CNY Brewfest spreads good beer and good cheer in Syracuse

This year's CNY Brewfest brought 1,500 drinkers and 103 breweries together under one roof at The State Fair Exhibit Center.

The 18th annual CNY Brewfest, held Saturday at the New York State Fairgrounds, takes a loose approach to commerce that ties into attendee David Brennon’s goal. Brewfest is less about making money than spreading good beer and good cheer.

The State Fair Exhibit Center brimmed with 1,500 drinkers and 103 breweries from as far away as Seattle, many of whose products are unavailable in liquor and grocery stores. Locally brewed standards such as Middle Ages Brewery and Empire Brewing Company rub shoulders with Uinta Brewing from Utah and San Francisco’s Anchor Steam Beer. Giants like Labatt Blue and Samuel Adams have stalls too, but Brewfest co-founder Bill Newman says the sole reason for Brewfest is to introduce new beers to new people.

Photo: Antoinette Siu
The event featured beers from 103 breweries. 1,500 drinkers were in attendance to partake in the tasting.

“All this is is a craft brewery expo,” Newman said. “People maybe try some beer they haven’t seen before and decide to buy some. Or maybe bar people decide to carry a new beer, or maybe the distributors decide to pick something up so the breweries actually take off. It helps everyone.”

Making money isn’t the intent, Newman said. Indeed, there’s little in the way of business here. The smiling people pulling the beer taps are mostly volunteers who jump at the chance.

“Nothing’s more fun than this,” said Melanie Hardy, a volunteer at the Ellicottville Brewing Co. stall. “I’ve been doing this every year for the last eight years.”

Chris Gibbons, wearing a Buffalo Bills jersey behind a New Orleans brew, agreed. “I get to come and drink beer, and give beer to people, and talk with the people about the beer. What could be better?”

For others, the event provides a venue to deliver a message. Liz Fisher, an executive from orchard and cider producer Beak and Skiff, says CNY Brewfest can teach beer drinkers to diversify their coolers and fridges.

“The whole reason we’re here is to get people to buy local,” Fisher said. “Locally grown, locally produced, you can’t get that anywhere. We get a huge response from this every year.”

Founders and primary organizers Newman and Mickey Wysochanski said they simply got the idea from drinking.

“We were drinking with some of the Empire [Brewing Company] guys and just thought it would be great to get breweries together,” said Wysochanski. “It’s grown from there.”

Despite a few armed officers to keep 1,500 beer drinkers honest, the event couldn’t be closer to a picnic, complete with Brewfest veteran Rich Groginski’s spread of salami, gorgonzola-stuffed olives and assorted finger foods. Walking by, Brennon stayed optimistic about drinking every beer at Brewfest, even after being told there were over 300.

“Three hundred?” he asked. “That’s OK. We’re putting in the work.” Brennon shelled $2 to a vendor for a necklace looped with dozens of pretzels, necessary “for keeping [him] on my feet.”

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