WRITTEN BY KRISTEN SCHULTZ PHOTOS BY RANDALL PERRY AND THERESA ST. JOHN
It may be tucked back next to industrial buildings off Excelsior Avenue, but Racing City Brewing Co. could not feel more like home. Owners Tony and Debreen Oliva and their son, Anthony Oliva III opened the brewery in March 2018 with only one of their own brews on tap. Since then the brewery has boomed, appealing to locals and tourists alike. Tapping into their natural gift for hospitality, ability to recruit brewer Jurij Owad (formerly of Olde Saratoga Brewing Co.), and recent partnership with DZ Restaurants, the Olivas are off to a running start.
“We want to embrace and embody all things Saratoga,” Debreen said.
And they have done just that. The main tap room features a horse racing motif, while two back rooms contain three dart boards and more than half a dozen cornhole games which reflect the relaxed community feel that Saratogians treasure.
The tasting menu boasts 14 beers and four wines (from Oliva Winery), each with their own story. Grab one of the red stools at the bar Tony built himself and order a JustifIPA – a medium-bodied, slightly floral IPA with a bright nose and a hoppy, clean finish. It was one of their first beers, served at the brewery’s inaugural derby party last year, and named after triple-crown winner, Justify.
Tuesdays are brewing days when Tony and Owad work on recipes and fine-tune their year-round offerings as well as their seasonal beers like the Short Stack Black Lager which starts with a smooth black lager base and then gets a hit of sweet maple and hazelnut for a toasty, seasonal sip with a nutty finish.
Among the other offerings are the Racing City Lager – a straightforward and balanced beer, and the Black Beauty nitro black lager that comes to the table with a dense, cascading head and malty, caramel notes. If you want to add some variety to your beer fridge, take home a 32 or 64-ounce growler of your choice, or a four-pack of Big Red IPA. If you’re looking for a non-alcoholic option, Tony and Owad have come up with a sparkling hop water. This zero-calorie, zero-sugar, zero-carb offering is just as refreshing and interesting as the brewery’s boozy menu items.
You don’t have to belly up to the bar to enjoy a glass of beer, wine or even a cocktail. Nearly 80 locals descend on Racing City Brewing Co. every Thursday for games of cornhole, and a dart league has begun as well. Guests can enjoy the suds and festivities all year as the building is heated during the winter, but during the mild summertime weather, large garage doors can open to let the sunlight stream in.
If you need something to soak up all the liquid enjoyment, the kitchen at Racing City Brewing Co. serves up more than boiled peanuts and bar mix. Opt for a large, warm soft Saratoga pretzel served with a side of beer-batter cheese sauce for dipping. Or, order a sharable plate of Mucho Nacho Man – corn chips topped with chicken, cheese, beans, salsa, jalapeños and sour cream.
Recently, Racing City Brewing Co. joined forces with DZ Restaurants – Forno Bistro, Chianti il Ristorante, and Boca Bistro – to offer more options for events. The Olivas had been dining with DZ Restaurants for years, starting when Tony, Debreen and their family started coming to Saratoga nearly 20 years ago. Like many, the family started coming for weekend horse races. They gradually started
staying for weeks, then longer, until finally they decided to just buy a house in town.
“It came to the point where we could renovate our New Jersey home or move to Saratoga,” Debreen said. The Olivas made the move.
Over the years they developed a relationship with DZ Restaurants, so when it became clear that they had the space to host larger events like holiday and birthday parties, but didn’t have the kitchen capacity, they partnered with the restaurant group.
“Courtney from the DZR sales team helped coordinate a couple events for guests at the brewery,” Nancy Bambara, vice president and COO of DZ Restaurants explained. “These events opened the door to discuss a bigger collaboration and the possibility of being the exclusive caterer.”
As the exclusive caterer, DZ offers a variety of customizable menu packages ranging from a simple but elegant board of arancini, salami, pesto, stuffed bread, and caprese salad to multiple, chef-manned food stations.
This kind of collaboration represents the cooperative spirit of the community.
“I think the more we can collaborate and support each other, the more successful we make Saratoga Springs,” Bambara said.
Collaboration, community and growth have been the hallmarks of Racing City Brewing Co. over the last year. Regular customers bring in Spa City- themed home décor. The ideas for cornhole and darts came from brewery guests. Despite a rapidly expanding beer selection and recreational reasons to visit the brewery, the Olivas have been mindful to bite off only what they can chew.
“It’s baby steps in everything we do,” Tony said. “We correct pitfalls quickly and we do it right. We are face-to-face with every person who comes in. We take the time to talk to people.”
“We make a point to connect with customers,” Debreen said. “We listen to their ideas. They’re great people. We go home at the end of the night and talk about who we met and what they had to say.”
There will be no rest for the Olivas as they gear up for spring and summer. Racing City Brewing Co. will host a one-year anniversary party for the brewery as well as derby parties and summer events. The brewery is available for private events year-round.
“It’s been great to see the organic growth,” Anthony Oliva, Debreen and Tony’s son who oversees the brewery’s marketing efforts said, “It’s cool to
see that guests choose to come here to celebrate milestones and create traditions.”
Good beer, good fun, good food and good friends? We’ll raise a glass to that. -SS
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