In 2008, Jerry Pantano had been working at his family’s fruit and produce shop when a friend tipped him off to the burgeoning craft beer market.
“What do you mean?” he asked. “Like ‘fancy’ beer?”
“Yeah,” his friend replied. “Fancy beer.”
Since his family’s store sold grape imports to local winemakers, Pantano had already taken up winemaking as a hobby, although not every bottle was a success.
“My first glass of wine, I dumped it out in the backyard,” he laughs.
But at his friend’s insistence, he started to research and found the craft beer industry was percolating in its East Coast infancy. That year, his family’s business closed after 22 years, and it seemed like the perfect time to get into craft beer.
Pantano’s Wine Grapes and Home Brew opened in New Paltz in 2010, focusing primarily on wine and beer. The store became something of an incubator for local breweries, with brewers either coming to learn or pick up supplies — Sloop Brewing Company, Hudson Ale Works, Arrowood Farm Brewery among a few. Amateur brewers and winemakers were also frequent customers, and soon the store became host to a home brewer’s club, with about 40 members. One of them? The brewers at Mill House Brewing Company, who at the time, were perfecting their beloved Kölsch.
As the craft beverage industry expanded, so did Pantano’s clientele and in turn, his business model. His inventory now includes supplies for kombucha, mead, cider, and spirits. At the store, Pantano sells everything from carbonation drops for beer to auto-siphons for kombucha to labels for your homemade wine. Whatever his customers ask for, he stocks.
“That’s why I’m still here,” Pantano explains, “because of the people.”
Though on hold at the moment, Pantano’s usually offers classes on homemade winemaking, beermaking, and even distilling. His expert instructors explain the basic concepts and techniques before opening the discussion into a Q&A forum in which students can get answers to their most basic or esoteric questions.
Like anything else, most brewing supplies can be ordered online, but Pantano’s lets customers explore, ask questions, and have a personal experience with knowledgeable staff. And since he’s one of the only stores around, his students aren’t just local Valley residents either.
“I’ve had groups of four and five from Staten Island, people come from Albany and Rensselaer — as far as Syracuse,” he says.
Lucky for us, Pantano’s is right in our backyard.