Ahhhhh, Gowanus. Feel the shipping history and manufacturing heritage. Breathe deeply the gentrification and the toxic waste. Pay $2,600 a month for a one-bedroom apartment abutting a 1.8 mile canal that’s still home to raw sewage runoff and 10-foot layer of toxic sludge throughout its entirety.
Ya know, Urban Eden.
BUT, Gowanus has a ton of bright spots. Among them: a killer beer scene. One of the best places is Strong Rope Brewery, owned and operated by Jason Sahler.
Our co-founder Will has known Jason for years. They became friends through—no kidding—New York City’s Ska-themed homebrewing club. Turns out they both felt the power of horns.
A few weeks back Jason invited us to the brewery to brew an American Black Ale to signal winter’ advance. This was incredibly nice, but we’re still investigating why: was it the kindness of his big heart? Or his love for extorting free labor?
Hard to say, looking at this face:
Regardless, we packed up and headed the 2 miles south from BeerMenus HQ. We had all the tools and supplies we’d surely need: donuts and coffee. Jason had everything else.
What was ”everything else?” New-York-state-grown, for one thing. Strong Rope opened late last year as a New York Farm Brewery. That means Jason uses a required percentage of New York-grown ingredients in all his beer. From now until the end of 2018 that threshold is 20%. Beginning on January 1, 2019, it moves to 60%. In 2024, it bumps up to 90%.
Jason takes his farm license more seriously than most. Since the very beginning, he’s used 100% NY state hops. His malt bill is almost as NY-centric, as 90-to-95% of his malt comes from New York.
He also supports the hopsters and maltsters from whom he sources, hosting them for panel discussions, meeting them in person, and more.
While hanging out or brewing with him, his commitment becomes crystal clear. He cares about his beer, of course, but the ingredients he puts into it give him a helluva lot of pleasure.
At one point, as some of our team worked to mill the grain, and others stirred the mash, he grabbed a handful of the Cascade destined for our beer, rubbed his hands together to activate the aroma, and took a deep, deep breath.
His contentment was damn near visceral.
Unsurprisingly, the guts of this beer were well above that 20% NY-grown threshold: the hops—Cascade, Chinook, and Centennial—came exclusively from Crooked Creek Hops Farm in Addison, NY. The NY-state malt—which made up 92% of the total—came from New York Craft Malt in Batavia, NY.
We helped Jason at each stage of the brewing process, from milling the malt to mashing in, from the boil to the fermentation tank. He enjoyed the help, especially since he was a little distracted by Thomson Reuters that day:
On-camera hop huffing by the brewmaster.
The media attention was all fine and well, but I think what made him happiest was offloading cleanup. Our newest full-time team member, Rex, caught the brunt of that:
Dylan holds the mash tun, freeing up Rex for a head-first dive.
All told, we were there for about 8 hours. Some of us hung around to indulge in the requisite debrief-over-beers, but we need not document that.
The Finished Product
Of course, the last—and most important—step in the brewing process is consumption. Seven members of the BeerMenus team checked that box on November 16, when we headed over to the brewery to taste the fruit of our efforts.
That fruit’s name: So Dark So Early, an homage to the fact that now, just after daylight savings clicked into place, it gets so damn dark, so damn early. It clocked in at 7.9% ABV and 60 IBU. Roasty with a bit of cocoa, backed up by a nice piney backbone.
Strong Rope Brewery Profile
Size: 2 BBL
Age: Opened December 17, 2015
Location: 574A President St. Brooklyn
Distribution: Limited, most of production is consumed in the taproom
Taproom: Hell yes
Name: Strong Rope is named after Jason’s best friend, Eric Ropiteau, who passed away in 2001.
After you try one of Jason’s SMaSH beers or his delicious stout, The Holy Ink, head over to Threes Brewing. A little more than a year ago they expressed their love of the neighborhood with Fruit of the Canal, a collaboration with Mikkeller named after Gowanus. It was a one-time brew, but they’ve always got a damn swell hoppy pilsner or lager on, so ask for either Vliet or Other Ephemera.
After Threes, go to Bar Great Harry for a helluva beer selection and some serious pinball. BGH is in neighboring Carroll Gardens, but if you walk there you’ll cross right over the Gowanus. Give a thick inhale on the Union Street bridge and see if you can figure out why the canal used to be called Lavender Lake.