After buying and building my current all grain brewing equipment in November 2013, I began exploring the New York City homebrewing scene a bit more and found Bitter and Esters (Prospect Heights, Brooklyn). A full service home-brew shop where you can either buy your ingredients and equipment for brewing at home or brew there on their impressive 15 gallon HERMs system. From the first time I went there for their Mystery Brew event I felt at home and knew that I’d found my new go-to homebrew shop. To me owners John LaPolla and Doug Amport have made it their mission to instill a sense of community and camaraderie with their fellow NYC homebrewers; and I am frequently blown away by their efforts and how they’ve enhanced the NYC homebrewing scene.
One of the many ways they’ve incorporated this sense of community is through their monthly “bottle swap”. On the first Wednesday of every month homebrewers from all over New York City bring some of their home-brews to Bitter and Esters for a few hours of fun and great conversation about every facet of homebrewing imaginable; all while sampling some of the most creative home-brews that they’ve tasted to date. I should note that while many homebrewers experience bottle shares at their monthly club meetings. For me Bitter and Esters’ bottle swap stands out in that it represents the sense of unity amongst NYC homebrewers so well. So after attending a few, I decided to contact John and Doug via Facebook chat and email and present the idea of writing an article about this amazing monthly homebrewing event and both of them responded with quotes for this article that confirmed for me yet again why Bitters and Esters’ has become a second home for many of NYC’s homebrewers.
Doug’s Response: “The bottle swap is really at the core of what Bitter & Esters is all about. Because our focus is community and education; we can’t think of any better way to combine those two aspects of our business than to get all of our customers/friends into the same room to discuss the beers they’ve brewed. As such, we specifically didn’t choose to build the swap into a club or organization. We support several of our local homebrew clubs, but wanted to provide a place/time that was zero commitment and did not compete directly with any of them.”
John’s Response: “The bottle swap started before the shop opened. Meaning, we had the idea for it before the shop officially opened and the reason why we do it is to create a sense of community. We want to help create a community of homebrewers that can meet each other, try each other’s beers, and basically have a good time. After all brewing beer is a hobby that people love; and people in turn come to love coming to this bottle swap because its an opportunity to try some kick ass beers all while receiving feedback on their own beers.”
Then this past Tuesday (4/1/14) I decided that I still needed to capture the most important dimension of these monthly bottle swaps; the community itself. Therefore, the next day at the April 2014 bottle swap I asked some of my fellow brewers for their opinions on what brings them back to this swap (bottle share) each month. Sean Torres, president of Staten Island’s Pour Standards home-brew club stated that “the bottle swap is great because allows homebrewers to be introduced to lots of new beers, especially the more experimental ones brewed by local clubs and other homebrewers in the area…It’s great because you get to try great beers with great people and most of the time you learn something.”
As Doug mentioned earlier, while this bottle swap isn’t part of a club meeting, it is an opportunity for homebrewers from local clubs to gather and talk homebrewing. To me the regulars that attend this monthly event have become a “quasi-club”. The sense of camaraderie and community between the swap’s regulars like myself makes it feel like we’ve formed a club of our own. One of the regulars named Max added to this idea by saying “I like these bottles shares because I’m to0 lazy to go to my home-brew club, and they allow to still have the same sort of camaraderie and learn more about people’s beers and their opinions on certain beers. Especially when I’ve messed up one of my beers they can tell me where they think I went wrong and I don’t have to go to Greenpoint on the 2 train. I can just get on a bus and come here.” While I personally travel from uptown Manhattan to attend the Bitters and Esters bottle swap and the monthly New York City Homebrewers Guild meetings; the differences in atmosphere make it worth it for me to travel to both. In fact, nowadays when I see bottle swap regulars at the New York City Homebrewers Guild meetings, I appreciate the sense of community amongst NYC homebrewers even more.
So while most of you do not live in New York City; this article’s focus or aim goes beyond promoting the Bitter and Esters monthly bottle swap. Getting involved in your local homebrewing clubs and community has many benefits that can only enhance your passion for brewing great beers, meads, ciders, etc., and opens your eyes to new beer styles and brewing techniques that will help you grow as a brewer. Seeking out homebrewing events such as monthly bottle shares and homebrewing competitions will help you go out of your comfort zone brewing-wise and introduce you to the brewers that will share the knowledge that will allow you to do so. I hope to continue covering local homebrewing events on The Brewed Palate in order to share my journey through the amazing homebrewing scene in New York City. Cheers!