SCHENECTADY — When Jessica Leavitt pitched the idea of Frog Alley Brewing hosting a Drag Brunch to her boss, he was skeptical.
“I was like, ‘trust me,’” said Leavitt. Sure enough, at the January event, crowds filled up the 10,600-square-foot taproom to watch the cross-dressers perform.
Leavitt, who turns 24 in June, is the director of marketing and events at the young brewery in downtown Schenectady. But she also works Fridays as a bartender, oversees distribution and beer sales, and is helping plan the distillery that brewery owner J.T. Pollard will build nearby.
“I come here all the time, even when I’m not working, just because it’s so fun,” said Leavitt, who commutes to work six days a week from her family home in Ballston Spa.
Frog Alley Brewing opened just over a year ago, a key part of Pollard’s $30 million Mill Lane project at the heart of the new Mill Artisan District. The Ballston Lake resident is an architect known around Schenectady for designing the distinctive offices and apartment buildings at Mohawk Harbor, Bowtie Cinema, and the facade of the redesigned Center City building.
When Pollard met Leavitt, she had just earned a marketing degree from Siena college and was helping a friend at a shop in Schenectady. Pollard struck up a conversation.
“I didn’t really know what I wanted to do,” said Leavitt. “I was like, ‘Oh I want to move to Boston,’ but I didn’t really have a reason. And he was like ‘Nope, I want you to come work for me.’”
Leavitt came on board just before the brewery opened in December 2018. Without a specific job description, she joined a five-person team building the company from the ground up.
“I would never have pictured myself working in a brewery, but I did picture myself working with people. So when he brought me on and I was dealing with people every day in the wide variety of tasks I do, it was a really awesome gig and I couldn’t turn it down.”
She said she has had to learn on her own what works and what doesn’t — Pollard brought her to his fledgling business because he wasn’t skilled in marketing.
But the freedom, and responsibility, he gave to Leavitt have provided opportunities a large corporation might not have offered.
In college, Leavitt was more of a wine drinker than a beer connoisseur, but she’s fallen in love with Frog Alley’s Squint Sour and Mohop No. 5.
She even got to name a beer after herself: the Jessaweizen, a play on the mild German wheat beer called Hefeweizen.
“Doing the names is one of the fun things. It’s easy — we’ll all sit in a room and throw out whatever comes to mind.”
Actor and craft brewer Kelsey Grammer, center, stands with the Frog Alley crew during a visit to the Schenectady brewery on Jan. 27, 2020.
The Frog Alley taproom’s brick walls stretch up towards low ceilings of painted metal. You can see off one end of the main floor down to the brewery below, where beer ferments in huge tanks below Big-Ass Fans (that’s both the manufacturer’s name and an accurate description) that help keep the operation cool and efficient.
Keeping the shows and events efficient at Frog Alley is Leavitt’s job. She’s on her smartphone days, nights and weekends helping to organize corn hole leagues, book astrologists and host line-dancing parties.
“I go out and try to find different acts that aren’t normally in a bar, or just something that isn’t really down in Schenectady.”
Growing up ten minutes from downtown Saratoga, Leavitt was more likely to visit the Spa City than the Electric City. She remembers when Schenectady’s reputation wasn’t what it is now.
“As a child, I would think of it as a ghost town almost,” said Leavitt.
Her mother warned her not to walk around alone when she began working for Frog Alley.
But having a hand in bringing out crowds of young and old to Frog Alley’s taproom has changed Leavitt’s impression of the city.
“There’s so much coming and I think that’s exciting. Hearing that there’s new restaurants coming, new apartments popping up everywhere, a new concert venue coming, it’s kind of that hope of excitement that gives you something to look forward to; you want to get in on the fun.”
The company has taken off quickly in popularity; fifteen months after Frog Alley produced its first batch of beer, its brews are on tap at upwards of 70 bars and for sale at dozens of retailers around the Capital Region. It also brews other companies’ beers under contract.
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Leavitt manages the company’s social media presence, a key to the business’ success.
“That’s really our main platform for advertising,” said Leavitt.
Leavitt’s only in her early 20s, but she said she hopes her work at the brewery, and with Pollard’s many other projects, continues.
“It’s a lot of work put in, but it’s really satisfying getting to see the changes this building has gone through itself and made to the community,” said Leavitt.
“The feedback we’ve been getting has been really positive so just being able to say that I’ve been a part of that is really great and kind of makes up for the hours of the job and everything.
“It doesn’t really feel like as much work as it is, just because I love what I do, so no complaints.”