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Cottage Industry

a brewing adventure by donavan hall

Once upon a time...

… there were three guys: Mike, Yuri, and Donavan. And these three guys liked to brew beer… and they enjoyed brewing beer so much and the beer that they made was so good that they decided to brew enough beer for all their friends to drink. And their friends said, Dudes! This beer is really great, you should make even more so everyone in Rocky Point can have this beer to drink. So Mike said, Sure! Why not? Let's do it. And so it came to pass that a small brewery was born on Long Island's north shore in the small village of Rocky Point.

This is the story of Rocky Point Artisan Brewers and the rise of craft beer and brewing culture on Long Island.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014. The beer of the people. When Mike asked me if I wanted to joining him on his commercial brewing adventure, I thought, Cool, I'll write a book about the experience. That was five years ago. Where's the book? I have a pile of notes that I've written in the past years, and it's been my intention to one day pull out those notes and write the grand brewing adventure that I imagined. Now, I'm glad I waited to accumulate some experience and knowledge about the subject of running a commercial brewery, albeit and small one. Initially, I thought I would be writing a blow by blow account of how we became professional brewers and perhaps even provide a guide or template for how others could join along in the adventure. At this point though, a different sort of book / account is needed.

Recently, I started posting new entries to my blog, entries that pertain to craft brewing, but what I really what to do is start bringing together many different subject threads to weave together a tapestry that is more rich and varied than the story of three guys making beer in a converted garage. First and foremost, I am a writer. I'm writer who likes beer. I like it so much that I'm willing to make it myself, and contribute to a collective effort to make enough for my friends to enjoy as well. But in addition to being a writer and a brewer of beer, I'm a soccer coach, a physicist, a reader, a dad, a husband, a son, etc. In short, I'm like you; I'm a complex mixture of roles and interests. What I am not is a consumer.

I've selected the title for this collection of writings deliberately: Cottage Industry. When we started brewing together and we were learning about the nanobrewery movement (and it is a movement), one of our colleagues, Paul of Blind Bat Brewery, the original Long Island nanobrewery, called his operation a cottage brewery. I like the term cottage brewery better than nanobrewery since it sounds more homey. Nanobrewery is all sciencey sounding, which I suppose is alright, but while we cottage brewers know quite a bit about the science of brewing, we regard what we do as an art.

Also, the "industry" part of the title suggests a reference to our production-oriented capitalist society. A business is a collective venture which operates inside a capitalist structure. Our small brewery, our cottage brewery, being small in scale and production being a function of the labor of a few and most definitely in the hands of the workers, we act more like a collective, a commune if you will. Our labor and our activity is fundamental social, that is we brew beer because we wish to be social. Perhaps that makes us socialists. We are instinctive socialists.

Even though we are in our third year of business and have brewed together for more than a decade, this is the beginning of a story. It's a contemporary story that is relevant to our times and not just a story for craftbrewers, it's a story for anyone who is a person who asks fundamental questions like "Why is society structured the way it is?" and "Why is wealth concentrated in the hands of the few even though the rest of us work so hard?" This is a story about a brewery, but it's also a story about the diverse people who have come together to do something worthwhile. It's the story of a writer. It's the story of a physicist. It's the story of humans, of social beings, of people who are more interested in the good life than money.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014. Storytelling. We spent the weekend at the Garden of Eve serving beer for this year's Oktoberfest which was a benefit for the Stony Brook University radio station. Mike and his wife covered Saturday since my boys were playing a soccer match that day. I was able to go out on Sunday to pour beer in the biergarten.

Aside from the whipping wind, it was a beautiful sunny day and would have probably been warm had it not been for the wind. We had two of our Secret Artisan series of beers on tap. Secret Artisan is our collaboration beers with Secret Engine. Matt Mellina of Secret Engine came out with his family to spend part of the afternoon with us.

I met Matt for the first time this last summer when we did a "meet the brewers" night at the Black Sheep Ale House in Mineola. As we were talking I noticed that Matt had a beautiful and detailed tattoo of a manual typewriter on his left bicep. I remarked about it and admitted that I used to collect manual typewriters. (I still have five.) As it turned out Matt is also a manual typewriter enthusiast (which explained the tattoo) and then I asked him if he did any writing.

Like me Matt is a reader and both of us have writing problems which manifest themselves in the creation of texts. What I was impressed by the most was that Matt started talking about Karl Ove Knausgaard's multi-volume novel, My Struggle, without any prompting from me. I'd just gone into Brooklyn, to the Community Book Store to see Knausgaard (again) and to hear him talk about his book, the third volume of which has been translated into English and just published by Archipelago Press.

Meeting Mike Mare and Matt Mellina (and recently Dave, the third member of the Secret Engine crew) and brewing and talking with them helped spark my current interest in weaving more of a beer narrative back into my daily writing. One reason for this is that Mike and Matt were asking questions about how Mike, Yuri, and I got started with RPAB, so I found myself telling our story. I was acting in the old tradition of oral storytellers who bear the good news of the long ago and the far away. Well, in the case of our brewery, not so long ago, nor very far away. But as I thought through the adventures we've had in the past five years and distilled them, I felt that I should try to write something down.

Whether Matt wanted it or not, I foisted a copy of my first "beer adventure" A Year in Beer into his hands on Sunday. I've written three other "beer adventures", but haven't published them. Sales for A Year in Beer weren't that great — not that I marketed it all that aggressively —, and editing and correcting a book for publication is a large time investment. Not that I'm driven by the promise of monetary reward, I've never picked up the pen just because I thought I'd get a payday for it. But took the lack of sales to scale with a lack of interest in that sort of writing. Are the craft beer drinkers of the world looking for creative fictions to read which highlight their passion? My mother is a skilled and passionate knitter and she reads "knitting adventures." There's a whole cottage industry of novels about people who knit. Like detectives who knit. Why shouldn't there be a cottage industry of writers making up stories about people who love and brew craft beer?