NOTE: Empire’s Syracuse location closed in October 2019.
David Katleski was a restaurateur willing to take a chance on a new trend in the 1990s. His Syracuse brewpub became a cornerstone of the budding New York state craft beer movement and David became a leading advocate for growing the industry to national prominence.
Head Brewer Tim Butler also came from a culinary background before becoming an exceptional brewer, getting his professional start at nearby Middle Ages. He used to stop into Empire for a pint after his shifts there and David eventually tapped his talent that has taken the brewpub to the next level.
Empire’s soon-to-be completed Farmstead Brewery will up the brewer’s capacity from 800 barrels to 65,000 and introduce a bottling operation to the company, ensuring craft beer connoisseurs across the state will get a taste of Tim’s stellar brews.
Tim shares David’s commitment to using nearly all-local ingredients in both the beer and restaurant fare. The rich hop and agricultural history of Central New York gives a unique character to Empire’s beers that no doubt help feed the growth of New York’s craft beer niche.
Tim Butler: People ask me what do I enjoy most about being a brewer. One of the greatest things is when you create something and you see someone come out and they put their hard earned dollars on the bar for it and they take it and they enjoy it, they drink it. You see the smile come across their face. You know, that’s really, really rewarding. I don’t think that’s ever going to change for me. I always enjoy watching people enjoy our product.
I think that we are on track to become one of the best brewing states in the country. There are a lot of new breweries popping up but the quality of the beer is, I think, maintaining a very high standard. I think there’s a lot of room for all of us. I think as a whole, as a New York state beer, we have a lot of potential and a lot of room to grow together and become one of the best brewing states in the country.
I think that New York state in general and Central New York in general, has very passionate farmers. I know farmers from dealing with them through here at the restaurant. Be it beef suppliers or vegetables suppliers. They can be as passionate or are as passionate as brewers are. I think there’s definitely a common connection there. Their growing something, creating something that then their passing on to us to put in our product. Now that I’ve been more and more using New York state ingredients, there’s definitely a different characteristic to them. As opposed to ingredients that are grown in other parts of the country or other parts of the world for that matter. I do think it’s giving us a local flavor, a local character that you’re not going to be able to emulate in other parts of the country unless you come to New York state and buy New York state ingredients. They do give us a unique flavor and give us a unique style of beer.
David Katleski: The thing different hat you will know about a New York state beer is, you know the French liken the term to terroir. You can actually taste the ingredients from Central New York. It’s kind of odd but the hops tend to be slightly different citrus flavor. The barley tends to be a little, bolder in flavor. There is a character, a central New York characteristic that you get definitely out of this.
So far, we’ve done really well with our brand. Notably we do the flagship beer for the Waldorf Astoria. It’s a honey brown with honey that they cultivate off of the twentieth floor apiary area that they have at the hotel. We also make the exclusive beer called Empire Green for Tavern on the Green in Central Park. We have the flagship moniker brew for them. The brand has done really well on the high end scale. It’s also in a lot of dive bars too. In fact, one of my favorite places in New York to go have this beer is a place called The Dive Bar, so go figure.
To be able to go to your local mom and pop bar in a corner, to very high end restaurants and be able to fill within that, shows the versatility of our brand. We do things with a lot of passion, with a lot of love. That’s how we make our beer. That how we make our food and that’s how we try to run our business.
Tim Butler: The craft beer drinker now is very savvy, very understanding. They know what they want, they know what’s good and they know what’s not good. You can’t pull wool over anybody’s eyes anymore. You got to brew quality if you want maintain. I think Empire had always done it. They’ve always had quality beer, quality food, quality atmosphere. It’s just a brand that people, once they latch on to, they don’t let it go.