By Emma Vallelunga
Any creation that comes out of Underground Beer Lab promises to be always experimental but never accidental. Craft beer lovers in Syracuse, where there are about 20 active breweries in Onondaga County alone, have something new to taste-test as summer begins in Central New York.
Brian Berry began homebrewing as a hobby as early as 2014. He met Kevin Taylor, who was also a homebrewer. Their wives were mutual friends, and their children went to school together in the same district, so their friendship and bond over beer grew when they decided to start UBL as their own brewery in 2017.
“We definitely got started through our wives and our love of beer and brewing it,” Taylor said.
For the first year and a half, Taylor and Berry started experimenting. They rented a commercial space in East Syracuse, went to a brewers retreat and tried to come up with a plan to start their business. They said they thought they had it all figured out — then they met Keith Lindner, who brought six years of commercial brewing experience to the UBL partnership.
“[It was] trying to figure out how to be better brewers and then also trying to navigate how to even start a commercial brewery is where we had no idea,” Berry said. “When Keith came on board, that was his thing, so he was able to help really turbo-charge getting this thing going.”
Lindner said the three of them had originally planned to have Lindner consult for Berry and Taylor while allowing Lindner to produce his own beer at UBL under an alternating proprietorship, but they ultimately decided to join forces instead.
“Without them, I wouldn’t have an open brewery, and it’s been a great partnership in that way,” Lindner said. “We made the decision because we could build something faster, better, bigger together than we could’ve on our own.”
Lindner also said he enjoys the craft beer community in the Syracuse and CNY area for its small, close-knit feel.
“Everybody helps each other out,” Linder said. “We’ve certainly leaned on other breweries as we’ve gotten our doors open, and we’ll do the same when the time comes for others. The relationships that I’ve built have been life-long.”
With more confidence and experience under their belt, the UBL team just opened for pick-up orders in early April.
“When the three of us got together, that kind of lit a fire under us to make it happen and quickly,” Taylor said.
The beers produced inside UBL are more hop-forward. A few New England IPAs, some double IPAs, sour IPAs, a pilsner, table beer and pale ale are already listed on their website. UBL uses locally-grown hops from in and around CNY for many of their products, but they’re also focused on creating unique beers.
Their sour IPA, Catalysis #1 Thermotolerans, will be a part of a rotating series that combines hops with a lactic acid-producing yeast for extra acidity. One of their double IPAs, One of My Kind American DIPA, has more fruit-forward aromatics balanced by classic hop flavor. Another IPA, Collectivity #1 Farmhouse, is made from a yeast Lindner cultured in his own homebrewing experiments. Lindner said each beer will have its own framework, and they’ll use a variety of different ingredients and processes within that framework to create something that’s fresh, new and exciting.
“Because our batch sizes are small, we can do a lot of variety and have a lot of different things coming out all the time,” Lindner said. “We don’t brew a batch and have it sit in a cooler for months at a time because there’s just not that much of it. So that’s a weakness in one sense in terms of the volume we can put out, but it’s a strength in terms of the variation we can offer.”
New beers will be added to their online shop and announced on their social media every Friday. Customers can order online and pick up at the brewery every Friday from 3 to 6 p.m. and Saturdays from 12 to 4 p.m. or stop by for an in-person order and take it to-go.
The brewery’s location isn’t underground as the name implies, but it is a little undisclosed. It’s tucked away at 7000 Airways Park Drive, off of Fly Road in Dewitt, just north of where I-481 meets Collamer Road. The area has a large parking lot, and there’s no tasting room at the moment, but during the pandemic, Lindner said they hope to implement that once it’s safer to do so.
“We have a pretty small indoor space, so that’s part of the reason why we haven’t pushed that just yet, but hopefully we’ll do a little bit outside here as well,” Lindner said.
The brewery’s main logo and some beer can labels, a design inspired by periodic-table elements, were created by Taylor’s wife Annie, who creates many graphic designs for her own stationery company Annie Taylor Design.
“Having Annie available as a graphic designer made it very easy,” Berry said. “We started pitching her some names we were thinking of, and when we finally landed on this name, she came back with that, and she basically nailed it. The periodic-table element was the one that everyone liked the most, and it seemed like a natural fit.”
So far, customer feedback on the beers they’ve produced has been positive. Lindner said most have been repeat customers, and in his experience, that’s usually promising.
“When a new brewery opens up, you can count on craft beer fans going at least once,” Lindner said. “But the fact that we’ve seen people two, three, four times already is a good sign for where this is going.”
The brewery has a lot of hopes for the future — better equipment, a bigger brewhouse and more off-site selling locations — but for now, the team wants to focus on experimenting with new formulas and flavors to make sure they’re producing the perfect beverages for the Syracuse beer community to enjoy.
To learn more about new releases, ordering online, prices and FAQ, visit their website at undergroundbeerlab.com or follow them on Facebook and Instagram at Underground Beer Lab.