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5/25/2014 Staten Island Gets a Craft Brewery of Its Own - NYTimes.

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N.Y. / REGION | SUMMER 2014
Staten Island Gets a Craft Brewery of Its Own
By ALEX VADUKUL MAY 23, 2014
The three Staten Island guys tall and broad, with their hair cut short
stood behind their keg with trepidation and pride, as though they had sent
their child into the playground for the first time. They were in a
cacophonous event hall in Queens, presenting their beer at the Five Boro
Craft Beer Fest, a showcase for New Yorks craft breweries. Guests
approached with petite tasting glasses, holding the pours to their noses for
an aromatic inhale.
Harlem, Williamsburg, the South Bronx and even a beer brewed in a
garage in Maspeth, Queens, were represented. According to the New York
State Brewers Association, there are now about 150 craft breweries in New
York State, a number that began climbing five years ago. But the three
men with their keg stood somewhat apart as the only brewery from Staten
Island at the fair. They are pretty much Staten Islands only craft brewery.
Ever.
Jay Sykes, one of the men, evaluated their reception. Some people
have been like, Wow, thats from Staten Island? Others have been like,
Oh, thats from Staten Island? and kept walking.
The three men, all born-and-raised Staten Islanders, form three-
fourths of the Flagship Brewing Company, which opened this month. A
borough that is maligned and misunderstood by many, hardly visited by
others and generally not known for setting trends, or even adopting them,
has taken a few tentative steps into the artisanal tide, offering three brews
to start: a Wit beer, a dark mild and an American pale ale (6.2 percent
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alcohol).
The Flagship men are not shy about their borough. Mr. Sykes has a
large and impressively accurate tattoo of the Staten Island Ferry on his
forearm. As with other craft breweries, notably Brooklyn Brewery,
geography is essential to the image. Flagships slogan: Unforgettable Beer
Brewed in the Forgotten Borough, is right there on the logo, the same
color orange as the Staten Island Ferry.
New Yorks craft beer boom has been greatly helped by Gov. Andrew
M. Cuomos changes in State Liquor Authority rules, which have made it
far easier to open a microbrewery. Flagship also finds itself, as Brooklyn
Brewery once did in Williamsburg, at the center of impending
gentrification. It is in Tompkinsville, a focus of the much-touted
redevelopment of Staten Islands North Shore, which will feature the
worlds tallest Ferris wheel, a high-end outlet mall and a small waterfront
village. James Oddo, the borough president, said that nearly $1 billion in
private investment has been pledged for the projects.
These boys embody the belief in the North Shores rebirth, Mr. Oddo
said of the brewers. I love that there are young, native Staten Islanders
working to redefine our borough and change some of the perceptions, and
end some of the misperceptions.
There is also a continuation of tradition, so to speak. Staten Island
had a robust brewing presence through the late 1800s, and was home to
several beer makers, including the Atlantic Brewery and Bechtels. The
island entered a dry spell after the Piels Brewery closed in the early 1960s.
There was a brief brewing resurrection in 2001 when Sal Pennacchio
started the Old World Brewing Company, but it closed in 2003.
As the craft-beer festival wore on and beer flowed, guests offered
uninhibited opinions on Staten Islands arrival in the community. Justin
McNeil, a Staten Islander, paused at the Flagship table to sample the beer.
This is going to be the Brooklyn Brewery of Staten Island, he said with
the unassailable logic that can emerge after several hours at a craft-beer
fest.
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Besides our parks and the Wu-Tang Clan, he added, we dont have
anything.
Sam Forman, 24, saw irony in the brewerys branding. Im not
shocked Staten Island is the last to enter the craft beer market, Mr.
Forman said. Im from Manhattan. I carry all those prejudices.
I think for them to call themselves the forgotten borough is not
entirely fair, he added, suggesting that the stereotypes were partly self-
inflicted. This is a borough that wanted to secede.
One sunny day in March, the Flagship team was busy finishing the
brewing space, which is housed in a former car dealership on an industrial
street one train stop from the ferrys arrival dock. Imposing 930-gallon
stainless-steel fermentation tanks were in place. The first batches of beer
would be ready in a few weeks. Work was still required on the public
tasting room, which abuts the brewery.
Flagships chief executive, John Gordon, mused on the brewerys
motto. Millions of tourists come here every day, but none of them ever
leave the ferry, he said. I ride it and I hear them say: Were not getting
off here. Theres nothing to do on Staten Island.
Matthew McGinley, who manages sales, nodded in agreement. It
stings, he said.
Its always been like that, Mr. Gordon continued. The forgotten
borough. Ever since I was a kid.
Mr. Sykes, Mr. Gordon and Mr. McGinley have been friends since
childhood, all raised in the West Brighton area. (Only Flagships brewer,
Patrick Morse, is not an island native, hailing from Maine.) As young men,
they shared an early interest in beer. (John and I were home-brewing in
his parents backyard, Mr. Sykes said.) Mr. McGinley and Mr. Sykes
ended up entering the industry, working for a company that distributes
brands like Guinness, Heineken and Brooklyn beer; Mr. Gordon got a job
in finance.
In 2013, the three men decided to pursue the idea of a local craft
brewery. Mr. Sykes got the ferry tattoo on his arm five months ago, to
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mark the point of no return.
The success of Brooklyn Brewery, which pioneered New Yorks current
craft beer industry a quarter-century ago, looms over Flagship. I think its
very difficult whether a brand is going to take hold in the market, there are
just so many factors, said Steve Hindy, one of Brooklyn Brewerys
founders. But a sense of place is a pretty good place to start, particularly
for a city like New York.
And as Mr. Hindy knows, brewing a good beer is only the beginning;
you need to persuade bars to actually sell it.
The competition in the street to get a draft line in is very vigorous, he
added. But there is a great sense of camaraderie among craft brewers, a
sense that a rising tide is going to lift all ships. I think having a hometown
brewery in Staten Island will introduce a lot more people in Staten Island
to craft beer, and ultimately be a good thing for Brooklyn Brewery.
So far, more than 30 Staten Island bars and restaurants have
committed to carrying Flagship, and within a month, Mr. Sykes said, it
will flow from those and other taps around the city. The Staten Island
Yankees are going to sell a special Flagship summer ale. To get to this
point has cost around $1 million.
By way of contrast, Brooklyn Brewery cost about $500,000 to start in
1988; its expansion in 2009 cost $12 million. Brooklyn employs nearly 100
people and produced 216,000 barrels of beer in 2013. Flagship has four
employees, but is expecting to hire another three within a year.
The Flagship Brewing Company celebrated its opening with an event
on May 17. Locals sat at picnic tables eating pizza and drinking the island-
brewed beer. A group of men who work for the Staten Island Railway
nursed their pints, as one of them gesticulated with a chunky, unlit cigar.
A woman in a Wu-Tang Clan T-shirt worked the taps behind the bar.
Flagship shirts were for sale, which read, in Gothic script, Staten Island
Born and Raised.
Matt Milcznski, 22 and born and raised in Westerleigh, enjoyed
several beers and offered his thoughts on Staten Islands craft beer entry.
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Staten Island is always behind the curve, Mr. Milcznski said, but now
we can say, We brew beer.
Theyre taking something negative, he added, and making it
positive. Theyre making it their own. Theyre saying, this is the forgotten
borough, but you shouldnt be forgetting about it.
The evening concluded with a performance by a popular local band.
Islanders lined up in droves to buy beer tokens. A young couple kissed
passionately on the sidewalk as a Staten Island Railway train rolled past
behind them.
A few days after the opening, Mr. Sykes considered his beers journey.
The pressure of being the only ones is tremendous, he said. If people
think our beer sucks, theyre going to think Staten Island beer is bad. But if
its good, theyre going to think Staten Island beer is good.
A version of this article appears in print on May 25, 2014, on page MB8 of the New York edition
with the headline: A Craft Brewery of Its Own.
2014 The New York Times Company