Breakout Brewer: Suarez Family Brewery

People make pilgrimages to the Suarez Family Brewery. There are no pints, only pours, and most of what’s on offer is below 6 percent ABV. Here it’s about taking it slow, appreciating nuance, and working with both tradition and the surrounding area.

John Holl Dec 12 - 9 min read

Breakout Brewer: Suarez Family Brewery Primary Image

Photo by Jeff Quinn

The brewhouse space itself isn’t very large. It’s tucked into what was once a garage at a tractor dealership, but the beer lovers and style seekers who walk through the space are drawn to stacks of barrels holding mixed-fermentation ales and to the stainless holding lagers. There’s even a fermentor, encased in black-painted spray foam, that was part of the original Alchemist Pub & Brewery in Vermont, now used for fruited-sour production.

All Dan Suarez wants to talk about, however, is his garage-door opener. “It’s the quietest in the business,” he says, pushing a button as the door silently rolls upward into a rear storage area where packaged bottles are conditioning and some elderflower destined for a future batch is drying on a windowsill. He didn’t request a quiet door; it was just installed that way, and now that seemingly odd feature has made its way onto the regular tour.

Functional, yes, but it’s also a metaphor for the beers he’s making at the Suarez Family Brewery in New York’s Hudson Valley. Beer today is noisy; it’s in your face, from the combination of flavors to the vibrant artistic packaging on cans to hangover-inducing high ABVs. It might take a few minutes during your first visit—especially if you are accustomed to standing in line or trading online or caught up in the frenetic pace of Instagram and Untappd—but soon enough you’ll take a deep breath, exhale, and get in sync with the laid-back nature of the brewery.

Suarez has been brewing professionally for the better part of a decade and homebrewing for even longer. He started off at Sixpoint Brewery in Brooklyn, New York, back when the brewery was doing a lot of contract production in Pennsylvania. He, however, spent time at a pilot system in the city. It was all experimental, he says, for the time—all Brettanomyces-fermented beers, Gose, and things that might seem quaint these days but were cutting edge not too long ago.

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“But I feel like where my mind, my head, is lately has been to try to brush up on technique and process,” he says, sitting in the brewery’s taproom, which is clean and stark, yet somehow familiar and comfortable, just like the beers he produces. “If you asked me 10 years ago, I would have said, ‘I’m an artist, and creative, and trying to make something no one ever has before.’ Now, I want to make the simplest beer possible, and it’s about technique and process.”

It’s like being a furniture maker, Suarez says. He makes something and then tweaks it, improves it, maybe makes slight variations, but you still know what the intent is. “With these subtle beers, I’m able to really taste a profound difference, sometimes, and I think that’s the height of the brewing endeavor—the small tweaks and chipping away at it. Trying to make a quality beer just by making these small tweaks.” It’s midmorning on a day the brewery is closed to the public. He’s drinking a latte from a ceramic mug with a broken handle. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers are on the stereo in the brewhouse, but it’s not being blared; it’s drowned out by pumps and other brewery-machinery noise that comes through an open door in the back. The volume is usually cranked high at breweries, giving the opposite effect, but it’s another small way the beer takes a humble turn in the spotlight.

Suarez has been thinking about building a lot lately. He’ll soon be opening a back bar—he needs to find some time to finish it off with a hammer and nails—on the brewery property, behind a large shed, near a grove of fruit trees that he and his wife and co-owner Taylor Cocalis Suarez planted shortly after taking over this space. The back bar is going to serve only helles, lemonade, and a shandy mixed from the two.

It’s part of a philosophy that comes with having experiences around beer, not necessarily with beer. Suarez has seen first-hand—from the 3 years he spent working at Hill Farmstead Brewery (Greensboro Bend, Vermont)—the near rabid devotion some people have with limited releases or just everyday recipes.

“I never want to blow anyone’s mind with one of my beers,” he says. “You can’t expect fireworks or rays from the heavens from every beer you drink. It’s cool to drink a beer like that, but I don’t desire to drink a beer like that every day. I like an easy beer, like comfort food. It’s not quite as loud, and you’re not dazed after drinking. It’s a normal part of everyday life.”

He’s never had a line for his beers, Suarez says. If you show up wanting a case of Palatine Pils, their unfiltered classic German Pilsner, you’re likely to go home with it. Same for the mixed-fermentation beers he bottles. That suits him just fine because he’s not striving to be the next “it” brewery or to live with the pressure that comes with constantly having to try to impress a certain kind of beer drinker.

Still, there are beers that he gets excited about, and he grins like a kid on Christmas morning when he talks about them. Being in a more rural and farm-focused part of the Empire State has led him to create some fruited beers that stand out. There’s a cherry farm up the road that he’s particularly fond of. He’s gone the kriek route with them, of course, but also added them to a grisette recipe.

Earlier this summer, as the harvest was kicking into high gear, he was already thinking about what to make next. But rather than thinking about the cherries in the way many of us do—appropriately red, plump, and shiny—he had recently come across something else. A dry, hot start to the season followed by a few hard downpours had split a lot of the fruit on the trees, making it unsuitable for the tourism-popular you-pick outings. So a lot of the fruit was going to go fallow. Walking the orchards, Suarez noticed that the damaged cherries had become “raisin-like” with a concentrated cherry-juice flavor that was almost honey-, fruit leather–, and syrup-like. He considered gathering a crew to go get as many as possible because the beer potential was just too good to miss.

“You can’t buy that. You can only stumble upon the opportunity by being in the field and talking to the farmer,” he says.

If it comes to fruition, like all his beers, it will tell a story: one of place, or time, or a simple thought, or just something that adds to a good evening.

“We want to make a change in our beer culture to make it more sensible and less chaotic,” he says. Before he opened the brewery, he’d say, “It’s just beer,” but because he now lives and breathes it and it’s his livelihood and future, he can’t be as flip, but still he wants to convey to every customer who comes in for a glass or who takes some home that all he tries to do is to make “something tasty that you put on your tongue. With all of our beers I want it to have that ‘ahhh’ after a swallow, and then hopefully you go back to chilling with your friend or back to a meal. That’s my perfect scenario. I want to bring the beer drinker back down to earth.”

John Holl is the author of Drink Beer, Think Beer: Getting to the Bottom of Every Pint, and has worked for both Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine® and All About Beer Magazine.

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