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Gentrification’s Foamy First Wave

How a brewery helped make Brooklyn’s seedy waterfront safe for condo high-rises.

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Steve Hindy was an A.P. war correspondent in the Middle East during the eighties—until he moved to Brooklyn and opened Williamsburg’s Brooklyn Brewery. In his new book, Beer School, Hindy recounts his role in the borough’s resurgence and in turning Brooklyn Lager into an international brand. He spoke with Greg Sargent.

How did you get into brewing?
In Cairo—I covered the assassination of President Sadat—I met diplomats from Saudi Arabia, where Islamic law outlaws buying alcohol. They made beer in their homes. I was amazed at how good it was.

How’d you get from there to Brooklyn?
My wife and I had two kids, and my work was dangerous. One day she said, “I’ve had enough. I’m taking the kids home. I hope you’ll join us.” So we moved to Park Slope. I started reading the history of Brooklyn brewing and decided it would be the perfect place to open a microbrewery.

Did you sense how big a brand Brooklyn the borough would become?
No. At first I wanted to call the beer “Brooklyn Eagle Beer,” after Walt Whitman’s newspaper. But Milton Glaser, the designer of our “B” logo, reminded me that Anheuser-Busch used the eagle.

How’d you get off the ground?
Our recipe came from a German brewer whose grandfather brewed in Brooklyn. At first we brewed upstate and distributed out of Bushwick.

Your brewery moved to Williamsburg in 1996.
It was a very different place then. One day during construction, a bunch of union guys right out of GoodFellas showed up. One said, “We want J-O-B-S.” Their head guy—later indicted for labor bribery—said, “We put a picket up and no one’s gonna unload your trucks.” I promised them jobs on my next project. They went off to talk. I was sitting there shitting in my pants. One comes back, puts his hand on my thigh next to my balls, and says, “We’re gonna have to hurt you.” Then he says, “Just kiddin’! We’re gonna leave you alone. Next time you do something, we have to be part of it.”

With the coming high-rises, nobody’s going to build an industrial business from scratch there anymore.
It’s no longer possible anyway—rent’s too high.


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