Your Beer. Brewed Here.
This is the motto of the Wolf Hollow Brewing Co., and it’s as much mission statement as advertisement, an apt description of the brewery’s purpose and role in the community.
I understood exactly what it meant as soon as I stepped inside the West Glenville microbrewery, where visitors such as myself mix with a steady crowd of regulars, many of whom greet owners Pete Bednarek and Jordan White by name.
Barbecue is sold on site, and the atmosphere is relaxed and more family-friendly than a typical bar; on the Saturday when I swung by, I noticed a number of parents and children, enjoying a midafternoon lunch.
“One slogan we toyed with was ‘Know Your Brewer, Know Your Beer,’ ” Bednarek told me. “People like to know they’re supporting a local business. They like knowing their local brewer. When they come in here, they know they’re going to see someone they know.”
“We’re not in a rush to get big,” Bednarek continued. “We want to grow in this area so more people experience us, but we don’t want to be the next Sam Adams.”
Justin Behan, president and head brewer at Green Wolf Brewing Co. in Middleburgh, echoed this when discussing his own brewery.
“A typical move for a craft brewery is to expand — to go big or go home,” he said. “But for me, what’s most important is how small I can stay and still be sustainable.”
New York’s craft brewery industry has soared in recent years, with the number of breweries in the Empire State jumping from 95 in 2012 to 207 in 2015, according to the New York State Brewers Association.
And while the stereotypical microbrewery is located in a hip, urban area, and frequented by relatively young, professional adults, this growth isn’t confined to cities. The success of Wolf Hollow and Green Wolf demonstrates that there’s a healthy appetite for locally made beer — and places to drink it — in smaller, slightly off-the-beaten path, locales.
I’ve always enjoyed visiting microbreweries and sampling their beer, and I’ve been pleased with the Capital Region’s growing number of options. But after talking to Bednarek and Behan, and reading a bit more about the state’s efforts to support local breweries (as well as wineries and distilleries), I’ve come to believe that a well-run microbrewery can really add something to a community.
There are the economic benefits that go along with supporting a local business, particularly one that uses local ingredients, which is what a farm brewery is supposed to do. According to the Brewers Association, the state’s 207 microbreweries accounted for 11,366 full-time jobs, $277 million in brewery sales. Those are good figures, and they’re probably better now than they were last April, when the economic impact study was released.
Of more interest to me are the less quantifiable impacts of small, local microbreweries — their role as gathering places that have the added benefit of promoting a quality product.
“Good beer brings people together,” Bednarek told me. “Our mission was to start something that would enhance the community. . . . The fact that we were coming to a little place in the middle of nowhere built camaraderie.”
“Green Wolf became a community destination people needed,” Behan said. “There’s something about a pub atmosphere that warms the soul.”
Wolf Hollow and Green Wolf aren’t the only microbreweries in the Capital Region, of course.
Brown’s Brewing Co. in Troy, C.H. Evans Brewery at the Albany Pump Station and old Saratoga Brewing Co. all predate the current brewery boom. In 2011 the Van Dyck in Schenectady began brewing its own beer, under the Mad Jack Brewing Co. label. Druthers Brewing Co. in downtown Saratoga Springs opened in 2012, and an Albany Druthers opened in the city’s warehouse district in 2015. The Jewish-themed Shmaltz Brewing Co. opened in Clifton Park in 2013. Rare Form Brewing Co. opened in Troy in 2014.
Fueling this growth have been changes in state law designed to make it easier to open microbreweries.
The farm brewery license, which went into effect in 2013, is a major factor.
Among other things, it does not require brewers to obtain an additional permit to serve beer by the glass, and it exempts brewers from reporting sales made to restaurants, bars, and other retailers to the state.
All of the Capital Region’s microbreweries are worth checking out, but I particularly enjoyed my recent trips to Wolf Hollow and Green Wolf. I don’t live particularly close to either microbrewery, and my husband and I made day trips out of both of them.
We hiked nearby Vroman’s Nose before visiting Green Wolf, where we ordered samples of beer and a cheese-and-meat plate. There were board games in the corner and a music schedule on the wall, as well as a single TV showing college basketball. Behan told me that he was more interested in creating a cafe-like atmosphere than a bar atmosphere, and it’s safe to say that he succeeded.
Wolf Hollow got its start selling growlers — glass jugs filled with fresh beer from the tap — in 2013, and opened a spacious tap room in a former auction house last year. We did the brewery tour, got barbecue for lunch and filled up our growler before we left.
We didn’t know much about the brewers before we got there, but now we do.