By Lew Bryson
There are some serious changes going on at this brewery with a reputation for “mad science” and innovation. Eric Bachli’s the new head brewer and the founding brewer, Shane Welch, has moved on. Is Sixpoint still going to be Sixpoint? Or are they going to go corporate? I drove up to Brooklyn to find out.
For starters, Sixpoint is now owned by Artisanal Brewing Ventures, making it a partner with Victory and Southern Tier breweries. As a result, Sixpoint’s most popular beers will be made at Victory’s Parkesburg facility instead of Memphis, Tennessee. That means Philly will receive fresher-than-Brooklyn-gets-it Resin and Sweet Action. And you’ll likely see each breweries’ beers showing up at their respective taprooms. That’s all you need to know on the business level. Now let’s get to the interesting stuff…
You know, Brooklyn streets look a lot like University City, or Fishtown; it’s a working town. But is Sixpoint, in Brooklyn, close enough to be a “local” brewery? It’s just under the 100 miles away that locavores allow. I consider Victory, Troegs and Yuengling to be “local” beers. I drove to Sixpoint in 90 minutes; only Victory is closer. I can even take public transit from Philly to Sixpoint: easy-peasy.
And Sixpoint has always had an affinity for Philly. “We have a lot of Philly people who work at the brewery currently,” said Max Nevins, Sixpoint’s VP of marketing, “and Shane used to go down to visit pretty much every week — Han at Han Dynasty has some wild stories from those days.” Han Dynasty just hosted a huge Sixpoint dinner a few months ago, too.
But… are the beers still mad science? Right inside the back door was the pilot brewing set-up, baby unitanks with grease-penciled beer names on them: “Raw Ale (No Boil NEIPA)”, “Wildflower Tripel” and “Banana Smoothie”, one-off beers in one-barrel lots that would be served on draught at the brewery only.
“We do lots of experiments,” Eric Bachli told me. He’s not talking about “experiments” like putting different fruits in sour beers, either. He’s talking about things like moving the heat exchanger to before the whirlpool to reduce change and loss of hop aroma, and shifting more and more hop additions to the “cold side” of brewing, post-boil. And the standard upright cylindro-conical tanks? Forget ‘em; they’re putting in old-school horizontal tanks to maximize surface interaction with the dry-hopping additions. That’s experimentation.
Keep in mind, Bachli is one of the people who helped create the New England IPA when he worked at Trillium in Boston. That was the first place the style was really scaled up to production levels, and Bachli helped design and build that new brewery.
“I’m proud to have been part of it,” he said. “It changed how we do process, how we think about brewing. New England IPA pushed boundaries, opened doors to new pathways in brewing. For instance, the brewing salts (the water mineral content) made a big difference. The massive dry-hopping adds polyphenols that are part of that haze, and haze stability is a holy grail because it’s critically important for Instagram chatter, and that drives sales. You can’t ignore that.” (Sixpoint is very vocal on social media, and they do chat-backs with their Untappd fans).
We walked through a tightly-packed facility, clearly bulging at the seams, a convincing argument for the move to larger digs. The staff common room is solid, faced out in repurposed wood, furnished with hefty tables and chairs. There’s a nicely-equipped kitchen, and people were cooking lunch; not heating it up, cooking. That’s encouraged here, all part of the creativity that fuels Sixpoint.
“Stylistically, we never approach brewing a beer from within a category: an IPA, a helles, a porter,” Eric said. “You don’t have to be a brewer to innovate. Everyone comes to the table with ideas, and you check your ego and work with the team. That’s how you do it.”
He introduced me to Mikey Lenane, the aesthetics guy who’s the counterweight to Eric’s technical side. Mikey and Eric work closely on the new beers, aiming at a goal that sometimes shifts as they progress. “A beer is what we want it to be,” Eric stated. “Then we use technology and techniques to get there.”
“I don’t really hold on to any traditionalist theories in making beer,” says Head Brewer Eric Bachli. “If there’s technology that makes better beer, I’m all for it.”
That’s about the time we started sampling beers; not as tasting trials, but as examples of what he was talking about. Take the first one: DDH Hi-Res. This is a new extension beyond the Hi-Res extension of Resin: a double-dry-hopped triple IPA. At 111 IBUs and 11% ABV, the label indicates a palate-wrecker, but the huge dry-hopping and residual sweetness make for incredibly well-masked power. It’s like a brewer’s illusion.
“The customers have had a palate shift to a sweeter finish – less bitter,” Eric noted. “We’re adjusting the beers and changing techniques to reflect that. Brewing in New York is a challenge. It’s a tastemaker city, and they want to taste something new every day.”
Philadelphia wants that too, Sixpoint. Send it down the road; we’re thirsty.
Lew Bryson has been writing about beer and spirits since 1995. He was the managing editor of Whisky Advocate from 1996 through 2015, where he also wrote the American Spirits column, and reviewed whiskeys. He is currently a Senior Drinks Writer for The Daily Beast, and writes for TheWhiskeyWash.com, ScotchWhisky.com and two new magazines: American Whiskey and Bourbon+. He has also written four regional brewery guidebooks: Pennsylvania Breweries (4 editions), New York Breweries, Virginia, Maryland & Delaware Breweries and New Jersey Breweries (with Mark Haynie).