CHEERS TO THREE YEARS!
By Erik Budrakey
“What do you think of starting a craft beer magazine that showcases the Capital Region’s emerging beer scene?”
It was a question I did not see coming. It was March 14th, 2016 and my life-long friend and soon-to-be business partner, Jennifer Peyser, had asked me to come to Troy to meet with her and another colleague for a cup a coffee so that she could “throw an idea past me.”
At that point, I had worked in the craft beer business for more than 20 years. From working as a manager of a brew pub in Ft. Collins, Colorado, to brew store manager, brewing instructor, craft beer division manager for a local beer distributor to VP of a local brewery, I’d been in the game for a long time. Traveling much of the US and throughout Europe to learn about beer history, beer origins, and beer culture – I became a bit of a beer nerd. I had been hosting beer dinners at local restaurants, teaching tasting beer and beer sensory classes, and writing a beer blog for several years at that point. I had even dabbled in a web-tv type video series called GOTBEERTV. I loved to talk about beer to pretty much anyone who would listen. And, having spent so much time on the scene, I personally knew, or had connections at, pretty much every local brewery and many others from around the region and nation. The notion of starting a craft beer magazine certainly sounded intriguing. Especially with the local craft beer scene emerging as it was at the time.
Jenn had been the art director at Conservationist Magazine, with the NYS DEC for over a decade, as well as having several of her own freelance clients. I knew that she had serious design chops because she and I had already worked together on several projects over the past 5-6 years for local breweries and distributors. She was very talented at designing things like brand logo and can graphics, wearables, event posters, truck wraps and more. The idea of combining our talents to promote the local craft scene was one that certainly was worth taking a deeper look at.
It’s hard to believe now, that that little coffee-shop conversation turned into True Brew Magazine. Within a week we had carved out a business plan for the magazine as well as a company that would provide marketing and design consultation for small breweries and better-beer bars. We called our company Collar City Craft Media. We applied for our LLC and wrote our mission statement. It looked like this: (still does)
At True Brew Magazine, craft beer is our lifestyle. From the places we visit to the food we eat and even the music that we listen to, craft beer always seems to play a role. For the craft beer brewers, retailers, and consumers we would like to use our combined knowledge to enhance the appreciation of the local craft beer experience.
True Brew Magazine’s mission is to be recognized by the Craft Beer Breweries, Retailers, and Consumers as the premier craft beer magazine in the region. Our goal is deliver to the consumer all of the latest craft beer news, unique brewery offerings, beer dinners, events, festivals, and special releases in the Capital District and beyond. Through our printed magazine we will reach more than 10,000 local craft beer consumers, doubling our efforts through our website and social media campaigns. Our goal is to introduce the consumer to the passionate people who create these unique brews (and ciders), take them on a virtual tour of local, regional, and national breweries, offering a behind-the-scenes look and appreciation of their operations by providing a first-hand feel for their culture and unique local products.
The craft beer lifestyle is a personal journey.
True Brew encourages you to have your own adventure! Take a road trip to a brewery or better beer bar. Ride your bike to a craft beer festival, share your unique beer experiences and build upon your love of genuine craft beer and the lifestyle that it has to offer. Then, share your experience with True Brew Magazine and the world.
Within a few months I resigned from my roll at the distributor and began writing articles, reaching out to breweries and organizing content. Jenn and I hatched a plan to personally visit every brewery in the region and to speak to their people about the concept for our magazine. Amazingly, we found that almost all of them loved the idea and were on board with advertising with us. It began to take shape that we would be capable of going to print with our first edition in September of 2016.
We worked hard, brought in other writers and contributors, met with owners of better-beer-bars and beverage centers, met with each of the local beer distributors, and lined up enough resources to bring our first issue to life. On August 31st, 2016, we met at the Times Union to pick up our new magazine and distribute stacks of 25-50 to roughly 200 locations around the region. We had done it! TREW BREW – A CRAFT BEER LIFESTYLE MAGAZINE! Finally, a craft beer magazine that support the craft beer umbrella that covers the local scene!
Now, after 18 issues and continued growth and expansion, we look back and reflect on just what has happened in the local craft beer scene over that same three years. The scene is booming! What has happened right here in our neck of the woods is impressive and speaks volumes to the support and fan base that craft beer has here in the Capital Region.
THREE YEARS, AND COUNTING…
Let’s look at some numbers. When we went to print with our first issue in September of 2016, there were 15 breweries listed on file with the New York State Brewers in the area that they classify as the Capital Region. Fast forward to today and we now have more than 35 breweries right here in our back yard! That’s right, in just 3 years the number of local craft breweries has more than DOUBLED! Breweries such as Unified Beer Works, The Real McCoy, Racing City Brewing, and Fort Orange didn’t exist in 2016. Not to mention, there are about ½ dozen more breweries-in-planning in our region right now (that we know of!).
It’s not just the breweries that contribute to the local craft beer lifestyle, it’s the “better-beer bars”, taverns and restaurants that enhance the scene as well. When True Brew Magazine first went to print in September of 2016, the Tipsy Moose in Latham had just opened. Slidin’ Dirty had gone from just a food truck to having a restaurant in downtown Troy. Druthers only had two locations. There was no Lost & Found, no Beer Bones, the Ale & Oyster was called The Beer Belly and The Ruck’s kitchen was still out next to the bar.
Now there are two Tipsy Moose, two Slidin’ Dirty locations, 3 Druther’s taprooms, and a plethora of new craft beer bars, bottle shops, and craft-forward restaurants for us to all enjoy. Not to mention a dozen+ new brewery taprooms, craft distilleries, cideries, and beer gardens. It’s safe to say that the Capital Region has become a viable craft beverage destination. And, with Albany being the state capitol and Saratoga and the north country being rich with tourism, the region is gaining the respect with the locals and beyond.
Across New York State, the surging brewery growth began in the early 1990s, but in 2012, the numbers of breweries really started to take off, more than doubling since then to well over 400 breweries. While the growth was spurred by enthusiastic entrepreneurs with a passion for beer, it was aided by millions of dollars in grants, tax benefits, licensing changes and other incentives offered by the state.
“IN NEW YORK, WE ARE OPENING 1 NEW BREWERY ABOUT EVERY NINE DAYS”
To gauge how the Capital Region beer scene was performing, we recently grabbed a beer with Paul Leone, director of the NYS Brewers Association, and asked about his views on the local scene over the past few years.
TBM: “How does the growth of breweries in the Capital Region compare to what you have seen across the rest of the state?”
Leone: “A few years ago the Capital Region was lagging behind the rest of the state. We were seeing big growth in the Finger Lakes, Hudson Valley and Long Island first, but as we begin to see areas like Troy and Schenectady transform and come alive again, we see the growth of breweries opening up in those areas and now that’s spreading north to Saratoga. It’s really becoming an exciting area for beer in New York State.”
TBM: “Do you see a tipping point to where there is only so much shelf-space to go around and breweries will need to rely even more heavily on their own taprooms to survive?”
Leone: “The largest area of growth right now are small breweries relying on tap room sales, crowlers and maybe a mobile canning run or two each month,” says Leone. “Shelf and tap handle space are tough to get at this point so we advise anyone thinking of opening a brewery to lower their expectations in terms of distribution, start small, and most importantly make great beer…not good beer, great beer.”
TBM: “How many breweries are in the state today and how many do you forecast opening over the next 2-3 years?”
Leone: “Today (8/23) there are 448 breweries in New York, and we are still opening a brewery about one every 9 days in the state. At this rate we feel like we’ll hit 500 or more breweries by the end of 2020 which would put us #2 in the country in terms of total number of breweries.”
TBM: “Any ‘watchouts’ that breweries or consumers should be aware of?”
Leone: ‘I think it’s important to note that there will be breweries that will close, and that this is not a sign of a bubble bursting. These are businesses like any other and some will not make it. The consumer plays the ultimate role in this in terms of choice, supporting local is critical to these small family run breweries and right now, many New York breweries are making beer as good if not better than any other state in the country. We’ve started a Think New York, Drink New York™ program to bring awareness to New York craft drinkers to support local. Right now, only 7% of the craft consumed in New York State is made in New York State, so we have some work to do and plenty of room to grow.”
SUPPORTING LOCAL IS CRITICAL TO THESE SMALL FAMILY RUN BREWERIES
Indeed, we do. Not that not drinking local makes you a bad person. Fact is, those national and regional craft beers that you see on tap at your favorite pub and on your grocers’ shelves have earned that space. Those breweries started out small too. Most of them in the owners’ basements or garages. These breweries produced great beer and became the “big guys” of the local craft beer scene in their own back yards. They expanded and tactfully grew their distribution within their own states. They invested in sales and marketing teams and eventually did the right things to grow and end up here for us in this region to enjoy. If we want to grow the local scene, we as consumers need to hold our local breweries to high standards when it comes to quality beer and when it comes to their sales and marketing tactics. I have worked with a handful of local breweries that have a naïve and cocky approach to their plan. “Our beer is awesome, so we don’t need to do any marketing!” I’ve heard it many times. Only to shake my head when I hear the same breweries complaining that they weren’t invited to a brewfest or included in an event. I find these breweries tough to support, not because their beer isn’t good, but because their spirit seems off. The consumer will decide these breweries ultimate fate.
That said, with so many new breweries emerging onto the scene over the past three years, our local beer options have more than doubled. Now as local consumers we can go to pretty much any town in the region and find a local favorite. "Most of these breweries are starting small, and almost all of their revenues are coming from what they can sell out of their tasting rooms," Leone says. "Then, if they're successful and they make good beer, they tend to have a problem keeping up with the demand. So, they have to figure out how to grow."
This is what makes being a craft beer lover in the Capital Region so much fun. We get to enjoy these breweries and the ambiance of their taprooms. We get to know their owners, their brewers, and their stories. We get to attend their events and support their causes. Best of all, we get to enjoy their beer and the resurgence of local small businesses.
THE LOCAL BEER SCENE GOES BEYOND THE BREWERIES
Speaking of small business, our local breweries also bring new jobs an into the market. With more than 35 locally that employ anywhere from 2 employees to 120 employees, I’m guessing that there are more than 600 local jobs created by these small breweries. Heck, Brown’s Brewing alone employs more than 120! Add those number to all of the employees that work in your favorite better-beer-bars and restaurants and you’ll see just how much of an impact local beer is having on our work force and our economy.
The Tipsy Moose, a better-beer-bar with locations in Latham and Troy contributes about 45-50 employees to those numbers. We recently and caught up with GM/Partner, Seth Sanger, for a couple of beers and a chat about changes to the local beer scene over the past 3 years. It went a little something like this:
TBM: “The Tipsy Moose in Latham opened in June 2016, just a few months before the first True Brew Magazine came out. What changes have you noticed in the local beer scene since your first locations opened?”
Sanger: “The most noticeable change is definitely with the consumer. The consumer is more educated about beer than ever. More access to great beer equals more conclusions. But our brand was brought up in Tess’s Lark Tavern and we share the perspective that was ever-present there, ‘No Judgement’. That’s what a bar should be. So, while we offer a wide array of great craft beer on tap and in cans, you’ll also find brands like Truly Hard Seltzer on tap next to Grimm, Pabst Blue Ribbon in cans next to Bells, and Genny Cream Ale sharing space with Guinness. Any customer that comes in here will be able to find a beer that they can enjoy in a judgement free environment.”
TBM: “This Troy location opened earlier this year, what convinced you to open a new location? Also, True Brew is a Troy based company and we love Troy. What made you guys decide on Troy?
Sanger: “Latham was too small for the amount of business that we were getting and the fact that we are in one of the town’s oldest buildings means that it has some physical limitations. It makes it difficult with such high volumes of business. So, we opened the location primarily to accommodate consumer demand. As far as why Troy? We love Troy! I feel like Troy is a pioneer city for the arts, music, and cool restaurant ideas. Surprisingly, we found ourselves servicing an entirely different community than we were servicing in Latham. We have made some changes to our menu accommodate the different consumer over here.
TBM: “Tipsy Moose has 25 beers on tap in Troy and 20 in Latham, how do you decide which brands to carry?”
Sanger: “We like to represent a multitude of styles so there is something for everyone. Consumers do their homework and that certainly influences our staff and what we carry. We listen to the consumer, but we also work to make sure that we don’t alienate anyone. The fact is, we have great access to the best beers available. We have strong relationships with each of the local distributors and with the breweries themselves. They are great at letting us know what is in the pipeline and we are usually one of the first to get a crack at their seasonal and specialty one-offs. You’ll always find some gems here, but you’ll also find many of your favorite nostalgia beers. It’s a nice line-up.”
It is a nice line-up, and the Tipsy Moose is just one of scores of bars, restaurants, and taverns that local craft beer lovers have access to that have smart, eclectic beer selections. Between the breweries themselves and all of these great taverns, the Capital District is officially on the map as a great beer destination in the State of New York.
We started True Brew Magazine because we wanted to bring you, the consumer, all of the latest and greatest news surrounding the great craft beer scene here in the region. We believe that what is good for the umbrella that covers that Capital District craft beer scene, is good for all of the breweries underneath it. Our goal is to continue to entertain you and bring you educational and insightful news surrounding these great breweries in a fun and non-judgmental way. We feel that a beer should not be judged, only enjoyed. Enjoy the craft beer lifestyle. Try the flight. Ride your bike to a brewfest. Soak up the rich and vibrant craft beer spectacle that is sprinkled all across the region. Stay True.
CHEERS TO THREE YEARS!