By Daniel Axelrod | Business Reporter | Times Herald-Record
Posted Jun 19, 2017 at 6:07 PM
Updated Jun 20, 2017 at 4:18 PM
ROSCOE – The Vallone and the Fettig families founded the Roscoe Beer Company in 2012 to honor a hallowed trout-fishing hamlet where time and troubles drift like dry flies cast among cold creek bubbles.
Five years later, the brewery is celebrating its recent first-place tie out of the 170-plus New York breweries that competed in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s inaugural Taste NY Craft Beer Challenge.
That honor, shared with Cooperstown’s Brewery Ommegang, makes Roscoe a taste leader amid a boom that’s grown New York’s craft brewery total 542 percent, to 321 from 50 just since Cuomo’s 2011 inauguration.
The governor has successfully championed grants, new laws and tax breaks to incentivize and deregulate craft alcohol manufacturing and sales, while growing the number of breweries, distilleries and cideries to more than 900 and creating thousands of jobs.
New York’s 321 craft breweries are now the fourth most among the 50 states, as other forms of craft alcohol manufacturing – particularly farm-to-bottle or farm- based alcohol makers – have benefited.
Since 2011, the totals have dramatically increased for hard cideries (to 24 from five, plus another 34 on farms), farm distilleries (to 114 from 10), micro-distillers (to 49 from 12) and wineries (to 419 from 247).
New York’s breweries have led the way, and their increase also reflects a national trend. As consumers have sought more flavor and variety, America’s brewery total has risen to more than 5,300 today from 82 in 1981.
“We got to a point in America where 98 percent of what was produced was yellow beer,” said Fred Matt, president of the New York State Brewers Association and leader of the family company behind Saranac Brewery.
“That’s not to take anything away from big guys, because they’re very good brewers to make beer that thin and consistent day in and day out.”
“But it just got to the point that beer wasn’t very flavorful. I’d have to give the nod to Gov. Cuomo, because he’s made New York very business-friendly when it comes to brewing.”
New York’s craft beer sales exceeded $500 million in 2015, with 11,366 full-time employees and a $4 billion statewide economic impact, according to the state brewing association’s most recent data.
Cuomo’s new beer-tasting contest is helping to promote all the new local breweries.
After the Roscoe Beer Co.’s win, “It’s been another level of pride” in the hamlet, said Phil Vallone, 57, who co-owns the brewery with his wife, Donna, his sister Linda DeSabato and other family.
“We have a saying around town, ‘We’re Trout-Town proud,’ and this is another feather in the cap.”
In the fly fishing masterpiece “A River Runs Through It,” Norman Maclean wrote that good things like trout, “came by grace; and grace comes by art; and art does not come easy.”
Roscoe Beer Co. head brewer Josh “Kid” Hughes’ artfully crafted two-headed stout, a name which plays on a local legend about a two-headed trout, also didn’t come easily.
Beginning with a 2009 home-brew recipe, Hughes, 29, spent six years tweaking brewing temperatures and the fermentation process, from tank time to oxygen, yeast and carbonation levels.
With all its heavily roasted barley, the 8 percent alcohol brew could have been too strong and bitter. Instead, the competition’s judges loved the stout’s oat and barley balance, which provides a creamy, dark chocolate and coffee-like character.
After a screening round with more than 42,000 online voters in the recent statewide beer contest, the Roscoe Beer Co. reached the tasting round alongside Rochester’s Genesee Brewing Company, Auburn’s Prison City Pub and Brewery and Lakewood’s Southern Tier Brewing Company.
Each finalist presented one signature beer to a judging panel, including celebrity chef Mario Batali, former NFL star Thurman Thomas and beer experts.
“We decided we were either going to go bold or go home, so we selected our biggest, boldest beer, and we submitted it because it’s been an in-house favorite for awhile now,” Hughes said.
Besides creative beers, visitors to Roscoe and New York’s craft breweries come for fun atmospheres and events celebrating everything from collectible cars to singer-songwriters.
Inside Roscoe Beer Co.’s hunting lodge-themed tasting room, there’s a trout tank, an automatic beer-dispensing tap wall and a friendly bartender.
Outside, there’s a beer garden and Sullivan County legislator Mark McCarthy’s Hog Heaven BBQ stand, with his “Griller” dish – chicken or pork, Monterey Jack and cheddar cheeses, roasted red peppers, artichoke hearts and tomatoes baked atop a thin, crispy burrito shell.
On a recent afternoon in Trout Town, B.J. and Tina Lowther of Galeton were devouring a Griller near the brewery’s bar and sipping a hoppy ale called “Darwin’s Theory.”
They’ve made the Roscoe Beer Co. a regular stop whenever they come here to fish.
B.J. has a tattoo of a brook trout on the underside of his left forearm and one of a mayfly on his wrist with the words: “Do it while you can.”
“We can’t live anywhere there isn’t trout,” Tina said.
“Beer always tastes better after a long day of fishing,” B.J. added.
With its beer, food and festivals, the brewery is an economic driver that gives back to the community through charitable acts, creating jobs and attracting visitors, said Vallone, who’s also known for owning the Rolling V passenger bus company.
That’s exactly what Cuomo hoped would happen with local breweries and other craft alcohol makers when he reduced restrictions on them by pushing the 2012 Farm Brewery Law and the 2014 Craft New York Act, said State Liquor Authority Chairman Vincent Bradley.
The laws have turned craft alcohol makers into tourist attractions by letting them host tastings and sell by the bottle or glass.
A new license for farm brewers bolstered a whole new business category.
Craft alcohol manufacturers can find followers by selling at festivals and farmers’ markets. They can release new brands without label fees. And Cuomo has offered funds to help the companies with marketing.
“The governor recognized from the beginning the value that craft producers have in this state, not just for the alcohol industry but for tourism,” Bradley said.
“Breweries are consistently opening across the state. It’s not just a New York City impact, it’s not a Buffalo impact.”