Photos provided by Common Roots Brewing Company
Take a ride down Saratoga Avenue in South Glens Falls and you may nearly pass Common Roots Brewing Company. Save for its massive grain silough, the establishment settles right in with its quaint neighboring buildings.
The brewery made it’s home there back in 2014. Co-founders Bert Weber–a newly retired high school teacher–and his son Christian Weber had decided to act on their plans to start up a microbrewery after they had brewed their first beer together back in 2005.
In addition to a stint as an apprentice brewer, Christian Weber was was the executive director of the Lake Placid Land Conservancy before Common Roots and he has carried his background of environmental sciences and brewing into his new career as head brewer and co-founder.
Under the influence of his environmental background, Weber explained, the team set out to make their business as sustainable as possible–starting with the building.
They completely gutted it, putting in new insulation to conserve heating, installing solar panels on the roof–which powers portions of the brewing process in the summers–and installed a return greywater system in their heat exchanging unit to recycle water more efficiently. They most recently switched their hot water tank to an on-demand unit to cut down on water waste.
“We’re an enormous user and that’s something we’re cognizant of here,” he said. On average, one barrel (31 gallons) of beer takes most breweries five to seven barrels of water to make. Even with some of Common Roots’ more sustainable preparations, Weber explains, they still use about four and a half barrels of water.
“It’s certainly not the sexiest point of craft beer, to talk about how much waste we use,” he said. “We go through an enormous amount of chemical waste and raw material.”
The brewery goes through an enormous amount of grain. Over the course of about a month and a half, their silough will fill up with 60,000 pounds of spent grain–about 10,000 pounds a week– which will be sent to nearby farms for feed.
“Every brewery donates their spent grain but that’s kind of greenwashing,” he adds. “Because if we didn’t donate to a farm, we’d have to dispose of it and that’d be an enormous expense for a small brewery like us to have to take care of.”
Weber is keeping a close eye on their waste output and is regularly in search of improvement in both infrastructure and ingredients. “We’ve worked a lot to be sustainable in terms of our waste, but also to be a sustainable community member as well,” he said.
Nearly everything in the brewery is locally crafted, including all of their stainless steel, brewhouse and tanks as well as their canning and bottling line.
“It was important for us to see our money stay in our local community,” Weber said. “I say ‘local or better’ because… It turns out the fucking Germans can make a good keg.”
Common Roots needs that kind of reliable craftsmanship for the amount they’re putting out. The brewery distributes their product throughout New York–most heavily in the Capital Region and New York City–as well as Boston, Portland, Providence and areas of Washington State with California soon to come. The co-founder just spent eight weeks in eight different cities for consecutive beer week festivals featuring the brewery.
“We went for 500 barrels to 5,000 barrels and we’re gearing up to do 10,000 barrels next year. It was quite a big jump,” Weber said of the brewery’s growing production. “I don’t think we expected to grow at the volume scale that we did.”
The brewery itself is already up for expansion and the attached taproom will son be under construction to add more sitting room to the bar as well as a second floor. Weber hopes it will better accommodate the stream of customers coming to pick up cans and bottles, while allowing more room for those who want to sit and visit.
There are some exclusive beers that Common Roots doesn’t even sell outside of the region out of support for the local community.
What we want to do is make sure we’re always taking care of our backyard. This is the community that helped build our brand,” he said. “Our local community has supported us so much. We have 600 actively buying accounts in the Capital Region, which is a luxury because we don’t have a single salesperson on the street.
The brewery puts out a variety of what Weber calls ‘clean’ beers–such as IPAs, ales and lagers–and ‘wild beers’, which are sour, tart, barrel-aged and/or wood-fermented.
“In one sense we have this very fast production brewery that’s turning over a lot of volume in different shifts but we also have this slow aging, more about our terroir, kind of program,” he said.
“We can make an IPA and can it in three days. People line up for them. There’s no mystery of success, if you want to open a brewery, make a great, delicious IPA in a cool looking can and send it to retail, you’ll be fine,” he explained. “But if you look at where we focus our line, there’s been a lot of beers we have chosen to make that don’t make a lot money but are important to our brand.”
The diversely flavored barrel-aged wild program is Weber’s pride and joy.
“It’s kind of our jam. It’s really the most traditional way of brewing beer, before there was stainless steel, there was really just barrels and ceramic,” he said.
Common Roots has 75 barrels, as well as a few larger wooden vats called foeder tanks, that ages their wild beers in different conditions and mixtures after a batch of wort (basically pre-beer) spends some quality time in the facility’s unique coolship–an flat open tank that allows the liquid to cool and ferment evenly.
“It’s unique to, traditionally, Belgium and we’ve been doing since our inception,” Weber says proudly. The humble wooden shed where the coolship lives is his favorite part of every brewery tour.
“There’s probably 6,000 plus breweries across the country, but there are probably less than 100 who are running this kind of tank.”
The tart, sour and fermented wild beers have become a flavor profile Common Roots enjoys experimenting with the most. However, they’ve mastered plenty of others, putting out one to two beers per month and cycling out styles by seasons. Popular styles like the In Bloom farmhouse ale and the Beta IPA series can branch off into several variations.
“We keep coming out with new beers and some of that is to keep customers happy some of that is to keep us excited,” Weber said. “You’re always trying to improve yourself.”
“No brewer should ever say they’ve made the ‘perfect beer’ because it doesn’t exist. There’s always something you can do to tweak it and make it better and that’s where we’re always focusing: This is a great one, but what next?”