Truly local (and sustainable) craft beer from Empire Brewing Company

The brewery in New York state uses local energy, grows its own ingredients, composts and more.

All photos: Empire Brewing Company

You’d think brewing great beer that people love would be enough for any brewer. But not for David Katleski, founder of Syracuse, New York-based Empire Brewing Company. Katleski wants his beer to do more – from reducing his brewery’s environmental impact and supporting local businesses, to creating jobs and problem-solving the way to better beer. And he’s managing to do all of that, along with consistently answering to consumers who demand tasty beer (and who may not care about anything else).

Starting where most people would end – with a successful and beloved brewpub in a popular downtown area, Katleski has not only moved to expand his company over the 20 years it has been in business, but has lowered its impact via a number of innovative programs, from composting everything that comes out of his restaurant’s kitchens to sourcing food from over 60 local farmers (using a program the company set up for this purpose).

Empire recycles their waste materials, including water and grains, and they even buy their energy from New York state sources – something Katlestki spearheaded himself. “I live right near Fenner Wind Farm outside Cazenovia and one day I’m looking at Fenner and wondering why I can’t buy my energy from them. And I know that Niagara Falls generates electricity – I couldn’t understand why I was buying renewable energy from the Midwest,” says Katleski, who helped kick off the idea of an energy option from BlueRock Energy that uses all New York state-produced energy. It’s how he powers Empire and is now an option for others as well.


The energy story above is key to Katleski’s mode of thinking and one he has repeated successfully several times; identifying a problem or a potentially better way and then working with stakeholders and the local and state government to change. In fact, it helped him make his next step not only beneficial to his business, but to those he partners with as well.


Katleski is now set to break ground on New York state’s first farmstead brewery, which takes all his previous endeavors to the nth degree – while expanding his company significantly. “It’s going to be 22 acres, which includes gardens, edible forests, and the herbs we use in the beer, including acres of lavender, which we use in our White Aphro beer. We want to grow our own hops and some malts,” says Katleski. The new space will offer brew tours and food for visitors on weekends while bringing Empire to the next level – being able to make enough beer so that they can sell six-packs throughout the region; right now they only make kegs of beer at facilities in central New York and Brooklyn.
While the original idea was to set up the brewery in a downtown location using one of the many disused industrial buildings that are remnants of upstate New York’s manufacturing past, Katleski was persuaded instead to build it out in the country, not too far from where the company was already growing ingredients. He looked into the state’s past success with wineries to put the idea together.

“I saw that back in 1976 New York state passed a bill to allow for farm wineries; there were only 30 then, and now there are almost 400. With farm wineries followed agritourism. People now tour wineries in Long Island, Niagara Falls, the Finger Lakes, and it’s turned into a strong economic engine for the state. I thought, why can’t breweries have that same kind of designations? And with the popularity of craft beer, we could create farm brewed beer.” With the precedent set, he helped get a similar program going for beer.

Katleski worked with the New York state government and got legislation passed for destination farm brewing about eight months ago. He’s even trying to get farmers to grow barley in-state again (they haven’t grown the kind that makes beer for about 50 years). “I hope to get malted barley back as a staple, and grow hops production and processing. We’ve seen hops take off in the last five to eight years; but barley production in its infancy. We’re working with Cornell University to do research, to successfully make the transition,” he says. 


How did Katleski get motivated to start thinking about the impacts – both economic and environmental – of his chosen career? It started, like it does for so many people’s sustainability journeys, with food: “Someone along the line asked me about the carbon footprint of the food we served. So, about seven years ago, we did an analysis for every single item on our menu, and we checked how far it traveled. We determined the average piece of food we served in our restaurant traveled 3,000 miles. That freaked me out,” says Katleski.

Despite all the innovative and forward-thinking ideas that seem to have spring from Katleski, he says many of them come from his 70 employees – it helps that sustainability is automatically on the agenda at the company’s twice-monthly meetings. And towards that end – knowing that engaged employees make a better company – Empire is set to become an ESOP (employee stock ownership plan) company in the near future. 

Brewing beer has a long and storied history, but the good news is that while brewers can be competitive, they are more likely to share what they know and work together; already other New York breweries (most smaller than Empire) are looking to do some kind of farmstead brewing.

Brewing beer is as much an art as it is a science, and successful brewers know how to balance the two – Empire Brewing Company is doing so much more.


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Understanding the Small Business Credit Crunch

By Stacey Mitchell
April 16, 2014

Even as their big competitors are awash in capital, many locally owned businesses are struggling to secure the financing they need to grow. A new ILSR analysis has found that, since 2000, bank lending to large businesses is up 36 percent, while small business loan volume has fallen 14 percent and “micro” business loans — those under $100,000 — have plummeted 33 percent.

(The largest corporations do not even need to rely on bank loans, of course, but can finance their growth through the soaring stock and corporate bond markets.)

The problem is not a lack of demand. In our 2014 Independent Business Survey, 42 percent of business owners that needed a loan in the previous two years reported being unable to obtain one. Startups, businesses with fewer than 20 employees, and enterprises owned by minorities and women are having an especially difficult time. Even with the same business characteristics and credit profiles, small businesses owned by African-Americans and Latinos are less likely to be approved for loans, according to one recent study.

One consequence of this credit shortage is that many small businesses are either not adequately capitalized or have been forced to rely on high-cost alternatives, such as credit cards. Both scenarios make them more vulnerable to failing.

The broader consequences for our economy are significant. Studies show locally owned businesses are a primary source of net new job creation, contribute to higher median household incomes, and increase social capital. Yet independent businesses in many sectors are losing market share, while the number of new startups has steadily fallen over the last two decades. Insufficient capital is a key culprit driving these trends.

To shed light on this problem and help inform policy discussions, ILSR has published an overview of the small business lending landscape. Among the key takeaways:

  1. Local community banks provide a disproportionate share of small business loans. Indeed, it is their decline, in both numbers and market share, that is largely to blame for the constriction in small business lending. As local banks lose ground to big banks, there are fewer financial institutions focusing on small business lending and fewer resources devoted to it. The top 4 banks now control 43 percent of all banking assets, but account for only 16 percent of small business loans.
  2. Credit unions account for less than 7 percent of small business loans, but have significantly expanded their lending in the last decade, growing from $14 billion in business loans to over $44 billion today. Only about one-third of credit unions currently participate in this market, however.
  3. Federal loan guarantees, provided through the U.S. Graph: Change in Large vs. Small Business Loans, 2000-2012Small Business Administration, have historically played an important role in expanding credit to small businesses that don’t quite meet conventional lending requirements. In an alarming trend, however, the SBA has dramatically reduced its support for smaller businesses and shifted more of its loan guarantees to larger businesses (which still count as “small” under the agency’s expansive definitions). Since the mid 2000s, the number of business loans under $150,000 guaranteed by the SBA each year has fallen from about 80,000 to 24,000. Meanwhile, the SBA’s average loan size has more than doubled to $362,000.
  4. Crowdfunding has garnered a lot of attention recently as a potential solution to the small business credit crunch, but crowdfunding remains a tiny drop in the bucket, compared to the resources of the banking system. At the beginning of 2014, banks and credit unions had about $630 billion in small business loans on their books. The total volume of business financing provided through crowdfunding amounts to less than one-fifth of 1 percent of this. Although crowdfunding will undoubtedly grow and could emerge as a valuable source of capital for local enterprises, it does not obviate the need to fix the structural problems in our banking system that are impeding the development of community-scaled enterprises.

Originally Published by Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR)

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Buy Local Bash Coming to Landmark Theatre in November

Buy Local Bash Coming to Landmark Theatre in November


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The awesome annual “buy local” event by SyracuseFirst known as the Buy Local Bash is coming up on Monday, November 24th. This year the combination social event/networking event/evening of local food tasting moves to the Landmark Theatre. The Buy Local Bash is a popular and always growing event that connects you directly with the folks producing great stuff right here in Syracuse. It’s not just some kind of trade show, but a grassroots celebration of independent Syracuse businesses and the main fundraising event for the pro-local organization SyracuseFirst. Every year the Buy Local Bash seems to outdo itself. With over 800 visitors and 70 vendors in 2013, you can be it’s gonna be a big hit this time around. Advance tickets are just $20. As usual, this is highly recommended so plan on attending.

While it’s a bit early to announce the vendor list, the Buy Local Bash always has just about everything locally owned you can imagine. Restaurants, coffee roasters like Recess and Cafe Kubal, organizations, restaurants, gyms, publications, beer and wine brewers, as well as farms and other food producers. The categories don’t stop there. Basically the BLB is a one-stop event that connects independent businesses with people in the Syracuse community. It’s the perfect opportunity to do some networking but more important, a chance to instantly discover over 70 great vendors of all kinds. I had a booth at last year’s MOST hosted Bash and it was awesome even though I had no time to wander around. If you’re part of the “buy local” movement or just interested in learning more, do yourself a favor and grab a ticket.

As I said, this is SyracuseFirst’s main annual fundraiser. SyracuseFirst is an organization that works to educate the public about the power of spending money at independent businesses instead of chains. It’s an economic development and community building organization that works somewhat like a business association. Syracuse Guru is a member and so are hundreds of other organizations and businesses. SyracuseFirst helps unify local businesses while communicating the importance of keeping money in Syracuse. They host numerous events and provide web and social media based promotion, along with pushing the 10% Shift and assembling the yearly Buy Local Bash. These items are just the beginning but perhaps the most widely publicized of SyracuseFirst’s efforts.

It’s easy to become a member–info here. If you want to be part of the Buy Local Bash I recommend joining SyracuseFirst.

This is just an early announcement. Syracuse Guru will provide much more info as we get closer to this important event. We’re also an official media sponsor of the Bash. Check back for top vendor picks, the big list, and an interview with Chris Fowler, Executive Director of SyracuseFirst.

Buy Local Bash 2014 at Landmark Theatre
Monday, November 24th: 5:30 p.m.
The Landmark Theatre
362 South Salina Street (Directions)
GET TICKETS – $20 advance, $25 at door

© 2014, Syracuse Guru. All rights reserved.

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#ShiftLocalSYR – Pledge Today & Vote With Your Dollars

Have you PLEDGED to SHIFT LOCAL yet?

Make it 10% today! 

TEXT:  shift to 24587


we still need to give away a $50 gift card


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SyracuseFirst “LOCAL Thirst” // June 24 // 5:30 – 7:30p

SyracuseFirst “LOCAL Thirst”
Tuesday, June 24, 2014 5:30 – 7:30 PM

Beak & Skiff Apple Orchard, 1911 Tasting Room
2708 Lords Hill Road
Lafayette, NY 13084

Join SyracuseFirst for our LOCAL Thirst networking series at the 1911 Tasting Room!

Entrepreneur Steve Brennan, Co-Owner and Director of Sales at Beak & Skiff, will share the story of 1911 Spirits as you enjoy their handcrafted, small batch spirits and artisanal hard ciders.

Business networking is a very cost-effective method of generating new business, with greater emphasis on personal commitment & interaction rather than company money. This event is a chance for SyracuseFirst members and friends to meet others, learn new ideas, inspire business growth, and have some FUN!

Building the economy, building the community…Get Thirsty!

This event is FREE and open to the public.


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Teaching Kids the Value of Going Local

The “support local” message is catching on more than ever America and as we continue to become better educated regarding the positive economic benefits of shifting our spending to locally-owned businesses, it’s apparent these habits need to be preserved and nurtured among our youth.

Luckily for parents, there’s a ready-made audience for teaching the support-local message. Yes, we’re talking about your children. Those crumb-snatching little rascals represent the future of our country, and passing on your sound habits is the easiest way to create a generation of concious shoppers.

However, trying to teach your child good habits can be like attempting a complicated gymnastics routine with no formal training. So instead of adding another thing to nag your child about, employing a “show instead of tell” method can help you get them make it habitual to support your community. For example:

1. Take them with you on local shopping outings

Actions speak louder than words, especially to children. When your finger-biting habit suddenly becomes your kid’s finger-biting habit, this becomes frighteningly obvious. And the same goes for your spending habits. Almost all kids know Target and Chuck-E-Cheese, but how many can name the locally-owned options in their area?

Just one look at your own shopping habits will give you an idea of the values you’re passing down to your children. Supporting local is a learned behavior, so make it a point to support local with the kids in tow, showing off the diversity and uniqueness of your local business community. This might mean altering your routine to include small businesses for regular items.

2. Visit the farmer’s market

Mary Poppins was right when she said that an element of fun can make any chore seem enticing. And so, instead of going on about the various reasons to always choose local first, why not take your kids to the veritable wonderland of local fare that is the farmer’s market. Because many are on weekend mornings, you can easily fit in at least one trip a month with the kids. At most markets you’ll find everything from locally grown produce to handmade hats, and a great outpouring of community support.

The farmer’s market also allows for a much more interactive shopping experience. Allowing your children to help you shop at the farmer’s markets can teach sound economic decisions, and hopefully an appreciation for fresh fruits and vegetables. Not only that, but interacting with farmers and merchants will give your kids a sense of connection to the products they are purchasing.

3. Get them involved in the community

Supporting local is more than just where you shop. Becoming a part of the community can lead to lifelong habits. Summertime is the perfect time to engender great local habits in your children, with something as simple as taking part in locally run day camps for kids; visiting children’s author readings at local bookstores; or family outings to a local art walk.

A deep connection with your community usually begins in childhood, and it can last a lifetime if you make the effort to teach your child simple local shopping habits.
By April Atwood is a Marketing Coordinator & Content Writer for Scott’s Marketplace.

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The brutality of compromising your morals and your mission:: The problem with the race to the bottom is that you might win. Even worse, you might come in second.

Lowering the price is a one-directional, single-axis choice. Either it’s cheaper or it’s not.

At first, the process of lowering your price involves smart efficiencies. It forces hard choices that lead to better outcomes.

Over time, though, in a competitive market, the quest for the bottom leads to brutality. The brutality of harming your suppliers, the brutality of compromising your morals and your mission. Someone else is always willing to go a penny lower than you are, and to compete, your choices get ever more limited.

The problem with the race to the bottom is that you might win. Even worse, you might come in second.

To cut the price a dollar on that ebook or ten dollars on that plane ticket (discounts that few, in the absence of comparison, would notice very much) you have to slash the way things are edited, or people are trained or safety is ensured. You have to scrimp on the culture, on how people are treated. You have to be willing to be less caring or more draconian than the other guy.

Every great brand (even those with low prices) is known for something other than how cheap they are.

Henry Ford earned his early success by using the ideas of mass production and interchangeable parts in a magnificent race to the most efficient car manufacturing system ever. But then, he and his team learned that people didn’t actually want the cheapest car. They wanted a car they could be proud of, they wanted a car that was a bit safer, a bit more stylish, a car built by people who earned a wage that made them contributors to the community.

In the long run, to be the cheapest is a refuge for people who don’t have the flair to design something worth paying for, who don’t have the guts to point to their product or their service and say, “this isn’t the cheapest, but it’s worth it.”

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5 Reasons to Kiss a Small Business Owner (Local & Independent)

5 Reasons to Kiss a Small Business Owner
This week, entrepreneurs and business leaders will be celebrating the common denominator of the U.S. economy: Main Street.
by Megan Dowd
FOX Business

This week, entrepreneurs and business leaders will be celebrating the common denominator of the U.S. economy: Main Street. First held in 1963 by the order of President John F. Kennedy, National Small Business Week is all about networking and championing the grassroots mom-and-pops.

More than half of Americans either own or work for a small business, and they create about two out of every three new jobs in the U.S. each year, according to the Small Business Administration.

Here are five reasons to kiss a small business owner. As if you needed even one. After all, it is a small-business world.

No. 1: They’re putting you to work.
Albeit a slow recovery, small businesses are responsible for 63%, or 4.3 million, of the 6.9 million jobs created since it began, according to the Small Business Administration.

No. 2: They know what they are talking about.

From describing the product line, to the story behind it, to telling you about the history of the shop location, small business owners can offer wisdom and knowledge that not even Google or Siri can provide.

No. 3: They aren’t in it for the money.
We’re talking about Main Street here, folks. Your Realtor. The baker. Even the great-smelling candle-stick maker. These businesses weren’t started in Silicon Valley with the hopes of making billions, but instead, your local entrepreneurs started up fueled by passion and the hopes of offering products and services that make life better. It’s that simple.

No. 4: They are survivors, not victims.
It’s called Main Street, not Easy Street. Business owners work around the clock and face countless brutal obstacles. “We’re sorry, your loan wasn’t approved.” “Your health-care premiums are going UP.” “Wicked weather just shut down the power grid—and we just restocked the walk-in cooler.” All just a day in the life of a multi-tasking business owner. But you won’t hear any whining from this group. They are too busy planning their next appointment or adding the just-right amount of cream to your coffee.

No. 5: They are happy to see you.
Show me a business owner who doesn’t offer a genuine and friendly greeting to each customer that walks in the store, and I’ll show you an out-of-business sign. These are people who like people. They like you. So go ahead, give them a kiss. Take a moment to show your appreciation.


originally published by Switch to Community
– See more at:

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SyracuseFirst Invites You! #LocalThirstSYR


Get Thirsty!
The Local Thirst networking series is a chance for SyracuseFirst members and friends to meet each other, learn new ideas, inspire business growth, and have some FUN! Come enjoy local brews while learning more about the positive impact local businesses have on our economy and community.
Andrew Maxwell – Syracuse-Onondaga County Planning
Jay Yennock – China Towne Furniture
Michael J. Heagarty – NOExcuses
Matt Goddard – Cafe Kubal
The UrbanLife Crossfit Team
This event is FREE. All tips benefit SyracuseFirst and the 10% Shift.


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Recycling 101 (OCRRA)

Despite a strong recycling record, each year our community generates enough trash to fill the Carrier Dome (325,000 tons)! You can help reduce waste by learning the ins and outs of recycling.

Corrugated cardboard with wax, plastic, or styrofoam.
Frozen food boxes.
Paper plates & cups.
Paper towels, tissue, toilet paper.
Egg cartons (paper or styrofoam).
Non-paper envelopes (Tyvek).
Hardcover books.
Metallic paper (including cards or envelopes with silver / gold trimming).

Plastic food trays (frozen food trays, candy trays, cake, cookie containers).
Styrofoam (coffee cups, packaging materials, trays).
Hard plastics (tableware, toys, hangers).
Motor oil bottles (or any bottle that contained a hazardous material).
Plastic bags (NOTE: CLEAN plastic bags can be recycled at most grocery and retail stores)

Dishes & drinking glasses.
Ceramics (plates or mugs).
Window & auto glass.
Pottery & clay pots.
Incandescent light bulbs (NOTE: Fluorescent bulbs should be RECYCLED by businesses and residents.)

Latex paint cans (dry out paint and remove lids)
To dispose of oil-based paints, stains, and varnishes make an appointment for OCRRA’s next Household Hazardous Waste Drop-Off Day. (These events are not open to businesses. Contact Environmental Products and Services of Vermont for work wastes.)
Scrap metal. Take to a scrap dealer.

If you still can’t find the answer to your question, Click here

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May is National BIKE Month

May is National Bike Month, sponsored by the League of American Bicyclists and celebrated in communities from coast to coast. Established in 1956, National Bike Month is a chance to showcase the many benefits of bicycling — and encourage more folks to giving biking a try.

Whether you bike to work or school; ride to save money or time; pump those pedals to preserve your health or the environment; or simply to explore your community, National Bike Month is an opportunity to celebrate the unique power of the bicycle and the many reasons we ride.


As we celebrated National Bike to School Day last week, we also used the time to highlight the joys of family biking. We heard the stories of a “tornado of fun” inSeattle, watched a short documentary on theABCs of Family Biking, met a D.C. biking dad, family fun in San Francisco and how to build a coalition of biking families inPhiladelphiaRead these National Bike Month stories and more here!

Join Mello Velo for some wonderful activities including:
A few special Bike Month offerings! Bike to Work Day breakfast, “Bike Shorts” film screening with Bikes4Peace, and a 100 Mile Commuter Challenge!  Click here to find out more!

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Eat LOCAL (SYR) – How to Nourish our Local Food System

Every dollar you spend is an investment in something. If you’d like more local food choices that nurture our local economy, here are a few things you can do:

  • Read the Labels: Find out where the stuff you’re buying comes from and seek out local products, knowing your dollar will have a deeper impact
  • Visit Farmers’ Markets: One of the best ways to find the freshest food in season, you also have the unique opportunity to meet the people who grew and raised your food.  Click here to find one near you
  • Join a CSA: Community Supported Agriculture creates a close relationship between you and your farmer and allows farmers to choose what to grow with less debt burden
  • Grow Your Own: Encourage more edible plants to flourish in your yard, patio or window sill and enjoy the deliciousness of a sun warmed tomato from your own home.
  • Ask Restaurants Where They Source Their Food: This strengthens the connections between growers and retailers, and helps business owners know what you want.

Make the SHIFT to LOCAL:



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