LAKE PLACID - Chris Ericson was only 24 years old when he started the the Lake Placid Pub and Brewery with a college buddy of his, but he said he didn't doubt that it would end up doing well.
"The pub being successful was something I planned on, not nearly the volume that we do now," he said. "The level of sales that we do now is very surprising to me, but I always knew that we were going to build a good place for people to come."
He said he created the brewpub in the image of a place that he himself would want to hang out in, featuring good solid pub fare and a warm, inviting atmosphere, and of course, good beer without any gimmicks.
Chris Ericson, owner of the Lake Placid Pub and Brewery, stands in a downstairs room of the brewery along with some of the brewery’s products. The tubes in the background pump the freshly-brewed beer to the bars, located on both the upper and lower levels of the establishment.
Photos/Richard Rosentreter/Lake Placid News
As it says on the Lake Placid Pub and Brewery website: "Real town. Real beer."
Ericson said he started brewing after receiving a home brewing kit as a college graduation gift. He then got a job at Kennebunkport Brewing Company in Kennebunk, Maine because it sounded like a "fun thing to do" in the year that he was deferring from grad school.
"I really liked brewing a lot and decided to pursue that as a career, so I gave up my grad school position, and said I was going to see what I could do for brewing," he said.
He then got the job as head brewer at the Shed Restaurant and Brewery in Stowe, Vt. and it was there that he met is his former business partner, Chad Cleveland, a fellow Williams College alumnus and "drinking buddy."
Cleveland told Ericson: "I want to start writing a business plan, let's try to do our own thing." And Ericson was up for it.
The two started to look for a town to setup shop and ended up finding Lake Placid, a town that they felt should have had a brewery pub but didn't.
"The building that we are in, which at the time was P.J. O'Neill's, was a particularly fortunate circumstance," Ericson said. "We had this kind of cool looking building that was in town, but not right smack down downtown, and the bar downstairs had been in business for about 15 years at that point, and the second floor where the restaurant and bar is now was just vacant apartments. So it was just a really unique opportunity where we could come in and buy the business and we had regulars from Day One."
But the Lake Placid Pub and Brewery, which opened in officially in September 1996, started to attract its own patrons with its quality beer.
"It has been our flagship since Day One," Ericson said.
He said he came up with the recipe for Ubu during his days at Kennebunkport Brewing Company and Shed Restaurant.
"I was making different recipes and then looking at what kind of aspects of different beers that both I liked and that the customers liked," Ericson explained. "So I was like, OK, I want something that was a little bit darker, a little bit stronger, but not overly bitter and not real roasted tasting and medium bodied. It was just kind of sliced aspects of different beers that we had brewed."
Ubu, which gets its name from a large chocolate lab who belonged to patron in the 1990s, has won numerous awards over the years. In 2005 it was awarded gold in the Empire Beer and Music Fest by the festival's panel. In the 2008 World Beer Championships it got gold in the strong ale category and most recently it got the gold medal in the 2011 U.S. Open Beer Championship in the old ale category.
"Ubu is a very, very unique beer," Ericson said. "There aren't a lot of beers like it out on the market ... It's just this crazy style that has success."
Ubu isn't the Pub and Brewery's only award-winning beer. Lake Placid India Pale Ale, Twice Bitten Barleywine and Scotch Ale have also won awards.
Over its 16-year existence the Lake Placid Pub and Brewery has served about 70 various beers.
"We don't necessarily want everyone to think every single one of our beers is off the charts great because if we're doing that, we've clustered them all to kind of a lowest common dominator," Ericson said. "I'd rather have someone in and say, 'Hey, listen, the Moose Island is way too light for me.' Well, that's fine because there are people who like light beers. We really try to have a wide range of beers, so that everyone can find their taste."
Also essential is that the beers are brewed well and meet internal standards, said Ericson, whether they are brewed on the premise of the Lake Placid Pub and Brewery or in Utica.
Beers that are brewed for distribution, which consist of Ubu, India Pale Ale and Barkeater Amber with Winter Lager and Hefeweizen being seasonal - are done so in a Utica brewing facility and are sold under the name the Lake Placid Craft Brewing Company.
"We try very hard to make sure that the beer that's coming out of Utica tastes exactly like the beer that's coming out of the pub," Ericson.
But having operations outside of the Lake Placid Pub and Brewery wasn't an initial business plan.
"Our original plans of when we designed the brewery (located on the second floor of brewpub) was just to sell our beer at the pub," Ericson said. "We knew we would probably sell the growlers, to sell beer to go. Not only did we not plan to sell off premise, we kind of made the decision that we were not going to sell off premise and sized our brewery accordingly."
But life had other plans.
Upon selling their beer to a few other local establishments, other local establishments wanted to carry the Pub and Brewery's beer, and then others after that.
"It progressed very organically," Ericson said.
In order to keep up with demand he re-opened an already existing brewery in Plattsburgh in 2001-02 to produce beer for distribution.
"All of a sudden we went from not having enough capacity to a lot of capacity, so then we extended our circle out one more notch, so to speak," Ericson said.
Within a few years, the Plattsburgh facility could no longer keep up with the distribution demand, and so the business moved it's distribution production site to Utica in 2007-08 where it remains to this day.
Distribution now extends to 13 states, mostly within the Northeast, with the most recent state being Iowa.
"This whole thing is just really surreal, and we're selling our beer in a place called Council Bluffs, Iowa," Ericson said. "It's just ridiculous, like I'm a kid who started with a home brew kit and kind of specifically designed the brewery so we wouldn't be tempted to distribute, and now we're in Iowa and all these other states. I am floored by it."
Despite his business growing so much over the past several years, Ericson still appreciates the smaller things.
"When you own your own business, you have to relish in the small things because you're on 24/7, so (it's) the day you're new pint glasses come in or a day that a new beer comes out or a new T-shirt or a new hat," Ericson said.
Another thing he relishes in and finds rewarding is interacting with the brewpub's patrons.
"For me I love having the people come into the pub and drink our beer and talk about our beer, get passionate about something they didn't necessarily know they were going to be passionate about," Ericson said.
It is Ericson's passion for beer and brewing that will be taking him and his business further in the coming years.
"Our goal is to fill in a lot of blank places where we are now (state-wise) than it is to continue to go farther and farther out," Ericson said. "We want to make sure that we've gotten as much distribution in our current territories as we can."
He said of all the states his beers are available in, he has the most "penetration" in New York, especially in Lake Placid and Saranac Lake.
However, the farther away from Lake Placid and Saranac Lake one gets, the less likely Lake Placid Craft beers are available.
"Distribution and getting shelf space and getting taps is the hardest part of off premise distribution paradigm," Ericson said. "Making beer isn't necessarily the biggest challenge, selling the beer, getting it into chains or getting it into retail accounts, that's the hard thing to do."
Helping the Pub and Brewery's beer acquire shelf space in other establishments are paid representatives in various territories.
As for in Lake Placid, Ericson plans on doing some renovations to the brewpub, including expanding the brewery on the second floor so more time-intensive brews can be made and expanding up to the building's third floor to "try to take some of the pressure off when we're really busy."
"The biggest success - and it sounds corny - but the biggest success is going into the pub and seeing it busy and people having a great time," he said. "I wish there was a way I could bottle it, but I think it's a combination of the town, the product and the great staff we have."
The Lake Placid Pub and Brewery, located on Mirror Lake Drive, is open daily at 11:30 a.m. except for Sundays at noon with food being served until 9 p.m., 10 p.m. on weekends. The bar portion of the brewpub remains open until 2 a.m.
Contact Margaret Moran at 518-523-4401 or at email@example.com