Find out how some of New York City’s most complex beers are being made underneath one of Gotham’s busiest bridges.
It's a daunting task to open any kind of brewery in New York City, where a heated real estate market and the logistical difficulty of making beer in a metropolis give brewers significant hurdles. So it's a tad bit crazy to open a tiny, ambitious concept brewery like Transmitter Brewing, where most beers go through lengthy complex fermentations, everything is naturally bottle conditioned, and the taproom ha... wait for it... no taps.
But four years of brewing underneath a highway bridge in Queens and it’s clear Transmitter has found a way to beat the odds and bring bottle conditioned beer to New York’s masses. Their beers have won fans across the country -- a bottle of the A4 Quad made it to Tavour’s Seattle offices and impressed everyone with its deep nuance of savory and sweet flavors. DRAFT Magazine called them out as a brewery to watch, Men’s Journal put their F4 Farmhouse Ale on their list of the world’s best Sour and Wild Ales. Their labels even won a best of New York design award.
And now they are getting ready to move to a new location in Brooklyn that will expand their footprint by four times, allowing more taproom guests and a bigger brewing capacity.
We caught up with Anthony Accordi, cofounder of Transmitter, to talk about his approach to brewing, New York’s beer scene and what it’s like to serve beer in a taproom with no tap handles.
Rob Kolb (left) and Anthony Accardi (Right) in their Transmitter Brewing.
*This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
Lester Black: You have been a homebrewer since the early 1990s -- how do you think that homebrewing experience affected your approach to opening Transmitter Brewing?
Anthony Accordi: I started, like many people, with extract for my first brew and quickly moved to all grain. That would have been in 1990 or 1991, at a time when there were certainly some internet bulletin boards, I was also pretty early adopter of the internet and using that as a tool, although it was a lot different than it is now.
At that time my interest then, like it is now, was centered on Belgian and European beer. It’s definitely what I was enthralled by and interested in and what I purchased when it was available. It is hard to imagine but it was such a different time for beer. I was in New York City at that time so there was some access to European beer at a well stocked bodega, but it wasn’t nearly as prolific as it is now.
LB: Transmitter is part of a resurgence of breweries opening in New York City -- do you think the city is starting to develop a unique brewing culture or approach to beer?
AA: The interesting thing about New York is there are 8.5 million people here and there are also probably twice that many distractions. So while there is this huge market there is also a ton of other things that people can focus on and enjoy and visit. So it’s kind of an interesting thing where on the surface you have all of these potential people interested in beer but people don’t think about New York city as a place to come for beer tourism. They may stumble on us, they may pop in to see us, but there’s a good chance that they’re coming or going to some other activity.
So as a brewing culture in New York City we are certainly trying to bring people around and have them understand that it’s actually a very vibrant brewing culture that is unique.
Brewing in New York is just hard, people think of beer as glamorous and it can be but making it is manufacturing and manufacturing in a city in general and New York specifically can be very hard and onerous between regulations and neighborhood real estate. There’s definitely a level of hubris involved in opening a brewery in new York City.
LB: You have spent a lot of time isolating different strains of Brett and other more traditional yeast – does that bank of strains inspire a lot of your new beers? Is yeast your usual starting point when designing a beer?
AA: I like to say that we are a yeast forward brewery. We certainly make some hoppy beers but they always stay in the realm of balanced nuance and some yeast or bacteria edge to them.
We are in a town where Other Half [Brewing] is an internationally known hop forward New England IPA brewery, we are distinctly not that. So it’s kind of interesting, it both gives us some market differentiation which I think happens in a good way, as well as makes us interesting because we are not necessarily following along the Northeast IPA trend, which has its own problems.
Everything we do is naturally carbonated, which is highly unusual. We do it because it makes our beer better. It allows us to carbonate our cans higher than a brewery normally would be able to. It keeps the beers that we make a little truer to style, and I think because of the way, there tends to be a signature carbonation thing that people often notice and appreciate a brightness from the carbonic acid and a tickly bubbliness that I think intrigues people. It also helps the beer sit next to food well.
LB: Your taproom is really unique because there are no beers on tap. How have customers responded to only having bottles?
AA: There are people that like it and certainly people that don’t. We’ve seen yelp reviews were people don’t understand it.
The taproom is unique in that people walk in, we give them three small samples, one at a time, and talk about the beer. And then they are welcome to buy bottles to share here or to go.
I love to see people popping the cork and sharing the beer across the table. We sometimes even see strangers sharing beer amongst themselves which is super cool and great for a taproom.
LB: I hear you are getting ready to move - where is Transmitter headed?
AA: An opportunity presented to ourselves at Brooklyn Navy Yards, we have this amazing space in a development that the Navy Yard is putting together, the ground floor is all food focused manufacturing. Everyone will have a retail component but also be a manufacturer of food.
It’s about four times larger than our current space, so we will ramp up our production.
LB: Is there a single beer you make that you think encapsulates Transmitter’s ethos?
AA: My favorite beers of the bunch that we make tend to be the Harvest Ale series. Those beers are fermented in wine barrels for between 7 and 12 months, with a mixed fermentation of sach, brett, lacto, and pedio, and then they get fruit added to then, including white wine grapes, apricots, sour cherry, Italian plum. So they’re oaky and fruity and sour and funky and they have a lot going on. When we add fruit we tend to add a good bit of fruit, so the ones with grapes are very much a crossover into a wine-beer hybrid.
They ferment for that 8 to 12 months, we then add fruit to it, a couple more months on fruit, and then we try to hold them for another 6 to 8 months to let them continue to develop in the package. So those beers are very slow to make on the order of 18 to 24 months, so they’re hard for us to make a lot of just because of the nature of the time.
We also make a bunch of saisons, those tend to be the pinnacle of what we are and what we want to be more about.
Written by Lester Black