Written by Ken Carman
Ken Carman is a BJCP judge; homebrewer since 1979, club member at Escambia Bay, Clarksvlle Carboys and Music City Homebrewers, who has been interviewing professional brewers all over the east coast for over 10 years.
Fulton Chain Craft Brewery, 127 North Street, Old Forge, NY 13420
Old Forge: a great Adirondack town that since I was a kid has gone from sleepy most of the time, to busy more than not. Yet, as I said when I was talking to Chip Kiefer: fellow Town of Webb grad, about what kind of brewery might work here, “I know, when I lived here, there are some days you could toss an asteroid down Main Street and hit nothing.” He responded with: “It’s still like that sometimes.”
Yes, for that and many other reasons, starting a business here is rewarding, yet can be tough, and a brewery has special challenges, as I’m sure co-owners of the Fulton Chain Craft Brewery, Justin Staskiewicz and Richard Mathy, know. The crazy busy times are buffered by the long “I almost wish an asteroid would go down Main Street” days, if only it could stop and shop.
The off season can be immensely enjoyable, relaxing, but without planning it can be tough on business.
One obvious sign it’s tough is how long it took for a craft brewery to get here. While the rest of country has been having fun brewing up many barrels of craft beer other than Saranac Lake and Lake Placid, the Dacks have remained mostly untouched. Saranac is a recent addition, Lake Placid not that long ago considering the history of craft beer, nationwide.
I’m not surprised at all by any of this. In the 1977, at my Adirondack wedding, down the road in Big Moose, NY, my father-in-law brought a seemingly endless supply of Heineken Dark for everyone at the reception. In the Adirondacks, at the time, getting any beer beyond American Lager: essentially Bud or Miller-like products, was like finding a skyscraper in downtown Old Forge filled with wookies.
After that moment I am proud to say dark beer, and other unusual brews (for the time), slowly started to appear in the Central Adirondacks.
Yes, you can blame me, Old Forge.
I have actually tried myself, in the past few years, to get a small brewery, or brewpub, started in the Old Forge area. For various reasons I failed in that beery quest, but BEHOLD….
Fulton Chain is in what former Old Forge kids from the 60s, and early 70s, knew as the old bowling alley. It has been several businesses since, and brewer Justin Staskiewicz told me the place had needed a lot of work. I wouldn’t know, never actually having been inside. Due to an operation in the 60s I can’t bowl worth an emptied bottle of Michelob Ultra. Long story.
And the amount of work it takes is obviously understood by brewer Justin: “It’s been 14 hour days, but I love it. My lady is VERY understanding.”
They got a big kick from their Kickstarter campaign, and as Justin said…
Once you have someone else’s money, you know what they’re expecting and you have a responsibility to try to fulfill those dreams.
They had checked many locations like Utica, Syracuse and found market saturation a problem, but one area stood out as having nothing, and long overdue, if I might hop in and add my own two grains of barley’s worth. As a plus it was somewhere they loved, had canoed through many times. Hence their slogan, “Take a chance on life and find your adventure canoe.”
Justin explained the slogan by telling the story of a trip down a trail with co-owner Richard Mathy to a distant Adirondack pond and finding a canoe there they could use there.
What a great, woodsy, etched wooden plaque that would make, hung over the bar!
Fulton operates off of a farm brewers license, which in New York requires 20% usage of NY crop. Instead they chose to be as close to 100% as possible, right now they’re at 85%. They also use local suppliers for other needs, like Jim Kiefer, younger brother to my old Town of Webb (Old Forge) school friend, Chip Kiefer.
It’s a small, close knit, town, and that makes keeping it local more important than ever.
Mr. Staskiewicz is a self trained brewer, a graduate of UB (University of Buffalo) who was a Philosophy major. He, like so many I have interviewed, is bringing his own, unique, perspective to brewing. To me it’s about keeping craft beer interesting, I have found the mix of classically trained, with other brewers who bring their own unique perspectives and experiences, has helped keep craft beer fresh, push fermentation into new territory… all while offering interesting renditions of classic brews.
Richard, Justin and the rest at Fulton Chain eagerly greet and meet everyone who comes in the door. And it was so obvious they’re becoming part of the community while using mostly New York State ingredients. I was especially impressed with Master Brewer Staskiewicz who made himself available from the very first moment, answering my questions completely.
Yes, as I just mentioned, they use New York State ingredients as much as possible, including Foothill Hops in Munnsville, NY, and East Coast Malts in Dryden, NY…
There was a time, even during most of the craft beer revolution, that brewers could only buy from the big malt-sters… period. Not that long ago hops had to be bought from big growers out west… period. Irony being, in the 1800s, upstate New York had the largest hop fields in the country, maybe even in the world at times.
Then… “Here comes the hop blight! Here comes the hop blight!”
Breweries like Fulton have helped bring more business to New York, and the country: small businesses growing hops, malting barley, providing new equipment: these are only a few of the new mom and pop-like businesses that have been started to help small breweries.
While I sampled their brews, Justin finished off his brew duties. My favorite was their Adventure Canoe: a tad aggressive for a “lighter” IPA. not quite a gateway/lighter brew for the hop shy, but I that’s what I like: more, always more. As I have said many times, “I have taste buds that need beating.”
For hopping they use Cascade, Chinook, Nugget and, of course, other hops, and they do dry hop a bit.
Canoe had a bit more bitter than flavor to the hops which were way up front with a hint of pale malt behind that. I did find it interesting that their lighter on the SRM scale brews: essentially color, had a yellowish haze, and were a tad chewy. If I had to hazard a guess: yeast. Some pro-brewers might cringe, but I love yeast. Part of the key here is they do no filtering.
Plus, let’s not forget, Fulton Chain Craft Brewery is a youngster in craft beer world. The day I I took notes for this column Justin told me they had only been open six weeks, one day. So Old Forge has a lot of brew goodness to look forward to: recipes improve with time and I find new breweries usually just get better and better.
One wise move, in my opinion, was their fermentation tanks. Instead of impressive, yet costly, stainless steel they went with a heavy duty, food grade, plastic: for you homebrewers out there, kind of like a big commercial version of Fast Ferment which I recently purchased.
Justin and I talked about this, and he admitted if he was still a homebrewer he would love to have a FastFerment.
I know, I like stainless too: it looks so good. But having used this food grade plastic since I started brewing, as long as you don’t scrape hard when you clean it works very well.
I was impressed with all the forethought that went into this brewery and his thoughtful answer to my usual question about what advice he might have for homebrewers. “Get used to cleaning,” he said with a smile, but then said…
“Enjoy, have fun, take a chance on life.”
But let’s go back to cleaning for a moment; he uses PBW and Star San: commercial products most homebrewers are quite familiar with.
Sure beats the old days when when some of us started brewing when it was first made legal by Jimmy Carter in 1979: bleach, rinse, rinse, rinse… more bleach, rinse, rinse, rinse, rinse, rinse, rinse, rinse, rinse, rinse…
There was the typical, small, home brewer friendly, grain mill with the “standard” drill attached. In a room filled with grain bags, the small mill, there was also a plastic sorting system hanging from the wall to help keep different grains separate until brew time. I like this idea. Hmm… maybe if I ever expand my own, very tiny, system?
They use 1056 yeast (American Yeast), repitch, and do plan on bringing other yeasts in, though Justin chuckled when I said, “So no brett or sours for now, eh?”
However, according to their site, they do have plans for a sour cherry Stout, though I’d suspect the “sour” would be driven by the cherry, not lactobacillus.
That’s Mr. Bacillus to you, an invader from the planet Lacto that brewers fear, or love, depending… OK, yes, I’m joking, except “love” and “fear.” This is part of one of the newer trends where yeasts and bacteria normally viewed as infectors of batches of beer are being used to provide sour, tart, and what’s almost indescribable funk. Inspired by Belgian brewers. Common descriptors, like “horse blanket” and “farmyard,” are inaccurate, in my opinion, and can turn off those who might otherwise find their “adventure canoe.”
Very little to no filtering is used at Fulton Craft. These guys lean towards my palate, for I find filtering can take out flavor. There’s always a fine line between “to filter, or not to filter.” …and how much if you do. Tim Rastetter at Thirsty Dog in Akron, Ohio once told me they were having problems with their Russian Imperial, Siberian Night: considered a classic of the style. Then he decided just to open up the valve on the bottom of the conical fermenter until it flowed yeast free.
We moved on to the brewery itself, a two barrel system and beautiful in it’s simplicity. Boil at 210 then off the wort heads to their plate chiller. Two weeks in the fermenter, three for an Imperial.
It was built by Stout Once served, they try to keep five on tap, the others they rotate.
The picture you see below is of Justin, Richard and in the middle: friend Steve Walker.
Richard Mathy told me he did help some: as in cleaning out grain.
Oh, I’ve been there before: my usual duty at McGuires, in Pensacola, when I was brewer Steve Fried’s beer slave. (A polite way to phrase what friends who help brewers, and are paid in beer, are usually called.)
I enjoyed it all.
Before I left I looked all around me at the massive serving bar, the wood siding, glasses hanging… a comfortable, home-like feel to it all. Then there’s the “adventure” canoe hanging from the ceiling: homage to their slogan at Fulton Chain. I looked around and felt at home. Another nice touch: coasters made out wood, cut locally, from excess wood used to make the bar. This room, this place, speaks Central Adirondack-ese very well.
Outside, again, I thought about how much had changed in Old Forge, yet how familiar it all looked. That’s the magic I love that seems to be the very essence, the very spirit, of Old Forge. Unlike many tourist towns I have toured through in my years as an entertainer, and educational service provider, Old Forge doesn’t keep reinventing itself, washing away what was. All that was the Enchanted Forest when we were kids is still there, the restaurants have simply multiplied, or have new owners. The quaint downtown is still there, though a bit busier, and the beach we used to swim at pretty close to dead center, downtown, is very much like I left it. It all looks so familiar, with a few changes like giant water slides. Old Forge simply takes the familiar and adds on, improving what was, making the magic that is Old Forge more magical. Brewing up even more fun for all.
Exactly what I was thinking when I looked at Fulton Chain Craft Brewery.
Brew Biz: Werts and All, is a column dedicated to reviewing, discussing and commenting on all things beer including, but not limited to: marketing, homebrewing and homebrew/beer related events, how society perceives all things beer. Also: reviews of beer related businesses, opinions about trends in the beer business, and all the various homebrew, judging and organizations related to beer. Essentially, all things “beer.”