Owners Dan Hitchcock and Nikki Cavanaugh both learned to brew while students at the College of New Jersey. Hitchcock hated the inexpensive mass-production beers they could afford, but wasn’t old enough to get into the bars that served the good stuff. Their beers turned out so good, they decided to turn it into a business.
It didn’t happen overnight, however. First, they partnered with Dan’s parents, and his father, Les, helped develop their brewing skills. While still in college Dan applied to the American Brewer’s Guild to study Intensive Brewing Science and Engineering. He took the guild’s distance learning program and got a job training as a cellarman — the mailroom of brewing jobs — at Weyerbacher Brewing company, in Easton, PA. He eventually finished the Brewer’s Guild program and earned a promotion to lead brewer at Weyerbacher, at which point he, Nikki, and Les turned their attention to opening their own brewery.
After taking about two years to create a solid plan, they opened Rushing Duck in the summer of 2012. Though she is from Philadelphia and he grew up in Bergen County, NJ, they chose to open in the Hudson Valley. “We used to go camping here, and we fell in love with the area,” Cavanaugh says. New York’s favorable brewing licensing process didn’t hurt, either.
The name came from a story Hitchcock heard from his grandfather. After Prohibition ended, beer lovers would often go to a local pub and fill a container with draft beer. His grandfather used a metal pail that he and his friends called the duck. If the pail should empty during a card game, someone would rush to the bar for a refill, which they called “rushing the duck.”
Rushing Duck became even more familial when Cavanaugh and Hitchcock got married in 2014. “We wanted to see if we could be business partners first,” she says.
Les and his wife, Mary, are more than business partners. “Mary bartends, and Les fixes everything,” Cavanaugh says. “We want to keep it a family business. We like complete autonomy.”
They have grown steadily, and recently opened a new, larger facility, doubling production to a 15-barrel system producing up to 30 different styles a year. Dan and head brewer Alexis Bacon do all the brewing, while Nikki left production to oversee the business and retail side. They make everything from lagers to sours to barrel-aged brews. “We are not afraid to experiment. Our customers see a bunch of stuff on the board, and are excited about that,” she says.
Rushing Duck’s mainstays include the Naysayer’s Pale Ale, a West Coast-styled pale ale; Beanhead Coffee Porter, which is brewed with Guatemalan coffee beans roasted by Java Love Coffee Roasting Company, in Kauneonga Lake; and Dad Breath, a drinkable, German-style Helles Lager. The new place also has a room for retail sales — the Duck Out — with growlers, cans, bottles, merchandise, and an expanded tasting room — the Duck In — which has 20 taps, serves wine and cider in addition to beer, and offers eats from Bistro on the Go, a food truck from Christopher’s Bistro.
After five years as a brewery, Cavanaugh says the business has been a bit different than she expected. “The craft movement has expanded so much,” she says. “Craft beer has become so hyper-local. That’s why we face inward and focus on retail. People want to drink local now — it is like a community experience.” And that meets Rushing Duck’s vision as a family business. “We are a place where you can be comfortable and have good conversations.”
Duck In: Fri: 2 p.m.–10 p.m.; Sat: 12 p.m.–1 a.m; Sun: 12 p.m.–6 p.m.
Duck Out: Wed. & Thurs: 4 p.m.–8 p.m; Fri & Sat: 12 p.m.–8 p.m.; Sun: 12 p.m.–6 p.m.
1 Battiato Lane, Chester; 845.610.5440; www.rushingduck.com