Gabriel Heymann led several lives before he founded New York state’s first (and only) certified organic brewery. He traveled as a musician for years, getting paid in bar tabs and living the DIY life. Then, while recording what would be his band’s last album in Los Angeles, he got into yoga and meditation—and lived with his teacher for four years. At first blush, transitioning from those arguably divergent paths into microbrewing might feel like an obtuse next step. But in retrospect, it all makes sense.
“I wanted to create things that fit my lifestyle,” he explained.
Heymann was looking for something that merged his love of good times and the camaraderie found in the indie music scene with the holistic nature of an all-organic product. Something that he could enjoy without compromising his health-conscious, active lifestyle. And thus Smart Beer, New York’s first certified organic beer, was born.
This was about seven years ago, and as he got into craft brewing, Heymann noticed that that the beer world was undergoing the same sort of transition he’d witnessed in the music scene back when he was on tour—there existed a burgeoning indie alternate universe just below the surface of the mainstream, one that used authenticity and pride as currency. A crowd of upstarts bucking the macro trends, developing a hyper-local scene dedicated to the love of the craft? Craft beer was familiar, fertile territory.
He’d built his musical reputation one show, one band, one fan at a time. And he knew he
could grow Smart Beer the same way. One beer, one bar, one drinker at a time. As he developed the beer, he also knew organic would be integral to Smart Beer’s DNA.
“Looking back, it was kind of crazy to do both at the same time,” he says of having to navigate the twin legislative nightmares of state-by-state liquor regulations and the never-ending process of organic certification. “But that was the only path.”
It took a while to both perfect the beer and to check all the boxes associated with a certified-organic product, which dictates that 95% of its ingredients have to be organically produced without any GMOs, synthetic fertilizers, or pesticides—and you had to prove that the other 5% aren’t available in sufficient quantities or qualities in organic form. And those non-organic ingredients also have to meet the Federal Agriculture Department’s list of allowed and prohibited substances.
If it was easy, as the saying goes, then everyone would do it.
Smart Beer was the first organic beer brewed in New York, where Heymann now lives, splitting his time between Brooklyn and the opulent farmlands of the Hudson Valley. As with a band passing out their demos, he still hits the metaphorical pavement, visiting bars, distributors, and stores, spreading the word.
And it’s working.
Smart Beer can now be found throughout New Jersey and New York—both in Manhattan as well as upstate and on Long Island. It’s also made its way onto the shelves of Whole Foods, a coveted retail spot where the all-organic label resonates. True to his roots, Smart Beer also works with musicians and sponsors music festivals to bring the beer to like-minded consumers in a way that’s authentic, not just a gimmick or a boilerplate marketing scheme.
“It’s for us, by us,” he said. “And we’re extending our network of community.”
Right now Smart Beer offers two ales out of their Saratoga Springs brewery, the Golden and an IPA. The former delivers a pure, clean, crisp flavor profile ideal for taking the edge of a hot summer afternoon. But the IPA might resonate more with core beer aficionados. Don’t expect a hop bomb; it’s smooth, with hints of pine and grapefruit citrus, and—with a 6.4% ABV—is dangerously drinkable.