I had the chance to visit Coney Island Brewery during a vacation in New York City. They are located near the famous amusement park and the beach, which is good when you need to breath some fresh air and drink a few pints of craft beer. I had a talk with Katherine Telesca (@brewery_kat) who explained me what they brew and why they brew it.
Simon : Hello Kat, can you tell me what your role is at Coney Island Brewery ?
Kat : I am the general manager of Coney Island Brewery, I’ve been here for almost four summers – we do everything by seasons here.
S : How did you get into the craft beer scene ?
K : I kind of fell into craft beer by accident cause I started here as a bartender and worked my way up, and now I fall in love with craft beer a little bit more everyday.
“Like many things in Coney Island unfortunately it was subject to disaster : it was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy in 2012”
S : How does Coney Island Brewery relate to the NYC craft beer scene in general, are you a historical brewery or a pretty recent one ?
K : Coney Island was originally located with the Coney Island USA and was considered the smallest brewery in the world. Like many things in Coney Island unfortunately it was subject to disaster : it was destroyed in Hurricane Sandy in 2012. A few years later, this place opened back up : we acquired the space, built the brewery and we’ve been making beer since 2015.
S : Can you tell us about the philosophy of Coney Island Brewery and how it translates into your beer recipes ?
K : We use our full history and foundations of this place when we make our beers. This means we keep incorporating things from the neighborhood like old-school foods, sweets or snacks and things. So over the years we did a lot of brews inspired by Coney Island itself. For example a Kettle Corn Cream Ale, or a Cotton Candy Kölsch. We always try to come up with new things for instance at the moment we got this Cream of the Cropsey with crops seeds.
“Lately our brewer has been focusing a lot more on light lagers and light ales. We kinda go against the grain of what big craft beer breweries are doing.”
S : Oh yeah, the Belgian-style farmhouse ale I just tasted before. Do you focus on certain beer styles more than others ?
K : Yeah, lately our brewer has been focusing a lot more on light lagers, and light ales. We kinda go against the grain of what big craft beer breweries are doing. We have done a lot of big beers with special ingredients but at the moment we are perfecting those lighter ales and lagers that are actually a little more complicated to make because they don’t have all the crazy ingredients.
S : As a woman, can you tell us about the place of women in the craft beer industry ?
K : I think in general people think it’s not inclusive – I definitely didn’t when I got into it, I definitely felt it was a boys club – but as I got more and more involved I discovered it was way more inclusive than I thought. New York City specifically is a great place for women in beer, it has one of the highest numbers of women working for this industry in the country. I find it pretty amazing cause there’s a lot of women who paved the way and are doing their thing. It’s pretty inspiring and in the history of beer, a lot can actually be traced back to women, like the oldest beer recipe which is a poem honoring Ninkasi, the goddess of brewing.
“It’s actually more inclusive than I thought and I like to make sure I can share that with people so that they know”
S : What is this Irish Red Ale we are drinking ?
K : It’s our Warrior IRA, which is an India Red Ale, so it’s supposed to have all the bitterness than an IPA have but with the strong and assertive malty backbone as well. For that brew specifically we only used Warrior hops. We released this beer for the movies The Warriors – which is actually a Coney Island cult classic. So yeah, strong malt backbone with deep caramel malts and Warrior hops – primarily used only for bittering but Matt the brewer did a really great job with this one. It’s really well balanced, I think that beer is delicious.
S : It is. Can you tell us about your current or past collaborative brews ?
K : We do collaborate a lot. We don’t collaborate a lot right now with breweries, we’ve actually been focusing a lot on collaborating with homebrewers. We organize work shares : we allow homebrewers to come in to help us, they brew their beer, and then we judge it and they are able to brew on our system. It gives people who have never worked on systems like this a real opportunity.We work with the New York City Gay Craft Beer Lovers and we’re brewing a beer for the NYC Pride March for the second time this year. We do a lot of things with organisations that don’t get to brew on big scales. We actually are collaborating with a band, Coheed And Cambria for their upcoming concert.
S : Do you plan some other collaborative brews in a near future ?
Yeah, our brewer Matt is in touch with Strong Rope Brewery and we’d love to collaborate as they do some awesome beers but at the moment we are just collaborating with smaller organizations.
S : Thanks a lot for your time.