Junco Brewing: Retiree Opens Microbrewery

Oswego engineer says he always wanted to be his own boss

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Rick Fernandes, 62, has worked in construction, operating and testing power plants. After his retirement, he worked on his project to open a brewery, which happened this spring.

Rick Fernandes, 63, has worked in construction, operating and testing power plants, but “always for someone else,” he said. Once he retired in 2020, he decided it was time to do something he had always wanted to do: work for himself.

About 15 years ago, he began homebrewing beer as a hobby. So, launching a brewery made sense to the Oswego resident.

He researched commercial brewing for a few years before he retired from his most recent employment as a field engineer for Bechtel Construction in Reston, Virginia.

Opening the brewery has allowed him something to do with the 100-year-old dairy barn on his property.

“I needed a reason to refurbish it,” he said. “A brewery with a tap room seemed like a good idea. I like construction, remodeling and brewing beer.”

He took two years to complete the project and opened in spring 2022. It’s located at 37 Cemetery Road in Oswego. The building lacks heat, so Junco Brewing is open from the last week of April until mid-October, which coincides with the busy tourism season in Oswego.

Making the jump from hobbyist to commercial brewer required Fernandes to learn more about the craft. He spent hours talking with brewers and completed a few short courses from Siebel Institute of Technology in Chicago and from Hopshire Farm and Brewery in Ithaca. Overall, he has found brewers eager to share their knowledge. He also took a bartending class to learn the basics of serving.

“People told me when I got involved in it that you have to like cleaning and you have to like being busy,” he said. “One of my fellow brewers texted me and said ‘brewer = janitor.’ It’s not something you jump into unless you really like cleaning and being busy. Artists make wine and engineers make beer, so I fell into making beer.”

Interior of Junco Brewing: It’s open from April until mid-October.

Fernandes’ background in engineering helped him construct the plumbing necessary for his setup. He also had to obtain the proper federal and state liquor licensure to manufacture and sell alcohol. Since he does not handle food, he does not need clearance from the board of health.

He sells about 95% of his beer on tap from kegs, although he did acquire a small canning machine so he is able to can beer on the spot so people can take their brew to go. Fernandes makes 31 or 62 gallons at a time.

He brings in local food trucks one night a week and a local restaurant delivers food for people who want a meal with their beer.

“They can also bring in their own food,” Fernandes said. “We’re just a two-person show. You have to limit the things you do. We let the people who know how to cook and sell food do that. I worked my way through college in the restaurant industry, so I have experience in the behind the scene aspects of restaurants but it’s my first attempt of doing it myself.”

His wife, Dawn, is the other half of his two-person show. Fernandes said that she’s been very supportive with his new endeavor. Their adult children at first asked, “Dad, you’re doing what?” Now when they visit, they jump in to help him.

At first, he wanted to name the business Snowbird Brewing to reflect the couple’s winter migration to their home in Florida. But he discovered another company was already named Snowbird. He searched for types of snowbirds and discovered the junco. The name fit his brand. Although few beyond ornithologists know what a junco is, guests like the backstory.

Periodically, Fernandes hosts live music events on the business’ four acres. The brewery sponsors the Oswego River Hawks, a semiprofessional lacrosse team and hosts them after a few of the games.

Typically, Junco is a quiet place where guests can “sit outside and enjoy their beer,” Fernandes said. “We don’t have TVs or Yahtzee night.”

The brewery offers space for community groups and meetings for up to 60 people. Fernandes has an upper and lower tap room so that if one is used for a function, he can still serve the public in the other. The property also has enough space that guests may sit at the picnic tables outdoors.

Fernandes made about 60 barrels of beer in his first year of brewing and hopes to brew 75 barrels this season. His operation is classified as a New York State Farm Brewery, so he must obtain most of his inputs from New York, including malt from New York Craft Malt in Batavia; hops from Chimney Bluffs Hoppery in Wolcott; and water from Lake Ontario. Yeast comprises a small portion of his beer. He obtains that from a few suppliers in Belgium and some in the US.

He belongs to the American Homebrewers Association and has sought tips from organizations such as the New York State Brewers Association regarding starting his business and protocols during the pandemic.

Fernandes hopes to grow his business. However, “since we’re retired, we’re not looking to be the next Sam Adams. We’re just happy to provide a service to the community and being small like we are.”

He also wants to see more breweries come to Oswego County by potential founders observing that Junco offers proof that a little guy can make it.

When to Visit

Junco Brewing is located at 37 Cemetery Road in Oswego. The taproom is open Wednesday through Sunday from 3 to 9 p.m. For more information, visit www.facebook.com/JuncoBrewing.