By Michael Durante Jr.
Photos: Bill Black
Happy Independence Day! Have a hot dog, a burger and some beers—and don’t forget to pack your swimsuit. Oh, and next week is our friend’s birthday. We thought we’d meet up in the city for dinner, followed by drinks, shots and maybe some late-night pizza. Then next weekend we have your cousin’s wed- ding. I heard the hors d’oeuvres spread at this place is ridiculous, plus we’ll have an open bar, champagne and a chocolate fountain. I hope your favorite dress still fits.
Does that sound like summer fun to you?
Absurdity prevails in many of our celebrations. We anticipate them for weeks, planning our best outfits, making our hair and faces and whatever else look just right, even diet in preparation, and then enjoy the occasions by stuffing our mouths with food and drinking til we’re sick. Even everyday celebrations, like happy hour with coworkers on a Friday or going out for dinner with friends, threaten to become vulgar displays all too frequently. Perhaps this is not a problem for you in particular, but, judging by the thousands of articles with titles like “Get Rid of That Holiday Tummy” or “5 Ways to Cure a Hangover,” most people experience the gluttony-versus-modesty dilemma to some degree.
Too often a solution to excess is excess of another sort. Creative dieting, cold-turkey abstention and fasts or cleanses might all have their moderate uses, but there is a reason why most people would categorize the holier-than-thou health nut near the embarrassing glutton, as if in a circular spectrum that meets at either end.
Like me and you, Gabriel Heymann frequently experiences two seemingly conflicting desires: one to celebrate vigorously, the other to observe healthy practices that make our bodies feel good in the long term. Unlike me, and probably you too, Gabriel is doing something about it. His company, Smart Beer, creates organic beers that you can feel good about drinking. Though his idea came only after years of living in extremes, Gabriel now promotes the concept that conscious and conscientious consumption is the key to a healthy lifestyle.
The Rock ‘n’ Roll Yogi
While in college out in Boulder, Colorado, Gabriel Heymann—a Hudson Valley native—joined a band. A drummer and lyricist, Heymann felt he had found an artistic calling and continued pursuing a career in music after graduating. The band moved to Los Angeles, where Heymann would live and work for several years as a professional touring musician. Often glamorized, life in a band can actually be hard on the body. Heavy drinking is commonly a prerequisite, late nights a constant requirement. And have you ever tried to eat a healthy meal at 2 a.m.?
But then Gabriel found yoga. Specifically, a friend introduced Gabriel (and the band—they did everything together) to Mark Whitwell, who with his wild long hair, chilled demeanor and New Zealand accent Gabriel dubbed “the rock ’n’ roll yogi.” Heymann had, like most yoga newcomers, been nervous to try yoga, thinking he would look foolish. Whitwell proved yoga to be anything but intimidating. His classes were inclusive, not separated into beginners and experts, and they introduced Gabriel to a new way of thinking and living. Heymann recounts that after trying yoga, he “felt like [he] learned to breathe for the first time.” Since then Gabriel has spent ten years studying and teaching yoga.
As life went on for him in Los Angeles, Heymann was regularly confronted with the same dilemma. His yoga practice encouraged him to live healthfully, eating well and reducing the toxins he willfully consumed. But life as a professional musician, or really for any young urban person, presents endless temptations to do the opposite. And it’s not like you can or should just avoid these temptations. “A social life is part of a healthy life,” Heymann assures, and “what’s unhealthy is feeling guilty or not hanging out with your friends” just because drinks are in- grained in our social life and most drinks available are the end product of some destructive agricultural practices, not to mention that alcohol is a serious toxin.
If the competition between his yoga mind-set and rock ’n’ roll lifestyle taught Heymann anything, it was that balance is essential to health. While leaving California to return home to New York, Gabriel set out to find and share that idea of balance the best way he knew how: a beer company.
Smart Beer is Born
Last year, as Gabriel Heymann was starting Smart Beer LLC, he felt as if “it was really bringing together everything in my life.” He was an environmental studies major, always aware of how society’s consumer choices affect our natural world. Meanwhile he is now a former rocker, aware of the interplay between drinking, music, nightlife and celebration. Above all he is a yogi, and as he learned in yogi training, “No matter what you go off and do, you’re teaching yoga.”
Smart Beer is New York’s first and only certified organic beer. The brewery offers two varieties: an Organic Golden Ale, made with herbal ingredients including licorice root and orange peel, and their newly released Organic IPA, a must-have for most craft brands. All of their ingredients are grown in the United States and sourced as locally as possible, and the beer is produced in Saratoga. Smart Beer is crisp, with enough flavor to satisfy the craft beer–drinker’s palette while remaining refresh- ing enough for hot summer days. For the kind of shopper who seeks out locally and sustainably produced food, trying Smart Beer would be a no-brainer. Oddly and unfortunately, as the scarcity of organic beers suggests even during this craft-beer renaissance, even the people who usually buy organic food are not buying that many organic beers. At least in our region, Smart Beer presents the foodie drinker with a beer that will satisfy their consumer values.
Gabriel is especially proud of the organic seal his beer has earned. In a world of product labels that say anything to get you to buy, the organic label still means something about the product inside. And, Gabriel insists, drinking Smart Beer makes a statement about you. Like it or hate it, we live in an era of conscious capitalism and voting with our dollars. What we buy really does help state who we are.
Smart Beer is a conversation starter. The beer industry will never align human society with the needs of a healthy global ecosystem, but changing people’s minds actually will.
Talk of the Town
Gabriel has learned that beer is a social product, and that the beer business is all about building relationships. He works with a distributor to get his foot in the door at bars and restaurants across the Hudson Valley and New York City, but a per- sonal touch is necessary for an upstart brand. He spends most days meeting potential new customers and professing the benefits of serving and drinking an organic beer that meets your personal values. Heymann never forgets the personal back- ground that somehow, funnily enough led to him starting a beer company. Smart Beer promotional events are often put on in collaboration with record companies and yoga studios, including an ongoing relationship with the yoga giant Lululemon. New York City on its own is a huge beer market with unending sales opportunities. Gabriel will have no trouble starting conversation after conversation about his unique organic beer.
As Smart Beer grows, Gabriel looks forward to designing the kind of organization that reflects his values, one of balance and fun that embraces the challenge of figuring out how to celebrate healthfully. Most of all, he looks forward to sharing a Smart Beer with you.
For more information, visit www.smartbeercompany.com. █