Follow up: Fort Orange Brewing

Fort Orange Brewing 2018-July exterior cornhole league

AOA is on summer break. So we'll have new follow-ups with people we've met and covered during the last year.

Fort Orange Brewing became Albany's third operating brewery when it opened in a space on North Pearl Street in the Warehouse District last October. It's the product of three friends from Castleton -- Craig Johnson, John Westcott, and Jim Eaton -- who decided to make the jump from home brewing.

The space serves as both a brewery and taproom, and on a recent Wednesday night it was busy with people playing in the brewery's popular cornhole league.

"We're very pleased with where we're at being nine months into this thing," Jim Eaton told us a few days later as we talked about how things have gone for the startup brewery -- and their plans to keep growing...

Fort Orange Brewing 2018-July - 2

How have things gone since you opened?

Great. We're experiencing our first little set of growth right now. It looks like now on Monday we're getting our fourth fermenter so that will allow us to produce a little bit more beer.

But things have been good. I mean, this industry there's a lot of ups and downs. You're jam packed one night and you're feeling like you're the king of the world. Then the next night it might be a little quiet. But overall the balance has been really good. And we're very pleased with where we're at being nine months into this thing.

What are some of the challenges that you've encountered along the way?

I would say our biggest challenge, and we still are facing this, is getting word out that, hey, we're here, we exist. Even Wednesday night when we had that big crowd here and you were down, you know, the people who are sitting at the bar a lot of them hadn't been here [before]. This is their first time, they hadn't heard of us.

Fort Orange Brewing 2018-July - 3

We have a lot of people that tell us they park in that parking lot down there at Druthers, have a meal there, and see the sign, see the lights, and come up to check us out -- and hadn't heard of us.

I think we have a decent social media presence. But the biggest challenge is really figuring out how do we connect with the craft beer lovers and to let them know that we're an option in Albany.

Is there a significant lesson that you've learned?

There's been a few (laughs).

Being patient, I think, is one of the things that we've definitely learned. There's things that we've done as far as brewing -- I mean, we were home brewers and now we're brewing on this seven barrel, 300-gallon system. We've learned quite a bit as far as how to be a little bit more efficient, how to get our recipes to exactly where they were at the homebrew system. But being patient and talking things through as a team -- myself, John, and Craig -- and kind of working together to overcome obstacles, those have been like the biggest things I think we've learned along the way.

Fort Orange Brewing 2018-July - 6

The other thing we've learned, too, is that people coming in our taproom love to hear our story. They love to hear that, hey, you guys are the ones making the beer and I'm having a conversation with you. And they love to hear how we came together, how this idea of ours came to fruition, and how we're doing what we're doing now. Just that interaction.

You know, a lot of times people are on social media and interact that way, but there's still a lot of people out there who love to have that face-to-face interaction. And I love introducing myself, "Hey, I'm Jim, I'm one of the owners." And you can see their expressions when when you do that. They just kind of, "Oh, well this is a little bit different than what I would get at Ruby Tuesdays or you know any of those other places that are out there."

Fort Orange Brewing 2018-July - 4

Is there a frustration that if you could somehow wipe it away that it would make a big difference?

I think one of the frustrations -- and I don't want to say frustration because we just really entered this stage -- is the distribution.

We want our product out where the people are in hopes that A) They like it enough to come to the tap room, and B) We think that'll help us with the whole "hey, we're here, we exist."

Fort Orange Brewing 2018-July - 5

So when I go out to a restaurant and I'm working with the people purchasing the alcohol, the bar managers or whatever, I think it sometimes is frustrating because they don't necessarily see the value of having a locally-produced, quality product on draft over a national brand like a Sam Adams or Corona and those types of well-known brands.

So, I don't want to call it frustrating, but we need to figure out how we can educate these people that are running these businesses that we are a good option for them to have. Because as we get moving, I think the craft beer industry has experienced this as a whole, the growth is amazing. This is a industry in the Northeast that's booming. There's not a lot of industries that can say that they're having the growth that the craft beer industry is having right now. And so we need to educate them that the people that are coming in to their establishments want this.

And we're figuring it out. We're trying to figure out how to go about doing that while also maintaining those relationships in a positive manner.

Fort Orange Brewing opening ribbon cutting founders with families
The Fort Orange Brewing founders and their families at last year's grand opening.

What's something that felt like a win?

Well, opening night. Six-month anniversary. Cornhole league. Paint-with-a-pint programs. Some of the programming that we've done in here has been huge as far as getting people in. Our Father's Day tour and tasting.

We've had a lot of these little programs that have brought people who wouldn't necessarily come in here. So those types of things where we have the events that are a little bit unique, little bit different. Those have felt like really awesome wins.

Fort Orange Brewing 2018-July - 7

I mean, this cornhole league I was telling you about on Wednesday night -- 28 teams in the summer. On a nice day we can have two of the boards out front. This past Wednesday I was joking with my partner. I said, "You know what, I want every day to be like today."

And that would be awesome if it was. But the fact that we're experiencing that day at least once a week is pretty cool for us and it's a reason why we're able to install air conditioning this past week -- which will guarantee you, by the way, it won't hit 90 the rest of the summer now that that's in.

And it's the reason why we have the fourth tank coming in because we're able to get people to come down here to support us and allowing us to grow.

Fort Orange Brewing 2018-July - 8

What's next?

Canning. Canning is our goal.

We're hoping for our one-year anniversary to release our first set of cans. We're going to have a big party down here on October 20th, which is our one-year anniversary party. We've got live music. We're going to have at least one or two food trucks. And we release our first set of cans that day.

We're looking at probably our Momentum Pale Ale, our flagship Fort Orange IPA, and then most likely the Pearl Street IPA as our three. But we just began discussions on that.

We are definitely canning and the goal is to have it ready by October, which is going to be exciting because that's another way of us getting word out that, hey, we're here. Because right now unless you come in and take a growler to go we're not getting our beer out there on a very large scale.

So that's something we're really looking forward to.

This interview has been lightly edited.

Find It

Fort Orange Brewing
450 N Pearl St
Albany, NY 12204

Comments

I love their space and they are really terrific people at Fort Orange. That said.....

The beer's not great. Sorry guys, just my opinion. I've been there a few times; I want to support a local brewer, but it's simply not to my taste. Everyone's tastes are different of course, so I sincerely hope there are enough other folks who love it to make it work.

Second, the on-street presence is weak. It's very easy to go by and not see the place.

great place, friendly staff, nice variety of beer.... I truly hope that they don't add a kitchen---bringing in the food trucks is a nice angle and helps develop the food truck segment of dining life. (we are way behind other cities)

Cheers to your first year.

Is there food available?

As the article says, I think the biggest challenge these guys will have is getting the word out. I had no idea this place even existed, and it's been there for almost a full year. I'll definitely be checking it out this week!

I went once on a sunny nice weather Saturday and there was a small crowd. The music that was being played was brutally mellow and the overall mood was sorta meh. I've been to small brewery places similar to this where that kind of day would have had a rockin crowd and good music going. You have to create that atmosphere.

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