“I didn’t even like beer,” Ms. Shea said over pints of pilsner and pale ale at a Flatiron pub earlier this month. “There were a few beers—I really did like Sam Adams Summer Ale.”
“Blue Moon,” Mr. Valand added.
“Yeah, and Magic Hat.”
“The sort of most accessible …”
“Yeah, people were like, ‘Oh, you hate beer? Try this, you’ll like it.’ I said, ‘O.K.’ Then I realized I just hadn’t been drinking good beer,” said Ms. Shea, a bubblier yin to Mr. Valand’s flatter yang. “I got really, really into Belgian beers after that. And now I can’t go back.”
“I would usually go to a bar and try to find what I never heard of,” Mr. Valand said. “I wouldn’t necessarily remember the next day what it was. I liked good beers but I didn’t really know anything about them or where they came from.”
He and Ms. Shea educated themselves intensively, and quickly.
It started a year before The New Yorker–induced epiphany, and again involved, fittingly enough, given the organic nature of beer, a trip home to parental roots. Ms. Shea discovered her father’s brewing apparatus—“I was in charge of capping at 12,” she said of her father’s hobby, “and drinking all the IBC root beer because he used those bottles.”—and hauled it to New York. They then researched like mad, focusing on the pragmatic side of zymology.
“I definitely came to it more as a recipe thing than as a scientific thing,” Ms. Shea, who likes to cook, said.
“We haven’t spent too much time worrying about our pH levels,” Mr. Valand, who likes to clean, said.
“Anything with an –ology, I avoid.”
“I don’t think either of us had ever fermented anything.”
The couple has the look of junior faculty in the humanities department at some New England college (they met as film students at Boston University and started dating after graduation). Mr. Valand is spectacled and given to slender neckties; Ms. Shea, to sundresses and scarves. A photo on the Brooklyn Brew Shop site shows them at the Cantillon Brewery in Brussels, during their European trip, looking like summering backpackers wearing the best they could haul from the States.
They are earnest in their business approach—you’ll find them at the Brooklyn Flea manning a table, milling grains, and chatting about beer with potential customers; they say they only recently reached the point where their doubts about the viability of the shop were extinguished.
Yet, they’re breezy in their experimentation. Other brewers, even home ones and those cruising the same quirky edges, may not deem it proper to toss lobster shells into the admixture; or to advise the baking of grapefruit rinds.
Who cares? It works. In a recession. In a city that enshrines its farmer’s markets.
“We’ve never had a sour batch,” Mr. Valand said. “We’ve never had a batch that’s been undrinkable.”
“We’ve had things that needed to be tweaked,” Ms. Shea said. “Overcarbonation and things like that—nothing that ever went bad.”
“Never one where we’ve spat it out. If you make beer and you keep it clean, it’s always going to be beer. And it might still be better than Budweiser.”
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