AUBURN — When Mike Sigona opened the Thirsty Pug Craft Beer Market in June 2014, he wasn't easy to find. And he didn't have to be.
Back then, his customers were mostly craft beer diehards, often from well outside Cayuga County. They knew what they wanted — fresh India pale ales, rare sours, highly regarded Belgians — and they knew Sigona's Genesee Center bottle shop had it. After he added tap lines for on-site consumption the following year, he had even more of it.
So it didn't matter that the Thirsty Pug was tucked inside a mini-mall and all but invisible from the street. Those diehard customers tracked it down regardless. Anyone who didn't care for craft beer, meanwhile, was unlikely to walk through Sigona's door even if they did know where it was. Either way, he wasn't missing out on many potential customers.
Five years later, however, the craft beer scene has boomed. Cayuga County has gone from zero to six breweries. New York state passed 400 last year. And craft beer has slowly invaded supermarket shelves and chain restaurants. Far more people have a taste for it today, Sigona said. So he felt the time was right to take the Thirsty Pug somewhere they could find it.
"You see everybody trying stuff out and getting into it," he said Wednesday. "I think we were missing the boat being hidden."
At noon Friday, the Thirsty Pug will open at a new, more visible location at 131 Genesee St., the former Cayuga County Office of Tourism. It's twice as big as the old location, and boasts 13 tap lines to the old one's nine. There are more stools at the bar, which is still made of reclaimed bowling alley wood, as well as sidewalk tables and a "legacy nook" for longtime customers.
The shop's selection of canned and bottled beer, available to go, will mostly stay the same, Sigona said. For non-beer drinkers, his taproom will continue to offer wines and ciders from the Underground Bottle Shop. He'll still serve limited food, too, but customers are also welcome to order some from new neighbor Parker's Grille & Taphouse and eat it in the Thirsty Pug.
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New additions will include bottle lists with Trappist (monk-made) and lambic (sour Belgian) beers to enjoy on-site. And with more lines, Sigona can pour a fuller selection of styles: pilsners and lagers, stouts and porters, kettle and mixed fermentation sours, and, of course, IPAs. He can also order bigger kegs, he continued, and pass the savings on to his customers in the form of lower prices.
The variety of styles on tap can work both ways. Customers who flinch at hoppy beers can stick to the other ones, while IPA fanatics can be tempted to branch out. At the same time, those who associate the most popular craft beer style with bitterness and aggressive booziness would be surprised by the complexity and fruit flavors of newer IPAs, Sigona said. He and his staff of three, who had to pass a beer quiz as part of the application process, are happy to offer such suggestions. Their level of expertise also translates to clean lines and fresh kegs, he said.
Many of those newer IPAs come from breweries in New York and the Northeast. And though the Thirsty Pug remains around the corner from one of the style's top producers in Prison City, as well as Good Shepherds now across the street, Sigona doesn't see much overlap. Those breweries serve almost exclusively their own beer, he said, leaving ones distributed from outside the area to him.
"I'm able to take advantage of thousands of world-class beers coming into the area without stepping on any toes," he said.
As Sigona welcomes new customers, however, the changing behavior of some of his old diehard ones poses a challenge. The beer they chased to his store five years ago has since become so available that they fixate even harder on what remains out of reach. Once a sought-after sour or IPA regularly arrives on his shelves, he said, it's not uncommon for the beer to go ignored.
All Sigona can do is hope people mature out of that mindset and appreciate what they can find at the new Thirsty Pug.
"You're never going to find anything better than what we have on the shelf," he said.