Fulton County

Heaping Helpings: Great Sacandaga Brewing Co. embraces growing pains in Broadalbin, looks toward expansion

A look inside the Great Sacandaga Brewing Co. on Route 30 in Broadalbin
PHOTOGRAPHER:
A look inside the Great Sacandaga Brewing Co. on Route 30 in Broadalbin

BROADALBIN – Labor Day weekend came around, and it was now or never.

It had been a nearly two-year journey for the Great Sacandaga Brewing Co. to open its brewery and taproom on Route 30 in Broadalbin, beset first by construction and equipment delays, then by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, making a start-of-summer 2020 opening impossible.

But with the summer coming to a close and needing something to carry the new business through the winter, owner Erik Stevens said they had to give things a go and open their doors.

“Luck was on our side,” Stevens said. “Even with COVID going on, people were still drinking beer.”

In fact, it soon became clear the biggest issue would be having enough supply to keep up with demand.

“I thought for sure we were going to run out of beer, and in my mind that’d be a tragedy,” Stevens said. “We’re a brewery — even though we do offer wine, we’ve got some craft cocktails — running out of beer that early in the game would’ve been tragic for me.”

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The opening and subsequent strong business helped the brewery get through the winter, with high hopes for a busy first full summer as both tourists and locals make their annual pilgrimages to Great Sacandaga Lake.

It’s a prospect that has Stevens both excited and nervous. Excited to share the fruits of more than 30 years of brewing experience with a larger audience, but nervous about keeping the taps flowing.

Even in the first eight months of operation, it’s become clear to Stevens that the Great Sacandaga Brewing Co. already needs to expand beyond its current five-fermenter capacity.

“If we can’t keep up with demand we could not completely run out of beer, but we’ll be closing down taps and have a limited offering,” he said. “In the very near future, we’re going to have to expand — even if it’s adding a couple of fermenters so that we can brew a little bit more. We’ll be brewing back to back, a couple times a week, just to keep up.”

It’s ironic, considering the project’s initially small-scale ambitions.

A retired U.S. Army engineer and former electrician, Stevens began homebrewing for himself, friends, family and colleagues in the late 1980s.

After retiring from the military, Stevens and his wife, Jerrianne, moved back to his hometown of Broadalbin in 2006. It was at the couple’s camp on Great Sacandaga Lake that they met a neighbor who’d moved up from downstate and expressed a similar interest in brewing.

That neighbor became a silent partner in the business once the decision was made to give things a go.

But even when it started to become a reality, the first plans were much, much smaller. Erik Stevens said the initial idea was to brew out of a garage and see where things went. But when the partners settled on the Great Sacandaga Brewing Co. as the company’s name, it became clear that something larger needed to be attempted.

They found the ideal property at 3647 Route 30 back in January 2019, initially targeting the following fall for an opening.
It wasn’t until a full year later that the doors finally opened and the operation expanded beyond five-gallon test batches to fine-tune recipes.

“We started out bigger than what we had planned,” Stevens said, “and now that we’ve got our doors open and we’ve been open for a little more than six months, it’s still not big enough.”

Currently the taproom offers 10 of Great Sacandaga’s own beers on tap — available in draft form or to-go in 32-ounce aluminum crowlers — along with two rotating guest taps featuring other breweries, plus wine, craft cocktails and an assorted menu of finger foods and charcuterie.

Erik Stevens stays mostly behind the scenes, working in the brewhouse and taking care of maintenance while also overseeing ongoing construction, while Jerrianne Stevens is the public face, managing day-to-day operations in the taproom.

There have been growing pains along the way, Erik Stevens said, and he’s sure there’ll be more to come, but he’s excited to continue to grow the business in multiple ways, including the expansion of distribution to local bars and restaurants, along with an eventual canning line.

“We need to be able to brew more beer to do all that,” he said. “I think we’re going to need a bigger system and more capacity. That’s a challenge, just trying to grow as quickly as that and still maintain operations. We’re still learning the ropes. It’s exciting. It’s fun.

“It beats what I was doing before. I was an electrician, and before that in the Army. At the end of the day, we’re brewing beer and having fun doing it.”

For more information, visit greatsacandagabrewing.com.

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Categories: Food, Heaping Helpings, Life & Arts

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