Last month I attended the New York Craft Brewer’s Festival, located in downtown Syracuse at the historic Landmark Theater. Sponsored by the New York State (NYS) Brewer’s Association, this was a beer fest not to be missed. Featuring NYS breweries only – hand poured by the brewers and brewery employees themselves – this particular Saturday evening was like no other. With so many breweries in attendance (many of them Brew Central members), I wanted to know more about some of these places and what Brew Central means to them.
I spoke with Jason Kissinger, head brewer at Cooperstown Brewing Company while sampling their delicious offerings. Established in 1995, the brewery has seen some changes in ownership (in 2014 Northern Eagle Beverage bought them), but that hasn’t stopped them from churning out the brewery’s original recipes from well-known brewer Alan Pugsley, as well as making newer brews. What I found interesting is that Cooperstown Brewing is one of 22 breweries in the U.S. who use an open-top fermentation system known as the Peter Austin system. Their beer profile leans towards traditional English styles, with the occasional cask with modern hops and new takes on old world styles.
What Jason notices about today’s consumer is how much more informed they are about craft beer and styles. “It forces you to make sure you’re producing a high quality beer at a consistent level.” How do customers find Cooperstown Brewing Company, located about five miles away in Milford? While Cooperstown proper is known for the Baseball Hall of Fame, the area is gaining a following with those curious about craft beer, wine and cider. Brew Central has definitely helped put this small brewery on the map, with its “Stories on Tap” video series on its website and YouTube channel. What Jason appreciates about Brew Central is its commitment to the many beverage areas of Central New York, which “has its own character, great people, land and farming.”
Carrie Blackmore, President and Co-Founder of Good Nature Brewing Company in Hamilton fondly recalls Brew Central’s beginnings. She sits on the Madison County Tourism Board, which is a part of the Brew Central campaign. The newly launched Central New York Food & Beverage Trail highlights 24 of Madison County’s local businesses that offer deals to visitors who bring their trail passports. Through efforts like these, Brew Central offers an array of services to the participating breweries. For Good Nature, Brew Central did photo shoots, marketing and advertising to attract customers to their farm brewery. For a small town like Hamilton, these types of resources have greatly assisted local microbreweries to attract traffic.
Having recently celebrated their third anniversary, WT Brews in Baldwinsville is a shining example of growth born out of necessity in a very short period of time. The first farm brewery in Onondaga County, WT has seen three taprooms and unforeseen growth in its still early stages. I spoke with Rich Pinkowski, Brewmaster at WT. Mike Johnson, owner of WT and long-time coworker and friends with Rich, decided to start a brewery together – Mike had the farm land, and Rich was homebrewing and wanted to continue sharing his passion with others. Since its inception, WT has brewed 53 different beers, working with different producers of malts and hops to experiment with a variety of these ingredients. While they’ve made quite a few beers, their core remains the same – IPA, amber ale, Scottish ale, nut brown ale and a smoked Polish beer named Grodziskie. Just as the craft beer movement has grown throughout the country and New York State, WT’s taproom is a visual reflection of that growth in a short period of time. When they first opened their doors, the taproom was a bar made out of a door in a garage. Even so, the place was packed every weekend, much to their surprise. Shortly thereafter, they found a modest storefront location in the village of Baldwinsville, which was also just as packed on the weekends. A few months ago, they moved to a much larger space near the B’ville Diner. Its loyal followers continue to pack their space, which Rich and the crew at WT like to keep “as much of a craft beer experience as you can have in Baldwinsville.”
What Rich loves about the brew scene in Central New York is the camaraderie (and not competition) among the various breweries in the area. “We’re always trying to send people to other local breweries and vice versa. We’re really excited to see the growth and want to support other breweries and producers. Syracuse has always been such a craft beer oriented area, but we haven’t always had the breweries to support the interest. Now, it’s incredible to see people brewery hopping all weekend long.”
Since WT opened, Rich has also noticed a much more educated customer than before. More people are aware of the local beer scene and craft beer in general. Consumers have less general questions about beer; their craft beer vocabulary has expanded and they ask for more specific things when ordering. Rich is hopeful that this area will be a craft beer destination (with the help of Brew Central) in the country. “The culture is here, and we hope that the beer will support that culture.”
Founded in 2011, Binghamton Brewing Company has also had similar experiences with growth, beer culture in upstate New York and the customers they see. Owners Kristen Lyons and Jason Gardner started with a desire to volunteer at brew fests and have turned that passion into their brewery in Johnson City. As Chair of the Farm Brewing Committee of the NYS Brewers Association, Kristen states that the number of breweries in the state has grown from 50 to 350 from 2011 to 2016 (142 of them are farm breweries). This incredible jump is just one example of the demand for not only craft breweries in the state, but the support for local ingredients for consumption. Kristen is excited about this growth, especially in the Binghamton area, which now has six breweries where not that long ago there weren’t any. Kristen does acknowledge that as breweries grow, Brew Central’s growth has immensely helped member breweries to put them on the map. “Brew Central promoted for us during a time when breweries weren’t as popular or well known. Brew Central has been fantastic to us. Their production staff came and did the [YouTube] video; took out a full-page ad for us in Craft Beer & Brewing magazine. We are so fortunate and thankful that Brew Central highlighted us.” Their marketing has most definitely had a direct impact – new customers who go to the taproom visit because they have either seen the video or the ad in the magazine. “To have someone advocate for what you do and tell people about it, you can’t buy that. Brew Central is a fantastic organization who promote craft beverages as a whole, and that is phenomenal.”
To learn more about Brew Central, click here. Cheers!