By Christine Graf
After encountering countless pandemic-related delays, the owners of Dancing Grain Farm Brewery in Moreau hope to open their craft brewery in July.
For owner Rachel McDermott, a Cornell University graduate with a degree in applied economics and management, Dancing Grain is more than a business.
“For me, it’s a passion project. This is how we secure our family farm for the future,” she said.
A farm girl at heart, McDermott grew up on her family’s grain farm, WestWind Ag in Schaghticoke. The farm is owned by her father, James Czub, and uncle, Robert Czub. In 2016, the brothers purchased the 308-acre Moreau property, a former dairy farm, where the brewery is located.
McDermott and her husband, attorney Sean McDermott, live in the remodeled farm house on the property along with their two-year old son. Six years ago, McDermott left a successful career as an investment banker on Wall Street in order to join the family business.
“I always had a desire to be closer to my roots,” she said.
Under her leadership, WestWind Ag diversified operations and invested in new processing equipment and expanded planting operations to include brewers and distiller’s grains—grains that are used in the production of Dancing Grain’s craft beers.
“We’ve spent the last three or four years investing in the research and development side of specialty crops like malting barley and distiller’s grains, and now we want to vertically integrate that process and create a destination for these craft beverages where we can grow them on site and create this flavor of our area,” she said. “It’s a sustainable agricultural model, and it’s meant to drive income from the farm from the ground up. You could say from the ground to your glass.”
In January 2020, McDermott received approval to move ahead with the craft brewery. She hired local engineer Wayne Kant to help transform the farm’s former tractor repair building into a brewhouse and brewpub.
“Wayne and I sat down and came up with a plan for how we wanted the building to look and how we wanted to preserve the original structure while making it usable for our purposes,” she said.
The building permit was submitted on March 1st, just two weeks before the state shut down due to the pandemic.
“That should have been the first sign that this wasn’t going to be as straightforward and as easy as we had hoped,” said McDermott.
Seven months later, with the building permit finally in hand, McDermott was faced with additional challenges. Social distancing requirement limited the number of contractors that could work on the project at any given time. At the same time, lenders were hesitant to offer financing to those in the bar and restaurant industries.
“All of a sudden, we weren’t able to hire contractors, and financing something in the hospitality industry became virtually impossible. Everything kind of dried up from a start-up perspective,” she said.
That’s when McDermott and husband Sean, a co-owner in the business, took matters into their own hands. They purchased a camper, parked it at the farm, and lived there full-time with their baby.
“My responsibility was moving forward on the brewery, and his was to work on the house. We kind of divided and conquered these two huge projects,” said McDermott. “We rolled up our sleeves and got to work.”
The brewhouse building was gutted, but the original framework was preserved. The bar was built from old beams from the farm’s carriage house and floorboards from the house.
“We reused as much material as we feasibly could in order to maintain the character of this place,” she said. “I think we did a really good job.”
Faced with seemingly insurmountable obstacles, McDermott turned to Christian Weber of Common Roots Brewing Company in South Glens Falls for advice. Ultimately, Weber and his father, Bert, purchased a small ownership stake in Dancing Grain.
“With their help, we were able to close the financing. That gave us enough liquidity to move forward,” said McDermott. “They also have a load of experience on the craft beer side and were able to help us navigate some of the startup issues we were faced with.”
A New York farm brewery, Dancing Grain must source at least 60 percent of its ingredients from within the state. According to McDermott, 60 percent or more of Dancing Grain’s ingredients are sourced directly from their own farm.
If all goes as planned, Dancing Grain Farm Brewery will open in July with a limited number of beers on tap as well as crowlers and growlers. Their goal for the first year is to have 12 beers on tap. James Dowell has been hired as head brewer, and McDermott plans to hire between two and five part-time employees.
“We are going to grow into our vision which encompasses what I refer to as the family farm legacy. In order to secure our farm for future generations, we need to create more value for community and for our farm family. We are hoping to do that by sharing our farm with the people who love craft beer.”
According to McDermott, the project has exceeded its original budget of $300,00 by nearly two-fold. In order to ensure that the bank did not hold the lien on the family farm, she and her husband made a considerable investment in the business out of their own savings.
“I didn’t want to risk what my dad and uncle have worked for their entire lives. This is their legacy.”