In a world where higher education degrees are increasingly de rigueur, the path to craft professions becomes more than a little elusive. Want to become a lawyer? Follow the A – B – C path through undergrad and law school. Dreaming of becoming a cheesemaker? Yeah, good luck with that.
Now we’re not saying it’s impossible to pursue a trade in the modern day. On the contrary, the Hudson Valley is a shining example of the talented winemakers, muralists, and even fermenters that exist in this world. The point, however, is that such professions lack a clear path to success. There’s no course — as far as we know — on how to debut at the Whitney Museum or become a master cidermaker.
Yet there are stories. The narratives from independent artists are precisely what fuel the allure of such professions and what inspire budding creatives to follow in the blurred footprints of those who came before them. With this in mind, we caught up with Jeffrey “Oz” Osborne, the Rockland County native who works as Head Brewer at Stoneyard Brewing Company in Brockport. While Osborne is now something of an old hand in the trade, having overseen operations since 2014, his path to where he is today is more than a little unconventional. Here’s how he did it:
After graduating from North Rockland High School, Osborne left Stony Point in 2003 to attend Rochester Institute of Technology. Although he wasn’t of drinking age at the time, he remembers that the Hudson Valley beer scene was nothing like the mecca it is today. He maintained a vague awareness of New York State breweries throughout college, but it was not until one defining moment in 2007 changed the course of his future forever.
“I remember the exact moment that I decided I wanted to learn more about craft beer,” Osborne admits. “It was 2007, and I was walking behind my friend, Mike (who would later become the person that taught me how to homebrew), as he opened an Imperial IPA brewed by Green Flash Brewing out of San Diego. The incredible aroma of that beer trailed behind him and, as I followed, that caught my attention.” Not only did he wonder how the beer tasted, but he began to question how it was made, too. From that point onward, his newfound obsession with craft beer began to grow.
Once Osborne caught the craft beer bug, he dove headfirst down the rabbit hole of homebrewing. After sharing his creations with others, he joined the musings of many a homebrewer and dreamed of one day brewing professionally. Not to be deterred by the loftiness of the goal, he read up on the craft, combining that knowledge with his engineering background to concoct new recipes.
A few years after his introduction to homebrewing, Osborne met the owners of Stoneyard Bar and Grill in Brockport. They clicked immediately and soon got to talking about their shared pipe dream of one day opening a brewery.
“In the meantime…I enjoyed being part of the ‘scene’ so I kept hanging out, going to events, and homebrewing with them,” he says.
Then he got the call.
“[The Stoneyard Bar owners] were talking about buying a small set of equipment and wanted my help picking it out,” he recalls. “My dream was becoming real.” Excited as he was by the prospect of pursuing his passion, he had a hard time shaking the potential reality of his decision.
“As the delivery of the equipment drew closer, the idea of quitting my engineering job, taking a big pay cut, and brewing beer for a living was becoming a reality,” he notes. Scary as the move was, it was also something he knew he would regret if he didn’t pursue. So he said yes, and hasn’t looked back since.
“I started as the head brewer for what became Stoneyard Brewing Company in April of 2014. At the time, we were brewing only about three kegs of beer a week,” he says. Since then, the brewery has upgraded to a full-size, 30-barrel production facility that churns out 360 kegs a week. Along the way, Osborne has become a partner in the business and stepped up to tackle a never-ending list of responsibilities.
“A typical week for me includes scheduling my brewing team of four employees, brewing all of the beer, scheduling canning runs, creating recipes, weighing in on any ownership decisions, participating in events, maintaining records of production, and generally being a jack of all trades around the brewery,” he explains.
While winter is a bit quieter at the brewery, Osborne looks forward to springtime, when production picks back up again. Stoneyard’s core brands, Ellsworth IPA and Everyman IPA, will be on heavy rotation, while a fun variety of IPAs, fruited sours, and stouts add diversity to the lineup.
“Becoming a brewer is often a lot harder than the path that I took,” Osborne admits. While he was lucky enough to live the homebrewer’s dream and dive straight into craft brewing, he notes that many aspiring brewers are not so lucky. “Much more common is joining a brewing staff and working the not-so-glamorous jobs while you climb the ladder and learn the trade. A lot of time is spent cleaning tanks and kegs, placing orders, organizing schedules, and other jobs that need to get done and aren’t so enjoyable.”
Even when the going gets rough, Osborne never forgets how lucky he is to be pursuing his passion.
“All that said, we still get to brew beer and have fun, so there’s that.”
Since expanding distribution around New York, Osborne has become friends with a number of local brewers and brewery owners in the Hudson Valley, which he notes was once a “beer desert.”
“I love that I can find delicious beer when I go to visit my parents, who still live in Stony Point. It’s really exciting to see Stoneyard beer being sold next to beer made by people that I grew up in the industry with…each of us finding success in the area that I grew up in and still love,” he enthuses.
To all aspiring brewers in the Hudson Valley and beyond, he recommends doing your homework. Begin by reading everything you can, from beer trends to best brewing practices. Then pick up a homebrewing kit and get experimenting.
“If your homebrew isn’t as good or better than what you can buy in the store, you probably aren’t ready to go pro,” he says. In the meantime, he notes that procuring a job at a local brewery is a great way to learn more about the behind-the-scenes operations and build a network in the industry. It’s also one of the best ways to figure out whether or not the career is truly for you.
“Work in places whose beer you enjoy, since learning how to make beer that you enjoy is different than just learning to brew,” he explains. “Have fun and understand that the market is crazy right now, both for better and for worse.”