The basement of Oswego’s historic Woodruff Building was buried in rubble and flooded with groundwater three years ago, but it will soon be the home to a brand-new brewery.
As part of a full-scale renovation of the Woodruff Building, located on the corner of West First Street and Cayuga Street and one of the oldest buildings in Oswego, The Cellar Door Brewery plans to open next spring.
Tom Millar, the developer of the project, grew up in Oswego and said that he was bothered to see so many of Oswego’s historical buildings not being used when he returned home from working as an engineer at sea three and a half years ago.
“There is so much potential here, and it just kills me that there’s buildings that were just sitting here undeveloped,” said Millar, who also purchased the former Coleman’s building, which was built in 1828 and is Oswego’s oldest commercial building.
The process of actually developing those buildings, however, has proved to be more than Millar first expected. Millar said that when he first purchased the Woodruff Building it was mostly being used for storage and required complete renovation, including new floors, plumbing and walls. Along the way, Millar has dealt with everything from swarms of bees living in the walls to steady flooding of the basement.
“We had to hand-dig it out,” Millar said of the rubble and flood water that once soaked the space. “I lost about two buddies out of it, like never wanted to talk to me again.”
The work has started to show dividends, though, as Millar edges closer to his original vision. The building will contain six residential apartments and commercial and office space, including a recently-opened deli and a second floor yoga studio.
The brewery was not originally a part of that plan, but was instead something Millar decided to do after an initial renter for the space fell though. With the space open, Millar decided a brewery would be a good way to bring something new to Oswego.
“I’m not trying to compete with the restaurants, I’m not trying to compete with the bars. Oswego has enough bars,” Millar said. “This town doesn’t have a brewery, which is weird because it is right on the water.”
Millar views the brewery more as a place for co-workers to stop for an after-work drink or to purchase freshly-brewed beer.
“People can come, have a pint or two, have a growler instead of a six-pack, and go off,” Millar said. “Leave the 11 to 2 in the morning stuff over there at Gaslight and Old City and just have this for the day. You want to get out of work, come over, grab a pint, take a little tour, that’s what this will be.”
The brewery will open at a time when the craft beer industry is booming, with the number of breweries around the country rising to levels not seen since the pre-Prohibition era. In 1979, there were 89 total breweries in the United States, compared to the 2,538 measured in June of 2013 by the Brewer’s Association.
To help out New York’s booming brewing industry, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill that gave tax breaks to New York brewers and farmers, as well as created a new kind of license that will allow craft brewers to operate similar to wineries.
“They looked at ‘OK, how can we help farmers, how can we help the new craft brewing industry,’ because they are creeping in on the big guys a lot,” Millar said.
Millar has applied for the farm-brewing license, which will allow him to sell growlers of Cellar Door’s beer at farmers’ markets and inside the brewery. The license requires breweries to buy a portion of materials used for brewing, such as hops, barley and wheat, from farmers in New York state. Millar has friends in Rochester who own farmland and have begun growing hops and barley. Millar also has plans to grow hops along the side of the building.
Along with the materials, the Cellar Door’s brew master will also come from Rochester. Millar said they have already planned recipes for a stout and a copper ale, and praises the soon-to-be brew master’s ability to take existing brewing recipes and deconstruct them to create new tastes.
“He’s the Walter White of beer, that’s what I call him” Millar said, adding that the copper ale has always been popular when brought to events.
While the brewery will not serve food, Millar plans to structure the basement in a style similar to popular brew-pub chain Gordon Biersch and Syracuse’s Empire Brewing Company. The brewery will include a glass enclosure that will allow customers to see the brewing process and Millar has plan for a floor that will be tiled with thousands of pennies.
Millar said his primary focus is currently finishing off the rest of the building, so he is bringing the brewery along at a slower pace as he waits for his license, which was delayed by the government shutdown.
The plan is for the brewing equipment to be in place by January, when brewing will also begin. As the brewery waits on the license, Millar plans to host charity events that will allow people in Oswego to come and taste the beer before the brewery fully opens to the public.
“It’s a good way for us to start opening it to the public but not be open, tweak it, see if they like the copper ale or the stout,” Millar said. “Get feedback from everybody. In the meantime the money can go to some people who need it.”
As for the actual opening, Millar is eyeing April 1.