Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Albany Ale: Beery History on High

One of the things that became apparent pretty quickly while I was working on my bits of Upper Hudson Valley Beer is that beer does not exist in a vacuum—historically speaking, that is. It's interwoven in the social and economic history of wherever that beer is made. People and places that on the surface have nothing to do with beer, quite frequently pop up in the story, and as I often joke—it all comes back to beer.

This weekend I experienced just that when I went hiking. That's right, hiking.

With my wife and the kids in tow, we headed west, from Albany  to Middleburgh, New York, and the heart of the Schoharie Valley. Rising above the valley is Vroman's Nose, a 1,200 feet tall "scour and pluck" formation—a geological rarity by which the side of the hill was scraped, or "plucked" off by passing glaciers of the Pleistocene—resulting in an abrupt cliff on the hill's southern face.  And, it's just about one of the best day hikes in all of Central New York. The hike is a fairly easy trek of about a 3/4 of mile, and the trail is lined with hemlock and oak. Easy, but admittedly, I was a bit sweaty carrying my lot's lunch—from the Carrot Barn at Schoharie Valley Farms—in a backpack, by the time we reached the top. A bit of perspiration is worth it once you reach the summit, because the Nose offers a spectacular view of the valley—especially this time of year when the fields below are a patchwork of greens and tan; and the the hills which form the valley are in sharp contrast to the bright blue sky.

The Nose, brings something else to the table. Its summit is a 30 feet wide flat, plateau, dubbed the "Dance Floor". Its sandstone surface makes for the perfect canvas, and is etched with names and dates ranging from last year's graduating class of Middleburgh High, to valley residents from the 1850s and 60s—and probably much earlier. There are hundreds of names carved into the floor, and you could spend hours exploring the valley's history, literally etched into stone.

So what's the beery connection to a Devonian-era rock pile?

In 1713 Adam Vrooman established the first farm in the Schoharie Valley, and Vroman's Nose is his namesake. Vrooman had immigrated from the Netherlands in the 1670s, first to Beverwyck, then to Arent van Curler's settlement on the Mohawk River, Schenectady. Vrooman built a mill, brewery and a family in Schenectady, until tragedy struck on the night of February 8, 1690. That fateful night, a contingent of nearly 200 Canadien and Mohawk raiders, slaughtered many of the villagers and destroyed most of the settlement in retaliation for a similar massacre in the French frontier settlement of Lachine, in what is now Quebec. Vrooman defended his family home and brewery, with his eldest son, Barent, and a single rifle, but his efforts were for naught. His wife and youngest son were murdered, and ten-year-old Barent was kidnapped and taken to French held territory.

Vrooman, would eventually travel to Canada, and negotiate for his son's release. With Barent free, Adam expanded both his brewing and milling operations in Schenectady, buying land along the Brandywine creek. Barent took over his fathers brewing endeavor, and continued to operate well into the 18th century. When Adam retired to his Schoharie Valley farm in 1726, he was one of Schenectady's wealthiest businessmen, and the city's most successful early brewer.

See what I mean?

Beeryiness, that on the surface doesn't seem beery, but like the sandstone etchings on the Dance Floor of Vroman's Nose, if you look close, the history is there.

Like I said, it always comes back to beer.


  1. As a graduate of Middleburgh Central School and a big fan of Vrooman's Nose, I wonder if there is any evidence that Vrooman ever brewed in Middleburgh? Where did he live? Is his original farm still standing?

  2. I've not seen evidence that Vrooman brewed in Schoharie County. But that's not to say he didn't, it just means I've found no record of it. As to where his farm was this link may help. Someone at the Schoharie County Historical Society probably knows exactly where it was.