Thursday, June 27, 2013

Don't Be Douchey—Regardless What Esquire Says

I love great beer. I do not, however give a rat's ass what you're drinking. I care even less about persuading you to drink Fantôme instead of that bottle of Michelob Ultra. Don't get me wrong, I'm happy to talk about beer with anyone, and I'd be happy to help someone pick a beer other than a Bud Light—If I'm asked to. But, bringing you to the light side, ain't my bag., however, seems to think conversion of the wicked and ignorant is important. In Aaron Goldfarb's article How to Throw a Craft Beer Party for Normal People, the author lays out clear directions for brainwashing the uninitiated by—as the title implies—inviting your friends over and forcing them to drink the beers you think they should drink, instead of just hanging out and having a good time.

That's sounds like fun.

Goldfarb first suggests that we should make them care. This is a simple task, just "…use your geekiness: pull out an anecdote about a brewery, mention the ingredients, and explain how the beer differs from the 30 racks in the supermarket." 

Yes, now you've got them. I'm not sure how any of that information translates into 'caring', but apparently, knowing that Fritz Maytag's family founded the appliance company, Maytag, and they also make blue cheese, is the key.

The next suggestion is to make craft beer less intimidating by "…by opening bottles of everything and pouring small tastes for everyone. This way, people won't feel bad if they hate something in particular, because it'll just be an ounce or two…" 

We're talking about adults, right? Should we also cut up their food so it's easier to eat?

Next up, for our intrepid beer-snob host is to compare his or her amazing selection of craft beer to the stuff the guest are used to. For example, "For the vast majority who drink rice- and corn-packed mass-market dreck, give them a better example of the style: an all-malt lager like the Brooklyn Brewery's…For the ladies who like Blue Moon, a vastly superior Allagash White will fit the bill nicely… for that so-called ale lover, offer him a big, boozy Belgian. A nice, sweet dubbel like Westmalle…" 

Or, you could just put all the beer—including the rice- and corn-packed mass-market dreck —in a cooler full of ice and let them pick what they want. 

Blindfolding your guest is Goldfarb's next suggestion. "For the friends who claim they only like Bud or only like Miller or only Coors, have them try all three side-by-side without knowing which is which. Guaranteed, they'll pick the "wrong" one as their favorite."

Yes, because people love to be proven wrong and to be shown a fool. Publicly. 

The number five suggestion is to help the guest with descriptors, according to Goldfarb, "… ask, hmmm, isn't this Ballast Point Sculpin so "tropical"? Doesn’t Sixpoint Resin have a "dank" aroma, you know, like a sack of weed? Oooh, can you taste how this Fantome Hiver is just packed with "horse blanket"? Teach them that being an accomplished beer geek is mostly about lexiconical one-upmanship."

Okay, I'm just going to come out and say this. If you do this to your friends I am going to come to your house and punch you in the face. That is one phrase I don't ever want to hear —'lexiconical one-upmanship"—ugh. Like beer, don't like beer, just stop being pretentious about it. 

Second to last is that, as the host, you should pull out something rare. I'm going to quote almost the whole blurb, because it's so juicy.
"Make it into a little ceremony with some practiced patter. "I've been saving this for a special occasion, but I'd really like you guys to try it tonight." Then give them the stats: "This came out in 2009, and only 1300 bottles were released. You could only get it if you waited in an hours-long line at the brewery." Prove to them how highly-acclaimed it is by pulling out your iPhone and showing them, "Look! It gets a perfect 100 on and is Beer Advocate's #25 beer in the world!" They'll be salivating as you peel off the special wax-dipped top, pop the cap with your best Areaware bottle opener, and give them a thick, luscious pour of The Bruery's Black Tuesday. "Lucky you! You’ve just had a beer most people would kill to try." They'll have completely forgotten the beer by morning, but they'll remember the spectacle."
You should also tell them how much money you make and maybe show them your "giant" penis, too.

Lastly, number seven—remember it's a party.

I think it's a little too late for that.

Monday, June 24, 2013

The Magnificent Seven

I'm not much of a listicle writer, but Boak & Bailey's post on sixteen beers that tell the story of—as they put it—'alternative' British beer over the last fifty years, has inspired me. It's an interesting concept, so I asked myself what readily available brews define New York's history with beer?

I've narrowed it down to seven. Seven beers who's lives—in some cases—span the 19th century to today. Seven beers that, for lack of a better term, have become iconic not only in New York beer, but in the American beer scene in general. Most importantly—seven beers that can be commonly found in beer stores, supermarkets, and gas stations across the state.

So, here goes:

1. Schaefer Beer – Schaefer is not brewed in New York—but it was for 139 years, so let's just overlook that first bit. What can you say about Schaefer? It's a classic. It's been made since 1842. It survived prohibition, set the standard for the Bushwick Pilsner, became the official beer of the Brooklyn Dodgers, out-sold Budweiser in the late 1950s, and during the 1960s it sponsored a series of concerts in Central Park, featuring a few acts you may have heard of—The Who, Led Zeppelin, The Doors and the Beach Boys. Stroh's bought it in '81, and Pabst has steered the ship since '99. Oh, and that's right Schaefer was also an Albany hometown brew until the 1970s. It's brewery in Brooklyn exceeded capacity and they bought Beverwyck Brewery in 1950.

2. Utica Club – Ah UC, the pride of Utica, Uncle Charlie. UC was the first true beer brewed in the United States after the repeal of prohibition (Three-two, notwithstanding). In fact, the name 'Utica Club' was taken from a line of soft drinks made by the Matt family and West End Brewery during prohibition. While UC was popular in the decades after repeal, television would take it to another level. In 1959 the beer's lovable beer stein mascots Schultz and Dooley (voiced by comedian Johnathan Winters) were introduced, and UC's place in New York beer history was solidified.

3. Genesee Cream Ale – Love it or hate it, it is ubiquitous. Introduced back in 1960, Genny 'Screamers' really came into their own in the 1970s and early 80s. Packaged in cans and/or a stubby bottle with the green and white label, Genny Cream has become known—as its website notes—as the beer multitudes stole from the garage refrigerator while Dad's attention was elsewhere. It even got a mention by Vigo Mortensen in the 2005 movie, A History of Violence. For those who might pass judgement on the Screamer, it's won two gold, five silver, and three bronze medals at the GABF, so somebody likes it.

4. Brooklyn Lager – This beer was a game changer of New York beer. Back in '87, California had Sierra Nevada and Anchor breweries, Oregon was becoming a Mecca for craft beer, and Jim Koch was growing the Boston Beer Company and Samuel Adams in Bean-town, but beer in the biggest city in the country was, well, mid-western. That is until Tom Potter and Steve Hindy decided to bring beer back to Brooklyn—kind of. Neither Hindy nor Potter had a brewery, but the Matt Family in Utica did, so for the first seven years of its life Brooklyn Lager shared a room with Schultz and Dooley. In any case, Brooklyn Lager has become one of the most recognised beer brands in the world—in no small part to Brewmaster Garret Oliver and a slick logo by Milton Glaser. Let me put it this way, when crowd-sourcing "which beer exemplifies New York state beer the best?" on Twitter, Nate Southwood answered:
I know I don't live in NY or indeed anywhere in the USA but I automatically think of Brooklyn Lager.
That's saying something since Nate lives in Norwich, U.K.

5. Saranac Pale Ale – This might be the first craft beer I ever drank, and to my thinking is most likely the beer most thought of when speaking of New York craft beer. Brooklyn Lager may have been the "first" well known New York craft beer, but New York City is a market unto itself, and distribution north of the Harlem River was scarce for Brooklyn in the late 80s and early 1990s. That left the rest of the sate wide open, and since the West End Brewery was already successfully contract brewing a number of craft beers—such as Pete's Wicked Ale, Brooklyn Lager and Newman's Albany Amber—the Matt family decided to develop their own line of craft brews in the early 1990s and their Pale Ale was released in 1994. Today Matt Brewing Company and the West End Brewery* are the 6th largest craft brewery, and the 12th largest brewery in the country overall, based upon 2011 beer sales. Without fail, at least a few bottles of Saranac Pale Ale can always be seen floating in a cooler of ice at summer barbecues across the state.

6. Ommegang Abbey Ale – Back in 1997 Belgian beers were around—Duvel, Hoegaarden, Chimay—but not many folks were making Belgian-style beer in the U.S., and they especially weren't open-fermenting them on a 136-acre, reproduced Belgian farm-brewery, in an area that was otherwise known for baseball. With the opening of Brewery Ommegang and the introduction of their Abbey Ale, the American-beer market would never be the same. Ommegang's Abbey also helped to usher in the era of the big beer. At 8.5% ABV, Ommegang's Dubbel was far stronger than most of the other standard run, flagship, American-made beers at the time. Ommegang Abbey has become the gift-givers brew, as well. Many a Christmas has a corked bottle of it been brought to my house. Let's be honest, nothing is much better than a fruity Belgian Dubble and a cheese platter to munch on.

7. Southern Tier – I used Southern Tier's IPA in the photo because that's what I had in the fridge, but, ST's place on the list isn't so much about a single beer, but the brewery itself. Opened in 2002, Southern Tier has become the epitome of the modern New York craft brewery. There's a trend—and not just in New York—of tiny towns producing fantastic beer. Southern Tier, fits that bill. The brewery calls the western New York village of Lakewood (population 3,002) home, yet the brewery's logo—lit up in neon—is becoming increasingly common in pub windows across the state. Grocery stores and gas stations are also carrying it products—everything from their Porter to their 9.5% ABV, hop bomb, Unearthly IPA.

There you have it, the seven beers that—in my humble opinion—shaped the New York beer scene.

*Contract brewing has been pretty lucrative for Matt Brewing Company. They produce almost 30% of all the craft beer made in New York.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Zymurgy Magazine Proves Jeff's Point

Strength and intensity. American brewers aren't minor key kinds of guys. They brew like John Philip Sousa. Beers are rarely brewed below 4.5% and a good many are stronger than 7%. When we make hoppy beers, we make damn hoppy beers. (Some of our beers that aren't supposed to be hoppy are damn hoppy, too.) Our sours are really sour. Our imperial stouts are liquid fudge.
Now, that's intense.
Maybe it was coincidence, but I have to say I don't think that the good Doctor Alworth's point about what makes American beer beer American, could have been made better than having Zymurgy Magazine release its list of what it deems as the top 50 best American-made craft beers. Granted, the above quote is a snippet from his blog—just one of five criteria needed to be met to qualify for a beer to wear the red, white and blue—but it rings Liberty Bell true when reading through Zymergy's list.  

33 of the 50 beer chosen by the magazine are IPAs, Double IPAs and/or Imperial IPAs and Stouts. 80% of the top 10 are also IPAs—and 10% is one pretty strong Breakfast—if not Imperial—Stout. The other 10% is Arrogant Bastard, a Strong Ale. Speaking of strong—the average strength for the beers on the list is 9.4% ABV—the lowest being Deschutes' Black Butte Porter at 5.2% ABV; the highest is Goose Island Bourbon County Stout at 15% ABV.

Subtle, generally, American beers are not.

I do have to say, I like Jeff's use of the word intensity. I may have to co-opt that phrase when describing American beer from now on.  

Monday, June 17, 2013

Anglo-American Relations

Reading Boak and Bailey's most recent post about the "Authentic IPA" myth and that modern American IPAs are more historically accurate to what traditional British IPAs of the 19th century were, rather than those IPAs that are being produced by British breweries today, got me thinking. B&B's post looks at the roots of the myth—how this whole idea that American IPAs are more historical than British IPAs came about and a few possible reasons behind the fallacies. To my thinking, however, there's something else going on. The whole concept of a myth is that it's not true, but it's still an explanation of how A got to B—but something is off about he whole relationship of British IPA to American IPA—it seems to be a bit of a red-herring. The way I look at it, A doesn't lead to B—A runs parallel to B.

I propose that American IPA and British IPA are two totally different animals—and always have been—each with their own separate histories and lineages. I think the problem arrises because people can't wrap their minds around the fact that two beers which share similar characteristics, might not be all that related. We wouldn't assume that two fellows both named Todd and both with blond hair, were the same person—or were even related—simply because they share a name and have similar hair color—but we do that with IPA.

The story we've all been told is that when American craft beer started to gain momentum in the late 1970s and early 80s—especially on the west coast—and as a nod to the all mighty and powerful British brewing tradition of the 19th century, plucked IPA from obscurity and revived it—with a twist—a twist of potent, citrusy American hops. There's a couple of assumptions going on here. The first is that North American IPA is a relatively new phenomenon and that those same American IPAs are some how the progeny of British IPAs.

It's not, and they aren't.

IPA has been made in the U.S. since at least the 1860s, and maybe earlier—I seem to recollect a New York newspaper ad from as early as the 1840s, selling American made India Ale. The idea that the "American" IPA came about in the early 1980s is just plain wrong. Once again the collective conscience of American beer history has replaced the old with the new.

B&B bring up a number of examples of where the myth may have come from, and they serve my purpose, as well. In their post B&B note the dry-hopping of Anchor Liberty Ale—arguably one of the "first" modern American IPAs, released way back in 1975.They assert that Anchor's technique of dry hopping was borrowed from British brewers. The only thing is, dry-hopping of American beer was common in the 19th and early 20th century, so perhaps Anchor's employment of that technique might not be as 'inspired' by British brewing as you may think.

Onto Ballantine's IPA—another example from B&B's post. The authors note that Michael Jackson had mentioned in his 1982 Pocket Guide to Beer, that Ballantine's IPA was intensely bitter and hop-aromatic, a survivor of an earlier age of American brewing, descended from nineteenth-century British beers. There's a couple of things wrong with that—and not by B&B either—by the late great MJ. First off, if IPA was being made in the U.S. during the 19th-century wouldn't it make more sense that Ballantine brewery was harkening back to those brews, rather than British beer. As I mentioned earlier, IPA, even in the 1950s would have been a known entity in the U.S. for nearly 100 years, perhaps more. Incidentally Peter Ballantine was a Scot, but learned the brewing trade in the United States—at Robert Dunlop's brewery in Albany. Secondly, from the 1940s to the 1960s Ballantine's IPA ranged from around 6.5 to 7.8% ABV. Quite a bit stronger than any British IPA of the time. Also, while hopped traditionally, Ballantine's brewers used hop oil extract to intensify its hoppy aroma (hop oil doesn't add bitterness, only aroma). Hop oil was a common ingredient in American beer of the late-19th and early 20th century. Amsdell used it quite often in their records from the turn of the century. The use of hop extract was somewhat common in German brewing (see examples here, here and here) during the 19th-century—but not so much in British brewing. At the end of the 19th century we start see German lager techniques—kräusening, cold-conditiong, as well as the use of hop extracts—applied to American Ale manufacturing. 

Speaking of Amsdell, they made an IPA in 1905 that had an OG of 1.077 and an FG of 1.029—attenuated at 62% resulting in a 6.4% ABV beer. it was hopped with 2.5 lbs of hops to the U.S. 31.5 gallon barrel and boiled for an hour. Amsdell's IPA was also dry-hopped with 4 pounds of hops. Ron compared those numbers to a Whitbread IPA from 1902. That beer was significantly weaker at 4.88% ABV, and hopped with the equivalent of about 1.75 lbs of hops per U.S. barrel (2.65 lbs/Imp bbl) of hops and boiled for 90 minutes. All said and done, American IPA of 100 years ago was a fair bit stronger than its British counterparts, but British IPA was far more bitter. Low attenuation and lower hopping rates, compared to comparable British beers of the same time, is a trend we see in American brewing, going all the way back to Matthew Vassar in the 1830s.

The trajectory of American IPA over the last 150 years seems to be that of maintaining its strength—in the range of 6.5 to upwards of 8% ABV—while increasing its hopping rates; the last twenty years being the crescendo in that endeavor. British IPAs on the other hand have significantly decreased in strength—dropping from the 5.5 to 6% range, to below 4%. Their hopping rates, while still relatively high, have also decreased over time. Both beers have also employed a number of different ingredients and brewing techniques. As a side note, this also debunks the original myth—neither beer, today, accurately represents what British IPA was like in the 19th century. 

So, to sum it up, we have two beers who over time, have had consistently different strengths, and hopping rates, and significantly varied methods of production—but are supposed to be somehow closely related to each other? At best you might say British IPA and American IPA share a common ancestor, but so do chimpanzees and human beings. 

The last nail in the coffin—and I'm amazed that this is so often overlooked—and, the only real connection between American IPA and British IPA is the name "India Pale Ale". There's a problem with that as well. American IPA has no association with India. That's kind of important, too. The amount of hops, the attenuation, time spent in barrels on board ship, all helped to define what IPA was. Remove that element, and all you have is a heavily hopped pale ale.

A heavily hopped pale ale.

Did you see what just happened there?

Many thanks to Jess Kidden for the Ballantine info, and—as usual—the good Doctor Pattinson, as well.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Albany Ale: The Story Arc

It occurred to me a few weeks ago that I—or Alan—have never written a synopsis of the whole of Albany brewing. Both of us have touched upon moments, even whole decades, in the city’s beery history, but we’ve never trained together the whole history. That is until now, because someone asked me to do just that.
The Lost Arc of the Covenant

Enter Rebecca Patel.

Rebecca is a Program Specialist at the Carey Center for Global Good in Rensselaerville, NY. The Carey Center is working to become a hub for the locally-sourced, farm brewing trend that’s sweeping the state, and Rebecca is heading up that project. In order to “become a hub” you need money, and to get money, you write grants, and when writing grants you must justify your reasons for needing the money— historical background helps that justification.

Re-enter Craig.

Obviously this history is pretty generic—a synopsis in the best sense of the word. Although it is considerably longer than I expected. In my email correspondence with Rebecca a few nights ago, I casually wrote, “I can probably get the whole gist of it in a few paragraphs.”

1,500 words later—here ya’ go.
…if history counts for anything, the Capital Region should be a leader in the state’s “new” industry. Brewing in the Hudson Valley dates back to the 17th-century and the first Dutch settlers arriving in the area around Albany—then called Beverwyck. By the 1660s there were at least eight breweries operating in the area. Because wheat grew better than barley in the area, it became the primary brewing grain. Hops grew locally, and wild indigenous varieties were bred with imported Dutch plants. Because brewery equipment was expensive, many of the brewers coming from the Netherlands were wealthy. Because of this wealth, many brewers were appointed to positions and became the city's founding fathers. In New Netherlands, brewing was an integral part of society and was a major trade in Dutch New York. Beer was both taxed and regulated, and under Dutch law, brewers were not allowed to own taverns and tavern owners could not operate breweries. The Dutch would lose control of New York to the English in the 1660s, but its Dutch-brewing traditions would continue.
Many of the original Dutch brewer's families continued beer making in and around Albany well into the 18th century. The Gansevoorts, Van Schaicks and Visshers—well known names in the Capitol Region today—all operated breweries in Albany at that time. As settlements began expanding west from the Hudson River, in the early 1700s a new form of "local" brewing emerged. While most the larger breweries were found in New York City or Albany, under British law, tavern owners could brew their own beer, so small inns and taverns that made their own beer began appearing in the Mohawk and Schoharie Valleys. The need for locally grown raw materials by these small breweries helped to establish grain-growing farms in this area.
By the 1740s and 50s New York's ability to grow wheat became fully realized. Wheat grown in New York was often shipped to the British colonies of the Caribbean in exchange for sugar. By the American Revolution, Central New York was known as the ‘bread-basket of the colonies’—so much so that during the war, the British Army burned fields and raided farms in that area to deplete the Continental Army's wheat supply. As a result of this, the 20 years following the Revolutionary War were difficult for New York's brewing industry. The recovery from the war was a slow process and an infestation of the Hessian Fly devastated New York's wheat crop, forcing a move to barley as the primary grain used in brewing.
By the first decade of 19th century, however, things began looking up. Matthew Vassar—the founder of Vassar College—was operating a very successful brewery in Poughkeepsie, while the Evans family had been running their brewhouse in Hudson since the 1780s. James Boyd opened his brewery in Albany in 1796—considered to be the first modern brewery in the city—and between 1800 and 1825 twelve new breweries opened within the city. Albany's 150 years of Dutch family breweries had helped it to become a well-know brewing center, and the first advertisements for "Albany Ale" began to appear during this time. In the early 19th century, Albany Ale was a euphemistic term for the best beer—of any kind—brewed in Albany. The opening of the Erie Canal in 1825 and an Albany brewer named John Taylor would soon change that perception.
Taylor—initially partnered with his brother-in-law—opened his first brewery in the early 1820s. A savvy businessman, Taylor saw the opportunity to exploit New York's new water highway. He could import grain and hops from the western part of the state and use the same waterway to export beer west and south down the Hudson. By the 1850s Taylor had built a new brewery in Albany—the largest in the country and was producing a flagship double strength of 'XX' ale, that he dubbed "Imperial Albany XX Ale". Albany's access to the Hudson River and position at the terminus of the Erie Canal afforded it a monopoly on the distribution on beer. Albany Ale could be exported west on the Canal to Buffalo and be in Chicago in ten days later. From there it could be in New Orleans within a week or California shortly there after. It could also be sent south down the Hudson to the port of New York and be anywhere in the world within a matter of weeks. As the demand for this double strength ale grew, so did the number of breweries in the city—seventeen by the 1860s—almost all of them producing some kind of XX Albany Ale. No longer was Albany Ale a euphemism; it had become a specific thing. 
Hops, an essential ingredient in beer, grow wild in New York, but also had been brought by the Dutch in the 17th-century. The first commercial hop farm, however was opened in Madison County, by James Coolidge in 1808. Fueled by the demand for Albany Ale, the hops industry in New York boomed. By the 1830s, eleven counties in central New were actively growing hops, and by the 1880s—in an area the went as far west as the Finger Lakes and as far east as Western Albany County—New York was producing 90 percent of the hops in the United States, and exporting much of that overseas.
Albany breweries like Amsdell Brothers, The Albany Brewing Company and McKnight thrived into the mid 19th century—making everything from the double strong Albany Ale to IPA and Burton. However, the development of the railroad during and after the Civil War resulted in a wane in Albany Ale at the end of the 19th century. No longer did Albany have the monopoly on beer distribution. While Albany Ale may have become less popular into the 1880s and 90s, brewing was still going strong in the city—and expanding into other towns. The boomtowns born of the Erie Canal—Troy, Utica, Syracuse, Rochester and Buffalo—gave ample opportunity for the massive influx of German immigrants into New York in the 1890s. With them, these immigrants brought a taste for a new kind of brew—lager. Lager had been in the U.S since the 1840s, but since it needs to be cold-fermented and then chilled for a number of months, it was never a viable endeavor until commercial refrigeration became widely available in the 1880s. Although Ale was still king in Albany, lager breweries like Quandt's in Troy and Matt Brewing in Utica began opening with increasing frequency. In New York City, the Bushwick section of Brooklyn had become the center of brewing in that area. It was known for its "Bushwick Pilsner"—a relatively bitter, light colored lager that used both barley and corn in its grist. By the turn of the century, lager had become the dominant beer, not only in New York but the country. By the first decade of the 20th century Amsdell Brewing and Malting Company was the only brewery still making Albany Ale.
The American Temperance movement in the United States has it's roots in the 18th and 19th century. It's not until the late 19th century, however, that it truly begins to build up steam. By the beginning of the 20th century, it's at a fever pitch. On January 17, 1920 National Prohibition went into affect—banning the sale, production and transportation of alcohol. Of the eleven breweries operating in Albany in 1919, only three—Hedrick, Dobler and Beverwyck—re-opened thirteen years later in 1933. Those three breweries—and Fitzgerald's in Troy—would continue into the late 1940s, becoming beloved regional breweries, albeit having a far smaller distribution area than Albany Ale. Hedrick and Dobler both closed during the 1960s, while Fitzgerald burned in 1961. The F&M Schaefer Brewery purchased Beverwyck, in 1950. Schaefer was a Bushwick brewery that had over exceed capacity at its New York City operation and purchased Beverwyck to expand production. Schaefer in the 1950s and 60s was one of the best selling beer brands in the United States—even out selling Budweiser. Unfortunately, it to would succumb to the Mid-western, mega-breweries in the late 1970s.
Harkening back to the early days of Albany Ale, William Newman opened a tiny brewery on Thacher Street in Albany during the very early 1980s. While Bill's brewery wasn't very large, it was—arguably—the first craft brewery on the east coast. Popular with college kids and connoisseurs, Newman's—the last commercial brewery in the city of Albany—would unfortunately close by the early 1990s. It would, however, usher in a number of brewpubs to the area, as well as having the been at the forefront of the craft beer movement.
During the 1990s brewpubs became fashionable and Albany was no exception. The Big House Brewing Company and C.H. Evans Brewing Company at the Albany Pump Station began brewing beer and serving food within the city of Albany, while Malt River Brewing Company and Brown and Moran’s opened in Latham, New York and Troy, respectively. The brewpubs, unfortunately, would also find a similar fate as their historical counterparts. Today only the re-named Brown’s Brewing Company and the Albany Pump Station remain. C.H. Evans Brewing Company at the Albany Pump Station is currently the only establishment producing beer within the city of Albany. Owner and proprietor, Neil Evans, is from a long line of brewers, his family having opened the C.H. Evan Brewery in Hudson in 1786. 
So, there you go. Albany brewing—from start to finish.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Albany Ale: Went Down to the Crossroads

This post has nothing to do with Robert Johnson or the Devil.

It does, however, have to do with oil—black gold, Texas tea.

Today, most Americans associate oil with the middle east—or closer to home Texas, Oklahoma and Alaska. In the mid-19th century, however, Western Pennsylvania became synonymous with the slippery stuff. Refined oils, like petroleum, were known well before the 1850s, but there wasn't much of a market for them—that is until Samuel Keir figured out an economical way to turn crude oil into kerosene, effectively replacing the more expensive and increasingly more scarce whale oil as the primary oil used in lamps.

Oil seeps were common in Western Pennsylvania, but it wasn't until the end of the 1850s, acting on behalf of the newly formed Seneca Oil Company, that Edwin Drake began excavating and drilling into the banks of the aptly named Oil Creek near Titusville, Pennsylvania. In 1859, after nearly a year of trying and drilling to a depth of nearly 70 feet, Drake finally struck oil—marking the start of the first American oil boom.

By the 1860s the area in and around Titusville had become the epicenter for the American oil industry. Almost overnight oil had become one of the most profitable commodities in the country. From 1859—the year of Drake's strike—to 1869, the annual domestic output of crude oil, in the United States, leaped from two thousand barrels to four million barrels. Boom towns had sprung-up throughout the Oil Creek Valley. These towns became self-sustaining hubs for the men and company's drilling in the area, boasting population hikes from 250 to 10,000 in a mater of a few years. Akin to the frontier towns of the American west, like Deadwood, South Dakota and Dodge City Kansas, a culture of vice grew from these quickly growing metropolises.

Among these towns was Pithole, situated the Pithole Creek, a tributary of the Allegheny River, 100 miles northeast of Pittsburgh. The first into the area—centered between a number of strikes along Pithole Creek—began arriving in January of 1865; the actual was laid out in May; and due to its population of 20,000 by that summer, it was incorporated by August of that year. Among Pithole's amenities were over 50 hotels, a newspaper—The Pithole Daily Record, the world-s first oil pipeline, a railroad, a red light district and, according to an article written for the Pittsburgh Post Gazette by Beatrice Paul Hirschl in 1996, "every other building was a bar."

Ah ha! We've come to beer/oil connection! But, what does all this have to do with Albany Ale?

Gerry Lorrentz, a local (to me) beer historian and professor recently sent me a clipping from a July 30, 1865 New York Herald article, he'd come across. The article recollects, the unnamed author's account of his trip through the oil territory of Western Pennsylvania, while covering a trip to that area by the then New York State governor, Ruben Fenton. The whole article is descriptive, to say the least. It's not so much "reporting" as it is recounting details—all the details. However, things get interesting for me at the end of the third paragraph.

In buckboard again, Pithole City direct. "All aboard for Pithole," shouted my guide, "philosopher and friend." I had a letter of introduction to some gentleman—the agent of a petroleum company I rather think—who was located somewhere near a spot I understood to be "Stroller's Mill," and the idea that my journey should be associated with the patronage of my piquant brother in romantic adventure—"Port Grayson"—overcame any inconvenience that might be occasioned by getting off the regular road to deliver the note. The name proved, unfortunately, to be Pralber. Directions were to proceed until we came to the crossroads, one of which led to Pithole by one route and the other to Pithole by another route. We found pitholes all the way. For a mile from Plumer the road was lined by teams hauling immense machinery, steam engines, boilers, furniture, provisions and all the fixings necessary to start a new oil settlement. We arrived at a point where there might have been at one time the junction of two roads; it was now one common lake of mud. On a little knoll we spied a tent among some trees, and were the sure we had reached the crossroads, for we saw the signboard nailed to a tree—"XX Albany Ale." 
 New York Herald, July 30, 1865, page 2
Well, look at that. Four hundred miles from Albany, and there shows up good, old double X Albany Ale. This obviously speaks to the distribution of Albany Ale, but there's something else.

I mentioned to Gerry in our correspondence about that what became, euphemistically, known as Albany Ale seems to have been the XX stuff—but, that's not all that the Albany brewers made. By the 1860s and 1870s we know that Albany brewers made IPA and Burton, as well as Porter, to name a few styles. Taylor had been advertising their Imperial Astor Ale, while Amsdell made what they called their Diamond Ale, both, I believe, to be each breweries' "top shelf" brews. One of the ideas that I've been kicking around about what made Albany XX Ale so popular and so widely spread was that it wasn't the strongest brew, nor the weakest, it was the "just right" baby bear of the bunch—and therefore reasonably priced. This article leads me further down that path (pun intended). The sign the author saw didn't read Astor Ale or Diamond Stock, it read "XX Albany Ale"—with both its strength and price point front and center—being sold from a tent at the side of the road.

Think about who those 20,000 people were, flooding into Pithole during the summer of 1865. I'd imagine there were some number of business men and speculators—a sundry of rich folks—but most likely the bulk of them were recently discharged Union Army vets, underpaid for the last four years and looking for work and opportunity. Ordinary, working fellows—teamsters and roughnecks, ironworkers and laborers. As much as I'd like to believe that Albany Ale was the finest and purest brew money could buy, I don't think that was the reality. Not to say it was bad by any means, I just think it was common—a dependable, all-around reasonably priced beer. This important to the progression of Albany Ale because it shows Albany Ale's position in society. No longer is the phrase synonymous with, simply, the best of all kinds of ale coming from the city of Albany. By 1865, Albany XX Ale has shown itself to be a "thing"—a "thing" not too strong and not too weak. A thing able to be sold to in a place as rough as Pithole, Pennsylvania.

There's was saying in in vaudeville, "Will it play in Peoria?" I don't think Taylor's Imperial Astor Ale would have "played" in Pithole—but their Albany XX Ale sure did. 

Thursday, June 6, 2013

What a Long Strange Trip It's Been

Two memorable quotes have come out of the last few days.

The first came Tuesday afternoon, as I wheeled may car from lower Broadway onto Madison Avenue. Seated next to me, in the passenger seat of my Honda Civic, was my friend, the one, the only—Alan McLeod. I'd just picked him up from his hotel, and we were en route back to the Museum. The mid-afternoon beamed into our eyes, through the gaps formed by the highway overpass above us as we motored towards where the southernmost wall of the city's 1660s stockade had once been. Pointing out that the Holdiay Inn he was staying at was just a stones throw away from the location of Fort Orange, I noticed in my peripheral vision, Alan's sly smile.

"Ya' know," he said "I'm the only other person in the entire world who cares about this stuff."

At that point, I don't believe any truer words had ever been spoken by anyone, ever—that is until a few hours later.

I thought it fitting, since I frequent the Lionheart afterwork quite often anyhow, that I should take Alan there as his entry to the beeri-ness of Albany. A pint—or shaker, as my Canadian friend would say—of Crossroad's Pilsner for me, and one of Monk's Café Flemish Sours for him. Carrie B. rolled into the pub shortly thereafter, and she would express a fact that would surpass Mr. McLeod's earlier statement, with ease. 

The game plan for the next two days, I told her, was to first swing by the old homestead and then stop by my first born's Little League game, before heading to Oliver's Beverage Center—a destination I recommend for any and all beer enjoyers. After our stop-over at Oliver's we were heading to the locations of Albany's most famed breweries—some of which still have buildings standing. Along the way there was also to be a quick stop at the location of the King's Arm Tavern—formally at the intersection of Beaver and Green Streets in Albany—a hotbed of British loyalist activity in 1770s Albany, and a key place in the formation of Alan's hometown, of late, Kingston Ontario. All of this pin-balling around the city would be topped with a beer and dinner at the City Beer Hall. 

The next day, Wednesday, would be for research—by Alan—at the New York State Library (resulting in Alan's re-re-discovery of Taunton Ale) and then lunch with the to-be-brewer of Albany Ale, Ryan Demler of C.H. Evans Brewing at the Albany Pump Station. 

To this outline—this perfectly devised scheme—Carrie responded so very eloquently, "Well, you guys are going to be in for a nerdy good time."

She has been now honored with uttering the most true statement in all of the history of mankind.

Because it was.

Nerd-iness aside (or perhaps front and center), our journey through Albany's brewery building past has given me the idea to photograph some of those relics—starting with the Taylor & Sons building (above). A quick jump across the Hudson, this morning, yielded a snapshot of the building at a conspicuously familiar angle. I'll be posting—in the near future—a few pics and some information about a good number of those old places.

So, as the patched pirate says, keep yer' eye out. 

Monday, June 3, 2013

It's Not the Heat, it's the Humidity

We all know that beer making has a good bit of chemistry and microbiology associated with it—but what about climatology and atmospheric sciences?

Those fields also relate to beer—specifically when you want to know why your beer warms up quicker in Forks, Washington than in Las Vegas, Nevada. The University of Washington's chair of atmospheric studies and applied mathematics, Dr. Dale Durran, explains the whole thing here on WAMC/Northeast Public Radio's The Academic Minute.

The beer koozie industry will never be the same.