Monday, April 22, 2013

A Hoppin' Party in the Valley


I mean wow.

I don't know what else to say about the Hudson Valley Hops event at the Albany Institute of History & Art. From the nearly three hundred people in attendance—a 290% increase from last year—to the great beer offered by the seven or eight breweries in attendance, and the history steeped venue, it was truly a fantastic event.

I was amazed at the diversity of people that attended, as well. Of course the beer geeks were there, the
Carrie B. and Kevin sampling Chatham Brewing's wares.
Photo courtesy of Chatham Brewing
home brewers and beer lovers, but a great cross-section of non-beery Albanians showed up, too—and of all ages, from the just-legal 21, to a good number well into their eighties. In fact, I overheard one beautiful white-haired woman say that she'd never been to something like the event before, but she likes beer and history, so she thought "why not?"

While the thongs of thirsty patrons arrived, I waited, nervously, to start my presentation on Albany Ale and the history of brewing in this fair city. I made small talk with the owner of Chatham Brewery, Tom Crowell, and his wife, and with my lovely Amy in tow, I sampled their spiced, and slightly smokey Chatham OC Blonde, and IPA and waited for H-Hour.

The presentation went smooth—granted, I was a bit nervous at first. The highlight of the talk came at the very end, when I mentioned that William Newman had operated a brewery in Albany during the early 1980s—arguably the first craft brewery on the east coast. Simply saying "I've never met Bill, and I'm not sure if he's even still alive..." was answered by someone in the room with, "He's standing in the back of the room!" Sure enough, Bill, a thin, silver haired gentleman, modestly raised his hand—a gesture not unlike a retired ballplayer might give on the return to the playing field of his glory years.

Bill Newman and some other fool.
After my presentation, Kathy Quinn—a descendant of the Quinn and Nolan Brewery Quinn's—spoke of her family's involvement with Albany Ale and their subsequent move to the west to open a silver mine. Kathy's family tree—a maze of like-named Quinns—would lead her back to Albany, it's beery past, and eventually the Albany Institute and its Curator of History, Doug McCombs—who also happen to be the evening's MC.

To be farm-brewer, hop grower, and my hop scrounging partner Dieter Ghering took the podium next and gave the ins-and-outs of his culitvar— the Helderberg hop—and also announced that the venerable apple orchard and pumpkin patch, Indian Ladder Farms will, in the near future, not only begin growing hops and barley but also brewing its own beer as the Indian Ladder Farmstead Brewery. Dieter is a good friend and I'm really excited about this new venture.

With Mr. Ghering's lead-in, Russell Savoy, of The Homebrew Emporium, presented on the history New York's hop industry, followed by Sam Filler updating everyone on New York State's new proposals for craft brewing and farm brewing.

I will admit, as much as I would have loved to hear the full width and breadth of all the talks I did get swept way amid a crowd of handshakes and questions after my talk. Everyone was amazingly friendly, asking everything from where the breweries were located to where they could get a recipe. Between questions I did grab a few samples—Brown's Brewing Company Oatmeal Stout, and a cask offering from Crossroads, dry-hopped with the last bit of Dieter's Helderberg hops, from last year's harvest.

This was a big night for me—solidified first, by the offer of Neil Evans, proprietor of C.H. Evans Brewing Co. and the Albany Pump Station—the city's only brew pub (actually the only brewing facility of any kind)—to recreate Albany Ale. That offer has been a dream of mine since this whole thing started, and now it looks like it's actually going to happen. More importantly, though the night was big for me because of the support given to me by my wife, Amy, and by my great friends— The Albany Institute and Doug McCombs (especially since it was his idea to invite me in the first place!) Carrie Bernardi, Kevin Flanagan, Dieter, David "Gravey" Kennedy, Paul Quirk, Carl Marrone, and last but not least, Jerry Aumand, and John Mead the owner and manager of the Lionheart Pub, respectively. While I appreciate everyone who attended the event and my talk, it's those people I am especially grateful for.

I do have one regret. I do very much wish Alan could have been here to see it. Alan has been my partner in the Albany Ale Project, a good friend, and, honestly, the reason I began writing in the first place. To him I owe a debt of gratitude. He's had a tough go of it recently and I hope he realizes that the results and successes of Saturday night are as much his as they are mine.

Above everything else, however, what I think is most important about the Hops in the Hudson Valley event, is that it is good for beer in Albany. I say the more beer and beer-related happenings in Albany the better, and this event is proof of that statement. The event bridges past and present by showing what Albany's beery past was like and what a great beer town it has become. It brings new opportunities to capitalize on old ideas. It's cultural and educational, but at the same time fun.

In the end, that's what's important, having fun. Without that, beer is just a beverage.

Check out Chad Polenz's take on the event at his new gig at the TUs Beer Nut blog!       


  1. Good story, well told.
    .. nice acknowledgement of Alan, your inspiration.

    1. Jack, don't count yourself out, you've been along for the ride from the beginning as well!

  2. Great report, and so happy to see a picture of Bill Newman and to know he was there.


    1. I mentioned to him that you were hoping he might show up!

  3. A really fun day. Nice to meet you, Craig.
    Hoping to scrounge some Catskill hops this weekend.


    1. Thanks for coming out—and good luck with the scrounge!

  4. Great write-up, Craig! I really enjoyed your presentation. I actually don't know that much about Albany Ale and the history of brewing here. Nice to see you sum it all up in 20 minutes - ha ha!

    Thanks for the plug to my blog, too. I'll reciprocate. Sorry it took me so long to see this. Cheers.