There’s an art gallery two doors down from Grimm Ales Brewery and Taproom, on Metropolitan Avenue in industrial East Williamsburg.
In late 2015, brewers and artists Joe and Lauren Grimm were on their way to longtime collaborator Gretta Johnson’s show (she designs some of their signature labels) when they noticed a for rent sign on a 7,500 foot truck garage.
The brewers had been searching for a permanent space after operating since 2013 as nomadic or gypsy brewers, making their award winning beers in breweries around the East Coast. They were cautious and weren’t sure it was still available. After looking all over Brooklyn, they didn’t want to get excited. The best part: 23 foot ceilings, a rarity in the area and perfect for storage and brewing equipment. A few months later, it was theirs.
The spacious Grimm Ales Brewery and Taproom, which opened earlier this summer, includes a full brewery, oak barrels for aging sour beers, and a bar serving their latest beers with no markup. The 45 seats have been mostly full since opening. Guests sit under a lighting installation designed and hung by Joe and his brother and eat healthy Middle Eastern food with a custom menu from local spot Samesa.
It’s a far cry from the Providence, Rhode Island kitchen where Joe and Lauren Grimm got into fermentation over a decade ago. They made mead, which sometimes worked. Joe describes the early days of home brewing as “fermenting anything with sugar it it, and sometimes it’s good.” They made kombucha, and they made beer, following recipes from a book called Wild Fermentation which now decorates the bar’s shelves. Early experiments helped them realize very quickly “the difference between something good and something rotten.”
The couple started to sell beer at pop ups in Chicago, where they attended graduate school for art. They’d sell out of a five gallon batch at a friend’s pop up or show. Lauren describes the informal sales as “a way to fund our hobby.” They moved to Brooklyn to make art and got day jobs, which they soon abandoned to make beer.
Grimm Ales has been an “exhaustive creative project” and a chance for them to deepen their relationship. After so many years together, “it feels like a microbiome, [we’re] two parts of the same being. Now we’ve expanded to the brewery, we have more beans. We’re part of the unit working together in a seamless kind of way.” They routinely finish each other’s sentences and manage stress nimbly – Lauren is a conscientious planner and Joe thrives in moments of urgency.
Grimm Ales are all technically limited edition – the couple never makes the same beer twice. But they’re all part of lineages, as Joe explains. There’s a saison lineage, an IPA lineage, a sour family that they’re working on aging using oak barrels purchased from wineries in Napa, and a family of stouts that’s a wintertime focus. Every time they make one batch, they learn something, tweaking the next one accordingly. Lauren describes their signature: across all styles, “there’s a through line of balance and complexity from basic brewing ingredients.”
They’re constantly experimenting with technique. Some recent innovations: more frequent cone dumps before dry hopping, an experiment to keep have the healthiest yeast possible in the final brew. This process gets rid of the no longer active yeast in the batch before hops are added, after boiling to reduce bitterness. [Lauren explains yeast’s role in beer making: “to ferment sugar into alcohol and then go to sleep.”] This dry hopped IPA is one of their signatures, it’s fruitier than many other IPAs.
Fruits are another common ingredient – a summer favorite is the Lilt, a blended sour beer that’s refermented with Morency cherries. It’s the color of a lollipop and causes a ripple effect at the bar –everyone around gets order envy and orders a glass. A case of passionfruit is on its way from Brazil for more Sour Beer experimentation.
Lauren and Joe live in Gowanus, though they’ve “cooked dinner only twice since opening.” They slowly hired a staff of fifteen people and with the exception of one batch of beer fermenting away in Virginia, Grimm Ales finally lives under one roof. Hiring was a new process and the team is a friendly collection of homebrewers and beer geeks, eager to educate guests and go deep on process details.
Founded in 2013, they’re proudly a brewer owned beer company, a degree of independence they were able to achieve with a $4.2 million loan from the Small Business Administration. Without investors, decisions are theirs to make. They don’t have a flagship ale, the bar sells the freshest beer with no markup, and they’re able to follow their curiosities. When the Grimms began to sell through a distributor, they were warned about the risks in making so many different styles of beer and in always changing things up. Years later, as they meet Grimm Ales fans in person for the first time, there’s a pride in retaining control of the brand’s direction–and in being the sole owners.
In any given week, the list of beers on tap reads like a poem –”Sunroof, Flow State, Future Days.” Many of the names are inspired by light or songs from the 70s and 80s (Joe is an artist focused on light and sound) with watercolor labels from Gretta or Lauren, who starts with hand drawings and adds colors digitally.
We sat at the bar and drank the Today’s Special, the inaugural pale ale of the permanent Grimm space. It’s “kind of a baby IPA,” says Joe. Lauren explained the name’s double meaning, “We saw a sign for specials at a restaurant and liked the double meaning; It can be ‘today is special’ or today’s special.” The bar offers 4, 8 and 14 ounce pours and Lauren and Joe hope to add tours soon, after seeing guest interest in the beer making process.
Grimm Ales joins Kings County Brewers Collective and Brooklyn Cider House as a production space with a service component in the area. The space is near Interboro Beer, whose owner Jesse Ferguson has been welcoming, and the Grimms are longtime friends of Honey’s Mead Maker Rafael Lyons – they all started fermenting around the same time and have found a home in Brooklyn.
Photos by Abigail Koffler
A once nomadic brewery that is now in East Williamsburg. They don’t make the same brew twice and also serve Middle Eastern food at their taproom.
990 Metropolitan Ave, East Williamsburg (Grand L stop)
Mon: 5:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.
Thurs, Fri: 5:00 p.m. to 12 a.m.
Sat: 10 a.m. to 12 a.m.
Sun: 12 p.m. to 10 p.m.