Ear to the Ground: The Insider Dirt to Gardening in Upstate NY

The beer garden

by cathym on March 16, 2020

by John Boccacino

Barone Gardens

Having grown up on a family farm situated on South Bay Road in Cicero, John Barone admits that farming was probably “in his blood” from an early age.

Producing mostly onions, Barone embraced his family’s ties to farming and started a retail farm market in 1987 that quickly morphed into a year-round animal feed and pet store. For more than thirty years, he has owned and operated Barone Gardens LLC, which operates on a 100,000-square-foot tract of land.

Barone Gardens grows premium selections of geraniums, New Guinea impatiens, petunias, and begonias among the more than 1,000 different varieties of plants sold both in the retail store and in several garden centers across the state.

But if you think Barone’s tale is that of a typical farmer who loves getting his hands dirty, you’re only half right.

In 2019, Barone and two Cicero High School friends—Tim Parkhurst and Paul Richer—had a crazy idea. Barone was a big fan of drinking the delicious beers that Parkhurst and Richer brewed, and he had ample space for growing hops in his garden. So why not combine his two loves, branch out into a new business venture, and grow the pair’s hops in the garden center’s spacious greenhouses?

Hot House Brewing founders

Thus was born Hot House Brewing, the first brewery to open in Cicero. Under Richer’s watchful eye as the full-time brewer, Hot House Brewing produces more than a dozen “easy-drinking, lower-alcohol-content,” small-batch specialty beers.

The brews on tap at Hot House Brewing range from those with Cicero connections—like Rattlesnake Gulch IPA (featuring hints of orange and citrus), Plank Road Porter (with an aroma of coffee to compliment the malt flavor), and the Sorachi Blond Ale (a light-bodied summertime brew). The most potent potable brewed on site? The U Brut IPA, which boasts a 6.3 percent alcohol by volume for those beer drinkers who want to consume a beverage that packs more of a punch.

“Having a brewery in a garden center/greenhouse is thinking a little bit out of the box as we are one of the first if not the first in the country to do so,” Barone says proudly of Hot House Brewing. “But I don’t think any of us had an idea how well this would be received.”

The addition of the brewery came at the right time for Barone, who, along with his wife, Merry Beth, run the garden center. With production from the greenhouse doubling over the last ten years, the couple opted to rededicate their efforts to boosting the retail side of the business, providing a complete and thorough makeover to Barone Gardens. As part of that makeover, and after several trial runs growing hops in his greenhouses, Barone decided that a brewery was the perfect addition to the garden center.

“I’m always looking for other crops to grow, and I started to trial grow hops in our greenhouses,” he says. “Several people suggested that we investigate becoming a New York State Farm Brewery, and I thought a farm brewery could fit into our retail makeover plans.”

Another difference between Hot House Brewing and your run-of-the-mill brewery is that unlike most brewers who can only produce wet hop brews, accomplished by brewing with hops fresh from the vine without any drying or processing during the traditional fall growing season, Barone has devised a strategy for extending the growing season. Utilizing LED lights that extend the amount of daylight available to these budding hops during our normally trying winter, spring, and fall seasons, Hot House Brewing produces its line of wet hop brews year-round.

“Growing hops in a greenhouse harvested at unconventional times allows us to have wet hop beers throughout the year,” Barone says. “Our production numbers are increasing every week, which is very encouraging considering we have only been open ten months. We’re committed to supporting New York State agriculture by using as close to 100 percent New York State–grown malts and hops as we can.”

With Hot House Brewing selling its beers through a distributor, beer enthusiasts can enjoy the American-style microbrews at Central New York establishments like Borio’s Restaurant on Oneida Lake, Twin Trees Pizza in North Syracuse, and Angry Garlic in Baldwinsville.

For those who want to sip on suds in the on-site tap room, Hot House Brewing’s tasting room presents a décor that falls in line with the vibes of the greenhouses. Guests who visit the tap room can sample beers in an enclosed area directly underneath a greenhouse roof, surrounded by lush and bright plants. “By having the greenhouse seating area filled with green plants even in the winter, we have created a unique experience that is great for everyone. We have also decided to not have televisions in the tasting room; we wanted to create an atmosphere for conversation,” Barone says.

Hot House Brewing seating area

For a farmer who grew up on the family tract of land and still works that same land all these years later, the success of the garden center and brewery can be a bit overwhelming, but Barone is just trying to savor how much his patrons enjoy this unique hybrid of greens and hops in Central New York.

“Initially, we thought we would just brew a barrel (thirty-one gallons) of beer at a time and have a small tasting room, but we quickly found that the batches have grown in less than a year to ten-barrel batches,” Barone says. “We are planning on increasing our production and putting in a canning line over the next few months. I would like to say we had a master plan, but the plan is to grow the business to meet the demand and go where that demand takes us.”

Barone Gardens’ greenhouse is closed Mondays and Tuesdays, and open Wednesdays and Thursdays (from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.), Fridays and Saturdays (10 a.m. to 9 p.m.), and Sundays (10 a.m. to 6 p.m.).

The tasting room at Hot House Brewing is closed Mondays and Tuesdays, and open Wednesdays (11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.), Thursdays (11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.), Fridays and Saturdays (11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.), and Sundays (11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.).

John Boccacino, a Seneca Falls resident, works for Syracuse University as the communications coordinator in the office of alumni engagement.

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