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Brewing a Community With Free Beer

Shelves of craft beers with hundreds of different flavors and a sign for customers who may need assistance. Photo by Connor Ahern/Ithaca Week
Alex Gehringer behind the bar at the Ithaca Coffee Company Tavern. Source: Connor Ahern/Ithaca Week

After a summer long hiatus, the Ithaca Coffee Company (ICC) is back to regularly hosting Free Beer Night every Wednesday from 5 to 7 p.m. Alex Gehringer, the store manager of ICC, has been working on revitalizing the weekly event as the pandemic wanes and autumn begins. 

Post-Pandemic Plans

Gehringer said the pandemic was not as damaging to ICC as it was to other local bars. While the bar had to be closed and it had to shut down two other locations, it managed to continue earning enough revenue to keep the Triphammer location open. 

“People would rather support us than bigger name brands, which is great,” Gehringer said. “That really helped push us through the pandemic.” 

Gehringer said ICC’s focus is on the bar, the liquor store and the coffee shop. With the upcoming arrival of a liquor license, the company is set to expand the bar itself and the drinks it offers.

“We’re happy just having this location right now,” he said. “And for the foreseeable future we don’t see anything else going on.”

Not Just a College Bar

Gehringer said Ithaca College and Cornell students are often not the main sources of revenue. The bar is sustained partly by tourists, but mostly by locals. He said this is probably because the location is further away from the colleges and that ICC only sells craft beers.

“We have a really dedicated following,” he said. “Our regulars are really great. They’re always coming back and supporting us. When I’m here six days in a row sometimes, I see the same people six days in a row too. I see some customers come in two or three times a day even.”

It’s About More Than Just Business

Gose Gone Fruity and Berb Day Joose with Mill House Brewery Buttons, presented by Colin Mason (back). Source: Connor Ahern/Ithaca Week

Every Wednesday night a select brewery will be the guest for the night, and the bar patrons can sample their brews. The spokesman pours for customers and tells them about the beer and the company they work for. The past two weeks featured Talking Cursive Brewery out of Syracuse, NY, and Mill House Brewing Company out of Poughkeepsie, NY, respectively. Gehringer prefers to bring local breweries like these over more national names. 

Talking Cursive Brewery is a woman and veteran-owned brewery. Derek Spanfelner, the spokesman for Talking Cursive on Free Beer Night, said the brewery was part of the Stache Strong Campaign, donating to brain cancer research. They also made a porter that gave back to Honor Flight Syracuse, a charity that flies veterans to memorials in Washington DC.

“It gives [veterans] the chance to see the memorials for wars they were in, which is such a cool thing. To be a part of something like that is pretty sweet.” 

Mill House Brewery started as a couple of guys brewing beer in an old mill house, but has now grown into a three-story, 200+ seat, restaurant. Colin Mason, the spokesman for Mill House Brewery, talked about its beginnings and how it has risen pride itself on both its beer and food. All of the kitchen staff is from the Culinary Institute of America, and a co-owner of the brewery is a classically trained chef that graduated from the same institute. 

“[The co-owner] has very high standards as far as food goes,” Mason said, “and it’s just a lot of fun pairing beer with good food.”

The breweries that visit are often also restaurants like the two above and business is always in mind. These local businesses are supporting each other and giving back to their communities. Where they all seem to agree is that locality and community are one of the most important parts of the business.

“It’s just really neat to have people come together and talk about beer and have a good time,” Gehringer said. “It’s fun for me when I’m covering breaks for my tavern person or even just talking to a regular customer.”

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