Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Albany Ale: Beery History on High

One of the things that became apparent pretty quickly, while I was working on my bits of Upper Hudson Valley Beer is that beer does not exist in a vacuum—historically speaking, that is. It's interwoven in the social and economic history of wherever that beer is made. People and places that on the surface have nothing to do with beer, quite frequently pop up in the story, and as I often joke—it all comes back to beer.

This weekend I experienced just that when I went hiking. That's right, hiking.

With my wife and the kids in tow, we headed west, from Albany  to Middleburgh, New York, and the heart of the Schoharie Valley. Rising above the valley is Vroman's Nose, a 1,200 feet tall "scour and pluck" formation—a geological rarity by which the side of the hill was scraped, or "plucked" off by passing glaciers of the Pleistocene—resulting in an abrupt cliff on the hill's southern face.  And, it's just about one of the best day hikes in all of Central New York. The hike is a fairly easy trek of about a 3/4 of mile, and the trail is lined with hemlock and oak. Easy, but admittedly, I was a bit sweaty carrying my lot's lunch—from the Carrot Barn at Schoharie Valley Farms—in a backpack, by the time we reached the top. A bit of perspiration is worth it once you reach the summit, because the Nose offers a spectacular view of the valley—especially this time of year when the fields below are a patchwork of greens and tan; and the the hills which form the valley are in sharp contrast to the bright blue sky.

The Nose, brings something else to the table. It's summit is a 30 feet wide flat, plateau, dubbed the "Dance Floor". It's sandstone surface makes for the perfect canvas, and is etched with names and dates ranging from last year's graduating class of Middleburgh High, to valley residents from the 1850s and 60s—and probably much earlier. There are hundreds of names carved into the floor, and you could spend hours exploring the valley's history, literally etched into stone.

So what's the beery connection to a Devonian-era rock pile?

In 1713 Adam Vrooman established the first farm in the Schoharie Valley, and Vroman's Nose, is his namesake. Vrooman had immigrated from the Netherlands in the 1670s, first to Beverwyck, then to Arent van Curler's settlement on the Mohawk River, Schenectady. Vrooman built a mill, brewery and a family in Schenectady, until tragedy struck on the night of February 8, 1690. That fateful night, a contingent of nearly 200 Canadien and Mohawk raiders, slaughtered many of the villagers and destroyed most of the settlement in retaliation for a similar massacre in the French frontier settlement of Lachine, in what is now Quebec. Vrooman defended his family home, and brewery, with his eldest son, Barent, and a single rifle, but his efforts were for naught. His wife and youngest son were murdered, and ten-year-old Barent was kidnapped and taken to French held territory.

Vrooman, would eventually travel to Canada, and negotiate for his son's release. With Barent free, Adam expanded both his brewing and milling operations in Schenectady, buying land along the Brandywine creek. Barent took over his fathers brewing endeavor, and continued to operate well into the 18th century. When Adam retired to his Schoharie Valley farm in 1713, he was one of Schenectady's wealthiest businessmen, and the city's most successful early brewer.

See what I mean?

Beeryiness, that on the surface doesn't seem beery, but like the sandstone etchings on the Dance Floor of Vroman's Nose, if you look close, the history is there.

Like I said, it always comes back to beer.

Friday, August 29, 2014

The Splitting of Belgian Hairs

I’ve been ruminating on what Stephen Beaumont wrote last week about Belgian beer—or more precisely, that beer brewed outside of Belgium with a traditionally “Belgian” yeast strain does not a Belgian beer make. I know I’m coming at this a bit late, but I wasn’t sure about my opinion on his proposed axiom.

Stephen’s point is basically this: Belgium has a diverse range of ale and lager, each with it’s own range of characteristics, often unique to individual breweries. Simply blanketing all yeast forward beers as “Belgian” or even “Belgian-style”—especially beers not made in Belgium—is in his words is "...a great disservice to the country’s long brewing traditions and current diversity, not to mention the beer, the brewer and the drinker..."

That’s a pretty broad coating of disservice. But I’m not sure I care.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t approve of outright disrespect, and I can can see Stephen’s point, but at what point does factual preciseness begin to blur in pedantry? 

If a group of co-workers were to suggest "Italian" for lunch, and I were chime in “Southern or Northern Italian? Sicilian or Roman?” I would be met with a cacophony of shut-ups and fuck yous. Think of the looks you’d receive at the oil change place when filling in the make and model info on the obligatory form, if you wrote “Honda” and “Civic,  but also added a little note saying that “Although Honda Motor Company is headquartered in Japan, this particular Civic was made in Greensburg, Indiana, and not to be confused with one made in made in Turkey, Thailand or China.” You might need to prepare for a few obscene gestures, or at the very least, a few more charges tacked onto your bill.

How is using the prefix “Belgian” any different than how “American” or "American-style" is used?

The phrase “American” has begun to imply intensely bitter and hoppy beers–but is that indicative of all American beer? No. That didn’t stop Adnams, Mikkeller, Green King, Brains, Wojkówka and— Belgium’s own—Brouwerij Van Viven from releasing American-style IPAs. No one seems to be dis-served on this side of the Atlantic. Speaking as the drinker, I surely don't care. 

In a perfect beery world every beer drinker in the English-speaking realm would know the difference between Old Bruin and an Abbey Ale, but they don't, and we're quite a ways away from a perfect beery world, aren't we? 

No amount of fist shaking is going to change that.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Gratuitous Self-Promotion: O-fficial Book Launch of "Upper Hudson Valley Beer"!

I’m a big fan of the Albany Institute of History & Art. Not only is the museum one of the oldest in the U.S., founded in 1791; and not only do they having an amazing assortment of artifacts and ephemera in both their collections and library—nearly all of which are Albany-related.—but they also really like beer.

For that matter they also seem to like Alan and myself. 

The Institute has been gracious enough to invite me to speak, not once, but twice on the history of brewing in the Upper Hudson Valley, at their Hudson Valley Hops event. They hosted our cask tap and 1901 Albany Ale recreation event last September, and donated—I stress donated—many images from their collections for use in our book. Plus, they are, as a general rule, cool people. Alan and I could not ask for a better community and cultural partner when it comes to the Albany Ale Project and our work rediscovering the history of beer and brewing in Albany and the Upper Hudson Valley. After all that—which is far more than we ever hoped for—they have asked to host the official launch of Upper Hudson Valley Beer.

That’s right. I’m announcing our first official book event!

Please join myself, and the cast and crew of the Albany Institute of History & Art, at the Albany Institute of History & Art on September 11, 2014, from 6pm to 8pm, for a beery good time. Tickets are available on the AIHA’s website for $30 per person or $50 per couple. The price includes a copy of the book (I’m happy to sign it, too) and beer.

Wait…what? Beer? Yup, that’s how the AIHA roll.

Along with the book launch, they’ve also invited the gang from Remarkable Liquids stop by and dole out samples of some of the region’s best beer! 

Me, history, and beer all in one convenient package. Who could ask for anything more? Don't answer that.

Give a click here for all the info, and online ticket sales, and I’ll see ya’ on the 11th.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Late Summer Laziness

It's far too August to be reading—or for that matter writing—about beer. Go outside, enjoy the weather. Have a pint, or two.

I'll be back next week with updates. I leave you with this.

Gangway IPA,
Red Hare Brewing Co, Marietta, GA

Friday, August 15, 2014

Albany Ale: A Blast From the Past

It's been along time since Albany Ale has been in the title of a post, hasn't it? I happened to have heard a bit of news today, so I decided to dust it off.

I dunno about it being the "original" IPA.
Pabst, it appears will be re-introducing Ballantine IPA. Pabst owns the name to a number of iconic American beers, including Schaefer, Old Style and Schlitz, and is of course the brewer of the hipster paragon PBR. It's likely that Pabst is looking to exploit the caché of another ironic, nostalgia beer, like PBR, and what with IPA being the most popular "craft" style, hipsters are the most obvious "target demo,  as the marketeers might say.

According to Pabst brewer Greg Duehs, in a Mike Snider August 13, 2014 USAToday.com article "We are hoping that the current (Pabst Blue Ribbon) consumers will embrace the Ballantine IPA," Duehs continues in the article, "...one of my challenges was, how do we get into the craft business? I said that we already have the answer: Ballantine IPA." Ballantine IPA was one of the most popular beers the brewery made beers, if not one of the most popular beers of mid-century America, but the beer came about quite a bit earlier than that.

19th century American IPAs were quite common and Ballantine's version supposedly dates to the 1870s. It was revived after the repeal of prohibition, and "Aged on wood for a year" as its label stated, however its hey-day came during the 1950s and 1960s—an era by which IPAs were few and far between—but by the 1970s the beer had all but been bastardized, especially the after Falstaff acquisition of Ballantine in 1972. Pabst kept the IPA in rotation after their purchase of Falstaff until 1996, but it was a far cry from what the beer had once been.

The article delves briefly into the recreation:
In re-creating Ballantine IPA, Deuhs had no original recipe or company notes to fall back on. Instead, he relied on analytic reports from as far back as the '30s that tracked the ale's attributes (alcohol, bitterness, gravity level). He also researched what ingredients were likely used, historical accounts of the beer and beer lovers' remembrances.
So there you go. The much beloved Ballantine IPA is coming back from the grave.
What's that you say? What does Pabst recreating Ballantine IPA have to do with Albany Ale, you ask?

Oh yeah, I did add that whole Albany Ale thing to the title, didn't I?

Well, maybe this snippet from Upper Hudson Valley Beer—our, now available at both online-retailers, and fine local bookstores, book—might clear things up a bit:

...Dunlop had amassed quite a fortune. He owned grain and plaster mills near Syracuse and malt houses in West Troy and Albany in addition to his brewery. It was at this time that Dunlop hired fellow Scot Peter Ballantine as his brewer. In 1834, Ballantine bought Dunlop’s Market Street brewery. Dunlop went on to concentrate on his milling and malting business, eventually partnering with his son-in-law, Thomas McCredie. Dunlop’s son, Archibald, oversaw the family brewing business in Albany, operating a new brewery on Quay Street. Upon his father’s death, Archibald also partnered with Thomas McCredie in a brewery at the West Troy malt house location between 1852 and 1856.
Peter Ballantine continued to grow the old Dunlop Brewery, which he renamed Peter Ballantine & Co. He moved the brewery from Market Street to Lansing Street in the late 1830s and then finally out of Albany, relocating to Newark, New Jersey, in 1840. The brewery Ballantine opened in Newark evolved into P. Ballantine & Sons, one of the largest, privately held corporations in the United States by the mid-twentieth century.
See, now it all makes sense. 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Friday, August 8, 2014

Dans la Célébration de la Saison

Saison might just be my favorite beer style.

It really is the perfect summer beer. Maybe it's the color—sort of a hazy yellow-orange. For whatever reason it reminds me of open meadow at round five or six in the afternoon, when the shadows are getting long and the sun gives everything a golden hue.

Saison is one of those beers, regardless of who makes it, I will always try. They've gained in popularity of late, but they still aren't in quite the same regular rotation as some of the more go-to brews.  This week though has been a rather good week for my saison habit.

Wednesday, the Lionheart Pub, held a Goose Island/Rushing Duck tap take-over (yes, it was called the Duck...Duck...Goose event) and both breweries brought along their sasionic* offerings. Goose Island brought along Sophie, a brew that in the past has been a bit disappointing, but GI must have hit a stride before Wednesday, because this keg was really on point. The pride of Chester, New York, Rushing Duck Brewing Company brought along their Bauli saison. I'm not much for spice in my beer—a little goes along way—but RD had a deft hand when it  comes to the spice for Bauli. Coriander, white peppercorns and especially their use of Kahfir lime leaves, all add a really nice punch of citrus.

A freak thunderstorm on Tuesday—and subsequently a flooded basement—led to another saisonic treat. Moving stuff off the cellar floor, I opened a cooler that I use to store beer and found—lo and behold—a bottle of Saison Dupont and another of Ithaca's Ground Break. The Ithaca variant is a great "American-ized" riff on the farmhouse tradition—spicy with a great pop of American hop zing. The Saison Dupont, well, what really needs to be said about the archetypal saison? Other than ahhhhhh...

Both bottles had to have been two or three years old—an added bonus to "bringing the funk" as it were. They must have been quietly sitting there, in the dark, waiting for an event that begot more than a bit of swearing on my end. Perhaps as a reward for basement mucking?

Yeah, that's what I'll go with.

*Saisonic? Saison-ish?

**BTW I don't speak a lick of French, but Google Translator says "In Celebration of Saison" translates to "Dans la Célébration de la Saison". I have no idea if that is correct, but who am I to argue with Lord Goog.