Trio aims to raise bar with local brew

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BY STEVE JONES

Staff writer

MARCY — A trio of teachers are just about ready to roll out their first commercial batch of beer at Woodland Hop Farm and Fermentation. The small brewery will begin production Sunday.

Keith Redhead, AJ Spado and Nick Natishak were all teachers at Rome Free Academy and home brewers. Spado, 34, teaches earth science at the school. Natishak, 30, teaches physics there. Redhead, 30, now teaches social studies in Oriskany.

They’d been brewing in their homes for nearly a decade, all while talking about the dream of one day opening a brewery.

Spado and his wife were visiting a small brewery started by a fellow teacher, and Spado asked him if it had been a big leap. The answer — that it was not — empowered Spado to propose the idea of Woodland to his two friends.

After some hesitation and consideration, they were all on board. The brewery is located in leased space at 6002 Trenton Road. There, in one space that takes up about half the building, sits the machinery. There are repurposed yogurt tanks from Canada. Then there are the four new fermenters from California. The set-up will allow the brewery to produce 10 barrels from one weekly batch. That’s 20 half-kegs — 310 gallons. “We’re not filtering. We’re keeping it as natural as possible,” said Spado of the five-barrel fermentation process.

The company will be a state farm brewery, which requires that at least 20 percent of its hops and other ingredients be grown in-state. That percentage goes up to 60 percent in the second year of operation, and goes all the way to 90 percent by 2024. The refrigerator is already stocked with hops grown in New York State. The plan is also to have a small hop farm on site in part to show off the growing process. The company will also begin growing its own hops on local farmland as soon as next spring, Spado added.

Woodland will eventually offer smoked stout, Kolsch, Saison, IPA and Scotch Ale. All will be available on site in the tasting room being built there. As a state farm brewery, Woodland does not need additional licensing to serve beer by the glass on site. Part of the experience at the brewery will be sampling the various recipes that Redhead creates. “This size set-up allows us to experiment,” said Spado. There will be a different brew created each week, so there will always be something new to try, he noted.

The tasting room will operate six days a week, until 8 p.m. on weekdays and 9 p.m. on weekends. It will also be a place for local businesses to partner with Woodland — from local farms’ foods paired with Woodland beers to local artists performing or teaching. Though there will be no meals served at the brewery, Spado said he hopes that food trucks will come there to sell to patrons.

Collaboration will be a big part of Woodland, Spado said. The company will purchase ingredients from New York State farms, brew in partnership with other local breweries and even has a local market for its spent grains in Grassy Cow Dairy in Remsen. He said local commercial outlets have also been excited about stocking Woodland products. A common message from stores that sell growlers and from bar owners: “We’d love to have you on tap.”

Woodland will initially employ about 10 people. The plan is for a soft opening in the first half of January. There will be an open house noon to 3 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 12, with tours and Woodland shirts, hats and other items for sale (but no beer yet).

Spado said the process, which has been challenging, was made much easier with some help from municipal officials along the way. He credited Rep. Richard L. Hanna, R-22, Barneveld, state Sen. Joseph A. Griffo, R-47, Rome, and the Town of Marcy all with helping make the start-up as smooth as possible.

The newest announcements about nanotechnology growth in Marcy at the nearby SUNY Polytechnic Institute could mean big things for Woodland, Spado said. “There are a lot more positive announcements on the economic front,” he said. He said he can envision employees from nano tech and related companies that locate or start in the area coming to the brewery after work to taste the latest batch of beer.

What will define success for Woodland? Spado said: “It’s people coming in and really liking the beer and coming back for more.”

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