Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Albany Ale: Was it Last Tuesday, or 1901?

Last Tuesday was a special day.

It was a day that's been coming for quite a while—a special brew day. I'm not talking about brewing up some average IPA or Brown Ale. I'm talking about brewing  a version of Amsdell Brewing and Malting Company's 1901 Albany XX Ale.

Yeah, that's right. 1901 Albany XX Ale.

I've mentioned that Ryan Demler from C.H. Evans Brewing Company at the Albany Pump Station,  and the Albany Ale Project—Alan, myself, and a whole bunch of you out there—have been working on recreating some beers from Albany's past, and this past Tuesday was our first go at it.

Now, I do have to clarify a bit. The beer that Amsdell made back in 1901—their Albany XX Ale—isn't the Albany Ale from the 1850s and 60s that garnered fame for its namesake city. Although the earlier and latter beer share the Albany Ale name, the beer Amsdell made in 1901—and the one we recreated—is more like a grandchild to the beers that caused the Albany Ale phenomenon 50 years earlier. As a matter of fact, this version of Albany Ale was last beer to be made with that name. Similar, but with some differences.

So, why not create the famous Albany Ale of the earlier period first? Because, the later beer was the path of least resistance—we have a recipe (a lot of recipes, actually—from 1900 to 1905, thanks to the brewing logs held by the Albany Institute of History & Art).

Like I said, the earlier 19th-century beer and the later 1901 beer did share some similarities, like the use of adjunct sugar—honey in the older one, glucose and invert in the younger—and then there's a connection in strength. Not their ABV per say, but their position on the strength scale—the second, or XX spot—in their brewer's line-up. That double strength characteristic, in fact, harkens all the way back to Matthew Vassar's Double Ale brews of the 1830s. The beers did have some differences as well. The older beer was far less attenuated, and used more hops—the older beer used about twice as many hops, but that might be explained because it was common for mid-19th century brewers to use older, less potent hops—waste not want not. Beer evolves—then and now. So, again think of the grandparent/grandchild relationship rather than Amsdell's 1901 brew being a clone of an earlier Albany Ale brew.

Back to the brew day. Although we adapted Amsdell's original recipe slightly for a modern brew pub's brewing facility, Ryan stayed true to form. He used floor malted, American 6-row barley, homemade invert sugar, and even roasted the black malt himself. We also did a cereal mash of corn grits—just as Amsdell would have done—rather than using the much easier flaked maize. The hops were all New York grown heritage hops from a variety of growers in the state—Helderberg Hop Farm, in Voorheesville, New York; Dutch Barn Farm in Stone Arabia, New York and blogger Will Nolin of The Perfect  Pint, out near Syracuse. The hops themselves are of the Cluster variety, most likely English Cluster, Humphrey or Pompey hops—all varieties known to have been grown at the turn-of-the-century in New York.

I think Ryan would agree, it went better than we both expected. The cereal mash got a little tricky. Ryan used his kettle for the grits and then we transferred it back into the mash tun, where the 6-row was waiting. We ended up bucket brigade-ing a good bit of it too. The invert siezed-up nicely as well, but nothing that a hot bath couldn't fix. A whole bunch of hours later and the first Albany Ale to be brewed in Albany since the turn-of-the-century (the last one, not 2001) was in the fermenter.

We're looking at an early November release and a few related events are planned around then, as well—more on those a little later. The Pump Station will—obviously—have it on, and hopefully, some of the other bars and restaurants around the Capital District will too.

What if you can't make it to Albany?

No fears, dear reader, we've thought of that, too. The Albany Ale Project, along with C.H. Evans is also partnering with the good folks at the Homebrew Emporium. They been so kind as to create a home brew-able version of the same recreated 1901 brew that Ryan made! One of the events I can tell you about, is the one happening on November 10th at the Pump Station. Come down at 4 pm and see how your home brewed version of the 1901 Albany XX Ale stacks up to Ryan's in a blind tasting!    

If you're new to this Albany Ale thing, check out www.albanyaleproject.com for the skinny on the history of brewing in the city of Albany, New York (brewery histories are coming soon!) and for more pics of the brew day check out the Albany Ale Project's Facebook page!

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