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Adirondack Brewery: Fighting Corporate Power One Beer at a Time

By Anthony F. Hall

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

In the thirteen years since John Carr opened the Adirondack Pub and Brewery on Lake George’s Canada Street, craft brews’ share of the beer market has grown from 2% to 30%.

“People used to walk out of here when they couldn’t get a Budweiser,” says Carr.

In fact, the national brands were so successful in snuffing out independent brewers that the equipment Carr needed to start brewing his own beer was readily available, at fire sale prices.

Now, rather than demanding Budweiser, Carr’s customers gather weekly to sample and critique the newest beers.

“I call it the camaraderie of hops,” said Carr.

Increasingly, more and more women are drawn to craft brews, Carr said.

“Women drink our beers as though they were wines,” said Carr. “The beers are interesting enough to linger over.”

The appeal of craft beers in general, and the Adirondack Brew Pub’s in particular, was obvious earlier this winter, when Carr hosted a “Festival of Barrels,” a sampling of limited-edition, bourbon-barrel-aged brews.

The event drew hundreds of people, and among its more noteworthy features was this: most of those people came from far-flung areas.

The Adirondack Pub and Brewery has become a destination, thanks in part to the fact that craft brew fans occupy a growing share of the travel and tourism market.

“Craft beer drinkers go out of their way to visit a local brewery,” said Carr. “When we first opened, most of our customers were casual tourists. Today, they tell us they’re making it a point to stop here on their way to Lake Placid or Montreal.”

The visibility of the Brew Pub has also grown because its beers are now distributed not only to bars and restaurants, but also to markets and beverage centers.

“The local markets got behind us, and we really appreciated that support,” says Carr.

Stewarts, Price Chopper and Grand Union now carry Adirondack beer, and Carr hopes to enlarge his market to encompass stores from Albany to Canada.

The brewery will soon have the capacity to meet that increased demand.

A new addition to the brewpub, now under construction, will nearly double the brewery’s output.

“I’m too independent not to want to brew, bottle and sell my beer myself,” said Carr.

Some brewpubs outsource their production. Worse, some entrepreneurs are inventing brands, paying large breweries to brew the beer, and then presenting their wares as authentic craft brews at festivals.

“Sometimes the only authentic thing about the beer is the t-shirt emblazoned with the brand,” said Carr.

Moreover, multi-national corporations are buying up small breweries, brewing the beer in bulk and then distributing it without disclosing that it’s now a national brand, just with a cooler label.

“We call them faux craft beers,” with Carr.

Once the national brands realized they couldn’t defeat the independent brewers, they decided to join them, or at least pretend to, and according to Carr, that means he’s still having to battle corporate power.

“Consumers don’t always know where their beer is coming from,” said Carr. “We’re still competing with Budweiser, but now we’re competing with it on the level of craft brews. That can be difficult if consumers aren’t aware that their beer comes from some plant.”

Authentic craft beers are, of course, fresher than the faux crafts; but they also support year-round, local jobs.

“I wanted to create year-round jobs; that’s one of the reasons why I decided to invest even more heavily in the brewery,” said Carr. “People drink beer year round.”

With the expansion of the brewery, Carr hopes to increase his work force to fourteen people, working forty-hour weeks with full benefits.

Carr and New York State’s other independent brewers recently won some support from their US Senator, Chuck Schumer.

In December, Schumer announced the creation of an “I Love NY Brew” campaign to place more locally-brewed New York beer in New York City and state restaurants, bars and convenience store shelves.

Schumer said that pushing New York-brewed beer onto convenience store shelves and restaurants in major cities like New York would be a major step forward for an industry that pumps billions of dollars into the state’s economy every year.

“Everything helps,” said Carr. “Schumer knows that when you buy truly local beer, you’re supporting local people and the local economy.”

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