Recently attending the one-year anniversary party of Moustache Brewing—it seems like yesterday it was just breaking ground to its brewery in Riverhead, New York—with a pint of Milk and Honey Brown Ale in my hand, I started to think of other Long Island brewery births I have witnessed. I have watched many go from home brewer, 3-bbl systems, their first van, their first bottling line, to seeing them sell beer out of state.
It’s no surprise. The Brewers Association just listed NY 2nd in new brewery openings, 67 in 2014, and a 54% production increase over last year. There are five Long Island breweries I know of that are in the process of getting licenses, leases, or opening tasting rooms. It’s a small community, and there is a good chance you’re a friend or a friend-of-a-friend of a brewer.
Talking to brewers—and attending a grand opening or two—I have come across questions that seem to pop up every time a new brewery rears its foamy head. They’re starting to get old, and some, frankly are starting to make me cringe. Maybe it’s because I’ve asked a couple of these questions, too (d’oh!). I think it’s time for “new brew” etiquette. Why look at me, I’m the Emily Post of beer!
> Q: Can I have a free t-shirt or pint glass or…?
T-shirts and other items are a popular way to get the brewery’s name out into the public. Friends may ask, “Hey who’s that? Where are they?” This merchandise is also a source of income, small it may be, that help fund that brewery. Don’t assume that the brewery is giving away swag for free. Don’t get bent out shape when the friendly volunteer behind the counter asks for your credit card. If you want something, ask how much it is, even if you know the brewer. Don’t put him or her in an awkward situation. If you get it for free—sweet! If not, pony up and help the brewery out.
> Q: I invested in you in Kickstarter, so why can’t I get a free…?
Many breweries use or have used Kickstarter to help with some aspect of their business plan. Kickstarter is a crowdfunding website. Funders donate money to a business, and when it reaches its goal funders get something in return. It could be something as simple as a sticker or as grand as getting to name a beer depending on the amount donated. However, people are beginning to demand a lot for their $15. Why can’t I get free beer? Can I get a discount on that tulip glass? Why don’t I get first crack at bottle releases? Hey, you gave your money; you got your t-shirt. That’s it. The brewery is not beholden to you. Believe me, they really, really appreciate your donation, but you got something in return. Breweries are in the business of making beer, not comping their special customers. And speaking of free beer….
> Q: I know the brewer, so why can’t I get a free…?
I know the brewer, too. I know lots of them. I don’t expect free beer from any of them, at any time. Remember that awkward situation with the swag? Don’t do the same thing with the brewer’s source of income. Full disclosure, some brewers give me free beer—like, all the time. But I don’t expect it or demand it whether or not I know the pourer. Don’t make the employee behind the taps uncomfortable by saying, “Me and the brewer, we’re like best buds. She gives me free beer all the time!” Plunk your dollars down, and maybe next round you’ll get a free refill. If you do get a freebie, sneak a few dollars into the tip jar. Every dollar helps a brewery grow. Now, don’t you feel better?
> Q: When are you opening?
I’m positive when this question gets asked, a brewer loses his wings. We can’t help it. I understand; I really I do. We just want to know when we can get our hands on the wonderful, new deliciousness. Breweries try their best to give a grand opening estimation, but something always happens. ALWAYS. The inspector is on a two-week vacation, or the gas line is in the wrong spot. Congratulation, they’ve found asbestos! Better questions are, “How’s things going?” or “How are you doing?” It gives the brewer a chance to vent her frustrations but also relate all the good things that are happening at the brewery construction.
> Q: Why don’t you make more beer?
Maybe because you are distracting them? Do you know how much those shiny new steel vessels cost? Holy crap balls! Yeah, that much. A lot of new brewers work two jobs to make ends meet—the one where their building their brewing business from the ground up, literally, and their actually-getting-paid full-time job. They have limited time. Maybe they can only brew at night or on the weekends, searching for the right balance of brewing, working the tasting room, brewery paperwork, etc. So be kind. Give them the time they need.
Also, please try not to disturb a brewer at work. Some have to brew when the tasting room is open. Your desire to chit-chat doesn’t help them when they should be cleaning kegs. Let the brewer be your guide. Wave hello, then walk away. Have patience with a new brewery. It may not be at your favorite bar yet, but give it a year or two. It’ll be there. Soon-ish.