COVID-19 hit many craft breweries hard, slowing production, depleting revenues and causing employee layoffs. New York’s Raquette River Brewing initially suffered, but the pandemic became a business godsend.
The brewery, located at Tupper Lake in the Adirondack Mountains about a 5 ½-hour drive north of midtown Manhattan, laid off all employees when COVID-19 first struck and then saw business surge as New York City residents headed to the country or vacationed in the Adirondacks during the pandemic.
“New York city residents were unable to fly to places like Europe and the Caribbean, so they looked elsewhere and found the Adirondacks,” says Mark Jessie, the co-owner of Raquette River Brewing. “For most of them, this was their first time in the area. We showed them a good time, and they vowed to come back. COVID turned out to be a great advertising campaign for the Adirondacks!”
During the early stages of the pandemic, Raquette River Brewing couldn’t serve customers in its taproom and sold beer to-go.
“We slowly brought back employees as we learned there was still a demand for beer,” Jessie says. “Later on, as things began to open up, we were able to thrive because of our huge outdoor patio. People felt safe there, and we were extremely busy on a daily basis. Eventually, we were able to open our indoor space with tables six-feet apart to accommodate more patrons.”
Raquette River Brewing, which was founded in 2013, expects to produce more than 2.000 barrels of beer this year. That’s a big increase from 690 barrels in 2020 and 1,383 barrels last year.
Such production is a far cry from the days when Jessie and co-owner Joe Hockey began brewing. The two men first met in a prison where they worked as corrections officers.
“We met toward the end of our careers,” Jessie recalls. “We started talking about craft beer while on the job. Later, we started brewing in my kitchen at home, then we built a small brewery in my garage. One night we decided to open a brewery, and the rest is history.”
Jessie and Hockey developed no guiding doctrine when they went into the brewing business.
“We never had formal mission statements,” Jessie says. “Raquette River Brewing was born from a love of craft beer and brewing. We were always focused on brewing great beer, creating jobs and improving life in Tupper Lake for everyone.”