Rushing Duck Brewing
in Chester, New York by Paul Leone
As more and more breweries open nationwide (over 5000 now!) weíre
seeing not only younger brewers getting into the game of brewery
ownership, but weíre also seeing a trend of married couples opening
breweries as well. Rushing Duck in Chester NY is located in the
lower Hudson Valley, a short drive to NYC, and Nikki Cavanaugh and
Dan Hitchcock are one of those new, young married couples that
decided early on, that making great beer for a living was something
they knew they had to doÖand they are doing it very well. Their can
releases are highly coveted and sell out quickly due to a cult like
following of the brewery and the high quality of their beer.
As a brewery owner, Nikki is the first woman ever to serve on the
New York State Brewers Association Board of Directors and she has
sound advice on what it takes to open a brewery, and what their path
has been so far.
1. When did you get started brewing and open Rushing Duck?
Dan started brewing when we were 18 and in college and it turns out
that when youíre under 21, itís easier to make beer than it is to
buy it. We fell in love with it! After college, Dan started working
at Weyerbacher Brewing in and worked there for 4 years leaving under
the title of Lead Brewer. Dan, his parents (Les and Mary), and
myself started building Rushing Duck in 2011 and opened August 2012
with the idea of making a variety of styles based what we liked to
2. Why the small town of Chester?
Danís parents and grandparents were from Northern New Jersey and
grew up camping in the Hudson Valley and lower Catskills. When we
were looking for areas to start a brewery, it was at the top of our
list because we loved the area, and there werenít many other
breweries open here at the time. Chester is fantastic because the
locals are very into community and supporting local, and itís also a
quick ride from New York City and North Jersey which brings a lot of
people by for day trips.
3. What have been your biggest challenges so far since youíve been
Growth. The brewing industry is very appealing to investors at this
current moment and it is so tempting to take their money and grow,
but we want to remain a family owned business and completely
autonomous. Organic growth is great because it allows us to be in
very little debt and have more control, but its obvious drawback is
that it is slow. However, we did recently install new equipment to
double our production (very exciting!) Dan and I both believe that
autonomy leads to creativity and it also allows us to call all the
shots, which is important for a small business
4. How has the role of women grown in the craft brewing world since
you got into it?
I started working in the beer industry, bartending, about 7 years
ago and there werenít many women represented. Obviously, there have
been women in this industry since itís inception, but in the last
few years Iíve seen more and more women in all aspects of the
brewing industry including production, sales, management, marketing,
etc. The consumer side of things has changed a lot too. There are a
lot more women drinking craft beer, homebrewing, and getting
generally more educated about beer. Itís very exciting to me!
5. You were recently elected the first woman to the Board of
Directors of the New York State Brewers Association, what do you
hope to accomplish?
I was honored to be elected! My agenda focuses on tourism, brewery
participation, and increased communication between board members and
breweries. The craft beverage scene in NY is exploding and it
involves not only beer, but cider, spirits, and wine. I hope to
inspire more events involving all craft beverages in NY and to get
New Yorkers to drink local. All NY breweries should feel the NYSBA
is important to their business and I want to improve upon
communication between board members and breweries to ensure
recruitment and retention of brewery membership. There are more
breweries opening up in NY every year and the stronger our
membership the more we can accomplish as an association.
6. Whatís the best part of being a brewery owner with your husband
Dan and I are pretty opposite people with very different skills so
it really balances out all the work that needs to be done when
running a brewery. Dan is the creative force behind Rushing Duck and
Iím focused on running the business. Itís definitely cool working
with your spouse and seeing how hard each of us work towards the
common goal of making Rushing Duck successful.
7. You are canning your beer in limited batches, how is that going?
What are the challenges?
Canning is going well and we are still selling most of the releases
straight out of the brewery. The challenge is not having enough
beer. We would like to can more beer, but that detracts from our
draft sales which weíve spent four years growing. We want to make
sure that there is enough beer to keep everyone happy.
8. Youíve only been operating a few years, what advice would you
give if you could go back in time and talk to yourself at the
Patience. We were 25 years old when we opened Rushing Duck and
wanted everything to be perfect. Iíve learned that wanting
perfection in a business only leads to frustration. Now that weíve
been open for a while Iíve accepted that machinery breaks, not all
bars will serve my beer, employees leave, and things are not
perfect. Owning a brewery is a humbling experience, but I wouldnít
change my job for anything.
9. What advice would you give anyone who is thinking about opening a
Make sure you want to start a business and not just a brewery! I
feel like the idea of brewing and selling beer seems like a fun job
(and it is), but itís a business first. Dan and I understood this
because he worked in a production brewery for years before we
started Rushing Duck, but we still werenít prepared for the amount
of work it takes to have employees, build capital, pay bills, and
build a brand. My advice is prepare yourself to work an incredible
amount of hours, get educated in beer production before you open a
brewery, and have fun even when it seems like everything is going
To learn more about Rushing Duck and where to find them, go here -