In the Hudson Valley, there is a symbiotic relationship between business, community, and the land. The craft beverage scene in Orange County is one area where this synergy is thriving, and it isn’t only because of its fertile, sought-after soil. We talked to four new producers about the magic of living and owning a business in Orange County.
What better way to celebrate community than to collaborate with other local businesses and utilize local products? For Spirits Lab, a craft distillery in Newburgh, it’s imperative. Spirits Lab produces their small-batch craft spirits and bottled cocktails by using grains and botanicals only grown in New York. Many products are even named after iconic spots in the state, such as East End Gin, named for Newburgh’s historic East End; Bull’s Head Bourbon, named after the landmark tavern where Washington brought his troops to toast their final victory before marching into Manhattan; and Five Points Rye, named for New York’s infamous 19th-century slum spotlighted in Scorsese’s film Gangs of New York. “We wanted to name our products as an homage to the area’s rich history and lore,” says Lynn Hason, co-owner/founder.
Their tribute to the region doesn’t just end at the land. “A limited release that we recently launched is a double-barrel rye that has been aging on the Apollonia, a merchant schooner that made trips up and down the Hudson River in the 1940s. The double-barrel aging process, along with pronounced temperature swings and natural movement from the water, produced a very special whiskey.”
Beyond the grains and names, Spirits Lab is furthering the local bond by collaborating with other Orange County businesses. “Being a part of the local community and being inspired by our neighborhood and peers is what fuels us,” says Hason. “When we first opened, we collaborated with Newburgh restaurant, Mama Roux, followed by a fun project with Angry Orchard. Additionally, we have some exciting things underway with Sing Sing Kill, Two Way Brewing, and Plan Bee Farm Brewery. We hope to continue to work with our neighbors and our friends, as it’s truly amazing to see the final product when you bring everyone’s talents together.”
Hason isn’t the only business owner who found synergy in Orange County. David Holm, founder of Apex Brewery in Monroe, is originally from Orange County and is a die-hard supporter of the region. Apex is a literal “apex” of Holm’s two passions—roller derby and beer. (The brewery is festooned with roller skating gear, including tap pulls made from skate wheels.) As a referee of local Fire Storm Roller Derby, Holm is no stranger to teamwork, which makes his regional coalitions so fruitful. Apex participates in local events such as Tapped New York and Hops on the Hudson, and is working on a joint release called Hoppy New York Kolsch, made along with their friends at Long Lot Brewery in Chester.
For Holm it might have been a no-brainer to settle on Orange County for the brewery, saying the vibe is reminiscent of the sitcom, Cheers. “I was born in Goshen, my wife is from Slate Hill, one of our cellar guys is from Otisville, another worker is from Chester,” he says. “We have been told that when people come to our brewery they feel like they are being welcomed into our home.”
For other business owners, it was more of a return home. Cornwall natives, Sean Bowman and Tim Czarnetzki chose to come back to OC to open Foreign Objects Brewery in Monroe with their friend, Steve D’Eva. The three friends had been working in the beer industry around the country for years—D’Eva got his start as an executive chef at Pennsylvania’s Tired Hands Brewing and met Bowman and Czarnetzki when he was head brewer at their Seattle brewery, Urban Family Brewing. After Urban was sold, they went their separate ways but reconnected a few years later.
What D’Eva describes as a “nomadic” brewing project began in 2017. Initially, Foreign Objects was brewed in different facilities around the Hudson Valley, including Shmaltz Brewing in Clifton Park, but when they were looking for a home to open the brewer-owned company, it had to be here. They literally call their taproom, now a community institution on Mombasha Lake, “The Nerve Center.”
“The Hudson Valley is kind of the origin of our entire country, and two of the founders of Foreign Objects are originally from Orange County, so this is a homecoming to them,” says D’Eva. “I was eager to present some different brewing techniques and my watercolor artwork to the world, so it was serendipitous to start this new project together here,” says D’Eva. “To me, any region as lush and bountiful with talent, quality produce, and history should be represented by businesses and people who seek to uphold those standards.
Connecting with Locals—Humans and Dogs Alike
Named for the watchful stance of his German Shepard Zeus, Brian Taylor opened Shepard’s Eye in Florida, NY, last October. His German-style brews and cozy beer garden have become staples for locals (and their dogs). Taylor saw the potential to make the kind of beer he liked while still catering to the community. “Our most popular beer is our pilsner,” he says. “The beer drinker that’s used to drinking commercial light beers can usually find something that they like here. Pilsners are easy-drinking, but we also have classic styles like lagers and stouts. I call it my blue-collar lineup. Florida is a blue-collar town and I think about what our regulars want—they gravitate towards beers that they’re more comfortable with, or grew up with.”
Taylor doesn’t only think of the locals he caters to, but he strives to make Shepard’s Eye a dog-friendly destination, too. “Zeus is always with me on brew days, keeping me company,” he says. “Now we also have a Westie named Diesel. He also likes to be involved in the process, ‘thinking’ that he’s helping in the brewhouse.” Year-round, dogs are welcome in the beer garden and in the enclosed porch at Apex. They have many events on tap for the warm season, including a music festival in July called The Dog Days of Summer.
Some connections serve a bigger purpose. Spirits Lab recently partnered with Newburgh Brewing Company on a Brown Ale aged in Spirit Lab’s whiskey barrels and blended with Slainte Dry Irish Stout. One hundred percent of sales were donated locally to provide aid and relief to the citizens of Ukraine.
This May, Apex partnered with the #BrewStacheStrong to honor a group of regulars that lost a friend to cancer, which happened to coincide with the loss of his wife’s relative. As one of the participating breweries, a percentage of their Eff Cancer Single Hop IPA goes to the cancer research organization. Additionally, one dollar of every sale of the beer goes to the Miles of Hope cancer charity in Lagrangeville to help pick up where healthcare lets off. “We’re born and raised here,” says Holms. “So we’re constantly trying to give back to our community.” Apex is also currently fundraising for the Woodbury Animal Shelter which serves Monroe and Woodbury.
Orange County’s craft beverage makers see their enterprises as more of a community than an industry, and the region continues to thrive because of their collaborative spirit and peer support. This is where the magic happens.
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Header photo: Courtesy Spirits Lab