This article first appeared in The Alt on March 14, 2018.
Starting a small business can be stressful, full of minutiae, permitting processes and focused planning. The initial research done by the three owners and friends behind Fort Orange Brewing might not sound particularly dreadful to most beer enthusiasts as it involved trips to successful North Eastern breweries, recipe tasting, and family pool-parties that served as brainstorming sessions.
“New England style breweries, those ones where people wait in line just to fill their growlers, inspired us because the beers so good that people have to have them. We took trips to those places and that kind of shaped our vision but we also wanted to be family friendly. We wanted people to be able to come in to this welcoming place and hang out,” said John Westcott.
Westcott and his friends Jim Eaton and Craig Johnson brought their various expertises to the planning process behind Fort Orange Brewing which opened in October of 2017.
Westcott works for Key Bank, Jim works at admissions at Siena College and Johnson works for the engineering architectural firm EYP. There was no trip to the bank for a loan, the friends invested their own funds into transforming the industrial space at 450 N. Pearl Street in Albany into a functioning brewery and taproom. Family and friends helped with the construction.
Despite the fun involved in putting the project together and the fact that the men involved bring a diverse set of talents to the projects they still face risk entering a market that sees new breweries popping up everyday. It’s become a family affair–as the three schedule working the bar with their wives. They get together early in the morning to try new recipes and it isn’t rare for their children to be seen at work—there’s a treasure trove of toys in the corner that screams “Family Friendly.” Unlike other breweries in the area like Druthers and CH Evans, Fort Orange does not have a restaurant attached. They do offer snacks like pretzels and once a week bring in food trucks—including Sliding Dirty and Michele’s Charcoal Pit.
Fort Orange offers the Fort Orange IPA—a New England style pale ale; the Nipper IPA, that features a light malt profile with tropical fruit highlights; Mo-Mentum, featuring “earthy fruit” like blueberry and tangerines with a sweet malt flavor and mosaic hops; Whistle Stopper an amber ale with a thick malt and a hint of caramel; The General, a blonde ale with citrus hints and a Scottish malt backbone; Where’d Bob Go, a rye pale ale; and Pullman Porter, a smoked porter with mesquite overtones. All of these brews are available in flights, pints or growlers at the brewery.
Westcott says the plan is to increase the number of local establishments that offer their brews. So far you can find Fort Orange products at places including Uno’s in Crossgates Mall, The Valatie Bar and Grill and, My Place in Schodack.
“The taproom is really our focus at this point,” says Westcott. “That is what drives our greatest amount of sales but we are trying to go out and distribute to small local accounts in the surrounding area. Everyone wants to drink local these days. We do have plans to do canning in the future and then add more accounts and tank capacity.”
But Westcott says they are intent on getting things right before any sort of great expansion. He points out that Fort Orange hasn’t even celebrated its first summer season yet. “We’ve ordered the outdoor furniture, we’re getting ready. People in the business have told us, ‘Wait until the weather turns, you are going to be amazed how many people show up.”
Westcott recalls that it was last summer during a pool party that everything clicked. “The Fort Orange IPA is really important. We did that beer with a variety of different ingredients and it was at one of these pool parties that we tasted the current incarnation and we knew ‘We can do this for real.’”