Countdown to NYC Beer Week: Nano-Beer Vegetarian Nonsense™ Brewer Mike Philbrick of Port Jeff Brewing Co.

MikePortJeffAs we count down to NYC Beer Week—which runs this Saturday, February 24th, through March 3rd—we’re checking in with some of the amazing brewers that will be at Jimmy’s No. 43 next week pouring some of their favorite brews. First up is our Nano-Beer Vegetarian Nonsense™ Dinner (tickets here), a five-course vegetarian dinner with beer pairings from five up-and-coming (or even well established) nano- and micro-brewers.

We are super excited that one of the newer breweries out on Long Island, Port Jeff Brewing Company, will be in the house. Head brewer and owner Mike Philbreck has been operating his seven-barrel brewery for a little over a year on the north shore of Long Island. We can’t wait to have his beer at Jimmy’s No. 43, and Mike recently chimed in on …

What was the first beer you ever drank and the circumstances?

It was 1989, and I was 13. A friend and I looted some warm Piels from his dad’s cooler. It probably didn’t matter if it was cold because I’m pretty sure it was skunked from being in the cooler and then hidden in the woods for about two weeks in July. We consumed it under a train trestle in Gales Ferry, CT.

When did you realize that your “homebrew” was ready for primetime (i.e. consumer worthy)?

My third batch of Porter brewed around 2008 was the first home brewed beer that garnished comments other than “this isn’t bad.” I believe there was actually a couple of “wows” from my normal tasting panel of friends and family, who prior to that were simply being nice and liking the free “OK” beer I would make them sample.

Cans, bottles or keg-only? Explain your answer.

I think all have a good place in craft beer today but each for different styles. I prefer some beers that are bottle conditioned over their draft counterparts such as English and Belgian styles. IPAs seem to stay fresh in the can better than a bottle, but who can really beat a two-week-or-less old beer in a keg?

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)?

Sierra Neveda Pale Ale. Because if I was stuck on an island, it would probably fair the best over time due to the bottle conditioning, plus I like it. I could also harvest the yeast from the bottom of the bottles to ferment my island brew once I achieved fire, found fermentable sugars from local vegetation, bittering agents of the same, and honed good ceramics skills to build fermentation vessels on my castaway home. I could re-ferment the island concoction in the aforementioned (re-capped) Sierra Bottles (with island-made indian ink labels of course). [Bitch’s note to self: Reminder that in the event editor finds herself in a leaky boat in the middle of the Pacific, she should do all in her power to save Port Jeff brewer from drowning.]

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?

I embrace it. As the big brewers continue to lose market share, they have to make these pseudo-crafts to continue to fend off the smaller brewers eating away at their profits. In many ways, they act as gateways for normal BMC drinkers to find a more flavorful beer, which many times leads to local craft products. By marketing these products through the same channels as the light lager markets, they actually assist in the smaller brewer winning yet more of their market share by creating additional awareness. I do worry about the average beer drinker getting their first impression from something like Shocktop, but if they do like it, how happy are they gonna be when they find a Belgian Wit beer that blows it out of the water?

What’s your biggest challenge as a nano-brewer?

Making enough beer to pay the bills and fulfill our demand.

Tell us about the beer you’re bringing (H3 Belgian Tripple) to the Nano-beer Vegetarian Nonsense™ dinner and how it will pair with our Wild Mushroom Gnocchi.

H3 Belgian Trippel is made with the same yeast as Westmalle. That yeast when fermented at proper temperatures creates a unique blend of fruity esters that balances the beer’s heavy malt bill. Though a big beer at 10.1% ABV, it drinks light and makes a great accompaniment to heavier foods such as a potato gnocchi. Because it is light in hop flavor it should allow the earthiness of the Wild Mushroom to shine through while the perceived sweetness of the sugars in the beer dance over the starches of the gnocchi. Looking forward to it.

What else do you want us to know about Port Jeff Brewing Co.?

We make all our own beer in small batches on the north shore of Long Island extremely close to boats. We also like long walks on the beach. [Bitch’s note to self: Ha ha! Just kidding!]

508Growlers

Countdown to NYC Beer Week: Nano-Beer Vegetarian Nonsense™ Brewer Chris Cuzme of 508 Gastrobrewery

508GastrobreweryAs we count down to NYC Beer Week (hint: it starts this Saturday, February 24th), we’re checking in with some of the amazing brewers that will be at Jimmy’s No. 43 next week pouring some of their favorite brews. First up is our Nano-Beer Vegetarian Nonsense™ Dinner (tickets here), a five-course vegetarian dinner with beer pairings from five up-and-coming (or even well established) nano-brewers.

And because life is unpredictable, we’re starting with dessert first: A chocolate stout paired with Caramel Bread Pudding. And yes, it is called Saxual Healing after Chris’s side gig (hint: he’s in a band).

We had a chance to talk to Chris Cuzme, homebrewer extraordinaire and “Saxabrewer” at 508 Gastrobrewery, who will be bringing his yummy brew to Monday’s dinner. When he’s not hanging with the Wandering Star guys or playing in his band (yes, he does play the saxaphone), he can be found at 508 Greenwich, pouring his own beers.

What was the first beer you ever drank and the circumstances?

The first taste of memory was a sip of Budweiser…at 8 yrs old. My father, Pepe Cuzme, gave me a sip whilst overlooking the pond at his bachelor pad (my parents had split up when I was five) whilst he had custody of me for the weekend.

When did you realize that your “homebrew” was ready for primetime (i.e. consumer worthy)?

For years I’ve been drinking homebrew that matched or surpassed that of many commercially made libations. And I know a plethora of incredible brewers that have absolutely no interest in making it a profession. I commend that. My beers are not better than theirs, and I continue to learn from my homebrewing brethren and the community of brewers in NYC.  There’s a book called Zen And The Art of Guitar Playing where they talk about composing for people or playing a certain way to appease the audience.  The book reads to say that such is a pointless endeavor. Not only will you sacrifice your enjoyment in the art, you’ll be chasing trends which are forever fleeting, instead of leading trends.  Although everyone is unique, there are people out there with tastes similar to yours. Play for yourself, and those people will find you and enjoy your music. With this in mind, I brew. I believe there’s an audience of consumers that would agree with my tastes and trust they will find me here at 508 now that I am displaying them in a public forum.

Cans, bottles or keg-only? Explain your answer.

Keg only, and cornikegs at that. It’s what we work with here at 508 as we only brew for in house consumption. And our set up, from brewing to packaging to serving, is really a glorified homebrew operation: a nano “franken-brewery,” if you will. Eventually I will bottle maybe, but only for styles that want for and would benefit from bottle conditioning (Belgian styles, barley wines and imperials). I am not set up here at 508 to package otherwise.

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)?

Is it cold on the island? Is food aplenty? What kind of animals am I hunting and will I run out of wood eventually so as to no longer smoke my meat and fish? Not. A. Fair. Question. Need more island info… [Bitch’s Note: I love this answer!]

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?

Truthfully I don’t care as much as most about this. A good beer is a good beer no matter who makes it. Friends don’t let friends think and drink! That said, it’s not that I “don’t” care and it is important to remember that every time somebody orders a beer they’re placing a vote regarding the direction of the beer industry. I do think it’s important to drink craft and support/drink local when possible, but only if you like the beverage.

What’s your biggest challenge as a nano-brewer?

Keeping up with the demand I’m setting for myself and cleaning kegs! I may be the head brewer but I’m mostly a keg cleaner that brews in his spare time!

What else do you want us to know about 508 Gastrobrewery?

We are the smallest of three brewpubs in NYC, under the license of a restaurant brewery, brewing solely for in-house customers. We take our beer and our food very seriously. Being so small, and without the demand to repeat specific beers, every batch is special and brewed 55 gallons at a time. We intend to run the gamut of styles throughout the year and feature local homebrew clubs and stores through brewing collaborative recipes. We like fun and magic and you!