Three cool guys are conquering New York with a variety of perfectly balanced Indian Pale Ale beers - the most consumed beer in America. For three years now, without compromising on quality, they have been passionately producing four new craft beers every two weeks in limited release, each with a uniquely designed can. Without any form of marketing, their fans queue up at every 'release' from as early as 4:00 in the morning. On these days 24,000 cans of Other Half beer will sell out within a day. This very inspiring trio has really only just begun. So, what are their plans?
On a sunny Wednesday morning, we take a walk to Red Hook. Around us we see big, industrial, sometimes vacant buildings, which all look a bit derelict. Within half an hour walk of ‘our house in Cobble Hill’ we reach Other Half Brewing Company. In doubt we look at a door. "Could this be it?" We see a dilapidated building with the typical iron shutters that remind us of stores in the suburbs of New York. The Brooklyn-Queen expressway rumbles high above the property. A small fork lift with pallets of beer - with the label of the Other Half Brewery – drives out under the rolling up shutter and the driver starts to load a small truck. "Yes, this is it." A big, friendly man walks up to us and asks if he can help us. We inquire after Matt Monahan and the large guy gets his phone out and calls Matt. Less than five minutes later, Matt shows up. He is a young, hip guy with a beard and a big tattoo on his right arm - very pleasant to look at.
Matt takes us into the brewing area and we’re allowed to enter his world. The area is filled with an energy that makes it almost palpable to us that people really work there with heart and soul.
Originally, Matt worked as a chef, but when he became father of a daughter, he wanted to change that, as the working hours of a chef were very difficult to combine with being a father.
When he came across a job announcement for work at a brewery, he decided to go for it and apply. There he met Sam Richardson; his current business partner. It began as just a friendship, but when the two men - along with Andrew Burman (the third co-founder of Other Half Brewing Company) – started a pop-up restaurant, where they also offered some self-brewed beer, they were determined to give it a follow-up.
Rents in central New York were sky high, so a location that would be big enough for a brewery proved to be a major challenge. Eventually, the men found a property on Craigslist. The building was in quite a dilapidated state, ready for demolition, but they rebuilt it into a small brewery all by themselves. In only three years time the Other Half Brewery grew into a company with twenty-four full-time employees. Currently they are distributing 800,000 litres of beer per year. A tremendous growth if you consider the fact that the trio initially did everything, from brewing to distributing, themselves.
"That has always been one of our priorities”, Matt explains. “We know our product best, so we know how distribution should be dealt with. Our unique selling point is that whenever we have new types of beer, fresh from the tank we can have it delivered to different customers of ours that same day.”
With the popularity of Other Half Brewing Company rapidly rising, a major expansion is inevitable.
Late January 2017, the entrepreneurs will expand the brewery into an adjacent property and they will also open a second brewery at a different location. This will add twelve mounted tanks and sixteen wooden barrels to the ones they already have. The tasting room in the main brewery will be expanding from fifteen to one hundred thirty seats and the second location will be completely focusing on sour beer; the second best sold beer in America. The original brewery will remain true to the original focus, being a specialist in the well-known Indian Pale Ale (IPA).
After a wonderful tour by a passionate Matt, he takes us into the tap room. To my great pleasure, despite the early hour, he introduces us to a small tasting and enthusiastically starts explaining about the different beers. Indeed, it is always time for good beer. I start with the Other Southern, an 8% IPA with South African hop. It has a light grass flavour, and tastes fruity, with body and a perfect amount of bitters. My whole body jumps with joy and I almost want to hug Matt. What a great beer!
Next, I’m introduced to the Simcoe-Wai-Iti, an 8.5% Imperial IPA with hops from New Zealand. This is a mouth full because of the Simcoe, but very, very fruity as a result of the Wai-Iti hop. Again, the beer has a perfect amount of bitters. Proudly, Matt explains that he and Sam love to travel, to get the opportunity to taste food and beer in other countries, as that is how they gather ideas and contacts, and are able to start collaborations with other breweries at home and abroad.
Once every two weeks, on Thursday and Friday, an external company is hired to put a temporary factory line in place, with which the Other Half Brewing Company’s own team can fill more than 24,000 half-liter cans in two days time. From early morning till late evening, as many pallets as possible are filled with cans of the four new beers that will be on sale the next Saturday. Each beer has a uniquely designed can, something the owners pay much attention to, because it is their calling card. Moreover, it is the only marketing they do for their company. All their exposure comes from social media and word-of-mouth recommendations.
Usually, the online buzz around the new beers starts a week before the sale date. And on Saturday, from four o'clock in the morning onwards, a long row of loyal fans stands ready to buy them. The row even curls around the corner of the block. Starting very early in the morning, a breakfast stall stands ready to sell delicious sandwiches to the waiting crowds. The actual sale of the beers starts at 10 o’ clock. Any particular sales day would count over 24,000 sold cans of beer. However, fans are limited to buying four trays (24 cans) of beer per person, so many hardcore fans bring along two or three friends and a trolley. The brewery also sells shirts, caps and other merchandise with their logo, but in the end, it's all about the beer.
The beer lovers often buy not only for their own enjoyment, but also for the barter market. One can of Other Half can be worth many other beers and can be exchanged for at least several beers from – for example - California- or Texas breweries. The US is a country in which beer culture - particularly the one around microbreweries – has exploded during the last four years. This also resulted in a lively barter trade, on- and offline. It is very clear that the guys from Other Half Brewing Company– with their specialism and special designs – made their mark on the New York beer scene.
When the men look into the future, Other Half Brewing Company want to be the biggest brewery in New York.
That’s not a small ambition, as New York has 8.5 million inhabitants, but it is doable. Their brewery is not called Other Half Brewing Company without a reason. They do not belong to the group of major international breweries, but to the other half: the smaller craft breweries.