By Christine Graf
Whitman Brewing Co. has been named one of the country’s top 10 new breweries by USA Today, an honor that came just months after Hop Culture, a leading craft brewing publication, included the Saratoga Springs craft brewer on its list of the 10 best new breweries of 2020.
“To come from a brewery publication was very flattering recognition for our team. It reaffirms that we are on the right path, and hopefully that we can keep growing. We are humbled and excited by it,” said co-owner Will Crager. “It’s a great affirmation that we are moving in the right direction. We are very fortunate to have a great group of people around us who have a lot of expertise and experience and have helped us to have some great early success in just a year-and-a-half of operating.”
Walt & Whitman Brewing Co. is located at 20 Lake Ave. in the former Saratogian newspaper building which is owned by Saratoga Prime Properties. The Crager family, Philadelphia natives who moved to Saratoga Springs five years ago, chose it as the location. Will and his mother, Kathy, are co-owners and sisters Katie, Jane, and Lily are also involved in operations. Craft beer enthusiast and family patriarch, Bill, works full time in the financial sector.
“We had this vision, and for us it was more about experience and building a space that allowed people to come in and enjoy music and share our love for craft beer,” said Kathy Crager.
Just months after the December 2019 opening, the coronavirus pandemic shut down restaurants and bars. The Crager’s were forced to furlough some staff members. They opened for takeout only. After restaurants and bars were able to reopen with reduced capacity, Walt & Whitman’s spacious interior was well suited for social distancing.
“At 50 percent capacity, we can space our tables,” said Kathy. “Another part of this project was to build a patio” that was open by July 1.
“That really helped us and carried us through Dec. 1,” she said. “I thought business was pretty strong because we were able to have that patio even into the fall. The community really embraced us and has continued to support us through COVID.”
According to Crager, indoor dining has picked up significantly in recent weeks. Walt & Whitman is currently operating at 75 capacity with the mandatory six feet of spacing between tables. The patio recently opened and the café on the second floor acts as overflow for the taproom on weekends.
Bonacio Construction did the multi-million dollar renovation of the 16,000-square-foot building. Renovations took almost one year to complete, and the building was completely gutted during the process. Walt & Whitman’s taproom, restaurant, and 10-barrel brewhouse occupies 12,000 square feet of finished space. Another 4,000 square feet of unfinished space could be ready to occupy in early 2022.
The Walt Café, described by Hop Culture as a “stunning coffee and pastry shop,” is open Wednesday through Sunday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. The café serves coffee and other beverages as well as breakfast food and the popular Walt tarts, a homemade version of a pop tart.
The space can be booked for private parties such as bridal showers or rehearsal dinners.
The taproom and lounge are open Thursday through Sunday. There are between seven and 10 craft beers available at any given time. The taproom menu includes a variety of pub food as well as Detroit-style pizza.
Whitman Brewing Company also distributes kegs of craft beers through Craft Beer Guild Distributing of New York. Their packaged products are canned on site and available for sale at Walt & Whitman.
“We were able to get our canning line up and running, and that became a good source of revenue for us when the pandemic hit because people weren’t dining in,” said Kathy.
Walt & Whitman employs 20 and will be increasing staffing levels during the summer. According to Will, it was Walt & Whitman’s dedicated team of employees that helped to keep the business going during some very challenging times.
“We’ve got a great team. It’s been a crazy year, and from a financial sense, it was difficult. But at end of day, we believe in what we’ve built and we are excited to be a part of downtown Saratoga.”