Headlining Musician Goes From Sound to Suds With Plan Bee Brewery
Evan Watson exchanged a career in music to make beer with his wife.
Photo by kobus reyneke
Evan Watson was, by all measures, a successful musician. He scored a record deal while still a student at the College of Wooster in Ohio and moved to New York City with his wife, Emily, in 2007. He recorded albums and toured the country as a headliner and as the opening act for Heart, Def Leppard, and Foreigner. He wrote a song recorded by Meat Loaf. But even then, he always had a plan B.
“He had a successful career, but to make money you have to live on the road, and that wasn’t the lifestyle we wanted,” Emily says. “It got old fast.” The Watsons, both 32, wanted to start a family and transition to the outdoor lifestyle Emily had growing up on a farm in Ohio. When he wasn’t touring or recording, Evan worked at Captain Lawrence Brewery for extra income. A home brewer, he tackled beer making the same way he had approached music — self-taught and, as Emily says, with “an obsessive personality.”
In 2012, Emily and Evan, who met in college where she had home-brewed as well, made the switch from songs to suds. They moved to a small farm in Fishkill, on a one-acre plot with a small shed they converted into a one-barrel brewhouse and applied for the new farm brewery licenses offered in 2013. They also got popular — too popular. “We couldn’t sustain the number of people showing up,” Emily says.
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In 2014 a friend of theirs wanted to invest in a project he believed in. He believed in them. “We were so new, we weren’t sure we were ready,” Emily explains. “But when opportunity knocks, you answer.”
They bought a 25-acre farm in Poughkeepsie in May 2015. The farm features an original, three-story barn from the 1830s, which they renovated to house their 10-barrel brew system. Their vision: to use 100 percent locally sourced ingredients to produce farmhouse and sour beers tied directly to the Hudson Valley. Those ingredients include estate-grown hops, heritage grains, oak tanks, well water, homegrown and foraged produce like strawberries, cucumbers, pumpkins, corn, apples, herbs, and flowers, not to mention yeast cultivated from their own honeycomb. Plan Bee — get it?
PHOTO BY STEVEN CAWMAN
They brewed their first batch in March 2016, and sold beer only through their “Hive” memberships until May 2017, when they began distribution and finally opened to the public for outdoor imbibing on weekends. If their indoor tasting room is ready by the time this issue is published, they will be open five days a week.
They make dozens of styles, all of which finish dry, from tart to full-on sour. Their flagship Barn beer, which their menu says “dances between fruity and funky,” is distributed throughout the Hudson Valley and in New York City and western Massachusetts, with plans to expand.
Evan says he doesn’t miss the music business. “You put work in every day, but you don’t see an immediate payoff,” Evan explains. “You may have a drought for a year, then you get big breaks. Brewing is tactile and tangible, and when you add farming to that you are literally reaping what you sow. There is a daily gratification.” But he does still grab a guitar and play a bit on a Saturday afternoon, alone or with friends from the music scene, some of whom have also relocated nearby.
All in all, the Watsons’ plan B has come true. This past fall they went on a beer trip to Ireland and to Oktoberfest in Munich. “The whole time we were so homesick,” Emily says. “We have created our own world here, and we love it. It is an extension of our vision of what we want for the world and for our world. Why would we ever leave again?”
Open Fri-Sun, 12–5 p.m. 115 Underhill Rd, Poughkeepsie; 765.307.8589; www.planbeefarmbrewery.com