In the open space of the Great Flats tasting room, founder Harry Whalen is sipping a glass of IPA tapped from a fresh batch that has been prepared for the March 25 grand opening. Light spills into the room through the wall-to floor length glass panels of the brewery and brighten the pale wood and robin’s egg blue accents of the walls. In the warmer weather, the paneled “walls” can open up, allowing more space and some fresh air.
“We’ve been working on this for about two years,” Whalen said. “The city was really helpful in finding us a location. I called Ray Gillen at the Metroplex and he was like, “hey, I have the place for you,” so we met up and he showed us this place and we were like, ‘alright, sign us up!’”
The brewing company officially moved into the Lafayette Street location in November 2016 and began refurbishing the empty shell that was once a Crossfit gym. They began with the brewery: moving in their tanks, fermentors and home-made milling station and installing the floor drain as well as a massive cooler for their cold-brewing bright tanks.
The open tasting room in front of the brewery is home to rows of sleek metallic chairs and tables–adorned a centerpiece of colorful flowers–that allows visitors to have a pint or flight while taking a peek at the brew process over the wall of the bar. If you feel like pairing a Great Flats flight with some tacos from down the street, have at it. “It’s BYOF, bring your own food,” Whalen says. “You can stop by and order in, bring a picnic, bring cheese, whatever you want to do.”
Other passers-by can stop in to fill up a growler — which will be available for sale in the upcoming weeks.
The grand opening features three varied brews to start, a pale ale, stout and cream ale. “We also have a hard cider that we purchased to offer a gluten-free option. Not everyone’s a beer lover,” he says with a shrug. “Our brewer also makes a really good craft root beer that’s non-alcoholic using maple syrup we got from upstate.”
Soon the brewery will develop six or eight of their own beers to be featured on tap. Starting at two brew cycles a week, the brewers will increase production with customer demand. As for up and coming flavors, Whalen says, “our brewer likes to do American style ales and lagers and we’re IPA fans we like to drink sours. We don’t have to make the same kind of beer all the time. At the end of the day, for us, this is fun. We’re definitely gonna play around with different styles.”
Licensed as a farm brew company–which requires at least 20 percent of ingredients coming from within the state–Great Flats uses barley from the Ithaca-based East Coast Malts in every batch. With a ten-barrel brewhouse, each batch produces about 20 kegs. Hops are added as the batch brews it a tank before it is transferred to the fermentor. There it will sit for seven to ten days before being sent to the cooler to condition and carbonate in the bright tank. It’s put into kegs and served to the customer sitting in the taproom.
And it’s completely powered by wind.
Through the nationwide renewable energy company Arcadia Power, every kilowatt hour (kWh) of energy used by the brewery–like the 24-hour operating cooling unit–is matched by a kWh produced by a nearby wind farm.
“I think it’s one of those things–when you are thinking of starting a business–you think, “well, what am I going to do differently if I am given the opportunity to do so?’ This was a no-brainer for me, Whalen explains, adding that his long-term goal is to also add solar panels to the building as business grows.
“We use a lot of power, we have a huge cooling unit in the back and we built it to be as efficient as possible but you can’t get around the fact that you need to use electricity. We’re conscious of the fact that we’re using it, we have to be responsible and use something that’s more sustainable.”
With their grand opening Saturday, Great Flats is looking forward to becoming a community landmark. The brewery is right around the corner from the restaurants of State Street and a short walk from the Mad Jack brewery at the Van Dyck Lounge. Additionally, Whalen is currently in talks to do a “Brew-ga” collaboration event with their next door neighbor, Studio 4 Hot Yoga and Pilates, when the weather gets a little warmer.
“It will be interesting to see how Schenectady grows,” Whalen says.
Grand opening of Great Flats Brewing Company: March 25, noon, 151 Lafayette Street, Schenectady.