One of America’s most recognized makers of hazy IPA announced this week it would own and operate a new production facility in East Bloomfield, New York, a 300-mile difference from one growing craft beer hotspot to another. New York’s Empire State Development announced in a press release that the brewery is investing $1.8 million into the project and will receive up to $400,000 in performance-based tax credits tied to job creation. Up to 35 new employees are expected to be hired over the next five years.
Rochester Democrat & Chronicle reporter Will Cleveland broke the news that the company paid $660,000 for the four-acre property and is seeking to add another four. The site formerly housed Nedloh Brewing Co., which closed in 2017, and will reportedly include construction to add buildings for wild ales and barrel aging, which includes a dozen foudres, according to Cleveland. The 10-barrel brewhouse will eventually be upgraded to a 15-barrel system once new equipment is installed in Brooklyn, shifting the stainless steel from New York City to the East Bloomfield location.
The move comes months after Other Half took a road trip through Upstate New York, which included stops in Syracuse, Rochester and Buffalo. In March, Cleveland reported that more than 400 people showed up for the Rochester release starting at 5 a.m. looking to buy a collection of IPAs.
"We feel like we need to give people the chance to experience that same type of line culture," Other Half co-owner Matt Monahan said at the time. "It’s not like we’re trying to promote lines, but it’s turned into its own beast. We just want to provide people access to the products."
That’ll become a whole lot easier when the new location opens before the end of the year.
WHY IT MATTERS
Long known as wine country, the Finger Lakes area of Upstate New York has slowly been changing minds when it comes to its beer industry. While not the magnitude of Sierra Nevada opening a facility outside Asheville, North Carolina, or Stone Brewing in Richmond, Virginia, the reverberations of one of the most celebrated modern-wave breweries in the world coming to a town of about 3,600 residents can’t be understated.
“I just wrote about a brewery on the Erie Canal that’s really cool and has the potential to be a cool, local draw as a spot where people can sit and enjoy a beer outdoors and that’s something people within 20 minutes of the brewery care about,” Cleveland tells GBH. “But this is something that has the potential for people seven or eight hours from Rochester to care about. It’s insane to me that we can have something like this that will draw people here.”
Eight years ago, Cleveland notes, Bloomfield’s Ontario County didn’t have a single craft brewery. Now it has 15, which includes a new crown jewel that he says will be “transformative” for the local scene. “It’s going to be a huge economic draw for the area,” he predicts.
Oddly enough, Other Half's move isn’t the first to directly impact the broader Upstate region. In May, another one of the hottest breweries in New York added an Upstate facility when SingleCut Beersmiths announced it was purchasing Shmaltz' brewery and taproom in Clifton Park.
“Expanding in New York City is prohibitive, so basically these breweries have tried everything they could to maximize their capacity,” said Chris O’Leary, editor of BrewYorkNewYork.com and an avid traveler who’s visited New York State breweries from Queens to the Canadian border. He says that after testing the water with releases in Rochester, it seemed natural that Other Half might make a jump based on proven demand and lower cost of business, especially in a region ripe for tourism. Millions of tourists visit the Finger Lakes from other parts of the country every year, as well as Canada, which accounts for about 2% of the state's total tourism dollars.
“When opening in the Rochester area, you’re actually tapping into the Toronto market in a way,” O’Leary says, noting Other Half’s past participation in Toronto-area Collective Arts Brewing’s Liquid Art Festival. “They’ve made a name for themselves in Upstate New York, but going north, too.”
Aside from breweries like Bellwoods (known for its own hazy IPA) and Collective Arts, “there’s not a lot of comparable breweries to Other Half that have seen that kind of success,” O’Leary adds. “That’s not to say nobody is doing it in the Finger Lakes, but is anyone doing it as well?”
Upstate has long advocated for additional efforts to attract Canadian tourism, spending hundreds of thousands to advertise the Finger Lakes and Rochester in particular. But most important to locals is what the presence of a big name brewery like Other Half will bring for other businesses, too.
“You get a lot of craft beer drinkers through here, but not the type of craft beer drinkers who are always looking for the crazy styles they make,” says Jennifer Meyers, head brewer at Geneva, New York’s War Horse Brewing Co. and a longtime industry pro in the area. “The cool thing about bringing a brewery like them here is it’s going to make everyone work harder.”
War Horse has in recent years been one of a handful of Finger Lakes breweries to continually roll out New England IPAs, the flagship style of Other Half. Meyers says that as fans get to know the style better, it’s going to raise the bar for everyone to work toward the renowned reputation Other Half already holds.
“New York State craft beer is becoming something that people are recognizing,” she says.
“It almost confirms the reputation of Upstate New York and how the craft beer scene has gotten to a place that those in-and-out of the industry have been preaching for quite a while now,” her husband and fellow beer lover, Craig, adds. “This puts us on the map when a big name, big city brewery takes a chance in the Upstate market.”
That’s particularly helpful at a time when something like New England IPA is a beer style that has the attention of the industry, and increasingly, drinkers. Specialty offerings like the wild and barrel-aged beers Other Half plans to produce can only extend that further, Cleveland says.
“This is the kind of brewery that has the chance to be the regional draw that the Rochester area doesn’t really have,” he says, and something that O’Leary echoed himself.
“This really invites everyone to step up their game,” he tells GBH. “The rest of New York State should get to experience what we’ve seen here with Other Half for years.”
— Bryan Roth