Extraordin­ary ori­gins of Amer­i­can brew­ery amid Chornobyl ru­ins

Kyiv Post - - Business/National -

Crafty fox, craft beers

In 2014, the Lenchuks bought in­dus­trial-grade brew­ing equip­ment which they set up in the town of El­dred in New York. They named their en­ter­prise the Shrewd Fox Brew­ery — de­rived from a fox called "Lys Mykyta" (Mykyta the Fox), the hero of a chil­dren's story penned by Ukrainian poet and au­thor Ivan Franko.

Mykyta is de­scribed as “khytryi” — a Ukrainian word some­times trans­lated as cun­ning or sly. “To me that im­plied an un­der­hand qual­ity to Lys Mykyta, whereas I al­ways thought of him as a smart, playful char­ac­ter like Bugs Bunny,” Lenchuk said. “Mykyta isn’t bad — he’s a shrewd fox.”

The brew­ery pro­duces 12 va­ri­eties of craft beer and two ciders. This year Lenchuk ex­pects to brew 200 bar­rels each con­tain­ing 31 gal­lons — a to­tal of around 23,400 liters. Each beer and cider has a dis­tinct, full fla­vor and names to match, such as Kutya Osela Win­ter Farm­house Ale, us­ing buck­wheat and honey, Baba Yaga Har­booz Pump­kin Ale and Kozak Porter.

The El­dred lo­ca­tion also houses a bar which be­gan serv­ing cus­tomers in 2015. El­dred was cho­sen be­cause it’s just a few kilo­me­ters away from the lit­tle town of Glen Spey, nestled in the pic­turesque Catskill Moun­tains scenery, where decades ago Ukrainian-Amer­i­cans, in­clud­ing Va­syl Lenchuk’s par­ents in 1975, started build­ing weekend homes for breaks away from the bus­tle of places like the cities where they worked, mostly in the states of New York, New Jersey and Penn­syl­va­nia.

Grad­u­ally, more Ukraini­anAmer­i­cans moved in and started spend­ing the en­tire sum­mer there. They built a Ukrainian Or­tho­dox and a Greek Catholic church and a sum­mer camp for their chil­dren. As the years passed, hol­i­day homes turned into pri­mary homes and fa­cil­i­ties for re­tired peo­ple.

The whole area now has a strong Ukrainian fla­vor. Blue-and-yel­low flags abound, there is a mon­u­ment to Ukrainian World War II free­dom fighters and streets are named af­ter Ukrainian his­tor­i­cal fig­ures. An­nual cul­tural events and sum­mer camps draw thou­sands of vis­i­tors of Ukrainian de­scent.

When a lease on a suit­able build­ing in Glen Spey be­came avail­able last year, the Lenchuks snapped it up, re-investing the prof­its from their first “tap room” in El­dred into the far larger new fa­cil­ity, which has a res­tau­rant and can seat around 100 peo­ple.

Its splen­did wood-pan­eled in­te­rior and im­pos­ing bar be­gan their life in Philadel­phia, Penn­syl­va­nia in the 1920s, when Amer­ica out­lawed al­co­hol dur­ing the years called the Pro­hi­bi­tion Era.

Il­licit, se­cret bars called “speak-eas­ies” sprang up to slake thirsts and, af­ter Pro­hi­bi­tion ended in 1933, some­one bought and trans­ported the hid­den ar­chi­tec­tural gem to Glen Spey.

“In our busi­ness model, the en­ter­prise is pri­mar­ily a brew­ery rather than a bar,” Lenchuk said.

The plan is that cus­tomers will buy a third of the brew­ery prod­ucts for home con­sump­tion, an­other third will be sold to other bars, restau­rants, whole­salers or al­co­hol retail out­lets and only one third will be drunk “in-house.”

“We make craft beers sourced from lo­cal in­gre­di­ents, grown to avoid us­ing chem­i­cals, ad­di­tives and preser­va­tives and with a view to sus­tain­abil­ity,” Lenchuk said. “We use pure Catskills water from wells and weave in a Ukrainian twist. All the spent prod­ucts from the brew­ing process go to farms for feed­ing live­stock. None of the waste goes into land­fills.”

He said large brew­eries use huge in­dus­tri­al­ized farms pro­vid­ing lit­tle em­ploy­ment: “They bury the lit­tle guy (small busi­ness). By con­trast our model pre­serves small lo­cal farms and puts money back into the lo­cal econ­omy.”

The tap rooms serve tra­di­tional Ukrainian fare like varenyky (stuffed dumplings) and a va­ri­ety of smoked sausages that make a per­fect, choles­terol-boost­ing ac­com­pa­ni­ment to the beers and cider.

The Lenchuks care deeply about events play­ing out in Ukraine, keenly fol­low­ing the war and re­cent elec­tions. They hope that, along with the Ukrainian food and folksythem­ed beers, cus­tomers will also im­bibe some of Ukraine’s his­tory and cul­ture.

Last au­tumn, the cou­ple held an “Uk­to­ber­fest” — the first they hope of an an­nual Ukrainian Catskills take on Mu­nich’s famed beer fes­ti­val — fea­tur­ing bands and other en­ter­tain­ment.

On April 20, as the thirty-third an­niver­sary of the Chornobyl dis­as­ter ap­proached, Lenchuk gave a talk to an au­di­ence in the Glen Spey tap room about the nu­clear ex­plo­sion.

He ex­plained how it not only spurred de­mands for Ukrainian in­de­pen­dence but also caused a chain re­ac­tion of imag­i­na­tion lead­ing to the cre­ation of the Shrewd Fox Brew­ery.

The Ukrainian-Amer­i­can Shrewd Fox Brew­ery in Glen Spey, New York pro­duces 12 va­ri­eties of craft beer and two ciders. (Cour­tesy)

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