Kenan and Kenneth Porter are confident the Heritage Trail will be well-traveled by thirsty tourists on the stretch that goes through Middletown. On Cottage Street nearby, in a building that formerly housed the Clemson Bros. hacksaw company, their craft brewery is coming to life.
Clemson Bros. Brewery does not expect in the near future to rival the Brooklyn Brewery, a dominant craft brewery in New York. But Kenan Porter has big plans for the buildings he owns in downtown Middletown.
In 2014 the Porters’ Heritage Restoration Properties LLC bought the facility and several nearby buildings. Father Kenneth and son Kenan are now renovating the site into a craft brewery, beer garden, café, high-end apartments, and distribution center. Kenan Porter says he expects to open the brewery sometime before the end of the summer.
Hopping Economic Engine
In several regions around the country, craft breweries provide needed jobs and drive regional tourism.
In 2013, there were fewer than 20 breweries in New York state, but more may develop as the leisure industry drives the state’s economic engine.
Craft brewers are terrific job creators for cities and towns. Scott Metzger, founder of Texas-based Freetail Brewing, made the case for craft brewers as engines for economic development in a webinar hosted by The International Economic Development Council. In an effort to drive home the impact craft brewers can make on a local economy, noted that the total economic impact of the Texas craft brewing industry was $608 million.
Metzger noted the “labor inefficiencies” of small brewers—basically, their need to have more people involved in lower production levels—as having the potential to help the growth of local economies by creating pools of jobs.
“Craft brewing employs 103,000 individuals [in the United States] to sell 11.5 million barrels of beer. That’s 112 barrels per employee,” Metzger said.
So how does a local economy attract those breweries? Kenan Porter points to Middletown’s proactive stance by incentivizing business development, which includes tax abatements and loans.
The Orange County Industrial Development Agency offers real property tax abatements for enhanced properties. Any mortgage filed for an IDA property is exempt from the 1.05 percent New York State mortgage recording tax. The IDA can offer exemptions from sales tax on the materials purchased during construction of a project and for the equipment purchased for a project.
Metzger said having city planning officials who “understand the unique needs and benefits of a brewery” is the most critical element. The Porters chose Middletown because the city takes this position.
Ben Teague, Asheville, North Carolina’s executive director of economic development, appeared on the same webinar as Metzger. He noted how Asheville was able to lure the second locations for the country’s second- and third-largest craft breweries, Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. and New Belgium Brewing to town.
“You have to sell who you are as a community first and then you sell what you have,” Teague said. “Decision makers and owners of breweries are personally invested in these communities. They want to help build the community.”
In Pennsylvania, the state legislature is examining the impact of breweries with a focus on jobs.
San Diego County ordered a study in 2013 examining the impact of breweries on tourism and revenue. “San Diego’s craft brewers contribute to the region’s tourism industry dollars by hosting year-round events, festivals, and facility tours,” according to a report by the National University System Institute for Policy Research which evaluated labor data from San Diego’s craft brewery industry and measured its economic impact within the region.
The impact on San Diego’s tourist revenue is year-round. “Unlike seasonal attractions, brewery tourism occurs year-round, and most of the major industry events in the region occur during non-peak visitor months.”
Craft brewers in New York are creating jobs, tourism visits, and tax revenue at a time when the Hudson Valley continues to slog through its economic recovery.
Kenan Porter noted the proximity to the Heritage Trail was a big plus in selecting the property. He intends to develop a destination site where visitors can come to enjoy a good ale. The brewery can be the start of a day trip to enjoy a craft beer and hearty food and then hop on the trail, or a day of hiking can end at the brewery.
The 11-mile Heritage Trail runs through a bird and wildlife sanctuary, historic landmarks, and grassy meadows between Goshen and Monroe on the abandoned right-of-way of the Erie Railroad. The tracks were built in 1843 and were used until 1983. Today, the rail right of way is a path to walk, bike, and enjoy the natural landscape.
“What attracted us to this site was how much Middletown is investing in tourism. With the Heritage Trail coming right through near us, that was a big plus for us,” the younger Porter said.
A Growing Commercial Enterprise
The Brewers Association describes American craft brewers as “small, independent, and traditional,” producing less than 6 million barrels of beer annually. Interest in brewing has taken off in the last few decades.
In 1979, 89 breweries existed in the U.S. The Brewers Association reports that in March 2013 a total of 2,416 U.S. breweries were in operation nationally, with 2,360 considered craft breweries (1,124 brewpubs, 1,139 microbreweries, and 97 regional craft breweries). Craft brewers sold more than 15.6 million barrels of beer, which represented approximately 7.8 percent of the U.S. market by volume.
American consumers are trending, according to Kenan Porter, toward a more discerning beer drinking experience. Clemson Bros. Brewery will be producing three craft ales and possibly a fourth—an Indian pale ale, an Imperial pale ale, and a raspberry blonde ale. The fourth would be a brown ale. Porter says that Clemson’s master brewer is exceptional in making brown ales.
Clemson’s raspberry blonde ale, according to the brewery’s website, “delivers a refreshingly crisp and dynamic performance displaying ample body raspberry highlights, setting it apart from most other blonde ales,” with an alcohol content of 5.5 percent.
No beer has been brewed in Middletown since prohibition caused the last brewery to close. Now, not one but two breweries are in the works. Along with Clemson Bros. Brewery, the Equilibrium Brewery is set to open in the downtown sometime soon, according to Maria Bruni, Middletown’s Director of Economic and Community Development.
William Clemson and George Nathan Clemson brought their manufacturing business to Cottage Street in Middletown in the 19th century. In the 21st, another father and son are planning to revive that spirit of entrepreneurship by making some great pale ales.