BierWax: where Craft Beer Meets Hip Hop

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BTBT Connects with BierWax

The BTBT craft beer entrepreneur series continues with Chris Maestro a level 1 Cicerone and former public school  history teacher who at one time oversaw a thriving poetry, dance, and DJ program for teens. These days Chris is combining his passion of digging in the crates with the art of craft beer.

For those who don’t know – what is BierWax?

BierWax is the culmination of many years of dreaming about a way of combining my two passions, hip hop DJ culture - with craft beer. It started as a blog and then around three years ago I began to make concrete steps towards starting a brick and mortar. Now BierWax has a home in Prospect Heights in Brooklyn.  We’re currently starting our renovations and we should hopefully be open in 2-3 months.

Where did the inspiration for Bierwax come?

Seven years ago I hit a spot in Amsterdam called Cafe Duveil.  It’s a hip hop bar that focuses on golden age and boom-bap hip hop.  There were folks in there that didn’t even speak English, but knew the lyrics of Little Brother songs verbatim.

I thought to myself, “Why doesn’t this exist in NYC, the place hip hop was born?”

I think on a subconscious level that experience birthed the idea for BierWax.

It was about 3 years ago when I definitively knew I wanted to create a craft beer bar that would house my vinyl collection.  A close friend of mine showed me photos of a place in Tokyo called Jazz, Blues and Soul (JBS).  JBS is what is known as a Jazu Kissa, a Japanese vinyl cafe.  These spots became big in Tokyo in the late 1960's and remain pretty popular today.  They typically serve either coffee or booze and they house large collections of vinyl records which are played in rotation.  The owner of JBS, Kobayashi-san, mainly plays Jazz, soul, and hip hop.  His diverse musical tastes and impressive record collection has made JBS a destination for music fans worldwide.

From that point it took about one full year to get the plan mapped out and about another to get funding. Then came the real estate hunt.

Locking down a location and getting funding must have been the most difficult part of this journey, can you elaborate on that?

The real estate hunt was grueling and full of let-downs.  Where we are at now basically fell from heaven and happened rather quickly.  Getting the funding necessary to start this dream was also a huge challenge and is something we are still actively working on with our Indiegogo campaign.

What’s been the most rewarding aspect of this endeavor?

People love the vision for BierWax.  There has been an outpouring of support on social media, particularly with the early success of our Indiegogo campaign.  To know people really believe in this idea has been amazing since it was something that was only in my head for so long.

You worked at Finback Brewery in Queens, NY, tell me about that.

Back in 2014 when I was living in Ridgewood, Queens and blogging under the BierWax banner, I reached out to a few start up brewery owners for interviews. Kevin and Basil from Finback responded and I literally jumped on my bike and rode over to their brand new facility.  We spoke for a few minutes and I snapped a few photos of the brewery.  At the time the tasting room wasn’t even built out yet and their very first batch of Double Sess was in the tanks. We bumped into each other a few times after that and I eventually became one of their early customers.  Around that time I briefly worked at Greenport Harbor after completing my Cicerone Level 1 certification, but was eager to pick up some behind the bar experience as part of my BierWax education and overall trajectory. I reached out to Basil about working at Finback and he got back in touch 6 months later.  Shortly after I started I was promoted to Taproom and Events Manager, which was such a critical learning experience for me.

What kinds of beer will you be pouring at BierWax?

We will be focusing mainly on local craft beer. There are so many incredible breweries in NYC now, with the explosion starting 3-4 years ago.  By local, we mean Long Island, Hudson Valley, and upstate as well. We also plan to pour hard to find breweries from out of state when we have the privilege of getting some rare kegs.

What is the most important thing people should know about BierWax?

I think the same passion that has someone get up at 5 am to travel to Brooklyn to wait on an Other Half can line, is similar to the obsession record collectors have with their craft. When a record digger finds a rare record they have been hunting for years, there is a feeling of euphoria.  There are so many parallels between hip hop and craft beer, which I think we are seeing during the past year or two with hip hop themed beer names and labels. I’m so excited to bring these two things to life side by side at BierWax.

Most of us in the BTBT crew are really into Hip  Hop - most certainly myself included. What’s your favorite era of the genre?

I fell in love with hip hop during the golden age, which I would say is between 87 and 97.  This is undisputedly the most prolific and creative era in hip hop history.  Some would argue that pre-87 was the first golden age, but I grew up a generation later so that decade is my golden age. Producers had free-reign with sampling, for the most part, until they were hit with law-suits.  Rappers were multi-dimensional, with lyrics touching on so many topics. I could go on and on with this question.

I couldn’t agree more with that! Who are some of your favorite hip hop artists?

De La Soul, Tribe, Nas, Rakim, BDP, Organized Konfusion and Pharoahe Monch, the Roots, OC, Common, Madlib, Dilla… The list if very long.  I also have favorite albums from the Golden Age.  I’m very album oriented.  We will mainly play LPs at BierWax, with the exception of when we have DJ's spinning.

How do you feel about the direction hip hop has taken over the past 10-20 years?

That’s a loaded question. Ha!  I don’t want to paint myself as a grumpy old man who hates new music.  There are lot of hip hop emcees, producers and DJ's who continue to rep the boom-bap flag, who stay true to the original formula of hip hop. Here are a few that I think are doing a fantastic job still: Apollo Brown, Odissee, Skyzoo, Torae, Joey Badass, Reks, Madlib, Marco Polo, Masta Ace, Termanology, Alchemist, Royce the 5-9, DJ Premier, J-Live, and Elzhi.  I’m sure I forgot a bunch.

Getting back to the beer,  what styles do you gravitate to?

I gravitate towards New England IPA's, but I love me some barrel-aged funk, as well.  I’m not really a kettle-sour beer fan. I’d much rather drink a sour that has been soured in a coolship with wild yeast and bugs or barrel aged. I appreciate the original Belgian sours. I’m also a huge Imperial Stout fan, but I’m a light-weight these days, so just give me a 4 oz pour of that kind of stuff.

There are so many different beer styles that don’t get much hype.  I can definitely enjoy a well-crafted Rauchbier or Doppelbock.  If it’s made well and true to the style, I’ll enjoy it.

Where can people go to find out more about the fund raising campaign?

They can go to our social media pages to find the links there.

Here is the direct link to the Indiegogo Campaign

Where can people find out more about BierWax?

@bierwax on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Also our website is 

Is there anyone that you’d like to mention and/or thank?

There are so many people that helped BierWax get to this point.  First and foremost, I’d like to thank my wife Yahaira who has been my biggest supporter and source of wisdom.  I wouldn’t have a brick and mortar without all of my investors and partners.  My partners have also provided a good deal of valuable insight and perspective.

I had a few mentors in the beer community that I’d like to shout out: Ray from St. Gambrinus, Joe from Hops Hill, and of course Kevin and Basil. Joe, the owner of the now closed The Monk in Ridgewood, was also a huge early supporter.

As both a big craft beer and hip hop head I’m very excited to welcome BierWax into the NY craft beer scene. I’m eagerly awaiting his eventual grand opening and will definitely be there to see it. But he needs our help for this dream to come to fruition.

Check out the Bierwax IndieGOGO campaign today and support local craft beer culture.

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