John Cimperman has come up with a weekend musical festival, cross-country skiing event and movie debut to bring attention to the beer he sells.
It’s the kind of promotional savvy you might expect from a former Buffalo Sabres marketing director.
His latest effort to put 42 North Brewing Co. and his beloved East Aurora on the map?
Expand his Pine Street brewery and attach four Airbnb rooms.
“What we're trying to create is what I call a craft beer campus,” said Cimperman, principal owner and managing partner of the four-year-old brewing enterprise. “I tell people we're not in the business of selling beer, we're really in the business of selling an experience. Being in East Aurora is helpful because it’s become a little bit of a destination.”
Cimperman – a Cleveland native who once worked with the Los Angeles Kings hockey team and the Cavaliers basketball team in his hometown – and his wife, Cathy, moved to East Aurora two decades ago when he started his job with the Sabres.
He stepped away in 2002, shortly before B. Thomas Golisano bought the team, launched his own marketing company and, as the regional craft beer movement took hold, also decided to take a shot on a long-term dream in that industry.
Borderland IPA, the 42 North flagship beer, has become a leading India pale ale in the region since 2015. The brewery has since expanded offerings in its taproom, other drinking establishments and retailers across the region. Now it looks to expand the brand across upstate New York.
A new 6,600-square-foot addition to the original 11,000-square-foot brewing company stretches up to 36 feet high. It includes space for up to seven tanks to store more beer, as well as a canning line alongside the brewhouse. A new 800-square-foot cooler boosts cold storage capacity tenfold.
Most other Western New York breweries the size of 42 North rent a canning line – the same one other regional craft beer makers use, including the employees who run it – which can create distribution delays in a region that now has nearly 40 breweries.
Combined, the new upgrades cost $1.2 million, Cimperman said.
They will allow 42 North – which will brew about 3,000 barrels of beer this year – to boost production to 4,000 next year, he said. That amounts to almost 1 million pints of beer.
“We still have a 20-barrel system, which is a good-sized system,” Cimperman said, “but with the expansion we can now add fermenters and brite tanks to produce 15,000 barrels a year.”
That will happen piecemeal.
“We don't want to get over skis,” Cimperman said. “There's no reason just to brew beer. This fits our strategy, which from Day One has been slow, organic growth that creates demand.”
The beer-making addition is “the steak” of the expansion, Cimperman said, while “the sizzle is the Airbnb.”
Brewery owners last fall bought a small apartment building next door and razed it to make way for the Lofts at 42, which overlooks an outdoor beer garden and includes four rooms rented through Airbnb. Rates will average about $150 a night.
“Airbnb has a whole segment of the travel experience and that's really where this falls,” Cathy Cimperman said.
Patrick Kaler, president and CEO of Visit Buffalo Niagara, said he expects the new Airbnb to attract the growing number of millennials who seek beer-related vacations.
“All cities across the country are making craft beer now,” Kaler said, “and any way that you can set yourself apart, or tell a unique story with it, really gets the consumer’s attention.”
Airbnb announced earlier this month the region welcomed more than 93,000 Airbnb guests from Memorial Day to Labor Day weekends. Buffalo, Niagara Falls, Ellicottville, North Tonawanda and Jamestown saw the most – with only New York City besting Buffalo statewide.
A key fob system will be used to enter rooms at the Lofts at 42, which also includes a first-floor conference room that can hold up to 40 people for business meetings, workshops and other gatherings.
Each room features king-size beds, small refrigerators and walk-in showers. They are appointed with unique furnishings, artwork, bathroom fixtures and other decor.
Hopland Room: The only first-floor room is accessible to all, dog-friendly and, like the brewery, gives a nod to the latitude where East Aurora sits. It has a vaulted ceiling, two hop-filled lamps, exposed beams and a rustic, barnlike feel. Its lower windows overlook the brewery barrel aging room, 42 Below Barrel House, across a narrow street called Persons Alley, named for an 18th century village blacksmith.
Borderland Room: This space touts a more contemporary look, including subway-style tiles and music-themed artwork that pays homage to the Borderland Music + Arts Festival, which takes place the third weekend in September in East Aurora.
Queen City Room: This room pays homage to Buffalo’s industrial past and includes black-and-white motifs, light fixtures that give a bow to Nikola Tesla, and a grain elevator mural behind the bed.
Prohibition Room: This, the largest room, overlooks the canning operation – “so you might hear and see something” during business hours, Cimperman said. The room features a 1920s art deco design – and a mini-bar tucked behind a safe door.
Lisa DeCarlo, owner of Urban Design in the village, shaped the look of each room with input from the Cimpermans.
The couple first stayed two decades ago at the Calistoga Inn Restaurant and Brewery in Napa Valley, Calif., and again about two years ago, which inspired the idea for an Airbnb.
John Cimperman calls these B&Bs, “Bed and Beers.”
“What you're seeing is a lot of breweries creating destinations,” he said. “Our brand, our soul, is our brewery. People can come here and experience it, and when they go to a restaurant or a bar and they see our beer, that’s where the connection with the brand starts.”
He and others involved with the new project hope it will inspire people to stay for a couple of days, eat dinner at restaurants within walking distance (42 North doesn’t have a full menu), and visit nearby attractions that include the Roycroft Campus, Hunters Creek County Park and Kissing Bridge.
The Cimpermans believe 42 North is one of few breweries in New York to cater to overnight guests. The Pearl Street Family of breweries owns the Lofts on Pearl next door to the Pearl Street Grill & Brewery and its Lafayette Brewing Co. is inside the Hotel @ the Lafayette, both in downtown Buffalo.
It’s part of a bigger vision.
Cimperman helped lead the effort to bring the Healthy Zone outdoor ice pavilion to East Aurora in 2008.
Last weekend, 42 North hosted its latest Borderland Music + Arts Festival in nearby Knox Farm State Park.
The park also has played home to an annual Brewski cross-country skiing and beer-tasting event organized each February by the brewery.
“We’ve had it for three years in a row and still haven’t had snow,” said Cimperman, who also debuted a three-minute video at the Aurora Theatre in East Aurora to introduce its maple porter in advance of the first Brewski.
Some of the proceeds from another beer, an IPA called Day Trekker, benefit the Western New York Mountain Bicycling Association.
“We're trying to drive more visitation not just to East Aurora, but to Buffalo,” Cimperman said. “There is a big beer tourism market. People travel to Denver, Asheville, N.C.; Portland, Ore.; Burlington, Vt. My hometown of Cleveland has become a big beer destination. So we can do it here in Buffalo.”