Instead of you following in your dad’s footsteps as an accountant, it looks like he’s now following in yours.
Yeah, he and my mother are working at the brewery every weekend. If you’d asked them three years ago how they thought they’d be spending their Saturdays, they last thing they would have said would be “pouring beer in a brewery tasting room.”
You’ve got a strong experimental streak. You brew sour beers, barrel aged beers—these are exciting, but they’re hardly middle of the road, and may not be money makers. How do you decide what to offer?
I tell people I still have the mentality of a homebrewer. A lot of the beers I make, wine-barrel aged or the sours—were the beers I wanted to make as a homebrewer, but it just wasn’t practical. I couldn’t buy a 60-gallon as a homebrewer! It’s easier now on a larger scale, even if economically it may not be the smartest thing.
I’ve always been intrigued by the lambics, microbial fermentation, wild yeast, and I can play with those ideas now that I’m calling the shots. While we do have a bottom line, if no one’s telling me not to, I’ll experiment. We bought an 800-gallon oak tank from Napa, CA, filled it up, pitched it with Brett and lactic acid bacteria and, who knows? A year from now we’ll probably be bottling something out of that tank.
We have a winery on the same street as us, so we have an almost unlimited supply of wine barrels just emptied that day.
New York allows brewers to have what they call a brewer’s retail permit, so we can give out samples and we can sell growlers and 750s. The cuvée, the one that won the gold medal, we only made 80 cases of it this year, and we sold 70 of them in 75 minutes. So some beers may not make economic sense, but when we hit a winner, we make enough to sustain the process.
We sell an enormous amount of beer out our tasting room, which I’d never even factored into my original business plan. We don’t bottle our beers except for a small amount of the specialty beer. Now our draft sales have reached a reasonable level, but the tasting room got us through our start-up.
You’ve come a long ways in a very short time.
Yeah, I had to. When you’ve put everything you have into it, including your family’s money, you have to learn pretty quickly.
From high school brewing adventures to your first gold medal took you how many years?
Let’s see, 12 years. We won that gold medal in our second year of professional brewing.
What do you do when you’re not brewing?
Nothing! I love skiing and I haven’t skied in three seasons.
What music do you listen to in the brewhouse?
The Grateful Dead (laughs). You can ask anyone at the brewery tasting room multiple weekends, they walk in and that’s what they hear. I only caught them live at the very end, but I prefer their seventies stuff.