I just recently met up with Cathy Cimperman, and Clay Keel of 42 North Brewing Company, in East Aurora. Cathy is one of the founders and Clay is the Chief Brewing Officer. When they were nominated by Kerry from Alpine Made, I could not help but get excited about meeting them and checking out their operation. I’m a big fan of local brews, and having an opportunity to talk to the people behind a great local brewery was right up my alley! Turns out, not only do they craft great beers, but they also have a really great group of people working there, and their locally-focused mission makes them perfect for a project like this. If you haven’t checked out 42 North Brewery yet, let’s head out there together some time. I’m looking for lots of excuses to head back to East Aurora! Let me know when you’re ready.
An intro into how the brewery started
Clay began the conversation with: “The idea of the brewery started with Cathy and her husband, John.” Cathy continues, “John home brewed a little bit, and was always attracted to craft breweries. In our travels we always visited brewpubs. About two years ago, we went to Portland for a business trip and went to some of the breweries there. Portland is off the charts in terms of their brewing capacities. John felt that it would be great to have a brewery here in East Aurora, and that the town could really support it. We already owned this 10,000 square foot building and were using it for another business, mostly for storage. We got the village to change the commercial district to include brewing as a classification, and then 11 months later we opened our doors. My husband is one of those “leap and the net will appear people”. One of the slowest things with creating a brewery is getting the equipment. It can take, easily, 6 months from the time you order it for it to come. Rather than waiting for the approvals, we went ahead and ordered our equipment and crossed our fingers. It all worked out.”
“John and I were never going to be able to run the brewery from an operations standpoint, so we put an ad out and Clay responded. He moved here from Florida with his family and agreed to also leap and let the net appear.”
“I was in the Tampa area, working at another brewery. I found John, and we got to know each other of a course of months. We had the same vision of what they were trying to do here, and what I thought was the right thing to do. The right way to put a brewery somewhere, the right way to run the business. Their principles matched my principles. So here we are.”
Clay explained, “One of our brewers, Naz Drebot is from The Ukraine and is actually over there right now. He’s entering us into some competitions and stuff over there. Alex Sowyrda is an award-winning home brewer, and we work together on the design of the beers. Everyone here is amazing. We have a crew of really good cellar people that do the actual day-to-day labor. We have some great tap keepers too, bartenders. It’s a team effort. From the time the grain comes in the door, to the time someone walks out with a growler, or picks up their glass, you can mess it up at any point. Everyone is important.” Cathy added, “We’re about 6 months in and are really developing the staff. We really haven’t had any turnover and are continuing to hire as we get busier. Everyone takes a turn at events. They’re all a part of the company and represent the company. They really own the beer and know how it’s made.” Clay mentioned, “All of our bartenders have been to a hop farm and a malt house. They know the brand inside and out, and what we are all about, which is: sustainability, locally sourced whenever possible, creativity, quality and authenticity.”
Clay, how do you like Western New York
“I’ve been here about a year now. I really like it. It’s hard to explain if you haven’t lived anywhere else. I lived in Colorado for several years, and a lot of what’s out there can be found here. You the mountain biking, the water nearby, and nature. You don’t have those things in a lot of areas of the country and you can end up taking that for granted. There’s little to no traffic here. They say it’s the City of Good Neighbors, and it’s really true. There’s this sort of brotherhood or sisterhood here. Those things are amazing and are an intangible that is hard to find in other places.”
Cathy: “When we were originally looking for partners, we weren’t really sure what we were looking for. We had some interest from different groups that asked us if we were tied to East Aurora, and at first I said “no”. But then we really started thinking about it and I said “yeah!”. This is where we live, where we raised our children. We really wanted to do this for our community. That’s an important part that we’re only just starting to touch on; what is this brewery going to mean to the community? We look at the old model of the breweries in Europe and how each neighborhood has a parish and a brewery that is a gathering spot. When you come here, especially on Friday evenings and Sunday afternoons, a lot of families come in and play games. We have the beer garden outside, with quite a few dogs in there last weekend. We want to be a good neighbor in this community.”
The Local Beer Scene
Clay: “I’ve been saying this since I first came here: there’s a ton of potential for the market. It’s large enough, a lot of demand. There’s a lot of beer consumed here.” Cathy adds, “There’s definitely a movement here. You go to some of these other cities, like Portland, or all over Colorado, you find nothing but local beers on tap. We have a long way to go before we get to that point, but we’re definitely moving in that direction. We are seeing a lot of establishments moving to all local. Distributors are even offering incentives for going all local. We get people all of the time who say that they aren’t a craft beer drinker, but once you get them started… well, I don’t think we’ve had a failure yet.”
Clay: “You can’t please everybody. You never do. You can make a beer that a beer geek totally loves, but then somebody comes in that is used to Molson is going to hate it. You find that middle ground and have a nice selection so that people respect your quality, your creativity and then you give a lot of different options. I have a 3% beer that is made with all New York ingredients, and then I have a 10% IPA that I wouldn’t drink more than 10 ounces myself, it’s so in your face and big.”
The 42 North brewing philosophy
Clay: “Our philosophy is that we try to stick really close to the original style. We don’t just go crazy. If we say something is a style, we are going to try to stay as authentic to that as we can. But then we may tweak some little thing. For example, our Wit beer is an authentic Wit. It’s made the right way. All of the ingredients are from Europe. We use specialized yeast for that beer. But then we add a little bit of ginger and we use a New Zealand hop in that. It’s authentic with a little twist, which I guess is our feeling on it.”
Any areas of need?
Cathy: “Collaboration is one of our principles. Even with the building we collaborative with a lot of local artisans. A lot of people just wanted to be a part of it. The bases for our tables were given to us by Upstate Steel. The barnwood was donated. The bricks and wood on the ceiling was all pulled out of the Richardson Complex. It’s from the late 1800’s. The tap handles are from that wood as well. We’re always looking for a story to tie everybody together. We’re also working the Western New York Mountain Biking Association to help them launch their trail clearing day.”
The food at 42 North
Cathy: “Our kitchen is consigned out by a young couple who change the menu every month. Breadhive pretzels are always on the menu. Nate and Chelsea work really hard to source as much local food as they can. Everything is fresh. We don’t even have a freezer here. The food is a really important part of our business. We were really lucky to find them because they really completed the vision for us. If we didn’t have them doing this, we would not have been able to do it that well. This has turned out better than we could have imagined.” Clay added, “They really don’t get enough credit for how great the food is.”
Any upcoming events?
“On May 21st, we are having a festival. It’s called Full Circle Fest. We’re going to have 8 breweries here. We’re going to smoke a pig that was fed our spent grains. After the brewing process, we give the grains to a farmer, who comes 3 times a week at least after we brew and picks up the grains and he feeds it to his pigs. He’s going to bring one of those pigs here and we’re going to smoke it, so people can try that while sampling one of the beers. The Sunday prior kicks off American Craft Beer Week. So we’re going to end it with our event.”
Lastly, what would you tell a younger version of yourself?
Cathy: “I have younger versions of myself that are in their twenties now. I tell them to follow their passion, within reason. It’s really important to make good decisions that will allow you to be able to do that. You still have to be responsible and do what you need to do, but try to do it in an area you’re really passionate about. One of the things that I’ve learned is that everything is fixable. You shouldn’t be afraid to go out and try. You can make it work.”
Clay: “I like that, I like what she said. I’ll say that taking risks is important. I think that it’s important to take a risk to do what you want to do, and make it happen. If you talk to anybody that’s really successful, at some point they took a risk and they were passionate about what they were doing. You have to take risks to get to those places. I have a daughter as well, who seems like she wants to be an artist. A lot of people will be like “don’t do that, go be a doctor or whatever”. I’m not going to tell her to do that. I’m going to tell her to do what she wants to do. Go for it. There’s always time. School’s the best thing that you can do, don’t skimp on that.”