Gabriel Heymann is on a mission to prove that being healthy and having fun are not mutually exclusive. Exhibit A: Smart Beer, New York State’s first organic beer company, based in New Paltz.
The need to combine his active, multi-conscious lifestyle (health-conscious, environmentally conscious, socially conscious) with a convivial, fun beer seemed obvious to Heymann. Out of high school, Green Meadow Waldorf School in Rockland County, he became a drummer in a band that landed in Los Angeles to record a never-released album. “I was definitely part of the night life, and sampled beer all across the country,” he says. But in LA, he grew away from music and was introduced to yoga, meditation and organic eating. “I went to the opposite extreme, from the music life to a more active, healthy life.”
But something was missing in that new life: “the social and fun celebration with friends,” that he enjoyed from his music days. Heymann believed there must be a way to bring these two things together, which he soon realized was beer. “There was no beer that I felt comfortable drinking, that represented who I was,” he says. “I wanted to create the kind of beer that fit my lifestyle.”
So he did. “People were excited about the idea, and I jumped in as obsessively as I do with other things in my life,” he says. He moved back to New York State and immersed himself in craft beer 101, quickly discovering that the small beer business was not so different from the music business. “People could create in their basement and become professional,” Heymann notes. “You have to hustle, door to door, one restaurant at a time, like with a band.”
While he was living in Los Angeles, his family had relocated to New Paltz. It was there that he fell in love with the Hudson Valley. “Growing up in Rockland, I can’t remember ever going north, we only went down to the city,” he says. In New Paltz, he found the natural beauty and the artistic energy of the Valley had “a bit of the West Coast vibe, but also a very ‘New York’ attitude.” He now divides his time between there and Brooklyn.
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It took Heymann about five years — and his own and family members’ money — to get his business going (with angel investors since adding capital), but he is quick to point out that he is not a brewer: He works with a brewmaster to create the recipes, which he contract-brews with the Olde Saratoga Brewing Company in Saratoga Springs. “I know as much as I can [about brewing], but as a consumer I think that has brought unique qualities to our recipes,” he says.
Currently, those recipes number just two. The Organic Golden Ale is brewed with certified organic, non-GMO barley, wheat, hops, orange peel, and licorice root. His Organic IPA also features organic barley and hops. “We will keep our portfolio small for now, but we are developing new beers,” Heymann says. Those most likely will be seasonal brews next summer and winter.
Smart Beer is currently available at many local restaurants and bars, at various Whole Foods and Target stores in the Valley and shops like Half Time and Beer World. It was even served at Citi Field this summer and is now at Madison Square Garden. “It has been interesting to see its acceptance at major venues and their excitement for the first organic beer,” he says.