By Daniel Ladue • Photos by Jessica McCafferty
What do you do when you’ve had a life-long love of beer, lived in Germany and
home-crafted beer as a hobby in your basement? You open a brewery,
which is exactly what Paul Mrocka did in 2013.
After being stationed in Germany in the Army in the 1980s, Mrocka’s palate was even more finely tuned by the multitude of German beers available to him. Several decades after he returned to the U.S., he and his wife, Joan, bought a vacation home on a lake in the Adirondacks and brewed beer from their home. Word got around that his beer was pretty good… so good in fact that he was brewing 200 gallons a year just to keep up with the demand.
By 2013 Mrocka was ready to go further. It just made sense. The man knows a thing or two about beer. He and Joan leased an old 1,400 square foot gas station/bake shop/general store. Nothing was automated. That year, the brewery bottled 430 barrels of beer. At 31 gallons to the barrel, that equated to just about 35,000 12 oz. cans of Pure Adirondack beer. Six packs and kegs flew off the shelves, and Paul knew he could do better.
Within a year he hired two talented, enthusiastic young people who are involved in every aspect of the process. Both Devon Hamilton and Katie Etherton handle just about everything, although Devon is more management whereas Katie handles sales. Mrocka sees himself as the figurehead. “The Triumvirate,” one of them told me. Joan, Paul’s wife, is the voice of reason when the Triumvirate gets too excited and ambitious. All of them clearly love their jobs, and the team works well together. Despite its size, the brewery is still considered a small business. “We do what needs to be done,” said Devon. “All three of us have our hands in everything.”
By 2019, production had jumped to 5,000 barrels. Projected numbers for this year run close to 6,000 barrels. Even at 5,000 barrels, basic math suggests that’s more than 1,600,000 12 oz. cans of beer. Try counting that one backwards around a campfire! That’s a whole lot of cans, bottles and kegs to stock box stores, supermarket chains, and gas stations that feature internal set ups like Maplefields.
Brewing is the Art of Science
But even before production numbers are projected and bantered about, there’s first the product itself. Beer.
We all know beer, but just what is beer and how is it made? It’s such a common staple that basic questions like these often go unasked.
Beer follows a basic recipe. Water, hops, malted barley, and yeast are the four main ingredients. Much like chili in the hands of a fine cook, the basic ingredients can be tweaked into infinitive varieties.
First there’s the water. Paradox Brewery is very proud of the water it uses. Lying six hundred feet below the surface of the land the brewery sits on, the water drawn out is pristine Adirondack liquid. Filtered through 50 feet of soil and rock, the water that is sourced to make the beer is some of the finest in the United States. That is, as Katie said, “Massive.” Other breweries, less fortunate than Paradox, manipulate their water to replicate what comes naturally for Paul and his team. Considering that 90% of a can of beer is water, this is a mighty good way to start the process.
Hops are found around the world. Each source—Austria, Canada, the Czech Republic— adds its own unique flavor. Hops from New Zealand, especially from the North Island, add a tropical, fruity component to the recipe. Locally sourced hops are earthy and hearken back to an older age.
Add malted barley, some yeast…and…bam…beer is the end product.
Just like cooking up a mean batch of chili, alternating the ingredients makes all the difference. What variety of hop is used, and when it is added to the mix can alter the taste. At what level was the barley toasted? What strain of yeast was used and when was it added? How many yeast cells per million are in the recipe? What was the pitching rate? At what temperature is the final mix fermented? Should fruit puree be added to give the beer its own unique taste? These are some of the variables that give the twenty or more beers at Paradox Brewery their unique flavor. “It’s the art of science,” Devon told me. A great deal of math and chemistry are added to the mix to produce a craft beer.
While the essential ingredients for beer are relatively easy to obtain, it is up to the brewer to change and mix them to make entirely different products. The results, Katie said, have an infinite number of possibilities.
And each year this is what they do. The brewery has a core group of six beers that fans can expect to find on the shelves at any time of the year. New brews are designed annually. Some are seasonal. “Leaf Peeper” had just been re-released the day I was there, and will be a staple through the autumn months.
We Are All Different, That’s OK
On the summer’s day I visited in mid-August the parking lot was full. The upper space of the brewery is a restaurant/bar with a wrap-around outdoor deck. Low peaks of the Adirondacks frame the view. The restaurant is large and was almost full. The non-beer drinker may not know that craft breweries are a destination unto themselves, and that proved the case this drizzly day. License plates represented eight states and two provinces filled the parking lot.
Craft-beer aficionados tend to have a bit more money in their pockets than others. What they’re looking for is innovation, freshness and something different from what the run-of-the-mill big-boy breweries have to offer. These fans are willing to support small, local start-ups, especially if they give back to the community.
Paradox Brewery hires more than 40 people during the summer and into the leaf-peeping season. From October onwards, the brewery attracts local residents for the restaurant and its ambiance. There’s an open-mic each Friday, and on some off-season weekend evenings it’s a forty minute wait for a table. In a desolate area, the brewery is a good employer.
Paradox Brewery is dog-friendly. Either Olive or Sam wandered in and out of the office. When not with Joan or one of the Triumvirate, they were mingling with guests. Underneath Paul’s desk was a rainbow-colored Pride flag. The flag was the perfect segue to ask why a Pride flag.
One of the hallmarks of Paradox Brewery is its willing to take a stand. In doing so, it supports a wide variety of causes. As a veteran owned business, Paul and Joan have crafted beer whose profits have funded the Desert Shield Memorial and Homes for Heroes. The PGA asked the brewery to craft a beer to help support adaptive golf for handicapped players. Each June, Paradox brings back a seasonal specialty beer that supports not just the LGBTQ community, but just about everyone. “We Are All Different, That’s OK” has had a bit of its own controversy but has been generally well received.
The sprawling brewery that now sits off Route 9 in North Hudson wasn’t completed until 2019. When the Mrockas opened the first brewery in the old 1,400 square foot structure, there were only 200 breweries in New York State and 2,800 nationally. The numbers have tripled since then. With all the competition, it’s essential to stay ahead of the game.
The team has hired local marketing firms to update their logo and have spent an enormous amount of time gathering data to identify and target a specific demographic. Initially, they were content with a local market that knew and understood the Adirondacks, but Paul, Devon and Katie are branching out.
The brewery is currently in the process of rebranding itself, isolating specific target audiences, and remarketing its product. It’s not the brewery in the shed anymore. The facility is state of the art, and one of the most technologically advanced in New York State. It can easily operate at twice the capacity it now handles. Gone is the ADK trail marker symbol that spoke to a local population, but is not understood outside the High Peaks. The sleek, new logo still uses “Pure Adirondack,” but the mountains are ambiguous and could be anywhere. Customers targeted are far further afield than the High Peaks.
The goal within the next ten years is to go regional. With its enthusiastic leadership, creative crafting and innovative marketing, expect to see cans of “Quarks Quasars,” “Beaver Overbite” and “Get Off My Lawn” on shelves from the Canadian border to the Virginia shores within the next ten years.
Paradox Brewery is well poised for the future.
2781 Route 9
North Hudson, NY 12855