Empire Farms Brewery: Locally Sourced, Globally Minded
Once the hop-growing capital of North America, Central New York now boasts numerous craft breweries. These breweries offer an array of world-class beers. Empire Farms Brewery, a locally sourced leader in the region’s booming craft beer business, is reviving the region’s hop history and supporting local businesses.
Empire Farms Brewery rests upon 22-acres of beautiful farmland in Cazenovia. It is the largest farm brewery in New York State. Since opening in 2016, the facility has become an agritourism destination, which offers tours of its beer gardens and brewery.
Empire Farms’ on-site restaurant, and its Syracuse location, offer delicious farm to table dishes including sandwiches, burgers, pizza, and salad. Empire’s locally sourced dining options and craft beers use only all-natural ingredients, which it either grows itself or sources from local farmers.
David Katleski, owner of Empire Farms, says they started practicing local sustainability in 2007.
“We did a carbon footprint analysis of the pub and determined that the food was on average traveling about 3000 miles,” Katleski said. “A lot of the food that we were getting were coming from Indonesia and the likes there of.”
Since then, Empire Farms has fully embraced its business philosophy of “Eat Where You Live” and “We Grow Beer.” The brewery uses two acres to grow hops and another three acres for barley. Some of the beer gardens are overgrown with basil, lavender, thyme and rosemary. Last year, Empire Farms installed its own “e-piary.” The “e-piary” contains over 70,000 honeybees, allowing them to produce their own honey.
The Farm currently partners with around 40-50 local farmers. One of the partners, Meadow Farms, is across the street from Empire Farms. Meadow Farms raises cattle and pigs on Empire’s spent grain from their brewery. This partnership provides Empire with American Wagyu beef and Berkshire pork for its restaurants. Other partner farmers provide products like eggs and maple syrup.
Katleski hopes for eventual self-sufficiency for the farm, supplemented as needed with help from local farmers.
Empire Farms’ use of locally sourced material is not only present in its products, but also the facility’s building design. New York State products comprise nearly the entire 42,000 square foot facility.
Twenty thousand bricks compose its outdoor patio and cellar walls come from Haberle Brewery, Syracuse’s longest operating brewery. Hysterically, the bricks were found on Craigslist.
“We could have used any bricks but we re-purposed these from Syracuse’s original brewery,” Katleski said.
The three turrets in front of the building are reminiscent of a castle, and also pay homage to local hop barn architecture.
The brewery is a 60-barrel facility. The barrels are Gran Chu and Premium Oak Wine barrels from Burgundy, France. Typically burned after 3 or 4 years, Katleski salvaged and re-purposed them to store barrel-aged and sour beers.
Empire’s most popular beers are its East Coast Amber Ale, Cream Ale, Skinny Atlas, Slo’Mo IPA, and White Aphro. Empire’s farm brewery has allowed the company to keg, bottle, and craft its beers for regional, national, and even international distribution.
Empire Farms currently reaches the states of New York, New Jersey, Delaware, and Pennsylvania. Since creating its Two Dragons Ale, the company went global, reaching China.
Two Dragons Ale is an “east meets west” beer, combining Empire’s brewing technique with China’s Jing Wei Fu Tea producers. The beer’s concept came about when Katleski took a trip to China, through a partnership with New York State. There he met the founder of the tea company. Wei explained that his black tea possesses medicinal powers related to weight loss. The two entrepreneurs hit it off and decided to make a beer together.
“We were born 31 days apart in the Year of the Dragon. I said that we’ll call it Two Dragons and the rest is history,” Katleski said.
Empire’s Two Dragons Ale is New York State’s first officially licensed “I Heart New York” craft beer. Currently, Empire Farms is the only company with that distinction. Its healthier beer is Two Dragons Ale. A Cornell University study shows the brew has 440 times the antioxidants of a normal beer.
The success of its partnership with China has Empire Farms looking to expand to other Asian countries, like South Korea, Vietnam, and Thailand. In addition, Katleski says that the company is experimenting with incorporating its brews into different foods.
Empire Farms is in the development stages of producing beer-infused Bratwurst sausage with its Amber Ale; the sausage will launch in spring. Empire is working with Old Chatham Sheepherding Company to create a Camembert cheese with the White Aphro brew. The cheese is made from locally sourced sheep’s milk. It will also incorporate lavender, ginger and some lemon peel. Still in its testing phase, Katleski says they will be presenting the cheese, along with its White Aphro beer, to Wegman’s.
Though Katleski is eyeing major partnership and global expansion, the heart of Empire will always be with the local community.
“We’ll try whenever possible to stay local,” said Katleski. “We do it because it’s the right thing to do.”