Wednesday August 17, 2016

Brewing up Business

Oswego native Thomas Millar joins booming micro-brewing industry
By Lou Sorendo

    An Oswego native and entrepreneur has the hops to brew up success.


    Thomas Millar recently opened US Beer Brewers at The Cellar Door, located in the basement level of the renovated Woodruff Building at West First and Cayuga streets in Oswego.


    Millar is on the cusp of a craft beer brewing bonanza that is literally exploding across the state and nation.


    In 1979, there were 89 total breweries in the United States. At the end of 2013, there were 2,822 breweries in the U.S., including 2,768 craft breweries, according to The Beer Institute.


    Incidentally, The Guinness Book of World Records once gave Oswego the record for having the most bars per square mile of any city in the U.S., fortifying its status as a populace appreciative of an alcoholic beverage.


    Over the last several years, Millar has completely refurbished the historic Woodruff Building.


    The building is home to Berkshire-Hathaway CNY Realty, which takes up the entire first floor, as well as North Coast Yoga on the second floor. The building also features seven apartments.


    He noted his project serves as a solid tourist boost for the city. “It’s a start. People are doing wine and beer tours and they will come here for that,” he said.


    Millar has structured the basement similar in style to popular brew-pub chain Gordon Biersch and Syracuse’s Empire Brewing Company.


    He said the mechanics involved in the brewing process are intricate and interesting. The business features a mash tun, boil kettle, beer-brewing manifolds and electrical control panel secured behind glass for visitors to view.


    The pub features a Prohibition-era setting common with speakeasies, complete with dim lighting, to give it a historic vibe.


    The Cellar Door features five beers — a blonde, red, an India Pale Ale, stout and brown ale.


    Gaining in popularity now are IPAs, which feature a higher-end, hoppy beer style.


    The Cellar Door recently sold out of its blonde and red versions, a testament to their popularity. Millar is also selling the blonde at Colloca Estates Winery, Sterling.


    The Cellar Door also features half-gallon “growlers” or glass jugs.


    MIllar uses a three-barrel system and brews six kegs in eight hours. The beer ferments for weeks before being transferred into kegs.


    Weekend hours are noon to 10 p.m. and brunch is offered on Sundays. Brewing is done on Saturdays and Sundays, led by brewer John Pupparo, who has a background in microbiology.


    “I’ve been learning but there is so much to it,” Millar said.


    The menu includes a beef and beer cheese sauce sandwich as well as tacos and burritos.


    Millar researched the craft-brewing concept and became inspired to create his own brewery once farm licenses were issued several years ago.


    “I just researched what it meant for the North Country and Upstate New York,” he said.


    The farm brewing law was passed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2012 and put into effect in 2013.


    Cuomo signed a bill that gives tax breaks to New York brewers and farmers and creates a new type of license allowing craft brewers to operate similar to wineries.


    The program is creating high demand for cash crops. Under the new program, brewers must purchase a certain amount of ingredients from New York state farms.


    “It’s spurred a lot of young entrepreneurs to do something they want to do,” Millar said.


    The Cellar Door has also spawned another business — US Beer Bites — that operates out of the same 17 W. Cayuga St. location as The Cellar Door.


    Fresh off landing a large commercial contract, the business up-cycles spent mash into dog treats.


    Millar ends up with 15 buckets of mash once he is done brewing. “We’re taking it and adding peanut butter and eggs and making dog treats out of it. The up-cycling process has created a symbiotic relationship,” he said.