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UP CLOSE: Couple turns Keene mansion into The Brew Castle

April 7, 2016
By ANTONIO OLIVERO - Staff Writer ( , Lake Placid News

KEENE - Driving along Route 9N in Keene, right before Route 73 and Route 9N split you'll come to "The Castle," a house built in 1889 for an eccentric man named Monroe Hale who claimed he descended from royal blood.

These days, current owners Ben Chamberlain and Wendy Knight fancy it "The Brew Castle," the name of their specialty craft beer, grocery and gift store the couple opened late last year.

Just like Hale, Chamberlain and Knight also live at the castle address at 10918 Route 9N, inhabiting the classic but recently renovated architectural marvel behind the store front's curtain. Inside of the castle's front door, a craft beer oasis awaits as the couple sells hard-to-find beers, ciders and food from all over the world but also from the Adirondacks.

Article Photos

Wendy Knight and Ben Chamberlain opened The Brew Castle store late last year in Keene.
(News photo — Antonio Olivero)

"If you think about what we are doing here," Knight said, "it's a small store. We are focusing on very exceptional craft beer and hard cider. It's all small batch and made by hand. ... The food had to pair with that, too. It had to be made with the same love and attention and care."

The Brew Castle doubles as a place where the illustrator, carpenter and designer Chamberlain sells his design work, illustrations and merchandise.

After each had lived in numerous places across the country pursuing burgeoning careers, the couple met at a friend's Vermont barbecue nearly a decade ago. In the time since, the native Vermonter Chamberlain and native New Yorker Knight had their eye set on moving to the Adirondacks and pursuing their passion for the outdoors and several business ventures.

Knight, a Cornell-educated communications professional also has a passion for older homes, in part thanks to her experience as a freelance travel and lifestyle journalist. Chamberlain, once a Vermont Business Magazine Rising Star selected for his building skills, shared the same love for old homes. The couple's shared interest led them to Hale's Castle, enabling them to house a business at their home much like the Skyline Outfitters mountaineering store did at the site in the 1950s, '60s and '70s.

"For me it's the history. I love older homes. Both of us do," Knight said. "The house we lived in together in Vermont was an old homestead that we renovated over a period of four years. Prior to that we had purchased an old stone farmhouse and had renovated that for a year and a half. I am never interested in living in a new house, ever."

The castle was recently renovated within the interior living confines to look like Hale's original 19th century construction. After the couple moved to Keene two years ago, they came across a for sale sign for the property, which was being leased out as a vacation rental. With the idea to create a "Twig, Twine and Vine" wine and home decor shop, the couple looked into purchasing the property.

The idea transformed from wine to beer thanks to the wine-enthusiast Knight's growing knowledge of international ciders and Chamberlain's growing love of beer. Once living in the rough and tumble Brooklyn neighborhood of BedfordStuyvesant as a Pratt Institute art student, Chamberlain didn't enjoy drinking common college beers such as 40 ounces of Colt 45.

But in recent years, he's grown to love all kinds of craft beer. The combination of his knowledge and passions with that of Knight resulted in an idea of a craft beer store featuring an international selection that just made sense.

"Being in Vermont - it's always behind California but ahead of a lot of other places - I was introduced to good beer maybe a little sooner than a lot of other people, just by a fraction," Chamberlain said. "Just enjoying that and realizing, 'Wait, I do like beer.' I never liked beer when I was young. So when I first started finding out about these micro brews and craft breweries, I just started drinking more beer."

"We learn every day, reading beer blogs, talking to distributors. We are constantly immersed in it," Knight added.

The selection is always changing. Take for example, a Captain Lawrence Sour Ale Knight first tried on Chamberlain's recommendation. Brewed with grapes and aged in an oak barrel, Chamberlain convinced her to try it.

"When Ben first got it, I thought, that sounds disgusting," she said. "It's the most delicious beer, very exceptional."

The store also features Chamberlain's clothing designs from his Paddlerondack business, beer making kits and books, hand blown crystal glassware and local cheeses and meats. The Brew Castle is the official outpost for the Lake Placid butcher shop The Kreature that is affiliated with Liquids and Solids.

Coming from Vermont roots, the couple believes in shopping local and supporting local businesses to enable a vibrant mountain town community.

Little things like being willing to credit customers for returned portions of packs and re-selling bottles as singles gives The Brew Castle that classic mom-and-pop shop feel.

But it's Chamberlain and Knight's genuine belief in the importance of local economies that reflects the castle newcomers' investment into the future of the Adirondacks.

"Buy local, build upon your community," Chamberlain said. "That's the one thing being from Vermont. Vermonters figured that out 15 to 20 years ago. Keep your money here, and look what happened."



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