We all know by now that gritty, formerly industrial Midtown Kingston is in the midst of a profound transition to an arts destination. It’s already got a fine old concert hall, a variety of galleries, subsidized artist housing and the sorts of little Bohemian eateries that cater to centers of creative ferment. What it hasn’t had, up until now, was a biergarten with a view directly across to the marquee of the Ulster Performing Arts Center. But it’s coming – in late June, if all goes well.
It may look like a construction site right now, but the building at 602 Broadway with its entrance on Field Court will soon become a local craft beer taproom: the Kingston satellite of West Kill Brewing. The brewery was built in 2017 by Mike Barcone and Colleen Kortendick on a dairy farm in Spruceton Valley that Barcone’s aunt acquired in 1929, and its tasting room is an old post-and-beam cabin that had belonged to his uncle.
If the surname is familiar, it’s likely because Mike is a scion of the family that ran Barcone’s Music on Broadway in Kingston for many decades. “My father died in 2013. My mother, brother and sister kept it going for several years, but my brother and sister wanted to go on to other things, so my mother decided to retire. The business was liquidated about two months ago,” Barcone reports. “I grew up here in Kingston, went to St. Joseph’s School…When I was 12 the family moved to West Kill. My father commuted into Kingston six days a week.”
Barcone went on to get his teaching degree at Suffolk University and taught high school history for several years in Boston, where he met his wife, a Wisconsin native descended from brewers. Homebrewing became a hobby for the couple, and on weekend trips to New Hampshire and Maine, Barcone and Kortendick would fantasize about founding their own little beer empire. He took some courses in the brewing sciences at the Siebel Institute of Technology in Chicago, and in 2013 they made their move back to the Catskills to begin the process of creating the new business.
Fast-forward nine years, and West Kill Brewing is thriving. The ten-barrel brewhouse can start two batches a day – “310, 320 gallons in one shot,” according to Barcone – and then let them ripen in eight different fermenters for anywhere from ten days to six weeks. Head brewer Patrick Allen comes up with the recipes, themed to reflect the heritage of its home in the high Catskills. His brews use locally sourced flavorings wherever possible, including maple syrup produced by Sugar Moon, the maple farm that’s right on-site.
West Kill’s beer selection is always changing; currently listed on tap are “our flagship beer” Kaaterskill Hazy IPA, Brookie Light Lager, Tanbark Schwarzbier, Earn Your Keep Pale Ale, Saphouse Rustic Maple Brown Ale, Bury the Hatchet Hazy Pale Ale, Firetower Red IPA, Blaze Flanders Red Barrel-Aged Sour Ale and Black Dome Imperial Stout with raspberries. Barcone’s personal favorite is Doodlebug American Pilsner, he says. Much of the beer is canned, self-distributed to the Hudson Valley from Albany to Putnam County and via distributors to New York City venues.
Since most of the seating at West Kill is outdoors, grouped around firepits and propane and wood-pellet heaters, COVID-19 didn’t hurt business at all, Barcone reports. With three prime trailheads at the end of their road and proximity to Phoenicia, it’s a popular stop for outdoorsy weekenders, vacationers, second homeowners and locals alike. “We get a huge mix: skiers and winter hikers; in summer we’re mobbed. We can get 300 to 500 people a day.”
The success of the business led Barcone and Kortendick to contemplate expansion back into Mike’s hometown. “We were originally looking for a larger facility in Kingston, maybe do some fermentation here,” he recalls. “But then we decided to use the farm, where we have the space, and still have a retail facility.”
The 1,100-square-foot concrete-block building they settled on, a former seamstress shop built in 1900, was “a blank vanilla box when we moved in,” says Barcone. But it had the irresistible enticement of a 3,000-square-foot grassy courtyard along its eastern side, with a view right across to UPAC’s front entrance: “That’s the thing that sealed the deal for us.” There’s also some family history associated with Field Court: A livestock auction house once stood at the end of the side street, and Barcone’s maternal grandfather, who grew up in Marbletown, “would walk here from 213 in Stone Ridge, bid on horses and ride one of the horses home.” His great-aunts worked in the lace mills in Midtown, and later in the ammunition factories during World War II.
Barcone and his carpenter are currently hard at work making the inside of the industrial building at 602 Broadway warmer and more appealing. “We want to create a Catskills farmhouse/fish-and-game-club vibe in a Kingston setting,” Barcone explains. When Hudson Valley One paid a visit in early April, the ceiling had already been covered with repurposed barnwood, wainscoting was being installed along the walls and a 20-foot-long bar was being framed out. It will eventually seat 12 and feature as many draft lines: two for local ciders and ten for West Kill beers.
Built-in bench seating along the opposite wall will accommodate four or five tables, with “scattered tables and chairs” occupying the middle of the space. Tongue-and-groove wood flooring will be laid down, and the wainscoting trimmed with a chair rail, with old-fashioned wallpaper above. Lighting will be supplied by vintage-style sconces and pendant fixtures.
Two handicapped-accessible restrooms are already installed, and there will be coolers featuring an “extensive” selection of bottled and canned beers and ciders as well. “We have a huge basement with plenty of room for walk-in beer storage.” Outside, besides space for outdoor tables and seating, there will be a parking pad for food trucks. A big overhead door on the Field Court side can be raised to bring the outdoors in on nice days.
“I have a personal attachment to Kingston,” says Barcone of West Kill’s upcoming venue. “For one thing, it’s the gateway to the Catskills. But it’s also a very cool town with a lot of character.”