Mayor Michael Bloomberg credits Brooklyn Brewery with “making Williamsburg hip”. As lofty as that might seem, the brewery was established long before both Brooklyn and craft beer were in vogue, as they are today.
“It was a totally different world,” says Steve Hindy, the brewery’s cofounder. “When we started out with Brooklyn Lager, people thought that we were crazy.” Now the brand is a $50 million-a-year business, selling in more than 25 states and 20 countries. It is the biggest exporter of craft beer in the United States.
Billed as the brewery that brought beer back to Brooklyn, the story of Brooklyn Brewery begins in an unlikely place: the 1980s Middle East. From being kidnapped in Southern Lebanon to witnessing Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s assassination, Hindy was a hardcore war journalist. As a foreign correspondent, he was stationed in Beirut, Lebanon and then moved to Cairo, Egypt.
While in Cairo, Hindy first picked up the idea of homebrewing from American diplomats who had been stationed in Islamic countries like Saudi Arabia or Iran, where selling alcohol was illegal. Fast forward a few years later; Hindy was living in Park Slope, working for Newsday and decided to get into home brewing.
“I started making beer at home and serving it to all my friends and neighbors,” explains Hindy. “Eventually I got together with my downstairs neighbor in Brooklyn, Tom Potter, who was the young banker with an MBA. We put our heads together and raised some money and started Brooklyn Brewery.”
Although transitioning from a war correspondent to brewer might seem like a strange jump, Hindy maintains that it came naturally.
“When you go out to raise money to start a business, you are asking people to write you checks,” explains Hindy. “I’ve heard a lot of people say [when we were raising capital] — we figure if you had gone through six years in the Middle East and survived that, you could make this happen too.”
Besides giving him credibility while Hindy was raising capital, being a foreign correspondent also gave him the commitment and persistence to start his own business.
“Covering a war, you learn to think on your feet and improvise and weasel into places where you shouldn’t be,” Hindy confesses. “You have to do the same thing when you start a business.”
Declining to pick a favorite brew, Hindy compared the question akin to picking a favorite child. When pressed, the brewer admitted that the Oktoberfest beer was on tap in his kitchen at home. The other beer he is most excited about is the “Brooklyn Sirachi Ace”, which has “very distinct lemongrass, verbena kind of flavor, very bright”.
In early 2012, the former correspondent was working on a book about his experiences in Lebanon, but couldn’t find a publisher who was interested.
“The publisher said, oh come on, Lebanon is over,” explains Hindy. “Who wants to read about that?”
Hindy returned to Beirut in 2008, when his daughter was studying Arabic in nearby Damascus, Syria. It was his first time back in the city since he had been a correspondent and he was pleasantly shocked at the change.
“It was completely transformed,” said Hindy of the 2008 visit with his family. During the 1980s, “downtown was just this really scary war zone with the green line. Now it has been beautifully restored. Every now and then you see a bombed-out building like the Holiday Inn but the signs of the war are not as prominent as they used to be.”
In 2005, as the situation calmed down post-civil war, Hindy and his wife who were comfortably living in Brooklyn, thought of buying a place in the mountains in Lebanon but, “then, the Israelis bombed the smithereens out of the place and we kind of thought, oh well maybe we’ll hold off on that.”
Although he is not planning to live in Lebanon anytime soon, Hindy recalls his hectic time there warmly.
“[Lebanon] does kind of get into your blood, doesn’t it?”
Alexandra Talty, a millennial and journalist, is traveling the world on a freelance journalist’s paycheck. You can follow her articles on Forbes by clicking the red plus sign. She is also on Twitter and has a personal blog, The Middle Of Time.