Harlem Brewing Company, brewer of its signature Sugar Hill Golden Ale, will soon be returning to its roots.
Celeste Beatty, founder and owner of the company, started brewing beer in her central Harlem apartment in 2000, but couldn’t find anywhere in the city to expand her company. So she contracted with a brewery in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.—until a new development project on 125th Street just east of Amsterdam Avenue made it possible to plan a return to Harlem.
“We’ve been trying to find a home for many, many years,” Beatty said.
The brewery’s future site was previously occupied by Citarella, an upscale grocery store, before it was evicted by the city due to unkept promises by its former developer to fill office and retail space.
In July, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced plans for a total redevelopment of the space, to be called Create @ Harlem Green. The city is still working through litigation and rezoning issues related to the space, making the brewery’s opening date unclear.
“The city believed that it was going to be several months ago,” said Scott Metzner, owner of Janus Property Company, the site’s newly-chosen developer. “We don’t have any actual signed leases because we can’t obligate ourselves when we don’t even own the property.”
But Beatty already has a host of plans for the space, including growing six or seven varieties of hops on the roof of the building using a system she’s designing to supply just the right amount of light and depth of soil.
“There’s a whole movement in New York to revive hop growing,” Beatty said. “I’ve grown hops myself for six years.”
Beatty also said she is already in touch with architects, who will help her design her brewing facility, as well as a gift shop, a tasting room featuring experimental brews, and a “brewseum,” a museum that will showcase the history of brewing in New York City—all of which will create 20 to 30 jobs.
“We’ll have a new home for Harlem Brewing Company, but we’ll be helping to revive a long-standing brewing history in Harlem,” Beatty said.
Her beer has additional Harlem heritage—it's now being sold at the famous Sylvia’s Restaurant on Malcolm X Boulevard.
The process of brewing beer will be the same in Harlem as it has been in Saratoga Springs, while being much easier for Beatty to be oversee the process. She also plans to bring Harlem residents into the brewery by offering classes and inviting locals interested in brewing to collaborate and create new brews.
Community Board 9, which represents West Harlem, held several meetings about the site last winter, at which local residents overwhelmingly asked for art and retail space.
“It creates a really dynamic new urban place that focuses on this idea of building things and making things and doing things, which is important for our country right now and for the West Harlem community,” Metzner said of Create @ Harlem Green.
Beatty said that it was Metzner who reached out to her as a potential tenant for the building, since he had known she was interested in moving back to Harlem for years.
And she’s not done experimenting herself, continuing to home-brew different varieties of beer. A few years ago, she spoke to some members of Columbia’s chemistry department to learn about the microbiology of brewing.
But her main ingredients remain the same: water, barley, wheat, and three varieties of hops, including bittering hops and aroma hops, along with various extracts and berries. The substance is then transferred to fermenting tanks, where yeast is added.
After a few weeks, she said, “You have this beautiful aromatic liquid called beer.”