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Craft breweries seem to be as common in the Adirondacks as the mallard duck. Bolton Landing Brewing Company, the newest beer-joint in the Lake George Area, is already making waves. The family-style experience of the taproom is drawing visitors of all types. The service is warm and welcoming, like you’re stepping into an episode of Cheers. The full-flavored, lake-themed beers are crisp, cold, and delicious. The Bolton Landing Brewing Company is becoming a favorite among families because of the family that built it.
If you’ve spent time in the Adirondacks, you know the quack and waddle of a mallard duck is often followed by the pitter-patter of a dozen more webbed baby feet. The Bolton Landing Brewing Company is a similar family affair. When the brewery is open a few Murnanes are always present.
On a Friday evening in late March, the sun begins to set on another crisp spring day in Bolton Landing. A group of four hikers speckled in mud swap stories from the trail. They’re sipping craft beers around a gas fireplace in wooden Adirondack chairs on the raised front patio of Bolton Landing Brewing Company.
Inside, more groups congregate around high-top tables and at the glossy bar engraved with a detailed outline of Lake George. A couple stares at a tray of beer samples, foam brimming over the top of miniature tasting glasses, considering which beer to sample first. Their bundled infant naps in a baby carrier placed on the high-top table. Two older women giggle to the punchline of a joke and down the remaining splash of wine in their glasses. A pack of twenty-somethings stare up at a flat-screen TV as the Yankees pummel the Twins. One from the group saunters up to the bar with an armful of empty pints and buys the next round for his buddies. Brendan Murnane, owner and president of Bolton Landing Brewing Company, grabs a chilled glass and pours the gents another round.
Murnane is tall and red-bearded, usually in a flannel shirt and a faded Yankees or Notre Dame cap. He looks like he owns a brewery, nailing the half-Brooklyn-hipster and half-Adirondack-lumberjack vibe. When you walk through the paneled front door of the brewery, he’s usually behind the bar pouring a stout or an IPA, schlepping a handful of pints and wine glasses to a faraway table, or at a high-top sipping a Tight Squeeze IPA, one of the brewery’s creations. He has a serious demeanor that’s often broken by a hearty chuckle that reverberates wall-to-wall around the taproom.
Murnane spent much of his youth in Bolton. Though the family call Westchester home, his mother, father, and eventually three siblings began visiting Bolton Landing in 1988, taking long weekend ski trips to Gore in the winter and passing summers at their condo at the Sagamore Resort. His first jobs were renting boats at two local marinas, and he played American Legion baseball in Glens Falls. Like many part-time residents, the appeal of the bustling Adirondack town, buzzing with bars, restaurants, shops and glorious Lake George, captivated Murnane like a duck to a lone french fry dropped on the sidewalk. As an adult, his dream was to build a permanent life in Bolton.
After graduating from Manhattanville College, the goal of a life in the Adirondacks was always a piercing question in the back of his mind. “I always wanted to live in Bolton, but what do I want to do?”
Murnane attempted to dull the pressing question of his future by frequenting the downstate beer scene. After connecting with some Westchester-based brewery owners and brewers, he started researching the industry in the Adirondacks. He decided that Bolton Landing would be perfect for a brewery.
He started formulating a business plan. “Making this vision into a reality took about two years.” After a lot of late nights and hard work, Murnane’s plan was ready. He pitched the idea to his father, John. The elder Murnane gave Brendan prudent and wise advice that all fathers seem to produce on command:
“Always delicious beer.”
After receiving his father’s blessing, it was time to solve the first major issue of the project: who is going to brew the beer? Murnane knew almost nothing about the business beyond a brewing class gifted to him by Janelle, his fiancée, and a few casual conversations with other owners and brewers. He wasn’t even sure what to include in a job description.
Through a stroke of luck, Murnane discovered that a friend of his fiancée’s cousin knew a guy, Shawn Kerr, who had just quit his job at a brewery in Buffalo. “It was a total ‘friend-of-a-friend’ situation”.
Kerr was searching for his next brewing gig while working as a substitute teacher in Buffalo. Murnane contacted him and invited him to Bolton Landing to tour the building and discuss the new job. “Every time he visited the town it was cold and raining non-stop. I thought, ‘there’s no way he’s going to be okay with this.’ And then he got to experience the summer.” Just like millions of people before him, the Adirondack summer netted Kerr, hook, line and sinker.
Kerr is a master brewer. He knows the intricacies of each IPA, pilsner, and ale that he creates, and he can detail how each ingredient adds to the taste of the final product. He’s passionate about crafting complex recipes and turning those recipes into Bolton Landing Brewing Company beers.
Their New England-style IPAs, such as the Tight Squeeze and the John Thurman Vermont Vacation, are popular in the taproom. Their Paradise Bay IPA and Sweetbriar Belgian White are also always flowing. The Sweetbriar is a low-alcohol offering, making it a favorite for much of the brewery’s clientele, and the Paradise Bay is the unofficial flagship beer of the brewery.
While “the newest beer” is usually Kerr’s favorite, his go-to beer is the Tight Squeeze IPA, a yellow, juicy-flavored offering with a cloudy haze. The Paradise Bay IPA is similar to the Tight Squeeze, but it’s “more of a hybrid between New England Style and a regular American IPA.” Their Pinnacle Sunrise Pilsner, a new Czech-style brew that should go down easy in the summer is, “light, with a distinct bitterness.”
A few more seasonal specialties dot the menu, such as the Saison de la Glace, the Heron Go Braugh Irish Stout, and the Modern Nostalgia IPA. The warmer months will bring different beer styles, like a lager. While Murnane’s favorite is the Tight Squeeze IPA, he hedged that, “they’re all my children so I love them equally.”
With the help of his family and with a new brewer in tow, Murnane put the next step of his plan into action. They started renovating a vacant restaurant on Main Street. It’s a white, two-story building that had been home to seafood restaurants, coffee bars, and a sushi joint over the past several summers. They decided to completely renovate the building, spending months behind closed doors turning the seemingly snakebit structure into a brewery and tap room.
Every brewery’s beers and building combine to create a vibe. Some breweries are on sprawling campuses consisting of a beer lab, a bar and restaurant, and a place to buy merchandise. Others hide subtly in tiny studio spaces off city sidewalks, with locals serving stouts and sours in dainty glasses.
The brewery design needed to be original. Murnane wanted it to reflect a slice of the Adirondacks but also embrace individuality. He staved off the compulsion to build a temple to the mountains, like many local bars and restaurants. Bolton Landing is filled with mountain-town décor, and for good reason – people love the rustic, log-home style that is widespread in the Adirondacks.
Murnane turned the vacant building into a boathouse. It embodies Bolton Landing – a lakeside, Adirondack border town that boaters flock to. The ceilings are high, supported by beams from the original building. An outline of the lake is grooved into the gleaming wooden bar. Dockline-esque ropes wrap the outside of the tap handles as though they were securing a local’s prized boat to a dock post. Tasteful corrugated metal surrounds the taproom. Guests can lean back and sip a beer on the spacious outdoor patio with Lake George in view. You can’t dock your boat at the brewery, but you can still hear laughing kids at the beach and see the prodigious mountains in the distance.
In an effort to build a following, the design of the taproom works to connect visitors to the creation of the beer. The taproom’s back wall offers a behind-the-scenes look into the brewery’s day-to-day operation. A wall of windows allows visitors to see into the brew house, and maybe catch Kerr in action. The “fishtank” concept immerses people into the painstaking art and science of brewing beer. It connects fans of the brewery with the people who make the beer and the process they follow.
Murnane opted for the open lab on purpose. “Every single beer we make is made here. So, it’s important that we show people this part of the process.” Sipping a beer at the brewery isn’t just a means to an end at the local dive, it’s an experience to savor and remember.
Kerr brought more to the brewery team than just beer creation – he knew what it takes to build a successful operation. Before long, the brewery began wholesaling their beer, or selling kegs to local bars and restaurants. This is an important step because it gets the brewery’s name in front of eyes and its beer down thirsty throats. Wholesaling also forces the brewery to brew more beer, ensuring that fresh product – think yeast and hops – don’t go to waste. The brewery’s goods span the state, from Buffalo to Troy, Saratoga, Glens Falls, Lake George, and several of the restaurants in Bolton. “The money is made in the tap room, but the easiest way to get your name out there is putting your beer on tap somewhere.”
While nothing in the process of opening the brewery has been simple, Murnane’s family has eased the experience. His younger brother, Ryan, made his full-time bartending debut, and his younger sister, Justine, is often running the floor with full pints in her hands. Murnane’s parents, John and Terry, are a constant presence, enjoying a beer and chatting with visitors.
Family was critical in the planning and execution of the brewery. Murnane’s fiancée, Janelle Pelli, is a lawyer. She was instrumental in understanding and finishing the piles of business paperwork that Murnane didn’t have the wherewithal to understand or enthusiasm to complete. “I’m trying to read forms over and it’s in one ear and out the other. She steps in and says, ‘I got this,’ and grabs that project.”
John Murnane is a patent lawyer. When it came to hammering out brewery details, the elder Murnane was crucial. Pelli, along with her mother and Terry Murnane, assisted with details like the color of the flooring, happily taking these jobs off of Brendan’s hands.
As a result of the family approach, the brewery is welcoming to everyone ranging from infants to octogenarians. Young kids napping in baby-carriers or munching on pretzels while their parents drink a beer is common. The brewery has bar foods and drinks that kids will love, and even a few sets of Connect Four lying around.
Murnane knows that Bolton is a family town, and he wanted to ensure the entire family was welcome. Dustyn Zaccagnino, the brewery’s chef, makes sure every kid that walks in has plenty of menu options. “The parents are gonna have a good time trying our beer, and the kids, we have enough food and drinks for them as well.”
Murnane is expecting the Bolton Landing Brewing Company to be a hit this summer. They have some special things planned. A summer kickoff party is set for June. If that’s successful, Murnane would like to turn it into an annual shindig to be held over the same weekend every summer.
He’s also a tad nervous. The beer is ready, but he’s not sure he is. “Ducks on a pond,” Murnane laughs, describing how he’s confident on the outside and panicked on the inside every time another group of eight-to-ten customers walk in the front door. The stress is understandable for a new business owner concerned with brewing beer, pouring pints, and keeping the lights on. In stressful moments, his father’s advice reverberates around his head. The brewery has one clear goal:
“Always delicious beer.”
They’re proving that's what they brew, one pint at a time.
Eric can be reached at email@example.com