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Empire Brewing Company Rejuvenates NYS Hop Culture

19th Century bricks lay the foundation of a modern Empire

It was 1808 when James Coolidge planted the first commercial US hop yard in the fertile terrain of Madison County less than 20 miles from the Empire Farm Brewery in Cazenovia, NY. It wasn’t long before Coolidge began transporting his hops to New York City, catalyzing an industry that would soon sweep the nation. Two hundred years later, Empire Brewing Company inspires a new chapter in Madison County’s rich hop heritage. Empire Brewing Company set an example with their Empire State Pale Ale, the first beer made with 100% NYS ingredients in over 50 years. Last week, 2 acres of Cascade hops were planted at the Empire Farm Brewery, but much more will be needed for the production of their award winning ales and lagers. Hop farms in Central New York diminished after a decade of national temperance, but local farms are finally experiencing a revival due to the recent popularity of local craft breweries.


In the late 19th century, Central New York was producing annual hop yields of more than 21 million pounds, over 80% of the nation’s hop supply. An accommodating agricultural climate coupled with the accessibility of the Erie Canal stimulated a brewery boom in Central New York from 1850 until Prohibition. With a steady supply and an increasing demand, a strong hop culture developed in Madison County. At the peak of production in 1890, hops sold for $1 a pound. Men, women and children would temporarily leave their factory jobs to move onto hop farms for 3 weeks of harvest season in late August. Flowers were picked from the hop bine and then transferred to “hop houses” where the hop cones would be dried and processed. At night, laborers would play music and socialize in the hop houses, a festivity known as a “hop dig”. Hop houses from the 1800’s can still be found along the Madison County Hop Trail.


With over 20 breweries in Syracuse, NY, brewing was the second largest industry in the state pre-prohibition, second only to salt mining. Haberle Brewery, the longest surviving local Syracuse brewery, was established in 1857. Known for their popular “Congress” lager, Haberle produced as much as 100,000 BBLs of beer annually. When the National Prohibition Act was passed in 1920, production came to a halt. The price of hops dropped to 10 cents a pound, and the very last hop yard in Madison County shut down in 1950. Haberle Brewery shifted to non-alcoholic beverages during prohibition, but unable to maintain the new business model, they finally closed their doors in 1961. The Haberle brewery was dismantled 5 years ago, but a stockpile of bricks survived and Empire Brewing Company jumped at the chance to repurpose them. Now, this piece of history constitutes the outdoor patio at the Empire Farmstead Brewery, paying homage to local craft culture before them.



After 50 years, Foothill Farms in Munnsville, NY was the first to reintroduce local hops to Madison County in 2001. Other farmers started to catch on and by 2010 there were 35 acres of commercial hop yards in New York State. The Farm Brewery Law passed in 2013 allowed hop farmers to produce and sell beer on site, and also incentivized brewers to source their ingredients from NYS. Today, New York boasts over 300 acres of hops, 280 breweries and 900,000 BBLs of beer per year. New York State is well on its way back to becoming a leader of the brewing industry with the support of local breweries like Empire Brewing Company and local farmers.

E-Piary installed at Empire Farm Brewery



The honey bees have arrived at Empire Farm Brewery! A big thanks to Scott Ouderkirk at River Road Farm in Hammond, New York for cultivating the hives over the past year. Our apiary, or what we like to call our “e-piary,” will play a large role on the farm as key pollinators for lavender, wild flowers, fruits, and vegetables grown on site and also supply raw, natural, estate honey for our kitchen and brewery.

Beekeeper, Scott Ouderkirk made the trip with 4 full hives. Each hive has two deep boxes and one medium (for all you beekeepers out there), on an open trailer. Upon arrival Scott walked us through the process of setting up a fifth beehive by using a split. A beehive split is made by dividing an existing colony into two parts. From the existing hive the split is given frames of honey, brood, worker bees, and drones to imitate a normal nest structure but is left missing one huge factor, a QUEEN! Once the new hive recognizes that it is without a queen the worker bees will choose several of the existing small larvae and feed them ample amounts of royal jelly into specially made queen cells. This will trigger the genes necessary for the nascent queen to develop ovaries, which is needed in order to lay eggs and grow the new colony.

Upon the split a month long process begins before a queen is ready to take her throne and start producing eggs (a throne she is able to keep for as long as six years!)

What’s a beekeeper to do during these 4 weeks? WAIT and mark the calendar for very specific days to be opening the hive for observation.  Update: Just four days after the split, queen cells have been formed and capped, which is a sure sign the hive is working to make a queen to sustain in its new home in our backyard.


We’re excited to buzz about our experiences in the e-piary as we continue to learn and grow. Stay tuned for more updates on our newsletter, blog and social media platforms!

Black Magic Stout – How to pour



New advancements in beer technology have allowed us to package our World Beer Cup Gold Medal Winner, BLACK MAGIC STOUT. This classic Irish-Style Dry Stout is crafted to produce prominent roasted flavors, with hints of chocolate and coffee finish. Crack open a bottle, pour vigorously, and unleash the magic. Click below to see how it’s done.


Empire Farm Brewery Completes Pilot Brew

Cazenovia, NY (May 24, 2016) – The brand new Empire Farm Brewery has successfully brewed their first batch of craft beer, East Coast Amber Ale. After a thorough commissioning process to ensure proper function of all equipment and piping, Empire is thrilled to move past their pilot brew and one step closer to bottling their beer for the very first time!


Formerly known as Empire Amber Ale, and the Syracuse brewpub’s flagship for over 20 years, Empire has announced that their East Coast Amber Ale will be available to Syracuse in a bottle. East Coast Amber earned its proprietary name in honor of Empire’s East Coast brewing style, emphasizing bold flavors and balanced brews. It’s not too sweet, not too bitter, and full of personality just like our beloved East Coast brewers.

Empire released their bottled lineup over the last few months, rounding up familiar draft favorites with couple of styles destined to premier in the distribution network this summer. Check out the Empire blog for the complete bottled beer line up.


Meet the Men Behind the Beer


Empire’s success and monumental expansion could not be possible without a team of strong brewers. Led by Tim Butler, Director of Brewing Operations, Ben Brotman and Jon Rodriguez bring their own brewing experience and unique perspectives to the valuable brain trust. Empire also employs full time Cellarman Jim Hildreth and Lab Technician Jim Zahara. Read on to learn a little more about Empire’s A-Team for a greater understanding of their brewing style and impressive liquid.

Tim Butler: Director of Brewing Operations

How long have you worked for Empire?
“Since 2007. I approached David looking for a position that would offer me growth and creativity.”

How long did you work for Middle Ages?
“6 years, from 2001 – 2007 I think. I worked at Towpath Brewery on Erie Blvd. before that, from 2000-2001.”

Can you remember your very first craft beer?
“I do actually, Pete’s Wicked Ale. I drank the whole thing before I passed judgment. I realized I liked bold hop flavors and in ‘97 I started brewing at home. Then I got the job brewing at Towpath.”

How would you describe your brewing style?
“Different. I dig creative, esoteric beers, utilizing original ingredients. I’m attracted to bold malty, hoppy styles with a dry finish, but I also like traditional style stouts and pale ales. I’d consider my style as a cross between English tradition and American innovation.”

What do traditional English, and American styles look like?
“English brews tend to have a dry finish, as they are brewed with hard water. I think American craft brewers take more chances, creating fuller, bolder flavors. The American craft beer scene is still relatively young. I started my brewing career at the beginning of the curve, I mean 15 years ago you would never find a S’mores Porter. Even when I experiment with new recipes, I’m always looking for a classic balance in my brews. I prefer big hop flavor over hop bitterness.”

How do you feel about being Empire’s Master Brewer on the verge of massive national and international expansion?
“I think I needed to get to this point to really feel like a success story. I’ve paid all my dues, I worked up through the ranks, and working in a beautiful new state-of-the-art automated brewery is really a dream come true. None of this would be possible without our Founder and President, David Katleski. As far as I’m concerned, I’ll retire from Empire. This is it.”

Where did you see yourself 20 years ago?
“Oh I had no clue. I was in the army, I thought about being an EMT, but realized it wasn’t the right fit. I developed a love for culinary culture and at one point I thought I wanted to be a chef. I started at Towpath as a chef, before becoming their brewer. I really got in on the ground floor of the craft beer industry, back in the late 90’s. I thought I saw an opportunity there, and I guess I was right.”

What’s your desert island beer?
Duvel original, it’s a Belgian Strong Golden. 8.5% I think.”

Why is this the best job ever?
“I love the people in this industry, everyone has a great sense of humor, and we’re all here to work hard and have a good time. Some people have a misconception that being a brewer is all about the party, but it’s really a job like any other. It takes a lot of work, a lot of hours. Events and promotions however, are a lot of fun.”

Ben Brotman: Head Brewer

How long have you worked for Empire?

“Since October 2015.”

How long did you work at Ithaca Brewery?
“2011-2013, it’s a system a little smaller than this.”

How long were you at Catskill Brewery?
“About 2.5 years. I was hired to help design, build and outfit that brewery and create all the recipes there.  And among many other things, I also delivered kegs to the Binghamton and Ithaca markets.”

How did you get into brewing?
“I actually started brewing in high school when I was 17. My friend’s father’s friend asked us if we wanted to use his home brewing kit. Not having ever heard of that before, we said, “Of course!”  We went to see George and Nancy at Home Sweet Homebrew in Philly and they got us off to a good start.  Our first batch was an extract pale ale and it turned out pretty good. I never stopped brewing after that. I got more serious in college, brewing with all grain and using a draft system. That was out in Washington where I got my Bachelor of Science degree. The craft beer scene was already huge there in the early 90’s. Right out of college I got a job at a brewery, Fish Brewing Co. in Olympia, WA. They’re still there today and doing well.”

How did your brewing style evolve?
“For the most part, I brew what I like to drink. My taste and appreciation is always evolving but mainly I go for hop forward styles.”

What did you see yourself doing 10 years ago?
“Ten years ago I had left the brewing industry and was doing habitat assessment for WA State Dept. of Fish & Wildlife. Even when I wasn’t brewing for work, I never stopped brewing beer, cider and mead at home. It really is what I love to do and that is why I got back into it 5 years ago.”

What is your desert island beer?
“If I was on a hot desert island surrounded by salt water  I would want a light bodied hoppy beer like a session IPA. I don’t think I would ever get sick of hops. Loads of hops and not overly malty.  Although Jolly Pumpkin’s La Roja wouldn’t get old on a desert island either.”

Why is this the best job ever?
“Building a brewery is complex and exciting and at the end of it all you finally get to brew and then drink the beer. What’s not great about that? For me, putting together a brewery is one of the best parts. The Empire Farm Brewery is a beautiful building, with a great group of people.”

Jon Rodriguez: Brewer

What’s your favorite color?
“Stainless steel”

How long have you been working for Empire?
“For about 2 months”

Where have you brewed in the past?
“I spent 2 years at Gordon Biersch, and before that I worked at Old Harbor Brewery in San Juan, Puerto Rico. I started in the front of the house at Old Harbor Brewery, but when the brewmaster needed an extra pair of hands I was eager to try it out. I wasn’t much of a beer drinker then.”

What did you brew at Old Harbor Brewer?
“We had 4 standards, a German Lager Halis, a German Pilsner, American Stout, and American Pale. The American craft beer scene is so creative, and I realized that there was so much one could do with beer styles and ingredients. I wanted that ability to create freely and I knew I wanted to continue brewing. There was no other career in mind.”

Where do you see yourself in another 20 years?
“Maybe I’ll open my own brewery someday.”

What’s your favorite beer style and how did your palate evolve?
“I love Belgians and Sours, but I didn’t always. I started with the lighter beers, eventually moving onto darker styles and then finally complicated brews with more character.”

What’s your desert island beer?
Anchor Celebrator, which is a German Doppelbock.”

You’re really into German styles…
“My original brewmaster was German, I have a lot of respect for the German Purity laws, they helped to shape my foundation as a brewer, and now I have the opportunity to expand on them.”

What did you want to be before you knew you wanted to brew?
“I thought I was going to be a civil engineer, or architectural draftsman. The engineering education has definitely helped the brewing process. When you understand your system, it’s much easier to troubleshoot your electrical and plumbing.”


Syracuse Brewpub

With the opening of the Empire Farm Brewery, the Empire brewpub on Armory Square can be utilized as an experimental facility for new recipes. Operating the original location are brewers Nat Ten Eyck, and Tim Dellas.

Nat Ten Eyck: Brewer

How long have you been working at Empire?
“Since 2009”

When did you know you loved beer?
“I spent 8 years in Colorado and really developed a love for good quality beers.”

Have you ever brewed before?
“My first brewing experience was at Empire Brewing Company. I actually used to work in the brewpub kitchen back in the day, but was promoted after expressing interest in the brewery.”

What are your feelings on the transition?
“It’s still surreal. I’m excited about the opportunity for growth and we are going to be brewing with some incredible brewers. There will be a tsunami of beer flowing from the new brewery, I can’t wait to see where it is going to go.”

How do you feel about the new capacity?
“Our core beers are obviously going to stick, but adding more variety will only help our sales team and events. Being able to get new and improved beer out into the market is only going to help our growth and creativity.”

Tim Dellas: Assistant Brewer

How long have you worked for Empire?
“Since March of 2016”

Have you ever brewed before?
“This was my first experience brewing on a commercial system, but I’ve been homebrewing for 5 years. I started with a pre-made kit to get the basic feel of the process and eventually moved onto grain. Working as a professional brewer is a big step”

What’s the biggest difference from homebrewing to joining the Empire team?
“Organization. It’s great to work with a process that has already been set in place. I’m excited to learn new styles”

What’s your personal beer style preference?
“My favorite style to brew and drink would be blonde ales and oatmeal stouts.”



IPA is a style that dates back to the English occupation of India.  Brewers used hops as a preservative to ensure their beer would last the slo journey, and arrive to their troops fresh and tasty. Slo Mo’ is our interpretation of a true  American IPA. Greater than a session but less than a double, Falconers Flight and Mosaic Hops convey bright, tropical and citrus notes with a crisp dry finish. Step back, slow down, and enjoy Slo Mo’.

Black Magic Stout, Coming to a Bottle Near You!


New advancements in beer technology finally allow us to package our Black Magic Stout, a 1998 World Beer Cup® GOLD MEDAL winner. A long time pub favorite, you can take the signature nitrogen cascade home with you for the first time ever. Crack open a bottle, pour vigorously, and unleash the magic.



Our most awarded and best-selling beer since 1994, Skinny Atlas Light is a crisp, Kölsch Style Ale. German Pilsner malt gives this beer a bright, golden color, reminiscent of its many Great American Beer Festival® medals. A beer that appeals to all palates, we invite you to judge our flagship for yourself. Go ahead and quench your thirst with a tall glass of Skinny.

New Empire Farm Brewery Menu

We regret to inform everyone who was looking forward to the new Hot Dog Menu, that it was in fact an April Fools prank. We’re the wurst.


Hot dog-centric menu incorporates American tradition with contemporary culinary culture.

Empire Farm Brewery is proud to present the tasting room menu for the brand new Cazenovia location! Founder David Katleski, Brewmaster Tim Butler, and Executive Chef Matt Riddett have created a hot dog-centric menu, featuring gourmet hot dogs prepared with Empire’s handcrafted beers. Pair any dog with it’s proprietary beer style for a superior dining experience.

You might ask, why hot dogs? A long time ball player, David Katleski has had a love for hot dogs since his days as a catcher. “I love hot dogs, my boys love hot dogs, even my dog loves hotdogs. What’s not to love?” Several of the new menu items have been regular meals at the Katleski household for years.


David’s dog, Frankie.

The average American consumes 50 hot dogs per year. The standard dog is usually topped with ketchup, mustard, and maybe a little relish. Empire’s new menu reinvigorates this American tradition, emphasizing local ingredients and fresh flavor profiles.

Remember to check back in for updates on the Empire Farm Brewery grand opening, so that you can try these dogs for yourself!



‘Banger Dog’, featuring Black Magic StoutBanger Dog: Corned beef hot dog made with our Black Magic Stout, served in a baked potato and topped with caramelized onions and thick gravy… $9

Boho Fido: All vegan ‘hot dog’ made with local ingredients and our Skinny Atlas Light, served with locally grown dandelions in a lettuce wrap… $9 (Gluten and sugar free)

Dragon Doggy: Smoked pork dog made with our Two Dragons Ale and wrapped up with cabbage in a fried egg roll. Served with soy sauce… $10



‘Lost Dog’, featuring Lost Dog Pale Ale

Lost Dog (V): A bun topped with ketchup and mustard… $2

Perro Caliente: Traditional dog made with our El Niño Ale, served in a warm tortilla with refried beans, jalepeños, salsa and Cholula… $7 (Spicy)



‘Good Dog’, featuring Cream Ale

Good Dog: Traditional dog made with our Cream Ale, served à la mode with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, hot fudge and a cherry… $8

Purple Puppy: Traditional dog made with our Deep Purple, served on white bread with peanut butter and but into quarters… $5 (Option of creamy or crunchy peanut butter)

Jedi Dog: Foot long corn dog, battered with our Strikes Bock Ale and served on a saber stick with green relish… $8

Purebred: Belgian Vienna 100% beef dog made with our Belgian Dubbel, served on a waffle with sauerkraut and mustard… $9




For the first time in history, the Syracuse Men and Women’s Basketball teams have both made it to the Final Four in the NCAA tournaments! We’re celebrating down at the brewpub with the OTTOMEN EMPIRE BURGER SPECIAL! Get four cheddar sliders with a pint of our Otto Amber Ale for just $15, available now until the Women’s Championship Game, Tuesday April 5th!


If you’re really feeling like a champion, take the SLIDER SHOT CLOCK CHALLENGE! Finish all four sliders (not your beer) in two minutes or less, and the meal is on the house! *challenge available at the bar area only

White Aphro, coming soon to a bottle near you!



Initially developed to raise awareness and money for the artisanal breweries that were affected by the 2011 tsunami in Japan, White Aphro gained such tremendous popularity that we decided to package this style first.