AN OPEN CONCEPT DOWNTOWN BREWHOUSE AND RESTAURANT PUTS DISTILLING AND FOOD PREP ON STAGE
BY MATT SCANLON
According to the New York City Beer Guide website, there are currently 38 brewpubs and microbreweries in New York City, and the New York State Brewers Association counts 326 craft breweries operating across the state, the most since Prohibition. Brooklyn Brewery, established in 1987, represents the eldest statesman in our urban marketplace, and by a fairly wide margin; overwhelmingly, Big Apple breweries are new, from Other Half Brewing Company in Carroll Gardens, which poured its first suds in 2013, to Long Island City’s Rockaway Brewing Company, which opened in 2016.
The latest kid on the block is the brainchild of Gerry Rooney (of Putnam’s Pub & Cooker in Clinton Hill) and brewer Danny Bruckert (formerly of Six point Brewery). Circa Brewing Company is a 6,000 square foot Downtown operation that’s home to a fully functioning brewery and restaurant serving wood red pizzas, shareable grilled meat and veggie plates, salads, and seasonally inspired fare (Bruckert’s twin brother, Luke, serves as head pizza chef and chef de cuisine).
“Although the Downtown rezoning happened in 2004, not much changed until early 2012, and since then the neighborhood has been growing at a frightening pace,” said Rooney. “With Putnam’s [Pub & Cooker] being only one mile away, I was waiting for the influx of new bars and restaurants to happen but it never seemed to come, so I guess in some sense we have early mover advantage. Additionally, Downtown Brooklyn deserves to have its own brewery.”
From the first, Circa was presented with the challenge of distinguishing itself from 37 competitors. One way was providing beer drinkers with a novel way of navigating through the 12 varieties that are brewed on site a Standard Reference Method color swatch system that serves as a visual design element for the space itself, and also functions as a guide to help guests identify a draft based on its hue and intensity.
Bruckert’s offerings range from classic and historical brews to new technique and ingredient iterations on classics and offers drafts by the glass or flight, and as well as growlers to go. His list includes options like a refreshing Berliner Weisse, an East Coast meets West Coast House IPA, and a Nitro Pale Ale.
“The beer industry in the U.S. has only just recovered from Prohibition,” Rooney explained. “It took us 100 years to surpass the amount of breweries making good beer that there were before the alcohol ban. The handcrafted nature at Circa, from the craft beer to the craft pizza making with fire, is as primitive as it gets. There is nowhere for us to hide; transpency is the essence of the business. You get to see and smell the beer being made…get to watch and taste the food as it comes from the fire. That, for us, creates a unique and memorable experience.”
Circa’s mixed drink program the vision of bartender Damon Boelte (of Boerum Hill’s Grand Army) features an assortment of barrel aged and beer infused cocktails, such as the For Goodness Sakes (mezcal, lime, honey, egg white, purple basil, salt, and tamarind soda); the Spent Grain Old Fashioned (rye whiskey, spent grain tincture, bitters, and orange and lemon zest); and the Tropicalé! (Coconut tea rum, lime, honey, mint, and Circa IPA). All wines are sourced locally from Brooklyn Navy Yard’s Rooftop Reds and are likewise available on tap.
Luke Bruckert’s pizza vision embraces Neapolitan style. Fired in custom made Mugnaini wood burning ovens, his dough undergoes a two day “slow proofing” fermentation process and is made with Molini di Voghera flour, imported from Italy’s Lombardi region. Varieties include: Big Dipper (with truffle béchamel, melted leeks, wild mushrooms, pork shank, Gruyère, and pork jus dipping sauce); The Choke (marinated artichoke, hazelnut pesto, sweet drop peppers, Rogue River Blue, and mozzarella); and ’62 Hawaii (sweet onion, bourbon ham, charred pineapple, mozzarella, aged provolone, and black salt), along with classic pies like Margherita and Salumi.
Other menu items, from Executive Chef Bruce Dillon (formerly of Putnam’s Pub & Cooker), include Wood Fired Chicken with piri piri sauce and grilled baby gem; a Tomahawk Bone In Rib Eye (For Two) with bone marrow butter; and Grilled Cauliflower Steak with black garlic cream, eggplant caponata, and herb oil. A selection of shareable bites and light salads round out the menu.
Interior design was a collaboration between Washington Street, Brooklyn based architecture firm Greg Yang Design and Rooney. Inspired by Downtown’s industrial manufacturing spaces and drawing “from the four elements of earth, air, fire, and water,” as a Circa Company statement reads, ground faced concrete units, cast glass block, steel, and rough sawn solid wood are pivotal materials. At the core of this “factory workshop” encircled by a 70 foot long oak worktop bar are stainless steel tanks, machinery, and pipe works of the brew house. The making process is open and visible from the bar and main beer hall, which is sited under a sloped saw tooth ceiling flanked by structural steel storage catwalks, and further dramatized with a large airfoil ceiling fan and circular biergarten style lighting fixture. Staff uniforms were created in partnership with illustrators Travis Millard and Killer Acid, known for album cover and poster designs for artists like Mac DeMarco, Dinosaur Jr., and Kurt Vile (the psychedelic, skate graphic inspired shirts are sold on the Circa website and at the restaurant).
Asked what pours were going to be particularly applicable to a February mindset, Bruckert tore a page from brew history.
“Whenever I’m in cold climates anywhere, I immediately seek out barley wine style beers,” he said. “This is a type that originated around England as far back as the 11th century. Barley wines have a deep malty flavor with notes of toffee, caramel, and sweet bread, have a lovely, warming note that fills your belly with goodness, and range in alcohol anywhere from 8-15%. A perfect fireside winter warmer.”
Circa Brewing Co.
141 Lawrence Street / 718.858.0055