A proudly local brewery in a global city
Wednesday 02 September 2020
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Right on the banks of the Hudson river, around 60 miles north of New York City, sits a handsome red-stone building, with faded paintwork telling the tale of its 160-year history as a steam engine factory – William Wright steam engines were used in the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge and powered Union Army gunships – and later as a cardboard manufacturing plant. Since 2011 though, it has been home to a different kind of steam, rising from the brewkit of Newburgh Brewing Company.
The trio behind the brewery are Paul Halayko, his uncle Charlie Benedetti and childhood friend Christopher Basso. Christopher has a strong a New York brewing pedigree, having cut his teeth for almost seven years at the Brooklyn Brewery. He and Paul came up together through middle school, high school and all the way to Boston University.
Newburgh opened its doors in March 2012, and quickly established a reputation for its sophisticated, well-balanced ales among the area’s restaurants and bars. In June 2012, the brewery’s own restaurant and tap room was added to the roster. Today, its beers are distributed across the states of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island.
As the market in all parts of the US has become more saturated, supporting the local brewery or taproom has taken on ever greater importance.
“New Yorkers love to support New York businesses, and the explosive growth in craft is very much predicated on this idea of supporting local things,” says Paul. “That is what has allowed craft beer to thrive and explode the way it has. But New York’s inherent appeal is also maybe part of why the city was for a long time behind the curve; you’ve got 12 million people in a densely populated area, so the macro brands did everything they could to maintain their stranglehold for as long as possible.
“Eventually you got the first wave of craft breweries coming into New York from California – we’re talking Sierra Nevada and Stone. But that just meant that we also had these legacy craft brands to compete with in our local market too. So it was certainly a battle to win over the bars and the restaurants with the idea of instead of pouring a pale ale from California, maybe they should pour a pale ale from upstate New York, but once people came round, that championing of local businesses really kicked in.”
This trend toward localism has only been amplified by the Covid crisis
This trend toward localism has only been amplified by the Covid crisis, with establishments and drinkers investing all their loyalty into the great breweries on their doorsteps.
“Our backyard has doubled down on our beer,” confirms Paul. “So we’re selling more beer than ever very close to the brewery. But the flip side of that is it’s happening all over the country, which means we have very little beer being sold out of state. That says something great about the beer culture here; I mean, people that are trying to support their local businesses. I think when we opened in 2012, we could legitimately say that we’re the local brewery really anywhere in New York or even northern New Jersey. Now, because of the prevalence of craft breweries, the term ‘local’ probably mean within 30 to 50 miles at most.”
While he now works alongside two other brewers, Christopher Basso remains the driving force on the brewing side, so it’s little surprise that his many years at Brooklyn Brewery under Garrett Oliver shine through in Newburgh’s recipe development, in particular Garrett’s love of and appreciation for English style. As Paul says, “if I’m not drinking my own brown ale, I’ll seek out Brooklyn Brown ale. It’s world class.”
“Commercially though, it’s also a style that very few US breweries do,” he continues. “So it allows us to access a less crowded marketplace, right? It’s not a New England IPA, where everybody makes 10 of them. So brown ale isn’t a huge market, but there is absolutely a core craft beer demographic that loves and appreciates the style. And, as you venture into the world of beer, and maybe your first love is New England IPA, at a certain point you expand out and you realise there’s this whole wonderful world of craft beer that’s out there and I think our brown ale fits really nicely.”
As well as the brown ale, Beer52 members this month will also receive Newburgh’s Purrfect Wheat. Like the brown ale, this straight-down-the-line classic hefeweizen is a style that very few US breweries now produce, despite having been very popular in the 90s and 2000s.
The third beer, Nano Boss, is a session version of Newburgh’s flagship Mega Boss IPA. The brewery is best known locally for its ‘Boss’ beers, and the range also includes a double IPA, Giga Boss, and a series of collaborations with other breweries. Just before lockdown, the brewery released Captain Boss, a collaboration with Captain Lawrence.
While we’re on the subject of working with other local heroes, I ask Paul about the sense of camaraderie I’ve picked up on between the New York breweries which, despite their density, seem a tight-knit crew.
“Oh, 100%,” he says immediately “You know, of course you’re going to have your legitimate friends and the guys that you socialise with and outside of the brewing world. But the one thing I’ll say about the New York beer scene is that, even if you don’t know a brewery, you can reach out for help and they’ll always extend a helping hand. And that’s whether you’re short some kind of ingredient, or you have a question about a recipe or a business practice. I think the New York beer scene is very, very collaborative in that way.
“In this mad time, with all this uncertainty around whether our businesses will even survive, we’ve seen the New York Breweries come even closer together, using each other as sounding boards on ideas, commiserating with your friends in the industry and even almost as a form of therapy. I think that speaks volumes about the kind of community we have.”
Having tasted Newburgh’s beers, I’m convinced they will hit a sweet spot for drinkers in the UK, so I’m curious whether Paul, Chris and Charlie have set their sights on growing their export business. Quite understandably though, Newburgh seems set to stay focused on its doorstep for the foreseeable future.
“Even eight years later, our home still has the potential for tremendous growth for us, because it’s not as if every bar restaurant you walk into in the Hudson Valley has a Newburgh handle. So yeah, I think we could grow 100-300% just by focusing on our backyard.”
There’s definitely a tendency among New York breweries to see their home as the centre of creation. And, with this kind of community, loyalty and local hunger for quality brews, it’s honestly impossible to fault them for that.
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