There is a super cool new nanobrewery in Queens, and Bridge and Tunnel Brewery owner Rich Costagna is representing with several amazing beers that have hit the NYC beer scene. In his recent Manhattan debut, Rich offered up two beers: Tiger Eyes Hazelnut Brown Ale, a 5.5% ABV ale modeled on English Browns; and Ol Gilmartin Milk and Oatmeal Stout, a 5% ABV milk stout brewed with generous amounts of oatmeal in the mash.
We can’t wait for Rich to introduce himself to our community, so we asked him a few questions to get the conversation started.
What was the first beer you ever drank and the circumstances?
I don’t remember the first beer that I ever drank, but I started drinking beer around 15, as most kids did back when I was in high school. Maybe we started early, but we certainly didn’t start out drinking anything good. We used to hang out on weekends in the school yard up the street, back when the school yards were not locked but wide open night and day. We had a whole crew of guys and girls from the neighborhood drinking swill, and trying to drink a six or eight pack as quick as possible before the last couple got warm (and therefore undrinkable). Goes to show you how bad beer was back then. Now it gets better as it warms.
When did you realize that your “homebrew” was ready for primetime (i.e. consumer worthy)?
I’ve been brewing for about 10 years. I started out briefly brewing extract batches, then after a couple of months, started experimenting with all-grain brewing. It was probably about five years ago when I had gathered enough confidence in my brewing that I felt I could successfully place my beer in bars. The confidence came from gaining a handle on all-grain techniques, as well as my own recipe building skills and the sense that had developed of what methods would create a beer that is balanced and to style (if that’s what I was aiming for).
Cans, bottles or keg-only?
Right now, I’m filling sixtel (5 gallon) kegs and firkin (10 gallon) casks only. For starters, bottles are a lot more labor intensive, and cans require a canning system that is beyond my budget right now. My choice for 5-gallon sixtels allows me to spread the wealth among accounts, since each batch only produces about 9 of these kegs. But, also, I’ve seen at a few of my accounts damaged basements from larger kegs coming off the rails while being delivered right into cold rooms and blazing through walls and such. Sixtels I can carry without a problem. Half-barrel kegs are a lot heavier, and I would consistently be that guy who would send half-barrels sailing down flights of stairs at high velocities. For the sake of keeping accountsand not having to pay for new sheet rocked walls, I’m sticking with sixtels for now.
What is your desert island beer (i.e. if you could only drink one beer—or one brewer’s selection—for the rest of your life, what would it be and why)?
My desert island beer would have to be a stout… and a wheat beer…. and a pumkin ale around fall…. and maybe a Baltic porter when it gets real cold. How am I supposed to answer that?
How do craft beer brewers compete with “pseudo-craft,” i.e. special label beers being put out by factory-based commercial brewers (Anheuser-Busch and their ilk)? Do you worry that the average beer drinker will think that craft is just a more-expensive version of the bland lager they’ve always imbibed?
Frankly I don’t know how to compete with those guys other than to explain my opinion on the impact that those beers can potentially have on all the gains that have been made in the craft beer world in recent years. The factory-based, commercial brewers for decades couldn’t bother to make anything flavorful or interesting, and they put all of their advertising dollars into promoting beers that had no aftertaste and no real character. It was the craft brewers that changed the game and reintroduced the American public to a variety of styles and flavors. The “pseudo crafters” are only engaging in new styles now because they don’t want to see the small, innovative craft brewing industry gain market share (as small as that market share has been). If you gave the big guys half the chance, they’d flip a switch and put us all out of business. And I’m not complaining about that for fear of my own small business. But think of it this way: The craft beer scene is one of a very few industries in the United States where small and hand-made is where the tide seems to be heading. Every other industry seems to be progressing toward consolidating, until there are only a few really big companies dominating industries. Sure, there are efficiencies in that, but it also consigns us all toward futures for ourselves or our kids where we can only dream of working for a big corporation. Forget about working for yourself. Forget about launching your own ship. Where food is involved, the saying goes: vote with your fork. With beer, every purchase helps decide who will survive. And if the small guy survives now, then other small guys and gals may have a chance to do their own thing in the future as well.
What’s your biggest challenge as a micro/nano-brewer?
As a nano-brewer, my biggest challenge is keeping a steady flow of kegs leaving the brewery in a timely manner. I’m working on this challenge now. I’m hoping to pull some good people on board to help keep this thing rolling forward. Since my capacity is small, beer turns over quickly, and I just hope that accounts and customers can understand. They are limited edition batches right now. Maybe that’s a good thing?
What else do you want us to know about Bridge and Tunnel?
I like brewing a lot. I like building stuff as well. My system was built from the ground-up, by my own hands. My recipes are also constructed from the ground-up, using a pencil, paper, and a calculator—no software to speak of. My philosophy right now is: low tech and bomb proof. I guess more like the way brewing—and a whole lot of other things—used to be.