Evan Klein and Craig Frymark of Barrier Brewing Company
Evan Klein and Craig Frymark don’t think of themselves as nanobrewers. They’re just brewers who happen to be producing beers at the ridiculous rate of two kegs per batch. A limited capacity was the price for getting the Long Island operation up and running, but it has turned into a selling point. Small batches mean Barrier Brewing Company can play around with the kind of broad portfolio bigger production houses only dream of. The approach is already paying dividends: Barrier was just crowned best brewery in New York state at the annual TAP New York festival.
1. Brew like you’re at home
Both Evan Klein and Craig Frymark started out brewing at home, and both are alums of Brooklyn’s Sixpoint brewery. They bear the marks of Sixpoint’s heavy homebrew culture, which encourages brewers to experiment at home when they’re not at the brewery. Many of the recipes in Barrier’s portfolio are inspired by old homebrew recipes, and the brewery’s thirst to constantly brew up something new is found more often in kitchens or brewpubs than in production facilities. “This is a glorified homebrewery, in a sense,” Frymark says.
2. Try something new
Barrier Brewing boasts an ever-expanding lineup. The brewery doesn’t have any flagship brews or seasonals or one-offs; instead, it churns out a steady rotation of recipes. When we spoke, Barrier had 20 beers in the rotation. Its 17 fermentors held a Rye IPA, a sneakily bitter Pale Ale, a peat-smoked Scotch Ale, a Belgian IPA, a Black IPA, a Dubbel, a dark Saison, a California Common, and a bitter Wheat brewed with Warrior, Perle and Cluster hops, and fermented with American and Belgian yeast strains. Frymark calls that one a Wheat Ale for people who don’t think they like Wheats.
3. Thrive at home
“Obviously, there’s a need for flagships for some breweries, but we see just as much potential for 40 beers being brewed all year,” says Klein. It’s their home market of New York City that allows that to be a viable business plan. “We’re not going to have a huge regional production where we’re going to have accounts that all want the same beer over and over and over again. Because we’re going to be relatively small, we can pick and choose accounts. They’re excited, just as much as we are, to see what we’ll have for them every week.”
4. Find huge taste in smaller beers
Frymark jokes that few of Barrier’s beers set out to punch drinkers in the tongue. “Rather than focusing on one big flavor, we want something where, even on your third pint, you’re still picking flavors apart,” he says. “Our approach isn’t necessarily to make these wildly in your face, over-the-top beers, but just to try to flawlessly execute as much as possible. We want to create beers with a timeless appeal to them, so 20 years from now, when some of these trends have faded or moved on, our beers will withstand test of time.”
5. Get it going
Klein learned commercial brewing on Sixpoint’s 15-barrel system, so when he was writing the business plan for Barrier, that’s what he priced out. After a dose of sticker shock, he ran the figures on a 10-barrel system, and then a 7-barrel. It turns out that all he could afford was a 1-barrel system with seven 1-barrel fermentors, so that’s what he ran with. Klein and Frymark eventually want to grow into a 5-barrel brewhouse, but until then, they’re cranking away on a 55-gallon glorified stockpot.
6. Double up, then double up again
Klein and Frymark brew three times per week, churning out four different recipes each brew day. Their brewing process is modeled after a system Frymark developed at Sixpoint. He shortened the typical brew day by tweaking the model and paying attention to the movement of hot water around the brewhouse. Barrier puts two kettles to constant use, enabling Klein and Frymark to crank out four recipes in 11 hours. It’s a productive operation: Barrier’s 1-barrel system is on pace to produce 600 barrels this year.
7. Stay involved
Barrier’s brewers distribute their own beer. It started as a financial necessity, as the brewery’s ability to charge retail prices, not wholesale, was key to its ability to pay the bills in its early days. Now the brewery self-distributes because it wants to, not because it has to. “We like the fact that we’re always handling our product,” Klein says. “Nobody is going to know [your beer], love your beer, care about your beer as much as the people brewing it.”
8. Keep it salty
A sleeper hit for Barrier has been its Gose, a low-alcohol German wheat style brewed with coriander and sea salt. Frymark and Klein were both intrigued by the style because it had fallen out of production for a period of time. A dose of sea salt in the last five minutes of the boil lends the beer a briny quality that’s balanced by the coriander’s citrus notes; they reviewed, but then backed off some historical recipes that called for what Frymark says were “some pretty significant, borderline over-the-top additions of salt. It does make you stop and think, maybe salt doesn’t belong in a beer. Or maybe you just have to find right the right balance.”
9. Brew what you like to drink
Klein isn’t ashamed to admit that when he’s out at a bar, he likes drinking his own beers. In his mind, it’s a statement that Barrier is brewing exciting recipes. “I feel kind of bad—oh, this guy’s ordering his own beer, what a jerk,” he says. “It’s really because we enjoy beers we’re making. It’s a good sign, when brewers want to drink the beers they make when they’re away from the brewery. That’s why we do it.” ■