“It’s a lot more physical a job than you think it is. I’m a big guy and I’m used to lugging stuff,” Hurst said. “Moving around the connectors, the cleaning, the bottling, the tying of the bows [every bottle of Big Alice has a neatly-tied string in place above the cork], I mean it’s a labor of love, but that wasn’t something I anticipated.”
Another lesson: “It’s a lot of hours. You can spend an endless amount of time. If you’re not brewing, you’re cleaning, and if you’re not cleaning, you’re setting up for retail,” Hurst said. “It takes a lot of dedication, and it takes a lot of support. Anybody’s wife or husband, you’re not doing what you love for the amount of hours that we do it without their support. If you’re thinking about doing it, make sure you have that support up front.”
But even with all that work and the support that comes with it, the brewers at Big Alice are still struggling to make the company profitable. That isn’t to say that things aren’t going well, though. Every beer they brew sells out within about two weeks, and their subscription list is growing as fast as their output capacity can handle.
Along with their regular subscriptions and Friday evening over-the-counter sales – the brewery at 8-08 43rd Rd. in Long Island City is only open one day a week from 5 to 8 p.m. – the brewery is seeing increased demand for small batches of their beers at food festivals and events around the city.
At their one-year anniversary party on Friday, June 20, one of Hurst’s dreams when he opened the space was realized when several dozen craft beer and brewery fans showed their support by purchasing one or more of the nine beers currently available, eating gourmet grilled hot dogs and drinking one of four brews on tap, and just in general enjoying some leisure time and good conversation.
Jose Laya, a Greenpoint resident from Venezuela, was visiting the brewery for the first time after hearing about it through a fellow craft beer aficionado.
“I heard about Big Alice for the first time through this guy I met on Instagram,” he said. “We traded beers a couple weeks ago, and he gave me a Big Alice beer to try.”
After purchasing a bottle of the Black Fig Black Sour Ale, Laya said that since he was introduced to craft beer, his attraction to the tradition has only grown.
“It keeps dragging me more and more,” he said. “It was just casual in the beginning, but the more you try the more you expect, and the more you want to try different things.”
Big Alice is just one of several new breweries to surface in Queens over the past two years, and Hurst said that though they each produce unique beers, he and the other brewers at Rockaway, Bridge and Tunnel, Finback, SingleCut and Transmitter all share common ground in that they love craft beer, and they want to establish places where people can come together and talk about life and beer.
Scott Berger, who manages Big Alice’s sales front, said that much of the early success of the brand has been the result of a strong and loyal social media presence, noting that everyone who attended the first anniversary event found out about it through that forum.
“Doing something like this two or five years ago, it would’ve been very different,” Berger said. “We have 900 Facebook followers and 800 followers on Twitter – it was retweeted seven times, so who knows how far the broadcast goes.”
Eventually, Big Alice hopes to buy out the empty space next door so they can open a full-service tap room that opens onto Vernon Boulevard, but for now they’re focusing on making delicious beers, one small batch at a time.