Monday, March 4, 2013

Albany Ale: Still Kicking

I have to thank my friend Adrienne—the Wandering Working Mom—for cluing me onto this photo, posted on the Albany Institute of History & Art's Facebook page. If ever a picture exemplified turn-of-the-century brewing, it's got to be this gem of the boys from Albany's Amsdell Brewery, taken around 1910.

Courtesy of the Albany Institute of History & Art.

I sent the pic to Alan and Ron, as well. We've been going down the beer geek rabbit hole, speculating on the nature of those watering can-like buckets—cask fillers perhaps? Why only three glasses of beer? Why is the lad to the lower left wearing a bow tie and shined shoes, when the rest of the fellas' look like they just got dun cleaning out the mash tun?

While all the guessing is fun, the pic is significant for another reason. It was taken around 1910—well past the supposed death knell of American-brewed ale.

We've all learned, or at least been told, that by the end of the 19th-century, the crisp and refreshing nature of lager—and the massive influx of its proponents from Germany into the U.S.—killed the American ale industry. By the turn-of-the-century lager was, and would for ever be, the "national drink."

This picture tells a slightly different story. Ale wasn't dead at the beginning of the 20th century. The sign, delicately balanced on the foot of one of the brewery workers, doesn't say "Geo I. Amsdell Albany Ales & Lagers," it simply states "Ales." The Amsdell brewery was an all ale endeavour. That says to me that there was still a viable market, at least in Albany, for warm temperature, top-fermenting beer. That's not to say that lager wasn't popular, it was, but perhaps it wasn't the juggernaut that every documentary film about the American brewing industry would have you believe.

It's also not to say German brewing traditions didn't influence Albany Ale brewing—but, that's a story for another post...


  1. What a great picture. Wouldn't want to get into a fight with any of those lads.

  2. Great picture indeed! I think those buckets could be growlers, given too they are being held by young people and the young often ferried beer from saloons and brewery taps to peoples' homes..