Hundreds of people showed up to the first Drink Schenectady event Saturday, featuring 20 regional beverage producers from across the Capital Region that are members of the Capital Craft Beverage Trail.
The event, modeled on the popular Drink Albany event that’s taken place in October for the last several years, brings a bunch of local beer, wine, cider and spirits producers together in the same room to meet their customer base face to face.
For Saturday’s event that room was the cavernous Schenectady Armory, where participants sampled the many offerings along with food from local establishments like Troy’s Slidin’ Dirty Food Truck.
A full list of the event’s participants is on Drink Schenectady’s Facebook page, but local favorites Albany Distilling, Brown’s Brewing and Mad Jack Brewing companies were among those represented.
There were newcomers as well. Schenectady-based Great Flats Brewing has been open for about three weeks, and head brewer Tom Owens said events like Drink Schenectady are a great way to get his company’s beer on the palates of Electric City locals.
“We’ve been telling a lot of people where we are and they didn’t know, so hopefully they’ll stop by,” said Owens of Great Flats’ tasting room on Lafayette Street.
On Saturday Great Flats was pouring their signature stout and India Pale Ale, and Owens said people were reacting positively.
“I think it’s going pretty good so far, everyone seems to be liking it,” he said. “And it’s good to meet other brewers.”
That networking is crucial to the success of the Capital Craft Beverage Trail, according to Albany Distilling Co. co-owner Rick Sicari, who founded the trail two years ago. Inaugural members included Albany Distilling, Druthers, Nine Pin Cider and C.H. Evans Brewing Co. Since 2014, the group has added an additional 16 beverage producers to their ranks.
“In my opinion the Capital District is one big giant city,” said Sicari, adding that although each city has its distinct character, when it comes to producing craft beer and spirits, the Spa, Collar, Electric and Capital cities all have much in common and much to share with one another.
“The big thing about the trail is it’s not just this event, we’re all producers with common goals, common struggles, and we all work together for the common good,” said Sicari. “When you work together it drives common interests from each other’s bases.”
A prime example can be found in Upstate Distilling Co., which opened last year in Saratoga Springs.
“We’re probably the newest kid on the block,” said Upstate Distilling owner Ryan VanHall, who graduated from Saratoga Springs High School in 2005 with Sicari. “This is our first time in Schenectady County, so it’s a good start.”
VanHall said Sicari and his company helped his get off the ground with tips and advice in things like navigating the complicated state and federal permitting process that’s required to produce alcohol on a commercial scale.
Adam Elbrecht of Mad Jack Brewing in Schenectady said a local drink-based event in their backyard was something they absolutely could not miss.
“It’s really cool, we’re local so we have a lot of people that come into the pub, and this is a pretty unique space,” said Elbrecht, whose company is based out of the Van Dyke Restaurant and Lounge on Union Street. “And there’s people from Schenectady that don’t even know there’s a brewery around the corner, so it gets us out there.”
Christian Weber, co-founder and head brewer of Common Roots Brewing Co. in South Glens Falls, said being a part of the Capital Craft Beverage Trail is a way for his company and others to harness and contribute to the collective institutional knowledge of the region’s craft beverage producers for the betterment of all.
“As a mass we can be pretty powerful,” said Weber, whose company is on the verge of expanding their annual production capacity from 3,000 barrels to 5,500 barrels. “It’s great to build a community of makers and suppliers, and it’s cool that it’s not just beer, it’s wineries and distilleries too.”
The wineries represented at Drink Schenectady included Altamont Vineyard and Winery and Hudson-Chatham Winery. On the cider side was Nine Pin Cider and Indian Ladder Farmstead Cidery and Brewery.
In addition to the beverages, Drink Schenectady featured live music and a game area, which included several cornhole and giant Jenga sets. In between samplings groups of friends sat on the armory’s expansive turf field and chatted. Sets from bands Goldee Dust, Kimono Dragons and Victory Soul Orchestra were broken up by a live DJ.
Courtney Spencer from Broadalbin came to Drink Schenectady with her husband and a group of friends.
“We’re just hanging out, having a good time,” Spencer said. “We love Schenectady and celebrating it, and we like visiting local breweries so we know most of these people.”
Spencer said Drink Schenectady is a great alternative to a typical night out.
“This is more enjoyable than going to a bar and having a Bud Light,” she said.