It still gives Christopher Ericson a thrill to see his beer for sale at Lake Placid's Price Chopper, let alone in Manhattan, Philadelphia or Baltimore.
Ericson is the owner and head brewer at Lake Placid Pub and Brewery, and he's responsible for creating Ubu Ale, the flagship beer of the Adirondacks (no, it's not Saranac!).
Ubu and other Lake Placid Pub and Brewery beers are now available in about 10 states throughout the Northeast. Ericson said he likes to think that getting the Lake Placid name out there helps people think of coming to the area.
Christopher Ericson looks into a mashing tank he uses during the brewing process at the Lake Placid Pub and Brewery.
(Enterprise photo — Jessica Collier)
His pub itself is something of a draw for tourists. While Ericson said he doesn't think people are necessarily going to travel to Lake Placid just to visit the pub, it can definitely be a deciding factor for people who are choosing between visiting two different destinations.
He also sees a lot of people who are roadtripping through the area, maybe from Albany to Montreal for example, who decide to take a detour and stop by Lake Placid to check out the pub.
Ericson opened the brew pub 15 years ago during the boom of microbreweries in the mid-1990s. But it's still an industry in which many are seeing plenty of room for growth, even here in the Adirondacks.
The brewing process
Christopher Ericson, owner and head brewer at Lake Placid Pub and Brewery, boils the beer brewing process down to the basics.
The first step is mashing - combining hot water with malted barley that has been germinated then roasted. Different roasts have different flavor properties and give the beer its color. When the barley is combined with hot water, it sits for about an hour and a half and forms into an oatmeal-like consistency.
During that time, the hot water converts the starches in the grains into fermentable sugars. Those sugars are drained off and boiled.
During the boil, hops are added. Ericson calls them the spice of beer - there's a relatively small amount of them in a recipe compared to a large amount of barley. Hops provide the aroma and bitterness to the beer. Different varieties of hops are added at different points throughout the boil to create different flavors.
After the boil, the beer is cooled and the brewer adds the yeast. Ale yeast ferments at room temperature for a few days, while lager yeast ferments at cooler temperatures for about a month. That's why many brewers choose ales over lagers - it's harder to predict business a month out, plus it's costly to tie up brewing equipment for a month, Ericson said.
The yeast eats the sugar created, which forms the alcohol. The beer is then chilled, carbonated, aged if necessary, and then its ready to serve.
- Jessica Collier
Lake Placid is lucky enough to be the home to two different brew houses, Pub and Brew and Great Adirondack Steak and Seafood across town.
Ericson and Rob Kane Jr., whose family owns Steak and Seafood, both agree that the two breweries complement each other without directly competing. The Pub is more of a draw for locals, with a casual atmosphere and food like burgers and fish and chips, while Steak and Seafood has a higher-end menu and caters mostly to visitors.
The brewing side of Steak and Seafood, Great Adirondack Brewing Co., hasn't been featured much in the past; it was always a restaurant that happened to have a brewery. But Kane wants to change that.
He got sick of working in the restaurant and, while that area of the business seems to have reached its capacity, Kane saw the brewery as a portion of the business with potential for growth. The rest of the family didn't have the time or energy to deal with it anyway.
Kane is taking over the brewery side of operations, learning to brew from the company's former brewmaster as he formulates plans to expand the operation.
So far, the brewery mainly serves beer from the restaurant, allowing customers to buy growlers if they want to drink the beer at home. They have beer on tap at three local bars, plus two restaurants in Manhattan that are owned by a Saranac Lake man, and that's about all they can keep up with now, Kane said.
He wants to start distributing his beer beyond Lake Placid, starting in the Plattsburgh-to-Saratoga region, to establish the brand and then expand from there. He wants to can the beer for distribution, arguing that cans are lighter and cheaper to ship, more environmentally friendly because they're easier to recycle, there's more room on a can for marketing and cans are good for outdoorspeople.
Kane wants to expand within Lake Placid, either at the brewery's existing site behind the restaurant on Main Street or at a new site somewhere else in town. The goal would be to distribute in three to five states in the next three years, adding about 30 jobs to the local economy.
"It'll be really great for the town," Kane said.
Kane said he has been using the tourism draw of a brewery, plus the fact that it would add jobs to the local economy, as a way to draw investors and tease money out of banks to fund his expansion plan.
"Beer geeks love to travel," Kane said.
He even had a customer from New Jersey who drove up just to fill his growlers with the brewery's double IPA, spent the night then returned to New Jersey the next day.
Craft brewing is the only portion of the American beverage market that's growing right now, Kane said.
Though overall U.S. beer sales were down by about 1 percent by volume in 2010, the craft brewing industry grew by 11 percent in volume and 12 percent in dollars - up from 7.2 percent growth in volume in 2009 and 10.3 percent in dollars, according to the American Brewers Association.
According to the association's website, 1,753 breweries operated for some or all of 2010, the highest number since the late 1800s, before Prohibition chopped that number down significantly.
The association estimates that craft brewers provide 100,000 jobs in the U.S., including serving staff in brewpubs.
Besides those established businesses in Lake Placid, other people in the Adirondacks are hoping to take advantage of that growth industry.
At least one group of businessmen in Tupper Lake is looking to go into the beer business. Jim LaValley, a real estate broker and head of the organization temporarily running the Big Tupper Ski Area, and a few colleagues recently formed a limited liability company under the name Big Tupper Brewing.
They intend to open a small brewery, smaller by far than the Lake Placid Pub and Brewery, LaValley said. The idea came about when Ericson brewed a one-time beer as a fundraiser for the effort to reopen Big Tupper.
"It was huge," LaValley said. "People were following the truck."
The popularity of that made LaValley and several fellow investors including Doug Wright and Tom Lawson, decide to try to open their own brewery. They are still assessing their options and trying to decide whether to employ their own brewer or to contract their beer from another brewer, LaValley said. They have already been approached by a few homebrewers, which is where most professional brewers get their start.
Both Ericson and Kane travel all over to bring their beer to festivals, introducing it to new audiences all the time. Ericson said that's good for the region because his beer will get the name of Lake Placid into the ears of people who may not have heard of the town yet or people who haven't visited in a long time.
Kane said he just got back from the Great American Beer Festival in Denver, where Great Adirondack won a silver medal for its kolsch beer. It was a difficult category to win, he said, so they are proud of the honor.
In Tupper Lake, LaValley and his cohorts are planning their own beer festival for next summer. Likely to be held in the Municipal Park, it is set for July 7, to be held in conjunction with an expanded Fourth of July celebration that the Tupper Lake Chamber of Commerce is planning.
They are planning the event in conjunction with KB's Adirondack Country Store, which prides itself on carrying a variety of craft beers (in September they were listing about 260 different beers in stock). LaValley said he's been known to spend between $40 and $100 on interesting beers at KB's weekly.
Together, they hope to build the market for craft beer through a series of smaller events leading up to the festival, like food-and-beer pairing tastings, LaValley said.
At the festival, they're hoping to have 40 to 60 different beers from brewers connected with three or four distributors, LaValley said.
LaValley recently helped sponsor Potsdam's first craft beer festival, and he said he hopes to use some of the lessons he learned from that in planning the Tupper Lake festival.
Kane is also working with the state Olympic Regional Development Authority to create a craft beer festival in Lake Placid. They are also looking at including a food aspect to the festival, but they want to invite brewers from all over the Northeast.
Kane and ORDA are hoping to plan it for next year, utilizing Lake Placid's new Conference Center, but they are still working to put together some dates. The challenge is finding a weekend when everyone's available, but also doing it when there are already people in town, Kane said.
Both festivals might not be a huge draw in their first years, but both LaValley and Kane said the idea is to establish it then grow it so it will eventually become a draw in itself.
When Kane was in Colorado at the Great American Beer Festival, the biggest beer festival in the country, he said he met people who had flown in from all over - Rochester, Maine, Texas, Oregon and more.
"People love to go to beer festivals," Kane said. "We're pretty confident we can bring in a whole region of breweries."
Ken Tucker of Ticonderoga has an even broader plan for using beer as an economic driver in the Adirondacks. Tucker wants to create a network of small breweries throughout the region that would utilize the distribution system he's working to build through the Adirondack Brewers Coalition.
There are 10 trillion gallons of water flowing through the Adirondacks, some of the softest, best water in the world, Tucker said. By law, the environment of the Adirondack Park is protected, so the water has been preserved, unlike in many other areas of the country and world. Tucker argues that we should be utilizing that resource by making beer.
He hopes to create a distribution line that would bring supplies to homebrewers and the small commercial brewers that he hopes will spring up throughout the Adirondacks, then ship the beer back out on the same distribution lines to whoever wants to sell it.
In addition to that, he wants to get the small farms throughout the Adirondacks involved by encouraging them to grow hops for the breweries to use. He also wants to include bakeries on his distribution routes, since "It's the same thing - grain, water, salt, yeast - except they make bread and we make beer."
Tucker is working to get an EB-5 Regional Center designation for the Adirondacks, which would allow foreign investors to get green cards if they meet an investment threshold. He's also working up a plan to submit to the state's new economic development initiative, the North Country's Regional Economic Development Center.
Tucker envisions replicating the brewing success Oregon has had over the last 30 years in the Adirondacks, but on a smaller and faster scale. He lived in Portland, Ore., for 12 years, and he saw the growth of the industry there.
"And they don't have anything we don't have," Tucker said.
Craft brewing is responsible for $3 billion in revenue and 5,000 jobs in Oregon each year, and Tucker said he wants to see that kind of economic activity here.
Tucker likes to say that the difference between a visionary and a lunatic is that visionaries see things as they could be, while a lunatic sees things that aren't there. He said he's starting to bring more and more people around to his side.
"It's happening," Tucker said. "People are thinking more visionary and less lunatic."