Today we meet the guys of Sharp End Brewing, an enthusiastic group of homebrewers from New York working their way to commercial beer production. Next week, we’ll delve a little deeper to highlight some of the details and steps they’re taking to get there.
The chemistry called to them.
It started with cooking batches in backyards and wherever space was available. The hope was that it ended in their own laboratory, with shining, stainless steel equipment all around them as recipes bubble away.
The parallels between the friends of Sharp End Brewing and hit TV show Breaking Bad are hard to ignore. But from the beginning, that was kind of the point.
“We were all sitting at this bar for Oktoberfest and talking about the show and beer we would brew for it,” said Anthony Apollo, one of four homebrewing friends with Sharp End who hope to eventually take their hobby pro. “It was around the time Breaking Bad was wrapping up and we thought ‘let’s make a couple beers to commemorate it.’ “
Led by Drew Perez, the most tenured homebrewer of the bunch, the friends brainstormed recipes and came up with their “Brewing Bad” six-pack, parodying names of characters and other thematic aspects:
- Mike EhrmanStout – Chocolate coffee stout
- Holly (Walter White’s baby) – Winter warmer
- Chili P – Pale ale with chili powder
- Walter Weiss – Belgian wheat
- SchraderBock – Eisbock
- Los Pollos Hermanos – Mexian-style lager
However, after starting on the series of beers, Anthony and Drew, along with Anthony’s brother, Frank, and friend, Steve Aiello, decided their operation to simply create the one-off beers to share with each other might provide them a greater opportunity: to make it in the beer industry.
Opening a brewery isn’t an uncommon business proposition anymore. At the end of 2013, there were 3,699 active ‘permitted breweries’ by the Alcohol Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. That includes 172 in New York, where the friends are spread between New York City and its suburbs.
From left, Steve Aiello, Frank Apollo and Drew Perez watch wort boil during a brew day.
But what separates the ambition of Sharp End from other upstart brewers is their realization of their situation and the industry at-large. At a time when some are rushing to get in, they’re waiting.
There’s no Kickstarter campaign and no meetings with banks for loans. There’s just hope that in three to five years, they’ll be in a position to follow their dream.
“Right now, we’re creating as many beers as we can come up with and competing them as often as possible because that’s the best way we’re going to test our process and recipe creation,” Perez said. “Every time we bottle something, we bring it to a local bar and have all the staff taste it and be as critical and mean as possible so we can find out if it’s any good.”
The whole Sharp End Crew (from left): Steve Aiello, Anthony Apollo, Drew Perez and Frank Apollo.
The Sharp End group isn’t shying away from certified feedback, either. After winning a silver medal for a winter warmer in an American Homebrewers Association competition through the Philadelphia Homebrew Club, the friends are entering three beers into this year’s National Homebrew Competition: their Eisbock, an Irish red brewed with raspberries, and “Blood Rage,” an imperial IPA made with blood oranges.
Perez, who has been homebrewing since 2010 and spent three months apprenticing at Chelsea Brewing Company, said Sharp End’s eclectic range of contest entries is helping to fine tune the niche of what the group would eventually like to create. In the long run, he said Sharp End would have one flagship beer, four seasonal offerings and two rotating one-offs to offer variety. What those beers will be is yet to be decided.
For Perez, the key is immersing himself in beer knowledge, from reading Jamil Zainasheff and John Palmer over and over, to listening to every podcast created by the Brewing Network. He also studies previous award-winning homebrews to guide his own recipes.
“When I get really passionate about something, I study the crap out of it, so I’ve been lending the books to everyone else and making them read them, too,” said Perez, who works off a 5-gallon all-grain system and is teaching Anthony, Frank and Steve to brew. “I want to be able to have them ready to make the same beer if I’m not available, even if it’s important that we each have our specialty.”
Sharp End Brewing and others gathered in February to brew their blood orange IPA for the National Homebrew Competition.
For Apollo, that’s numbers. While each member of Sharp End continues their normal “day-to-day” – from graduate studies to consulting and chemistry – he’s slowly planning the means to set up an initial nano-brewery as a proof of concept before considering outside funding.
In the meantime, it’s about creating batch after batch in backyards and driveways, working toward their dream of opening Sharp End Brewing.
“Once we decided we had this opportunity, it was one of those moments where everything in life came into focus for a brief period,” Apollo said. “Now we’ve got plans.”
Have questions about Sharp End Brewing and their future plans? Post them below to have them answered. You can also visit their Facebook page to receive updates on progress and view photos of brew days and more.
Related: Birth of a Brewery? Another Look at Sharp End Brewing
“Don’t drink to get drunk. Drink to enjoy life.” — Jack Kerouac