The storied Gilded Otter, for 22 years a popular spot for enjoying local brews and meals, will become part of Middletown-based Clemson Bros. Brewery in a deal announced February 18.
Located at 3 Main Street and overlooking the Wallkill River, the Gilded Otter is an 8,700-square-foot restaurant and brewery which was opened in 1998, as the craft brewing movement was first gaining steam in the U.S. It was started by four friends who grew up in Monticello, and named for the ship that brought the first Huguenot refugees to the area. They navigated the ebb and flow of craft brewing through the recent resurgence in interest. While patrons enjoy a rotating selection of beverages brewed on site, 80% of sales comes from the food.
Clemson Bros. was started in Pine Island by Kenan Porter in 2012, and since was expanded into Middletown. It’s Porter’s hope that he can build on the goodwill and loyal patronage afforded the Gilded Otter by making “small, subtle changes” which he believes will “benefit the current staff, customers and Town of New Paltz.” The Warwick native says New Paltz reminds him of his hometown, where he is also planning on erecting a brewery this year.
Porter took an interest in the brew pub last Christmas when he “started scouting the potential acquisition.” The chemistry must have been right because a deal was struck with the current owners which is all but complete, but for the all-important transfer of various licenses. The contract is signed and the funding arrangements complete. Managing partner Rick Rauch will be staying on for a time to ensure a smooth transition, but Porter is effectively in control. Nevertheless, Rauch made this deal possible, Porter explained: “His passion behind his business and his story is really what sold me. I just hope that I can continue the story that he started.”
Part of Rauch’s story is that his daughter Dylan essentially grew up at the Gilded Otter, from her first job at 12 to eventually learning to manage the entire operation. Porter has two preschool daughters of his own and hopes they have can a similarly positive experience. “Everything that I do on a daily basis is for their future. I want to have the same story that Rick and his daughter Dylan have, with many memories, just like my father Kenneth was able to do for me. By expanding my business, it offers a feeling of great reward knowing that I can offer the future generation the same opportunities that were offered to me.”
Clemson Bros. Brewery “is a larger entity [than the Gilded Otter] with many facets to its model including real estate, rental [property], commercial, retail and development,” said Porter, in response to a question about how much larger the company becomes with the purchase of the property at the corner of Huguenot Street. Despite being absorbed into a company with “brewery” in its name, beer will continue to be created on the Gilded Otter property.
The riverside location holds some personal significance for the new owner, as well. “I fished with my great-grandfather on the Wallkill River in Pine Island,” he recalls. “This is where he taught me how to fish, and I love fishing. I’ve been joking a lot about it, that if I dropped a letter in a bottle in Pine Island and let it float north up the Wallkill, one of the few rivers that flows in this direction, eventually it would reach the Gilded Otter, which attaches to the Wallkill. That’s pretty cool, and I feel it was a sign.”
Asked about whether the name would be retained, Porter said, “Our goal is to change minimal things . .. but rather improve upon what has already been created.”
Porter would not disclose the purchase price, but said he will be making a total investment of $3 million into the restaurant, taking into account the purchase and other investments.