“Nothing ever tasted better than a cold beer on a beautiful afternoon with nothing to look forward to than more of the same.” — Hugh Hood
25 August, 2015
Poking my head in the door, I call hello to the two men working inside. Piles of unhung drywall and other building materials litter the concrete floor, and already-hung drywall only half-conceals the building’s pole barn construction. Like the ribs of an enormous beast, 2×4 wall studs take on a soft glow in the early evening light. Sawdust covers everything.
Startled glances reveal the fact that Shawn Griffin and Patrick Cook have been so busy constructing their brewery, our meeting has slipped their minds. Ben and I step inside and introduce ourselves to the guys, and to Shawn’s wife, Jessica.
“Thanks for taking the time to talk with us,” I say, with a half-guilty glance at all the work left to be done.
“Shawn and I never have to be asked twice to talk about the brewery,” Patrick assures me. Like his business partner, the Griff’s Brewery CEO is burly, with the big arms, grime and sweat typical of construction workers. Both men are clearly familiar with a hard day’s work; they’ve been building the brewery since early March.
“Boy, it’s scary how the time…what is it, August?” Patrick chuckles.
Since Griff’s Brewery isn’t open yet, and construction is thirsty work, we’ve brought a bottle of our own experimental concoction: an 11% ABV Belgian black rye IPA, affectionately named Sydney. Glasses are produced—with some amusing comments about the value of sawdust as dietary fiber, and the four of us (Jessica has departed, taking her and Shawn’s young daughter, Morgan, with her) arrange ourselves against the framework for what will be a maple-topped bar. With the beer as conversational lubricant, we get to chatting with the guys about their construction setbacks, the brewery’s origin story, and the challenges facing New York farm breweries.
How it all started…
“It was a fun, drunk conversation, I think…” Shawn says with a grin. He’s been homebrewing for about five and a half years, and Patrick, “came aboard and started cooking with him in the Spring of 2014.” Folks who drank their homebrews urged the guys to find a way to sell it. Eventually, they decided to do just that.
“The idea was the simple part,” Shawn admits. It took a while to find the right building, and as Shawn goes on to explain, “This place was rough; it had two stories in it…” the barn-like building also sported a wood floor, in very poor condition. None of that is in evidence now. Situated at the edge of Spencerport, on West Ridge Road, the location seems ideal for a nano brewery. It’s next door to A Gust of Sun Winery, itself a pleasant-looking spot. The two businesses share an ample gravel parking lot, landlord, and friendly relationship.
Griff’s Brewery was originally slated to open at the end of July 2015, but construction projects rarely go according to plan, especially when it’s two guys doing most of the work themselves.
“We’ve now bypassed expected delays. We’re now into unexpected delays,” Patrick says with a rueful smile.
Shawn has been working on the brewery for about three and a half months; he’s got all the tables, tap handles and tasting flights ready to go, most or all of which he’s made himself. Patrick holds a day job, then comes to work on the brewery in the evenings.
Turning dreams into reality is far from easy. Both men are sacrificing time with family while they literally build their business. Patrick and his wife, Jodi, are expecting their first child in late October. The guys point out that family time should be a bit more plentiful after the interior construction is done, but for now, it’s not exactly a safe or welcoming environment for kids to hang out in.
Despite what are probably inevitable setbacks and delays, the brewers seem to have planned well. They like and respect their colleagues in the Rochester-area beer industry, and have taken some lessons from their example;
“We saw that a lot of the local places jumped in without all their ducks in a row,” observes Patrick. Like many of the New York breweries that have opened in the past two years, Griff’s will operate on a Farm Brewery license—at first. When asked whether the proliferation of farm breweries is likely to cause supply problems, the guys are quick to confirm that, “…There will be a bottleneck.”
New York contains a surprising amount of agricultural land, considering that at the 2010 census, it was the nation’s seventh most populous state; 410 people per square mile.* But when you compare New York’s population density with other states that support hefty craft beer production, the figures cast doubt on local suppliers’ ability to meet in-state demands for hops and barley—let alone the multitudinous yeast strains needed for a diverse beer scene. Oregon boasts a whopping 40 P/Mi2 (people per square mile), Colorado is just ahead of them with 48 P/Mi2, Vermont weighs in at 68 P/Mi2, and even California and Pennsylvania are behind New York at 239 and 283 P/Mi2, respectively.
As Shawn and Patrick note, the Farm Brewery Act is a huge help when starting up; for a fully-functioning brewery, not so much. New York’s Farm Brewery Act has only been in play since January 2013,† but the current iteration lacks long-term sustainability. The law contains a stepped schedule, requiring breweries licensed under it to use 20% New York State ingredients now, 60% from 2018, and 90% starting in 2024.‡
Though they may switch to a more traditional brewery license in the future, Shawn and Patrick are enthusiastic about locavore sourcing; even the glassware comes from Fairport. The guys are working with Pioneer Malting, Inc., to produce a specialty malt just for Griff’s, the brewers divulge. “And we’re trying to get Whipple to do some custom hops for us.” Apparently, the Whipple brothers are interested in doing a true fresh hopped batch, no drying or freezing first.
Griff’s Brewery will open with a three barrel system, fermented in plastic conical vessels, which they plan to replace with stainless fermenters later on. Their construction plans include on-demand water heaters, for a constant supply of hot liquor, and they’ve hand-built “a monster grain grinder,” that chews through something like 25 pounds of grain per minute.
When the tasting room is up and running, they’ll serve tasting flights, full pints, and have growlers available to take home. Observing my attempt to figure out what to do with my purse while standing at their as-yet-unfinished bar (#girlproblems), one of the guys remarks that they plan to put coat hooks underneath, and that there will be wall plugs for charging electronic devices. This is good news for drinkers who use up their phone batteries snapping and sharing beer pictures. Or is that just me?
As of this writing, and barring any unforeseen changes (because not too many of us have the Sight), Patrick and Shawn plan to start brewing on September 28th, and open the doors for their first tasting on October 9th,or possibly the 16th. For now, the type of beer in the pilot batch remains a mystery; we’ll just have to wait and see what they come up with.
I’m looking forward to trying their beers, and hope to see you there on opening day.
Photos by Benjamin Wilson
* “50 States Populations (2010 Census).” Netstate.com. March 30, 2015. Accessed September 17, 2015.
Brooks, Jay R. “Beer Quotations – Brookston Beer Bulletin.” Brookston Beer Bulletin. Accessed September 17, 2015.
† Cleveland, Will. “Law Opens Door for Local Brewers.” Democrat & Chronicle, June 2, 2014. Accessed September 17, 2015.
‡ “Farm Brewery | New York State Brewers Association.” New York State Brewers Association. Accessed September 17, 2015.