Most of the people behind the many new microbreweries sprouting around the Valley are longtime beer lovers. Kenan Porter, co-owner of the new Clemson Bros. Brewery in Middletown, is not one of them. “My father was a Coors Light drinker, and I never liked it,” says Porter, 31. “It had no complexity to it. I can’t say I was a beer drinker.” He did, however, like the food and beverage industry, and launched an alcoholic punch product while still a business major at Manhattan College. That product never took off, but his next venture, an aloe-based drink called Sabila, did. “I love the industry,” he says. “I joke that I have a really good tongue — I can taste something and know if it will be successful. My wife finds it annoying when I go places and critique things.”
After working for a New York City-based beverage distributor, Porter started his own company to market Sabila. “I also wanted to get into beer distribution, and decided to become a manufacturer,” he says. Despite his affinity for Coors Light, Porter partnered with his father, Kenneth, a real estate developer, and his brother Paul, who trained as a brewer. They looked around for a suitable location and found an iconic Middletown building: the 19th-century Clemson Brothers hacksaw factory on Cottage Street. “I fell in love with it,” Kenan says. “The building has a lot of history, and it reminds you of an old-school brewery.” It also had 100,000 square-feet of space available for expansion, which is indicative of Porter’s ambitions.
The taproom and pub opened in October 2015. They started small, and plan to stay that way — for a while. “I learned that in the industry you need to go a mile deep and an inch wide,” he says. “Don’t overwhelm yourself and your customers with too many options, otherwise things get lost in the mix. We focus on a small area until it has enough traction with consumers that we can then branch out.” That mix now comprises just four brews. Lola’s Blonde Ale is a lighter offering which, in the summer, becomes a Raspberry Blonde. The Foundation Pale Ale has medium citrus, grapefruit, orange, and tangerine notes. The Lionheart Imperial IPA features a big-bodied citrus flavor rounded out with a rich malt backbone (“We say it’s the burp that tastes delicious,” Porter says). And the Hockmeister Brown Stout offers oatmeal and espresso flavorings. These can be paired with what he calls “upscale pub food” like dressed-up burgers, pizza, and small plates.
His original plan was to start branching out about 18 months after opening. “But we have been blowing our projections away,” Porter says. “Every month we set another record — even in the dead season of winter — so I now see it happening mid- to late summer.” His brother Paul has been toying with a regular IPA and a cherry wheat beer, which may be the next additions to the tap.
Although he admittedly approaches the brewing world more from the business side than the beer-geek side, Porter has come not only to appreciate beer, but love it. “When I was doing my research in 2012, I learned that craft beer is very complex,” he says. “There are so many different flavors. I developed a passion for it, and that is what drives me.”
If you go…
Clemson Bros. Brewery
22 Cottage St., Middletown