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Breweries Not Too Big for Their Barrels -- Nano Breweries are the garage bands of the craft-beer world
Breweries Not Too Big for Their Barrels -- Nanobreweries are the garage bands of the craft-beer world

Every other Friday at 2 a.m., Rich Castagna walks out to the one-car garage behind his home in Maspeth, Queens, and fills a 55-gallon stainless-steel barrel with water. While his wife and three daughters are asleep inside the house, he fires up a burner and slowly brings the water to a boil, turning the 150-square-foot room into a sauna.

Michael Nagle for The New York Times

A handful of hops.

Michael Nagle for The New York Times

Left, Rich Castagna uses his garage in Maspeth, Queens, to brew his Bridge and Tunnel Brewery beer. Far right, inside the 150-square-foot brewery space.

Another day at theBridge and Tunnel Brewery has begun.

Mr. Castagna, who works for a New Jersey shipping company during the day, opened his one-man beer works in September, and has attracted an ardent following among New York’s craft-beer bars, with demand far exceeding the 45 or so gallons he can churn out in each batch. “All I can tell them now is, can you be a little patient,” he said. “It’s not easy keeping everyone happy.”

Bridge and Tunnel is one of nearly a dozen nanobreweries, or nanos, as they are known in the trade, to open in and around New York City in the last few years. They range in size from Bridge and Tunnel, with its 1.5-barrel capacity, to Port Jeff Brewing in Port Jefferson, on the North Shore of Long Island, a relative behemoth with its seven-barrel system. (Large craft breweries can produce 100 to 200 barrels at a time.) Across the country, more than 200 nanos are in operation or about to open. 

“The best beer is coming out of these small breweries,” said Jimmy Carbone, whose East Village bar, Jimmy’s No. 43, usually has two or three local nanos on tap. “They have the passion.”

Nanos are the garage bands of the craft-beer world: basically souped-up home-brewing operations whose owners have decided to go commercial, but still hold tight to a do-it-yourself ethic. Working out of garages or small industrial spaces, they make a few small batches at a time, which they sell in kegs to local bars or to growler-bearing customers out their front doors.

As shoestring operations whose few employees often work day jobs elsewhere, nanobreweries can rarely guarantee consistent supplies. But in some ways that is part of their appeal, underlining the handmade, artisanal nature of their beers.

Indeed, Mr. Castagna was surprised when, a couple of months after hanging out his shingle, he began getting unsolicited orders from bars and restaurants. “I said: ‘You guys can have any beer you want on draft. Why me?’ And they said, ‘People want local beer.’ ”

Bar owners love the personal relationships that come from working with tiny breweries. “The same guy is making the beer and delivering it,” Mr. Carbone said. “That’s what craft should be.”

Nanobrewing is an outgrowth of a nationwide upsurge in home brewing, said Gary Glass, the director of the American Homebrewers Association, where membership has grown 20 percent a year since 2005. In New York City, the number of home-brewing clubs has risen to 10 today, from 2 in 2001.

A result of all that activity is more information and knowledge sharing, as well as more and better brewing-supply stores, said Chris Cuzme, the brewer at 508 GastroBrewery in SoHo and a former president of the New York City Homebrewers Guild. That really launched the renaissance in nanobrewing, he said, as skilled hobbyists began looking for ways to take their passion to the next level.

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