Sips of Summer
This story is part of a limited series about small, locally owned breweries across the state of New York.
Throughout his childhood, Andrew Rowles spent many happy days at his grandparents’ farm in Schoharie, New York. His family has tended to the region for several generations, starting with his great-grandmother, who owned another farm just across the street.
Although it once was Rowles’s idyllic getaway from everyday life, the 65 acres of land eventually became the site of his very own brewery.
“The property is very near and dear to me. I wanted to see it flourish and come back to it,” Rowles said.
Wayward Lane Brewing is the passion project of Rowles and his three friends, Abbie Hansen, Adam Rosenthal and Kyle Bergen.
Less than two years after opening Wayward Lane Brewing together, the group celebrated winning the title of New York State 2023 Brewery of the Year in the New York State Craft Beer Competition, the largest state-level competition in the U.S. Nearly 200 breweries across New York entered the competition. The award is given to the brewery that earns the highest number of points, determined by the number of medals won across 29 categories.
The four owners, now 35 years old, met when they were sophomores at the University of Colorado Boulder. They have all been brewing beer since their college days together, but back then it was on a home-brew scale.
In June 2014, Rowles decided to move from Colorado to his family’s farm. He attempted to bring new life into the farm, which had not been operating for several years, by beekeeping, growing hops, making maple syrup and raising chickens. Meanwhile, Hansen, Rosenthal and Bergen had been looking for places in Colorado and states farther west to start their own brewery. After looking for a year and not finding the right fit, Rowles stepped in.
“I kind of half kidding was like, ‘Why don’t you guys do it in Schoharie?’” Rowles said. “I did follow up with an email of ‘30 reasons why to move to Schoharie.’ They took it seriously, they visited, they loved it.”
Just a year later, in 2018, the four friends were living together in the idyllic village in the Mohawk Valley. They kickstarted their business venture by renovating the farm’s original 1800s hop house into the brewery it is today. Upstate New York used to be extremely profitable for farmers in the 19th century from growing hops, a flower used primarily as a bittering agent in beer. The New York state legislature has been trying to revitalize the hop industry for the past few years.
“The hop industry hasn’t really taken off, I think, like New York wanted it to. But the brewing industry definitely has, and they offer a lot of programs and incentives and grants and just support in general,” Rowles said.
Wayward Lane’s farm, which the group renamed Hop House Farm, grows far more than just hops. Fruit trees, shrubs and beehives are all integral parts of the property. The flavors that they grow on their farm are being integrated into their brews to create unique, local flavors. These wild ales have been fermenting in wine barrels since before Wayward Lane even opened its doors.
“The dedication that these guys put into their products is incredible,” said Spencer Motschmann, a regular customer of Wayward Lane. “Adam is very meticulous about the farm here. Everything is pretty much very thoughtfully planned out. I think that’s one of the reasons why they’re so successful.”
Motschmann, 58, is often hired by Wayward Lane to do tasks around the farm that require heavy machinery. The group looks to Motschmann as a source of advice and guidance.
The strong sense of community in Schoharie brings a special light to Wayward Lane, even through the Upstate New York winters. At the beginning of April, the brewery hosted a winter luau. Despite a snowstorm that day bringing six inches of snow, many local residents attended. Motschmann recalls that day as his favorite memory at Wayward Lane.
“We make a lot of people happy. People love coming here, and I love to see the joy that we bring the community. This is their hangout, this is where people come to spend their time, and I think it means a lot,” Rosenthal said. “We have people that we know for a fact are going to come every Saturday and hang out with us.”
The Schoharie community has been there for the four friends during their big milestones in life, too. Hansen and Rosenthal, who have dated since college, got married at Wayward Lane in October 2022. Regular customers of Wayward Lane and Schoharie locals attended the ceremony and now look back on the day fondly.
“All four of us are transplants to this state and didn’t really know anyone,” Hansen said. “So, once we opened our doors, we got to create this whole sense of community here in this space we’re in and meet all the community members and all their support. It’s been amazing.”
Riley Proctor, 29, is a Wayward Lane regular who often stops by for a couple drinks after work. He is also a business owner in Schoharie. Before Wayward Lane opened, Proctor first met Rowles at his job and then by chance again at a golf course. Their friendship was built on the mutual respect of being business owners in Schoharie.
Proctor was at the watch party at Wayward Lane on March 24 for the New York State Craft Beer Competition. He was drinking one of Wayward Lane’s beers called the “Cloud Generator,” a double New England IPA, as Wayward Lane won a medal for it.
“It was really intimate. It was just a few of us here. It was awesome, just to be here when they won the awards and won Brewery of the Year. I couldn’t ask for a better Friday night,” Proctor said.