Coney Island Brewing Co. Brings Back “Freaky Beer Idea” Contest For Second Year

Coney Island Brewing Co. Brings Back “Freaky Beer Idea” Contest For Second Year
Behold, a Grin and Tonic. Photo by Kyle Mackie
Behold, a Grin and Tonic. Photo by Kyle Mackie

The “Grin and Tonic,” a twist on the classic cocktail, won the 2015 Brew York New York Sweepstakes. New York City residents can submit their innovative beer idea to the 2016 contest now until December 28 for a chance to brew it at Coney Island Brewing Co.

As the craft beer industry continues to expand across Brooklyn and beyond, New Yorkers now have a chance to claim their spot in brewing fame through the 2016 Brew Your City: Creative Brew Contest.

This is the second year Coney Island Brewing Co. has sponsored a contest open to all New York City residents (21+) in which individuals can submit a “freaky beer idea,” and the winner will get the chance to brew his or her winning concoction with staff members. Submissions will be accepted until 11:59 p.m. on December 28, and the winner will be announced on or around January 8.

Photo by Kyle Mackie
Photo by Kyle Mackie

Coney Island Brewing Co. is known for its innovative beers inspired by local history and place names, like the Mermaid Pilsner, Hard Root Beer and Cotton Candy Kölsch, but it’s far from alone in Brooklyn’s microbrewery scene. The Brewers Association, a national nonprofit whose purpose it is to promote and protect American craft brewers, lists five other Brooklyn microbreweries on its website, including Other Half Brewing Co. in Carroll Gardens and Strong Rope Brewery and Threes Brewing in Gowanus.

Craft beer accounted for 12.2 percent of U.S. beer sales in 2015, or $22.3 billion, and New York State ranks fifth highest in the country for the number of craft breweries.

The idea of a contest for the most outlandish or freaky beer grew out of the Coney Island Brewing Co.’s internship program, according to Head Brewer Eric Hernandez. He said that it’s a company-wide philosophy to help people who want to break into the craft beer industry.

Photo by Kyle Mackie
Photo by Kyle Mackie

The 2015 Brew York New York Sweepstakes, which was co-sponsored by Brew York, emerged as a way to directly engage the community that the brewery serves, which Coney Island Brewing Co. strives to do. For example, brewery staff are planning another year of participation in the Coney Island Polar Bear Club’s famous plunge into the Atlantic on New Year’s Day (employees camp out on air mattresses at the brewery on New Year’s Eve to make sure no one’s late for the 8 a.m. start). Hernandez is even working on a beer called “The Plunge,” and the brewery will donate its proceeds from New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day to Camp Sunshine, the charity favored by the polar bear club.

“This brewery is meant to do things like this,” Hernandez said. “We’re meant to push limits and boundaries.”

The 2015 sweepstakes winner was the “Grin and Tonic,” a beer twist on the classic gin and tonic cocktail. It was chosen out of a couple hundred submissions, many of which were weird – and some “really horrifying,” according to Hernandez – including one hot dog beer idea.

“It has all the same botanical characteristics of a fine gin,” said contest-winner Andrew Said Thomas, of his creation.

Thomas is a longtime homebrewer and gin and tonic lover with a day job at HBO. One Wednesday in October, he played hooky to help the two-man Coney Island brewing team produce 300 gallons of the 8.2 percent Grin and Tonic. It was the largest scale brewing he’s ever done.

To be clear, the Grin and Tonic doesn’t actually contain any gin. That would be illegal, said Hernandez. Instead, it’s composed of a medley of juniper, lemongrass, and cinchona bark, one of the main ingredients in tonic water.

The result is “piney” and “resinous,” as described by Hernandez, with a “complex spice characteristic.”

About a dozen eager taste-testers were the first to sample the new beer at an afternoon launch party at the brewery’s Surf Avenue location on Saturday, December 3.

“I asked for a sample of it when I first came in,” said Emily, a Brighton Beach resident who asked to be identified only by her first name. “It’s immediately something that I haven’t tasted before, but not in an overwhelming or weird kind of way.”

William Reder and Stephen Calebro of Ridgewood, Queens, made the trek to Coney Island in support of Thomas, who they know through New York City’s homebrewing community.

The Grin and Tonic is a “nice dry triple with a wonderful spice,” said Reder, who works at Finback Brewery in Queens.

Calebro, manager of The Sampler, a craft beer bar in Bushwick, chimed in, “Add booze on top of booze, I mean what’s wrong with that?”

Curious imbibers can catch the limited-edition Grin and Tonic while supplies last – likely only for the next couple of weeks – at the brewery and other select locations throughout the city. Check Coney Island’s beer finder for the full list.