By his junior year at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Business and History major Randy Marquis knew that pursuing a postgrad Law degree was not the attractive proposition that he’d thought it would be. As a kid, he watched and even helped his father to produce home-brewed beer. It was fun, and he soon became enamored with the brewing process. They casually talked about combining efforts “someday” to take their experiments even farther, and when Marquis decided to attend the Master Brewer’s Program at the UC Davis Extension in California’s Sacramento Valley, their dreams edged closer to reality.
The program entailed comprehensive studies, from the microbial interactions between barley and hops at the biochemical level to modern technological advances in the mechanics of brewing on an industrial scale. Marquis says, “At Davis, I was taught by two pre-eminent microbiologists, Charles Bamforth and Michael Lewis. Both are beer legends, known for their work in the process and quality-control aspects of the brewing industry. I had read Charlie’s books before I went out there, not knowing that he was part of the program. We were lucky enough to go on a field trip to Sierra Nevada [a world-famous brewery in Chico, California]. Their brewery is incredible: the new technology coupled with the old part of the brewery with open fermenters – they showed us stuff most people don’t get to see. They still have pictures of the converted dairy equipment they started off with. Our tour guide was one of the original brewers.”
Witnessing the large-scale success of Sierra Nevada only fueled Marquis’ passion. He came home to work for a couple of different breweries, did a season at the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire and was head brewer for three years at Eastern Shore Brewing in St. Michaels, Maryland. “After getting a good deal of experience and lots of hands-on training, I was looking for a long-term job, maybe even to settle down and have a family.” At the same time, his father Kevin Marquis, a physical therapist in the changing health industry, was ready for a second career. Randy put it to him, “Pop, are you ready to go? Because I am.”
In April of last year, Marquis wrote a business plan and began the search for a suitable location. After hitting potential sites in three states, from the Capital region to Pennsylvania to Maryland, the partners came back to Poughkeepsie, where they found an old structure “built like a fortress.” Marquis consulted a structural engineer to determine the possibility of selective demolition – “We knew we’d have to cut out the floor to put these tanks in the basement” – and came up with a set of Google 3-D drawings that outlined the restoration of the building.
It was, he says, a shambles. “It wasn’t until we got deep into the project that we discovered how great this building really is. The layout is exactly as the 3-D drawing I submitted with the business plan. All the pieces fell into place: the concept of the open kitchen and walking from the front door through both work areas to the customer space. All customers get to see: This is where the beer is made; there’s nothing hidden. Same thing with the kitchen: You can see what’s going on, who’s making your food.” Upstairs is a dining deck that overlooks the bar. Future plans include turning the rest of the second floor into a function space where they can have live music.
Opened for only a month, Blue Collar is shooting for a maximum brewing capacity of 1,400 barrels a year. The partners “oversized” their system because they plan to buy kegs to sell out onto the open market, and so needed the greater capacity. For now the brewpub rotates all five tap handles with a portfolio of beers “to find out what the local people like.” They’ll fill takeout growlers for $22 and will refill bottles for $16.
Marquis talks about the process of getting a license to operate in New York, where a new law allows wineries and breweries to sell glasses of wine and beer without also serving food. “The reason we have food is because we wanted to serve pints. Originally we thought we’d just pull a food truck in here, right into the loading dock. As the project got bigger, we decided we’d need a full kitchen.” He says that New York State views the craft brewing industry as an expanding manufacturing sector endeavor. “I think that the climate for craft brewing in New York will continue to improve,” Marquis says.
A growing industry also requires an increased growth in farming to supply hops and barley to brewers. Marquis says that by 2022, 90 percent of these ingredients need to be sourced from within the state. “That’s a lot. All the hops grown in Dutchess County could not supply us for a year, so there are a lot of expansion possibilities for farmers. Most small brewers are set up to use pelletized hops. We’d like to start a cask-conditioned program here to produce real ale: Get some local hops and throw them in a cask. Real ale is naturally carbonated, and it gets served off a hand pump. The real ale movement is huge in England; it’s becoming bigger in US festivals where only real ale is sold.”
The chosen name, Blue Collar Brewery, reflects the historical importance of manufacturing in the region and pays homage to the once-thriving industries that employed the citizens of Poughkeepsie. The 19th-century building on Cottage Street has housed a meatpacking operation, a paper and box storage concern and a garment factory. Now that it has been transformed back into a place that employs people, a place where a product is made, Randy and Kevin Marquis are pleased. “I’ve learned a lot. Locally, there’s a lot of support for this project; people walked in off the street to see what we were doing when it was still a construction zone. Any time someone takes a chance on a building like this, in as poor shape as it was – not only us, but our landlord – it takes some foresight.”
They already have 18 full and part-time workers on the job. “It’s a place that has a lot of our own personality in it… It’s free of pretension,” Marquis says. “We love beer, sports, food…and really, we love to work, too.”
Blue Collar Brewery, Monday-Thursday, 3-11 p.m., Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-1 a.m., Sunday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m., 40 Cottage Street, Poughkeepsie; (845) 454-2739, www.thebluecollarbrewery.com.utton