Big new Empire Brewery in Cazenovia rolls its first beers out this week

CAZENOVIA, NY — Beer from one of New York’s biggest craft breweries should begin to appear on store shelves and on bar taps through the state starting this week.

The Empire Farmstead Brewery, a spinoff of the Empire Brewing Co. brewpub in Syracuse’s Armory Square, began brewing in the last few weeks. The first batches have been held in conditioning tanks. Bottling began last week. Deliveries are getting underway.

“We are ready to ship some beer,” said Tim Butler, Empire’s director of brewing operations.

A tasting room with a farm-to-table kitchen is expected to open later this month.

That will offer visitors the chance to see the brewery, sample (and purchase) beers and dig into burgers, pizzas, barbecue, house-made sausages and more. The bar and dining area are spacious, and there’s also an outdoor patio, paved with bricks from the old Haberle Brewing Co. on Syracuse’s North Side.

The 40,000-square-foot Empire Farmstead Brewery is located on 22 acres off Route 13, just south of the Lorenzo State Historic Site at the southern edge of the village of Cazenovia. The property includes a working farm, which will grow hops and other ingredients for both the beer and the food. It’s a farm brewery under New York Law, which means it qualifies for tax and regulatory benefits by using New York-grown ingredients.

Beers currently under production, in draft and 6-packs, are White Aphro, a Belgian-style wit or wheat made with lavender, ginger and lemon peel; Skinny Atlas Light, a German-style kolsch; Black Magic Stout; Strikes Bock, a Maibock (light-colored) lager; Slo Mo India Pale Ale and East Coast Amber.

All but the Amber will be distributed statewide, Butler said. The Amber, formerly just called Empire Amber, will be more of a Central New York regional brew, at least to start. The Strikes Bock is draft-only for now, Butler said.

Other Empire brewpub beers, like Deep Purple and Golden Dragon, may go into production in coming months, probably packaged in 4-packs, Butler said.

All the beers originated at the Empire brewpub at 120 Walton St., but had to be “scaled up” for a bigger system, Butler said. “That’s really been the challenge — learning the new system and scaling the beers up,” he said.

Breweries are typically measured by the the barrel size of their brew kettles — the amount of beer that can be made in one batch. (A barrel is 31 gallons, or two full kegs).

The current Armory Square brewpub, with a 7-barrel brewing system, has long reached its capacity of 1,200 barrels a year. It will continue to make smaller batch beer for the Armory Square location, which opened in 1994, and for the Cazenovia tasting room.

The Cazenovia brewery uses a 60-barrel system and is expected to produce 30,000 barrels in its first year, and could reach 70,000 to 100,000 annually in a few years, Empire owner David Katleski has said.

The new brewery also has larger fermentation and storage tanks, allowing it to further scale up a batch to as much as 240 barrels, Butler said.

Read More…

Syracuse’s Empire Brewing Co. Mashes Up a Collaboration for Export to China

Empire Brewing Co. today announced a collaboration that it hopes will allow it to make a product uniquely suited to export to the world’s largest consumer market.

It’s a beer made with with tea produced in China’s Shaanxi province, which Empire eventually hopes to export back to China.

The beer, named Two Dragons, has a mellow, woody aroma and flavor, and finishes with a definite sweet tea-like taste.

For now, the beer is being brewed on a limited basis at Empire’s brewpub in Armory Square. By the fall, it should be under production at the Empire Farmstead Brewery, soon to be under construction in Cazenovia.

The idea grew out of a trip to China taken last year by Empire owner David Katleski, who joined a delegation sponsored by CenterState CEO, a local business development group.


Beer Tourism Getting a Lift in Central New York

Everyone knows about the wineries of the Finger Lakes; now there’s a big push to make their neighbors to the East famous for breweries. An initiative called Brew Central has mounted an aggressive campaign to highlight breweries, cideries, distilleries and even hop farms in the rolling hills Madison, Onondaga, Broome, Schoharie, Otsego and Oneida counties

Using NY’s farm brewery license, ushered into law last year by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, as a springboard, the campaign aims to bulk up agritourism in the area, even to reinstate the hop industry in Madison and Oneida counties, once the nation’s largest hop growing area.

Since the legislation passed last year, close to 50 farm brewery licenses have been granted.

Farm Brewers

Good-Nature-05Good Nature Farm Brewery & Tap Room in Hamilton was one of the first to take advantage of the new license. Founded two years ago by the energetic young couple, Matt Whalen and Carrie Blackmore, Good Nature is moving fast. They went from a 2-bbl system to 7-bbl, then opened a taproom in Hamilton’s townsquare across from the Colgate Inn (a great place for dinner if you’re visiting, with a more than decent tap list). Now they have plans on the drawing board for a brand new brewery with a 20-bbl brewhouse to be built on the edge of town. As their name suggests, Good Nature plans to be as green as possible.

The use of locally grown hops and grains, as required by the farm brewery license, is right up their alley.

Justin Behan at Green Wolf Brewing Co. in Middleburgh, in Schoharie County is brand new — just now opening his doors. Justin had plans to go into organic farming, but fell in love with brewing. With the farm brewery license he can combine both his passions on his 3-bbl system.

Not so new are Larry and Kate Fisher at Foothill Farms in Munnsville. They’ve been dabbling in hop growing for several years and now have six acres devoted to a dozen hop varieties. Hands on is an understatement for Foothill: Larry, who runs an electrical business, built his own 20-ft-tall hop harvesting machine; Kate, a technical coordinator in the local school system, makes all kinds of hop related goodies on sale in their farm/homebrew shop: beer glazed almonds and walnuts (Good Nature beer brewed with Foothills hops); hop infused shampoo; and various hop jellies and jams.

critz3Critz Farms is no stranger to agritourism. Matthew Critz, a former civil chemical engineer, bought his Cazenovia farm 20 years ago. Along with his wife, Juanita, he began growing Christmas trees as a cash crop; then he harvested pumpkins and pick your own apples; then maple trees and syrup. Don’t forget a restaurant to cater to visitors, and a corn maze.

When he installed a heavy-duty cider press, things began to get really interesting. Now he produces a range of award-winning hard ciders using both imported European cider apples as well as his own, under the Harvest Moon label; visitors to his farm/tasting room reach 5,000 a day during harvest season.

The well-established orchards at Beak and Skiff in neighboring Lafayette took notice. They now produce their own ciders as well as vodka and gin distilled from their own apples that have been grown commercially for generations. A brand-new visitor center sits on their hilltop property selling all kinds of craft beverage related products.

Cazenovia is sort of a poster town for Brew Central. In addition to Critz, the town hosts a winery (Owera Vineyards) and an about-to-open distillery (Life of Reilly) — and as Madison County tourism Exec. Director Scott Flaherty says, Empire Farmstead will become the fourth leg of Cazenovia’s craft beverage stool.

A “natural” outgrowth of the 20-year-old Empire Brewpub in Syracuse, owner David Katleski, has plans for one of the largest farm breweries in NY State so far: A 60-bbl JVNW brewhouse with an estimated 60,000-bbl annual production; eight of the farm’s 22 acres devoted to barley, rye and wheat crops and six to hops; as well as a 32,000 sq ft visitor center.

Katleski, who co-founded the New York State Brewers Association, and was instrumental in the passage of the farm brewery license, expects to break ground on the Cazenovia location this month (Aug).

saranacinset2Utica Some breweries may never be able to take advantage of the farm brewery license, which currently requires 20% state-grown ingredients, and as much as 90% after 2023 — they are simply too large. In central New York, one brewery spreads its wing like an eagle over the surrounding territory — the venerable FX Matt Brewing Co.

Founded in Utica in 1888, Matt is into its fourth generation. The brewery has seen the seasons change — from its inception and days of rapid growth around the dawn of the 20th century, to weathering Prohibition, to struggling against national breweries as post-industrial Utica was turning into a backwater, and finally embracing the craft brewing revolution with their Saranac brands. The brewery has continually reinvented itself and with a view to the future is helping fuel a renaissance in Utica.

Their Thursday night summer concert series at the brewery has become legendary and turned Varick Street into a veritable nightlife hotspot. “We finish the concerts at 8 p.m. so you basically have a captive audience of 2,000 people who want to go out somewhere,” said President Nick Matt.

Chris Talgo, who opened his Nail Creek Pub next door to the brewery six years ago, said Matt has been a great neighbor. He also said that a fire that destroyed the brewery’s packaging room five years ago, might have had a silver lining. “I think it enabled them to upgrade a lot of their equipment,” he said.

Notably, Matt has invested a lot in lab equipment including a $100,000 spectrometer to study the beer aging process. One new toy in the brewhouse that Rich Michaels is particular proud of (his title is Quality Innovation Manager) is a horizontal decanter which strips liquid from hops making their whirlpool much more efficient. Another toy is a 2-bbl pilot brewery that Matt took on from Good Nature when they upgraded, although Michaels said, “they wouldn’t recognize it now.” New blood to the brewery comes in the person of Nick Matt Jr. who brings marketing savvy in his return to the family business with his father and uncle, Fred Matt, CEO.

Talgo has been part of the Varick Street renaissance. He says he bought the first part of his current operation for $2,000 seven years ago. While his 3-bbl brewhouse is currently on hiatus, he has found growing success in his increasingly locally-sourced menu. I can attest the chicken, cappicola, red pepper sandwich was fantastic and if you don’t want a side of fries or slaw, you can order a side of Utica Club beer.

ADK-Distilling-05At the other end of Varick Street, past the pubs and pizza places, is Adirondack Distilling Co. Jordan Karp, a former political advisor, has invested in high-end microdistilling of gin, vodka, bourbon and white whisky. His spirits are all distilled from corn, which he says is a “a little more expensive and a little more finicky.” But there are three main reasons why he does so: “One, it’s gluten free; two, the flavor — it makes a slightly sweeter spirit; three, there’s a good local source.”

He will be making a whiskey for Good Nature using their wort. Good Nature will sell it in their tap room.

Indeed, farmer brewers license holders are able to cross-promote selling each other’s beer, wine, ciders and spirits in their shops.

The Craft Act

There’s good news coming from Albany for non-farming craft brewers also. When Gov. Cuomo signs the Craft Act, as he is expected to do, all craft breweries will be able to sell by the pint at their breweries and tap rooms, not just serve samples.

While some are now questioning the advantages of now applying for the farm brewery license. NYBA Director Paul Leone says most who have applied for the license are in it for the opportunity to source locally, not just to sell beer by the pint.

Said Katleski, “Brewers used to be the ugly step-child of the wine industry.

Not any more.”

“This will provide an important revenue source for small breweries,” said Nick Matt. (The Governor’s) just trying to make it easier to do business in the state.”

And that’s a good thing.

– Tony Forder, Ale Street News

Empire Farmstead Brewery in Cazenovia Will Be Among the State’s Largest Craft Beer Makers

When the Empire Farmstead Brewery opens (as planned) next year in Cazenovia, it will have its own bottling line, a European-style beer hall and a farm that will grow much of its own hops, some of its own barley and many of its other beer ingredients.

It will instantly find itself among the largest breweries in the state (out of about 160 total), possibly even among the Top 5 largest New York craft brewers.

The Cazenovia brewery, to be located on a 22-acre farm on Route 13 adjacent to the Lorenzo State Historic Site, is a spin-off of the 20-year-old Empire Brewing Co. brewpub in Armory Square.

The Cazenovia brewery will have a brewhouse capable of producing 60 barrels of beer in a single batch. A barrel is 31 gallons, and is the standard measure for a brewery’s size and output.

“It’s going to be lot of fun,’ said Empire Brewing owner David Katleski. “It’s going to be the biggest challenge of most of our lives.”

New York’s largest brewery, by far, is the Anheuser-Busch plant near Baldwinville, which is capable of producing four 1,000-barrel batches at a time.

It’s followed by Rochester’s Genesee (a 900-barrel brewhouse), and Utica’s Matt/Saranac (500 barrels). Then comes Southern Tier near Jamestown (a total of 160 barrels in two brewhouses), and Olde Saratoga/Mendocino in Saratoga Springs (110 barrels).

At 60 barrels, the Empire farm brewery will slip in ahead of such recently opened 50-barrel brewhouses as Ithaca Beer Co. Schmaltz Brewing Co. in Clifton Park (near Albany), Davidson Bros. in Queensbury/Glens Falls and Brown’s Brewing Co. in Hoosick Falls. Captain Lawrence is a 40-barrel brewery in Westchester County.

Empire’s Cazenovia brewery will be twice as large as Syracuse’s 30-barrel Middle Ages Brewing Co., and nearly 9 times bigger than the 7-barrel brewhouse at Empire’s Armory Square brewpub.


Truly Local (and Sustainable) Craft Beer from Empire Brewing Company

You’d think brewing great beer that people love would be enough for any brewer. But not for David Katleski, founder of Syracuse, New York-based Empire Brewing Company. Katleski wants his beer to do more – from reducing his brewery’s environmental impact and supporting local businesses, to creating jobs and problem-solving the way to better beer. And he’s managing to do all of that, along with consistently answering to consumers who demand tasty beer (and who may not care about anything else).

Starting where most people would end – with a successful and beloved brewpub in a popular downtown area, Katleski has not only moved to expand his company over the 20 years it has been in business, but has lowered its impact via a number of innovative programs, from composting everything that comes out of his restaurant’s kitchens to sourcing food from over 60 local farmers (using a program the company set up for this purpose).

Empire recycles their waste materials, including water and grains, and they even buy their energy from New York state sources – something Katlestki spearheaded himself. “I live right near Fenner Wind Farm outside Cazenovia and one day I’m looking at Fenner and wondering why I can’t buy my energy from them. And I know that Niagara Falls generates electricity – I couldn’t understand why I was buying renewable energy from the Midwest,” says Katleski, who helped kick off the idea of an energy option from Blue Rock Energy that uses all New York state-produced energy. It’s how he powers Empire and is now an option for others as well.


VIDEO: Congressman Meets with Syracuse-Area Craft Brewers

Congressman Dan Maffei meets with Syracuse area craft brewers

A few years ago, Kevin Czebiniak’s plan to leave well paying jobs in sales behind and start a craft brewery in his Camillus garage would have sounded a little crazy – but lately craft beer is a fast growing industry in upstate New York. Czebiniak is excited for the opportunity to grow Westcott Brewing Company and says he is on track to be a licensed brewery in New York sometime in the next 3-6 months.

“We’re know for our basketball team but I want us to be known for our beer too – all over,” said Czebiniak.

On Monday, Czebiniak and other Syracuse area craft brewers met with Congressman Dan Maffei at empire brewing company in Syracuse. Twenty years ago their were six breweries in New York State. Now there are 140. Thanks to Empire Brewing Company, Middle Ages Brewery, Saranac, Brewery Ommegang and others, Central New York has become nationally recognized for its craft beer scene. Maffei and the brewers talked about reducing the tax burden on small breweries and how to promote local beers.

“We’re creating jobs, we’re increasing the tax base, we’re creating agri-tourism,” said David Katleski from Empire Brewing Company. “It’s kind of like where the wine industry was 30 years ago.”

Maffei cited Central New York as one of the real brewing success stories in the U.S. and across the globe. He said he wants to be sure the industry can continue to grow.

Czebiniak is waiting to be licensed so bars can serve Westcott Brewing Company beers but is so busy preparing that he barely sleeps. Brewing is a complicated process, not unlike chemistry. Czebiniak’s used a whiteboard to keep track of his formulas until the equations to spilled over onto the office windows

“It’s a lot of work but I think we finally found the recipe that we have – which is actually bottling right now,” said Czebiniak.

Brew Central’s Syracuse Hosts Debut Craft New York Beer Fest

Some 400 craft beer fans packed Syracuse’s Landmark Theatre Nov. 16 in a New York-exclusive event that featured 24 breweries – including five Brew Central partners – serving up some 48 samples.

Good Nature Brewmaster Matt Whalen chats with a fan.
Good Nature Brewmaster Matt Whalen chats with Ken Hebb, owner of St. Lawrence Brewing Co. in Canton, N.Y.

The New York State Brewers Association’s Craft New York Beer Fest hoped to create a tasty and educational experience for partakers.

“That’s our thing: All the brewers are here. You can meet them and talk to them,” brewers association Executive Director Paul Leone said.

The debut festival of the 10-year-old New York brewers collective keyed in on that interaction, said Tim Butler, brewmaster at Brew Central’s Empire Brewing Co.

“Our movement is just starting to gain steam here,” Butler said, comparing the New York’s beer scene to well-established brew communities in California, Oregon and Colorado. “We have to educate the consumer that our beers are just as good if not better than other parts of the country.

“We’re not competitors here. When we join forces like this, we’re one voice,” he said.

Breweries – a small sampling of the New York State Brewers Association’s 140-plus members – represented just about every part of the state, including Central New York. Likewise, the Craft New York Beer Fest drew brew fans from places near and far.

Ryan and Darcy Hampel of Ottawa, Ontario, were extremely pleased with the variety of beer – a majority of which they’d never tried – and the opportunity to talk brew with the men and women who make it.

“The U.S. has the reputation of being the place for craft beer,” Ryan Hampel said. “It’s very cool to see what the trends are down here.”

Brew Central partners Brewery Ommegang, Empire, F.X. Matt/Saranac, Good Nature and Middle Ages brewing companies proudly poured their popular samples. Syracuse craft brew pub Kitty Hoynes also served up food samples along with a number of other local vendors.

The New York State Brewers Association will use the Syracuse fest as a catalyst for future events hosted all across the state, Leone said. The association targeted Syracuse for the inaugural New York brew celebration because of the excellent beer culture here.

“We get great beer here – a lot of people are surprised,” Butler said. “We’re just as well-versed as any other big beer city.”

The Craft New York Beer Fest appropriately capped off the sixth annual Syracuse Beer Week, one of the longest running such events in the country.

New York State Brewers Association Sponsors Craft New York Beer Fest at the Historic Landmark Theatre in Syracuse

The New York State Brewers Association is proud to announce the first in a series of yearly beer festivals to take place on Nov. 16, 2013, at the historic Landmark Theatre in Syracuse, N.Y. The Craft New York Beer Fest will bring together 24 New York Breweries from across the state featuring up to 48 hard to find and award winning beers. To make this very special event more exclusive, Syracuse First, a local not-for-profit that involves a network of locally owned businesses, has come together to supply food sampling and pairing to go along with each brewery attending.

“As the craft beer industry around the state of New York adds more breweries each week, combined with the continued interest in beer festivals, we felt there was a great opportunity to close out Syracuse Beer Week with an exclusive beer and food pairing event that was both educational and unique”, said Paul Leone, executive director of the New York State Brewers Association. “When choosing a craft beer, it’s always important to think local first, so to add to that theme, we added food pairing to this event which will be put together by Syracuse First, whose mission is to bring together local businesses to support awareness and education in our community.”

With more than 140 craft breweries in New York state, the 24 that will be pouring samples will come from every corner of the state. The Craft New York Beer Fest will also feature all 7 medal-winning breweries at this year’s Great American Beer Festival which was held last month in Denver Colorado.

“We brewers have a sort of bond; a brotherhood.  There are so many other beer festivals that focus more on quantity then quality.  This festival focuses on the CRAFT of hand making beer and the NYS brewers will be here to support the NYSBA’s efforts” said Tim Butler, Brewmaster of Syracuse’s own Empire Brewing Co.  “It’s one thing to simply have a festival and pour samples, but the NYSBA decided to raise the bar and hold an event that brings together unique hand crafted NYS made beers that are more rare and hard to find in Central NY” says Paul Leone. “We really want to make this Craft New York Beer Fest more than a drinking event, we want to make it a pure New York State craft beer experience.”

The event will take place 5 to 8 p.m. at the Landmark Theatre located at 362 South Salina St. in Syracuse. Tickets are $40 if purchased in advance and $50 (if available) the door. Tickets can be purchased in Syracuse at the Empire Brewing Co., Middle Ages Brewing Co., The Blue Tusk, and the Landmark Theatre, or they can be purchased online.

For more information on this very special event including breweries attending, please go to

New York State: America’s Former Hop Capital

Talk hops with the modern American brewer and the conversation will likely drift to the Pacific Northwest. The region boasts the perfect growing conditions for hops, so whether you’re in Cleveland or Albuquerque, you’re probably enjoying a beer brewed with hops from that area. According to the Hop Growers of America, in 2011, 100 percent of commercial hop production in the United States came out of Washington (78%), Oregon (14.5%) and Idaho (7.5%).

Flash back a century and that was not the case. Believe it or not, there was a time when Central New York ruled the hop industry. The state attained national leadership in hop production in 1849, and was selling over three million pounds annually by 1855.

Sadly, the Empire State lost its footing in the hops market when Prohibition slayed all things beer related in the country. A killer fungus in the early 20th century also played its own role in putting the nail in the coffin of New York’s hop industry.

Sensing economic possibilities and the state’s hoppy past, Governor Andrew Cuomo worked with area brewers in 2012 to create a farm brewery license to promote the use of local ingredients.

“The legislation signed today demonstrates that the new New York is truly working for small business, as this law will allow breweries and wineries the opportunity to invest in new opportunities and expand their operations,” Governor Cuomo said in a July 2012 statement.

A little over a year later, and Central New York is already seeing benefits of this legislation throughout Madison County in the form of Harvest Moon Cidery, Henneberg Tavern, Foothill Farms, Empire Brewing Company and Good Nature Brewing.


The Butler Does It: Q&A with Empire Brewing’s Tim Butler

Tim Butler’s favorite time of the week is Sunday morning.

And his favorite thrill as the head brewer of the Empire Brewing Co. in Syracuse is that of any.

“The best thing we do at Empire is our Blues Brunch on Sundays. We have a live band going, the beer is flowing, the bloody marys are flowing, it is a good time,” Butler said in early August at a beer dinner at the Sherwood Inn. Courses from the Sherwood’s chef Dan Hudson where paired with five Empire brews (see bottom).

Ben Meyers |

“One of the best things for me is when I am at home – and by home I mean Empire – and I just see a bunch of people around the bar drinking our beer that is really the coolest thing.”

Tim Butler has been the brain behind the company’s 33 brews for the past six years. Before Empire he spent a half dozen years with the Middle Ages Brewing Company in the Salt City and before that he spent a year at now defunct Towpath Brewing, also in Syracuse.

There was a time before all of the professional experience though. After serving as a combat medic in the U.S. Army, Butler worked on a homebuilt, homebrew, 15-gallon system.

“My homebrews were coming out good. My friends were like, ‘Man, you are makin’ good beer.’

From that point, I went to a local brewery and brought some of my beer and said, ‘Try these, please.’ They tried them and put me on the bottling line two days a week. I moved up to assistant brewer and the rest is pretty much history,” Butler said.

Butler took the time to answer a couple of questions about beer, home brewing, and how he gets better at a job he is already pretty good at.

UBY: OK, right off the rip…for us homebrewers…what is the secret to brewing awesome beer? (We aren’t pulling any punches)

TB: Beers are made just by being spontaneous and creative. I certainly carry that through my professional brewing. We are going to have some beers tonight that are kind of funky, kind of esoteric. The main thing is, really, its just beer when it comes down to it. People stress out about it so badly, especially on a home-brew level, and I always say, “I am not going to make anything that sucks. It may be not quite what I was shooting for, but it isn’t going to suck. It is going to be drinkable.” From that point you can tweak your recipes and hone in on the style and exactly what you are looking for.

UBY: What do you, yourself, prefer to drink?

TB: I am a hop head [see Empire’s India Pale Ale on the left]. I really like IPAs across the board. I do like to play with herbs and spices, I am really starting to dig that. I am kind of all over the board. I like malty beers, but if I had to pick one style it is the IPAs.

UBY: When it comes to brewing, do you enjoy the IPAs as well?

TB: I just like to brew. It doesn’t matter what is, just as long as I am brewing. That is my passion, that is my love. As long as I am in the brewhouse making beer what’s coming out doesn’t really matter. I don’t think I have a favorite brand or a favorite style to make. I just like makin’ beer.

UBY: Getting back to the secrets thing though, what is some of the biggest areas that brewing on any level requires and what are some of the hardest things to achieve to have consistently good beer?

TB: Cleanliness is huge. You can’t make good beer without being clean.
I think the hardest thing to achieve is balance of flavors. You can dump a lot of hops in and get a really bitter beer, but it’s about playing with ingredients and understanding what they are going to do and translating that to the glass is the toughest part. You really have to understand balance and ingredients in order to achieve that.

Sometimes there are mistakes.

Sometimes you overuse an ingredient. You have to pull back the next time that you use it. I always error on the side of caution if I am using a new ingredient or a new spice or herb [see Empire’s Golden Dragon spiced with basil on the left]. I’ll start off on the low end of it and then the next time I’ll ramp it up if I feel like it needs more. All of that is opposed to starting guns ablazin’ and tasting it and saying, “Oh my god there is too much rosemary, or too much whatever.”

Balance is tough.

UBY: Continuing on the balance idea, what are some of the craziest things you have dropped in a pot?

TB: We have a beer tonight that has some thai basil (Golden Dragon) and that is one of the most unique ingredients that I have ever used. We also make a beer with lavender. I have used white peppercorns before. I have also used beets. That beet beer was pretty awesome. You have to look at what is around you, what ingredients are around you. Almost anything can translate into beer [see Empire’s Deep Purple made with Concord grapes on the left].

UBY: Finally, we all want to make beer as popular as what Empire makes. How do we all improve?

TB: Drinking more beer is going to make you a better brewer, believe it or not. That is how you learn. You have to read and self-educate. This is an industry that is always changing. Even now after doing this for 14-15 years there is something that I learn every day. Reading, keeping yourself educated and drinking beer is the best way to get better.

Used with permission. Visit Upstate Brew York for subscription information.

As Madison County’s Hop Fest Approaches, Area Finds Itself on the Leading Edge of a Brewery Boom

For years, the annual Madison County Hop Festival has celebrated the area’s rich history of hop-growing, and, by extension, beer brewing.

The present is finally catching up to the history.

When this year’s hop fest gets under way this weekend – Good Nature Brewing Co. in Hamilton – and two more in the planning stages that should open in 2014.

Those are Empire Brewery in Cazenovia, a standalone spin-off of Armory’s Square’s Empire Brewing Co., and Henneberg Brewing Co., which will be located in the town of Cazenovia near New Woodstock.

All three have, or will have, state licenses that let them operate as a “farm brewery,” a new designation that offers tax incentives and other benefits to brewers who use New York state-sourced ingredients, including barley and hops. The amount of New York ingredients required to keep the benefits increases over time.