A few weeks ago, I was coming on duty at my store when I saw a woman I recognized from our conversations in the beer aisle. She was in line at the cash registers cradling a bomber. Out of the corner of my eye as other supervisors began unloading their problems on me, I saw her pump her fist and flash a triumphant smile. I had no doubt about the source of her glee. Her purchase was no ordinary bomber (if there is such a thing); she had arrived in time to buy the last bottle of Grimm's Psychokinesis, a dry hopped American sour ale, from our shelves.
That Grimm Artisanal Ales have won such a devoted following in just over two years is one of the best of many good stories on the New York beer scene right now. The Grimm's are Joe, a musician, and Lauren, a sculptor, who began gypsy brewing after several years of homebrewing and their ales have become the Gotham equivalent of Heady Topper or pretty much anything brewed by Hill Farmstead or Ninkasi, in other words, a cult beer that people inspires a rare level of devotion.
Part of the demand is created by the unique circumstances of their beer. They develop recipes in their Brooklyn apartment and once a month they head to a brewery that is idle that day, often Paper City in Holyoke Massachusetts, and brew 20-30 barrels of beer. Most of it winds up in kegs at the city's top beer bars and drinking establishments but some of it is bottled. Once a variety is gone, it's gone—one and done. I've had people show me cell phone pictures of bottles of Grimm's in their beer cellar and tell me that they are reluctant to drink them since they will probably never have that beer again. The Grimm's have won fans outside of New York too. Their Double Negative won the silver medal in 2014 at the Great American Beer Festival in Colorado.
The concept of gypsy brewing has taken off across America, but it seems especially apropos to New York City, where sky high real estate prices can more than double the start up costs of opening a brewery, compared to opening one in another major metropolis. Evil Twin, Stillwater and Radiant Pig are all based here, but those breweries repeat their hits. The Grimm's take the flexibility of brewing without a brewery to the extreme.
One afternoon last winter over beers at Owl Farm, one of Brooklyn's best beer bars, Joe Grimm told me that if they owned a brewery, “We'd have to brew what everyone else brews, an IPA, a Pilsner, a stout, just to pay the rent.” Instead their beers include a Rainbow in Curved Air, a sour peach ale aged in oak barrels; Super Going, a dry hopped Gose with orange zest aged in white oak, and Cherry Oak Shapeshifter, a Scotch ale brewed with tart cherries and aged in oak.
The Shapeshifter was the young woman at the register's introduction to the Grimm's magic, and I first spoke to her one afternoon, when she happily had a bottle of Super Going in each hand. I warned her that it would be radically different than the Shapeshifter. She rolled her eyes as if to say, “Don't take me lightly” and said, “Oh I know, but their beers are so good I want to see what they do with this style.”
It seems that Joe and Lauren Grimm have created the New York beer equivalent of a serial novel. Their partisans eagerly await the next chapter
Martin Johnson is a beer buyer and merchandising manager for Westside Market East Village in New York City.When not selling or drinking beer he writes about jazz and beer for the Wall Street Journal, basketball for Slate, beer for Eater and about a variety of cultural and culinary topics for The Root.
The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author's alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of Ora Media, LLC, its affiliates, or its employees.