It didn’t open until August of 2014, but it was the most widely anticipated addition to this growing farming community in the Lake Champlain region for months before the first beer was tapped.
When I discovered the Ausable Brewing Company’s existence, it had only been open for about a month. In October of 2014, my sister and I had just left our last stop on the Essex County Cheese Tour, with a visit to the North Country Creamery. On our way back south along Mace Chasm Road we spied a sign - a sign for a BREWERY. Without a word or hesitation, I turned the car into the small lot to check it out.
We weren’t alone. On this crisp sunny afternoon there were dozens of other folks sitting in mismatched chairs and tables scattered around the small historic barn building with a big sign that declared “Ausable Brewing Co.” We went inside the building and approached the bar. We each selected a beer to try from the tidy list of options on the blackboard that ranged from light to IPA to dark, and took our beers outside to claim one of those chairs.
Now, thank goodness I’m not allergic to gluten or hops, but my allergy to cats is actually responsible for a boldly embedded memory of that first visit.
As we sat and enjoyed our beer, I noticed that the yard also included a couple of leashed dogs with their owners, and a couple of what looked like young cats roaming the premises. I knew what was coming.
One of the cats made a beeline for me soon after we sat down. It’s a fact that cats know that I’m allergic to them and therefore no threat to their cool vibe. And they invariably want to sit right on my lap to show their appreciation.
So this small striped kitty, although easily deterred from my lap, insisted on sitting under my chair for the duration of our visit - my sister captured it on film as my perceived distress is often fodder for social media.
Oddly enough, my memory of the cat is a very positive one, enhancing the overall experience of being there. We were on a farm. Or surrounded by farmland, anyway. The setting, with open fields I now know belong to Mace Chasm Farm, complemented by the friendly chatter of fellow beer fans, a tractor in the backdrop and the welcome warmth of the late day sun made for an extremely pleasant atmosphere.
And this farm-enhanced beer garden certainly wouldn’t feel right without some cats.
A year later, my husband and I have made the Ausable Brewing Company an almost-regular end of week habit. We make the short trek north along the Adirondack Coast to the Ausable Brewing Company to enjoy a beer - usually on Fridays. So we’ve had a front-picnic-table-row view of some additions to the farm-enhanced beer garden that include a covered barn structure with a stage and outdoor bar, food trucks and a big bbq grill on wheels. And there’s almost always a crowd.
I wanted to find out how this whole thing had evolved, and I recently had a chance to speak with one of the owners - and brewmaster - Dan Badger to fill in the blanks, if not a growler.
I arrived early on a Thursday, before the majority of beer seekers usually arrived. Dan and I took a seat under the new barn structure to chat.
Out of nowhere, THE cat - I assume it was the same one - headed straight toward us, and jumped into my lap. I laughed and told the story of my first visit as Dan relieved my lap of said cat, petting and releasing it to visit with other less-allergic visitors.
Commotion over, I took out my pencil and paper. Dan and his brother Dylan own and run the brewery. Dan moved here from Vermont, where he had been a brewer for years and is now teaching his brother the trade. He said that he had heard a lot about, and was friends with some of the players in, an emerging small farm community on the New York side of the lake, and decided to join in.
The concept for the brewery was always to provide this welcoming environment in which people could enjoy pints of beer. The Badger brothers have achieved their main objective. So I asked Dan if he planned to start bottling and distributing etc. He said that he didn’t plan to bottle, but there are still a few improvements slated for the future.
They are already in the process of expanding their brewing capacity. They have a farm brewery license, which allows them to sell pints, tastings and growlers out of their tap room, and growlers at farmers' markets. As part of that license, they are required to use a certain percentage of New York State ingredients. Their hope is to expand the agricultural side of their business, and grow more of their own grain and hops.
I wondered if the growing number of regional breweries would reach a tipping point - and if he was worried about increased competition.
No was his answer. They take the quality of their beer very seriously, and they brew a variety of types of beer, including light, dark and my favorite, IPAs. Dan agreed that at some point there will be a saturation of small breweries in the region if all things continue as is, but quality will win out, and the good beers will survive.
Famous Before the First Pour
When Dan and his brother were in the beginning stages of starting the business, word of mouth was spreading through their online and on-the-ground community about their future brewery. Pent up demand was so strong, Dan said, that his friend called it “the most famous brewery that doesn’t exist.”
Aside from organic word-of-mouth promotion, the brewery gains attention by simply being part of the cluster of agro-tourism options for locals, and gets traffic from visitors to and from nearby Ausable Chasm and ferry from Vermont, and the many bicyclists who traverse this ideal part of the country for cycling.
They’ve had some folks come directly from Montreal, and the week prior to my visit with Dan, someone drove for 4 hours to try a specific beer they make. They don’t advertise, other than having a Facebook page. It’s all word of mouth about a great product.
And that, folks, is your marketing lesson for today.
I didn’t take a tally of the number of times the word “community” came up during my short discussion with Dan, but it was notable.
There is a feeling of community and collaboration that emanates from the Champlain valley - with a growing number of entrepreneurial small farms with community supported agricultural farms, breweries, creameries; Mace Chasm Farm, North Country Creamery and Fledging Crow among them. (In fact, I left the brewery on deadline that day to make sure that I arrived on time to pick up my CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) share at Full and By Farm in Essex on the way home.)
The experience and atmosphere at the brewery is all part of that collaborative spirit. Most nights, the beer is paired with either tacos from the Poco Mas truck, or local chicken and beef meals from Mace Chasm Farm across the road, or ribs and corn on the cob made by their collective friend Ryan, metalworker among other talents, who rolls Dub’s BBQ into the beer garden most weeks. And one of the regular brews on tap is named after the brewery’s “house band,” Plowman’s Lunch, who play on a stage made for them located under the new covered barn area.
Not only are all of these folks good friends with each other, but the ambience is such that you feel like they are YOUR friends, too - even if you’ve never met them before.
Who knew that hanging out with a bunch of no-longer strangers eating food and drinking local brews while tapping your toe to the sounds of a local band in the middle of some rolling farmland would be such a hit?
That, Dan reminded me, was the intention all along.
Ausable Brewing Co. is located at 765 Mace Chasm Rd, in Keeseville, N.Y. They offer tastings, pints, and growlers to go (when supplies allow) from Thursdays -Saturdays, and plan to be open until around Christmas, reopening in the spring. It’s easy to find when they are open, because there’s usually a crowd of people enjoying that unique, home-grown atmosphere.
Of course, it’s an atmosphere complete with at least one cat.
Check out a 360-degree view of that atmosphere!
-Kim RIelly is the director of commuications for the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism and a fan of IPA.
We're talking Cheers & Beers around the ADKs this week - check it out: