Pride of Brooklyn

April 17, 2014

BRIC Arts MediaA whirlwind weekend for me! It all started last Friday at Bric Arts Media in Brooklyn. I was a guest on a television show called Brooklyn Live with my friend Casey Solof, organizer of the Pride of Brooklyn home brew contest, and with new friend and home brewer John Henderson.

Being on tv is a lot of fun and a lot of waiting. This was a live shoot which was a little nerve racking, but I think it came out well. The producer had asked that we bring plenty of beer, not so much for the show itself, but for the crew! After we wrapped at 1pm we had one hour to drink until their next show at 2. I brought a good assortment so everyone could try different styles of home brew. They were a great cast and crew and we had a blast. Here’s the segment:

BK Live 4/11/14: Homebrewing segment from Brooklyn Independent Media on Vimeo.
Pride of Brooklyn

The next day was the Pride of Brooklyn homebrew festival at Littlefield in Gowanus. This is the second year for Pride of Brooklyn and what really impressed me was how well organized everything was. I have put together large events like this in the past and it is a lot of work. Any show or event is always a little nerve racking but Casey was calm and cool and everything was ready to go. Littlefield was a beautiful venue and added to all the great homebrew being poured.

I poured a Kolsch (we weren’t competing, just hanging) and I was lucky to have my friend Sharif from Yonkers Brewing Company pouring their delicious IPA right next to me. As we were in the front room we ended up being the first two people who were pouring beer when you came in, so we got to meet just about everyone who came to the festival which was over 300 people! Be sure to check out the write-up from the Village Voice.

Yonkers Brewing CompanyThe main hall was where the 25 home brewers were pouring samples. I took the time to try every one of them and there is definitely some great beer coming from NYC home brewers that ranged from well crafted traditional styles to innovative experimental batches. Judges decided the top three beers while the audience picked their favorite. On top of that the brewers themselves picked their favorite as well. It was a crazy fun day. When it was all over I brought my gear back to the shop, went home and passed out. Can’t wait for next year.

The winners of Pride of Brooklyn were:

    1st Place: Ryan McMahon – “Tropical Paradise” Imperial IPA
    2nd Place: Patrick Alfred – “BIG” Barrel Aged Imperial Stout
    3rd Place: Dylan Mabin, Andrew Said Thomas & Bill Ryder – “Quad Pro Quo Quercus” Port Aged Belgian Quad
    People’s Choice: Alex Kalaf – “Mirthful Monk” French Saison
    Brewer’s Choice: Brett Taylor – “Bird on a Wire” Bourbon Barrel-Aged Brettanomyces-Finished American Brown Ale

Next week I will talk a little about fermentation temperature and ways you can control it in the upcoming summer months in your NYC apartment. Until then, keep brewing!


John Palmer!

April 10, 2014

John PalmerIf you haven’t heard us shout it from the rooftops yet, John Palmer, the guy who wrote How to Brew and probably taught you how to brew, is coming to Bitter & Esters!

On Saturday May 3rd from 1 to 4pm, we are the first stop on John Palmer’s whirlwind tour of NYC. John will be signing copies of his new book, Water, a Comprehensive Guide to Brewing and he’ll be talking to homebrewers about, well, beer! And water! He will also be glad to sign any of his other books (How to Brew, Brewing Classic Styles).May 3rd is also National Homebrew Day and we’ll be doing a Big Brew. Together we’ll be brewing a new recipe written by Mr. Palmer on our brew on premises system while he meets you fine folk. Did we mention this event is free?

I’m excited. Beside myself really. If there is a home brew rockstar, it’s John Palmer. How did our little old brew shop in Prospect Heights get this nationally known figure? Persistence! Two years of it.

When I heard that John was coming out with a Water book in 2012, I immediately contacted his publisher, the Brewers Association to see if we could get Mr. Palmer at the shop for a signing. I got a response almost right away from a very nice woman named Kristin telling me that the book was delayed. We wrote back and forth for the next two years and it seemed that the logistics would never work out. Then about 6 weeks ago, out of the blue, we get a phone call saying that John wants to come to the store and do a signing on National Homebrew day. The one thing I could do for them in return would be to organize the entire weekend for John so that he could meet homebrewers throughout New York City. I arranged his weekend of events starting with Bitter & Esters on May 3rd. Here’s the itinerary  in case you missed it:

Saturday, May 3rd
Bitter & Esters – 1pm-4pm
Pour Standards Homebrew ClubStaten Island Makerspace – 6pm-9pm

Sunday, May 4th
Finback Brewery/AHA Rally – 12pm-4pm
508 Gastrobrewery – 6pm-9pm

Monday, May 5th

Our persistence and hard work have really paid off and we’re so happy to be a part of his visit. We are really looking forward to meeting John and to all of the events that weekend. What I really want is for the whole country to see how cool the NYC homebrewing community is. We know how great it is, but now with a big gun like Palmer visiting, the rest of the country will see it as well.

gypsum-2-oz_1_John’s book about Water is very informative and inspiring. Most of beer is water after all. I am often asked about water at the shop and it is hard to point to just one thing to do as far as water treatment is concerned. It depends on your water source, your grain bill and your beer style. All of this is addressed in John’s book and will be the focus of our upcoming water class (which I’m still writing, who knew H2O was so complicated?).

There is one piece of advice I can give if you are using NYC municipal water or any water that is low in minerals and residual alkalinity. This applies to the boil and not to the mash. NYC water is low in Calcium and Sulfates. Calcium is necessary for yeast health and it helps with flocculation. Sulfates help give hops a nice crisp bite. So if you are making an IPA or a british style beer that can use a little minerality, a teaspoon of Gypsum (calcium sulfate) in a five gallon boil in the last fifteen minutes is a great addition. Water additions for the mash takes a little more work to figure out but our water does well with some gypsum in the boil.

Looking forward to seeing you on Big Brew Day!


In the beginning . . .

March 27, 2014

Hey all, it’s me John LaPolla co-owner of Bitter & Esters. Well, they got me. This here is my first blog post ever. When I was a kid there were no such things as blogs, we called them diaries and nobody read them. The only time anyone said the word blog is if they were trying to say the word block with a head cold. As in “I’m gonna hit you upside the head wit dis blog.” Hopefully, we’ll be hitting you in the head with awesome beer stuff, not blocks.

I decided to start writing this blog to help connect you, the reader, with Bitter & Esters, the store. We are all about fostering community here and I thought it would be fun to provide some insight into all the crazy comings and goings, people and beer, that happens in a Brooklyn brew shop/ brew on premises.

I’ll be talking about the cool events that we have coming up and what goes behind setting those events up. Every once in a while I will highlight our employees and customers and tell you about the cool stuff they are up to. Also, I will give some practical brewing tips and answer any and all questions you might have.

Today I will start at the beginning . . .

A little about myself. I am originally from Smithtown Long Island. I have had many jobs including layout artist, record store clerk, photo lab tech, but I mostly (for 23 years!) ran offset printing presses. I moved out of New York to the Poconos in 1989.

I didn’t have my first “good” beer until I visited London in 1987 and had a proper English Bitter. Wow! That was a game changer.

In 1991, I was visiting a good friend of mine, Tom Clark, in California and I went to my first ever craft beer festival (there were five beers pouring and I was in heaven). At the festival Tom told me that we could brew our own beer! What? We both got Charlie Papazian’s Joy of Homebrewing and that started that. There was limited information and even less availability of ingredients back then. I bought my supplies from a guy who sold out of his garage in Nazareth PA. He insisted on hand milling everything which took forever, but he would give you a beer while you waited and it was worth it.

Vulcan JohnI brewed monthly and really enjoyed the hobby. I was pursuing a career in music at the time (while printing during the day) and home brewing was a great way to have some fun and get some great beer. Back then there wasn’t a great deal of good beer to be found, you had to make it yourself.

After 12 years in the Poconos, I decided to make a career change.

I moved to Brooklyn in February 2001 with my girlfriend Carla to pursue a career in post production audio for film and television. I went to school for this and ended up joining a film group called The Shallow Wastebin Project. It was in this group that I met my future business partner Douglas Amport.

Douglas is from Wisconsin and went to school for theater. When I met him he was working as a video producer. Around this time, I got a part time night job as a post production sound editor (still printing during the day). A bunch of us from the film group became fast friends and started to do projects outside the group.

One of these projects was a band called Soy Dracula, the world’s greatest vegetarian vampire punk rock opera. I played the lead (in full vampire costume) and Douglas was one of our videographers. We also produced a monthly punk rock show called Grind My Gears at the Pyramid club on Avenue A. Douglas played bass in a band at this time called Pile of Kittens. They played Grind My Gears every month. I produced their album. Both bands have records on Spotify, check’em out!

Doug BottlingAll the while, Douglas and I were still brewing beer and our friends loved it. We discovered that we worked well together and we also had a great group of friends that have always been above and beyond supportive.

I ended up quitting film because my brain couldn’t take it anymore! So I was still printing…
One day in September of 2010, at the Atlantic Antic festival in Brooklyn, Douglas and I were drinking some beers and he turned to me and said let’s open a home brew shop. I loved brewing beer, Douglas was great at making things happen, so I said sure. The idea was to be a well stocked shop with great educational aspects in the form of classes and customer service. I also wanted the store to be a Brew on Premises. My brother had been to one in California and it sounded like a lot of fun.

So Bitter & Esters was born! With help from Carla and Amanda (Douglas’ wife) and a half dozen of our friends we made it happen. We started teaching our Brewshop 101 class at NYC Resistor in Boerum Hill Brooklyn. NYC Resistor is a hacker collective that teaches people all sorts of cool diy (do-it-yourself) science stuff in an old brewery. Douglas’ friend Raphael was one of the founders of NYC Resistor and he loved our energy. We taught monthly classes there until we opened our current space in Prospect Heights.

Shop Under ConstructionIn May 2011 we found the perfect spot close to where we both lived. A ton of elbow grease went into this project from building shelves to sanding the floor. Our doors opened in July of 2011. Our goal was and will always be to foster community within the world of NYC home brewing. Right away we started meeting brewers in our neighborhood and from other parts of New York and beyond. We love our customers and we love our store.

Douglas and I are proud of what has been achieved in a relatively short time. Of course it has been a learning experience but it has also been very rewarding. We have met some of the coolest people and have drank some of the best beers ever. It is great to see the homebrewing community getting bigger in NYC and all the new breweries opening. The quality has been outstanding. It’s a good thing I like beer so much!

And what of my good friend Tom Clark in California? He opened a brewery in San Jose California called the Santa Clara Valley Brewing Company. They make one of the best ipa’s I’ve ever tasted.

And that my friends is an abbreviated version of how it all began. In future posts I will talk more about what goes on here daily, tell you about beers that customers bring (which is a lot), share recipes and tell you about events.

We have some really cool events and a special guest coming up, next post….

If you have any ideas or would like me to cover a subject in particular please contact me through the comments or at

Savoring the Suds

March 13, 2014

Check out John’s appearance on Healthy Soul with Gina Keatley! Learn about how beer is a carbohydrate packed powerhouse while they make some classic fish + chips!

You can catch the Healthy Soul on NYCTV life.

Top 5 Winter Brew Recipes

December 13, 2013

What’s Brewing In The Home?

The holidays are a perfect time to get experimental with homebrewing, whether you’re brewing for a party full of thirsty friends or simply getting creative with new seasonal flavors and spices. We’ve been toying with a few new recipes of our own, both old and new, but these five are the big stand outs of the month.

Got some winter recipes to add to our list? Tweet them @bitterandesters. We’ve always got room for more.


Roggenbier – A dark German Rye beer. Flavorful yet easy drinking with that rye bite.


Best for: Hanging with friends, both old and new. You’ll probably see John throwing one back or trying to convert you; he’s a big fan you see. He actually brewed this beer because the commercial example wasn’t available in the US. Hence, the birth of Roggenbier.

Tastes like: Treasure this beer. Save for California, you probably won’t find this anywhere else in the USA.

Pairs well with: Get as German as you can. Our recommendation includes Bratwerst and sausage, or if you are vegetarian like John, try it out with baked tofu and veggie sausages. You can throw some latkes and potatoes in there too. Delicious all around.

Color: 16 SRM
Bitterness: 16 IBU
Alcohol: 5.4%



A Winter’s Ale – A spiced, malt forward winter warmer. Perfect for sipping indoors on a cold winters night.


Best for: the perfect holiday gathering. Great brew for the party you’re throwing at home or at the office.

Tastes like: as homemade as you can get. It’s the comfort food of beers with the perfect hint of cinnamon.

Pairs well with: think pie and delicious holiday pastries. A Winter’s Ale is unique and versatile, finding delicious union with any of the folowing — cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and those fruity notes. All in all, a huge holiday hit.

Color: 18 SRM
Bitterness: 27 IBU
Alcohol: 5.4%




Divine Chocolate Porter – A roasty but refined porter with a luxurious chocolate finish.


For this kind of occasion: If you find yourself cozying up by the fireplace without a beverage, this one’s got you covered. Why leave your house in the freezing cold when you can party with your Divine Chocolate Porter?

Tastes like: chocolate and beer striking perfect harmony.

Pairs well with: ice cream! Contrary to the sweetness you might think exists in a chocolate porter, this one’s pretty far from sweet. So many pairings we can think of, but you pretty much have free dessert reign here.

Color: 30 SRM
Bitterness: 26 IBU
Alcohol: 5.8%




Winter Celebration – Deep red and hoppy. Enjoy it by the fire.


For this kind of occasion: Sweeter than its IPA siblings but as deliciously hoppy and aromatic as its family, this one’s perfect for the holiday gathering or more casually, game night on a Monday with football in the mix.

Tastes like: a Sierra Nevada’s Celebration Ale, which is also our favorite beer of the season.

Pairs well with: pretty much everything really. Winter Celebration with water? Check. Winter Celebration with a side a pasta? Double check.

Color: 13 SRM
Bitterness: 65 IBU
Alcohol: 6.8%




No Way Out Stout (partial mash) - A strong Russian Imperial Stout with bourbon soaked vanilla beans.


For this kind of occasion: this one’s got a funny story. One of our former employees brewed a beer for his best friend’s wedding. Come time to name the beer, he decided on “No Way Out,” which was initially a joke and then it stuck, forever.

Tastes like: a very strong Imperial Stout with bourbon and vanilla at the end. Can’t go wrong there.

Pairs well with: the wedding night and every night thereafter. And if you’re nowhere close to getting married, drink this one for good juju.

Color: 48 SRM
Bitterness: 61 IBU
Alcohol: 8.2%



Attention Thrifty Shoppers…

Who says holiday shopping on a tight budget means sacrificing quality? Get creative on your budget and consider these ideas as stand alone gifts or wrapped together in one amazing beer-themed bundle:

* Beer socks – gotta keep warm in style this season

photo 4








* Beer soap – wash yourself inside and out

photo 3








* Decorative hop garland – this plant is festive to both the nose and eyes

photo 1








* Handy dandy 33 book – beer journaling is light, transportable and easier than ever

photo 2


Top 5 Brew Books of 2013

December 6, 2013

We’ve rounded up the top 5 brewing books of 2013 and they’re for every kind of brewer out there — amateur all the way up to advanced. We’ve ranked them in order of easy to more experienced. Got comments, questions, or ideas of your own? Tweet @bitterandesters.


1. The Complete Beer Course

(Boot Camp for Beer Geeks: From Novice to Expert in Twelve Tasting Classes) by Josh Bernstein


This book is for ::

Everyone who loves beer. Part beer journal, part tasting guide, part designer coffee table book — this tomb has  something for every level of beer appreciator.


2. How to Brew

by John J. Palmer


This book is for ::

Everyone who makes beer. How to brew is the launchpad for every aspiring brewmaster who walks through our doors.  The amount of information is intense but NOT intimidating. You can start in 15 minutes with the first chapter ,”A Crash Course in Brewing” and spend a month or ten years exploring every nuance of the process from enzymatic reactions to the appendix on metallurgy.  It’s the book to have on hand for EVERY brew day!

3. Yeast – The Practical Guide to Beer Fermentation

by Jamil Zainesheff


This book is for :: The would-be beer nerd.  This book should be on everyone’s must have list.  The basic recommendations will take your beer from good to great, while the hard science can launch your homebrew into the realm of award winning.  From yeast propagation to building a home lab, this book has everything about our favorite microorganism.

4. Water – A Comprehensive Guide for Brewers

by John J. Palmer


This book is for ::

The hard core beer geek.  What can we say? Water is 90% beer.  This book is for the “tweaker” who’s mastered the other aspects of brewing at home. It’s got a heavy focus on PH, mineral content and how to be manipulate these aspects to achive specific results in the final product.

5. Brewer’s Association Guide to Starting Your Own Brewery

by Dick Cantwell


This book is for ::

The Brewmaster. You can see the writing on the wall. It’s time to take the hobby out of the garage and bring your beer brand to the masses. But where to start? This book has 26 chapters of professional insight from Dick Cantwell, owner and brewmaster at Elysian Brewing Co. His down to earth revelations and serious business acumen will ensure that you avoid the most common pitfalls and seriously think through the realities of brewing on an industrial scale.


Treat Yourself: Divine Chocolate Kits

November 27, 2013

Tis the season to indulge! Take note: chocolate and beer do no wrong. In fact, we’ve got 3 kits for you to gift this holiday (perfect for those lazy winter Sunday afternoons). Presenting a new collaboration with Divine Chocolates (fair trade social enterprise co-owned by cocoa farmers in Ghana) and our limited edition Divine Chocolate Kits…

Indulge for you and your loved ones here.

Brewing Essentials (2.5 gallon kit that comes with everything you’ll need to brew)

Craft your own beer with our all-in-one brew kit, which comes with all the supplies, ingredients, and instructions you’ll need to successfully make one full case of beer (that’s 2.5 gallons/24 12 oz. bottles)


Divine Chocolate Porter kit (5 gallons) and Divine Milk Chocolate Porter kit (also 5 gallons)

Divine Chocolate Porter is a roasty but refined power with a luxurious chocolate finish. The kit includes all the ingredients for a 5 gallon batch.

Divine Chocolate Milk Porter is a delicious chocolatey light porter. All ingredient included for a 5 gallon batch.



Dick Cantwell Visits, Brews, Teaches

November 25, 2013

Guest Blog by Chris Shepard of Craft Brew News

The clever craft brewer knows to look to the homebrewers. It’s the closest they can get to looking into the future of their industry. With an average of more than 1 brewery opening every day in the US, current brewery-owners are keenly interested in the homebrewers “going pro.” Via their trade association, the Brewers Association, these brewers task themselves with providing information and guidance to aspiring brewers.

Enter: the second edition of The Brewers Association’s Guide to Starting Your Own Brewery by Dick Cantwell.


(A wealth of insight through every conceivable step of opening a brewery. $95 at B&E – a pittance compared to the price of opening a brewery.)

And for the homebrewers of Brooklyn, those that call Bitter & Esters their beloved LHBS (local homebrew shop), on Thursday, Nov 14, enter: Dick Cantwell. And 5 pounds of experimental hop #366 pellets.

(I’ll get back to these beauties.)

Dick came out to B&E to sign copies of the book, but also agreed to brew a pale ale on the shop’s 31-gallon brew-on-premises system. Douglas & John, proprietors of B&E, have worked with Tim Stendahl of Union Distributors for its popular Brew Like a Pro series (BLAP!), connecting homebrewers with professional brewers and their recipes. Dick’s visit was sort of an ultimate BLAP, where those of us in the crowd got to brew with a pro, and also got a taste of some of the expert advice he lays out in the book.





(B&E’s brew system is more high-tech than some licensed nanobreweries I’ve heard about. Dick too apparently: “I’ve been to some sketchy nanos,” he told us. “I worry about that.”)

Dick treated a crowd of beer lovers, homebrewers and aspiring brewers to a short history of Elysian Brewing, the brewing company he co-founded in 1995. Elysian began as a brewpub and grew into 3 brewpubs, a production brewery and new restaurant coming next year, all in Seattle. He also treated us to some of Elysian’s tasty beers.

(“We love IPAs.”)

(We also got to try the totally-innovative He Said 4-pk of 2 different canned pumpkin beers, a collaboration with 21st Amendement. Some have referred to Dick as “the pumpkin king” – Elysian’s hosted an annual pumpkin beer fest since 2005, “partly to be hilarious and partly because we saw an opportunity.”)

Something “absolutely true and absolutely wonderful” about the brewing industry, in Dick’s opinion, is that “no one person knows it all.” He spoke of the “camaraderie” in the brewing industry, the knowledge-sharing, Elysian’s work with New Belgium Brewing, and bringing in many collaborators for the brewery’s annual pumpkin beer festival. It’s with this spirit of collegiality that Dick shared “aphorisms” he “cooked down” from chapters in the book, like “squeegee less than your competitors” (on flooring), or his acknowledgement that “it was embarrassing” for him and his co-founders “how unsophisticated we were” in terms of working with distributors early on (no longer).



IMG_0238_1 IMG_0255_1

(“There’s been a real quickening” in craft beer growth in NYC, “there’s a lot happening.”)

But let’s talk about those hops. The Northwest is the hop capital of the US. So the relationships Dick’s cultivated with hop growers over the years means that he’s been able to brew with experimental hop strains that farmers are growing before they’re more widely available. Experimental hop #366 isn’t named yet, though it has been used in a few commercial beers in small batches.

(Elysian brewed a pair of pale ales, one with #366 and one with #291 for its brewpubs in Seattle to see what its customers thought of the new hops.)

Dick packed up 5 pounds of #366 in a large zip-lock bag with his business card and “Hops” written multiple times (so the TSA would leave them be). We were all pretty excited that we weren’t using all 5 lbs for the brew and got to take home a couple ounces to use in our own homebrews.




Dick’s visit to the shop, while perhaps the most memorable, was really just the latest example of the high quality education myself and other local homebrewers have gotten at B&E. And educated homebrewers are exactly the kind of homebrewers that craft brewers like to see.

Chris Shepard has been homebrewing since 2011 and learning about homebrewing at B&E since it opened. He’s an assistant editor for Craft Brew News, a trade publication.

The Artist in Every Brewer

November 8, 2013

“The act of drinking beer with friends is the highest form of art” — yes, that’s actually the name of a conceptual art piece circa 2004 in San Francisco; an artists happening if you will involving people drinking beer in a gallery. Check it out here (and pictured below) if you don’t believe us.

Anyways, beer, art and another successful Brew On Premises. Read all about it, thanks to Drawing on the Utopic (along with his buddy over at Malt & Mold).




1 2 5