Brewing a Special Taste One Pint at a Time


BY: Nicole Caldwell

The north country’s love affair with all things local—from furniture to food and wine—has in the last several years seeped into the craft beer market. Today, New York state boasts more than 340 micro, farm and restaurant breweries. And much to tri-county beer enthusiasts’ delight, you can hardly turn around anymore without learning about a new craft brewery opening up around the corner, or expanded options (and markets) for craft beers we’ve grown to love.

                From Lowville to Potsdam, the brewers share a common love of crafting fine beers of every variety to delight all brands of drinkers, whether you fancy your IPAs poured into a flight in a tasting room, keep growlers on-hand for refill at any number of retail craft beer stores, or straight out of a tap in your favorite north country barroom or restaurant.

The North Country is steeped in local breweries.

                Every corner of St. Lawrence, Lewis and Jefferson counties are now boasting premier breweries, beer-themed events, and even competitions.

                New shops have been popping up to bring the brewery to your shopping basket, too. Watertown alone is now housing Bear World, Griff’s and Bottle Caps, among others, all of which cater to the craft beer sector.

                From the Black River Brew and Music Fest in Watertown to home brewery tours and tastings in Massena, every season seems to bring with it more chances to learn how to brew your own beer, sample new local varieties, or even compete alongside fellow brewmasters for statewide notoriety.

For brewers, it’s all about staying ahead of the game.

                “The hardest part about brewing is staying ahead of the game,” said Andy Gersten, Sackets Harbor Brewing Company’s 47-year-old brewmaster. Gersten has been making beer for 20 years.

                “I got into brewing in my early 20s,” he said. “There wasn’t a lot of good craft beer then, so you had to make it yourself. I started working in the industry in ’97 as an assistant, and worked my way up the ladder. Filtering and brewing are my favorite aspects of brewing.”

                Gersten is most excited about Sackets Harbor Brewing’s diversity. “We have everything from an Irish style stout to a west coast-style double IPA, to a German-style Kolsch,” he said. His favorites? The 1812 Light Kolsch, Malicious Intent Double IPA, or the 1812 Amber. Sackets Harbor Brewing Company has been producing its own beer since 1995.

                “The big difference in locally produced product as to an import is that the local is fresher and you can get it most of the time right at the breweries,” Gersten said. “I select the malt and hops I use based on the style I’m creating. I get malt and hops from all over the world; from Czech to Germany, Belgium, England and the USA.”

North Country beers are unlike those found anywhere else.

                Just as Tri-County residents have taken a renewed interest in locally sourced food from the North Country’s robust farming community, so too have brewers taken a distinct interest in the unique flavors and smells of the region and applied them to custom beers.

                Local beer brewers love to rely on local ingredients.

                At BarkEater brewery in Lowville, brewer and co-owner Dean T. Richards taps local produce like honey, apples and maple sap. Ryan Chaif, co-owner at Skewed Brewing Company at Salmon Run Mall in Watertown, has said rural smokestacks have inspired his flagship beer, the Breaking Out Stout.

                Throughout the region, you can expect your favorite, regional beers to be heavy with Oktoberfest-style flavors reflective of the changing, falling leaves outside; and, soon enough, holiday brews loaded with malts and smoky overtones that will evoke memories of sitting fireside under some blankets.

                Peaches and apples from local farms, maple sap from nearby trees, and hops grown down the road? These are elements of beer you just can’t get from some import.

                “It’s real important to show that the north country has its own products,” Gersten said. “And show it can compete with the rest of the state and world—and we can produce outstanding products.”