by Elizabeth A. Tomlin
“Things have changed dramatically for us in the last year,” remarked Pete Bednarek, partner in Wolf Hollow Brewing Company (WHBC), just west of Albany, NY.
Bednarek, who works full time as a high school principal in the Capital District, was referring to the hobby turned mind-boggling expansion of his growing business. The brewery recently added a third partner and moved into new, larger location, complete with a BBQ restaurant.
Not much more than a year ago the foundation nanobrewery was set up in a 150-year-old grange, renting space and filling growlers only one night a week on a “half-barrel brew system.”
Bednarek says there were many obstacles to opening the business that first time around.
He had formed a friendship, soon to be partnership, with Jordan White, a neighbor who was also a hobby home brewer.
“Like any home brewer,” said White, “you dream of up-scaling all of the time, so I went to beer brewing school.”
White was formally educated in the craft of brewing beer at the American Beer Brewer’s Guild in Middlebury, VT, and had worked on an internship with Brewery Ommegang in Cooperstown, NY. Interning with Ommegang resulted in White getting the coveted assistant brewer position with award-winning Adirondack Brewery in Lake George, NY.
White says he left his position with the Adirondack Brewery to be closer to home with his wife and new baby.
The partnership struggled to find adequate space to establish a lease in the small village of West Glenville, where zoning laws restricted the business.
“We actually lobbied the Town of Glenville to change the zoning laws in our area to allow for a microbrewery – and then had to have the site approved,” Bednarek recalled. “We also needed to file all kinds of paperwork with the Tax and Finance Department of the State, the NYS Liquor Authority, and the Tax and Trade Bureau of the Federal Government. Once these hurdles were cleared we opened in November 2013.”
That’s when Wolf Hollow Brewing Company became a reality.
The infant establishment opened in the West Glenville Grange Hall on Nov. 11, 2013 where brewing started out “one keg at a time.”
“The limiting factor, based on licensing at the time, was we could only serve samples and fill growlers. You couldn’t get a pint at our brewery. You just came in and tasted the beers. We only had four beers on tap and we only had four partial kegs on tap, because the system only yielded about 12 or 13 gallons. We brewed six batches a week.”
Demand for Wolf Hollow beer was intense. They were only open one night a week and running out of beer before that night was over.
The business focused on “crafting beer and relationships” right from the beginning. “We believe that there is great value in the power of good beer to bring people together and that the more we grow as a community, the more good things might come from the building up of those relationships.”
That attitude and the atmosphere attracted more and more demand.
That same demand was the catalyst to locating a larger facility to house the growing business, while remaining in the community. And with that in mind, just a year after opening the infant business, November 2014 saw another change in the brewery; the addition of a third partner, Bill Kenneally.
“I got involved in the brewery venture by knowing Jordan and Pete at church,” Kenneally said. “I knew they had started a little brewery business and one day I thought I’d check them out and see if they had plans for the future.”
Kenneally said he liked their mission statement and liked White and Bednarek’s vision for the future. After some conversation, the three decided to join forces.
Kenneally and his son were long-time competitors in Kansas City Barbeque Society contests on the east coast and they had recently run a catering business.
So, along with Kenneally came Buzzard’s Bay Barbeque to Wolf Hollow Brewing Company. This fit right in with the changing laws in New York Society, which now said that microbreweries were able to serve pints of beer as long as the product was made on the premises and food was available.
“When we moved to our current location there were many more hurdles to clear,” Bednarek commented. “But we understood the process a bit better this time around. Jordan and I tackled everything as a team and we just kept dividing the responsibilities and putting one foot in front of the other focusing on the next issue. The hardest part was figuring out in which order the steps needed to be accomplished.”
However, those steps were accomplished, and Wolf Hollow Brewing Company relocated to a busy main highway. Now the business employs 10 people and is flourishing.
Bednarek points out that a lot of local history is embedded in the business, located a short jaunt from the Mohawk River in the Mohawk Valley, right down to the business name.
“Wolf Hollow is the name of a road one-fourth mile to the East of our business,” explains Bednarek. “The road, now closed to the public after Hurricane Irene washed it out, winds its way through a large gorge, which was the site of a battle between the Algonquin and the Mohawk back in 1669.”
Bednarek says the brewery tries to name their beers “with as much local interest as possible.”
Wolf Hollow Brewery is considered a microbrewery, larger than a nanobrewery, but still a small brewery serving local or regional markets. To qualify as a microbrewery, production is limited to 15,000 barrels annually.
Today, WHBC is able to brew 14 times the capacity as they did previously, with the help of a newer, larger brewing system. This also allows them to have their beers on tap at 15 establishments in surrounding counties.
Wolf Hollow Brewing Company features five mainstay beers and three seasonal or special release beers, but they are planning to double those numbers in the future.
“We get grains from all over the world,” said White, head brewer and director of brewing. “We get our hops mostly from the Pacific Northwest, although we have a handful of local hops growers that we get do get hops from.”
Bednarek says the Wolf Hollow Brewing Company prides itself in focusing on its neighbors. “Our mission has always been about community. It’s been about providing a place where people can gather and get to know their neighbors, get to know other folks in the area, and come around great beer.”
A recently added patio gives the establishment more room for customers to relax and visit and enlarge the growing group of friends.
Bednarek has a bit of advice for anyone starting out in the microbrewing industry. “Focus on crafting a high quality product, plan on everything costing about one-third more than you predict, and get ready to work really hard.”
“Things are rapidly changing,” remarked Bednarek. “It’s been difficult to pace, but we’re not complaining.”
Wolf Hollow Brewing Company focusing on community
by Elizabeth A. Tomlin