There is nothing better than a road trip on the Happy Hour Trail to reaffirm our belief that you always meet the nicest people in the Adirondacks. A full day of travel to interview and tour two breweries in the Old Forge and Tug Hill regions covered a lot of ground. Venturing through Eagle Bay, Old Forge, and finally to Lowville, we were met with happy, friendly faces at every turn. Without exception, whether they held the door for us at a convenience store or took time from their busy schedules to share their knowledge of brewing, every person we encountered was upbeat and friendly. Smiles on a beautiful day in the Adirondacks are definitely contagious.
Arriving in Old Forge a little early for our interview with Fulton Chain Craft Brewing, we had a few minutes to grab some breakfast to-go at the FastTrac gas station. Having used the majority of our time concocting the perfect cup of coffee, quick choices for breakfast ended with a slice of breakfast pizza, served by an amiable cashier. We ate hurriedly in the car, little knowing that pizza and convenience stores would be a recurring theme.
Right on schedule, we arrived at Fulton Chain Craft Brewing in time to catch co-owner Richard Mathy at the vacuum. While his partner Justin Staskiewicz was located, we took the opportunity to look around. The bar, flanked by a dozen lofty Adirondack stools, runs nearly the full depth of the former Forge Lanes bowling alley’s interior. Even more impressive are USB ports on the lighted bar front, and, attesting to the dramatic increase in female beer lovers, purse hooks. We were bowled over! Tongue & groove knotty pine walls are accented in Happy Hour in the High Peaks’ signature Mount Skylight blue and fiddlehead fern color scheme. Points for them! We were off to a great start.
“Take a chance on life and find your adventure canoe” is Fulton Chain Brewing’s philosophy – in business and in life. A purloined canoe, discovered serendipitously at the conclusion of a hike, became the vessel that would launch Justin and Richard into the realm of beerdom. As is their custom, Justin’s graduation from college necessitated a camping and hiking trip. Stopping at the lake at the end of a hike, Richard happened to spot a canoe in the woods, complete with oars and life jackets. Maaayyybe we should take this thing out on the lake, he thought, turning to say so. Justin, reading Richard’s mind, was already launching the canoe into the lake. As they paddled and contemplated the future, the notion to start a brewery began in earnest. Referring to it as their “adventure canoe,” the two have been taking chances and adventuring ever since. (The canoe was returned unscathed.)
Not quite sure where exactly they wanted to locate, Richard and Justin came up with the name Fulton Chain knowing it would encompass a broader region. Old Forge stood out as a really viable option. With a three-season stream of tourism and a gaping hole devoid of craft beer, it was really the best place to start.
“Finding a location was 100% luck,” says Richard. The first location they looked at, strongly recommended by the zoning board, was the former bowling alley. Finding the cost of the building prohibitive, Justin and Richard continued their search until they happened to bring some beer samples to the 46 Sky Bar and Lounge in Old Forge. Impressed with the beer, the Sky Bar’s owners encouraged them to go ahead with their plan and recommended a building they had planned to sell, but had changed their minds, as a location. That building happened to be the former Forge Lanes bowling alley at 127 North Street, conveniently located right on the main snowmobile trail. They decided this was it.
Low on capital, Richard and Justin launched a successful Kickstarter campaign to secure financial backing. Eager beer-sipping investors earned lifetime memberships in the founders’ club (transferable only through inheritance) and were elevated to mug club status, ensuring discounted refills and exclusive taste premiers.
Futon Chain Craft Brewing, a New York Farm Brewery, currently has 14 beers under its belt. 100% of its base malt comes from East Coast Malts, a small malting facility in the Fingerlakes. Hops come from Foothills Hop Farm (Munnsville), which produces eight varieties of hops – the magic number for Lake Hopper Imperial IPA. Brewed with those eight hops representing the eight lakes in the Fulton Chain of Lakes, it’s the best seller – and for good reason. At 8.5% ABV it’s surprisingly smooth with a palatable touch of bitterness. Aged to its optimum flavor, the alcohol bite mellows, leaving a smooth, full character that’s highly drinkable. FireSide American Amber’s smoky pine essence conjures a campfire on a sultry Adirondack summer night or a roaring fireplace at hunting camp. Intended as a summer beer, demand has dictated it remain in the rotation year-round. FCCB rotates nine beer taps and a Beak and Skiff Orchards (Marietta) hard cider. The lineup also includes Adventure Canoe IPA, Appropriate Amount brown ale, Golden Beach light blonde ale, Stealth Buddha strong Scotch ale, 1798 English pale ale, and You Chinook Me All Night Long IPA. Charlie’s Pumpkin Ale was voted best beer at the Old Forge Brewfest. Named for the Town of Webb’s school mascot, Eskimo Strong is FCCB’s fundraiser beer. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of Eskimo Strong are donated to a program, started by a local family dealing with suicide, to help children struggling with depression.
Most of the beer is sold right out of the brewery, where you can relax and enjoy a pint or a flight of samples, refill your own growler, or buy a lightweight, backpackable eco-growler. (Now to figure out a way to connect it to a hydration pack…) A few area businesses serve FCCB, a great way to pique interest in the local flavor and drive craft beer enthusiasts to the source to sample the array of offerings. A nanobrewery, FCCB uses a two-barrel system producing just 62 gallons at a time, double batching into four-barrel fermenters, so distribution will grow as the brewing capacity does. For now you’ve got a great excuse to visit Old Forge!
Future plans include several possibilities. A bar swap with another brewery, where each takes over the other’s and serves its own beer to loyal patrons of the host taproom, and collaboration projects with other breweries are two possibilities. The realistic goal for future expansion predicts upgrading to a seven-barrel system, which will allow FCCB greater distribution, canning their beer, participation in tastings and brewfests, and more events. Pressed to envision FCCB in five years, the bold forecast brings a larger facility with room for outdoor events. For now, Justin and Richard are concentrating on the current experience.
FCCB is open from noon to 11pm, every day, and hosts Trivia Night on Wednesdays. Munchies are served, and burgers and dogs on holidays, but bringing your own fare is highly encouraged. FCCB also serves tap water and homemade soda for teetotalers and DDs.
Our next meeting was in Lowville, but we had enough extra time to backtrack to Eagle Bay and The Big Moose Inn to secure one of the few remaining passport stamps we need to complete our 46er adventure. A quick drink, passport stamped, and we were off again to BarkEater Brewing in Lowville, just a little outside the Park, but definitely inside our comfort zone. As long as we get our adventure canoe back before dark.
To be continued…