“I never believed that I could brew my own beer!”
It all started for John LaPolla at a small beer festival where, to his great surprise, he learned that it was entirely possible to brew his own beer. Fast forward six years, John and his partner, Douglas, are running Bitter & Esters, one of the most vibrant homebrewing communities in New York City. Learn about how it all began and get exclusive insider tips on brewing beer and becoming a certified beer expert!
Hi John, can you introduce yourself and tell us about the classes that you offer?
My name is John LaPolla, and I founded Bitter & Esters with my partner Douglas Amport in July of 2011. We’re just two guys who wanted to make the homebrewing community in NYC more exciting and offer a space with access to resources, supplies, and expertise. We pride ourselves on being a creative hub for craft brewing in general.
When did you first become interested/passionate in homebrewing?
I first became interested in homebrewing when I went to a small beer festival in California in the 90’s. The friend I was visiting told me I could brew my own beer! I didn’t believe him at first. We both bought Charlie Papazian’s book, The Complete Joy of Homebrewing, and together we went down the awesome path of homebrewing. I have loved brewing ever since. On a side note, my friend that I started homebrewing with has since opened his own brewery in San Jose, California – the Santa Clara Valley Brewing Company.
Where does your motivation/inspiration come from? What is the story that made you want to pursue your passion and become a host?
I’m motivated by the joy and camaraderie that beer provides. Pubs have always been a meeting place for people, and brewing your own beer brings that community even closer. When someone makes an awesome beer, they want to share it with the world. It is with a huge sense of pride that I am a part of that experience.
How would you describe the link between your classes and the community around you?
Our classes have helped create a whole new homebrewing community in the city. Most people take the class, brew a few beers and then get a little deeper into the hobby. They start to attend our beer swap and some even join a club like the Brewminaries, which grew out of those swaps and is now one of the largest homebrewing clubs in the city. I believe that fostering community has been the key to our success and I’m always trying to help people brew better beer.
How long have you been living in New York? What would you recommend to someone who just moved to this city?
I’ve lived in the city for over ten years and wouldn’t trade it for anything else. It’s one of the most diverse and exciting places in the world. Explore everything the city has to offer because NYC isn’t just a crowded metropolis. Take a trip up to the Cloisters at the very tip of Manhattan, and you’ll feel like you’re in another world. If you’re in Brooklyn, visit the Brooklyn Botanic Garden in Prospect Park for a world-class experience. Go visit the site of the 1964 World’s Fair in Flushing-Meadows in Queens and take in the spectacular views (and get some fantastic food in Flushing while you’re at it).
Tell us about your favorite moment/ biggest achievement since you started teaching your classes.
Our favorite moments are usually when people take the class and decide they want to open a brewery! We’ve had a number of people take our Brewshop 101 class and decide right then and there that they want to open a brewery. We don’t recommend it for everyone, (opening a brewery is a lot of work) but clearly some people are inspired. Also, we’ve had Charlie Papazian (the guy who basically kickstarted homebrewing in the 70s in the United States) in the store twice, which has been a great honor.
What is your favorite beer? Any drinks/drinking spots you recommend people to try at least once in their lifetime?
Oh, we have so many favorite beers, it’s hard to choose. Can I pick two? The current IPA craze has led to some truly fantastic beers (especially from the folks at Other Half) but we’re in love with Grimm’s Tesseract right now. It’s a double IPA that drinks like a single and is just exploding with fruit aromas and flavors. For something on the other end of the spectrum, I’d pick a Belgian Sour, like Rodenbach. Rodenbach is aged in wooden barrels for up to three years and is a blend of old and new beers. It’s the most wine-like beer you can find and it’s very unique. We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention that our own homebrews are quite delicious in addition to being the freshest beers around.
As far as drinking spots, we’re big fans of Covenhoven, in Prospect Heights (and only a few blocks away from us, which definitely helps). They’ve got one of the best bottle and draft selections in the city and are just really nice people. If you’re into beer, you’ve got to give them a visit.
What are your goals for the future?
We’d love to expand to a larger space and offer even more classes and supplies for those who want to brew.
Any recommendations to someone who wants to pursue their passion asa career?
If you’re really serious about starting a career in beer, consider becoming a Certified Cicerone, which is essentially a beer sommelier. It’s an intensive exam that requires you to have a commanding knowledge of all things beer. You’re starting to see distributors require it for any kind of sales job because they only want folks who know their stuff.
If you’re looking to learn more about process, consider becoming a BJCP (Brewing Judge Certification Program) judge. The BJCP is more focused on styles and identifying brewing flaws. Becoming a judge can be tough and you’ll really need to develop your palate. It’ll definitely make you a more discerning drinker though, that’s for sure.
What does Verlocal mean to you?
Verlocal means being a part of the community and supporting the creative drive we all have inside of us. It’s really a platform for local connection and I’m proud to be a part of it.
Check out Bitter & Ester’s Brewshop 101: Homebrewing Essentials
All Photos by Bitter & Ester
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