by Kelly Gallagher
Justin Behan’s up-and-coming brewery in Middleburgh, NY is based on vision — literally and figuratively.
Around the same time Behan was perfecting his beer recipes, his wife Tracey dreamed about a green wolf walking slowly through the woods. Through her description of this vivid image, Behan’s own dream was given a name — Green Wolf Brewery.
In the main brewroom of his business’s future location, there is a Green Wolf logo. The paint is still wet. “That was just added last night,” Behan said with a smile. Indeed, things are happening very fast for Behan as he prepares for his taproom’s grand opening, which is currently scheduled for this month. The new business will bring life to a previously empty storefront in Middleburgh, a rural town in New York State’s Central Leatherstocking region. Behan looks forward to the growth of his own endeavor, but is equally invested in the community in which he will be part.
“Middleburgh is a crossroads town. Interstate 88 runs right by here, and visitors pass through the region all the time. But the goal is to get them to stay a little while,” says Behan, who wanted to be an organic farmer before he discovered brewing.
His eventual goal — to open a brewery — was bolstered by the aspirations of another, Shane Liebler, whom he met at a baseball party in Baldwinsville, NY nearly two years ago. After Liebler and Behan were introduced, the two discussed their plans for the future. A future with beer was in the cards for Shane as well — as a promotor of Central New York breweries. In addition to sharing an appreciation for local beer, both men aim to create a greater sense of community in Central New York, which comprises eight upstate counties, from Broome County and the Greater Binghamton area in the Southern Tier, to Herkimer County in the north. Onondaga County and Schoharie County comprise the region’s western and eastern borders, respectively.
Liebler’s brain child, Brew Central, aims to connect Central New York craft beverage makers and also provide a portal for tourists who are interested in beer and willing to create their own beer trail-oriented vacation.
“The overarching goal of the campaign is to draw people from the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Canada and beyond to come experience the burgeoning brewery (and cidery and distillery) scene, and stay the night,” says Liebler. “We feel the sheer number of attractions coupled with our “Stories on Tap” tag line really lend themselves to making that happen. We’re telling the stories of the people behind the beer and many craft brew fans appreciate that.”
Behan shares this belief, “Travel is an emotional experience. People don’t just want good beer. They want to connect to a story.”
Any brewery, cidery, distillery or winery in the region is considered a part of Brew Central, Liebler says. Craft pubs are considered based on the number of taps dedicated to craft beer. There are no membership fees associated with being part of Brew Central.
Behan is grateful for that fateful meeting with Liebler in Baldwinsville, but he believes Brew Central would have found him regardless. “Brew Central is excellent at seeking out new places to promote,” he says. “They find both new breweries and well-known gems, and gives us a real sense of community.”
Behan doesn’t just like to talk about a community — he actively seeks out local resources to use while building his business, and is quick to promote other Central New York craft beverage makers. “I’m happy to add to my business’s diversity and helping other local craft brewers by featuring guest taps. And, that way, if I don’t have a pilsner available, I can get one!”
Rather than being at odds with one another and seeing each other as competition, Behan says he feels a spirit of friendliness in his dealings with fellow local brewers. They share tips and information, he says, and are open to learning from each other.
“Brew Central is weaving together a great craft brew community here in upstate New York,” says Behan. “It’s a cooperative environment.”
Behan uses locally grow ingredients, although this does come with some challenges. Once a leading producer of hops, New York State is now working hard to get back into the groove of producing the crop on a mass scale. Behan is currently working with nearby Barber Farms to receive his hops supply, and because of his relatively small size, they are currently able to keep up with the state-mandated quota of having 20 percent locally sourced ingredients — a quota necessary to claim the license of an official New York State Farm Brewery.
“The supply chain of harvested grains is the number one challenge of being a farm brewer,” Behan says. While the hops supply is currently in decent shape, Behan points to issues with the production of brewing barley (as opposed to feed barley) in New York State. The climate is different than in the west, where the majority of brewing barley is grown in this country, and farmers are using new seedstock. There is also a learning curve involved when planting a new crop.
Farmers and brewers who are searching for solutions to crop and ingredient problems have a friend in the Carey Institute for Global Good, an organization based in Millbrook, NY that provides technical assistance to new brewers and the farmers who are growing their grain. This organization helps resources to be grouped together more quickly and emphasizes the use of locally grown ingredients.
Behan’s equipment acquistion also has local ties. The brewery’s control panel was purchased from Brewmation Incorporated, a company based in Hopewell Junction, NY.
Behan hopes that he can not only attract tourists to Green Wolf Brewery, but to other destinations in Central New York.“Don’t just come see us,” he says. “Check out what events the library is holding. Stop at a restaurant, or a local museum.”
In addition to featuring a half dozen varieties of beer, Behan plans on hosting poetry readings, open mic nights, live bands and more. The space is currently still under construction, and the smell of fresh sawdust hangs in the air. Footsteps echo in the half-finished rooms, and there are still toolboxes strewn around the floor. But it’s not hard to see that with a little more time and a little more paint, the Green Wolf Brewery will be able to step out of the dream realm and into the heart of this small, but growing, community.
A community of dreams
by Kelly Gallagher