Friday, June 11, 2010

Rooftop Garden at Sixpoint Craft Ales in Red Hook

If you take a tour of Sixpoint Craft Ales in Red Hook, you can expect to see the inner workings of how beer is made, and you’ll be able to sample some of that beer. You’ll also be able to see the chickens that reside in a pen on the roof of the brewery.

Yup, Sixpoint keeps chickens. They cluck happily amidst a rooftop garden full of lettuce greens, kale, zucchini, corn, radishes, cauliflower, peppers, string beans, chamomile and of course, hop vines.

The garden is a project of brewery president Shane C. Welch, who founded Sixpoint in 2004 and has been gardening since childhood. “My parents used to grow vegetables when I was a kid, and I used to grow when I was in high school and college,” he said. “I used to love to grow corn, watermelons, pumpkins, and radishes. I kept the tradition alive at [my parents’] home well after they stopped vegetable gardening themselves.”

Welch started the garden at the brewery so he could repurpose old materials. “We had all of these used, broken kegs laying around, and then we thought to ourselves — ‘Whoa, couldn’t we just cut the tops off these things and turn them into planters? That would be sweet! Fresh food for the brewery, and lots of beauty as well.’”

Welch and his staff of four brewers, two salesmen and an engineer visit the garden at lunchtime for sustenance. Right now, “you’d find just what you’d get at a farmers market,” says brewer Dan Suarez: fresh greens and eggs from the four hens.

The keg planters are topped with coffee beans hulls from Stumptown café in Manhattan, Suarez explained, which help the plants grow. Other features of the garden include a rain collection system made of old kalamata olive barrels and a composting system.

In the future, produce gleaned from the garden won’t just be for lunch. “I hope to make a botanical beer,” said Suarez, picking some chamomile and smelling it. “I definitely want to brew at least a couple of beers with the stuff we have here.” But the hop vines won’t be too useful just yet. “They won’t produce many cones the first year,” he says.

Sixpoint — which takes its name from a six-pointed star, a hexagram, symbolizing the six elements of the brewing process: water, grain, malt, hops, yeast and the brewer — doesn’t bottle its beer, instead kegs it and distributes it to bars and restaurants.

“We’re brewing all day, every day,” said brew house manager Craig Frymark. One of the brewery’s most popular libations is its Sweet Action, an American Blonde Ale. “We want to make sure that everyone in the five boroughs should be able to get our beer at any time.”

Rooftop gardening isn’t the only way Sixpoint displays its eco-consciousness. “On days we brew, a chicken and cattle farm comes to pick up our spent grain for feed,” said Suarez. And of course they recycle.

“My commitment to sustainability comes from my upbringing, my values, and my feelings for the future,” said Welch. “I lived in a cooperative living environment when I was in college, where we pooled our resources and shared our food and housing like a commune. It was then that I realized the power of creating a less consumptive, more cooperative-based living structure. In other words, a different perspective on lifestyle.

“I think the way the world is headed, and the lifestyle that most western civilizations think they’re entitled to is simply not sustainable,” he continued. “Therefore, we need to break the mold by proposing a new way of looking at things — enjoying the simpler things in life and minimizing the footprint we leave behind. The less resources we use, combined with less waste we generate, is a long-term perspective that real forward-thinking people think about and consider. We try to be that way if we can.”