Student brewer aims to bring craft brewing to a whole new generation

Kevin Czebiniak hopes his Westcott Brewing Company will appeal to younger drinker demographic.

For Kevin Czebiniak, brewing beer is more than a hobby; it’s his career.

The 24-year-old Camillus native got the idea to open his own brewery while sitting in the pub at Le Moyne College with friends from the school’s Entrepreneurship Club.

“I always wanted to homebrew when I retired,” said Czebiniak about his decision to open his own brewery. He is still working to complete a dual bachelors degree in information systems and management and leadership.

"I want my beer to be on the West Coast within seven to ten years. My dream is to be on the same level as Sam Adams or Dogfish."
- Kevin Czebiniak

According to Scarborough, a research firm, 25 percent of craft beer drinkers are between 30 and 39 years old. Czebiniak realized that if he could make a beer and bring the lower end of the age range for its drinkers down to 21, he’d be able to capture the market as soon as they came of age.

In May 2012, Czebiniak turned that vision into reality and opened Westcott Brewing Co.

“The hardest part right now is running a business, going to school, and trying to brew beer,” said Czebiniak, who acknowledged that what he is trying to do is a new concept for the microbrew industry. Scarborough found that microbrew drinkers are 78 percent more likely to have a household income over $250,000, and half of all drinkers have a college degree. But with Czebiniak being a student himself, he believes it is possible to beat the statistics and bring craft beer to younger drinkers.

“It’s taking an ancient tradition and introducing it to modern technology,” he said.

Kevin Czebiniak arranges brewing supplies in his garage in Camillus. (Photo: Shawn Miller)

Czebiniak realized at a young age that he wanted to be an entrepreneur. His father, John Czebiniak, the original owner of Atlas Fence, made a point to teach his son the value of hard work and what it takes to own a business.

“When he was 14 or 15 he would come into the office with me and start helping around the yard,” said John Czebiniak.

He said that by the time his son was 16, Czebiniak began learning different aspects of the company — everything from building, to management, to systems operations.

“My father is my biggest role model. I want him to be proud of me,” said Czebiniak about his decision to leave Atlas and open his own business.

Since Czebiniak left Atlas in the fall of 2012, he and his father try to make time for each other. They would often go hunting and fishing when Czebiniak was little, and they continue to hunt during deer season each year.

“We did a lot of different hunting-type things in New York state,” said John Czebiniak. “We’d go turkey hunting with bows as well as guns. We’ve also gone pheasant hunting together.”

As a child, Czebiniak also spent time playing hockey and baseball, but eventually he hung up his cleats in favor of tennis and golf. “It’s the only thing that relaxes me now,” he said. Czebiniak acknowledged that as a kid he hated golfing, along with some of his father’s other hobbies, but over the years his opinion has changed.

“Now that I’m older, I appreciate all of it,” Czebiniak said. Over the past five years, he has also found himself drawn to scuba diving after being inspired by his father. But since opening the brewery, Czebiniak hasn’t had much time to pursue his hobbies.

Kevin Czebiniak checks out the lines on an array of beer brewing kegs in his garage. (Photo: Shawn Miller)

This past year, he went to school full time while working on the legal paperwork for his business and still remained a member of the Entrepreneurship Club.

“I don’t have any spare time,” said Czebiniak as he brewed a batch of beer on a Monday night this past summer. “If you love what you do though, it doesn’t matter.”

Czebiniak’s love for his company is evident whenever he speaks about anything related to it. “I was a commercial estimator at (Atlas). So I was making money and I bought toys. I bought a new bike, a Corvette, an SUV. I sold them all. I sold all of them and started my company.”

After working for his dad for more than six years, Czebiniak knows the power of learning from those with experience in the industry.

“The industry saying is don’t fear the foam,” said Chad Meigs, a home brewer also looking to transition to commercial brewing. Since Czebiniak first began learning about the brewing process, he has learned just how important it is to trust those who have been brewing longer than he has when it comes to basics like sanitation. As a result, Czebiniak has made it a goal to get to know as many people in the Syracuse brewing community as possible.

That same goal - along with Czebiniak’s charisma- led him to Steve Rienhardt, a home brewer who will soon be in charge of producing Westcott Brewing Co.’s supply.

“We met at a pub and had a couple pints,” Rienhardt said. “He’s really determined. I fully expect him to have this going a year from now.”

Czebiniak plans to move Westcott Brewing Co. from his home in Camillus to his 350-acre plot of land in Lakeport and to use a four-barrel, approximately 124-gallon system to brew his beer.

Kevin Czebiniak brings a bit of modern technology to the ancient art of brewing beer. (Photo: Shawn Miller)

Most brewers Czebiniak comes into contact with believe in his passion. “He’s driven, an entrepreneur and a nice guy with a good personality. Those are good qualities to have in business,” Meigs said. That infectious personality has helped Czebiniak not only learn more about the craft, but also begin to spread his name to people outside of the brewing industry.

When a young man stopped by to ask for a petition signature while Czebiniak was working in his driveway, he didn’t hesitate to stop what he was doing and chat. Their discussion soon shifted to Westcott Brewing Co. and Czebiniak’s goals for the future.

“I want my beer to be on the West Coast within seven to ten years. My dream is to be on the same level as Sam Adams or Dogfish,” Czebiniak said.

He paused for a moment, then added: “I’m not in this for the money. I’m in this for the freedom.”

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