Janine Bennett and Kenny Landin were at a crossroads. This was about 10 years ago, in Queens, where she was a teacher, he was a contractor, and both wanted out of their jobs and their lives. They shared a love of craft beer and music and thought about combining the two; then Landin took a job as a salesperson for a Garrattsville, New York brewery, and “we became consumed by the industry,” Bennett says. They were a couple then, so she helped out at the brewery too, and talked about making the leap into their own brewing business. They did it — and immediately found out that starting a brewery was a lot less romantic, and a lot more stressful, than they had anticipated.
They sold their house on Long Island to buy a brewing system, and then spent more than a year looking at properties all over New York State. Then the crash of 2008 hit. “The economy fell apart, and no lenders were giving money,” Bennett says. “We thought that was the end of it.” They were living in Athens, where Landin had a second home, and found a building right in their neighborhood. It was a run-down, 19th-century opera house that intrigued a local banker enough to proffer financing. The deal closed in October 2009.
Renovating the building took a lot more time and money than expected. “There was a tree growing through what became our office, and there were holes in the roof you could fly a plane through,” Bennett remembers. But the brewery quickly gained notice — before the tree was felled and the planes were diverted, the duo had already won awards for their beer. They hired brew master Hutch Kugeman, an award-winning brewer from the Great Adirondack Pub and Brewery in Lake Placid. In 2010, Crossroads was named the Best Craft Brewery in the Hudson Valley at the TAP New York Craft Beer and Food Festival at Hunter Mountain. Their Outrage IPA won a bronze medal for best individual craft beer in the Valley, as well as the John Calen Memorial Award for best English-style pale ale in the state.
Crossroads’ tasting room opened in October 2010, the bar followed suit in the summer of 2011 (the same year that this magazine dubbed it Best New Brewery), and the kitchen began operations a year later. Today, the business is humming. The opera house is once again the village’s centerpiece. Kugeman serves up 10 fresh brews, including favorites like Brady’s Bay Cream Ale, Black Rock Stout, and the highly touted Outrage IPA — a citrusy brew that is markedly different from more traditional hopped-up IPAs.
The work, however, is still hard. “On bad days, it’s good there is beer,” Bennett laughs. Although no longer a couple, the two partners support one another. “When I am ready to leave the country, he is the rock. And when he wants to throw the computer out the window, I am there for him,” she says. And when both wonder why they ever got into this crazy business, she can always put on the specially made T-shirt an employee once gave her that says, “Let’s open a brewery — it will be fun.”
Truly, though, it is fun. “There are way more good days than bad,” she says. “When the locals are out having a good time, and they are really proud of having this place here, when we see generations of fathers and sons and mothers and daughters, that makes it all worth it for sure. I can’t complain. I own a brewery.” 518-945-2337; www.athensnybrewery.com
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