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.

1 comment:

  1. Good luck with all this and detailed taste notes would be appreciated. Fpr those of us who can't get to the locale, what would be interesting is to liken the beer to any reasonably well-known current beers, so we can get an idea. E.g. perhaps it is like Sierra Nevada Pale Al, or Stone Pale Ale, or like an English import. (Or Ballantine XXX?).

    Of course it may be very different.