“Brewing is like alchemy,” says Tom Crowell of Chatham Brewing. “It’s a fascinating process. You combine just three basic ingredients and come up with totally different products. There are so many possibilities.”
Crowell and Jake Cunningham are cofounders/owners of Chatham Brewing, which they formed in 2006. Both had worked at various breweries around the state, including Brown’s Brewing in Troy and a brewery in Brooklyn, in addition to their regular jobs. (Cunningham was a computer programmer before diving into the beer business full-time last year; Crowell still does nonprofit environmental work.) They met through their wives, who met through their kids. “It was just a ‘My husband is into beer,’ ‘Oh, so is mine,’ thing,” Crowell says.
He got into home brewing at Middlebury College in Vermont, during the Dark Ages of craft beer brewing. “The only microbrew then was Sam Adams,” he says. His parents had been home wine-makers, so it was an easy transition to the beer side.
After their cute-meet, Crowell and Cunningham bought equipment from a shuttered Albany brewery, as well as a space in Chatham. They released their first brew in 2007. “We went to TAP New York our first year and won a bronze medal for our porter,” Crowell says. “And we’ve been growing steadily ever since, about 20 to 30 percent each year.” That steady growth has allowed them to hire full-time brewer Matt Perry. “It’s better for consistency,” Crowell explains, “and we can be involved in concepts of new beers and running the business.” Perry keeps about 10 beers flowing at any given time. Right now, lighter summer styles, such as the OC Blonde, have joined the darker ales on tap. And, as always, the duo produces an IPA or two. “IPAs are popular across the board,” says Crowell. The brewery has also begun filling large “bomber” bottles for sale in retail establishments. Currently, the brewery is open just on Friday evenings and most of the day on Saturday. Customers clamor to be first in line in order to take advantage of the Taste-Tester Special: The first person through the door gets a free sample of all the beers on sale that day.
Crowell and Cunningham are currently in the middle of building a new facility on Main Street, which they hope to open by Labor Day. It will have a formal tasting room up front — which they expect to operate six days a week — and room for more production equipment in the back. “The expansion needed a full-time manager; that’s why Jake made the switch to full-time last year,” Crowell says. (Jake’s wife, an architect, helped with the building design.) Crowell doesn’t know if or when he’ll devote himself solely to the beery arts. “It depends on how it takes off,” he says. “It’s actually kind of a nice balance, working with farmers and conservation during the day, then on locally grown products in beer on the side. They go together in a way.”
“Local” is of course the key to the craft beer explosion. “Now is a great time for ‘foodie’ movements and the demand for locavore, artisanal products has been great,” he says. The brewers capitalize on this demand by distributing their suds at various farmers markets throughout the Valley in the summer months. “Consumers are actively seeking products like ours,” Crowell says. And that’s a challenge he can happily live with. 518-697-0202; www.chathambrewing.com