E-Malt. E-Malt.com News article: USA, NY: CB Craft Brewers to close its doors at the end of this month

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E-Malt.com News article: USA, NY: CB Craft Brewers to close its doors at the end of this month
Brewery news

CB Craft Brewers, the second oldest craft brewery in western New York, will close its doors at the end of this month, owner Mike Alcorn confirmed in an interview on August 22.

CB's, formerly known as Custom Brewcrafters, opened in 1997 in Honeoye Falls at a 1,500-square-foot warehouse on Papermill Street. It moved to its 10,000-square-foot location across town in 2008.

"I've just made the decision in the past few days about what we're going to do," Alcorn said via phone. "We're going out with a bang. We're going to have a lot of fun over the next couple weeks. There will be some cheers, but for me and my staff, we're excited to have been on this ride. It has been so cool for us."

Alcorn, 63, said the time is right to retire. He said he's looking forward to moving to the mountains of North Carolina with his wife, Luanne.

The brewery plans to celebrate its 22nd anniversary this weekend and then have a farewell party the following weekend, Alcorn said. The closure impacts about 10 full-time employees and many more part-timers.

When the brewery opened, it was just the third brewery in Monroe County; the only craft option in Monroe County came from Rohrbach's was the only other craft option. Now, Monroe County has more than 25 breweries.

Honeoye Falls village Mayor Rick Milne said the closing was "unfortunate."

"From a village standpoint, it's always a difficulty when a great business shuts down or leaves," Milne said. "We'll struggle with that a little bit. But the thing with a place like a craft brewery, it was a meeting place, it was a gathering place, it was a socializing place. A lot of people went and enjoyed the beverage and enjoyed the fantastic food and some great music as well. That's going to be missed."

CB's started with a much different business model than it has now. It initially focused on producing private label craft beers for restaurants and bars in the region. Alcorn approached the establishments and pitched his idea. He found several willing partners with the likes of Jeremiah's, Bug Jar, Hogan's Hideaway, The Old Toad and Duff's in Buffalo.

These partners actually owned the trademark to the beers Custom Brewcrafters produced. Alcorn said this model peaked at about 40 outside accounts. Currently, the brewery has 30 restaurant and bar accounts for exclusive beers. The brewery also contract-brews for nine different breweries in the area.

Alcorn said the contract business is still lucrative and said he imagines his partners will be able to find other breweries to produce their exclusive beers. He said that a lot of the breweries are already moving in the direction of producing their own beers.

He noted that he's currently working with his partners to help them "get a stockpile of their beer. They can purchase it at a discounted price and they'll be able to continue to sell their branded beer."

Brewing contracts will be finished by the end of the week, he said.

Later, CB's production shifted to its own line of craft beers, including the Caged Alpha Monkey IPA. Sales of the brewery's flagship IPA have slowed in recent years, Alcorn said. It remains the brewery's top-selling beer, but Alcorn said it sells at 50 percent of what it did five years ago.

The brewery produced 450 barrels in its first year. Production peaked at 9,000 barrels, but declined with the exit of Three Heads, its biggest contract brewing account, in 2016.

Major state law changes eased the process for breweries to open. Under Gov. Andrew Cuomo, both the Farm Brewery Law in 2012 and the Craft New York Act in 2014 made it significantly easier for small breweries to thrive.

"It's a very, very different market," Alcorn said. "A lot of it is about small batches. At age 63, how long am I going to hang on to get this business to a totally new design?"

Alcorn noted that the brewery, under the leadership of head brewer Zach Allard, did a lot in the last few years to reinvent itself, including monthly specialty releases and a partnership with Wegmans to release hyper-fresh beer.

Alcorn, a Boston-area native, moved to Rochester in 1991 to work for Eastman Kodak Co. He's amazed at how the entire scene has changed and evolved.

"It's just time," Alcorn said. "Twenty-two years is not magic to me. I started in a whole different world. I had a goal that has been achieved years ago, to get beer to be commonplace in the Rochester area and western New York. There was very little craft beer when I arrived here."

Alcorn said in the early days, it was hard to find a beer like Samuel Adams or even Guinness. But in today's beer world, there are no shortage of options.

"I wanted to help create a more beer-savvy culture here in Rochester," Alcorn said. "It wasn't overnight, of course. ...The business was a lot of fun for me."

Alcorn said he had a lease-to-own option for the brewery building and doesn't own the building. He noted that he's only halfway through that. Alcorn said he has another year of payments on the brewing equipment. The future of the building and the equipment, therefore, remains unclear.

"That's one of the key things that went into this decision," he said. Alcorn said potential buyers of the business have been "skittish," because much of the growth we've seen in Rochester has been on a small scale. So buyers might not want to take that big leap.

"It's so easy to get into the market at almost no cost, so it's part of the fallout that was going to happen," Alcorn said.

Alcorn said he is at a point where he expected to be exiting the business. He added that the amount owed to the bank for the equipment, including a bottling line and 10-barrel brewhouse, "is pretty small. So it should be available or it might be available as a turnkey. I don't know what they're going to do. I am basically closing up the business and leaving town quietly."

Milne, the village mayor, said he is hopeful that a brewery or restaurant will look at the site and say, "'Hey, what a great place. It's in a fantastic community. Let's go there and open up.'"

He said he knows the owners of the property "very well" and he considers "Mike and Luanne Alcorn to be very good friends as well. So this is difficult for me. We'll work together and we'll support the developers and anyone else who wants to come in there. We'll work hard to get it refilled."

CB's lasting impact and ultimately its biggest gift to the Rochester-area beer scene comes in the form of the employees who started there and moved onto other breweries (or opened their own places) and the education it provided to consumers.

The brewery helped formed the foundation of local craft beer and has served as a breeding and proving ground for many brewers, sales representatives and others in this area.

CB's was an incubator for Three Heads, allowing what is now the largest independent craft brewery in the city to focus on recipe development and building equity in its brand. 3HB started contract brewing with CB's in 2010 and eventually constructed and opened its own massive space in 2016.

The Honeoye Falls brewery did largely the same thing for War Horse Brewing in Seneca County. The brewery, which sits on the campus of Three Brothers Wineries & Estates, started as a contract brewery and eventually opened its own multi-million dollar facility.

Twisted Rail, which has locations in Canandaigua, Macedon, and Geneva, is another one of the CB's contract brewing accounts that is moving in the direction of opening its own production space. The brewery is currently building a brewery in a historic theater in downtown Geneva.

"Working with CB's gave us the ability to get our brand out there," 3HB co-founder Dan Nothnagle said in a 2017 interview. "It allowed us to create the beers we wanted and to start getting them into the public's hands. It was a great platform for us, without the initial investment of opening a brewery."

The entire Rochester-area beer scene has experienced massive growth in the past 10 years. In just Ontario, Livingston and Monroe counties alone, there are now nearly 50 breweries. New York state has more than 420 breweries. (And federal licensing records indicate that even more are on the way.)

Alcorn said there isn't sadness as the brewery closes it doors, but rather, there is happiness and satisfaction.

"This has been a blast," Alcorn said. "To get to know all these people and to see them succeed in this craft industry, and for us to play a part in that and for us to play a part in getting some of the newer breweries started, it has been an absolute blast."

22 August, 2019

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