Something’s brewing at Bitters and Bones

Bitters and Bones co-owner Johnny Williams, right, and Patrick Dupree ease a beer brewing tank into place, guided by Jay Denno, who was driving a telehandler and lifting the brewing equipment from a truck to the Bitters and Bones parking lot on Wednesday. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

SARANAC LAKE — Ten large tanks were lifted from a flatbed truck outside Bitters and Bones and moved into the bar Wednesday morning. It was the brewing equipment bar co-owners Jimmy and Johnny Williams hope to start making beer with in the near future.

“It’s a big day, man,” Johnny said.

They’ve been waiting to do this for a while, he said. He put the deposit on the brewing system down the week before mass-industry shutdowns in the spring of 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

On Wednesday, Patrick Dupree helped move the tanks and Jay Denno was driving a telehandler, lifting the large cylinders and driving them uphill to the parking lot. Johnny said they couldn’t have done this without their friends’ help.

Each tank was emblazoned with the Bitters and Bones logo — a bone, a bottle and a moose skull — but Johnny said the beer’s brand name is “to be determined.”

Jay Denno lines a telehandler up with a flatbed truck to lift new brewing equipment for Bitters and Bones on Wednesday. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

DRI funding

Jimmy said the idea to become a brewery started around four years ago, as the village started its application for the state’s $10 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative grant, which it won in 2018.

The bar and brewery expansion was one of 10 projects selected by the state from a list of 19 projects submitted by the Local Planning Committee.

When Gov. Kathy Hochul announced the award in 2019 — when she was lieutenant governor — Johnny remembers she made a point to talk about the economic development power of brewing in small towns.

The bar is using DRI funds to renovate its main bar space, expand its kitchen and build a second rooftop deck. Johnny said they will keep the two apartments above the bar. The deck will be over the main bar room and side deck, where a slanted metal roof is now.

Bitters and Bones will receive a reimbursement of $381,500 from the state for the improvements.

Altogether, the project is expected to cost $740,000, so the state is contributing around 50% of the cost.

“I won’t say it would be impossible without it,” Johnny said. “While I think Jimmy and I would have ultimately made brewing part of our business in the future, the DRI certainly streamlined the process and put it on a fast track.”

What’s on tap?

Johnny said there will be lots of setup and testing for them to do before they start producing beer. Both brothers are new to brewing and they’ve got to learn and experiment first.

“All we have is brewing equipment right now, which is attractive to look at, but we still have a long ways to go before we’re actually producing beer,” Johnny said. “Luckily, my brother is a very hands-on, very do-it-yourself kind of guy.”

Portland Kettle Works, which designed the system, will send its lead engineer to show them the ropes in three full brewing cycles. They won’t be brewmasters yet, but they’re going to talk to the brewmasters they know and learn from them.

Johnny said he’s looking forward to brewing a crisp lager, one that is “easy drinking and sessionable.” He said they’ll also be brewing IPAs and seasonal beers.

“We’re going to take cues from the folks we rely on to keep the lights on,” Johnny said.

Personally, he likes easy-drinking beers.

“I really haven’t found my sea legs when it comes to real hoppy beers,” Johnny said. “They tend to make me sleepy.”

Johnny said he’s talking with local brewers in Saranac Lake, Tupper Lake, Ray Brook and the wider region. He sees their businesses as collaborative more than competitive. He said the more the region offers, the better.

The 7-barrel system from Portland Kettle Works now sits in the renovated back room of the bar, waiting to start brewing.


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