90. A Brand Grows in Brooklyn (& Hops Across the Pond)
Robyn G. Weise's Windrush Takes London and Launches Avenue & Road Beer Supply; Very Un-shocking Founder's News; plus tarot for all that extra hard work you've been doing.
A Very Special Smoked Beer Called Windrush Blossoms Into a Brand
When I was thinking up the 10 beers that would constitute my “best of 2022” list for Craft Beer & Brewing, one beer in particular was especially a no-brainer. Windrush was a smoked helles-style lager with jerk spices, brewed by Wild East brewer Robyn G. Weise as a collab between Wild East and Robyn’s own brand Kicks & Kegs. In addition to this beer being so special and, frankly, just simply delicious, it’s named for an important and expansive backstory. Knowing how much I loved Windrush, Robyn was excited to share that she has launched a new brand, Avenue & Road Beer Supply, anchored by Windrush. This time around, Windrush will be instead be available in London, but fear not: I know we’re all going to see big things from Robyn and Avenue & Road Beer Supply. The story behind the beer is fascinating, as is the story of how it grew to be its own brand with a beer dropping across the pond, so I’m thrilled to share a Q&A to get into it all with Robyn.
Take me back to the very beginning. How, essentially, did you come to the place in your life where this beer and this brand would spark?
Robyn: I studied hospitality and culinary arts in university, that was a furthering of my passion for food that started at home. My grandmother, she is the one who inspired me to go to deeper in recipe creation and the world of food. In our home, you’d get a number of dishes in one day—traditional Jamaican, French, traditional English…and she really liked to experiment with desserts. A lot of folks like me with a Jamaican background, they eat Jamaican and Caribbean foods, but we ate everything. I was really young when I first ate caviar, and I always ate truffles…French omelettes, croissants from Harrod’s, baguettes my grandmother would get on day trips to Paris…When I was figuring out my passion, and what I’d go to school for, I was really into food…this was when chef culture felt like it was especially blowing up, restaurants were really opening up constantly in New York City—that was always a thing, of course, but in the late 2000s, I felt like restaurants were popping up like sneakers were coming out. I was a high schooler with an after-school job and money to go out and try these places and try foods I wanted to discover on my own.
And so how does that build a bridge into beer specifically?
Robyn: I was working at restaurants during my schooling, and got a job at a Yardhouse. Long story short, I had to go through intensive beer training in order to get hours on the floor. That was the driver of getting me to the education portion of craft beer. I had a little bit of a beer-learning foundation at culinary school…but the main time I learned beer and the nuances of different styles was at Yardhouse. A lot of people took the info and did the bare minimum with it but I really took it and ran with it. I found it so intriguing, I loved that there was a new range of flavors and styles I’d never had before that I could pair with food and create unique experience for people. I started finding ways on my days off to try more beers. I was living in Florida so I would check out Wynwood Brewing, and some pretty decent craft beer bars. [B]elgian and classic English styles…I was trying whatever was available and new and exciting to me.
You first brewed Windrush at Wild East—how did you land in that brewing role there?
Robyn: I’ve been working in craft beer for almost a decade now, so I’ve had a number of different jobs. I’ve been a buyer, I’ve been bar manager—I stepped away from front-of-house around 2019. I was a packaging assistant at Interboro, that was my first back-of-house role. From there I was really interested in learning and doing more, so I expressed an interest to Interboro to go further and step into a cellar position, but that wasn’t available at the time…I started looking for another spot, and in the NYC Women in Beer [online] chat, someone mentioned Wild East was looking for bartenders…They didn’t even have a space open yet…I was hired in January of 2020, and then we wall know what happened—there was a bit of a respite before I did come to work. Fortunately, they were selling beer, people were drinking beer, and there was work to be done. I was hired as a bartender but [cofounder Brett Taylor] was doing everything by himself so I said, “hey, I’ve done some production stuff and I’d be happy to learn more.”
How did the idea for Windrush come about?
Robyn: In 2021, Barrel & Flow—I was on the mailing list through Kicks & Kegs—they said they were looking for brewers for the festival…I brought it up to Brett [and cofounders Lindsay Steen and Tyler March]…and pitched that my company Kicks & Kegs and Wild East, we could collaborate and go pour there. [After deciding on 2022,] I had a long time to think about what I wanted to brew. I knew from the jump I wanted to brew a lager, but I wanted it to have some nuance, be something different, with a little bit of my own identity to it. I wanted it to be representative of the types of flavors that represent me. So in 2022, Brett said, “do you know what you want to do?” I wanted to do a lager, and I wanted it to be smoked. I was having more of these smoked beers, and thinking how delicious they are, they’re so lovely…it’s this savory experience…I have a savory tooth and will always choose savory over sweet.
[NYC beer community member and bartender] Robin Fowler shared a can of Aecht Schlenkerla Helles with me, he knows how much I love smoked beers. I tried the beer at home one Saturday night and it was delicious, crispy, light, the color’s beautiful—and something occurred to me. What if I put spice in this, what if I put pepper in this? I went to my cupboard, got some cayenne out, put a little in the glass, tasted it, and my eyes widened: this is actually really good. I shared some with my partner, she said that it really is quite good. So when I presented the beer style I wanted to brew with Brett, a smoked lager with jerk spices, his eyes widened—and then he said, “okay, let’s do it.”
[I took time to decide] what the best representation of jerk spice in the beer would be. I consulted none other than my mother. I asked her about the actual core ingredients in jerk seasoning? I knew Scotch bonnet peppers are in there—known as habanero here—I knew pimento is in there, I knew there’s thyme and scallions, I knew there’s garlic. She broke down those ingredients, and based on what I know about brewing, I was definitely not going to put garlic or onion in beer. I wanted to go straight to the aromatic portion, the peppers. That’s the main identifier of jerk.
What is the story behind Windrush—what does that speak to?
Robyn: I only had two names in mind for the beer and I landed on Windrush—the beer was hitting in July of last year, which is significant because Windrush Day is at end of June, June 22, and in August it’s Jamaican Independence Day. So July is smack-dab in between these two cultural holidays that we recognize, whether in the UK or not, in my family. I was having a group chat with my mom and my aunts, and I said, “what do you think of name Windrush?” Everyone loved it. The story behind it is my grandparents and the rest of the Windrush generation went to the UK after World War II because they were invited back to the UK to help rebuild the country. People of that migration were called the Windrush generation because that was the name of the vessel they traveled on…My grandparents were the first ones to go over of my family—my great grandparents too, went around the same time.
Windrush—this is a cool name, it sounds good, it’s a one-word name, it relates to the flavors of the beer and the time of the year, and it’s culturally significant.
How did Windrush’s 2022 release evolve into this release in the UK this year, and into launching your own brand, Avenue & Road Beer Supply?
Robyn: When the beer came out last summer it was shared with many folks, one of which was Celeste Beatty, owner of Harlem Brewing Company. She did a collaboration with Brixton Brewing Company, and did a festival there in the beginning of August. She got some of [Windrush], and was really excited about it, being my first recipe I came up with, my first beer concept and my design, all my creative vision. Celeste has been my mentor for years, she’s been instrumental in encouraging me to continue on this journey of craft beer. So she said, “I have to bring this with me to London.” Brixton is my hometown, so when she said she had to bring some, going to Brixton, I said, “bring as many as you can carry!” She shared Windrush with many folks in the community. They were connected to the name of the beer, the label…they tried it and loved it…When people connect to the beer on the taste and the story, that’s huge for me.
There was interest and intrigue from these organizations that tasted the beer and I happened to be on a trip there at the end of August. Celeste put me into contact with these people, and they asked if I would be interested in making this available in 2023, for the 75th anniversary of Windrush. I recognized it was the right opportunity to go onto the next part of my craft beer journey, which is more ownership, and ownership in the production aspect. So from then ‘til now it’s been this journey—which is a calm way of saying it, it’s been a lot of stress and a lot of work making this happen. I’ve gotten connected with Brixton Brewery and they’ve brewed a pilot batch and they brewed it to my recipe and packaged it, and now it’s out in the world—it will be available in June in London for people to enjoy. plans, availability, etc.
What’s the vision for Avenue & Road Beer Supply—what do you want the future to look like for your brand?
Robyn: My vision for Avenue & Road is to be a lifestyle company and beer is one of the products. What i envision for the company as a brick-and-mortar is a beer cafe space: you can enjoy beer, you can enjoy non-alcoholic drinks, caffeinated drinks…and you can have the community space, and work, read books…there are plenty of places that incorporate everything that I just said, but my branding is going to be based on this juxtaposition of Brooklyn and Brixton, two places i consider to be my home. With that being the identifier, I expect it will connect to people based in London, they might have relocated from NYC or somewhere else, and also with people based in NYC.
I see Avenue & Road as a continuation of Windrush. My grandparents left Jamaica in their late teens / early 20s and went to London, and didn’t know what life was going to be. They said, “we are going to go and work, and see what happens, and embark on this new adventure.” I see the parallels of that in my own life. I moved to New York City when I was young, [with] my mother who [faced] a lot of uncertainty. She wanted to do something new and have a different experience. My life has been a pretty much constant back-and-forth: yes, i’m British and that is my culture, and NYC is where I grew up, so I have these two experiences that make up who I am and I’ll never give up one for another. I can’t say I’m American because I’m not, or that I’m a person who grew up in London because I’m not. But my at-home culture is completely British, and different from kids I grew up with. Everyone’s experiences are different, and Avenue & Road encapsulates that. People migrate and people grow every single day. That’s a story I think will resonate with anybody who’s ever left a place that was their home to make a new home in a new place.
Founder’s: Can’t Say You’re Back on Your Bullshit if You Never Got Off It, I Guess
Some quick parting shots for this issue here, because I can’t bring myself to send this out without acknowledging the latest Founder’s news. The brewery has now permanently closed its Detroit taproom, stating that this is due to pandemic pressures, but it all suspiciously comes at the same time as yet more allegations of racism, discrimination, and sexual harassment. If you haven’t yet, read Jessica Infante’s reporting over at Brewbound. The environment and the treatment coming from leadership, and from white staff in some situations, is, to be blunt, fucking despicable. But shocking? Ha. In my opinion, Founder’s is one of the breweries who enjoyed one of the easiest sweeping-under-the-rug motions from the general beer-buying public after their racism was first outed in 2019. Did we really ever see Founder’s fall off “best beers of the year” lists and their ilk?
I’m singing that same, old song again here, and yes, I know you know—that we all know—it’s infuriatingly tough to get consumers to give a shit about basic rights and decency being fostered by breweries “as long as they make good beer.” But that very argument is so confoundingly stupid because there are thousands of other breweries that make good beer and are, as far as we know, not blatantly and practically unapologetically racist, so…the mind, it boggles. And will this change anything? Founder’s had to close this taproom, but will they see any sales impact motivated by this as opposed to the general nature of the market right now? We’ll see, but I’m not optimistic.
CBC and Me…And All of You (A better title here just never happened)
CBC is finally just about here and folks, I have mixed feelings! Pros: the thing I am most excited about is meeting irl some people I have admired from afar for so long, some of whom I’ve gotten to speak with via the world wide web. From fellow writers to brewers and DEI advocates, getting to connect in person feels like the biggest and most valuable takeaway for an event like this. And, on a personal level, going to CBC for the first time has felt like a next step in my career. Frankly, the financial strain of going is just that, a strain, but I know I’m lucky to be able to do it and I’m honestly excited to make the investment in my career—it’s a rare showing of confidence in what I do for me. I’m looking forward to not only meeting people because they’re awesome, but to grow my own pool of sources, find story ideas, etc.
Cons: as Jen Blair has written again in her brilliant newsletter, there has still been no acknowledgement from the Brewers Association that their Craft Brewers Conference is taking place in a state so actively oppressive and hateful toward LGBTQIA+ people. I have weird feelings for sure about attending a conference that’s like, “yay, Tennessee” right now. (I also have a connection in Florida on my way there, like I’m doing a Dangerous Bigotry Tour of America.) I know so many of us are going to gather and learn on our paths to making the industry more equitable, and there is plenty of good to come from being there together, but, you know…less than ideal! The second con isn’t so much a con but just the only other negative emotion playing out for me ahead of leaving on Sunday, which is ~social anxiety.~ I can just about make it through one networking event, can I do four days of it? Lol, we shall see, friends, we shall see. If you see me, say “hi” (and by the way, one of the unforunate symptoms of my social anxiety is I am often so nervous and awkward I don’t always recognize people I should right away! It doesn’t mean I don’t remember you or think you’re the cat’s pajamas!), and if you have social anxiety, too, let’s just be open about it together and laugh and breathe, k? Go team!
This week, I pulled the Ten of Wands.
Wands is the suit of communication, intuition, and travel (whoa, two of those things are very CBC vibes), and this card, as you can tell from our stick-toting dude, speaks to taking on extra work and extra responsibilities, carrying burdens, and completing tasks. In some area of your life, you might be pulling some overtime. That could be literally speaking, at work, or it could mean your kid’s been home sick so you’ve been caring for them while working, or you’ve been helping a friend with something after work, or you’ve been taking extra classes—or you’re about to be taking on these added responsibilities—whatever it might be, it’s a full plate and a grind. But what’s been getting you through it, or what will get you though it, is that it’s temporary and comes with some reward, from simply more money to the fulfilling feeling of helping a loved one. If you are feeling it right now, know that there is absolutely an end in sight and it’s an end that will make you know all your extra work was well worth it. You can do this, you will do this, and you will enjoy the benefits.
There’s also a possibility that you never even consciously, purposefully took on more work and yet you’re feeling so burned out and stressed. If this is you, take a beat and analyze everything you’ve got going on and your routine. Is there anything unnecessary that isn’t serving you or your goals or your wellness? Is there a task that’s just feeling like a dead end or unfulfilling? Where can a different approach to time management help? Or delegation? Or asking for help? There’s some clutter lurking in your schedule, and it could immensely help your work, your path toward your goals, and your own happiness to investigate and change accordingly. I would take away from this card that, overall, there’s a lot of work to be done and you’re doing it, but carving out time to enjoy life is just as important—reaching task endpoints and/or reaching out for assistance will help you do so.
Let’s shake off the weight of extra responsibility and do some of that life-enjoying with the Beast of Burden Red IPA from Yee-Haw Brewing. This one seemed like a great pick for a few reasons: it’s a red IPA, I repeat, a red IPA! We love red IPAs, don’t we? It’s also a pretty good song! And, Yee-Haw is in Nashville and having some CBC happenings, I believe. I could only find the beer on Untappd, but there’s always this tee if you’re feeling really passionate.
This Week’s Boozy Media Rec
Doing something a little different this week and linking to something that’s not at all boozy and is actually a long Twitter thread. But the WGA strike is just occupying every extra ounce of my attention I have to give when not writing about beer right now. Even if you are not obsessed with the goings-on of this industry like I am, there’s no denying how influential what happens with this strike could be for labor in general and for union efforts. I stumbled upon this thread around midnight last night and when I was done, I realized I’d just been standing in the middle of my kitchen, frozen in fascination, if you will. So many of the seeds of 2023’s unsustainable industry model were actually planted during the last strike in 2007-2008. Streaming has made it impossible to survive for TV and film writers (the filmmakers behind A24’s top-grossing film, “Everything Everywhere All at Once” had to keep delivering food on the side, apparently), and it all started during the last strike. Wild stuff. Solidarity with the WGA!
Ex-BEER-ience of the Week
I’d be remiss to not pair my delightful Windrush-drinking experience here with this week’s Q&A. I’m so happy this beer is back out in the world, even if it’s in the UK this time. Crisp, refreshing, subtly grainy-sweet, a touch savory and spicy, with pleasant, quiet smokiness—she’s a beaut.
Until next week, here’s Darby sitting at the bar at Iron Duke Brewing in Ludlow, Massachusetts.