The spirit of the Prohibition era never really left the Hudson Valley, with bootlegging bases being revived across the region.
In Cairo, a little town in the heart of the Catskills, an old brick structure stands proud. Its original identity as a beverage bottling plant was cast aside for decades, until a father-and-son duo brought brewing back to the old factory.
Old Factory Brewing Company opened its doors as a beer producer in the Hudson Valley in December 2020, ready to honor the past by embracing the future. An outdoor beer garden, a long porch bar, and a 5,000 sq ft tasting room welcome the community of Cairo to taste small-batch brews.
“To my knowledge, this is not the first time beer has been brewed in this building. I’ve heard that during Prohibition people were brewing in here and bringing it down to the speakeasies in the city along with the soda that was being produced at the factory,” says Tim Cornelison, Jr., co-founder of OFB. He and his father, Tim Cornelison, Sr., bought the building a little over five years ago, with hopes of returning it to its roots.
At first, hey moved their manufacturing business — ReGen Water, Inc. — to the space to produce equipment for drinking water and waste-water treatment.
Though the factory was technically constructed in 1902, the foundation dates back even earlier. A fire in 1900 burned away most of the original structure from the 1850s, but the basement and hand-dug well remain intact, making the space a wonderful town artifact.
In the 1960s thermometers were produced inside, putting the kibosh on any beverage-related production. When Cornelison, Jr. started to experiment with home brewing, he realized a greater potential for the space, and it was time to get back to beer.
“I went online and I bought a little one-gallon kit. It really quickly became an obsession in researching and experimenting. I found out that it doesn’t take much more work to brew 10-15 gallons and, at the end of the day, you have a lot more beer to drink,” Cornelison, Jr. says on his journey to becoming a full-fledged full-time brewer and brewery owner.
Old Factory Brewing Company has no fixed predominant style; Cornelison, Jr. brews batches of beer that he wants to drink, simple as that. While some established Hudson Valley producers specialize in certain varieties, like the New England IPA or farmhouse ales, Cornelison, Jr. wants to work with the entire spectrum of flavors and traditions available to him. Patrons take a role in developing OFB’s identity, and their reception helps to identify a potential flagship.
There are currently two main contenders: Hogan’s Alley Red Ale and Window Bars IPA. The Irish-style red, named in honor of Cornelison, Jr.’s uncle, isn’t as big, heavy, or bold as other entries into the red category. OFB’s take is light and drinkable, and it won’t sit leaden in your stomach.
“I like to think I have a taste in beer that’s similar to most people and representative of what they’d like,” Cornelison, Jr. notes, adding that approachable, crushable pints are the aim at this Greene County brewery.
Window Bars IPA has emerged as a big crowd-pleaser that frequently sells out. Its name refers to the four tasting room windows that have iron bars securing them, a holdover from the ’70s renovation. Cornelison, Jr. uses Zeus hops, a hybrid variety that yields an incredibly pleasant, herbal aroma. The resulting West Coast IPA is clean with a distinctive, tame bitterness and a fruity, pineapple nose.
Nutrunner’s Pale Ale is another emerging classic. A touch of caramel malt barley provides the richness to mellow out the “twang” of its hops, and a very manageable 5.4 percent ABV allows for second helpings.
Though not hyper-focused on terroir, Old Factory Brewing Company is an official New York State farm brewery; at least 60 percent of all ingredients used are New York grown and certified. Some of the specialty ingredients are proprietary to farms out in Yakima, Washington, giving a few of the beers a distinctive West Coast personality. Most of the hops come from central and western New York.
Curiosity led the way to self-taught mastery of the craft, as Cornelison, Jr.’s beer has found a real audience. Even the fastest-to-produce styles (like the “Brilliant Blonde” ale) take 18 days to make, from brewhouse to fermenter to tap. When a beer is popular, it sells out. OFB has growlers available for easy refills as well. A national can shortage caused by the pandemic halted canning, but getting Old Factory Brewing beers into more hands is on the horizon.
“We have a canning line, but, due to the shortage, it hasn’t even been turned on yet,” Cornelison, Jr. laughs.
As the head brewer, he does most of the work himself, but occasionally gets help from his father and brother-in-law.
“We are a small, family business,” Cornelison Jr. reiterates. He and his father both grew up in Saugerties, so it means the world to run a business in the Hudson Valley. A kitchen is on the way, with renovations already commencing. Affordable, humble comfort food will soon join the working-man’s beers of Old Factory Brewing Company.
“We truly want to have this as a gathering place for our community. Me and my father are craftsmen. We work and build things for a living, and we built this place. So we wanted to build this place for everyday people,” Cornelison Jr. notes.