History of Rooster Fish Brewing
Rooster Fish Brewing’s history begins with road construction and a wild dream.
Doug Thayer, working on a road crew charged with repaving NY-14 (North Franklin St.) through Watkins Glen, looked to his right from atop a blacktop paver.
“Boy. That sure would be a cool place for a restaurant.”
In 1990, that dream was realized, as Doug founded the Wildflower Café. Embedded in the original business plan was to “brew and offer homemade beers.” The restaurant opened to wild success, and the brewing idea was put on the backburner as the restaurant grew and grew.
It grew so much, actually, that Doug opened another space, The Crooked Rooster Pub, which opened in 1998. Again, Doug found enormous success with “The Rooster,” which operated next door to the Wildflower.
Now running two busy and successful restaurants, Doug still felt like something was missing.
Doug began experimenting with homebrewing in 2002 in the Wildflower’s bakery kitchen. Two years later, Doug unveiled Rooster Fish Brewing’s first official beer: Black Walnut Ale (now simply known as Rooster Fish Brewing Nut Brown).
Why “Rooster Fish?” We get asked all the time, and there is no real story behind the name. Doug just thought it sounded cool.
Like the restaurants, the beer was met with critical acclaim. Doug shared his beer with local customers, tourists, and beer connoisseurs; the feedback he received was consistent – “This is great! We want more!”
Doug started making different styles – including a Pale Ale and a Blonde Ale – and began distributing his creations in 2006. He kept hearing the same great feedback; he kept making more and more.
Now brewing on a 10 barrel Specific Mechanical system in the back of the Rooster, Doug saw the potential for his little brewery. Like he did with the restaurants before, he bought the former Watkins Glen Fire Department on Franklin Street with plans to move his brewing operation to a bigger, stand-alone facility.
By 2011, Doug was ready to move. Demand was outweighing supply. But there was a problem – in order to open a production brewery in the Village of Watkins Glen, he had to sell food as well. And by that point, Doug had opened enough restaurants for his lifetime – the beer is what he wanted to do!
Nick Thayer, Doug’s son, was working for a big insurance company and travelling the country. Nick fell in love with BBQ. And just like he was back up on that asphalt spreader, Doug saw an opportunity.
Several phone conversations later, the Thayers decided that they would split the Fire Hall property into two – half for the brewery, and half for a BBQ restaurant. The facility opened its doors in December of 2012.
For the next two years, both the new restaurant (Nickel’s Pit BBQ) and the brewery enjoyed tremendous growth. Both became two of the most recognizable brands in the Finger Lakes.
Doug had moved up to a brand new 15 barrel brew system, added on several new fermenters, and began bottling. Nickel’s became such a smash hit that lines around the block are common just before the doors open for the day.
So Doug did what Doug has always done.
The brewery needed space to grow. Nickel’s needed the brewery’s space. So Doug purchased one of the biggest properties in the village of Watkins Glen: the former Clifford Motors building. Vacant for many years, the building itself came on an acre of land right on the main drag in Watkins – North Franklin.
Doug began renovations on the new facility in 2015. Including a rustic industrial tasting room and Watkins Glen’s first and only beer garden, the brewery finally has it’s own home.
Now, The Wildflower Café and Crooked Rooster (operating together now under the name Wild Flower Crooked Rooster Brewpub) are still amongst Watkins Glen’s most popular and established restaurants. Nickel’s Pit BBQ has expanded to sell sauces and rubs statewide, and has become a Watkins Glen attraction itself.
Rooster Fish Brewing, after so many expansions and moves, now resides at 111 N. Franklin St. in Watkins Glen. Rooster Fish Brewing ales are found statewide, as well as in Pennsylvania and Ohio. In 2013, Rooster Fish became New York State’s First Farm Brewery, meaning that we use primarily New York grown hops and grains.
Rooster Fish Brewing is run by the Thayers – Doug and Nick – along with a great staff of talented beer lovers. No plans for expansion are in the immediate future – but with Doug, you never know.