At the Albany Druther’s location, George di Piro is fiddling with a handheld electronic. He watches as a hose connected to the calculating box pumps beer into a gallon jug.
“Ah, only 4 parts per billion,” he says, looking pleased. One of the most recent additions to the brewery, the Anton Paar Cbox QC At-line meter is measuring the carbonation and oxygen levels of the latest batch and the low numbers mean a higher quality brew. The brewmaster and co-owner of the Capital Region brewery prides himself on his specificity and the balanced taste of his product. With eight fresh batches brewed on site per month, they’re watching their brew down to the molecule.
The company has continued to perfect and expand their product with the introduction of their bottling line, set to release in May. The $700,000 line is in addition to the oxidation machine that di Piro uses throughout each step of production and packaging to ensure the brewery is producing top-quality beer.
“This has taught us to change our procedures to minimize oxygen, which makes the beer stale,” he explains. “Before, we were purging our kegs with CO2 and then filling them which I always suspected was off, but I didn’t have any data to suggest otherwise. But now with this machine, we measured that we were getting about 400 parts per billion of oxygen in our kegs… that’s insane. So now we clean them with nitrogen and our kegs will have no more that 15 [ppb].”
These kinds of levels are what inspired the brewery to opt for a bottling line versus a can line, which can cost over $1 million for quality production. While there are multiple arguments for can line production in terms of cost and product protection, the Druthers brewmaster has done his research. According to di Piro, dark glass bottles protect beer from just as much light as the aluminum in cans without the harmful plastic lining that can be disintegrated by the acidity of the brew. It also ensures a tighter sealing than cans which can suffer micro-tears and ruin its product with oxidation.
Druthers has a fine-tuned focus on taste. With several different varieties coming from their two breweries, visitors are sure to find something to fit their palate.
“When you’re a pub brewer, it’s different than being a production brewer where you can make three or four different IPAs,” he says. “ At a pub, everyone that comes in here has to find something they like or they’re not going to come in for a meal. I have to come up with very different tasting beers. We run the gamut.” With 18 years experience in the field, the brewmaster prides himself in creating beers like the Fist of Karma, Nut Brown or Amber Ale with a delicate balance between hops and malt–a strategy he feels is missing in today’s craft beer industry. Bustling small scale pubs like their first location in Saratoga Springs gives di Piro the opportunity to explore a wide range of flavors as their fresh batches tend to run out quickly. While a traditional seasonal brewing cycle might produce one type of beer for other companies, Druthers requires a number of varying brews.
The problem with seasonal production he says, lies in the name. “Seasonal implies the beer will last an entire season. Here [in Albany] that might be true because we’re making 60 kegs at a time while in Saratoga the season could be four days. In the summer, Saratoga might have six to eight different seasonals whereas here we would have two.”
The company has been spreading steadily across the region since the 2012 Saratoga launch. The cozy patio spot on Broadway leads you into the alleyway-sized pub that is almost always packed. The 2015 launch of the massive warehouse of a brewpub in Albany that followed allows for a larger audience in a completely different Druthers. It’s wide open, giving the drinkers and diners a view of the kitchen line on one side of the warehouse. On the opposite side, wide glass panels provide a full view of brewery operations.
“I think it’s really important for customers to see the brewing activity. In Saratoga we kind of missed that because the brewery is upstairs,” di Piro says. The viewing opportunity will also be featured in their Schenectady location at Rivers Casino, set to open in the spring.
The Schenectady spot will be akin to Saratoga’s brewery size, producing 20 kegs per batch opposed to Albany’s 60.
“This industry is growing in the double digits every day,” di Piro says. He and his fellow co-owners are on a mission to grow their brewery along with it.
Soon Druthers will allow for a full dining and drinking experience in three completely unique locations. It’s not only the atmosphere of each brewpub that stands alone, but the beer and food menus as well. Where most brewpubs feature a fryer and some burgers, Druthers provides an impressive spread. You will find Druthers’ award-winning mac and cheese dishes everywhere, of course, but only in Saratoga will you find pork belly tacos and drunken mussels to pair with your Dry Irish Stout this St. Paddy’s Day. And you’ll have to head to Albany if you’re craving the malty Smoked Hefeweizen and a hefty mac and cheese burger.
“This way, it’s not like Fridays where–when you go to one in Miami and you go to one in Anchorage, Alaska–it’s going to be the same food, the same bar and the same stuff hanging on the walls. We never want to have that chain feel, even if we’re lucky enough to someday have 10 or 15 locations, they’ll all be different,” di Piro explains.
While the locations offer the benefit of new experience to the customer, they bring just as much to the brewers. Testing a beer’s selling ability in a spot that cycles out beers every few weeks is a great way to pilot new flavors while making a profit. Lately Druthers has been on a fruit kick, with the recent Uthers: TB2–a pineapple and blood orange IPA–or their Sour Brown with hints of fig. When it comes to getting a customer reaction, Saratoga is the perfect spot.
“Just because you think something is great doesn’t mean anybody’s gonna buy it and that’s a big difference between brewing at home and brewing commercially. You’ve gotta pay the bills,” di Piro says. “Because it’s so busy…we can play around up there, get it right and use the recipe down in Albany and sell a larger quantity of it.”
With customers sitting less than 100 feet from production, brewers at Druthers have a better chance at nailing down their ideal flavor through day-to-day interaction with regulars than stand-alone breweries. Featured on tap as far north as Gore Mountain and down to Hudson, that variety and quality of Druthers brewing only helps to build on its already notable reputation. They take their time to provide mouthwatering meals and refreshing brews and the Capital Region is itching to see what’s next.