NANUET, N.Y. – Unlike yeast, that single-celled organism that our ancestors were delighted to find turned sweet liquids into alcohol, the agent behind the roaring success of one Nanuet pub is definitely not unseen.
Denis Maher, owner of the two-year-old Ambulance Brew House, is always front and center, greeting guests – sometimes decked out in Bavarian leather breeches, aka lederhosen.
He and his wife, Anita, and children Brian, Nadine and Nicole, have put a lot of hard work, not to mention heart and soul, into converting a 1947 ambulance building on the Clarkstown hamlet’s main drag into the go-to place for craft beer lovers.
An electrician by trade (his offices are right upstairs), Maher says no one’s more surprised than he about how fast the business has grown.
“People come from all over,” he says. “They just love it.”
Anita Maher runs a salon right next door called "Gruaig," which is Irish for hair.
Maher, who never owned a restaurant or bar before, credits a lot of the pub’s success to his manager, Chris Adimando, who’s been with them “since Day One.”
Adimando is, Maher says, “dead serious” about craft beer.
Both Maher and he visit small makers to sample their wares, research brews online, listen to pitches from distributors and seek customer feedback, before winnowing down the ever-changing selection of 20 beers.
Craft beer is made in small, and sometimes finite, batches. So drink up fast when you find a favorite, because like that perfect lipstick or nail polish, you may never find it again.
Hill Farmstead Brewery in Greensboro Bend, Vt., is an example of how exclusive some of that liquid gold can be.
Ambulance Brew House is only one of three pubs Maher says are allowed to serve its product.
“He (founder Shaun Hill) doesn’t want to grow, he just wants to get it into the hands of the right people,” Maher says, adding that Hill Farmstead is always on “Tap 10.”
Among the brewery’s releases are “Twilight of the Idols,” a porter made with coffee, cinnamon and vanilla and inspired by the writings of philosopher Friedrich Nietzsqche. Other brews are called Leaves of Grass and Madness & Civilization -- now that’s serious beer.
Maher is also serious about kicking pub grub up a notch, or two or three.
They have their own commercial-grade smoker out back, where they turn beef, pork and chicken into tender, flavorful ingredients for their tacos, quesadillas and “bar pies.”
Non-carnivores can chow down on wraps with spinach and artichoke or avocado and black beans.
For dessert, try the “campfire pizza,” a sinful confection made with Nutella, marshmallows and Graham crackers dusted with powdered sugar.
Even with all this success, the Mahers are not content to sit on their lederhosen; the pub is now doing brewery tours.
“We know have a simpler way of connecting them (beer makers) to us,” says Maher. “They know us. They know who we are. Now we can bring the customers to them.”
For $95, tour-goers spend six hours visiting the Newburgh Brewing Co. in Orange County and the Peekskill Brewery and the Captain Lawrence Brewing Co. in Westchester.
They get food, snacks and, of course, beer. Like the folks who go on wine tours, they also get a safe way to travel around while imbibing. A 14-seat van picks up tour-goers at the train station a few blocks away and drops them off at the pub afterwards.
The Mahers are always tweaking the business, which takes a lot of ingenuity and sweat.
But, they say, the customers, now their family, makes it all worthwhile.
“I just love the whole thing,” Maher says. “I’m always amazed at the number of people who come up to me to personally thank us for opening this place.”