The Microbrewing Movement

Originally Posted: Thursday, December 13, 2012


America has a love affair with craft breweries. “Beer makes people happy. People find a local brewery and they become repeat customers. They share their find and come back again.” Tom Crowell of Chatham Brewing told me with an ingenious smile that seems to be widespread in microbrewing, a trend sweeping the nation.


Tom Crowell and Jake Cunningham have been in business brewing beer “Imported from Main Street” in Chatham since 2007. Their individual passions for home brewing were united when their wives met on their kids’ play date and put them in touch. The rest is history.
They opened up a microbrewery in Chatham committed to sourcing locally grown barley, hops, maple syrup and bourbon in barrels and invited the community to taste and buy direct. I asked Tom who was a better brewer? He answered, “with subtle differences in the way Jake and I would craft beers, we decided to hire a brewer.”


Matt Perry, also of Chatham, is the head brewer at Chatham Brewing. He sought out the company and brought talent and creativity to the table — a gift you can taste in the many flavors he produces. The new seasonal winter ale is out just in time for the holidays.


Crowell, director of outreach and resource development for Columbia Land Conservancy and chair of the food systems tech committee for the Capital Region Sustainability Plan convened by the Governor’s Office, knows all too well about the importance of sustaining profitability in our region and connecting the dots for local businesses with a “you can too” attitude that benefits us all.


Combining the CLC mission of protecting working landscapes with Cuomo’s vision to make it happen by pledging $90 million (for public review at month’s end) to allocate to transportation, waste, water and food systems relative to economic development in agriculture, Chatham Brewing is a great model worthy of this investment. It supports local farming as a purveyor of barley and hops while connecting manufacturers regionally and engaging the community supporting events at Olana, CLC, Friends of the Farmer, Hudson Valley Bounty and the Humane Society.


The same way Chatham Brewing supports these local events Cunningham expressed, “As Chatham residents we are looking to make a big investment in our town and local community, we could have moved anywhere but we want to support our town. We believe in the people who live here and are asking for your support of our venture too — buy our beer locally and tell others what you think.”


Barley must be malted to become beer, and hops when unavailable fresh after the harvest, must be pelletized (pulverized and ground) in order to brew. Tom said, “a malt house should come to the region, people are already writing plans but it’s a challenge of pricing to source the grain (whether from the Midwest or Canada), since we can now source grain here [in the Hudson Valley], pricing locally can be competitive.”


The Chatham Brewing template begs for a malt house to be built locally given their great problem of demand exceeding production. The challenge remains — figuring out how to grow profitably. Having more demand that they can meet Tom told me, “growing is capital intensive and how to make that leap is to locally own 100 percent of the process.” That’s organic growth.


Tom went on, “the idea of investing in value added infrastructure for breweries makes sense with the Chatham Brewing goal of using more local agricultural resources as it allows more opportunities for sustainability and takes pressure off of the land by keeping it in production instead of having to sell to developers.”


In this spirit, the farmer/landowner match program offered by CLC has given awareness to a new demographic of land and business owners and in two years has put 1,000 acres of land back into production in Columbia County – this means more jobs and sustainable resources in our communities. Full Field Farm, Roxbury Farm and Hillrock Distillery are all part of this program. In addition to sourcing Hillrock Distillery’s used bourbon barrels for their 8 Barrel Reserve Ale and Bourbon Barrel Bown, the “spent grains” are picked up and become food for pigs at the farms — that become our local sausages available at the POP UP indoor farmer’s market at the new Chatham Brewing viewing room/brewery spot on Main Street in Chatham. It’s a closed system and sustainable. The pigs actually run to the truck on Friday afternoons when the weekly deliveries of brewed and spent grains are delivered back to the farm.


Cunningham plans to conquer the world one beer drinker at a time and is taking a clever approach to positioning the company and the brand. “Marketing direct to consumers drives demand locally. Americans are making the best beer in the world and are ready to bring the best small batch/high value beers to the table to enjoy with food.” Something the Europeans have been doing with wine for centuries and we are now seeing pairings with cheese and chocolate, accompaniments to food — instead of just beer drinking as America’s pastime.


And it’s not just the boy’s club — the great women behind them are involved too. Sarah Crowell recently contacted a seamstress who is recycling the grain bags into reuseable shopping totes and Christine Cunningham is lending her architecture acumen to the new Chatham Brewing facility.


There are 12 types of beer available in bottles, growlers, howlers and kegs. Prices range from $5 to $150 for various types and packaging. There are small kegs, rental taps, delivery available for a small fee and these folks even welcome other companies growlers to fill with their award winning flavors to get their “one shot for consumption in a very competitive industry hoping to create loyalty,” Tom explained to me in detail and Jake outlined the steep barriers with so many start ups vying for market share in beer sales and high cost of equipment needed for the new brewery.


But Jake and Tom are winning! Just five years in, Chatham Brewing has won four prestigious awards! And this year they took home the Matthew Vasser Cup (who founded Vasser College and was a brewer) and the 2012 Best Craft Brewery in the Hudson Valley award.


So where can we find Chatham Brewing beverages? And what can we do to support their local growth? Ask restaurants and retailers to carry it and seek it out locally at farmers markets in Beacon, Chatham, Hastings, Hudson, Kingston, Rhinebeck and this week in Chappaqua — even Hilary and Bill Clinton are rumored to be Chatham Brewing fans when in a local Chatham restaurant. In NYC you can stop by any of the upper west side Dive Bars who also offer many flavors on tap including Chatham Brewing private label flavor!


All for the love of drinking locally crafted beer. What’s not to love? Stop by any Saturday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. through March on Main Street in Chatham and you will find out. Fill up a growler of local brew and enjoy a local beer (responsibly) with your loved ones this holiday and toast to the future of farming. It’s a reason to celebrate. FarmOn!


Copyright © 2012 Columbia-Greene Media