Suarez Family Brewing is Dropping Pilsners, not Hop Bombs

Drink Features Suarez Family Brewing
Suarez Family Brewing is Dropping Pilsners, not Hop Bombs

Since opening Suarez Family Brewing in June of 2016, beer lovers from around the country have been making the stop in Livingston, NY (two hours outside of New York City) to try some of Dan Suarez’s beers, which diverge from what we’ve seen coming out of the East Coast during the last few years. You won’t find hazy IPAs, or big adjunct stouts. Instead, Dan, a former brewer at Hill Farmstead, focuses on approachably crispy, light hoppy beers, mixed fermentation beers, and his favorite, lagers.

I sat down with Dan and his wife Tay to chat about his experiences at Hill Farmstead, the decision to open their own brewery, and the beers offered at Suarez.

Paste: Tell us about your time at Hill Farmstead. What lessons were you able to bring with you when you started Suarez?
Dan: My time at Hill Farmstead was a period of great learning and growth for me. Obviously, I learned a lot on the brewing side of things, but I think I was also inspired by the way the business is run there.  Shaun has such a clear vision about what he wants his business (and his beers) to be. I think being around that every day for a few years has actually helped me in my moments of indecision getting Suarez Family Brewery open. Whenever I am crippled by indecision pertaining to the business, I always reconcile that with the fact that I have my own vision of how I want my business (and my beers) to exist in this world. Usually the best decisions made are ones that don’t waver from this idea.  

Paste: Was there any “aha” moment that made you want to open your own brewery?
Dan: I never really had an “aha” moment per se. I had wanted to open a brewery for many years, but I knew I wanted to get some experience first. It’s always a good idea to “learn on someone else’s dime,” in my opinion. It’s something I wish we saw more of in today’s beer world (I half-jokingly refer to this current period as the “golden age of the assistant brewer”).  I’m not some natural born entrepreneur, so making the jump from brewer to business owner was a big and scary leap. Some days I wish I could just show up at the brewery in the morning, and then leave it all behind at the end of the day. However, it feels amazing to now brew beers with complete creative control, and most days I wouldn’t trade that for anything. I’m grateful that Tay convinced me that this was the best route for us.  

Paste: With demand for these “hazy” hoppy beers right now, why did you choose to go a different route?
Dan: I think it’s really just that I wanted to make something I wanted to drink. I mean I just had a can of Melcher Street from Trillium with a friend and it was awesome, but most of the time I want something more laid back, something that’s easier to drink. I want something that’s a real “beer drinker’s kind of beer.” That’s the kind of beer I like and that’s what I want to make. 

Paste: Do you see the Pilsner becoming what hoppy beers have become today?
Dan: I hope so. NYC is really the place that’s ready for an uptick in lager consumption. It’s weird, we do some of these little hoppy beers and the lagers as well, and we see that up here [in the Hudson Valley] most of the accounts want the hops, but down in New York City because there are so many hoppy beers to choose from, they want our pilsners. I like to think our Pils is something special. 

Paste: Right now I see you have a porter on. Are you interested in brewing beers with a higher ABV?
Dan: Probably not. During the winter, we try to do one darkish beer. I personally don’t really love high-alcohol stouts. We might do a 5% porter, maybe a brown ale, but nothing that big. Right now, it works really well having the one porter on in the tasting room, but doing a big stout is kinda outside of my wheelhouse. I’m more comfortable brewing these light and crispy beers. 

We are brewing a black lager right now, and that has been a beer that really has surprised people. People come in and they start to think whether they have ever had a black lager before, and then you give it to them and they’re like “damn, that’s awesome.” 

Paste: In today’s beer scene, the category saison has become a catch-all for sours. Can you tell us what made you choose to use the term “Country Beer?”
Dan:  I’m just trying to have fun with it. I love saisons, but I have a lot of respect for the Belgium tradition and also some of these country beers don’t really fit neatly into the saison category. Hopefully, it eventually makes sense in the eyes of the consumer.

Years ago, when I was in Belgium at De Dolle with Shaun Hill, there was another American brewer visiting there that had a beer that was just called “Saison,” and he gave a bottle of it to Kris (the owner/brewer of De Dolle) as a gift. Kris was confused by that. He was asking: “how and why is this a Saison?” and that somewhat solidified it in my mind. I am highly inspired by saison, but I am trying to spin it off my own way a little bit.

Paste: It’s been a little over half a year since you opened. How do you feel things are going so far?
Dan: I’m really satisfied. When we first opened, it was slow and I was like “shit, are people not going to come because we are making a lot of lagers,” but luckily it seems to have picked up. Word is starting to get out and people are interested enough that that they feel they need to come try these beers, and I have been really happy about that. We are in a good spot in New York to build on the popularity. Sometimes I start thinking there is this big pils movement, and then sometimes I’m like, “oh crap.” I go back and forth.

Tay: He goes back and forth, sometimes he asks, “do you think we can stop making these hoppy beers and just do lagers, and then the next week he’s like, do you think we should just can up some hoppy stuff?”

Dan: No, I’ve never said that ha! I don’t say that. 

Tay: He doesn’t say it in a way that sounds like he wants to do it, he says it in a way like: “wouldn’t it be easy…”

Dan: Easier for sure.

While at Suarez, I was able to try several offerings. Here are some of the more noteworthy.

Palatine Pils
Style: Classic German Pilsner
ABV: 5%
The first beer I tried was one of Dan’s favorites, a pilsner that has been getting a lot of notoriety lately, including a Gold from RateBeer Best. The beer pours a golden color with a little bit of haze, and a thick creamy white head. The nose gives off a ton of floral notes, a little bit of lemon, as well as some grassy notes. The taste has a bit of earthy bitterness on the front end that transitions to sweet malt and bread. It’s a very clean and refreshing beer, one of the better pilsners I’ve had. I see why people around the NYC area have been raving about this one.
Rating: 8.5

Style: Dry-hopped Pale Ale
ABV: 4.5%
I then switched gears to one of Dan’s flagship crispy little hoppy beers. Hecto pours a hazy pale yellow color, a sight that is almost rare in today’s hoppy juice bomb scene. As the beer hits the glass, it leaves a thick white head that slowly dissipates, leaving a thin latte-like layer at the top. The beer gives off a large aroma of floral and tropical fruit. The mouthfeel is a bit unexpected, with quite a full body for such a light brew. Upfront, there is a hoppy bite with citrus flavors, and finishes with a lingering bitterness.

Drinking this beer, I would never know it’s 4.5% with the full body and flavor it exhibits. If you’re looking for an assault on your palate of hops, and a beer that looks like juice, this isn’t for you. Instead, Hecto is an approachable hoppy brew that allows you to experience all of the beer’s nuances.
Rating: 9.3

Triangular Nature
Style: Buckwheat Country Beer
Finally, I was able to try one of Dan’s first bottled Country Beers, Triangular Nature, which was brewed with buckwheat. Pouring with a medium head, the brew left a thin white layer on the top of my glass. The aroma is a mix of wheat, earthiness, and some lemon citrus. The mouthfeel is incredibly soft, with little to no tartness on the taste. There is a little bit of wheat and that same earthy quality you get on the nose throughout the beer.
Rating: 9.0

Jason Stein is a New York-based beer nerd. You can find more of his writing on NYC Beer Society.

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