VIDEO: So a Journalist and a Brewer Walk Into a Bar…


(Courtesy of the Brooklyn Brewery)


It’s not every day a brewer can say he’s shaken hands with a dictator or been taken prisoner. But for Steve Hindy, co-founder of the once home-brewed, now internationally renowned beer powerhouse, Brooklyn Brewery, it wasn’t always barley, hops and yeast.

Steve Hindy, co-founder of Brooklyn Brewery. (Courtesy of the Brooklyn Brewery)

Hindy’s story is somewhat Hemingway-esque; the young college kid who becomes a war correspondent; the numerous meetings with generals and soldiers; an observer of death at every turn; the exchanging and enjoyment of beer recipes in Saudi Arabia by American diplomats; starting one of the most recognized breweries in the world.

It sounds romantic and it certainly is, but the path that led Hindy to where he is now was no yellow brick road.

For most breweries that have come and gone, many resorted to the “family business” mentality, which meant keeping a tradition alive that included preparing an heir responsible enough to continue the work that his father’s father started. For Hindy, there was no family of his own yet. He was just a young kid in an Associated Press (AP) office in Newark.

In February of 1979, Hindy took on the responsibility as one of the AP’s Middle East war correspondents. He studied Arabic and was soon in the middle of war-torn Beirut, reporting on the hostage crisis and revolution in Iran. He was then kicked out of Iran until he found his way back in while embedded within the invading Iraqi army.

Hindy soon found himself stationed in Cairo, Egypt where he met American diplomats posted in Saudi Arabia. Because of Islamic rule, alcoholic beverages were prohibited in the country, leaving the American diplomats to take matters into their own hands and start home-brews themselves by obtaining the required ingredients through the diplomatic mail.

“There was good beer in Egypt, but the homebrews were better than the local beer,” Hindy said. Fed up with sharing the life of a war correspondent, Hindy’s wife threatened to leave him and take the kids if he didn’t come back home to the US. He chose his family over his job and soon took a position at Newsday with an apartment on the Upper West Side. Although he was back stateside, Hindy remained inspired by the tastes and aroma concocted by the American diplomats and was soon buying equipment to support his mini brewery at home.

Steve Hindy started as a war correspondent for the Associated Press in the Middle East. (Courtesy of the Brooklyn Brewery)

As Hindy perfected his early recipes (of which you can actually purchase as kits through Brooklyn Brewery and brew yourself), so did his relationships with his friends and neighbors in giving out some of his homebrew. His close friend and fellow co-founder of Brooklyn Brewery, Tom Potter, a young banker with a Master’s who had been looking to start his own business, was confronted by Hindy in effort to persuade him to drop everything to start a brewing business.

“He thought I was a lunatic,” Hindy said. In 1986, Potter attended the Craft Brewers Conference in Portland, Ore. According to Hindy, there were fewer than 30 craft breweries in the whole country.

“Tom went in his Brooks Brothers suit and all the entrepreneurs wanted to talk to him not realizing by the end of the afternoon that he was ready to chuck his suit and come with me to start Brooklyn Brewery.” Soon after, the duo raised a half million dollars from friends and colleagues to get off the ground. All they needed was a base of operations.

With a wife and two kids to look after, Hindy moved from the expensive Upper West Side to the Park Slope section of Brooklyn where he later learned of the impact of Brooklyn’s hand in the proverbial beer barrel. According to Hindy, there were 48 breweries in Brooklyn alone dating back 100 years. “It was a major brewing center bigger than St. Louis, bigger than Milwaukee. But none of those breweries [in Brooklyn] promoted themselves as ‘Brooklyn Breweries.’”

With the last of the early German Brooklyn breweries closing down in the mid-1970s, Hindy chose not to submit to a dying tradition but rather resurrect a part of Brooklyn’s glory days.

“Part of our mission in starting the company was to bring brewing back to Brooklyn.”

Although the Brooklyn Brewery of today wasn’t built on day one, Hindy struck a contract with the brewery in Utica to produce Brooklyn Lager which was based upon the recipes produced in Brooklyn more than 80 years ago. After the beer was processed, it was transported to Brooklyn and sold door to door to various bars and establishments.

(Courtesy of the Brooklyn Brewery)

The present factory built in 1995 and opened in 1996, is, according to the Brooklyn Brewery website, responsible for distributing beer to 25 states and 20 countries. Most recently, the factory went through an expansion that would double the capacity in 2012 and quintuple it in 2013.  Garret Oliver, one of the world’s best and chief practitioners of the craft and Brooklyn Brewery’s brewmaster, released the “Oxford Companion to Beer,” a what-you-need-to-know about the beer and brewing universe.

In many ways, Hindy is at the head of what once was a lost empire; a man who brought back an art of crafting personal, local brews whose taste and camaraderie have been recognized not only as a proud element of New York, but also of the world. Perhaps it’s the journalistic characteristics that have been honed over years in the Middle East and transferred over to the craft beer world; an attention to detail, an over-aching concern to make your product interesting and exciting, and a piece of passion that allows friends, acquaintances and enemies alike to discuss and converse over. But at the end of the day, it’s the journalist turned brewer who enjoys the drink or two the most.