I’m walking in a cute and picturesque neighborhood in Queens called Glendale. It doesn’t even feel like I’m in NYC any longer. I’m on my way to Finback Brewery to meet up with Basil Lee and Kevin Stafford for a chat. I’d met them twice before and instantly liked them. And their beers too of course!
Basil and Kevin goes way back, being friends from school in Boston. Kevin had been home brewing for 10 years and Basil for 7 years before they decided to open a brewery together. Creativity is a key word for them now working at a brewery and has always been, as part of their earlier professions, Basil as an architect and Kevin a graphic designer/illustrator.
But now it is full time working with the brewery. And there’s not too much time over for not beer related things, since they work seven days a week. Basil tells me about their first delivery; it was in the middle of a snow storm and they had rented a U-Haul. When they arrived late as hell, they watched the stairs where the keg had to go down and thought: “Holy shit! How are we gonna make it? ” This is just one of all the things you better figure out when doing it by yourself and for the first time, Basil says. Nowadays the deliveries goes much smoother. They deliver 2-3 days a week and it’s still done by themselves.
Their brew house is from the Canadian company DME. A 25 bbl system which they can push up to 30 bbl/batch. At the moment they have three 40 bbl fermentors and one 40 bbl bright beer tank. They usually brew double batches once a week. They try to make different beers for each brew, but sometimes they’ll brew the same beer once again.
Their space is huge and they have room to expand a lot here. “We are here to stay”, Basil says.
It took them 18 months of serious looking to get their space. They were looking in Gowanus at first and found a spot they fell in love with. They worked on it for three months and in the end, the landlord wanted them to get all the spaces that were attached, which made it too expensive for them. Then they found a beautiful place in Ridgewood, but another brewery bid them over. So, finally they found this space in Glendale, which was probably further out than they had in mind, but worked out perfect anyways. Now they can grow bigger and bigger, without worrying about the space.
The tastingroom has a popcorn machine, and you’re welcome to grab as much as you like.
2010 – Kevin and Basil gets serious about looking for a space and working on their business plan.
2011 – The brewery was created.
2013 – The space in Glendale was found.
2014 – The brewery opened. Released their first beer (Pilot IPA) in January and the tastingroom opened up in May.
The stylish tap handle setup in the tasting room
How would you describe your brewery?
Basil: Everything is different, every beer is different. We keep on changing, trying to make it better. We want to best at variety. We do have three main paths; really hoppy, sours and dark. Our goal is to be creative and elegant. And to brew something that tastes good. We’re not trying to be weird and do crazy beers.
Apparently someone likes to steal their signs…
How did it feel to release your very first beer?
Basil: AWESOME! During the four and a half year before opening, there were so many hurdles, we thought; It’s never gonna work! Trying to find a space and getting the money for it (they have a few investors, but are trying now to use only the money they make). And when we finally did it and our first beer was out, we thought: Holy shit, now we have to RUN a brewery, not OPEN one. It was a little bit scary. I don’t think the first batches were perfect, it’s a process. We knew that. After a month or so, tweaking our recipes, learning our brew system, time adjusting, we thought; this is good. We still talk about how to make our beers better and we learn from every batch. We also learn by reading and by talking to other people in the business. It’s still an on going process.
Basil, one half of the duo founders.
Before meeting up at Finback I did some research on them and noticed that there were so many positive articles about Finback. Getting awarded as one of the best new brewery on several websites , mentioned as rising stars. So, I was wondering how that made them feel? Was that something important to them? Basil says that they are not looking for media attention. They just tries to work really hard to make good beer. It’s great of course, but doesn’t make them special. If articles can help to reach out to more people to find out about us, then it’s awesome, he says.
He says that it’s more satisfying to hear a stranger liking your beer. A memory he will cherish, is the first time he heard a person order their beer in a bar. And when the person took a sip of it, and said it was good to the bartender. That was cool, Basil says.
Kevin to the far left. Quality control of the beers.
Finback Brewery also has a nice barrel age program set up. Their space is so big that they have one room with bourbon barrels filled with BQE (imperial stout) amongst other stouts. AND a sour room. Wine barrels covers one of the walls and there are some big plans for this room. They are expecting two á 35 HL Foeders to arrive anytime soon.
The sour room.
Fun fact #1: A regular, Tom, has beehives and have donated two of them to Finback brewery so they can harvest their own honey for beer. They are outside behind the brewery and do not come inside. Except once… Kevin heard this weird noise behind him one day and noticed that a pack of bees were following him. No one got stung.
Fun fact #2: Finback wasn’t the original name for the brewery. It was actually Narwhal. They never trademarked it, and when Sierra Nevada released their beer Narwhal they contacted Basil and Kevin.There’s a long story to this, but let’s keep it short: the little brewery had to cave for the big one. They took the name Finback, honouring the beached whale at Breezy Point, Queens in 2012. And yes, they like Finback better and are happy in the end.
If you get a chance to go visit Finback Brewery, do so! The tastingroom is open Thursdays through Sundays. It is a chilled and relaxed place for drinking beers, eating popcorn and playing games. Kevin and Basil are usually there everyday, so say hi, tell them their beers tastes good. They are awesome people!