Jun 12, 2014 Jason Emerson Uncategorized
In the 19th century, hops were the staple crop of Central New York; and Madison County was actually known as the “Hops Capital of the United States.” Prohibition, plus a killer hops fungus, decimated the county’s agricultural pride — but in recent years beer-making has made a comeback in CNY in general, and in Madison County in particular.
Under state law, for a brewery to be deemed made in New York 20 percent of the hops and 20 percent of all other ingredients must be grown or produced within the state. There is a new brewery in Canastota, however, that not only gets most of its ingredients from a farm in Chittenango, but is the only brewery around that boasts a beer made from ingredients 100 percent grown in Madison County — Erie Canal Brewing Company.
“It’s costly, but that’s what customers want — a real local brew,” said Erie Canal co-owner and beer maker Jason Tedford. “A lot of ‘farm-based’ beers are not real at only 20 percent [local ingredients]. If we as brewers continue to use local ingredients, it should not be because of the legislation, but because it is the right thing to do.”
Tedford and his business partner Sam Lanzafame started the Erie Canal Brewing Company in 2013. Lanzafame’s Botte Piena Farm in Chittenango grows the barley and hops, and Tedford brews the beer on a three-vessel system that produces 10 barrels per month. The two share marketing and management of the business.
“I’ve been brewing since 1989, when I was a senior in high school in my parents’ kitchen,” Tedford said. “I’ve learned a lot through the years.”
Tedford’s background is actually in technology, and he worked for five years as a manager for CIO Alliance Bank before he decided to do what he loves and make beer. So he bought the production equipment and partnered with Lanzafame; and they both agreed that they wanted to not just make great beer, but also promote the use of 100 percent local ingredients and to highlight the history of hops on the Erie Canal, according to Tedford.
The brewery’s signature beer, Muleskinner Pale Ale, achieves both of these objectives.
Muleskinner was named to honor part of the Erie Canal’s history — a “muleskinner” was the person who steered the mules that pulled the barges along the canal during the 19th century. The skinner kept the mules moving, and to do so he often had to outsmart — or “skin — the mule, Tedford said.
Erie Canal’s Muleskinner Pale Ale “reflects the light citrus aroma and flavor of Madison County’s own cascade hop,” as it states on the brewery’s website. It’s a lightly-hopped beer that offers enough hops for flavor but “not enough to be offensive to the more casual beer drinker,” Tedford said.
Muleskinner differs from typical microbrews because it has only 4.86 percent alcohol content, as opposed to the 8 or 9 percent of many other microbrews, Tedford said. “We have a much different approach,” he said. “It’s not only delicious and lightly-hopped, but you can have two or three and still drive home. … It’s a beer that you can enjoy in any tavern or restaurant, or even mowing the lawn, which is exactly what we were looking for.”
And this is part of the production approach of Erie Canal Brewing Company: to make a great-tasting, high-quality product at moderate amounts and not a “growth at all costs” philosophy, Tedford said.
So far, Erie Canal’s approach has been highly successful. While the brewery has a production and tasting facility in Canastota, the majority of the beer is sold wholesale to local taverns and bars. Muleskinner currently is available on tap at The Three Pines and Johnnie’s Pier 31 in Canastota, Colgate Inn in Hamilton, The Ridge Tavern in Chittenango and Hullar’s in Fayetteville. In May, Erie Canal gained a huge coup when their beer was selected to be served at Upstate Tavern at Turning Stone Casino and Resort.
“As people have tried it [on tap at bars], many have crossed over from the large commercial manufacturers to smaller local brewers,” Tedford said.
Muleskinner is not currently available on tap at any Cazenovia bars or restaurants, although their first keg sale was to B.G. Buda’s on Albany Street, “but it didn’t really take off there,” Tedford said. Erie Canal does have another Cazenovia connection — they offer Henneberg Brewing Company’s Cazenovia Common beer in their tap room.
While Erie Canal Brewing Company is starting modestly, they have plans for future growth, including upgrading their barrel system to increase production, and eventually expanding their offerings to a brown ale and seasonal beers. First and foremost they plan to utilize honey from Brian Howell, of The Bee Man Candle Company in Canastota, for future products as well, Tedford said.
In the end, Tedford and Lanzafame just want to make good beer people enjoy, using local ingredients to support local farmers and have a good time doing it, Tedford said.
“The beer will sell itself,” he said. “And without the community, what’s the point of the beer?”
Erie Canal Brewing Company is located at 135 James St. in Canastota. The tasting room currently is open from 4 to 7 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays, with expanded hours — and possibly a take-out menu from local restaurants – coming soon.
For more information, contact Jason Tedford at 510-5001 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit the website at eriecanalbrewingcompany.com.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia republican, He can be reached at email@example.com.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican and Eagle Bulletin newspapers.