If Greater Binghamton has a common thread throughout its storied history, it’s a spirit of creativity. It permeates the city and surrounding areas. It makes it the kind of place where a concept for a farm can transform into an idea for a factory.
Chris Rhoades and Brendan Harder are part of a long line of forward-thinkers who built this area into equal parts industrial powerhouse and region’s center for arts and culture. In this case, the craft is craft beverage. And if their rapid expansion is any indicator, Beer Tree Brew Co. has mastered the art form.
A business that started down the road as a farm brewery in Port Crane is now a true factory producing a product in ever-higher demand. Whether Rhoades and Harder intended to or not, their Beer Tree Brew Co. is following a tradition of ingenuity that defines Greater Binghamton.
“The Factory made sense for us because this is where we’re producing all of our products, this is where our canning line is, it’s like the hub for Beer Tree now,” Rhoades said.
When they opened the farm brewery in Port Crane back in 2017, they were basically two homebrewers who were simply passionate about their craft. Despite opening a remote location in a rural area, the popularity of their dream was immediate.
“We could not keep up. We had a line out the door. We were like ‘Wow, what are we going to do?’” Harder said. So, he and Rhoades promptly quit their full-time jobs to focus on their exceptional craft beer.
The crowds were sustained. The duo started looking for a building for their second location about a year into it. They were brewing two to three batches a day and running out of room for equipment. The second location quickly became essential.
They then became part of a more modern movement to rehab faded spaces from Greater Binghamton’s past. In recent years, creative entrepreneurs have been continuously reimagining relics to create restaurants and even galleries. The Factory by Beer Tree is just one example.
“When we came in, it was basically a gutted Sears store,” Harder said of the space they found in the former Oakdale Mall in Johnson City. “We completely demoed the exterior and interior and then rebuilt it into the two-story restaurant and brewery.”
The development is equal parts essential and sentimental. The mall was a frequented spot for Harder as a child and Rhoades in his teenage years.
“Coming back to this space and seeing it empty I think was kind of a reality check that things have changed in the retail space, but it also presented a really cool opportunity,” Rhoades said. “It’s got great bones, it just needed a little TLC.”
“We could fit what we needed to fit here, we could expand on that and make a restaurant and we could bring back a building that’s been sitting empty,” he said. “It feels really special to be the first project that is transforming Oakdale Commons.”
The investment didn’t stop with the Factory as Beer Tree also opened a third location in downtown Binghamton shortly thereafter.
“Having the roots in Binghamton is why we continue to do it on top of the community support that allows us to throw out these new ideas and new concepts,” Rhoades said. “The support we’re getting is incredible, so why not?”