CLIFTON PARK — Shmaltz Brewing has sold its Clifton Park brewery to a rapidly growing downstate craft brewer.
Shmaltz will retain its corporate identity and its labels, but it will return to its roots as a producer of beer brewed under contract by other companies. Shmaltz has had its own brewery for only the past five of its 22 years.
The new owner of the brewery is SingleCut Beersmiths, founded in 2012 and producing craft beers out of the Astoria neighborhood of northern Queens. It has operated at full capacity for two years; expansion space is in short supply and very expensive in New York City, so SingleCut looked elsewhere to grow.
SingleCut expects the Clifton Park brewery to provide that — and to provide a launching point for further growth in the Capital Region retail market, according to General Manager Dan Bronson.
The next six months will be a time of transition for both Shmaltz and SingleCut.
Shmaltz will continue to brew and package its beer in Clifton Park and operate its taproom in the short term. SingleCut will take over around Thanksgiving. It will then get set up for beer production and close the taproom for a full remodel before reopening it in early 2019.
Shmaltz will retain its roughly 20-strong production team as it moves toward the handover. SingleCut expects to offer jobs to some Shmaltz employees, though it does not know yet what its workforce will be.
Shmaltz brews about three times as much beer on contract — for sale under other labels — as it brews for its own labels. Those other companies will have to find a new brewer to produce their beers, as SingleCut will not do contract brewing.
Before the transition is complete, the previously announced brewery events at Shmaltz will continue as scheduled, including the Five-Year Anniversary Beer Festival bash on June 23 and Black Friday Black Beer Fest in the fall.
Cowan on Monday told The Daily Gazette he started as a creative marketing guy, and that’s still his passion. This sale will allow him to do more of that, rather than focus on the mechanics of brewing and logistics of running a brewery.
“I like to be out there building brands,” he said. Brewing was not his passion and expertise and not his ambition for a very long time before building the Clifton Park brewery. But he considers himself better for having had one for five years.
“It’s been a meaningful experience, and I think I’ll be a better contract brewer going forward,” Cowan said.
Shmaltz will continue to sell quality craft beer with the creative marketing and humorous Jewish-themed names for which it has become known.
“I don’t make the final recipe, but I art-direct the recipe development,” Cowan said. “I work with really talented brewers to make the magic happen. That won’t change.”
LOVE OF BEER AND MUSIC
Most employees of SingleCut have a second passion beyond beer, Bronson said: music. (Single-cut is a way of shaping the body of an electric guitar where it meets the neck.)
Founder Rich Buceta did well enough in marketing that he could leave the corporate world at a relatively young age and turn his skill at homebrewing into a second career. He took an entry-level job at a brewery, then worked his way up. In 2012, he opened SingleCut in Queens, where he’d grown up, with the goal of producing good beer and getting it into customers’ hands while it still was very fresh.
It was the first full-scale brewery in Queens since Prohibition, Bronson said, and grew quickly enough that for more than two years, it has been operating at full capacity, which is about 11,000 barrels a year.
This has served to limit SingleCut’s ability to undertake the experimentation that is part of its culture, because it can’t afford to lose production capacity. This also limits how much beer its fans can buy, Bronson said, and that’s not a good situation.
“We want desperately to be a guest-facing brewery,” he said.
In Clifton Park, SingleCut found a proven production facility with a capacity of 30,000 barrels (945,000 gallons) of beer a year.
Bronson said SingleCut plans to ramp Clifton Park production up to about 11,000 barrels a year within 12 months of moving in, then gradually build production as it builds sales. The Astoria brewery, meanwhile, will continue to run at or near full capacity.
SingleCut will send a startup team from Queens to Clifton Park for the transition, and its distributor will start a marketing effort to establish SingleCut on shelves in the Capital Region and beyond. Its beers currently sell from Maine to Virginia and have gained a beachhead in Europe, but are not widely sold in the Capital Region.
“This is an awesome opportunity for us,” Bronson said, “a second home-market where we don’t have much of a presence.”
Cowan said there’s a challenge today in maintaining market share with so many craft beers on the market. One of the selling points in this environment is local production, and when Shmaltz contracts with a brewer, it will be able to market that beer as a local product.
“I’m really excited to see if I can pull off exactly that,” he said.
This will take the form of small-batch collaborations and one-time-only experiments, as well as larger-scale production of the mainstays: the Shmaltz, He’Brew, 518/838 Craft and Alphabet City lines.
Shmaltz last month announced a new national sales and marketing partnership with Artisanal Imports to expand the territory where its beers are available.
Cowan is also continuing with previously announced plans to open a tasting room and bottle shop in downtown Troy.
He said the Clifton Park brewery underwent a great evolution in its five years, boosting production from 8,000 to 26,000-plus barrels a year and growing from eight to 20 employees.
He’s excited about the next chapter now.