The Fairport Brewing Company- where size does not matter

Fairport Brewing Company founders

Tim & Tom, founders of the Fairport Brewing Co.

by Mark Tichenor

Fairport Brewing Company owners Tim Garman and Tom Bullinger are thinking small; really small.

With a some treasured recipes lots of passion, and a brewing system they could actually misplace behind the furniture, these middle aged professionals with a homebrewing problem are set to open something tinier than a microbrewery- a nanobrewery? “We’re even smaller than that,” chuckles Garman. “We’re a picobrewery.”

That means no trucks, no national distribution deals, and the brewing capacity to serve only a small part of the Rochester area market. Garman who has no intention of leaving his day job in medical sales, likes that arrangement just fine.

“We’re not aiming to be on the shelves at Wegmans,” he says. “I’m an ‘83 grad of Fairport High. We’re about serving Fairport.”

Garman and Bullinger already have a head start in that department. Bullinger a homebrewer for 25 years, met Garman in karate class, and passed along his passion for the brewer’s art. They’ve shared homebrew with friends and family and recently conducted a well-received tasting at the Fairport Village inn.

“We started out in the Man Cave- one of my rental properties,” Garman relates. “We kept doing more and more. We decided to make a business out of it. Both of our neighbors love us. We’ve taken our craft up about 10 notches and it keeps getting better.”

Starting small has its advantages. Garman and Bullinger both plan to keep their professional jobs, so they have the cash flow to pay the considerably lessened costs of the tiny brewing system and small space in the old Crossman Air Guns factory. Also missing are the pressures to compete with megamicros like Victory Brewing or Dogfish Head.

The vision is grassroots, like the first microbreweries. The Fairport Brewing Company will be a place where neighbors can stop in to pick up a growler, or maybe bottles of select brews, less so a place of intense marketing and distribution. “We’re going to be talking to bars, but again, very local.” Garman says.

While Garman agrees that he’d like the brewery to become something he and Bullinger could retire into and run full time, he’s content to keep things at a level at which there is still a great deal of ‘hobby’ involved, and the pressures of running and growing a business don’t throttle his passion for brewing.

Fairport Brewing Company will launch with four core beers: Lift Bridge Lager, Perinton Porter, Brothers’ Belgian Tripel, and an as-yet unnamed black lager. While Garman and Bullinger plan distribution to bars and restaurants, their initial primary retail outlet will be the brewery itself.

For now the big obstacles are the Byzantine hurdles inherent in obtaining a state brewing license, and the physical work of erecting their brewery, cooler and retail space. These challenges don’t seem to faze the pair in the least; the guys behind the Fairport Brewing Company are more than content to put in the effort for their labor of love.

Mark owns a laptop and likes beer. For more on beer, check out the beercraft blog, updated regularly, at beercraft.wordpress.com. Find him on Twitter @beercraft. Send your questions, suggestions, or comments to beercraft@rochester.rr.com.

Shelton Bros from Mass. sticks it to NYS breweries

by Mark Tichenor

this piece was originally written for the New York Cork Report on 4/26/2012

Venerable import and distribution company Shelton Brothers, of  of Belchertown, Massachusetts, has been invaluable to beer lovers across the United States. They have been visionary in their quest to bring us the finest beers from Belgium since way before Belgian was cool. If you’ve enjoyed a Cantillon, Dieu du Ciel or Mikkeler and you don’t have a passport, you have the Sheltons to thank.

Now, Shelton Brothers can claim yet another accolade: stalwart defenders of the New York State Constitution.

We New York residents are thankful that, in 2006, upon being refused State Liquor Authority approval todistribute six English Christmas beers due to (admittedly absurd) label art issues, Shelton Brothers took a deeper look at New York Liquor tax law and noticed a chance to save us from a harrowing miscarriage of constitutional justice. Being the good corporate citizens that they are, the Brothers immediately filed a lawsuit stating that the excise tax exemption on New York breweries violated the constitution of the Empire State.

It works like this. Each brewery generally brews a range of beers, for example, a lager, an IPA, and a porter. In addition to that, a brewery might produce multiple one-offs and seasonal beers over the course of a year. This line extension is vital to keeping things interesting to drinkers, responding to trends within the mercurial craft beer industry with agility,  and growing a beloved brand. Each of those individual beers has to be registered with the SLA (State Liquor Authority, not the goons who jacked Patty Hearst). Until now, out-of-state brewers were subject to an excise tax of $150 to register a beer for sale in New York, whereas small brewers within the state were exempt.

Going way beyond its originally claimed purpose of getting SLA approval to pimp their beers with Santa cartoons on their label, the Shelton Bros lawsuit went after this tax exemption. Guess what? They won. Now every small New York Brewer will pay a fee that’s currently $150, and unlikely to ever decrease, for each individual beer registered for sale, regardless of whether the batch size is 10,000 barrels or 10 barrels. Or less.

What does that mean for New York Brewers? Their costs have just skyrocketed. Coupled with the rapid pace of industry expansion, a whitewater current breweries must keep pace with in order to remain viable among their competitors, breweries could face extra costs in the tens of thousands of dollars, just to be allowed to bring their beer to market in the bar down the street or, for that matter, in their own retail rooms. This might not be too worrisome for big guys like Genesee and F.X. Matt, but it could slaughter brewpubs and small breweries, making remaining open an unattractive business decision for some and possibly discouraging new startups.

It could also force a shift away from creativity as brewers shy away from the cost of expanding their lines. This would force New York State  into permanent second tier status in the beerosphere even as Senator Charles Schumer trumpets his “New York Farm Brewery” bill designed to reward our great breweries for using our great agricultural products in their great beers.

So who ultimately loses? If you guessed “The New York State Beer Drinker,” you got it in one. Breweries can’t afford not to expand, so they’ll just pass the cost on down to li’l ol’ you. Congratulations, your pint just got more expensive. How much damage to your wallet remains to be seen.

But who ultimately wins? Well, a great deal of finger exercise can be gained by pointing at the SLA who, according to Shelton Brothers Principal Dan Shelton, already charges the most egregious tax on out-of-state beers in the nation. They stand to rake in a ton of extra revenue as they put the smackdown on hundreds of small beers, but, technically, abiding by the constitution is their duty as a state agency.

More than a small amount of scrutiny has to fall on the lawsuit initiators themselves. Shelton Brothers just checkmated an entire State’s worth of growing breweries competing with his line of imports for tap and shelf space. Since New York State happens to contain New York City, that’s a huge market advantage. It’s enough to give the impression that, just possibly, this suit wasn’t really ever about throwing a tantrum because four beer labels got rejected.

One of the great things about the craft beer community was its closeness and communicative nature, and the sentiment that the most vicious competitive practices were reserved for use against the giant multinational gigabreweries. It’s a sad sign of the maturation of the industry that those holds are no longer barred.

Fortunately, New York State beers are better than ever, and, even if you’re a lover of the Belgian beers Shelton Brothers import, perhaps this would be a good time to make a conscious decision to reach for, say, an Ommegang instead of a brand out of their portfolio. I used to love its tartness, but, for me, Cantillon has never tasted so sour.

Rochester, get ready for the Tap & Table

The Tap & Table, still something of a work in progress

Joe McBane is not one to shy away from ambitious goals. He took a leap of faith back in the day when he signed on to work at The Old Toad, an ocean away from his native Sheffield. When he opened his own place, the Tap and Mallet, he stayed true to an uncompromising vision of what a beer bar should be, gutting and reconstructing the building in the process. But opening his new restaurant, the Tap and Table, before July might be his most challenging task yet.

The Tap and Table will be different from the Gregory Street gastropub. Of course they’ll go heavy on the craft beer, but this place will have a full bar and broader menu which will lean heavily on locally sourced ingredients. The main draw, however, is going to be location.

This place is going to be pretty amazing. It’s located in Corn Hill Landing, on the water, with a view of Rochester’s prettiest side (that is, when the view isn’t cluttered up with local attorneys filming cheesy commercials). But that waterfront location forces McBane’s hand. He NEEDS to be open to catch the summer traffic. Knowing Joe, he’ll get it done, probably with just enough time to spare to let him enjoy a pint on his new patio.

Art and Beer today at Rohrbach

Before I get down to the serious business of making Hefeweizen with the Boardman St. brewing Crew, I wanted to throw this event link out there, in case you’re looking for something to do this afternoon in Rochester.

Get your art on, while getting your beer fix, starting today at 2 at the Rhorbach Brewing Company, 91 Railroad Street, by the Rochester Public Market. http://www.artawake.org/

Drink locally or think globally?

by Mark Tichenor

Finger Lakes Region beer lovers rejoice! Another legendary brewery is entering our area. Founders Brewing of Grand Rapids, Michigan, will be on tap in Rochester this May.

That’s a big win; Founders’ beer is consistently some of the best and most highly rated in the country. Currently it’s sought after by beer traders, and many a Rochesterian visitor to the Midwest is pestered to bring a trunkload home for friends. But the imminent arrival of Founders also gives some pause for thought and reflection about our own local beer, as well as the direction of the craft beer industry.

National, or at least regional, distribution is crucial to an ambitious craft brewery’s success. A beermaking operation is an expensive small business to start up and run, and many places simply don’t have the market size in their home regions to expand. Getting the beer to other markets is often the necessary solution.

We crazy beer lovers benefit from that necessity, and from the fact that there’s a mad-effecient distribution structure already set up to handle it. Because of this, you can walk into the right small-town pub and pick up a menu of the best American beers. Stone Brewing, Green Flash, Victory, Lagunitas, and now Founders. It’s a dilemma just to choose.

But there’s a downside as well. Having easy access to beers from every region makes the beers, well, a bit less special. Things homogenize; they’re no longer rare treats, rather just some more beers on the tapline. It also takes away some of the joys of vacation. Travel is a bit less fun when the unique tastes of a city on the other side of the continent are familiar to you from your barstool back home.

This national distribution also adds a huge weight of competition for our local brewers. That is as it should be. It prevents complacency among our own scene and awakens the creative fire in our local brewmasters.

In that sense, it’s gratifying to see how adeptly our guys can hang with the big boys. From Jamestown to Canandaigua, brewers in Western New York and the Finger Lakes are producing more exciting beer than ever before, beer that can stack up, sip for sip, to anything the glitzy rock star breweries can keg and ship.

So bring it on, Founders Brewing. We Rochester beer lovers welcome you with open arms and open taps. We will rejoice in your deliciousness. Just don’t be surprised if, at some point, a Finger Lakes brewery succeeds in creating something just a tad more special.

In other beers:
The Rohrbach Brewing Company is reviving their Brewtopia series of beer socials, complete with talks given by the brewers and an insight into Rochester’s beer history. You can join them at the Railroad Street brewery as they pair their own beer and that of the Roc Brewing Company with tasty, tasty food on April 25th. The cost is $12. More information is available at (585) 594-9800 or at rohrbachs. com

There’s a new startup in the works. The Fairport Brewing Company jumped some major hurdles on its path to opening for business, receiving their Federal license. Tom and Tim recently held their first community sampling at the Fairport Village Inn, and will surely be doing more of that around the area. Find them at fairportbrewing.com

Mark owns a laptop and likes beer. For more on beer, check out the beercraft blog, updated regularly, at beercraft.wordpress.com. Find him on Twitter @beercraft. Send your questions, suggestions, or comments to beercraft@rochester.rr.com.

New print column. 3 Heads’ “The Common Man” is an elite beer.

Bottle of 3 Heads' "The Common Man"3 Heads knocks it out of the park.
by Mark Tichenor

Craft breweries make their bones by marketing big, unique beers to big, unique individuals. High alcohol levels, forceful flavors and innovative ingredients put many great brews on the map, but remain the characteristics of a niche product. Most of the “great” American beers, are a bit much for the casual beer drinker  to have out on the porch with the sun beating down. Conversely, most “mainstream” craft beer styles, brown and pale ales come to mind, bore hardcore beer lovers to death. It’s hard for a brewer to win.

Three Heads Brewing, however, thinks they’ve found the perfect formula, and it is “The Common Man.”

Brewery co-owner Geoff Dale describes it as the beer that will unite the craft beer lover and casual drinker. Time will tell if he’s right, but it only takes one sip to discover that the Heads are onto something extraordinary. The Common Man blends an audacious idea with an “everyman” sensibility, yet with enough aggression to keep each sip extremely interesting.

When Dale told me the beer was a California Common I was skeptical. The style originated in mid-19th century San Francisco, where brewers, out of necessity due to lack of refrigeration, had to ferment lager yeast at warmer ale temperatures. The prime example  is the astoundingly milquetoast Anchor Steam Beer, and other breweries’ attempts to jazz up the style either come off like a Ford Pinto with a hood-scoop or revel in the nasty off-flavors possible when this volatile method of fermentation goes horribly, terribly wrong. Damned if they didn’t pull it off.

The Common Man is a great beer. It is a superlative beer, and will serve as my primary summer refresher.  And I’m not just saying that just because Dale drove me around on the launch day pub crawl and bought me a poop-ton of it.

The beer pours a deep golden color, with no trace of thinness, nor any dark hues that would lead a casual craft beer drinker to question its refreshment potential. Slightly aromatic, the beer presents a bit of plum and raspberry in the nose with a definite hop prickle. It pours enticingly, bubbly with a creamy head that pillows above the rim of the glass.

It takes a bit of self-discipline to keep a sip of this beer from turning into a gulp. The light body does not come at the expense of character. It’s a mix of uncomplicated malt and light fruit hints that mix together extremely well, creating a powerful flavor that easily recedes from the taste buds, with a lingering hint of blackberry on the exhale.

The Common Man finishes with a Kölsch-like hop snap. It doesn’t bludgeon you with a ton of bitterness or bury you in grapefruit. Just a wave of gentle herbal bitterness that doesn’t need to do anything more than serve as a lead-in to the next sip.

At 5.5% alcohol by volume, The Common Man can fit into the common appetite. It’s 3 Heads’ lowest-alcohol beer to date, and, while a touch on the strong side for a session beer, remains friendly enough to encourage the enjoyment of more than one.

There’s no doubt that The Common Man will have to overcome some prejudicial notions about gravity and alcoholic strength to be accepted by the big-beer community, but it’s worthy of consideration among the greats. As for everyday beer drinkers, this is the beer that will turn your light-swilling cousin on to craft brewing.

If The Common Man were slightly less awesome, it might go the way of your typical summer seasonal, faded by August and possibly re-released at the same time next year. As it is, I think this beer could become the next New Belgium Fat Tire. It’s that good, and that accessible.

In that respect, there’s nothing common about it.

Mark owns a laptop and likes beer. For more on beer, check out the beercraft blog, updated regularly, at beercraft.wordpress.com. Find him on Twitter @beercraft. Send your questions, suggestions, or comments to beercraft@rochester.rr.com.

Clean kegs are happy kegs

The first week of my brewery appprenticeship culminated in acquaintance with the keg washer, a mess of pipes, hoses, valves and steaming caustic solution resembling a twisted steampunk nightmare.

It took a few runs through the washing process, a series of steps in which the foul effluvia of expired beer gets blown and flushed out, and the keg is scoured with said boiling caustic.

It sure is glamorous, humping kegs on and off the machine. That, alas, is part of the reality of what small brewers must do every day in order to bring you the beer you love.

-Mark