Root + Branch Is Growing a Brewery on Long Island

Root + Branch’s first offering, a double IPA called Dead Man On Holiday, is a delight. • Photo courtesy of Root + Branch

As bartenders at Tørst in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, Anthony Sorice and Ryan Mauban served beers from some of the world’s premier breweries. Now they plan to open their own brewery, called Root + Branch, on the South Shore of Long Island, where Sorice is originally from.

Until then, Root + Branch will be, well, rootless. Sorice, who lives in Williamsburg, and Mauban, a California native now in Manhattan’s Washington Heights neighborhood, recently started their company as contract, or “gypsy,” brewers, who rent time and space at established breweries to produce and package their beer. Popularized by thriving international brands like Mikkeller and Evil Twin Brewing of Copenhagen and Stillwater Artisanal of Baltimore, all of which have leveraged the business model into existing or soon-to-be-built physical locations, gypsy brewing requires no expensive infrastructure. Rather than immediately invest in a facility, which “can easily cost like a million dollars before you blink,” Sorice said, the budding entrepreneurs will first realize their recipes by utilizing excess capacity at other breweries. “It grants us the opportunity to be completely hands on, which is very important to us, without financial or any other kinds of stress,” Mauban said. “We want to make sure everything is right about the beer before anything else.”

Root + Branch’s first offering, a double IPA called Dead Man On Holiday (the name comes from a line in “Darkness at Noon,” the Arthur Koestler novel), is a delight, easy to drink and easy to enjoy. Juicy and refreshing, with soft carbonation and vibrant flavors of citrus and tropical fruit, it was created early last month at Thimble Island Brewing in Branford, Connecticut, in partnership with Twelve Percent Beer Project, the contract-brewing arm of distributor Twelve Percent Imports. The day was an “emotional rollercoaster,” Sorice, who  has been brewing commercially for four years, most of that time as the head brewer at LIC Beer Project in Long Island City, Queens, said. “Twelve-plus hours of learning the ins and outs on a new, at least to us, brewing system.”

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We spent the day with our pals @fbbrewery brewing up a NE-style Pale Ale w/ Satsuma Mandarin juice and zest, and citra/galaxy hops. This beer is inspired by two breweries that have had a profound impact on Joey and myself. I met @joeypepperm back in the summer of 2012 at a bottleshare at @beerstreetny (back when it was still a bottle shop. Fun fact: the bottle of Isabelle Proximus in their bathroom was consumed by us at the close of that tasting). Our paths crossed again, behind the bar of @torst_nyc, as Joey, Ryan and myself found ourselves among the bar’s founding/opening team. As overly passionate about beer as we are, we both found ourselves brewing professionally. It’s been one hell of a ride, and I can’t wait to see the outcome of this endeavor. #craftbeer #beer #brewing #newyork #brooklyn #longisland #meaningfulcollaboration

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Mauban will handle the company’s operations. A Certified Cicerone, he assisted with the beverage pairings at Luksus, the tiny restaurant in the back of Tørst that was the first to earn a Michelin star without a wine menu, and managed the beer program at Lupulo, a Chelsea restaurant from Michelin-starred chef George Mendes. (Both have since closed.) Mauban was selected by Wine Enthusiast as one of the Top 40 Under 40 Tastemakers of 2017 for his work at the latter. “It was nerve-wracking, for sure,” he said of the brew day. “But we’re really excited with the outcome and can’t wait to share it.”

In the weeks after making Dead Men On Holiday, Sorice and Mauban visited four New York breweries—Hudson Valley, Sand City, Threes and Folksbier—to create collaboration beers in celebration of Root + Branch’s launch. “Not only are they our good friends, but they’re big influences too,” Sorice said. All five brews will be featured, on draft, in a string of events starting tonight at the Haymaker Kitchen and Bar in Chelsea and commencing Sunday at Tørst. “Now we’re behind the bar in a different way,” Mauban said.

There will also be a limited quantity of Dead Man On Holiday released in 16-ounce cans at the launch events as well as at Thimble Island on Saturday morning. Over several of them at Sorice’s apartment, the partners spoke about their influences, what kinds of beers they want to make, and where they are looking for a space. These are edited excerpts from the conversation. 

Edible Long Island: I haven’t encountered too many beers that reference an anti-communist novel.
SORICE: [Laughs.] Before I landed my first professional brewing job at Threes Brewing, I fully intended on completing a Ph.D. in Soviet history. A few days before defending my master’s thesis, I got the job.
ELI: How long had you been brewing at that point?
SORICE: Three years. I’ve been brewing for about seven years now, professionally for four.
ELI: What got you into brewing?
SORICE: I was traveling a bit to brewery releases for barrel-aged sour beers and mixed-fermentation styles. From there I started reading brewing books, as I became interested in learning more about their history, and how they were brewed. That sparked my interest. I started homebrewing with two close friends that I met as a bartender at the Black Sheep Ale House in Mineola.
ELI: And you met Ryan as bartenders at Tørst.
SORICE: Yeah, we shared shifts for about four years. We’re both total beer nerds, into the trading game and all of that jazz. We also have similar palates.
MAUBAN: I never really thought about it until now, but that comes out to about 20 hours a week, for over four years. I think we got along because we’re both passionate about beer and pretty chill, low-maintenance people. This partnership absolutely would not work if we were high-strung all the time.
I think we each had separate dreams of opening our own spots but over time we realized that we developed skills sets that compliment each other. Anthony decided to pursue brewing professionally full time and cut back his shifts at Tørst. Soon afterwards, I took a job as beer director for Lupulo and assumed more managerial duties. So we’ve seen the beer industry from different sides: Anthony from a production perspective and me from a purchaser-retail perspective. It should make us more thoughtful about the beer we put out.
ELI: Where are you looking for a space?
MAUBAN: We’ve looked around the Huntington area for the most part. But we came across a potential space in Lindenhurst that we both like. It’s about 5,000 square feet.
SORICE: Wherever we end up, the plan is to have a 10-barrel brewhouse with 100 to 120 barrels of cellar capacity to start.
MAUBAN: We intend on staying small.
SORICE: If anything grows, it’ll be the focus on longterm, mixed-fermentation projects. Some people open breweries with goals to get out of the brewing aspect as soon as possible, whereas my goal is to never leave.
ELI: When are you aiming to open?
MAUBAN: In a perfect world, late this year. But sometime in 2019 is a more realistic estimate.
ELI: Several successful gypsy brewers are in the process of opening their own breweries, and locally: Evil Twin, Mikkeller, Grimm Artisanal Ales, Stillwater Artisanal. Have you spoken to any of them about their experiences?
SORICE: We never intended on gypsy brewing. For the past year, our major focus was on solidifying our funding to build the brewery. After figuring that out, we started meeting with a bunch of town officials across the island and browsing around for spaces. It’s been a slow process for us, as we were both working full-time jobs to support ourselves. The opportunity to gypsy brew arose late this past summer, and we contemplated it heavily. We didn’t pull the trigger on it until early December. It’s certainly made things easier for us now, in that I can get the beer into people’s hands.
MAUBAN: We’ll have some sort of brand awareness by the time we open our facility.
ELI: What kinds of beers do you plan to make?
SORICE: While we’re in the gypsy-brewing phase, I’ll focus on IPA and double IPA, as we have the means to package them in both can and keg with Twelve Percent. At the moment, we’re only aiming to produce one or two batches a month. When we have our space, I’ll brew a diverse range of styles that require a considerable amount of attention and time.
ELI: Such as?
SORICE: Berliner weisse and saison are my favorites. I plan to referment these beers on berries and stone fruit grown on the East End and allow them to undergo a third fermentation in the bottle. The bottle-conditioning phase on mixed-culture beers is mysterious and lengthy. The beers undergo some weird phases; some are matured and ready for release in three months, while others can take longer than a year.
ELI: What breweries have influenced you?
SORICE: Hill Farmstead, undoubtedly. I think their early works changed brewing in America. My first visit to Tired Hands, back in 2013, was also a transformative experience for me. I’m not sure this is an accurate way to describe their beer, but I see it as focused, nuanced experimentation.
ELI: What’s the beer that has affected you most in your life?
SORICE: That’s tough. I will say that my all-time favorite brewer is Phil Markowski. I spent a considerable amount of time on the East End with family growing up, and have been going to the Southampton Publick House for as far back as I can remember. I had my first craft beer there, and fell in love with Phil’s specialty releases: Homage, Peconic County Reserve, Black Raspberry Lambic, Berliner Weisse, Scotch Ale, Russian Imperial Stout.
MAUBAN: That’s your secret stash.
SORICE: I have a vertical of the Russian Imperial Stout spanning from 2008 to 2015, French Country Christmas Ale from 2010 to 2015, and various other specialty beers dating back to 2001. We plan on cracking them at the grand opening, so come hang with us.
ELI: What about you, Ryan?
MAUBAN: For me, it was 2 Turtle Doves from The Bruery. It not only struck me as unique but ultimately led me down a path of a career in craft beer. It was brewed with cocoa nibs, toasted pecans and caramel malts so when you drank it, it really did taste like biting into a Turtle candy. Up until that, I was a Corona-Heineken guy. But 2 Turtle Doves blew my mind and I went through close to two cases of it. It also got me thinking, If this brewery is just down the street from me, I wonder what other breweries are out there for me to try? Once I went down that rabbit hole, there was no going back.
ELI: Outside of beer, what interests you?
MAUBAN: I have two young children, so the better question might be: “What interests did I have before most of my free time disappeared?” I’m a pretty big NBA fan. My best beer trade ever was about $90 worth of beer for a pair of tickets five rows behind the Knicks bench, worth $1800.
SORICE: I still keep up with European history and philosophy. In school, I was studying Soviet history with a focus on American intervention in the Russian civil war. It’s a complicated area of study. My interest in that stems from my time spent studying with Paul Mattick Jr., the former chair of the philosophy department at Adelphi University.
The name of the brewery, in a way, pays homage to Paul and his father, Paul Mattick Sr. Root & Branch was a libertarian socialist journal-literary group that he and his father started while the former was a graduate student at Harvard. As a young student, Paul’s intensity toward his studies and teaching was something that deeply struck me. As a graduate student, Paul welcomed me to continue studying alongside him. My days off from Brooklyn College were spent attending all of his courses at Adelphi, and various panel discussions and forums that he participated in the City regarding the successes and pitfalls of the Occupy Wall Street movement. He gifted me a few of his old personal copies of Root & Branch, and they’ll find a home in our future brewery.
I’m also very much into skateboarding and ’70s rock, man.
In an email earlier this week, Sorice described each of the four collaboration beers in detail.
Self-Fulfilling Prophesy
w/Threes Brewing (Brooklyn, NY)

3.5% ABV
Brewing something hoppy with Threes would have been a disservice to Greg Doroski, the former head brewer, so we went the peculiar route, like Greg. I began my professional brewing career at Threes, and it was here, under Greg’s mentorship, that I learned to “hate” brewing IPA. Thus, we whipped up a tiny old-world smoky sour, as close to the German style as we could. It’s light bodied and features moderate smokiness, delicate tartness and soft cereal grain character.Powers, Roots, and Radicals
w/Sand City Brewing (Northport, NY)

Double IPA
8.5% ABV
Kevin Sihler, the head brewer and an owner, and myself both have an affinity for hop-forward beers. I think we both brew them well, and we naturally came to the decision of brewing a double dry hopped double IPA that showcase our favorite hops: Galaxy, Nelson and Motueka. The beer has a very soft bitterness and is bursting with tropical fruits in the aroma and flavor.An Outstanding Contribution to the Historical Process
w/Hudson Valley Brewery (Beacon, NY)

Sour IPA w/lactose and blueberries
6.0% ABV

Hudson Valley is really pushing boundaries with its sour IPAs, and I’ve been a huge fan of their lower-pH hoppy beers since co-owners and brewers Jason Synan and Mike Renganeschi were both brewing at Bacchus. We were toying around with the idea of brewing a Berliner weisse and splitting the batch to dry hop one portion, and condition the other on fruit. As we continued to develop the recipe, the idea of marrying fruit with hops came to fruition, and we felt that the sour-IPA base would best serve this purpose. We constructed a foundation around Mosaic hops. From there we accented it with Citra and Galaxy hops; added milk sugar for a bit of sweetness and to balance the acidity; and we conditioned the beer on blueberries to bolster Mosaic’s dank blueberry notes.

I See You
w/Folksbier Brauerei (Brooklyn, NY)

Pale Ale w/satsumas
5.6% ABV

Head brewer Joey Pepper and I met back in 2012, at a Hill Farmstead bottle share. At the time, Hill Farmstead and breweries like Tired Hands were messing around with incorporating citrus juice and fresh zest into some of their hop-forward beers. I’d say they impacted the two of us equally, as we both began brewing citrus beers at home. We knew early on that we wanted to brew a pale ale, and we both had an “ah-ha” moment at the discussion table when figuring out the aroma and flavor we were going to shoot for. We decided to brew this with satsumas, for their pungent flavor and oily skin. Hop-wise, the beer is primarily hopped with Citra hops, but was also battered with Columbus, and whirlpooled with a touch of Galaxy. The title of the beer is a play on the ICU, or International Citrus Unit, calculation that Hill Farmstead owner Shaun Hill implemented to roughly quantify the amount of citrus oils he was incorporating into his beers.