Gaining an Insider's Perspective on Westchester's Craft Beer Scene

Despite growing up just three miles apart in Yonkers, John Rubbo, 31, and Nick Califano, 29, became friends just 10 years ago. Their common denominator: an Italian heritage and a love for winemaking—both learned the art from their grandfathers at a young age. But five years ago they broke family tradition and took a stab at brewing their own beer. “To our surprise, it was really good,” says Rubbo. What began as a batch of home brew is today Yonkers Brewing Co., producer of six varieties that can be found on taps from Manhattan to Poughkeepsie. We talked with Rubbo to get his insight on Westchester’s burgeoning and exciting craft-brew scene.

Are bars in Westchester receptive to adding you to their taps?

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We’ve been very fortunate. Because we’re using such a familiar name, people know it’s local—there’s no question. So we’ve had doors open, not easily because we still have to fight for a tap line, but the doors do open.

What’s your pitch to get your beer on tap?

We’ll introduce ourselves, let them know we’re a local brewery, bring a sample, offer a tasting, then give them a reason why we think our beer will do well. We don’t want it to sit on a tap line and take up space because it’s not good for us or for the bar, so we really demonstrate how, as a local brewery, we can help sales and promote the brewery. Once we’re in, we’ll do events like a food and beer pairing or a tasting.

Is Westchester tapped out?

Westchester’s craft market is not saturated yet by any means. There’s room for growth and opportunity. If you look at some regions out west, you’ll see that in a population of one million like Westchester, there are dozens of breweries or brew pubs open to the public. I think for the three or four of us in place right now, there’s plenty of potential and plenty of room for all of us, and little by little people are becoming more receptive to craft beer.

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Why are people so excited about craft beer?

There’s so much more as far as taste and flavor profile—craft is more of an experience akin to how people have viewed wine in the past. And just like the whole farm-to-table concept, people want something local, something quality that’s made with local ingredients. They want to be able to go touch and feel where it was made.

What has surprised you about Westchester’s craft beer scene?

There are so many great restaurants that are receptive. One is using our beer as part of a barbeque sauce, so we’re finding more and more restaurants doing fun stuff with the beer and pairing it well with the menu.

What’s the outlook for Westchester’s craft market?

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I think we’ve had some great craft beer coming out of Westchester, and I think we’ll continue to see even more creative, approachable craft beers that people are going to enjoy. I think there’s a tremendous amount of opportunity to experiment and provide a great craft beer experience in Westchester.

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