There are two points of entry to an experience with Talea Beer Co: first, there are the Brooklyn brand’s beers (which can now be found in Whole Foods); second, there’s their Williamsburg brewery and taproom, open from 8AM every day of the week. The latter wouldn’t be the same without the former, as the reputation of a brewery’s products should surmount any in-person experience. Fortunately, Talea exceeds expectation with both. Their bright, flavorful beers align well with their welcoming, optimistic and plant-strewn outpost.
In a space that was leased around Halloween in 2019, Talea’s brewery and taproom did not open its doors until earlier this year. The only exclusively women-owned and -operated production brewery in NYC now welcomes guests to sit in their 2,500-square-foot interior, in its enclosed courtyard with string lighting, or out front at any number of tables. The all-day schedule means that Talea doesn’t just serve their own beers, they also offer Partner cold brew and coffee, Pilot kombucha and New York State wines. For those who aren’t interested in sticking around (though, you should), they also sell these products to go.
Design was taken into consideration long before there was a brand name or debut product. “April 2019 was when LeAnn [Darland] and I quit our previous jobs,” co-founder Tara Hankinson tells us. “It was right about when our first beer, the Sun Up IPA, was ready to be released to market. We had brewed our first batch in another brewer’s facility. In tandem, we were going to package it, start selling and start fundraising. The goal with that beer was to be something that jumped off the shelf, that was gender neutral and you understood thought was put into the design. We wanted the cans to look like they were all a part of a family, where each has its own personality and color palette.” Darland and Hankinson worked with London-based IWANT Design to bring these cans to life—and it worked.
The success of the beer allowed them to develop the brewery and taproom, for which they enlisted the firm Carpenter + Mason. “Sarah Carpenter was both our architect and interior designer,” Hankinson says. “She did everything from architectural drawings to all the finishing and furniture. The tiles, she laid-out by hand.” These tiles, visible upon entry, are from Helen Levi.
Carpenter’s work aligns with the vision behind their product branding. “Our cans have so much personality. The brand is very playful and approachable. Those are two of our tenets,” Hankinson says. “Our mantra is ‘easy to love.’ Easy-to-love beers in a space that’s easy to love. Sarah translates these values and our love of color, without it being overwhelming. We’ve all been to places that try too hard and are over-branded. Ultimately, we wanted our beer to shine.”
As they serve their beer in draft format, they imagined a place that was calming and understated—where people could focus on the beer in front of them. They also wanted the “ability for someone who doesn’t like beer to walk into the space because they wanted to try it and leave saying ‘I found something that’s for me.'”
Flights are crucial to this, and at Talea there are two on offer: hazy or sour. If a guest orders one four-beer flight, there’s also the option to add a fifth beer from the other category. Of course, there are also the wines and a selection of beer cocktails that push the bar forward on this beverage class. “The idea was to challenge the notion of what craft beer is,” Hankinson says. “We use it in place of a juice, as a mixer,” aligned with base spirits that include gin, a liquors from New York Distilling Co.
Their hazy IPAs stand out for their balanced body and expressive hops. “We do a lot of judicious sourcing of hops from family farms. We even do lot selection,” Hankinson says, adding, “We are making beers that someone who has no idea what a hop is can enjoy, too.” The Sun Up is their staple and everything else on the roster is in rotation: single IPAs, doubles, light-bodied sours and fuller-bodied sours.
Behind the taproom, they have 6,500 square feet of office space and brewery production. They mill grain on site, then shift it to the mash tun. There’s a boiler room in the back, a kettle and the whirlpool, where a lot of their hops are added. “That’s where the beer gets cooled down. You get the fruity aromatics and the juicy flavors, rather than the bitterness of some IPAs,” Hankinson explains. They also have six fermentation vessels, which each hold 40 barrels.
“We have the capacity to get up to 5,000 barrels a year with this system,” she says, but they intend to double or triple this. “Our production depends on demand and right now there’s a lot of demand. We’re trying to keep the tanks full all the time. We were able to start brewing in early February, so that we were able to open with beers brewed on premise.”
“When we started, we had this hypothesis that there were people who hadn’t tried craft beer or who had tried a really bitter IPA and were like, ‘I don’t really like craft.’ They move on to Blue Moon or Corona or a hard seltzer,” Hankinson continues. “In order to get exposure to those people we needed to get a foothold in the beer scene in New York first. We’re an expensive product. We make high-quality beer. So we started selling at craft beer boutiques and beer bars. We had to win over devout beer drinkers who care about where the hops come from and the hopping rate and how many IBUs are in the beer. Those customers do like our beer. They were our first customers.”
Perhaps one of the Talea’s most important attributes, and one that sets them apart from many, is equitable hiring. They have a single team of staff who are trained to do everything. “Instead of hiring a dishwasher and a hostess, we have 23 people who do all of those roles. They each rotate through their shifts, from kitchen duty to brewing to hosting. The get cross-trained. The idea behind this is that beer is a male-dominated industry and there aren’t that many entry-level jobs in the industry. This is one way to get people exposure and it really challenges assumptions because beer is manufacturing and it requires a lot of physical strength so we’ve had to look at how we can combat this.” Further, everyone is paid the same, and all tips are split evenly—whether somebody is facing customers or behind the scenes in the brewery.
“We hope that it becomes a cornerstone of the neighborhood,” Hankinson says of their Brooklyn corner. “We’re looking to be a part of someone’s lifestyle, from dogs at the outside tables to strollers inside to date nights.” She also says that the borough, and its sturdy brewery scene, has been supportive, not competitive—collaborative even. “There’s a lot of camaraderie,” she says. But among all that Williamsburg has to offer, Talea is different and the thinking behind it is one of longterm legacy.
Images courtesy of Sydney Butler