Rushing Duck Brewing in Chester, New York by Paul Leone
As more and more breweries open nationwide (over 5000 now!) we’re seeing not only younger brewers getting into the game of brewery ownership, but we’re also seeing a trend of married couples opening breweries as well. Rushing Duck in Chester NY is located in the lower Hudson Valley, a short drive to NYC, and Nikki Cavanaugh and Dan Hitchcock are one of those new, young married couples that decided early on, that making great beer for a living was something they knew they had to do…and they are doing it very well. Their can releases are highly coveted and sell out quickly due to a cult like following of the brewery and the high quality of their beer.
As a brewery owner, Nikki is the first woman ever to serve on the New York State Brewers Association Board of Directors and she has sound advice on what it takes to open a brewery, and what their path has been so far.
1. When did you get started brewing and open Rushing Duck?
Dan started brewing when we were 18 and in college and it turns out that when you’re under 21, it’s easier to make beer than it is to buy it. We fell in love with it! After college, Dan started working at Weyerbacher Brewing in and worked there for 4 years leaving under the title of Lead Brewer. Dan, his parents (Les and Mary), and myself started building Rushing Duck in 2011 and opened August 2012 with the idea of making a variety of styles based what we liked to drink!
2. Why the small town of Chester?
Dan’s parents and grandparents were from Northern New Jersey and grew up camping in the Hudson Valley and lower Catskills. When we were looking for areas to start a brewery, it was at the top of our list because we loved the area, and there weren’t many other breweries open here at the time. Chester is fantastic because the locals are very into community and supporting local, and it’s also a quick ride from New York City and North Jersey which brings a lot of people by for day trips.
3. What have been your biggest challenges so far since you’ve been open?
Growth. The brewing industry is very appealing to investors at this current moment and it is so tempting to take their money and grow, but we want to remain a family owned business and completely autonomous. Organic growth is great because it allows us to be in very little debt and have more control, but its obvious drawback is that it is slow. However, we did recently install new equipment to double our production (very exciting!) Dan and I both believe that autonomy leads to creativity and it also allows us to call all the shots, which is important for a small business
4. How has the role of women grown in the craft brewing world since you got into it?
I started working in the beer industry, bartending, about 7 years ago and there weren’t many women represented. Obviously, there have been women in this industry since it’s inception, but in the last few years I’ve seen more and more women in all aspects of the brewing industry including production, sales, management, marketing, etc. The consumer side of things has changed a lot too. There are a lot more women drinking craft beer, homebrewing, and getting generally more educated about beer. It’s very exciting to me!
5. You were recently elected the first woman to the Board of Directors of the New York State Brewers Association, what do you hope to accomplish?
I was honored to be elected! My agenda focuses on tourism, brewery participation, and increased communication between board members and breweries. The craft beverage scene in NY is exploding and it involves not only beer, but cider, spirits, and wine. I hope to inspire more events involving all craft beverages in NY and to get New Yorkers to drink local. All NY breweries should feel the NYSBA is important to their business and I want to improve upon communication between board members and breweries to ensure recruitment and retention of brewery membership. There are more breweries opening up in NY every year and the stronger our membership the more we can accomplish as an association.
6. What’s the best part of being a brewery owner with your husband Dan?
Dan and I are pretty opposite people with very different skills so it really balances out all the work that needs to be done when running a brewery. Dan is the creative force behind Rushing Duck and I’m focused on running the business. It’s definitely cool working with your spouse and seeing how hard each of us work towards the common goal of making Rushing Duck successful.
7. You are canning your beer in limited batches, how is that going? What are the challenges?
Canning is going well and we are still selling most of the releases straight out of the brewery. The challenge is not having enough beer. We would like to can more beer, but that detracts from our draft sales which we’ve spent four years growing. We want to make sure that there is enough beer to keep everyone happy.
8. You’ve only been operating a few years, what advice would you give if you could go back in time and talk to yourself at the beginning?
Patience. We were 25 years old when we opened Rushing Duck and wanted everything to be perfect. I’ve learned that wanting perfection in a business only leads to frustration. Now that we’ve been open for a while I’ve accepted that machinery breaks, not all bars will serve my beer, employees leave, and things are not perfect. Owning a brewery is a humbling experience, but I wouldn’t change my job for anything.
9. What advice would you give anyone who is thinking about opening a brewery today?
Make sure you want to start a business and not just a brewery! I feel like the idea of brewing and selling beer seems like a fun job (and it is), but it’s a business first. Dan and I understood this because he worked in a production brewery for years before we started Rushing Duck, but we still weren’t prepared for the amount of work it takes to have employees, build capital, pay bills, and build a brand. My advice is prepare yourself to work an incredible amount of hours, get educated in beer production before you open a brewery, and have fun even when it seems like everything is going wrong.
To learn more about Rushing Duck and where to find them:
1 Battiato Lane Chester, NY
Chester, NY 98109