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!

The Rise of Hyper-Local Beer: Wandering Star’s Berkshire Hills 01201

Just as many chefs are creating dishes from locally sourced, in-season ingredients, so many brewers in the craft beer industry are developing beers from local ingredients. At last summer’s American Craft Beer Festival in Boston, several brewers discussed the rise of “hyper-local beer,” whether that meant using ingredients grown on or near the brewery to distributing only from kegs (or directly from the brewery) to a limited radius.

Riding this wave is Wandering Star Brewing Co. (Pittsfield, MA), which has an ironic zip code added to its Berkshire Saison in part due to the political wranglings of the State of Massachusetts’ Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission. While owner Chris Post was patiently awaiting his license, the state was trying to regulate the amount of local ingredients brewers must use in their beer. Wandering Star arguably uses more of its own grains per capita than virtually any brewery in the north east, growing barley on Chris’ land and hops on the exterior wall of the brewery.

Happily, thanks to great efforts by Wandering Star’s partners, Chris Cuzme and Alex Hall, NYC has had many opportunities to try the amazing beers being offered by this brewery. As for the Saison, Wandering Star describes it as “A classic Belgian Saison brewed using Brasserie Dupont yeast, and fermented at traditionally stratospheric temperatures – reaching 98°F during primary fermentation! As an ironic nod to the Massachusetts ABCC’s recent attempt to force farm brewers to use mainly MA-grown ingredients, the beer uses pilsner and wheat malts from nearby Valley Malts of Hadley, MA, as well as local unmalted wheat and spelt. The result is a quenching, complex, and aromatic light amber beer with a deceptively high 6.3% ABV.”