Suarez Fam­ily Brew­ery

Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine - - Contents - By John Holl

Peo­ple make pil­grim­ages to the Suarez Fam­ily Brew­ery, but they don’t line up for re­leases. There are no pints, only pours, and most of what’s on of­fer is be­low 6 per­cent ABV. At this brew­ery south of Al­bany, New York, it’s about tak­ing it slow, ap­pre­ci­at­ing nu­ance, and work­ing with both tra­di­tion and the sur­round­ing area.

THE BREW­HOUSE SPACE IT­SELF isn’t very large. It’s tucked into what was once a garage at a trac­tor deal­er­ship, but the beer lovers and style seek­ers who walk through the space are drawn to stacks of bar­rels hold­ing mixed-fer­men­ta­tion ales and to the stain­less hold­ing lagers. There’s even a fer­men­tor, en­cased in black-painted spray foam, that was part of the orig­i­nal Al­chemist Pub & Brew­ery in Ver­mont, now used for fruited-sour pro­duc­tion.

All Dan Suarez wants to talk about, how­ever, is his garage-door opener.

“It’s the qui­etest in the busi­ness,” he says, push­ing a but­ton as the door silently rolls up­ward into a rear stor­age area where pack­aged bot­tles are con­di­tion­ing and some el­der­flower des­tined for a fu­ture batch is dry­ing on a win­dowsill. He didn’t re­quest a quiet door; it was just in­stalled that way, and now that seem­ingly odd fea­ture has made its way onto the reg­u­lar tour.

Func­tional, yes, but it’s also a metaphor for the beers he’s mak­ing at the Suarez Fam­ily Brew­ery in New York’s Hud­son Val­ley. Beer to­day is noisy; it’s in your face, from the com­bi­na­tion of fla­vors to the vi­brant artis­tic pack­ag­ing on cans to hang­over-in­duc­ing high ABVS. It might take a few min­utes dur­ing your first visit—es­pe­cially if you are ac­cus­tomed to stand­ing in line or trad­ing on­line or caught up in the fre­netic pace of In­sta­gram and Un­tappd— but soon enough you’ll take a deep breath, ex­hale, and get in sync with the laid-back na­ture of the brew­ery.

Suarez has been brew­ing pro­fes­sion­ally for the bet­ter part of a decade and home­brew­ing for even longer. He started off at Six­point Brew­ery in Brook­lyn, New York, back when the brew­ery was do­ing a lot of con­tract pro­duc­tion in Penn­syl­va­nia. He, how­ever, spent time at a pi­lot sys­tem in the city. It was all ex­per­i­men­tal, he says, for the time—all Bret­tanomyces-fer­mented beers, Gose, and things that might seem quaint these days but were cut­ting edge not too long ago.

“But I feel like where my mind, my head, is lately has been to try to brush up on tech­nique and process,” he says, sit­ting in the brew­ery’s tap­room, which is clean and stark, yet some­how fa­mil­iar and com­fort­able, just like the beers he pro­duces. “If you asked me 10 years ago, I would have said, ‘I’m an artist, and cre­ative, and try­ing to make some­thing no one ever has be­fore.’ Now, I want to make the sim­plest beer pos­si­ble, and it’s about tech­nique and process.”

It’s like be­ing a fur­ni­ture maker, Suarez says. He makes some­thing and then tweaks it, im­proves it, maybe makes slight vari­a­tions, but you still know what the in­tent is.

“With these sub­tle beers, I’m able to re­ally taste a pro­found dif­fer­ence, some­times, and I think that’s the height of the brew­ing en­deavor—the small tweaks and chip­ping away at it. Try­ing to make a qual­ity beer just by mak­ing these small tweaks.”

It’s mid­morn­ing on a day the brew­ery is closed to the public. He’s drink­ing a latte from a ce­ramic mug with a bro­ken

“If you asked me 10 years ago, I would have said, ‘I’m an artist, and cre­ative, and try­ing to make some­thing no one ever has be­fore.’ Now, I want to make the sim­plest beer pos­si­ble, and it’s about tech­nique and process.”

han­dle. Tom Petty and the Heart­break­ers are on the stereo in the brew­house, but it’s not be­ing blared; it’s drowned out by pumps and other brew­ery-ma­chin­ery noise that comes through an open door in the back. The vol­ume is usu­ally cranked high at brew­eries, giv­ing the op­po­site ef­fect, but it’s an­other small way the beer takes a hum­ble turn in the spot­light.

Suarez has been think­ing about build­ing a lot lately. He’ll soon be open­ing a back bar—he needs to find some time to fin­ish it off with a ham­mer and nails—on the brew­ery prop­erty, be­hind a large shed, near a grove of fruit trees that he and his wife and co-owner Tay­lor Co­calis Suarez planted shortly af­ter tak­ing over this space. The back bar is go­ing to serve only helles, le­mon­ade, and a shandy mixed from the two.

It’s part of a phi­los­o­phy that comes with hav­ing ex­pe­ri­ences around beer, not neche’s es­sar­ily with beer. Suarez has seen first­hand—from the 3 years he spent work­ing at Hill Farm­stead Brew­ery (Greens­boro Bend, Ver­mont)—the near ra­bid de­vo­tion some peo­ple have with limited re­leases or just ev­ery­day recipes.

“I never want to blow any­one’s mind with one of my beers,” he says. “You can’t ex­pect fire­works or rays from the heav­ens from ev­ery beer you drink. It’s cool to drink a beer like that, but I don’t de­sire to drink a beer like that ev­ery day. I like an easy beer, like com­fort food. It’s not quite as loud, and you’re not dazed af­ter drink­ing. It’s a nor­mal part of ev­ery­day life.”

He’s never had a line for his beers, Suarez says. If you show up want­ing a case of Pala­tine Pils, their un­fil­tered clas­sic Ger­man Pil­sner, you’re likely to go home with it. Same for the mixed-fer­men­ta­tion beers he bot­tles. That suits him just fine be­cause not striv­ing to be the next “it” brew­ery or to live with the pres­sure that comes with con­stantly hav­ing to try to im­press a cer­tain kind of beer drinker.

Still, there are beers that he gets ex­cited about, and he grins like a kid on Christ­mas morn­ing when he talks about them. Be­ing in a more ru­ral and farm-fo­cused part of the Em­pire State has led him to cre­ate some fruited beers that stand out. There’s a cherry farm up the road that he’s par­tic­u­larly fond of. He’s gone the kriek route with them, of course, but also added them to a grisette recipe.

Ear­lier this sum­mer, as the har­vest was kick­ing into high gear, he was al­ready think­ing about what to make next. But rather than think­ing about the cher­ries in the way many of us do—ap­pro­pri­ately red, plump, and shiny—he had re­cently come across some­thing else.

A dry, hot start to the sea­son fol­lowed by a few hard down­pours had split a lot of the fruit on the trees, mak­ing it un­suit­able for the tourism-pop­u­lar you-pick out­ings. So a lot of the fruit was go­ing to go fal­low. Walk­ing the or­chards, Suarez no­ticed that the dam­aged cher­ries had be­come “raisin-like” with a con­cen­trated cherry-juice fla­vor that was al­most honey-, fruit leather–, and syrup-like. He con­sid­ered gath­er­ing a crew to go get as many as pos­si­ble be­cause the beer po­ten­tial was just too good to miss.

“You can’t buy that. You can only stum­ble upon the op­por­tu­nity by be­ing in the field and talk­ing to the farmer,” he says.

If it comes to fruition, like all his beers, it will tell a story: one of place, or time, or a sim­ple thought, or just some­thing that adds to a good evening.

“We want to make a change in our beer cul­ture to make it more sen­si­ble and less chaotic,” he says. Be­fore he opened the brew­ery, he’d say, “It’s just beer,” but be­cause he now lives and breathes it and it’s his liveli­hood and fu­ture, he can’t be as flip, but still he wants to con­vey to ev­ery cus­tomer who comes in for a glass or who takes some home that all he tries to do is to make “some­thing tasty that you put on your tongue. With all of our beers I want it to have that ‘ahhh’ af­ter a swal­low, and then hope­fully you go back to chill­ing with your friend or back to a meal. That’s my per­fect sce­nario. I want to bring the beer drinker back down to earth.”

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