By Brendan Kewin
Edited by Kevin Wise
There are big beer happenings in the works for the little town of Brockport, New York. On the outskirts of town, there’s RG Brewery making beers like Grumpy Neighbor IPA and Pineapple Upside Down Ale.
Another structure is being transformed. Previously Flash’s Tavern and The Colonial, a new restaurant called Carbon will have a a farm brewery in the back of the building.
Lastly, an existing small brewpub, Stoneyard Brewing Company, is buying an abandoned warehouse and transforming it into a production brewery.
I have always enjoyed the beer at Stoneyard, no matter the style. Each beer is an experience; it tells you a story. Each beer tickles your taste buds and urges you to take another sip.
It takes special brewers to be able to nail it time after time and beer after beer. The people at Stoneyard have something special going on and it was time that I got to know the people behind the beers that I have known for so long. Turns out that not only does Stoneyard make great beers, but they are also great people.
I was given the opportunity to meet with assistant brewer, James Riley. Upon arrival at the downstairs bar, he got behind the bar and asked if I had tried their Quince IPA yet. He poured me a glass while explaining that it was actually a collaboration they made with Leonard Oakes Winery. It was a fantastic double IPA brewed with quince juice. You’d never guess the alcohol percent clocked in at a whopping ten percent.
This beer gave me a perfect transition into asking how Stoneyard goes about setting up so many collaborations. It seems that half or more of the beers they make are some sort of collaboration with someone- and not just breweries. The answer for Riley was simple:
The collaborations are organic. It starts with a conversation; we’re hanging out with other brewers and we’re having a couple beers and we’re like: wouldn’t it be cool to work together?
It seems natural that collaborations would work this way when brewers get together and start talking. This has happened between Stoneyard and Roc Brewing Co., Cider Creek, Leonard Oakes Winery, Swiftwater and a bunch more. “They’re friends of ours,” Riley said of all of the people they have collaborated with. Sometimes it is done for practical reasons.
We have a two and a half barrel system here, so sometimes it just makes sense to extend our product a little more with doing a collaboration with somebody that has a bigger system.
The exception to the collaborations that happen organically would have to be the first collaboration done with Great Lakes Brewing Company. The guys at Stoneyard asked the reps at Great Lakes if they could meet some of the brewers. The result was that the Brewmaster of Great Lakes, Luke Purcell, personally came out to meet them and ended up brewing with them. Riley talked about the first collab:
Great Lakes makes a beer called the Lake Erie Monster. We did the Erie Canal Monster where we made basically the same beer but we added fifty pounds of local honey. That boosted the alcohol to about eleven percent.
On a side note, I remember trying that beer when it came out a couple years ago and to this day it is still one of my favorites. The way he talked about Great Lakes you could tell that James was still ecstatic that he was able to brew with Luke, even after two years. He went on talking about their experiences with Great Lakes and said of it all:
It was an honor to work with Great Lakes. We are nobody. Our brewery is a tiny little elevator shaft in a building in Brockport. Who are we to brew with them?
But they did brew together and James had nothing but great things to say of Luke Purcell, “Luke is one of the nicest guys, just really cool.” (See a write-up of this collab from WNY Craft Beer by clicking here)
I asked Riley about the future of Stoneyard Brewing Co. I knew prior to the interview of a couple rather large projects they are taking on and I wanted to know where they saw themselves in the not-so-distant future.
The major project is the building of its new production brewery. The new brewery will include a thirty barrel production system just down the road from the brewpub and they hope to take over the state with it. Riley is ready for the upgrade.
We want to grow. We are not content with just being in these four walls.
Stoneyard’s goal is to be distributed through all of New York State by next year. If that doesn’t sound ambitious, then add on the fact that it is in the process of turning an old bar that recently closed in town into Stoneyard Breakfast Company– at the same time as opening its production facility. These are sizeable tasks, but if anyone can make this happen it is this group of people.
Jay Nichols, the founder of Stoneyard, was referred to by Riley as a “sales wizard.” He went on with high praise saying, “Jay has an energy that is unmatched. He’s so good and he wants to be everywhere.”
I thoroughly believe that Stoneyard has what it takes to achieve their goals especially when you have someone like Nichols leading such a fantastic group of people. Everyone that is involved in Stoneyard believes it is possible and they create an energy that shows you they will succeed. Riley finished his thoughts on the future with a quote from Mark Twain which perfectly sums up the drive behind these guys:
They didn’t know it was impossible, so they did it.
Which leads me to the community backing Stoneyard Brewing Co. I asked Riley his favorite part of the beer community and instantly he answered, “The comradery.” We spoke of Brockport fully embracing the vision Stoneyard has not only for itself, but also for the town.
The goal is to make all of Brockport a destination and who better to do it than this amazing brewery. It would do great things for this town. The people want to see this happen and they know it is completely possible. There has been nothing but support.
Our conversation then turned to discussion of Rochester. Rochester is a special place in the brewing world. Riley said, “The idea of rivalry is so far alien to all of us.” Even the big guys in town, Genesee, have fully embraced the craft movement in this area almost taking on a type of big brother role to all of the smaller breweries in the area.
Genesee could try to “crush and consume,” as Riley put it like a lot of other macro breweries have done but instead Genesee has done the exact opposite. At Genesee’s brewpub they put on all the other local craft brews on tap including Stoneyard.
Then there are the people of the Rochester beer community.
Maybe I’m biased because I’m from here- but Rochester is one of the most tight-knit beer communities. People in this city support each other and I mean that 110 percent.
Riley also acknowledged the community as aggressive and critical. People don’t let much slide but if you are doing things right they will be the first to let you and everyone else know. This is a proud beer community and it shows.
As James and I wrapped up our conversation it made me proud to be from Rochester and more so from Brockport where I can watch great strides for brewing being made.
I can proudly say that I will be a part of that in some way as I left the bar with an invitation to come brew with Stoneyard on its next brew day.
Since my meeting with Riley, Stoneyard attended TAP NY and won a gold medal in the category of light ales with their Toasted Coconut Kareem Ale. I have so much respect for Jay, Oz the head brewer, and James and I am excited to see where these guys go.
Stoneyard Brewing Company can be found at 1 Main St in Brockport, NY.
This is an interview in a series of guest entries by students in the Practical Brewing class at Erie Community College. Students were asked to conduct an interview with a person of their choosing in the brewing industry.
Brendan Kewin is currently completing his requirements for a state certification program in Brewing Sciences and Services at Erie Community College.