Suarez Family Brewery: A Mom-and-Pop Production in Livingston, NY
2278 U.S. 9 | Livingston, NY
Husband-and-wife duo Dan Suarez and Taylor Cocalis-Suarez admit they took a roundabout path to reach Upstate New York. After meeting in the city in 2007, the couple relocated to Greensboro, Vermont, where Dan cut his teeth working alongside brewmaster Shaun Hill for three years at the acclaimed Hill Farmstead Brewery. With dreams of launching their own small-scale operation one day, it wasn’t long before the couple began researching potential brewery locations, eventually landing on New York for its wealth of small-business incentives and Dan’s brewing contacts. They loved living in pastoral Vermont, but with the region’s small brewing scene already booming, they felt there “was room to contribute to a growing brewing community in New York.” When Dan’s brother, Nick Suarez, put an offer on the space in Germantown that would later become Gaskins, that was when they knew for sure that Columbia County was where they should be.
Initially, what Dan and Taylor had in mind was a “farm-type brewery,” but an industrial-looking building in the small town of Livingston, a 15-minute drive from Germantown, caught their eye. “Every time we drove past it, I’d say, ‘Do you ever think about that place?’ and he’d say no,” recalls Taylor. “Then after two weeks, he was like, ‘We should go look at it.’” Situated among apple orchards, corn fields and small farms, the all-brick warehouse is practically tailor-made for welcoming travelers in search of a cold one. “A lot of people walk in and say it’s almost like it was meant to be a brewery,” says Dan. “And now it is,” adds Taylor.
This year, they are focused on bottling their mixed culture/farmhouse beers, which will hopefully drive traffic to visit their beautiful sun-drenched tasting room. Their output is draft only and can be found in pubs and taverns as far south as Queens and as far north as Troy. “At the end of the day, beer is a very hyped-up industry,” says Dan. “We’re just trying to spend our time producing something simple that tastes good and that we can share with good people.”
Though Dan and Taylor initially wanted a space that was more agricultural, like a farm they could retrofit, the 1930’s building ended up being pretty well-suited for a brewery, its configuration perfect for a tasting room and production facility. Interestingly enough, their neighbor’s father is the one who built it. For years, it served as an Oshkosh Tractor and farm equipment sales floor, then from the 1970s through 1990s, it was a custom lamp factory called Night Watch. Since then, a contractor had been using it as storage.
“Several times a day I tell her, ‘This whole operation would be in shambles if it weren’t for you,’” Dan says of Taylor, whose day-to-day responsibilities include everything from flagging down vendors to processing paperwork. “It’s great to have your business partner be the person you trust most in the world. That’s why we call it Suarez Family Brewery,” he says, “because it’s a true family operation.”
“I was a home brewer working in a cheese shop,” says Dan, who got his start as a brewer in New York City. “I just bummed around, trying to donate my time to any brewery in the city that would let me in the door.” Stints at Greenpoint Beer Works and Sixpoint Brewery in Red Hook eventually led him to Vermont’s Hill Farmstead Brewery, which is where he learned the ins and outs of running a business from the ground up.
Right now, their tasting room features a 50-50 split of unfiltered lager beer and “little hoppy beers” as Dan puts it. “We have a pale ale called Hecto that everyone’s been really jamming on,” he says, and their flagship ale, Crispy Little, is another favorite featuring an “aromatic hop presence with less alcohol and a balanced bitterness.” Though they don’t offer food service in the tasting room just yet, there is a chance they will soon as their beers are dry, delicate, and easy to pair with various dishes.
“The look of the tasting room was slightly unintentional,” says Dan, mentioning that after adding the requisite table and chairs, as well as a “nice, tall bar,” the couple installed a mural made years ago by his father. “Because it’s an all-brick warehouse, we wanted things to be relatively utilitarian,” says Taylor, “but also bring a little bit of life and color into them.”
The telephone is a relic from the old days. “People love that phone,” says Taylor. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to put a pre-recorded message on it that says, ‘Welcome to Suarez Family Brewery!’”
“French oak is a lot more subtle compared to American oak, which can tend toward sweet, rich and full-bodied flavors, like vanilla and coconut,” says Dan, referring to their beautiful French oak beer barrels. “And the beers we’re racking in are very subtle, very pale, and crisp. To put something like that in an American barrel would just be heresy.”
This fall, the brewery will begin to offer mixed culture/farmhouse beers. “Slightly tart, citrusy, and more like a white wine than your typical beer,” explains Dan. “They take a minimum of three months to produce and spend most of their time in the oak barrels.”
“We call her Chicken or Chick, because she looks like a little chicken,” laughs Dan. “She’s in the tasting room everyday. She’s definitely holding court.”
“Obviously, as a brewer, it’s a very creative endeavor. You want to make what you want to make, and really the only way to do that is to start your own brewery,” says Dan. “Now that we’re actually up and running, I’m having a lot of fun.”
Good friends Max Kaplun and Audrey Robinson designed the Suarez Family Brewery logo. “The appeal we were going for was a classic look—classic, hand-drawn, and with just enough funk,” says Dan.
In more ways than one, living upstate has opened up new doors for Dan and Taylor. “We were just driving around Southern Columbia County picking staghorn sumac off the side of the road, and now we’re going to brew that with tangerine mandarin,” says Dan. “It’s very exciting.”