Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Albany Ale: How Albany Was Won...and Lost

Oof. Food poisoning. It's a long story, and suffice it to say, I've been laid up on the couch for the last two days.

My convalescence, however has allowed me the opportunity to kill time in one of my most favorite ways. No, not beer drinking—especially not in my current state. But rather, watching classic western movies of the 1950s and 60s. I've been a fan of westerns since I was a kid. From The Wild Bunch and Rio Bravo to Winchester '73 and High Noon—and don't even get me started on the spaghetti westerns.

In any case, I watched a true classic on Sunday—MGM's 1962 How The West Was Won. If you haven't seen it, do. It's a star-studded epic, filmed in all the glory of its biblical predecessor Ben Hur and Twentieth Century Fox's Egyptian saga, Cleopatra. The film is pretty amazing and needed four directors to complete it—not the least of which was the genre's master, John Ford. As far as the cast goes, it hosted just a few unknown Hollywood players—Jimmy Stewart, Henry Fonda, Debbie Reynolds and John Wayne to name a few. It has everything you'd want in a western—raging rivers, gambler and gunslingers, a Civil War battle, showgirls, runaway covered wagons, Indian attacks, buffalo stampedes and cavalry charges—oh, and a train robbery. It's one gigantic, big, wonderful, double-screen-panavisionary-technicolor spectacle.

And it got Albany totally wrong.

The movie starts, as the narrator Spencer Tracey, notes, "Five generations ago, a mere 125 years back…" A little math puts that at around 1837—but let's round it up to 1840 for the sake of argument. Tracey continues:

…The trapper's road was the trail of a wolf or the bend of a canyon, but for whole families, chaffing to follow the sun, there had to be broader ways. There were no roads into the wilderness only rivers and they followed in the wrong direction—north or south, or else they stopped at the Allegheny's. Until one day a new river took source in the mind of a man named DeWitt Clinton. He conceived of a river that would go west, and in a way Americans have of enacting out their dreams. It came to be. The Erie Canal left the Hudson above Albany and carried clear across to the Great Lakes. People who yearned for virgin land and a new life now had a highway to take them, and they moved along."

The narration sets up the introduction of Carrol Baker's character, Eve Prescott, who is about to travel with her family along the Canal, towards Illinois. Unfortunately, Henry Hathaway—this segment of the movie's director—misses the mark on depicting the Albany waterfront in the late 1830s and early 1840s. Hathaway makes the queue point for those heading west look like a dusty, Midwestern cow-town (and don't get me started on the mention of "Lager" on the tavern sign). Look below:

I get that Hathaway gets a little artistic license, but this got me thinking about what Albany was like at that time.

In truth, Albany would have been far more industrial, more in line with the wharfs of New York and Philadelphia. The city's waterfront—or what would become known as the Albany Basin—and the entrance to the canal would have been a commercial core, with business and manufacturing lining the riverfront. The river itself would have been crowded with schooners and skiffs and packet, steam and canal boats. When the nearly mile long Albany Basin pier was built in 1825, it had moorings for 1,000 canal and 50 steamboats, not to mention the innumerable docks and slips built for private businesses near the entrance to the canal. Below is a panoramic view of the city, drawn by French engineer and geographer Jacques-Gérard Milbert, and published in 1829—a decade prior to the setting of the movie.

At this point, you're probably noticing that this post isn't going to have much to do with beer—and you're right, it doesn't. It does, however, have a lot to do with the main, historic reasons Albany became such a successful brewing hub.

By 1840, Albany was 226 years old as a settlement, and 142 years old as a charted city—making it the sixth oldest, and longest continuously charted city in the U.S. During much of the Revolutionary War, most of the newly formed United States was embroiled in the conflict with the British. However, the routing of British forces in upstate New York, after their defeat at Saratoga in 1777—30 mile north of Albany—afforded Albany and the upper Hudson Valley relative peace for the rest of the war, and the area slowly began to see its population rise. At the war's end in 1783, Albany's population was between 2,000 and 2,500. In 1790 it was just over 3,000 people. By 1810, it had become 10th largest city in the United States—with over 10,000 residents and would stay in the top ten until 1860. As of 1840, the Albany-Schenectady-Troy triangle was the sixth largest metropolitan area in the country—with almost 60,000 people. Although Albany never rivaled New York, Boston or Philadelphia in size, it was quite a bit bigger than most of the cities and towns in the U.S. at that time.

Albany was a pretty good size city, but size wasn't everything. Like any good real estate agent will tell you it's all about location, location, location. Albany has its foundation in trade and shipping. The Dutch settled the area as a fur trading post, and the areas natural waterways—the Hudson and Mohawk Rivers—gave settlers access south to the Atlantic and west into the interior of the state. When the British Governor of New York, Thomas Dongan, chartered the city of Albany, thereby incorporating it and separating it from Rensselearwijck in 1686, he also included the provisions that the city have exclusive rights to trade with the native population and established the newly formed city as the sole market town in the entire of upstate New York. Fur trappers could make their way deep into the wilderness of New York via the Mohawk, trap beaver and other animals, and then send their pelts south to New York from the market center at Albany.

But why did Albany end up where it did? And how did that location affect trade and shipping out of Albany for the next 400 years? Well, it's all because of Henry Hudson.

Robert Juet traveled with Hudson on the explorer's third trip to the new world, and a portion of the sailor's journal were published in Johannes De Laet's History of the New World. Between September 19th to the 23rd, 1609, Hudson explored the upper portion of the river that would be named for him. De Laet noted in his book that according to Juet, Hudson explored the river "to nearly 43° of north latitude, where it became so narrow and of so little depth that he found it necessary to return." 43° North latitude is about thirty miles north of Albany. Wide is good. It makes maneuvering a large vessel considerably easier, but too wide can be a problem as well. The river at Albany was perfect, just over 1,000 feet between the west and east banks. The water near Albany and Troy was anywhere between 12 and 40 feet deep, but further north it shallowed to an unnavigable seven feet. When the Dutch returned to the area in 1614 they knew not to venture further up the river, instead settling near modern day Albany—first at Fort Nassau, and then relocating ten years later to Fort Orange.

Not only is the river a good width and depth near Albany, there's another phenomenon that Hudson may have noticed. It flows in both directions, north and south. What Hudson probably didn't know was that the Hudson River, is actually the Hudson Tidal Estuary which flows through the Hudson Fjord. The whole kit and caboodle was formed during the last North American glaciation.

Surprised you with that one, huh?

The Hudson is a partially enclosed coastal waterway, with a number of rivers and tributaries flowing into. It's also brackish—that is, a mixture of salt and fresh water. All that makes it an estuary, rather than a river. Because its an estuary and therefore technically a coastal body, it's affected by the tides. So when it's high tide, the river flows north, and at low tide it ebbs seaward. The tidal effect can be seen, and more importantly felt four times (two high, and two low tides) a day as far north as Troy—150 miles from the mouth of the Hudson. That means masted ships sailing up or down the Hudson didn't necessarily need wind for propulsion when traveling along the river—if of course, they were traveling at the right time of day. It also meant that steam powered craft didn't need to expend as much fuel under those same conditions. A passenger on board Robert Fulton's steamboat The North River*—on its 1807 inaugural run from New York to Albany and back again—noted the tides in a letter to the English press

"The next morning we left Albany with several passengers on the return to New York, the tide in favour, but a head-wind. We left Albany at twenty-five minutes past nine A.M. and arrived at Claremont in nine hours precisely, which gave us five miles an hour. The current, on returning, was stronger than when going up."

Coincidentally, 1807 was also when the Erie Canal was first proposed.

Speaking of the Canal, it's no coincidence that it ended up starting in Albany, either. The valleys formed by the Hudson and Mohawk Rivers form the only cut-through in the Appalachian Chain north of Alabama, making essentially, an unobstructed corridor from the port of New York to the Ohio Valley. Cutting the canal from Albany inland to Schenectady gave access to the waterway without causing congestion on the Hudson and at the mouth of the Mohawk. Canal boat could enter the canal through the Albany Basin and travel north, parallel to Hudson—through West Troy (which gave access to Troy on the east bank of the Hudson), eventually arcing, at Cohoes, along the curve of Mohawk towards Schenectady to follow the natural cut made by the tributary's valley. At Schenectady, the canal snaked along its big brother to Rome, New York, before continuing west on its own. In 1823, the Champlain Canal opened, connecting Lake Champlain, the Champlain Valley and Montreal to the Hudson River.

Long story short, Albany was front and center in a perfect storm for shipping and trade by 1830. Albany controlled the flow of goods and products east and west, north and south, for the entire Northeast. It was a fully established, large city with an infrastructure to support industry. It had access to a easily navigable, large coastal river, and boasted a large inland seaport. And the Canal? Well the Canal changed everything, didn't it? Access to the Adirondack forests and mountains jump started the area's lumber and iron industries, clay deposits along the Hudson blossomed into a huge brick-making industry—bricks that became renowned for there durability and were shipped across the country via the canal. Let's not forget the beer. Grain from the Ohio Valley and western New York—along with hops—could be brought to Albany along the Canal in about a week. Within a month, ale made from those raw ingredients could be on board steamboats heading to the Port of New York, to be shipped across the globe.

While the Canal was a blessing, it was also a curse. It was the first gateway to the west. While it brought goods and products to the city, it took people away. Villages in the west became cities in the west, and those cities became competitors—Buffalo, Cincinnati, Chicago, St. Louis, Kansas City and San Francisco. As efficient as the canal was, innovation and demand was faster. As the western cities grew, a new form of transpiration exploded—the railroad. On May 10, 1869—a mere 44 years after the opening of Erie canal—the first Transcontinental Railroad connected San Francisco to the east coast rail lines at Council Bluffs, Iowa. Travel from Albany to Buffalo on the canal took a week to ten days. By rail, travelers and goods could make California—six times further in nearly half the time. Albany would never recover.

But such is history. 

*The North River steamboat is often erroneously referred to as The Clermont.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A "Was-hail Song"

A wassail, a wassail, a washail bowl we sing,
With cinnamon, peppermint and other spices in!
A wassail, a wassail, with jolly sugar'd ale, 
and joy come to you from our wassail. 

Good Master and good Mistress, as you sit by the fire, 
Oh think of us poor Wassailers who tramp it through the mire.

A wassail, a wassail, &c 

We'll wassail increase to your store—we'll wassail sheep & kine, 
We'll wassail bees and apple trees—we'll wassail horse and swine. 

A wassail, a wassail, &c

Hang out your silken handkerchief upon your golden spear, 
And welcome in your Wassailers to taste your Christmas cheer.

A wassail, a wassail, of jolly nappy ale,
and joy come to you from our wassail.
A wassail, a wassail, a washail bowl we sing, 
With cinnamon, and peppermint, and other spices in!

A Topographical History of Surrey, Volume IV,

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Friday, December 20, 2013

From the Ridiculous to the Absurd

Ohioans, your rights have been infringed upon!

For years now you have been subjected to unreasonable restriction, and your freedoms as an American have been trampled on—and most of you probably don't even know it. You have been subjected to a violation of your birthright.

You've been made—nay forced—to drink beer under 12 percent alcohol by volume.

12 percent. That's egregious.

Fear not Ohio. Representative Dan Ramos (D), from Lorain, Ohio, has a proposed legislation to raise the legal alcohol by volume lint to a far more reasonable 21 percent. According to The Plain Dealer's cleveland.com, Ramos want to finally bring equality to the Buckeye State.
"More and more people I talk to realize this is about leveling the playing field for these businesses so they can compete with what's going on in other states."
Mary Matineau, executive director of the Ohio Craft Brewers Association—according to the same source, says:
"If it goes, through we'll support it...It's something that our board has discussed, but it wasn't an issue we were going to triumph"
With a rousing endorsement like that, how could this heinous proviso not be amended.

21 percent simply makes more sense—It's 12, backwards. That's progress. But why stop there? Ohio shouldn't simply strive to be equal to other states, it should seek to innovate—and then dominate. Cincinnati, Toledo, and Akron are already demanding a raise to 43 percent, and I think we can all agree that Stuebenville's own Dean Martin, would have also gladly switched from booze to beer if an 62 percent Barley Wine had been available in 1952.

Aside from the obvious positive economic impact 88 percent beer would have on brewery profits, it could also be a boon for the bar and restaurant industry. Think about how much bars could charge per pint if the beer was served flaming. Raising the ABV limit is also beneficial to local townships and municipalities. I don't know what the fine is for being 178 times over the legal blood-alcohol driving limit in Ohio is, but I'm guessing it's pretty high. Columbus could raise enough money to build a new city pool after a single DWI stop.  Raising the ABV limit is a win-win for everybody.

I think it's safe to say most Ohioans would agree with this fully unencumbered New Yorker, when I call for 100 by 2016.

I can hear the crowds now...

One hundred... one hundred... one hundred 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Albany Ale: What Comes Around, Goes Around

Wow three Albany Ale posts in a row! This is a little one, but still—three!

Far be it from me to suggest that some modern craft brewers have...how shall I put this...drank their own Kool-Aid. Don't get me wrong, I'd never not think that the newest urea-spiked IPA, couldn't possibly be the best-est—and in turn think that whatever innovative and passionate brewery out there that's making such a innovative and passionate concoction must, of course, be the best-est, as well.

All kidding aside, doing a little 18th-century research for our upcoming book on the history of brewing in the Upper Hudson Valley and the Albany Ale Project website revealed that maybe, just maybe, tooting one's beery horn isn't such a new phenomenon.

A little background, first.

William D. Faulkner began his brewing career in New York City in the late 1760s. Faulkner initially partnered with New York City merchant Leonard Lipsenard—the son of Albany brewer Anthony Lipsenard—to sell bottled ale and beer on Manhattan; then with Stephen Rapalje and Anthony Ten Eyck. By 1771 he had opened his own brewery on Cow-foot hill, in what is now modern-day Harlem neighborhood of Manhattan. A fire in his New York brewery brought about his relocation to Albany, and in 1790 Faulkner opened a brewery in the city’s northern neighborhood of Arbor Hill—advertising Ales, Porter, Bottled Ales and Spruce Beer.

And with an ad like this from the Albany Register of November 27, 1790 , how could he go wrong...

Whereas it hath been universally wished by the inhabitants of the city of Albany and its vicinity, that some gentleman, fully master of the BREWING BUSINESS would enter thereon, the Subscriber, at the request of his Friends, informs them and the Public in general, that he has commenced that Business at the Brewery (late of the property Paul Hochstrasser) upper end or Arbor-Hill. As  he was regularly bred to that Philosophic Branch in England, and followed it twenty-five years in this country, he flatters himself, his Porter, Ale and Beer will meet with general appropriation, as prior to his Brewery being destroyed by fire, they always bore the greatest eclat, not only in New-York, but also in Charleston, South Carolina, and the West-Indies.
Albany, October 11, 1790
Interestingly, by 1792, William Gibbs, announced that he would be occupying the brewery. There is no record of William Faulkner operating a brewery in Albany after that point.

I wonder why? His ad was both passionate and innovative.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Albany Ale: Shuffle off to Buffalo—but First to Schenectady and Geneva

Okay, so I realize that none of the cities that I'm going to write about in this post are Albany, but Schenectady is just a hop, skip and a jump down the Mohawk River, and I'd say that it falls under the Albany Ale umbrella.

That's where the story begins—in Schenectady. Okay, technically is doesn't, but that's where I'm starting the story. I was digging through some books and searching the interwebs for information on Schenectady's brewing past. The industry was quite a bit smaller there than in its neighboring cities of Albany and Troy, but there were some notable breweries.

New York State in 1795
courtesy of davidrumsey.com
Especially during the first part of the 19th-century. According to The History of the County of Schenectady from 1662 to 1886. Schenectady say a burst of breweries opening on Washington Avenue in what is now the city's historic Stockade District. The first of those Washington Ave breweries was opened by a "Mr. Moffatt" in 1820. The brewery operated until 1827 or 28 and then closed.

That info sent me looking for Mr. Moffatt, and a page in Orasmus Turner's 1851 book on the Phelps and Gorham Purchase—a 1788 purchase of 6 million acres of Western New York from Massachusetts by two business men—caught my eye. Turner mentions a number of the early merchants living in the tiny village of Geneva, New York. Including Samuel Colt, and the owners of the regions first brewery Grieve & Moffat (less one t).

Grieve? That sounds familiar. Didn't Alan come across a reference, and write a post about a brew house owned by a Grieve in Lord Selkirk's travel diary of 1803 and 04—including diagrams of the building?

In fact he did.

According to a post on Genesee Country Village Museum's—a living history museum just outside Rochester—website, Walter Grieve and John Moffat were indeed business partners—or at the very least owned property together. According to Orasmus Turner's book, the duo seem to have met around the mid-1790s while working for Cpt. Charles Williamson at Sodus, New York. Williamson was the first land agent for the Pulteney Estate, a group of British investors who had purchased land in 1792, within the area of the Phelps and Gorham Purchase, east of the Genesee River. Grieve and Moffat were with Williamson in Sodus around 1795 and moved to the settlement of Geneva in 1796 and their brewhouse* is suspected to have begun operation in 1797.

Genesee Country Village's post speaks more to the history of Walter Grieve, and doesn't mention much about Moffat. It does reference Lord Selkirk's diary and the Turner book, noting that Selkirik mentioned a "Moffat" in regards to a new patented still, and that Turner mentioned that Moffat had "removed to Buffalo". The GVC post also says that Geneva Historical Society gives credit to Moffat for opening the brewery, rather than Grieve, but Moffat doesn't show up on any census for Ontario County, and it appears that he sold off his holdings in Geneva sometime in the late 1790s. John Moffat did however obtain a patent for a still in 1803.
The Albany Argus, May 1815

Although there is no record of a John Moffat in western New York in the last few years of the 1790s, there was a John Moffat living—or conducting legal business—in Schenectady by at least 1818. An advertisement in the Tuesday May 23, 1815 edition of the Albany Argus also mentions ale from Moffat's Brewery in Schenectady was for sale at 22 Quay Street in Albany. The ad was reprinted from January of that year. It looks like the 1820 date in The History of the County of Schenectady is off by five or perhaps six years, at the very least.

But was the John Moffat in Schenectady the same John Moffat? A little more digging seems to have cleared that up—in a round about way.

Another Moffat popped up in my research at this point, as well. James Moffat appears to have established Moffat Brewery, one of the earliest breweries in Buffalo, New York. According to The Western Brewer: and Journal of the Barley, Malt and Hop Trades, published in 1919, James set-up shop in Buffalo in 1810. Both John and James (along with William Moffat) were also listed in a 1835 Buffalo directory, as brewers in Buffalo. 

Was James a brother or son?

 In fact, he was John's son. According to Municipality of Buffalo: A History, Vol. IV, published in 1923:
The business which has now become the Moffat Flour Mills, Inc., had its real beginning in 1792, when John Moffat, great-grandfather of William L. Moffat, began establishing breweries throughout the Albany and Schenectady sections of the State. About 1828 the business was moved to Buffalo by his son, James, who continued to conduct it until 1856, under the name Moffat Company, when he turned the business over to his son Henry C., who continued to successfully manage the business for a great many years, finally being succeeded by his son William L. James Moffet... 
That bit cleared a lot up. But, something got messed up somewhere, and there's some conflicting info. 

Was it 1810 or 1828 that the Moffats established their brewery in Buffalo? My guess is closer to the later date. Another publication from 1919The Niagara Area: A Monthly News Journal has a blurb about James Moffat purchasing the land on which the existing brewery (existing as of 1919, anyhow) was built on, in 1832. It looks like the Mofftas moved in 1828, but didn't begin brewing in until 1832—or perhaps built a new brewery in that year. 

Another inconsistency in the the story comes from Orasmus Turner. He implies that the elder Moffat left Geneva for Buffalo, at the turn of the 19th century, but it seems like he went east to Schenectady first—or what I'm starting to think is that he returned to Schenectady. The Municipality of Buffalo: A History, notes a date of 1792—that's three years prior to his work with Williamson and Grieve in Pultney Esate Purchase. If the Municipality of Buffalo book is to believed, Moffat may have been living—and brewing—in the Albany/Schenectady area well before 1815.

It seems that the brewhouse in Geneva was a business venture that just wasn't going to work out. Western New York at the turn of the 19th century must have been a desolate place. In fact, it might have well been California. According to the Genesee Country Village Museum's post, no breweries were identified in Ontario County in the Tench Coxe’s 1810 census. Perhaps Grieve and Moffat had a falling out or maybe it was just an adventure without the payout—at least for Moffat. A return to the Albany/Schenectady area, and its more fully developed brewing industry, may have been the best move for him, but with the full opening of the Erie Canal in 1825, it seems his adventurous spirit rose again.

The Moffat brewery, one of the oldest in Buffalo, continued to operate throughout the 19th. Closing as a brewery in 1920 due to national prohibition, the Moffat family re-opened as Moffet Flour Mills, Inc. From what I can tell, unfortunately, a fire destroyed the brewery building turned flour mill in 1926—eliminating any chance for reopening after repeal.

In any case, John Moffat, connects 128 years and 270 miles of New York brewing history—and that's cool be it Albany Ale or not. 

*The Genesee Country Village has a fully functioning reproduction of Walter Grieve's 1803 brew house, based on the information from Lord Selkirk's diary.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Albany Ale: The First Albany Ale Project

When I conjure up images of 1965 in my head, I might picture the Beatles running across the grass at Shea Stadium, or Muhammad Ali standing over the limp body of Sonny Liston. I might even think of a helicopter whirring down into a blown back field of grass, with black-rifled GIs scurrying way from the green chopper's open door. 

1965—the heady days of 77¢ swim trunks.
What I would never think about is Albany Ale.
But, someone back then was. 

This morning I was searching a newspaper database, and seeing the usual spread of dates of the 1850s to the turn of the century when 1965 caught my eye. Not 1865, 1965. It appears that 48 years ago—when I was but a twinkle in my momma's eye and Alan was a tot of two—columnist and associate editor of the Albany newspaper the Knickerbocker News, Charley Mooney, had his own run-in with Albany Ale. Here's what he wrote about on Friday, July 25, 1965:
IT ISN'T too frequently these days that we hear from one of our colleagues of a long time ago—George A. Laird Jr., director of advertising and public relations for Niagara Mohawk Corp.
     So when our secretary informed us we had a letter yesterday from Mr. Laird, who also is prominent in Republican politics in the town of Bethlehem, we naturally snapped to attention.
     It develops Mr. Laird, who as a youth turned to the newspaper business when he could have had a successful career as a cowpuncher in his native Brisbee, Ariz., had been discussing affairs of the day with his old friend Art Quinn, one of the area's better-known maestros of the mahogany.
*       *       *
MR. QUINN is the fellow who sees to it that nobody goes thirsty at Nathaniel Blanchard Post, American Legion. He is among other things, a collector of beer trays. It was over an aperitif that he let Mr. Laird in on the secret of his latest discover—a beer tray that bore the name "Amsdell Brewery, Albany New York."
     "I have an idea." confided Mr. Quinn, "that it dates back to the late 1800s."
     Just what prompted that conclusion Mr. Laird neglected to explain, but latter admits he informed Mr. Quinn that anything dating back to the 1800s (even the late 1800s) was far ahead of his time.
    Addressing this writer, Mr. Laird wrote: "I informed Mr. Quinn I knew a fellow—namely you— who, if he wasn't a patron of Amsdell Brewery, at least must have had a few old friends who were."
*       *       *

THAT LEFT the problem entirely up [to] this column. Mr. Laird wasn't too helpful, either, in his last sentence, which read: "My bet is that it (the old brewery) was along the river somewhat south of the Dunn Memorial Bridge."
     Go to the foot of the class, and pronto, George Laird!
     For Amsdell Brewery, which does date back to the late 1800s, actually was at Jay, Dove and Lancaster Streets. The firm's proper name was Amsdell Brothers Brewery & Malthouse, and it was operated by George I. and Theodore M. Amsdell.
*       *       *

WE DETAILED our oldest agent to the case—a gentleman who at 92 years, is won't to surround himself with old city directories and other historical tomes, and who prefers to be known only as Mr. J.B. of Nassau. This gentleman came pup with the following incidental details on the Amsdells:
     In the year 1881, Theodore Amsdell was living at 31 Dove Street, while his brother, George, made his home at 141 Washington Avenue. They were brewers of the famous Albany XX Ale; celebrated India pale Amber ale and porter, and the equally famous Diamond & Burton Ale.
     So there Messrs. Laird and Quinn, you have sufficient historical conversation to last well into the evening, and if any more mysterious beer trays should be uncovered, just give this column a buzz.

Okay, so it looks like Alan and I got beat to the punch by nearly a half century. I'm cool with. We don't have to give Mooney—or Nassau's Mr. J.B.—a research credit in the book do we? How about just an honorary title? Something like Albanius Cerevisiae Emeritus.

As a bonus question, does anybody have any idea what brewery Laird was talking about that "…was along the river somewhat south of the Dunn Memorial Bridge."? 

Albany Ale Project Euro-bumper stickers to the first one who gets it right.

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Long and Short of Coffee and Beer

I looove sciency-wiency stuff about beer—and Science Daily has delivered on that front.

They're reporting, that a new study by a group of molecular microbiologist at Tel Aviv University has revealed that while coffee gives you a lift, and beer mellows you out, the exact opposite may be happening to your genome—a genome being the entirety of an organism's heredity information encoded in DNA or RNA. Studying yeast that shares some genetic similarities to humans, the Israeli research team identified, according to Professor Martin Kupiec.
"...a few environmental factors that alter telomere length, and we've shown how they do it. What we learned may one day contribute to the prevention and treatment of human diseases."
Telemeres are the end bits of a chromosome that protect the gene sequence from deteriorating or fusing with other chromosomes. They're kind of like an aglet on a shoe lace—only smaller. Much, much smaller. When a cell duplicates, chromosomes are copied, but the telemeres shorten with each duplication. At some point the telemere becomes too short to protect the chromosome, and the cell dies. It's these telemeres that might be are affected by coffee or beer consumption.

The research team exposed the aforementioned yeast cells to a variety of environmental stressors, and noticed that a low concentration of caffeine shortened the micro-organism's telemores, while exposure to alcohol, in a ratio similarly found in beer, lengthened them. The testing reveled that some 400 of the yeast's genes—many of which are also found in the human genome—are involved with maintaining its telemore lengths, but it's genes Rap1 and Rif1 that are the main contributors.

So all we have to do is drink more beer, right? Long good, short bad.

Not quite. First, telemere testing on human genetic material hasn't happened yet, so while the yeast genome is similar to humans, the researchers don't know if we are effected in the same way as the micro-organism. Secondly, it's not necessarily about increasing telemere length. It's genomic stability that we're aiming for. Think about it like the Three Bears—not too short, not too long, juuuuust right. Kupiec, continues,
"This is the first time anyone has analyzed a complex system in which all of the genes affecting it are known. It turns out that telomere length is something that's very exact, which suggests that precision is critical and should be protected from environmental effects." 
More testing needs to be conducted to see what the connection is between telemere length and environmental stress, and if there a correlation with diseases like cancer—or in fact, simply aging—in humans.

My standard routine for coffee and beer is two cups of Joe in the morning, two pints of beer in the evening. I'm still not a big fan of coffee-flavored beer, but I might be re-evaluating my position for the sake of efficiency.

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Old Dog and Beer Show

It's become sort of a tradition at our house to watch the National Dog Show after the Macy's Parade on Turkey-Day morning. It's a nice buffer between breakfast, football and dinner. The kids love seeing all the different dogs—the cat doesn't—but who cares, she's been mooching off us for years now. In any case, watching the dogs prance with their handlers, strutting instep, then patiently waiting for their silent judgement, I got thinking about how beer is judged.

Before I get into this, I do have to say that as a general rule I think beer judging is kind of dopey to begin with. I just don't care that much. A gold medal at GABF or TAP NY isn't going to sway me when buying beer. Not to mention that there's like eight-hundred-billion categories and sub categories for judging in competitions like the GABF. It seems like they're coming up with styles just to give out medals.

Here's my issue with beer judging, I've always seen beer competitions—home brew or professional—as not a judge of the beer, but judgement on the beer maker. For me, beer is about how it tastes, not how well it's made. But, I suppose judging is inevitable (and my opinion means diddly, too). Someone must be chosen the "best", right?

I don't want to sound like I'm knocking the Beer Judge Certification Program and their guidelines. I'm not. I think BCJP guides have a place—specifically in brewing classrooms and in apprentice programs. Brewers need to know how to make technically perfect beer. They need to be able to taste the difference in what is an IPA, or a Belgian Tripel, or a Lambic—and what, precision-wise, isn't. Braque and Picasso embraced cubism and surrealism, but both were also masterful at rendering the human figure realistically, as well. Same goes for brewers. BCJP are fantastic starting guides for young brewers or home brewers

So, how do you judge beer without a set of individualized criteria—like BCJP guidelines—per style of beer?

Fortunately, beer already has its own set of criteria by which to be judged—in two specific and un-arguable ways, actually—fermentation and strength.

Why not simply judge beers in categories of either top-fermenting or bottom fermenting styles, with ascending Plato (or gravity, or even just ABV)? Judging on those criteria makes style irrelevant. Why not judge a 6% IPA against a 6% Stout on the merits of which one tastes better—whoever gets the most votes wins. You wouldn't have to judge the IPA on whether it had met its "predetermined" IBU levels or if the Stout was dark enough. Isn't that a lot simpler? 

I think that's my biggest beef with BCJP guidelines—when used for judging. The guides were set up to eliminate as much subjectiveness as possible, yet they don't really do that. They sort of skirt around it and convolute everything with unmeasurable benchmarks—like SRM or IBUs. Why not embrace subjectiveness? Cut out the middle man and stick with strength and fermentation for the categories, and just trust your taste buds.

Better yet, how about we all just drink our beer.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Hey, Thanks!

1936 Croft Brewing Co. (Boston, MA) advertisement
Courtesy of rustycans.com

Monday, November 25, 2013

A Slight Holiday Hiatus

Yeah, yeah, I missed my Friday post. Fear not, I'm back.

Well, kinda not. This post is the bloggy equivalent of calling in sick to work when you're not really sick. I'll be playing hooky until next Monday—after the Thanksgiving holiday (That's this Thursday, for those in Mumbai). Don't worry though, I'll probably drop a Turkey-Day shout-out on ya'll.

See ya' next Monday!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

...And Justify To All

Why are we constantly justifying beer?

Trolling the interwebs for beery news I've noticed that there's a good number of articles on the health benefits of beer. Why is that? I'm sure you might be able to find some redeeming health qualities about french fries, but nobody is writing articles for the Boston Globe or the L.A. Times saying that a new study shows three french fries a day actually reduces your cholesterol. French fries are french fries. We know they taste good, and we know they aren't very good for us, but no one seems to feel the need to speak out, on behalf of the french fry. Yet we do that all the time for beer.  

This whole beer equals healthfulness thing isn't new either. Do a Google image search, and you'll find it's chock full of turn-of-the-century images of beer swigging mommas, with swaddled babies. Even earlier—during the mid-19th century— testimonial anecdotes about beer's ability to impart vim and vigor, from medical community were fairly common. Not to mention, that Guinness is apparently good for you.

Aside from beer's apparent healthfulness, we now have the word "craft" associated with it. Beer wasn't good enough, before, now it's "crafted". To, me craft implies two guys, Mike and Steve—the first, a former lawyer, the second a home brewer, both with a passion for great beer—got together to make beer that they want to make, like beer should be made, with only the freshest blood-oranges elderflower, and yak urine available. Craft has got to be good, right? It's crafted. Don't get me started on "Locally crafted" beer. That's got to be twice as good as regular old beer. 

We've even goon as far to create mythology for beer. Beer unto itself wasn't exciting enough. We need to add a little swashbuckling to it. With tales of the high seas and our collective love of the hop. Thanks to the tireless efforts of the American brewing industry—to accurately recreate the brews of yore—we can now have they same beers that were brewed strong and heavily hopped to survive the trip from England to India. IPA restores our cultural heritage. Except the myth is exactly that, a myth.

Sarcasm aside, why do we make beer out to be something it isn't? 

It almost feels like the justification is an effort to protect it—like public serve announcements. Beer isn't disappearing like an endangered species, but we act as if it might. We don't defend wine, or whiskey or gin that way. Yet, we treat beer like the troubled middle child who isn't as cool as its older sibling wine, or as fun as its younger one, tequila. Beer is the "big boy with a special gold star" to whom we need to constantly reiterate that fact, less its self-esteem drop.

Do we, as a society, feel collectively guilty about beer? Have we wronged beer in the past and now feel the need to make retributions to it? We seem to not want to accept beer for what it is. 

At what point is beer just beer, and more importantly, when is that good enough?

Friday, November 15, 2013

Closer To You?

I have a question.

I suppose I should preface the question with a disclaimer. I'm going to write about two thing I don't normally write about—Albany (modern-day Albany that is) and coffee-flavored beer (which I don't like). So, if you're not form upstate New York, this post may be lost on you. May I suggest a  temporary stop over at Nitch's place? Or how about visting Leigh at The Good Stuff? Plase come back next week.

Albany, is blessed by Stewart's Shops. Actually, it's not just Albany. Almost every hamlet, and village from nearly the Canadian border to the northern fringes of New York City, western Vermont to Oswego, have their very own Stewart's Shop—and sometimes more than one. There's really nothing like a Stewarts Shop. They're not conglomerations or large, faceless corporate entities, like 7-11. Stewart's is local—headquartered in Saratoga Springs, New York and family and employee owned. They're not just gas stations with a store attached, either—although many do have gas pumps. Stewarts are gas stations, convenience stores, ice cream parlors and coffee shops and meeting place all rolled into one magnificent package. They are like a modern day version of the drug store with a soda fountain. Stage set on the first part.

I don't like coffee-flavored beer (For that matter I like coffee-flavored coffee, as well). Regardless if you think there's been a de-beerification of beer, of late—a diluting of the purity of brews by the addition of elderberry, or blood orange, or chicory, or other various and sundry of non-malt, hops, yeast and water—like coffee. That argument is moot here, I'm talking about my own personal taste, not the greater state of the beeriness of beer. So, again, I don't like coffee-flavored beer—but I do recognize that they've become quite popular, especially the Porter/Stout variants, and especially in this chillier time of year. Stage set on the second part.

Back to Stewart's. Like I said, Stewart's are almost everywhere in upstate New York—as is their ubiquitous coffee. Known for their, locally-made, fantastic ice cream (it really is that good), Stewart's coffee is nearly as popular. Stopping for a cuppa' Stewie Lou's, is a morning ritual for thousands of New Yorker's. Not to mention, the coffee—sweet and nutty— is made hourly from open to close.

Jump to coffee-flavored beer, again. There's got to be a hundred breweries—maybe more—in eastern upstate New York and Western Vermont. I would imagine most of those places make some kind of Porter/Stout—be them Imperial, Oatmeal, Robust, Milk and yes, Coffee.

So my question is—Why hasn't anyone made a Stewart's Coffee Porter or Stout?

Not that I really want to drink it.

By the way "We Are Closer to You" is Stewart's Shops' tagline, hence this post's title.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Green Beer

Olive Drab, actually.

Here's something you might not know, and just in time for Veterans Day.

During the Second World War, the U.S. Army contracted with 40 breweries across the country to produce olive drab cans to be sent to American troops fighting in Europe, the Pacific and the CBI. Steel rationing halted beer can production in 1942, but was re-instituted for these 40 breweries two years later in 1944. Regional breweries, like Beverwyck in Albany, produced the OD cans (in flat, cone and crown tops) which were then sent to areas where men from those specific areas were fighting. In the case of Albnay's Beverwyck Brewery, this cans were most likely sent to Hawaii and the Central Pacific. 

Courtesy of ebeercans.com
New York's 27th Infantry Division—a National Guard division comprised of men from all over New York, but with a high percentage from the areas around Albany—had been in the Pacific Theater, on Oahu, Hawaii, since 1942. The unit first saw combat at Makin, Eniwetok and Majuro Atolls, in the Gilbert Islands in late 1943 and early 1944. In June of that same year, the 27th would assault the island of Saipan, in a three month routing of Japanese forces in what was one of the bloodiest battles of the war. Colonel William O'Brien and Sergeant Thomas Baker, both of Troy New York, as well as Captain Benjamin L. Salomon were posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, for their actions on July 7th, 1944. This is the only time the Medal of Honor has been given to three men, for separate actions, on the same day, in the same battle. The 27th would continue its campaign in the Pacific, landing and fighting on Okinawa, then acting as part of the Allied Army of Occupation, briefly being garrisoned in Japan, after that country's surrender. The 27th Division holds the distinction as the longest, continuously deployed National Guard unit ever—from December  1941 to December 1945.

Like the 27th Division, the OD cans also saw post war service, being produced until mid-1947. Of the 40 U.S. Army-contacted breweries, eight were from New York state. Including Albany's Beverwyck, the other seven breweries were Fitzgerald's (Troy), Rhinegold and Rupert (Manhattan), Schaefer (Brooklyn), Genesee (Rochester), Iroquois (Buffalo) and West End Brewery (Utica).

So, to all the veterans out there today, I raise a OD can to you!

Friday, November 8, 2013

This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things

I came across an AP article yesterday about The Alchemist having to shutter its retail space in Vermont next week.

The beer-making biz has been good to the Waterbury, Vermont husband and wife team of John and Jen Kimmich, the owners of The Alchemist. Output at the brewery has jumped 500% in the two years since they opened their commercial operation (their original brewpub was destroyed by flooding during Hurricane Irene), and as I most likely don't need to tell you, Heady Topper—The Alchemist's one-and-only brew—is quite popular.

Maybe a little too popular, and that's what disturbs me.

You see, The Alchemist isn't closing the retail end of its business because sales have slumped or because of supply issues. It's closing because people coming into Waterbury to buy the Double IPA have become so disruptive to the tiny hamlet, that the threat of legal action against the brewery—by its neighbors—became a such real possibility, that the Kimmichs decided to shut down their retail store.

That's too bad. Heady Topper is a great beer and I'm sure the Kimmichs are great folks. But, as anyone who has ever spoken to a beer geek—let alone read any of the reviews on Beer Advocate or Rate Beer—can tell you, sometimes (and by sometimes I mean all the time) can take "beer" a little to far—like this bit from the article about the constant traffic in the driveway of one of the brewery's neighbors:
The driveway at the Kimmichs' business is easy to miss, and Kinsell said there was one half-hour period last summer when 26 people turned around in her driveway. When she parked a vehicle across the entrance to her driveway to slow that traffic down, people turned around on her grass.
I love beer, and I'm enthusiastic about it, but sometimes I find my fellow beer comrades are a little too enthusiastic—like at about a ten, when they should probably be closer to a six or a seven. The thing is, this enthusiasm isn't just about "beer", or even "craft beer", for that matter. It's the apotheosizing of a only a few besainted brews. Fanaticism for beers like Founder's KBS and Westvleteren 12 seems to have reached a fever pitch with Heady Topper.

I've got to be honest I find the whole idolatrizing of beer to be bizarre—and truthfully a bit hive-minded. I don't like anything that much. Is Bell's Two-Hearted really that good, or is it more important to say that Bell's Two Hearted is really that good. The beer rating sites love that mentality, as do the breweries. But who are we fooling? Is Westvleteren great because it's great, or is it "great" because Rate Beer has it at number one on its list? 

I don't want to sound all anti-establishment here, but we praise the independence of craft brewers—those plucky beer makers doing it their way and getting out from under the shadow of big beer—but then we mindlessly follow, lemming-like over the cliff when it comes to "The Top Ten IPAs" or whatever other invented ranking of beers are out there. 

Stop and think about what happened in Vermont. The Kimmichs opened their business with the best intention. Make a little beer, make a little money—and it worked. Heady Topper worked. Then people started acting like fucking morons and ruined it for everybody. That doesn't just affect you and I and our chances of getting a great beer. It affects, the Kimmichs, their family and the families of the 25 people they employ. Those are the people who make the beer! Messing with the system screws it up for everybody. How many people made the trek to Vermont, turned around in that woman's drive way and "just had to try Heady Topper" because they read about it on Beer Advocate. Converging on a tiny town in Vermont like the Visigoths sacking Rome—in hindsight—probably wasn't the best move. I guess the old adage is true, a person is smart, but people are stupid. 

In the end, I'm saying drink beer, but don't be a douche about it.

Monday, November 4, 2013


Yeah, that kind of describes this weekend. Well, Saturday at least.

Six months of planning, meeting, brewing and announcing culminated in what I think was one of the best beer events I've had the pleasure of being involved with—the 1901 Albany Ale cask tap at the Albany Institute of History & Art. 

Two plus hours of beer and history, I was the proverbial pig in shit. 

Ryan (the brewer), a jackass, and Alan (the Canadian).
Our host and partner, the Albany Institute and their curator of History and Material Culture, Dr. W. Douglas McCombs, set the tone for the evening by displaying not just a few old coasters and and beer bottles, but by developing a full exhibition in the Rice House. Doug brought out everything from an 1840s Joel Munsell print of Robert Dunlop's brewery, to the original 1901 Amsdell brewing log (with the original recipe for this 1901 recreation) to an 1980s sign from Bill Newman's brewery—the first craft brewery on the East Coast. Their artifacts panned a a huge swath of time in the history of Albany Ale. Aside from the good Dr. McCombs, The Institute's Director Tammis Groft and especially the Institute's Director of Development Elizabeth Reiss—and her amazing staff—kept the wheels from falling off as the beer flowed. 

Alan—my partner-in-crime in this whole Albany Ale shebang—arrived from the Great White North around 4pm and I picked them up shortly thereafter—and it was a good thing we got there when we did, because the event ramped up promptly at five. By 5:15—after a countdown from five—C.H. Evans' brewer Ryan Demler had tapped the first cask of Albany Ale made in more than 100 years, with nary a drop spilt, I might add. The crowd of nearly 170 people ebbed in front of the table on which the little cask was perched. Ryan and I frantically poured pints of the amber liquid placing them in the outstretch hands of folks eager to taste a bit of history.

I'm sure your all asking at this point—what about the beer? It seems to have been quite the hit. 

The firkin.
Courtesy of Geoff Huth
So much so that Ryan needed to make a beer run at around 6pm. By that point, we had already gone through a firkin and a half-barrel, but the break in the action also gave Al and I the chance to pimp the Project a bit. In any case, the beer was generally what I expected—sweet and mild. What I wasn't expecting was the rich, toffee and citrus, almost orange like notes in it. At 5.2%ABV, this version of Albany Ale seems to have been quite an easy drinker, too. A far cry from its mid-19th century Grandpa—the Albany Ale of the 1860s—which most likely ticked in closer to 8 or 8-1/2%.

By 7pm, things wound down at the Institute. Alan and I said our goodbyes to the Institute and Evans folks, with handshakes and congratulations around, on a job well done by all parties. We topped off the evening with a dinner of Mexican at the venerable El Mariachi. Then off to the Lionheart to meet up with a few more cask-tap attendees—Chad Fust (who helped out with the Vassar brewing logs last September), his lovely girlfriend Rei; and Ethan and the boys from Community Beer Works in Buffalo—for more Albany Ale (and some CBW brews, too.) 

As cool as it was to be involved with the brewing and unveiling of this beer, what I think is more important than just "the beer" is the partnerships we formed. The collaboration between a research project, a local museum and a brewery seems to have been a win-win for everyone.

The Institute brought in 170 people on a Saturday night in November—160 people who on most every other Saturday night, probably wouldn't have been in a museum, let alone seeing pieces of Albany's past—beery or otherwise. Ryan and C.H. Evans Brewing Company now have a bunch of kegs at a bunch of bars and pubs across the Capital Region, they've also indelibly tied themselves to the brewing history of this city.

But what about the Project—what did the Project get out of all this? We got 160 people to know just a little bit more about the Albany Ale Project and their own beery history—and that's all we've ever asked. Hopefully, recreating this beer will spark someone to look in that old trunk in the attic, or open that dusty book in the basement. Maybe—just maybe—someone out there has a piece of the Albany Ale puzzle, stashed away, someplace they haven't yet thought to look. That's what the Project got

That, and I got a derby and a sweet handlebar mustache out of the deal, too. 

Thank's to everyone who came out, and we'll see you at the cask tap of the next Albany Ale recreation—whichever one that might be!

You'll just have to wait and see...

For Alan's take on his trip to Albany and the cask tap event, check out his post here.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Albany Ale: The Brothers Amsdell

You may have heard the Albany Ale Project has an event happening this Saturday at the Albany Institute of History & Art. Nothing big—just the tapping of the first cask of an Albany Ale made in over 100 years. Ya' know, everyday stuff.

Seriously though, if it wasn't for the Amsdell Brother's and their brewery, we wouldn't be doing any of this—it's their Albany XX Ale from 1901, that the Project and Ryan at C.H. Evans recreated. So I thought I'd give you some info on the brothers, and their brewery, that made it all happen, way back when. It's also a little sneak peak at one of the more than 25 brewery bios we're planning on adding to albanyaleproject.com, in the very near future. Here goes:

In the early 1830s William Amsdell operated a small brewery on Rose Street, in Albany, while also employed as the head brewer at John Taylor's brewery on Green Street. Leaving his employment with Taylor in 1840 and moving his brewery—with his two sons George and Theodore as apprentices—to what is now Guilderland, New York, William operated on the Great Western Turnpike (U.S. Route 20), until 1856. Two years earlier, having purchased the White Malt House, the elder of the two brothers, George, opened his own brewery at Lancaster, Jay and Dove Streets in Albany. Younger Theodore would join his brother in partnership three years later, thus establishing The Amsdell Brothers Brewery.

Throughout the 1860s and 70s, the brothers grew their business into one of the most dominant ale breweries on the East Coast—eventually producing upwards of 100,000 barrels annually—Its success due much to the popularity of their Albany XX Ale. Although, Albany Ale was not the brewery's only product, it made a number of other brews—including IPA, Amber and Burton Ales as well as its noted Diamond Stock Ale, and Porter. The brothers became prominent members of Albany society. George purchased two homes in the city, a brownstone on Willet Street and a mansion on Washington Avenue. He was also elected Alderman of the city's old Ninth Ward. Theodore owned an estate on Madison Avenue, on what is now the campus of the College of Saint Rose (The main house is now the home of the College's Huether School of Business.) In the early 1890s, however, Theodore left his brother's partnership to buy into Dobler Brewery with his son-in-law George Hawley. Theodore held the position of president of that brewery until his death in 1903.

George renamed the family brewery after himself—the George I. Amsdell Brewery—and then as the Amsdell Brewing and Malting Co. He continued to run the business until his death in 1906 when, shortly thereafter, the owners of the much smaller Kirchner Brewery bought the Amsdell brewery out from underneath the Amsdell family. The brewery was again renamed, this time Amsdell-Kirchner Brewery, but fell into bankruptcy shortly thereafter. In 1909 a New Hampshire based company bought the brewery—but continued to run it as Amsdell-Kirchner—until it was sold once again to the New York City conglomerate Knickerbocker Brewing Corporation, who also owned Consumers and Hedrick Brewing Companies. Amsdell-Kirchner closed just before the start of national prohibition. The original brewery building on Jay Street was converted into a hotel, and later into apartments. Those apartments, the Knickerbocker Apartments, still stand in the Center Square neighborhood of Albany.

From the 1830s to 1916 the Amsdell name was associated with brewing in Albany. They weren't the biggest, or the longest lasting, but George and Theodore Amsdell most definitely left their mark on the city.

Tickets are still available for the cask tap event, but going fast. If you can't make it, C.H. Evans' version of Amsdell's 1901 Albany XX Ale will be available at the brew pub, and at a number of locations across the city—including the Lionheart Pub, The City Beer Hall and the Capital City Gastropub.

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Ups and Down of Farm-to-Glass

I have my reservation about New York's Farm Brewery law. In theory, it's great. I suppose I'm just wary of the politicization of beer.

It does have some good initiatives. The legislation creates a "Farm Brewery" license which allows farms to sell New York State labeled beer and other alcoholic products at their retail outlets. The intent is for these farms to become Farm Breweries (or Farm Wineries or Farm Distilleries). It also encourages existing breweries—including those not necessarily on farms—to buy locally produced raw ingredients. A point of clarification, the license isn't a brewing license—that still goes through the State Liquor Authority—but it does make it legal to sell beer (and wine and liquor) where it was illegal to do so, just a year ago. It also allows these new farm breweries to operate restaurants which serve New York State labeled beer—as well as allowing for tastings at these restaurants. The new Farm Breweries can also sell brewing related equipment, souvenirs and other products similar to those allowed under the existing Farm Winery statute.

Most notable, however, are the tax credits for craft brewers introduced with the Farm Brewery legislation—a credit worth 14 cents per gallon for the first 500,00 gallons produced in New York and 4.5 cents per gallon for the next 15 million gallons produced in the state, for those New York breweries producing less than 60 million gallons or less a year. The law also exempts breweries producing less than 1,500 barrels annually, from paying the SLA's $150 per year brand label fee. Lastly, it eases the tax filling requirements for the farm brewery business.

So what are the Farm Brewery license qualifiers? According to a July press release from Governor Andrew Cuomo's office:

In order to receive a Farm Brewery license, the beer must be made primarily from locally grown farm products. Until the end of 2018, at least 20% of the hops and 20% of all other ingredients must be grown or produced in New York State. From January 1, 2018 to December 31, 2023, no less than 60% of the hops and 60% of all other ingredients must be grown or produced in New York State. After January 1, 2024, no less than 90% of the hops and 90% of all other ingredients must be grown or produced in New York State.

That all sounds reasonable, right?

There's just one catch.

New York's agricultural infrastructure is woefully under equipped to meet even the first 20%/20% quota. Neither barley or hops are—or even can be—grown in great enough quantities in New York, to meet that requirement. Especially since the license is not restricted to breweries located only on farms. Matt Brewery, alone, could easily consume all of the barley and hops grown in New York.

Barley doesn't grow reliably in this climate. It thrives in cool, dry climates like in northern parts of the U.S.' Midwest and Canada. New York wheat farmers are reluctant to take the risk on growing barley. And who could blame them? Wheat grows wonderfully in this state, and there's an enormous demand for it. Why would they risk taking a loss on barley? The expectation for a variety of barley that will grow reliably in New York (from what I've heard anecdotally) is years away.

What about hops, you ask? Hop farms are opening all the time, right?

Yes, they are, but again infrastructure is an issue. Hops harvesters and pellitizers are expensive, and realistically New York's hops farms are small, in fact many are hobby farms. New York grown hops are expensive. The farms in the Pacific Northwest are ginormous, and ginormoty keeps cost down. Hops are also a uni-tasker, they are grown for one purpose. Granted the craft-beer biz is booming, but the demand for hops is still a fraction when compared to the demand for other New York grown crops—like corn and apples.

I'm not saying the farm brewery law is dead in the water, but like most popular-topic laws in New York State, I think it could have been thought out better. I'm not sure how much research—let alone discussions with brewers or farmers—was done before it was proposed. What I fear the most is that this is all for the sound-bite. A showy-show which leaves participants out in the cold when it comes down to it. I wouldn't put it past New York's politicians to jump on the craft beer bandwagon to garner votes, and then not follow through.

Okay, enough of the Negative Nancy bit.

How does the farmer brewer overcome these odds?

It just so happens that my pal Rebecca Platel of the Carey Institute for Global Good had a pretty good idea a while back. The Carey Institute was developed around the philanthropist and businessman William Polk Carey’s defining principle of “Doing Good While Doing Well”. Polk's ideas of bringing together innovative and dynamic people from around the world to seek creative solutions to the most pressing challenges of the day is the cornerstone of the Institute. Located at the Carey Conference Center—a world-class, state-of-the-art retreat, meeting, and conference center in Rensselaerville, New York—the Institute is purpose-built to bring people together to discuss ideas—so why not brewer's and farmers?

So what was Rebecca's idea?

Open New York's first two-barrel, model farm brewery on the grounds of the conference center. Through business incubation, educational programs, and agri-tourism workshops the Carey Center will address some of the problems and limitations addressing New York's "farm-to-glass enterprises". Rebecca aims to make the Carey Institute's Farm Brewery Project a hub for collaboration and aims to connect farmers, brewers, distillers and consumers—all focused on overcoming the barriers that now limit New York's potential farmers, brewers and farm breweries.

Still need convincing?

What if I told you the Center was planning on housing their model brewery in a Dutch Barn built the 1760s? That's right, the Carey Center has partnered with Albany engineering and construction management firm, CSArch, to move a New World Dutch Barn, donated by Randolph J. Collins, 20 miles from Guilderland, New York to Rensselaerville. CSArch, isn't just going to move the structure, they're planning on upgrading the 250 year-old structure by adding solar, steam and possibly bio-mass systems to the building. If you're interested in learning more about the project, contact the Carey Institute at 518.797.5100

Whatever the hurdles there are with the farm brewery law, they're sure not going to stop Rebecca and her Dutch Barn model brewery from trying to get over them.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Why Beer?

I'm back. I needed a little break. A recharging of the beery batteries, if you will. The break was a good time for me to do a little inward introspection. Nothing existential, just a little thinking about what makes beer my topic of choice.

The Albany Ale thing is ramping up. The website is up and running—soon to be added to. The cask tapping event is less than two weeks away (get your tickets now they're going fast!). Not to mention there's a book in the works. But, I know why I'm involved in all that. That's clearly defined. Albany has a history that is forgotten, and someone needed to bring it to light. Truthfully, The Project, in my mind transcends beer.

What about the other stuff—like this blog? What is it about beer that I'm drawn to? I'm not the kind of beer geek that needs to bunt down the latest and greatest. I don't need to try the newest gooseberry-infused double India Pale Porter. But I'm not a purist either. Do I like craft beer? Yes—a lot. Do I consider myself one of its evangelist? No.

So, why beer?

I got my answer this past Saturday morning, at a soccer game of all places.

It was a beautiful morning. The sun was bright in a baby-blue sky and the fall leaves were a dazzling array of orange and yellow and red. Ritualistically, we parents stood on the sideline and watched a clump of fourteen seven and eight-year-olds chase the ball around the field. Someone brought up the league's travel team Friday-night practice schedule. To which was commented on, "Who schedules soccer practice on a Friday night? Don't they know about happy hour?"

Then it happened.

An hour long discussion, between four or five dads, that morphed from favorite beer bars in the area, to the newest brews just arrived in Albany—and maybe a little Albany beer history thrown in for good measure. From New England Brewing Company's Ghandi Bot to the Madison Pour House, it was an ebbing and flowing discussion purely about beer, with nary a pint glass in sight.

Here's the interesting part for me. I don't know these people. Sure, I see them at the weekly soccer game, but I don't know them. The obligatory hello and idle chit-chat prior to this was the extent of our interaction. But, now it appeared that we all seemed to have a shared experience with beer. Toward the end of the match, the conversation swung to football and Sunday's match-ups. The discourse's beery theme faded and we disbursed from our klatch to collect our respective kids after their end-of-game handshake. An unexpected beery moment, in the midst of what would otherwise be a run-of-the-mill Saturday morning on the soccer field.

Conversations like that—with or without beer—is, for me, why beer.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Albany Ale: Broadway Empire

I've been wanting to write about Albany and Prohibition for some time now. I wasn't sure how I wanted to go about it. The problem is prohibition isn't really a beer story.

Don't get me wrong Albany was affected by Prohibition just as every other city in the United States was. By law, the production, transportation, and sale of alcohol was illegal. Because of that, Albany saw its share of  illegally produced, and or cut, “bootleg” alcohol as well its fair share of speakeasies. As a capital city, the demand for alcohol by powerful political figures was high. Being located half-way between the Canadian border and New York City on U.S. Routes 9 and 20, also made the area a stop-over for whiskey leaving Canada bound for New York City, Boston, New Jersey and Philadelphia. Albany was, for lack of a better term, “wet” with strong, alcoholic spirits like gin and whiskey.

Beer however, was another story. Because of its low alcohol content it can't be cut with water, or spiked with another form of alcohol, without notice. At the time, to be profitable beer had to be made in quantity, and therefore required large facilities to make it. Large facilities are hard to hide from Prohibition officers and other law enforcement officials. By 1920, the first year of national prohibition, only three of the seven breweries operating in the city, a year earlier would still be open—Beverwyck, Dobler and Hedrick.

Beverwyck, began operating as Beverwyck Co. Inc, and closed its ale producing counterpart Quinn & Nolan, focusing on making malt vinegar, near beer and soda. Feigenspan Brewery, the parent company to Albany’s Dobler Brewing Co., shut down its brewing operations in Newark, New Jeresey and convert that brewery into a coal and ice producing facility. In Albany, Feigenspan kept Dobler open and produced near beer and soda, as well. 
Dan O'Connell in 1937.
Courtesy of the Times Union

Hedrick Brewing Co. was the exception to this. And, it's a big exception. Almost as if it were right out of HBO's  Prohibtion-themed, television series Boardwalk Empire. We could call this version Broadway Empire, after Broadway in downtown Albany.

Initially Hedrick closed, but was purchased by a group of local businessmen who appeared to be operating the business legally making a non-alcoholic concoction of apples and malt. They were in fact, bootlegging. Producing beer and pumping it out through the basement of the brewery. They were eventually caught and prosecuted in the mid 1920s. Former Albany County District Attorney John J. Conway, would defend the group, taking ownership of the brewery in lieu of owed legal fees. Conway was a close friend of the Albany County Democratic Committee head, political boss, and ultimately the driving force behind Albany’s nearly sixty year Democratic Machine, Daniel P. O’Connell.

O'Connell, who came from nothing and grew up in Albany's south end, had been elected in 1919 as City Assessor, but quit a few years later to head the Democratic Party in Albany. From that point, he and his cronies—including O'Connell's brother Solly, and the longest-termed mayor in the history of the United States, Erastus Corning II—ran Albany like Capone ran Chicago. O'Connell's power wasn't limited to just Albany either. His Democratic Machine had links to both the State Capitol and Washington D.C. As one of the dominant political forces in New York, O’Connell had deep influence—both legal and illegal. Along with the polling places and political patronage, O’Connell controlled Albany’s police force, its red-light district, gambling, bootlegging—and with Conway’s acquisition of Hedrick Brewery—its beer. Hedrick continued producing illegal, full-strength beer after Conway assumed ownership, and although Conway owned the brewery, its profits benefited O’Connell. The last thing O'Connell was going to allow was competition—be it in politics or booze—and he did an amazing job of keeping out both the Republicans and the rackets out of Albany. 1931

That year John Moran—better known as Jack "Legs" Diamond—showed up in the city.

Diamond (center), just after being released
from the hospital in 1931.
Courtesy of the Boston Public Library.
Diamond, the flamboyant associate of the recently murdered Manhattan gambler and racketeer Arnold Rothstein, was attempting to expand his former boss’ booze and crime empire up the Hudson River. This expansion did not go unnoticed by the other mobsters in New York. Since the late-1920s, Diamond had been in a turf war with a Bronx-based gangster Dutch Schultz. A war that resulted in a number of lead slugs being pulled from Diamond's body. In 1930 Diamond—having recently been kicked out of Europe, when officials there realized he was on the hunt for narcotics and booze—was shot at the Hotel Monticello on the West Side of Manhattan. The gunmen peppered him with four rounds. He recovered, but by that point Schultz had moved from the Bronx into Diamond's territory in Manhattan. Diamond new it was time to get out of New York. He and his crew set up shop at the Aratoga Inn, in Cairo, New York, a tiny hamlet an hour south of Albany. 

Why Cairo, you might ask? 

Rural Greene County was the perfect place to pinch the supply of booze moving from Canada to New York City. It was secluded which made hiding liquor easy, yet close enough to Albany to satisfy Diamond's insatiable appetite for the nightlife. Diamond was becoming a celebrity. The press glorified his antics. They portrayed him as a gentleman gangster; a daring, Robin Hood-like character—stealing from the rich and giving hooch to the poor. In reality, that was far from the truth. Diamond was a brutal killer, and he laid claim to the "whiskey highway" with a vengeance. In the spring of 1930 Diamond beat a truck driver he believed was running booze. Shortly thereafter, he kidnapped and tortured a local bootlegger named Jack Duncan. Arrested for both assaults in the spring of 1931, he was tried and acquitted on the first charge, but the charges of kidnapping and torture wouldn't be so easy to avoided. The law wasn't Diamond's only problem, either. Six days after his arrest, a gunman sunk three bullets into Diamond while he was eating dinner at the Aratoga. Again, he recovered. The acquittal and attack only bolstered Diamond's reputation as the un-convictable, un-killable gentleman gangster.  

During Diamond's recovery, New York State Troopers raided his headquarters in Cairo, recovering $5,000 worth of illegal alcohol—which added federal bootlegging charges to his list of crimes. In August of 1931, Diamond and his lieutenant Paul Quattrocchi were tried on violations against the Volstead Act, and sentenced to four years in prison. Diamond appealed the conviction. Within a few weeks, Diamond's kidnapping case began. His savvy lawyer, Daniel Prior, petitioned to have his trial moved from Catskill to Troy, New York. Prior seriously doubted a conviction from a Rensselaer County jury enamored with Diamond's charming ways and reputation. Out on bail and bidding his time during the federal appeals process, Diamond set-up shop at the Kenmore Hotel in Albany. Diamond used the hotel's Rain-Bo Room like his own personal living room, dancing, womanizing and playing the hotel's piano well into the night. 

Obviously, a man in Dan O'Connell's position did not like having such a high-profile threat to his empire cavorting the night away at one of his city's premier establishments. O’Connell tolerated the gangster at first, and actually arranged for police protection for him, at the Hotel. But when rumors that Diamond had plans to get into the beer and extortion business in Albany arose, tensions escalated.

Prior was right, Diamond was acquitted of the kidnapping charge. On December 17, 1931 Jack Diamond was free and clear, and the federal charge of bootlegging was under appeal. The world was Diamond's oyster. He headed straight for the Kenmore, and spent most of the evening celebrating there with friends. He left around 1am, stopping first at his mistress Kiki Roberts place, before going home to his Dove Street apartment. Just before dawn on the morning of the 18th, three shots rang out. Legs Diamond, the un-killable killer, was found face down in his bed with three bullets in his skull.

Rumors were abound about the killing of Americas favorite gangster. Suspects included his biggest rival, Dutch Schultz, Arnold Rothstein's protegé Charlie Luciano, and the Philadelphia bootlegger Waxey Gordon. The most accepted theory, however, is that O’Connell had Diamond killed for trying to move in on his bootlegging and beer operations. William “Doc” Fitzpatrick—a friend of O’Connell’s and an Albany police sergeant and future chief of police—was most likely the triggerman.

Diamond was dead and the official repeal of Prohibition went into effect almost exactly two years later on December 15, 1933. Hedrick Brewing Co., closed in 1965*, and Dan O'Connell would continue to run his Democratic Machine in Albany until his death in 1977.

Albany doesn't have many gangster related prohibition stories—nothing compared to New York or Chicago. But the one it does have, sure is a Duesy.

*The Hedrick name was sold to Piels in 1965 who continued to make it at Hamden-Harvard Breweries in Willimansett, Massachuset, until the name was again sold to Eastern Brewing Co., in Hammonton, New Jeresy in 1974. Production of Hedrick stopped when that brewery closed in 1990.