Junco Brewing Company Rick Fernandes

Rick Fernandes, above, works with one of Junco Brewing Company’s fermenters.

OSWEGO — Like the Junco, a popular snowbird in central New York, brewer Rick Fernandes has found his “happy place” in Oswego County.

Fernandes, a U.S. Navy veteran and a world traveler, owns and operates Junco Brewing Company. The rustic barn-turned taproom located at 37 Cemetery Road in the town of Oswego is home to the only established brewery in the county, serving classic craft beer staples such as Belgian ales, pilsners, pale ales, porters, and IPAs.

Much like with other brewers, Fernandes said he got his start as a curious home brewer.

“I did that for a bunch of years and found that I enjoyed it,” he said. “As I was thinking toward retirement, I was thinking about what I would do in retirement to stay busy. I knew I liked making beer and that I have this beautiful piece of property.” 

In his time as a servicemember and later working in construction, Fernandes toured the American south as well as European countries along the Baltic Sea. His time overseas, he said, taught him about the experience people find when they gather at brewpubs and breweries.

“I found that, at every place where there was kind of a pub or a craft brewery, people were enjoying themselves, having a good time,” Fernandes said. “People sit down, talk and that was common everywhere I went.”

For Fernandes, traveling and home brewing wasn’t enough.

“When I had free time traveling, I started interviewing other brewers as much as I could, as well as touring other small breweries,” he said. “I was studying the topic beyond the depth of just home brewing.”

Brewing at a larger scale wasn’t always in the cards for Fernandes. 

“I worked in the food service business as a kid going through college, so I never really thought about owning a tap room, but I think the craft revolution has kind of changed some of the dynamics and just made it much more enjoyable,” he said.

The revolution referenced by Fernandes has been very palpable around the country in the last decade, including in the Empire State. The New York State Brewers Association estimates that there were more than 9,000 brewers operated in the United States in 2017, with more than 440 of those licensed breweries coming from New York state. Those 440 companies, according to the Brewers Association, have created approximately 20,000 full-time jobs. New York breweries produce more than 1.2 million barrels of craft beer each year. 

The Brewers Association mobile app lists Junco as the lone brewery in Oswego County, which Fernandes thinks of as both a blessing and a curse.

“It made me nervous. It was a little risky,” he said, regarding officially opening Junco to the public in late April. “But somebody has to start, and in general, areas around us are starting to populate with more breweries. I am hoping this will break the ice and more breweries will come into town.”

An eventual interest in craft beer will come to the area, Fernandes hopes.

“I think a lot of it is that the craft beer generation is still a lot of mostly young folks,” he said. “The older folks who really enjoy beer also like craft beer, but as everybody gets more and more educated on craft beer, I think the local scene will survive and stay popular.”

As for the barn that is home to the brewing operation and the taproom, which he calls his happy place, Fernandes noted he expects to be done with added construction and repairs next year. He mentioned he wants to have a deck that wraps around the barn for people to enjoy expanded outdoor seating. Using his construction background, Fernandes is currently working on the property by himself with the help of his wife, Dawn Fernandes.

“My vision would be for that to be done maybe in the middle of next summer,” Fernandes said.

The Fernandes family has lofty aspirations for the brewery, including bringing in food trucks and a rotation of local musical acts to perform live. Junco will also revolve around a seasonal model, operating from June to October, approximately, and closing down in the winter months. 

As for his definition of success, Fernandes said he is happy brewing and being able to keep his business open.

Junco Brewing Company is open from Wednesday through Sunday from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m.

“I’d like it to, in several years, be able to turn a profit,” he said. “Success to us is making enough money to pay the bills and maintain the building. The property is just really wonderful.”

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