USA, NY: Copper Leaf Brewing Company ready to open its doors
A journey five years in the making will reach its conclusion as Copper Leaf Brewing Company finally opens its doors, the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle reported on April 22.
It certainly wasn't how they planned it, but Copper Leaf co-owners Bryan Meyer, Jason Meyer, and Clay Killian are just relieved they've finally made it to this point.
The idea for Copper Leaf, 50 State St. in the village of Pittsford's Northfield Common development, was hatched in 2016. The brewery is just off Schoen Place and sits on the north side of the Erie Canal. Fits and starts followed but they're finally here.
"It's been difficult not to swing the door open, because we've been dying to get people in here for the longest," Killian said. "It's a huge relief, for sure."
The brewery, which was originally slated to be named Hawley Brewing Company after one of the original families in the area and also an early proponent of canal construction, ran into an issue many breweries face: The name was already in use by a winery. So that required a pivot.
When the famous Pittsford copper beech tree was taken down in 2018, it presented a perfect opportunity for the fledgling brewery. The tree, thought to be over 200 years old, was a gathering place on State Street in the heart of the community.
Killian tracked down logs from the tree, had them milled and finished locally, and then it was installed as the brewery's tasting room bar. It's also fitting, because the brewery location in Northfield Common was originally a lumber yard. The brewery building started as a small boathouse on Conesus Lake and was then moved to its current location around 1905, where it originally was used as the lumber yard office. Since then, it has had many different lives, but had been vacant for a number of years before it was modified into a production brewery and tasting room.
"That's really what we're trying to form here, is a place for people to get together," Killian said.
The tree was part of the community's DNA, a true historic landmark, and it now preserved within the brewery.
Killian and Jason Meyer have been friends for more than 30 years. And Killian vividly remembers how they met.
I was too fat to play football in Bloomfield, so we drove all the way to Canandaigua to play football," Killian joked.
But that's where he first met father Bryan and his son Jason Meyer. "Weve know each other ever since. Went to school together, ended up moving to Canandaigua and became friends.
Jason and Killian both graduated from Canandaigua Academy.
At first, Killian had a different business partner, one who was looking to convert a music store into a brewery, but that plan fell through. That led Killian to re-kindle talks with Jason Meyer, who currently lives in Steamboat Springs, Colorado.
Despite living thousands of miles from each other, Jason and I had been talking about beer since before we were 21. Ive always been into flavors and different types of beer. It just kind of grew from there. It just so happened that Jason approached me and said, Hey, you want to go into business.
It was something we talked about, and shared a passion for, for years, Jason Meyer said. It goes back to the days when Petes Wicked Ale was the big microbrew, so weve always been seeking out new stuff, new flavors. And just from living out in Colorado and seeing the proliferation of the business, Ive just enjoyed the industry, the beer, and all the people involved.
Clay, my dad, and myself are all like-minded and work well together. It just seemed to be a logical fit.
Killian will handle the brewing operations. Bryan Meyer, who worked in information technology and project management for much of his career, brings a business acumen to the brewery. Jason Meyer, who recently sold his home health care business, has both a business and beer background.
They explored a number of potential locations, but they always found themselves drawn to the area around the Erie Canal and the village of Pittsford. The location is a few hundred feet from Lock 32 Brewing on Schoen Place, which recently celebrated its seventh anniversary and is in the process of building out a beautiful canal-side patio enclosure. They found the vacant building in the middle of Northfield Common (behind Label 7 Napa Eatery & Bar) and reached out to the property owner.
After some wrangling with the village over its new construction moratorium, the brewery gained village approval in January 2019. The plan was first presented in March 2017. Construction finally kicked off just as the pandemic halted most activities. But like they have done for over five years, the Copper Leaf crew pressed on.
The long vacant building was gutted and emptied. The floor was stripped, leaving only dirt, and the bones of what would become a cozy, bright, and inviting space. The exterior remained the same, except for the addition of a brewery sign. There is hope that limited outdoor seating will be added soon.
"It was week one of the shutdown when we started swinging hammers in here," Killian said. "Our general contractor was in here for five days, at most. Then they shut down and they could only allow one person in the space at a time to work. It was pretty frustrating."
"But we're here and we're finally ready to go," Bryan Meyer added.
Staach designs, well known for its work at Radio Social, designed the interior, including the wood accent wall separating the bar from the restrooms, while Rochester-based ElJon Enterprises was the general contractor and provided much of the interior work. The Copper Leaf team said they were both instrumental in bringing the space to life.
The 1,450-square-foot space features a 3.5-barrel brewhouse system which should provide enough capacity to fill most of the brewery's 14 taps. Killian is also a big believer in small-format barrel-aging. He's got quite a collection of 15-gallon oak barrels and the tap list will often contain small-batch, blended creations.
During an interview last week, I was able to sample three different barrel-aged fruited wild ales and enjoyed each one immensely. It's a cool niche that not many breweries in this area fill.
Killian gained invaluable experience while working at pioneering CB Craft Brewers, formerly Custom Brewcrafters in Honeoye Falls, in a number of different roles. He has also been homebrewing for decades. Killian worked at both CB's locations, too. It's fitting that the brewery, which closed abruptly in 2019 and has served as a training ground for so many within the industry, inspired Killian to follow his dreams.
"My love for cooking," Killian said when asked what inspired him to start brewing. "I started cooking when I was really young. Just the flavors and brewing is just an extension of cooking. It's like cooking with science."
A homebrewing kit given as a Christmas present really ignited his newfound passion, Killian said.
"It was either the best or worst decision my wife ever made," he joked. "We'll find out soon."
Copper Leaf will thrive on variety. The opening tap list includes a barrel-aged wild ales, lagers, a farmhouse session IPA, fruited sours, and many others. Being so small, Killian said the brewery will be nimble and won't be afraid to experiment. Patrons can expect different beers to be dosed in the keg with different dry hops or fruits to present even more variety. There are also plans for dry-hopped non-alcoholic sparkling beverages, the owners said.
"I look at the beer industry very much like the wine industry," Bryan Meyer said. "We're not in competition, we're supporting each other. This is a great spot to be in."
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