Counter Cultural Beer Culture: Suarez Family Brewery
Dan Suarez is tired. So tired, in fact, that he doesn’t look older than his 32 years; he looks younger. He’s wearing a hoodie, his hair is sticking up and, when he rubs his eyes, he looks like a little kid. Suarez and his wife, Taylor Cocalis, are juggling their toddler Enzo after a day spent bottling beer by hand at Suarez Family Brewery in Livingston. A lot of people might question why Suarez is not sitting in a Brooklyn brewery office, overlooking an automated bottling line.
Suarez’s resume predicts that outcome. He worked at Brooklyn’s Sixpoint Brewery before moving to Vermont to open Hill Farmstead Brewery under Sean Hill. In beer terms, Suarez’s experience has the weight of a Harvard MBA: This is a brewer who could go big. But, like many young entrepreneurs in the Hudson Valley, Suarez has no dreams of world domination. You won’t catch this guy sucking up to the venture capitalists on “Shark Tank.”
Currently, Suarez Family Brewery self-distributes its beers, which means that one of the brewery’s five employees—and that number includes Suarez and Cocalis—makes the weekly two-and-a-half-hour haul into Brooklyn to beer temples like Tørst. The remaining 50% of Suarez’s beer can be found in the brewery’s tasting room and at some of the best restaurants and bars in the Hudson Valley. If Suarez signed with a distributor, his beer could be on exponentially more taps.
There are other anti-commercial choices that Suarez and Cocalis are making. In a world of increasingly extreme beers—hoppy, sour or infused with doughnuts à la Evil Twin Brewing—Suarez is doubling down on the subtler pleasures of Pils. Suarez ferments with natural yeasts, ages in oak barrels, and conditions his beers in the bottle. This creates cash flow challenges because, once brewed, these beers can take six months to mature. Then there is the Suarez marketing strategy: There is none—Suarez employs no salesmen. Instead, the couple distributes their beers among industry friends, albeit very elite ones.
While he is careful not to diss any particular brewery, Suarez has been around long enough to fear the sacrifices that come with growth. “When you’re growing by 200%–300% per year, it’s the classic pitfall. I feel like that has happened to more breweries than it hasn’t. You go to drink their beer and you’re like, it tastes totally different—what’s going on? I want to think of this brewery from a more quality-driven standpoint.”
Suarez and Cocalis are content with a modest enterprise that satisfies the couple’s desire to live in a rural environment and evolve in their craft. “We’re very aware that we don’t want to become a megabrewery,” Suarez says. “We probably could grow, but we want to be mindful. I started a brewery because I wanted to brew—and if we grew at a certain rate and to a certain size, I would write myself out of the story. I would become a manager.”