Real Life Renaissance Men: The Beer and Wine Gurus of the East Village
Take a second and think about how many people you meet and interact with in a given day. Now realize that every one of them has their own unique story. Wouldn’t you like to know more about the people in your community? This week on The Vitruvian Man we take a look at Zachary Mack and David Hitchner; two modern renaissance men making a difference in their community. Let’s see what makes the magicians behind Alphabet City Wine Co. and Alphabet City Beer Co. tick. The only thing that would make this interview better is if we could send you a craft beer or glass of wine to enjoy while you read it.
David (left) and Zach on the back porch of ABC Beer Co. enjoying a pint.
1. Can you tell us how you both met?
Z: It's a pretty random story. David and I both went to the same college, had mutual friends, and went to the same parties, but we never knew each other. I moved to New York in 2007 right after graduating and began looking for roommates on Craigslist. David was the last email I sent out of about 50, and he was one of 3 people who replied to me. He invited me to move into my first New York City apartment, and the rest is history!
D: Zach responded to a roommate posting I had put up on Craigslist, and had mentioned that he had attended McGill University, my alma mater. When I looked him up on Facebook, I found that we had a number of mutual friends, including my ex-girlfriend and some of my very closest friends. I made a few calls, and then gave him the room. I believe he took it sight unseen, which was probably a good thing because it was one of those closet NYC apartments.
2. How did that become ABC Beer Co.?
Z: I spent the years of the economic slump working for David at In Vino, an Italian wine bar and restaurant he owned over on 4th Street. I was freelance writing at the time, but I was also learning my hand at how small businesses run: David had me managing a very popular restaurant, and the trial by fire upped my knowledge of wine, food, and overall customer service.
I eventually got a solid desk job and ended up pursuing a media career for a few years when I suddenly realized that I absolutely hated where my life was heading. I was in Boston visiting my sister, already dreading the idea of walking back into a terrible job on Monday morning, when I got a phone call from David casually asking me if I'd like to try opening a craft beer bar and bottle shop. I think I yelled "yes!" before he even finished the sentence. It was all I needed to get the ball rolling. And now, almost three years to the day after that conversation, here we are!
The glorious list of craft beers on tap. We'll take one of each.
3. You guys are pushing the New York craft beer movement. Can you tell us what’s going on with the New York craft beer scene?
Z: New York City (and New York State) is such an exciting place for beer right now for so many reasons. I grew up north of Boston, where beer culture has been pretty advanced for a decade, but it was always the West Coast that had been so on top of the industry since basically day one. The culture of craft beer in this city was something that was just beginning to take off when I moved here for all the simple reasons: People wanted to drink good beer, not the mass market lagers they'd seen their parents drinking growing up. Supply met demand and people started speaking with their wallets, and now our generation has an understanding of beer (and food in general) that appreciates solid, fresh, well-made, and often local products.
New York City specifically bodes well with this kind of thinking. We're a city of people who have particular, discerning tastes, and we rarely (if ever) settle for anything but the best. Brewers have been popping up all over the state (and even in the Five Boroughs these days) to meet the exploding demand. It used to be just dad and grandpa that slugged back cans while watching football: Now, it's men and women from all age groups appreciating how versatile of a beverage beer really is.
4. What are some of your favorite breweries right now?
Z: There are so many popping up that it's hard to keep track! New York City should be very proud of the guys who are brewing right here in the Five Boroughs: three places I've been obsessed with lately have been Finback (in Queens), Singlecut Beersmiths (in Astoria), and Other Half (in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn). They're all incredibly talented, innovative brewers.
My favorite Upstate operation is hands down Peekskill Brewery. They've been blowing up for the past year and a half and it has been amazing to see them grow. Their head brewer Jeff O'Neil is incredibly talented at coming up with recipes and thinking outside the box. I spend many a weekend riding MetroNorth to get up there and sample their new stuff.
Nationally, I'm really into Maine Beer Company (Maine), Firestone Walker (California), Elysian (Seattle, Washington), and Stillwater (Maryland).
D: I've always been a big fan of Stillwater, and it doesn't hurt that they are based in my home state of Maryland!
5. Zach, how do you decide which beers to feature on tap?
Z: Darts and a bulletin board.
Kidding! Since we have rotating lines, picking beer comes down more to what's available at the time. Specialties will come in that you can't really say no to, and I like to pepper those in with seasonal stuff and old standbys that the staff and our customers love. If a brewer comes to town and wants to feature his stuff, we like to put up a couple kegs, have the brewers come in for a meet and greet with customers, and hang out with them while getting to know their beers.
Zach in his natural habitat, ready to start slinging beers.
6. During the summer you team up with the sailing yacht Ventura. Can you tell us about that and what you have in store for this coming summer?
Z: The sails we did with Ventura last year were the highlight of my summer by far. This year, we've got a good feel for what we can accomplish, so we've been partnering with breweries to do sails featuring new beers that are being released, rare offerings, and in some cases the brewers themselves so they can talk about what we're drinking. Basically, we're upping our game big time, and everyone is going to love it.
I can't wait 'til I'm holding my first beer and looking up at Lady Liberty again!
7. David, at Alphabet City Wine Co. you recently started stocking some high quality spirits. Do you see a resurgence in craft spirits and how will that affect our consumption of spirits?
D: I think the resurgence in craft spirits goes hand in hand with the liberalization on liquor production laws, the resurgence of craft breweries, and the tremendous growth of cocktail bars. Laws made to combat home production during Prohibition have begun to be modernized, which has allowed people to start distilling on a small scale without the worry of getting thrown in the clink. Craft breweries have also been essential, as you can see a lot of the West coast brewers like Anchor, Rogue and many others making fantastic spirits. Scotch, after all, is essentially distilled beer! Finally, all these great spirits would be lost on a lot of people if they were not passionate mixologists to not only to mix the drinks, but also get people excited and informed about these new products.
David on the throne. The seat of distinction at their wine tastings.
8. A big part of our philosophy at Bedford & Broome is the idea of the modern renaissance man. What does the term modern renaissance man mean to you?
Z: I think for certain people it evokes the thought of someone who sews his own clothes while butchering his own meat and speaking fluent Portuguese, but I think it's simpler than that. To me, it's anyone who knows what he likes and makes his own decisions to come up with how he leads his life. Everyone from guys who throw off the shackles of a 9-to-5 to sail around the world to someone who decides for himself what kind of man he is could be considered.
9. Aside from running the two locations, what else do you like to do in your spare time?
Z: I try to stay on top of my writing and I take freelance work whenever I can fit it in, but I spend an inordinate amount of time riding around the city on a Citibike, eating at ramen shops, getting random certifications (I'm a notary public and soon to be Cicerone), trying to become a better cook in my tiny kitchen, writing and then deleting screenplays, trying to find any way to get to a beach, and drinking coffee. Isn't living in New York City basically a hobby in and of itself?
10. If you could have any super power, what would it be and why?
Z: An ex-girlfriend always used to tell me that my super power was that I never get hangovers. It's a pretty heavy responsibility having such an incredible power already, but if I could add another one to my arsenal, it would be the ability to talk to dogs. I love dogs so much.
Is this real life? A vast array of bottled beers and quality food.
A big thank you to Kyle Dorosz for the beautiful photograhy.