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Contract brewing isn’t a new practice. Breweries like Mikkeller, Stillwater, Evil Twin, and To Øl have built successful brands by brewing their recipes at other, more established production breweries. At one point, Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project, founded by Dan and Martha Paquette, was the golden standard of the ideal nomadic brewery. The Paquettes created delicate, complex beer with a twist on traditional recipes, often at Buzzards Bay Brewing in Westport, MA.
Beers like Jack D’Or and Fluffy White Rabbits reached legendary status despite the fact that Pretty Things didn’t own their own equipment, and there wasn’t a Pretty Things taproom. While many breweries use contract brewing as a short-term solution while they raise more capital or look for the perfect space, the Paquettes never envisioned a Pretty Things brewery, instead embracing the nomadic lifestyle (the Paquettes have since taken their brewing talents to Europe).
However, for most breweries, the ultimate goal is to establish a physical space to control their beer and showcase their products. Mikkeller now has breweries in San Diego and New York City, Evil Twi
n is planning to open a taproom in Queens this fall, and a Stillwater production facility is currently in the works. For Lauren and Joe Grimm, a Grimm Artisan Ales brewery was always the plan.
The homebrewing husband and wife team launched Grimm in 2013 out of their Gowanus apartment, creating recipes at home that they eventually brewed elsewhere. Because they couldn’t secure a loan to open a New York City brewery, they turned to contract brewing.
The Grimms established partnerships with Buzzards Bay (thanks to Dan and Marta Paquette), and then with Beltway Brewing Co.
which was built to host contract breweries. After five years of contract brewing up and down the East Coast, Joe and Lauren were able to open the Grimm taproom and brewery in East Williamsburg.Opening a physical location mitigated many of the challenges they faced while contract brewing. At their partner breweries, Joe and Lauren ceded control of their product to the hosting staff.
While they still managed to release acclaimed and quality Grimm beer, many of their grander ideas were put on hold until they could open their own space. And now that they have, they’ve used the brewery to experiment with top-cropping yeast, dive into canned hazy IPAs, and build an extensive barrel program. When I visited the brewery, they threw around
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At one point, the only time the Grimms could interact with their customers was at festivals and events. Now, they welcome their Brooklyn neighbors into the perfectly manicured taproom, complete with potted succulents and a Samesa shawarma counter. Grimm was a recognizable brewery before; their 750 ml bottles made it across the country, supplying folks with mixed-culture sours, delicate hoppy beers, and the rotating Pop! series. The artful labels and large format bottles preceded a flavorful and intentional beer. Now, the taproom lets Joe and Lauren put a face to the beer.
That we’re able to move full force into barrel-aged sours, or really any mixed-fermentation sours, is so amazing. Before, we’d put beer into a barrel at another brewery and not know if we’d ever be able to take it out.Joe Grimm: At the kind of breweries that will do contract brewing, there’s usually a lot of turnover in their staff. Whenever you get a new head brewer, they’ll say, “These are my rules and I’m doing things this way.” Having to deal with someone else making arbitrary changes to what they’re okay with process-wise is a big risk.
Some of the beer we’ve just released, that was beer that’s over three years old. We made some of that beer with the initial head brewer down at Beltway, who was comfortable with our process, then put it in barrels, and he took off six months later.
We said, “Oh, we have this stuff, what are we going to do with it?” And the next guy wasn’t comfortable with our beer so it just sat. We worked on our relationships more, they got a new guy, we bought our own blending tanks, pumps, barrel filler, and finally that beer was back in play. That sort of risk — of having someone change the rules on you — is a thing that gave us a lot of anxiety.