm culture is under siege by the cancer of what folks call "development" -- that is the destruction of perfectly good land by bulldozing the top soil, knocking over all the trees, and building a clutch of McMansions, a fake pond, and an unnaturally green golf course. Despite the threat of development, there are still a number of farms out on the East End and one of the models that is helping them survive is called Community Supported Agriculture or CSA.

We've been involved with a couple of the local CSAs for several years. We get pretty much all our food from CSAs including all our meat which is supplied by local livestock farm. The idea is that we purchase everything we need as close to home as possible. This means avoiding supermarkets and especially "national chain" brands (and that includes brands like Whole Foods that are using their international muscle to wipe out local Long Island-based markets). We try to operate our brewery as sustainably as possible. For example, we have a bunch of chickens that we feed our spent grains to. The chickens love the spent grains and they in turn make these wonderfully flavorful eggs with the deepest yellow yokes you've ever seen. In the future if we start brewing multiple times a week and we have more spent grain, we'll probably add a goat. Being cheese lovers as well as beer lovers, we're looking forward to making goat cheese.

Given that our brewing stems from a commitment to "keeping it local", we thought that a Community Supported Brewery model might actually help small, local breweries (like ours) to function. It's a simple idea. Like a CSA, members of our CSB would get a share of our production. Members would "subscribe" for a period of time (6 months or a year) and they would receive their share of whatever beer we made.

LW: If you were speaking to an individual who is considering the prospect of opening their own nanobrewery, what advice would you give them?

DH: Don't go too fast. Look for ways of starting cheaply. In the state of New York, they expect you to do without revenue for almost a full year, so make sure you can pay the rent on your brewery all that time.

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Part 2 of our interview with Donavan and Rocky Point Artisan Brewers will be posted shortly.
If you want to find out more about Donavan or the brewery, check out their website or better yet, if you are in the Rocky Point area, stop by the brewery.



“Anyone can drink beer, but it takes intelligence to enjoy beer.”
-Stephen Beaumont

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