SARATOGA SPRINGS — The sixth annual Saratoga Beer Week kicks off on Tuesday with a party to benefit the family of a former Olde Saratoga Brewing Co. employee.
Olde Saratoga Brewing Co. unexpectedly closed in mid-January after its parent company, Mendocino Brewing, closed its landmark taproom in Ukiah, Calif., also without explanation.
On Feb. 1, Jim Brown, former assistant controller at Olde Saratoga Brewing Co., committed suicide.
"He was happy and easygoing, and was always in a good mood, which is why this has been such a shock," former Olde Saratoga Brewing Co. general manager Max Oswald said of Brown. "I was floored — I couldn't believe it."
Oswald worked with Brown, who mainly handled accounting and payroll, for six years.
"With a small company like this, he often handled a lot more," Oswald said. "He would do inventory, material ordering and fill in on the bottling line when needed."
Olde Saratoga Brewing Co. had hosted the kick-off party for Saratoga Beer Week since its inception, Oswald said.
"We've done it since day one when it was just two guys trying to pull something together before it was officially called Saratoga Beer Week," he said. "Doing it this year without the brewery is weird."
When the brewery closed, people in the craft beer industry told Oswald he should still maintain ownership of the event.
"When I heard about [Brown's death], I said this is something we can rally around while continuing the tradition of the kick-off for Beer Week," he said. "It was a no brainer."
Meg Kosior, Brown's wife, said the gratitude she's felt since her husband's death has been amazing.
Brown played volleyball on various teams throughout the Capital Region and his teammates launched a GoFundMe page to garner more support for Kosior.
"A lot of people who have given to the fund have never even met me," she said. "They're just doing it because they love him and that's unbelievably heartwarming."
Brown, 47, joined the Marines shortly after graduating from Gloversville High School. He then went on to join the Army National Guard before working as an accountant.
Kosior said when Olde Saratoga Brewing Co. closed, it was difficult for Brown to have to let people go.
"It was extremely hard on him because he had to fire everyone," she said. "No one really knew what was going on and they still don't."
Olde Saratoga Brewing Co.'s parent company Mendocino Brewing hasn't responded to calls for comment since the closure.
"The people in California were telling him he still had a job and that he would get paid when they got the financing," she said. "If he could've hung on, it might've been fine, but he couldn't do it.
"He loved me and his family, so I know that if he could've held on, he would have."
Oswald said he's hoping for a good turnout at Tuesday's Saratoga Beer Week kick-off to support his former co-worker's family.
"It's a great time for breweries to get together and remember a friend," he said. "I want everyone to have a good time, but it's also a time of reflection too."
Oswald added, "This is the first time suicide has touched my life and while none of us saw this coming, it's hard not to ask, 'What did I do wrong and was there something I missed?'"
While celebrating Saratoga Beer Week without Olde Saratoga Brewing Co. has been difficult for Oswald, he said organizing the kick-off party has given him something to focus on.
"The friends I have in the industry have all been so supportive," he said. "Those of us in the beer business will always help when there's a need."
Saratoga Beer Week runs Feb. 21-25 at Saratoga Springs City Center.
The kick-off party will be held on Tuesday, Feb. 20, from 5-8 p.m. at four locations: Harvey's Restaurant and Bar, 14 Phila St., Bailey's Saratoga, 37 Phila St., The Ice House, 70 Putnam St. and Saratoga City Tavern, 19 Caroline St.
To donate to Jim Brown's GoFundMe account, visit www.gofundme.com/jimmy-brown-memorial-fund.
For more information on Saratoga Beer Week, visit www.saratogabeerweek.com.