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Great Life Brewing: Kingston's Best Kept Secret

Go for the Beer, Stay for the Cheer at this Out-of-the-Way Brewery

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Last Updated: 11/19/2021 4:11 pm
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In an era that prizes polish, where high-design spots like Arrowood and Seminary Hill Cidery snag most of the headlines, it’s deeply refreshing to wander into a place like Great Life Brewing that wears its grit on its sleeve.

The six-year old brewery may well be Kingston’s best-kept secret. Great Life sits behind a chain link fence at the end of a residential street off a major avenue. It shares a lot with a towing garage, a powder coating shop, and a furniture refinishing facility, practically on top of the railroad tracks that bisect Midtown. There are rusted shipping containers and broken-down vehicles strewn throughout the parking lot.

It’s hard to find—even if you are looking for it, let alone stumbling upon it by accident. But if you do happen to visit on a Friday or Saturday evening between 3 and 8pm, what you’ll find is a lively scene with music, a food truck, and scores of happy regulars catching up and drinking the house beers, with hardly a spot to park. Because what Great Life lacks in looks it more than makes up for in warmth—and great beer.

A Spot for Locals

“When I first started making beer, it was still against the law in the United States,” says Great Life founder Patrick Clancy. A few short years later, on October 14, 1978, President Jimmy Carter signed into law a federal transportation bill with a discreet amendment that legalized homebrewing for the first time since Prohibition. Throughout his career, first as a water resources engineer with the Army Corps of Engineers in Pittsburgh and then in various information technology jobs, Clancy homebrewed as a hobby.

After leaving a job as the head of IT at the New York Botanical Garden in 2014, he was stumped for what to do next. “I was sort of half-heartedly looking and, surprisingly, I was not finding anything,” Clancy says. His wife Erika Andersen, author, strategic consultant, and executive coach, suggested he open a brewery. “I couldn’t think of a single reason not to—now I could give you a 100,” he says with a good-natured laugh. “So yes, my dear, dear, dear wife is to blame and to credit for all this. She is awesome.”

Despite being filled to the rafters with plastic flowers and other “flea market shit” when he saw it, Clancy’s current facility on Clarendon Avenue was the only space he could find with concrete floors and sufficient square footage that was already connected to municipal sewage. So, in 2014 he signed a lease, and by December of that year he was brewing.

The plan, initially, was just to wholesale to craft beer bars and restaurants within 30 minutes of Kingston, with no taproom to speak of. “I like beer, but I’m not real wild about bartending and entertaining,” he says with a practiced curmudgeonly scowl that belies his actual affability.

“There was never any illusion that this was going to put grandkids through college. It was more to keep me off the street,” says Clancy with a chuckle. Still, after a couple of years, the place was hemorrhaging money. “It was fun to make beer, it was fun to deliver it to people, and people really liked it—we were winning medals—but in order to even break even doing wholesale, we would have had to make thousands of barrels a year,” he says. “I wasn’t doing this to make a profit, but every month I was falling further and further behind.”

Andersen did the math and figured out that for every gallon they sold retail they could make five times what they were making wholesale. The numbers were clear: taproom or bust. Admittedly not an extrovert, Clancy was not thrilled about this prospect. “I thought, ‘I don’t mind building the tasting room, but I’ll be damned if I'm going to stand behind the bar on a Friday night,’” he says. “I’ll do a lot for my craft, but not that.”

Luckily, a friend of the brewery introduced Clancy to Cody Lynch, who in time would become not only Great Life’s bartender extraordinaire but also the taproom manager and brewer. “Thankfully Cody is a master at taking care of our customers. He takes off of my shoulders all the things I don’t want to do,” an appreciative Clancy says.

Deep Flavor

Lynch had worked in brewing-adjacent jobs, from canning at Naked Flock Cider & Mead to brand ambassador for Pine Island Brewing. “We brought him in and said, ‘you’re going to be the bartender and operations manager’—we’re big believers in giving general guidance and then just letting someone do their thing,” Clancy says. “And my god did he grow into it.”

From designing the taproom to booking music and food trucks, holding down the bar on weekends, and advising Clancy on what beers they should be brewing, Lynch stepped up to bat in a major way, eventually even learning to brew under Clancy. “He soaked it up like a sponge,” Clancy says. “He has this innate whatever-it-is that makes someone able to make good beer. And he keeps getting better and better and better.”

Great Life’s taps pour classic takes on witbier, cream ale, milk stout, and a West Coast-style IPA, plus crowd-favorite the Juicy Joy, a hazy, New England-style IPA. Seasonal specials include Sap Sucker, K Town brown ale, 2 Bobs, and Law Abiding Larry. Special occasions, like the taproom’s fourth anniversary, today, are celebrated with the release of new limited-edition beers.

Great Life has a 3.5-barrel brewing platform, with four fermentation tanks—all of which are right out in the open. “The thing that makes us different from other breweries is that we boil our beer for 50 percent longer than most places,” Clancy says. “It’s like stew—the one you leave bubbling on the stove all day is going to taste a lot better than the one you just throw together.”

In addition to the rave-worthy beer, a rotating slate of food trucks, like Cider Brothers Roadhouse, Off the Hook, the Crazy Box Bakery, Woodstock Eats, and Buff & Alonia Pork keep the regulars fed and happy.

But Lynch has become, in and of himself, a reason to visit Great Life. In the four years he’s been running the taproom, he has developed a low-key cult following of regulars jokingly known as Cody Nation.

The fandom makes sense when you watch him work and understand that Lynch treats the taproom like his living room and every night—a dinner party. “What I do well is if you are sitting here,” he says, gesturing to one corner of the L-shaped bar, “I’ll introduce you to the couple sitting over here.” A consummate host, he is ever attentive to his guests' needs, filling empty glasses, helping conversation along, and creating new connections so that everyone feels at ease. The net effect creates a cohesive clientele that all feels like part of the same extended group.

“There is no glass wall and no gleaming row of tanks—it’s not a fancy experience,” Lynch says. “And I think the people that come sort of appreciate that. I do my best to make everyone comfortable.”

Great Life Brewing celebrates the fourth birthday of its taproom today, November 19, from 3-8pm, with food from Valley Wood Fired Pizzas, live music from guitarist and Treasury Cider’s head cidermaker Chis Jackson, and two secret beer releases.

Great Life Brewing
75 Clarendon Avenue, Kingston
(845) 331-3700
Open Friday and Saturday, 3-8pm, and Sunday 1-6pm

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