Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Albany Ale: Albany Ale in G.A. Sala's World

I've been doing a little digging on mentions of Albany Ale in non-American sources. Taking the path of least resistance, and seeing as how I can't read French, German, Flemish, or Czech, I hit British sources first, and got lucky. I came across two mentions of Albany Ale by British journalist George August Sala from his dispatches to London's Daily Telegraph in 1863 and 1864 as he documented the United States during the American Civil War.

Full color Sala.
The first mention I found was from a search on The British Newspaper Archive. It was from the Northern Whig's (Belfast) September 9, 1864 reprint of a Sala correspondence to the Daily Telegraph
"It is a six hours' run from New York to Albany, per the H. R. R. (Hudson Rail Road) The cars are not very uncomfortable, and they are tolerably ventilated. Of the refreshment rooms en route it may be sufficient to state that pie, in every phase of atrocity, and quite equalling the doughy horrors of Schenectady, is to be found at all the intermediate stations. The choking diet is, however, mitigated by the Albany ale, kept on draught, and which is a very sound and refreshing beverage."
Yikes! Sorry Schenectady! 

That little blurb led me to investigating more of Sala's writing on Google books—of which there are a number of examples. In 1865 Tinsley Brothers, of London, published a two-volume collection of Sala's dispatches from North America, titled My Diary in America in the Midst of War. It's there, in volume two, I found a second mention.
"If you eschew "supper," and seek perpendicular refreshment at the counter, you have first of all the bars where, in the non liquor-law States, you may obtain poisonous whisky, brandy even viler, mawkish lager beer, excellent Philadelphia and Albany ale, a wretched decoction known as sarsaparilla—not unlike the coco the men with the turrets behind them sell in the Champs Elysées—and in New England cider as good as any to be procured in Devonshire."
Reading these passages I began wondering how food and drink framed Sala's world. 

Sala was born in London in 1828. His father, was an Italian theater man of some means, and his mother an actress and signing teacher.  He spent time as a teen in school in Paris, and took up writing at a young age. His talent caught the attention of Charles Dickens who, mentoring the young journalist, gave him his first assignment as a correspondent in Russia in 1856. Through the 1850s and 1860s, Sala wrote a column for the Illustrated London News and became a regular contributor to the Daily Telegraph. According to his biography on Wikipedia, not only did Sala contribute articles to the Telegraph, but contributed to the paper’s reputation as well, “His literary style, highly coloured, bombastic, egotistic, and full of turgid periphrases, gradually became associated by the public with their conception of the Daily Telegraph; and though the butt of the more scholarly literary world, his articles were invariably full of interesting matter and helped to make the reputation of the paper.”

Sala continued to write throughout the end of the 19th century, publishing both fiction and non fiction, novels and essays, but working most often as he had always done, as a journalist. By his death in 1895, Sala had earned the reputation as one of the most productive and popular day-to-day observational journalists of the 19th century.

In his work Sala often wrote about extensively about food and drink. A clue to Sala's love of the good life comes from Peter Blake's partial-biography of Sala—George Augustus Sala and the Nineteenth-Century Periodical Press: The Personal Style of a Public Writer. Blake asserts that Sala had an on-again-off-again relationship with the Bohemian lifestyle of London and Paris in the mid-19th century. Sala wrote of Hamburg businessmen he met while in St. Petersburg who, "drink and smoke and play dominoes and billiards, and otherwise dissipate themselves all night. What lives!" Although Sala may have been drawn to the Bohemian lifestyle, he doesn't seem to have been a die-hard, Henri Murger -like character, but more of a fond observer of Bohemianism. Practicing it as a matter of convenience—traveling nearly penniless one week and then attending royal galas at the Russian court the next.

In Sala's writing food references are abound—in fact too many to mention. One that caught my eye, however, was an interesting connection between road food in traditionally beer and cider producing countries versus wine producing countries, in a footnote in Under the Sun: Essays Mainly Written in Hot Places (1872):
"It is curious that in countries where wine is plentiful there should be nothing procurable to eat, and that in non-wine-growing, but beer or cider-producing, countries the traveller should always be sure of a good dinner. Out of the beaten track in Italy, a tourist runs the risk of being half starved. In Spain, he it starred habitually and altogether; but he is sure of victuals in England, in America, and in Russia. Even in the East, fowls, eggs, kids, and rice are generally obtainable in the most out-of-the-way places; but many a time have I been dismissed hungry from a village hostelry in France with the cutting remark: 'Monsieur, nous n'avons plus rien.' There is an exception to the rule in Germany —In except Prussia—which bounteous land runs over with wine, beer, beef, veal, black and white bread, potatoes, salad, and sauerkraut."
Interesting that he notes Germany—which today would be considered one of the great beer producing countries or the world—is the exception to the wine rule.

Speaking of booze, Sala was not afraid to assert his preference for drink—sparkling brandy—which he refers to as 'nectar of the gods' more than once. Moreover, price seems to be a big factor in Sala's drinking. Blake writes in his book that in 1859 Sala had his nose busted open by a London landlord for complaining about the price of said publican's champagne—not so ironic after having just spent 3 weeks in a debtor's prison. He mentions a few times that wine—good wine, at least—was often beyond his limits, and usually mentions the price difference between different liquors and different kinds of beer, relative to their locality.

Sala also knew what was good and bad. Since he traveled extensively, his views were not confined to London—or England for that matter. He saw what other cultures ate and drank, and often commented on that—sometimes positively, sometimes negatively. He recalls, slightly sarcastically, in reference to foreign accents, how pretty "Paliali ale" sounded after seeing announcements for Cervesa Ingles, Paliali de Allsopp y de Bass on a trip to Andalusia in 1865 in his book Living London (1883). He notes the regular consumption of Bock beer by Europeans in Algiers—and how bad the brandy was—in A Trip to Barbary by a Roundabout Route (1866). He mentions Bock again in his travels through Paris in 1878 and 1879, in Paris Herself Again, noting its unintoxicating effects, and its unusually high price in that city. He mentions Belgian faro, briefly in his auto-biography, The Life and Times of George Augustus Sala (1895), with much dislike. 

Sala was also good not just at framing drink for himself, but also relating his drinking experiences back to his readership. He returns to the topic of ale, briefly, in My Diary in America in the Midst of War, remarking on the pale ale being served at a the Clifton House—a high-end hotel built in the 1830s—on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls, in regards to British tourists visiting the falls:
"In addition to the usual colony of English tourists and officers—who are just like English officers and tourists all over the world, and who would admire the Falls a great deal more if the pale ale at the Clifton House were not sour instead of bitter, and if there were any soda-water to be obtained."
Sala's quip gives insight to whatever the Clifton House was serving, and some indication of its quality, at least by mid 19th century British tourist's standards. I'm taking Sala's meaning that sour meant aged, rather than off. The 1860s are right around the time where Brett-infected, aged beer begins to fall out of fashion (with the exception of stock ales and porter), en lieu of "mild" or fresh ale—which was decidedly un-sour. Perhaps the brewers of Clifton House's were a bit behind the curve. It's worth noting that Sala's first mention of Albany Ale in My Diary in America in the Midst of War, comes 30 pages after the Clifton House comment. We might infer, since Sala seemed to find Albany Ale agreeable, then perhaps Albany Ale fell more in-line with 19th century British ale served mild, rather than earlier aged and soured brews? 

Although, Sala may have been being sarcastic, and Clifton House's Pale Ale was just shit. 

In any case, Sala's writing spans the hey-day of Albany Ale, and he's written extensively enough about food and drink of the mid- to late-19th century, to gather a pretty good idea of what he drank and how he liked to imbibe. Considering Sala’s life experiences I take his assessment of Albany Ale to be "excellent", with some credence, and it was—at least in his opinion—better than what was being served in Niagara Falls—or most of the U.S. for that matter!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Albany Ale: Aloha Mr. Hand

Yikes! Long time no see, eh, kind readers?

I'm back—at least temporarily—and I've decided to post a few fan facts about Hawaii (Don't worry, it'll all make sense in a minute). Here goes:

Fun Fact #1: British explorer James Cook's arrival in 1778 was the first documented contact with European explorers. However it is believed that Spanish explorers arrived well before then.

Fun Fact #2: The Kamehameha dynasty began in 1795—after King Kamehameha unified the archipelago—and continued until 1872. Queen Lili'oukalani was kingdom's last monarch. In 1893, her rule was overthrown, and replaced by an American-backed provisional government.

Fun Fact #3 King Kamehameha III relocated the the permanent capital of the Hawaiian kingdom to Honolulu on the island of Honolulu—a town of approximately 8,000 to 10,000 people—in 1845. 

Fun Fact #4: In July of 1898 the Republic of Hawaii was annexed to the United States, and in 1900 was granted self-governance. The one-time royal 'Iolani Palace in Honolulu, was used as the territorial capitol building

Fun Fact #5: On December 7th, 1941, the Empire of Japan attacked the U.S. Naval Station at Pearl Harbor, provoking the United States' entry into the Second World War.*  

Fun Fact #6: Hawaii was the 50th state admitted to the union on August 20th, 1959.

Oh yeah...there's one more.

Fun Fact #7: From 1858 through 1860, Albany Ale (in pints and cases) was being advertised in newspapers and was available from multiple vendors in the Hawaiian capital city of Honolulu. 

The Polynesian, Honolulu, Hawaii, January 21, 1860

So, lets put that in a little perspective. Three years prior to the start of the American Civil War, 40 years prior to annexation and 99 years prior to statehood, Albany Ale is being sold in Hawaii. Keep in mind that Hawaii is just under 2,500 miles from California—except this beer probably wasn't shipped from San Francisco or Sacramento. The Transcontinental Railroad would not be complete until 1869, and it would still be another seven years before the first train would bisect the country on a single trip from New York City to San Francisco. It's more likely these pints and cases of Albany Ale traveled by boat—from Albany down the Hudson to New York harbor, along the Atlantic coast of the United States, and past the Caribbean. Then they'd skirt along the South American continent, rounding Tierra del Fuego and Cape Horn, heading north along Chile before hanging a left at Peru, and steaming through the Central Pacific to Honolulu harbor—almost three months later. 

I'll finish with one last bit of perspective—New York to Honolulu (via Cap Horn) is about 4,000 nautical miles further than the trip (via Cape of Good Hope, South Africa) from Burton-on-Trent, in the U.K to Mumbai, India.

*Okay, maybe this one wasn't so much "fun". 

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

A Couple of "Revolutionary" Brews

I’m back!

I’ve been a bit underproductive as far as the blog goes because I’ve been in the midst of an event planning whirlwind. Do you remember the photo of the bale of straw and the Green Wolf Brewing Company bottle I posted a few weeks back? Well that was just a tease.

I’m proud to announce the 1780 Beer Challenge and Revolutionary War Festival on Saturday, May 16th 2015 at Green Wolf Brewing Company, in Middleburg, NY! (Click here for a map)

The Albany Ale Project, Green Wolf Brewing Co., of Middleburugh, New York, and MacKinnon Brothers Brewing Co., of Bath, Ontario, have issued each other a challenge. A beer-infused re-enactment of the 1780 stand off in Middleburgh between New York’s Canada-exiled Loyalists and the Albany County Militia, to benefit the Middleburgh Library. This time we’re doing it with hops, grain, and yeast, instead of muskets and cannons!

I’m working with Green Wolf, while Alan is working with MacKinnon Brothers to create two Revolutionary War-era inspired beers. The beers will be blind judged against each other by WNYT NewsChannel 13’s morning anchor Phil Bayly, food and drinks writer Deanna Fox, and Middleburgh Library Director Teresa Pavoldi. The winner receives bragging rights and the official “1780 Beer Challenge Champion” barrel head. The loser must hoist their opponent’s flag in their respective brewery or taproom. There will also be a “People’s Choice” vote for the best beer.

The day’s activities include a Revolutionary War encampment, colonial brewing and cooking demonstrations, 18th century toys and games for kids, talks on the history of beer and hops in upstate New York and the Schoharie Valley, a Schoharie Valley hops display at the Library, beer samples from Green Wolf and MacKinnon Brothers, and Green Wolf brewery tours. Middleburgers BBQ and Under the Nose gift shop and bakery will be offering barbecue and baked goods for sale, and Al and I will be selling and signing copies of their book Upper Hudson Valley Beer. The day culminates in “The 1780 Beer Challenge”, cask tapping and tasting of the two Rev War brews!

You might ask why Middleburgh? Middleburgh is a tiny little hamlet, about a half hour’s drive south west from Albany. It’s the very definition of small town America, and nestled amongst green mountains and the rolling farmlands of the Schoharie valley. But 235 years ago, it was not such a quiet little spot.

In 1780, as the American Revolution raged, another war—a civil war—was being fought on New York's frontier. Neighbor battled neighbor in an escalating conflict between those loyal to the British Crown and those bent on independence. During the 1770s, many New York Loyalists, including Sir John Johnson and the Mohawk leader Joseph Brant, were forced off their land, finding refuge in southern Canada. Set on disrupting the borderlands, Johnson returned to New York in 1780 having raised his Loyalist King’s Royal Regiment of New York while in Canada. With Brant and his Mohawk warriors, Johnson aimed to lay waste to the fertile Mohawk and Schoharie valleys—the “breadbasket” of the Revolution. They embarked on a slash and burn campaign, destroying what had once been their own farms and grain fields, in order to starve the Continental Army.

What Johnson wasn’t expecting was the dogged determination of a rag-tag group of Albany militia and volunteers protecting local families and defending the middle fort—“Fort Defyance”—at Middleburgh, led by Colonel Peter Vrooman, and the sharpshooting hero of the Battle of Saratoga, Timothy Murphy. Low on ammunition, outnumbered three to one and under cannon-fire, the Continental commander, Major Melancthon Woolsey, ordered the surrender of the fort. Murphy, against orders fired over the heads of the approaching Loyalist truce party three times, refusing to relinquish the fort and rallying the defenders behind him. The patriot’s refusal to yield their position cost the Loyalists precious time on their advance north. Although Johnson’s successful campaign devastated the Schoharie farmlands, the delay at the middle fort would help the American forces marching from Albany to halt Johnson’s attacks in the Mohawk Valley.

Today, Justin Behan of Green Wolf Brewing Co. is producing some really great brews just about a mile from where Johnson’s raiders marched on the fort, and the MacKinnon Brothers, up in Ontario, are brewing on their family farm, settled by their Loyalist ancestors in 1784.

The story kinda’ writes itself. But what about the beer, you ask?

Although the Loyalists and Patriots of 1780 disagreed on their allegiances, beer was a commonality. Whether in Canada or Central New York, the beer these two groups made during the American Revolution was similar. Both were strong—7% to 10% ABV; both used Cluster hops and locally grown grain—most often wheat, or other grain, rather than barley; and both used similar brewing techniques—like using chopped straw as a filter, to prevent the grain from becoming a gluey mess during the mash (Now that bale of straw in the photo makes sense, huh?) It’s this kind of strong, locally sourced wheat ale that Green Wolf and MacKinnon Brothers will do battle with.

Admission for the 1780 Beer Challenge and Revolutionary War Festival is $15 (for adults 21 years of age and older) and includes beer sampling tickets and a Green Wolf sampler glass, or $35 for sampling tickets, a Green Wolf sampler glass, and a signed copy of Hudson Valley Beer. Admission for non-drinkers, or those 20 years of age or younger is $10. Children and teenagers under 15 are FREE! All ages are welcome but you must be 21 to drink.

So pick your side—Loyalist or Patriot—and head out to Middleburgh for a little beer and history!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Your Beer Isn't As Innovative As You Think It Is

I was informed last week that, apparently, some beer styles are dated. These styles being, Porter, Oatmeal Stout, Red Ale, Brown Ale, etc... Now, I’m assuming they're dated in regards to more currently popular trends such as triple IPAs and sours, and innovative techniques like barrel aging.


I think we need to define our parameters a bit. According to Merriam Webster, to trend is an intransitive verb meaning to “extend in a general direction or to follow a general course”; and innovative is an adjective meaning “introducing or using new ideas, devices or methods.” I think beer folk have a tendency to to think the those two terms are part in parcel concordant to one another. They are not, and trends are not necessarily a result of innovation.

Yes, beer trends, its always has. Beer evolves over time. Beer changes because the public’s taste changes. Styles wane and return. Its strength rises and falls and its ingredients change. But Porter is no more dated than say Gose. Sure, Gose is currently popular now, but trends ebb and flow, and the popularity of a style at any one particular time doesn’t accurately reflect that style’s arc. In fact the arc of Porter brewing in the United States far exceeds that of the arc of Gose brewing at this point, so implying that Gose—or any number of other styles which have recently begun to appear on the American scene—is some how superior to Porter because of its current popularity is a bit like saying Meghan Trainor is better than Led Zeppelin because “All About That Bass” was the breakout hit of 2014 and Zeppelin hasn’t released an album since 1982’s Coda. One beer stye is not better or more important or more relevant than another. It's the long game that matters.

Now then, onto innovation. As far as I can tell the most innovative things to happen to beer in recent history fall in this order (and I’m sure I’ll miss a few, but you’ll get my point): The invention of the modern mercury thermometer and the Fahrenheit scale (1724) and saccharometer (1770); Watt’s steam engine (1781), the advent of microbiology and pasteurization (1875); commercial refrigeration (1876), the perfection of bottling technology (1897); wide spread electricity and the assembly line (1914), and the perfection of canning (1934); and the development of the programmable logic controller (1968). Those are beery innovations. Those events “introduced and used new ideas, devices or methods”. 

This might be a good time to debunk a few "innovative" misconceptions. 

Double, Triple or Imperial: Strong, bitter beers are not innovative. Strong, bitter beer has been around for centuries. During the 19th century British brewers put as much as 10 pounds of hops into each (36 imperial gallon) barrel of their strong stock ale. Imperial as a term to denote “the strongest” has been around for almost 200 years, and not just in reference to stout. 

Sour beer: Sour beer is not innovative. Cantillon has been brewing intentionally sour beer since 1900, and 3 Fonteinen has been blending Gueze for 128ish years. I dig Jolly Pumpkin as much as the next guy, but again innovative isn’t the right word to describe them. "A great brewery" works just fine.

Barrel-aging: Barrel aging is not innovative. For as long as wood staves have been held together by metal loops, beer has been placed in that wood to age. What about barrel aging in a spirits barrel? Okay, that was a bit innovative for Goose Island’s Greg Hall to fill six Jim Beam casks with Stout at the Great American Beer Fest—back in 1992. Twenty-three years ago.

Yeah, that’s right the hottest trend in brewing today—spirit barrel aging of beer—has been happening for nearly a quarter century.

Low ABV beer: Low ABV beer (just like high ABV beers) are not innovative. Low ABV beers did not come about because of the drinking “session”. Aside from small and table beers—brewed most often for children and invalids—most low ABV beer was produced as a nutritional supplement for laborers working extended hours in fields or in factories. The modern “session” beer is not the result of innovation either. It’s a result of British beer gravities dropping after both WWI and WWII, in which beer making ingredients either ended up on the bottom of the Atlantic, or were rationed for the war effort. These low ABV, often cask beers caught on, and eventually became to be seen as "traditional".  By the 1970s and 80s, they were being championed by CAMRA and the term “session” was born in the late 1980s and 1990s, says Martyn. By the way, “session" strength IPA isn’t innovative either. According to Ron, Barclay Perkins IPAs of the 1940s hovered at about 3.5% ABV. 

Ingredients: Ingredients do not make for innovation. Non-traditional brewing ingredients like herbs, spices, spruce, honey, old beer, capsicum, and licorice root have been used in brewing for eons. Vanilla, coffee, and fruit are just continuations of a previous practice. Also, new hop varieties—like Nelson Savin—are not innovative. That would be like saying a Labradoodle is more innovative than a Rottweiler. 

Newness. A new beer is not automatically innovative. A new to you beer is not innovative. A beer or brewer that you are being told is innovative most likely is not innovative.

So, to review. The jet-engine was an innovation. The Beatles were innovative. Barrel-aged sour beers are just trendy beer.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Sneak Peek

All I'm saying is, it's gonna be Revolutionary. More to come in a few weeks...

Monday, March 23, 2015

Double the Fun

I have to say,  I'm a bit excited about two upcoming events. Partly because I had a hand in organizing them, but mostly because I think they are a going to be a great way to bring some really great beer to a new audience.

On Friday, May 27th through Sunday the 29th, my great friend Paul Engel (of whom I've known for... er, uh... just shy of 30 years) is hosting The Spring Cask Tap at his tavern, the Allen Street Pub. If you've never been, to the pub it's the perfect mix of great craft beer and neighborhood dive-iness—go read what the good Dr. McLeod had to say about the ASP.

In any case, Paul is really into cask beer—I mean really into it—in fact he's a trained cellarman, and that's the impetus for the Spring Cask Tap. To bring in as much great cast beer as he can and revel in it. He's getting local casks, including ones from Argyle Brewing Company, and Wolf Hollow Brewing Company—and an oak cask of Bert's DQ'd Imperial Stout from Wandering Star in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. He's also bringing in two UK-made brews—Postman's Knock from Hobsons, and Dark Star Original, and I imagine a few a few other surprises, too. The star of the show, however, might be BFM's Cuvée Alex Le Rouge—one of only 20 casks imported into the U.S

It's totally free to get in, too.

The following weekend, April 4th, my pal Dora Philip, owner of The Hollow Bar + Kitchen, in downtown Albany, will be hosting the Upper Hudson Valley NanoFest. She asked myself and local beer blogger/author Chad Polenz if we wanted to do a book and beer event, and it exploded into a mini-beer fest featuring five local nano breweries and ten different beers!

The Hollow has become a hot spot for great music and fantastic food, so bringing in great local beer was a no-brainer. The five breweries involved are Argyle Brewing Co., Green Wolf Brewing Company, Rare Form (Troy), Honey Hollow Brewing Company (Earlton) and The Beer Diviner (Stephentown). Chad and I will selling and signing books, as well. NanoFest is a ticketed event, and tickets are available at the Hollow before April 4th for $20, and on the day of the event for $25.

The Allen Street Pub is located at 332 S. Allen Street in Albany. For any questions call (518) 391-9258.

The Hollow Bar + Kitchen is located at 79 N. Pearl Street in Albany. For any questions call (917) 279-8817.


Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Beery Existentialism - Part Deux

I’ve had a recent revelation.

I don’t enjoy craft beer bars—and by “craft bar" I mean a bar which exclusively serves craft beer, or high-end imports, rather than a brewery taproom, or a brewpub.

Often, when I walk into a craft bar, I get the same feeling I did when I walked into class—mid lecture—after a dentist appointment in high school. All eyes on me. I feel uncomfortable in craft bars, and I’m the kind of person that feels pretty comfortable in most situations. I feel un-cool in craft bars. The problem is, craft beer has become “cool”, and seeing as how I’m not very “cool”, I really do get a tinge of un-cool high school kid anxiety in craft bars. I feel like I don’t know something that everyone else knows, or that I don’t have enough tattoos, or I'm not drinking the right beer. So, to make things simpler, I don’t go to them, at least not very often.

I am much more comfortable in a bar that has a great beer selection but isn’t necessarily a “craft” bar. I like the dive, or the dart league bar, or the neighborhood watering hole where two people can sit at the bar having a conversation about the local high school football team while one drinks from an aluminum bottle of Coors, and the other drinks a pint of the latest and greatest from Stillwater Artisanal. I like the happy co-existence of Bud Light and barrel-aged stouts.

I have no problem with the “craft” bar—and I don’t begrudge their existence—but they might not feel the same way about me.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Albany Ale: The Dark Side of Albany Ale

By “dark” I don’t mean porter or stout.

For the last five years, I’ve researched and celebrated Albany’s brewing history and heritage. I’m glad I did. I've come to realize that beer was a major part of Albany’s cultural and societal fabric. Without a doubt beer helped to shape what Albany was and what it would become. Albany owes a lot to beer, and that's a good thing.

But there is a downside to that. A rather terrible downside. A city that builds itself on a drug—and yes, alcohol is very much a drug—will eventually have to deal with the ill-effects of that drug. In beer’s case—alcoholism, abandonment, and orphanhood. It was during the post Revolutionary, period where we see the collision of pre-industrial colonial drinking habits in which, to some extent, beer benefited Albany’s population by providing a potable alternative to the city’s often contaminated water, as well as being a nutritional supplement; with the reality of industrialized, population-wide drunkenness.

By the 1820s, even before the meteoric rise of the city’s modern brewing industry and during the infancy of Albany Ale, alcoholism was rampant in the city. Albany’s gifted and award winning journalist and biographer Paul Grondahl covers this period of Albany’s history at the beginning of his book, Now is The Time, about the history of Parsons Child and Family Center. Parsons has operated in Albany for 186 years, and today it “is the largest multi-services agency in New York’s Capital Region dedicated families and their children. The agency provides counseling services, parenting education, child abuse/neglect prevention and treatment, family strengthening programs, early childhood family support, special education, youth development programs, and mental health services.” According to their website.

However, in 1828, a year before Orrisa Heely opened the Albany Orphan Asylum (later to become Parsons Child and Family Center), there was nothing but, literally, the poorhouse—a woefully under funded, government assisted poorhouse—and the meager alms collected by the Dutch Reformed Church.

Albany saw unprecedented growth in the 1820s, due largely to the completion of the Erie Canal, and although some in the city were thriving economically, others—many others—were not. Poverty was everywhere. Beer did not help. The combination of easily available alcohol and destitution gave rise to alcoholism, and with alcoholism came abandonment. Heeley’s own husband left her after the death of their infant child. Homeless and orphaned children roamed the streets in incredible numbers, competing with hogs for food and shelter. A law passed in 1820 required that any child found begging in the city to be sent to the poorhouse until ”some proper person shall be found to take such a child.” As you can imagine that “proper person” did not come around often. Grondhal wrote of the poorhouse in his book:
“…the city’s poorhouse, opened in the early 1820s, was almost immediately inadequate to meet Albany’s needs…Some widowed or deserted mothers and their children were taken in there, but it was not conducive to family life.”
He continues, later in the chapter, writing about the city’s indigent, it’s plentiful alcohol and the unfortunate result.
“Several of the poorhouse residents had entered its doors after serving time in Albany’s jail. The jail was built in 1810 to punish drunk and disorderly conduct and more sinister crimes.The city was awash in alcohol. Albany was also a center for brewing and produced 42,000 barrels of beer in 1829, of which 12,000 barrels were not exported and were consumed locally—equal to one-half barrel for every man, woman and child in the city. An estimated 415 tavern, shops, and market stalls sold liquor in Albany at that time. It was little wonder that the city was home to about 500 chronic drunkards and nearly 200 people died from complications related to alcohol abuse in 1830—one of the primary avenues to orphanhood for the children left behind in the wreckage of those who succumbed to the disease of alcoholism.”
That’s all past us now, right? Not quite

Sure, beer is cool, and beer is hip—especially in today’s climate, and with the growing popularity of craft beer—but we are not that far removed from the ills of 1829. Alcoholism is still major issue in our society even 186 years later.

Otherwise Parsons—or places like them—still wouldn’t need to be open.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Another Country Heard From or, In Wine There Is Truth

I don't usually re-post other writer's work verbatim, but today I'm going to buck tradition.

Carlo DeVito's recent post about craft beer's rather self-indulgent "pyrotechnics"—as he calls them—struck a chord with me. What he writes isn’t particularly revolutionary, and as far as beer folk go, it’s a rather beaten horse conversation. The “experiments” (again using his word) have been justified time and time again as a “what is made is what the market demands" and "experimentation makes for good beer". 

That might (or might not) be the case, but what makes Carlo’s point so interesting is that he doesn’t normally write about beer. Rather, he’s an accomplished publishing executive, and editor with an affinity for wine. In fact he owns the Hudson-Chatham Winery, in Columbia County, New York. But don’t get him wrong, Carlo likes beer—he sites Scotch Ale as a particular favorite. He enjoys the occasional glass of fermented grain, rather than his usual one of fermented grapes, every once in a while. But that’s about as far as it goes for him. However, at the same time, he can look at the craft beer industry through wine-industry colored glasses, and having published a good number of boozy books over his career, he comes with a unique perspective.

Now, beer folk may simply choose to write Mr. DeVito off as a novice, or a slightly ill-informed, under schooled beery dilettante—a moniker he chooses to call himself. But, perhaps, rather than showing him to the door with a polite wave, craft beer might do itself a favor by reading his post, and considering his opinion—and then maybe read it again.

Here you go:

What's Next For Local Beer? Pyrotechnics Versus Quality. 
Notes From a Beer Amateur

By Carlo DeVito

Scotch ale is a great beer. Malty and almost semi-sweet. Done right, it is one of my favorite beers. And tasting one recently brought me to a very weird question.

I am not a beer authority. I have been lucky enough in life to get hang out with some of the better ones. I published Michael Jackson years ago when I was at Running Press. And I was lucky enough to work with Tim Webb, Ben McFarland Stephen Beaumont, and Joshua M. Bernstein among many, as well as local beer authorities like Josh Christie, Chad Polenz, Julia Burke, and others.

That doesn't make me an makes me a dilettante.

Now, there are two things I want to say here. First, I have been a HUGE fan of the craft beer explosion. I have had immense fun watching what's been going on.

Secondly, I love seeing the inventive new products coming from the craft beer explosion. I love the experimentation and I love the collaboration. I think it is all very cool!

Thirdly, I am friends and acquaintances with a number of brewers, and I love talking to them about beer, and have even worked on a few collaboration beers myself.

That said, I am left wondering where we are with the craft beer revolution. Right now I see the evolution of a paradigm - the Pyrotechnics Versus Quality Beer.

Already there has begun a backlash of the over hopping of craft beer. The double and triple IPAs, the Black IPAs. It seems these days if it' not over hopped, it's not considered good. And I applauded the original trend. But of course, nothing in America succeeds like excess. I, like others, think the trend has gone too far. Brett too seemed to be the rage for sometime, though I seem to suddenly be hearing less and less about that.

I guess you can say that about almost every category. From Pumpkin stout, to chocolate stout, to gingerbread stout, etc.

But here's what I am wondering. I have skin in the local craft beverage business. And I am a fan. But here's what I ask as a drinker, and then some... Where does it all end? When do we just brew good beer instead of crazy beer? Is it all pyrotechnics, or is settling to be a quality maker not enough?

My favorite brewery, though I love trying beers from Mikkler and all the others, are places like Samuel Smith, Brooklyn Brewery, and a handful of others.

If all you do as a small brewery is concentrate on wild new experiments, then at what point do you flare out?

Asking someone to be the next Samuel Smith, by the way, is like asking someone to be the next Mouton Rothchild. In wine terms, Samuel Smith's is a First Grown brewery.

But where does the madness end? Or doesn't it?

I come to this question because I recently went somewhere, I tasted a lovely Scotch Ale. I love Scotch Ale. This was luscious and malty and just perfect. And I was relieved. Because the last two or three Scotch Ales I've tried were completely over hopped, and ruined in my humble opinion. There so many classic styles, is it not enough to make three or four or five well?

I am not trying to be a curmudgeon. I am a beer fan. And I love the experiments and trying new things. But the industry cannot sustain this level of experimentation forever. I saw the shakeout in the 1990s, and expect, in the craft business, that one will happen sooner than I like, and I will lament the loss of our fellow brethren. I might be a loser I am a business owner. I know these margins are thin. I am rooting for these guys. But when the shake out happens, who will be left standing?

There are smarter minds than mine on this question. As I said, I am a dilettante. But the landscape is rising up around me. In the Hudson Valley alone there are near 15-20 breweries. And around the state, there are multitudes more. I love it. I think the malling of North America has been a disgusting farce. And there is a certain glee I experience when I see the ghost malls springing up over the landscape (I admit a kind of self-righteous, sadistic Cormwellian sneer at these), and I love that the craft beverage business because it returns uniqueness to the individual regions. I love tasting new things and I love tasting things that are peculiar to a region. I like that local thing. I like that uniqueness. It is what makes traveling fun!

I know I am asking a big question. I know there is no answer. I know I am not equipped nor own the bonafides to give a proper answer. That's for the big guys to take on.

But from my lowly spot on the beer totem pole (actually I am not even on it), as a local purveyor, I wonder if it will affect the region and the other craft beverage producers? I am sure someone can even turn the question around on me, and ask them same of the wineries or the distilleries or the cideries.

But the question remains, at one point doesn't quality win out over pyrotechnics? Does making good beer beat experimentation at one point? Maybe I'm wrong and this was a waste of space, but I thought I'd at least ask the question. How does local beer sustain itself for the long haul?

To me, it all rests on a simple glass of Scotch Ale.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Black Is the New Orange

Have you guys ever had a chocolate orange? You know the ones in the foil wrapping that break into slices when you slam them on a table. 

I’m going to be honest, I’m not a big fan.

There’s something off-putting to me about the combination of chocolate and citric fruits. Chocolate covered bananas I’m all over, but the bittersweet, orange-iness of orange-flavored chocolate, just doesn’t float my boat. To be fair, I’ve never been a big chocolate lover—especially dark chocolate. I’d be quite content If I had some freak accident befall me where I could never taste chocolate again. I don’t dislike it. I just don’t care about it. Chocolate is the very definition—for me—of the beloved interwebs idiom—“Meh”. I’m also not a big fan of orange. Don’t get me wrong, I like fresh oranges and OJ (Ooh! and and orange push-ups) but that’s about as far as it goes. Duck a l’orange. Nah. Orange baby aspirin. Blech. Put orange flavoring into chocolate, and I’m out. 

Here’s my current paradox: Black IPAs remind me of chocolate oranges, but I like Black IPAs.

I didn’t want to at first, but I’ve come around—In fact now I really like Black IPAs. There’s something about the mild chocolate flavor with and a punch of bright orangey citrus hops that Black IPAs bring to the party. 

Granted the whole Black IPA is a bit "2012" as far as beer trends go, and I’ve got little time for the “black isn’t pale, so these can’t be called IPA” argument (so take it elsewhere buster). But I’ve been on a bit of a Black IPA kick of late—Back in Black, Mendocino, Raven’s Black, Wookey Jack, Otter Creek, and Shmaltz’s celebratory Death of a Contract Brewer have all been given the ol’ “over the teeth, and through the gums” of late. 

Why? Again I’m going to be honest. I have no idea.

Perhaps it’s the intensity of the chocolate and orange in a chocolate orange that I don’t like. Obviously, a Back IPA isn’t going to taste like a melted candy bar. Maybe it’s because there’s other things going on in the beer. It’s not just chocolate and orange. You get a bit of roasted coffee beans with Black IPAs, and a slight tobacco earthiness, balanced with some, not only citrus but piny bitterness.They are surprisingly complex.

Either way, I’m digging them, and I suppose that’s all that matters, anyway.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

I'm Not Going to Fuss Over Bud, and Neither Should You

I’ve been sitting back reading some of the responses and reactions to Budweiser’s “Brewed the Hard Way” Superbowl ad.

I’ve read articles noting Anheuser Busch’s hypocrisy, having just purchased Elysian. I’ve read pieces arguing that the ad was a clear, and definitive attack on craft-beer. Some are saying that Budweiser seems to be acknowledging the fact that it’s product is less than premium. I’ve even seen comments comparing the ad to the recent red sate/blue state political discourse in the U.S. of late. The bloggy, twitterverse has been gnashing its digital teeth and wringing its binary hands over the whole affair.

Who cares? Seriously. I sure-as-shit don’t.

I couldn’t care less what Budweiser or AB thinks about good beer. I haven’t drank Budweiser since I was in college. I haven’t given Bud much thought since then, either. I’m not sure what all the hubbub is about. AB is doing what AB has always done—and that is act like a big company by doing all the things big company’s do, and one of those things is turning the discussion towards them.

Ignoring the ad—and not buying their product(s)—sends a stronger message than tweeting pithy, craft-affirming responses to like-minded friends or customers. Which is what AB wanted you to do. They wanted a response. They goaded you. They wanted to rile you up. They wanted to disrupt your craft-drinking worlds, draw you into an argument, and get thousands of people talking about Budweiser. Guess what? It worked. 

But it didn't have to.

I had a coach in high-school who had a philosophy about competition. It was pretty simple. 

Do your job.

By that he meant don’t worry about the other guy. Do your job. Keep your eye on the prize, do what you need to do to be the best. Stay focused on you and your job. If everybody does their own job well, then things work out. The win will come. I think the same can be applied to the Budweiser situation.

Craft beer, and its "enthusiasts" have a tendency to be defensive. One might even say they have an ever-so-slight chip on their shoulder. They might be a bit thinned skinned, too, but they do love a pissing match. But Budweiser, AB and big beer aren't going anywhere. So why waste your breath? For the past 30 years craft beer has relentlessly waged war against big beer, and craft beer is everywhere now. But here's the thing. It’s not craft's manufactured mantra of "big is bad, good is great" that did that. It’s not the marketing and propaganda against big beer that has taken a good-sized bite out of big beer's market share. It was good beer that did it. 

So keep doing that—make good beer, buy good beer.

That’s all you have to do. Don’t worry about the other guy. 

Just do your job.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Albany Ale: The Times They Are A Changin'

Last week I wrote about New York’s barley growing issues.

That got me thinking about the history of barley growing in the state—more specifically when did the switch from wheat (or other non-barley grains) to barley-based beer happen?

As I mentioned in last week’s post, the early Dutch, and later the British settling in New York seemed to have leaned toward non-barley grains for their brewing. In 1646, Father Issac Jogues, a Jesuit missionary visiting New Netherlands, on behalf of the Governor of New France, noted in his diary, wheat and oat farming in Beverwijck for the purposes of brewing. Daniel Denton, confirms wheat ale brewing in the Upper Hudson Valley some three decades later, noting “their best Ale is made of Wheat Malt, brought from Sopus and Albany”. By the early 1700s, wheat had become one of New York’s agricultural staples, for both domestic use and exportation. Peter Kelm, a Swedish professor mentioned in his travel diary of 1748 to 1750 that both wheat and rye were grown in abundance—and malted—but not barley, because it simply wasn’t profitable.

During the 1760s, however, something changed. I came across a newspaper advertisement in the October 1st, 1764 edition of The New-York Mercury. The advert read:
The highest Price for good Winter Barley, be given by
Hendrick Rutgers, Brewer, Near Corlears Hook, N.York.
Within 15 years, barley goes from unprofitable to being specifically requested by a brewer. But there’s a clue in that advertisement as to why—the phrase “winter barley”. By the 1780s, winter barley was becoming more popular as a cash crop. Even George Washington began growing it at Mount Vernon after multiple years losses of spring barley in the early 1790s.

So what’s so special about winter barley? Well, it’s a bit of a “what’s in a name" scenario, because in the 18th and 19th century the name winter barley is an alias. A few of it's other psudomyns  include square barley and Bigg or Bere (pr. “bear”) barley—a variety often associated with Scotland and Northern England. It was also distinctive because it had 4 or 6 rows of grain on it’s head. Winter barley was euphemism for 6-row barley, and it was 6-row barley that would grow in tremendous amounts across western New York during the 19th and early 20th-centuries.

But let’s back track a bit—back to the 1790s. It seems to me that the post-Revolutionary War period is the tipping point for barley over wheat. I’m going to use two examples to illustrate this. The first is an advertisement placed by Peter Ganesvoort—heir to the Dutch Gansevoort family brewing empire of 17th and 18th century—in the May 15, 1794 edition of the Albany Gazette.

The good General Gansevoort is clearly offering to pay a premium for what appears to be a less than available crop. You probably wouldn’t do that unless there was a demand, right? The second example comes four years later. James Boyd—a decidedly un-Dutch Scot, who opened his Albany brewery in 1796—was, according to his ledger of 1798, buying more barley (617 bushels) than wheat and rye combined (219 and 289 bushels, respectively).

So why was this happening?

My guess is cultural change, teamed with availability. There seems to have been a Anglo-fication of the Upper Hudson Valley starting in the mid-1700s. What had once been an area steeped in Dutch-traditions was changing. The area began seeing an influx of British-influenced cultures (either from Great Britain, or from New England and the Southern colonies) and a sustainable variety of barley—6-row barley—was becoming more readily available. New York's new population began demanding barley-based beer over wheat-based brews, because that's what those cultures drank. Barley beer was a taste of home. In the very early 19th century we still see wheat being used in conjunction with barley (Walter Grieve was making a 50% wheat/50% barley beer at his brew house in Geneva, NY in 1803) But, by the 1830s, barley had fully supplanted (pun intended) wheat as the main brewing grain of the Upper Hudson Valley.
Interestingly, Gansevoort’s brewery closed within ten years of his 1794 advert (after having operated for 150 years), while Boyd’s brewery thrived for almost 125 years after his ledger was written.

If that’s not a sign of “The times they are a changin’“ then I don’t know what is.

Friday, January 23, 2015

New York's Barley Conundrum

I’ve been thinking about the barley growing situation in New York.

You may have heard that Senator Chuck Schumer (D) has proposed Federally-subsidized crop insurance for those farmers who grow barley in New York. Like any politicized debate, this issue has two sides to the coin.

On one hand proponents of the measure, acknowledge that although 2-row malting barley doesn’t grow particularly well in New York, agro-biology programs at places like Cornell University’s Cooperative Extension are working on developing disease resistant, and climate adjusted, testing varieties of the grain from other parts of the U.S. and Europe which—hopefully—will grow better in New York, the future. Proponents also feel Federal crop insurance will encourage more farmers to try growing barley, thereby enriching the state’s farming economy and benefitting craft brewers and distillers, which in turn will benefit all of New York State’s economy—one of the main reasons the NY farm brewery law as conceived and passed.

The dissenters, however see it as throwing good money over bad. Estimates on actually finding a stable variety is anywhere from 8 to 12 years in the future. Barley generally likes a cool, dry growing environment—like the upper Midwest and Canada (the county that produces most of the barley used in craft brewing in the United States). New York’s climate is, realistically, too damp for 2-row, making it susceptible to Fusarium head blight, a fungal infection of sorts—which can be poisonous to humans. An editorial in the Albany Times Union put a fine point on the whole issue, rather bluntly:
“But to have the government cover farmers for a risky crop so that beer growers can meet the unrealistic standards of another government program? What is Mr. Schumer drinking?”
As usual, plenty of good arguments on both sides.

Buuuuut, there’s actually a whole other coin—with two totally different sides—that no one is talking about.

Remember when I said 2-Row barley doesn’t grow well in New York? It doesn’t, and never has. The Dutch (and a bit later the Brits) found this out when the settled in New York in the mid to late-17th century. They brewed with wheat, and oats and spelt, and only sometimes with barley, because crop yields were unreliable year to year. That, and wheat beer was rather coveted, as “a taste of home” for many of the early settlers of New Netherland, but I digress.

At some point however, a new kind of barley was introduced to North America—6-row barley. Guess what? It grew pretty well. In fact it grew so well in New York State that by the mid 19th century New York became one of the largest 6-row producers in the country. By 1879, New York produced 46% of the nation’s barley crop (7,792,062 bushels), second only to California.

So problem solved, right? New York should grow and malt 6-row.

Weeellll, there’s a hesitancy on the part of craft brewers to use 6-row. 

Here’s the other first side…of the other coin. There’s a perception that 6-row is an inferior brewing grain. Don’t believe me? Here’s Farm House Malt’s, located in Newark Valley, NY take on that:
We can only speak from our own experience with 2-row vs. 6-row barley varieties, but can tell you this -- the differences are more about perception than reality. Our malting barley experts at Cornell University, who have worked with us for the last two years sorting this out, are in total agreement. 
6-Row is slightly less diastatically powerful, and therefore offers less fermentable sugar, meaning more grain has to be used, or an adjunct has to be added, to brew to strength. Therein lies the rub—adjuncts. Craft brewers don’t like the concept of adjuncts. They want beautiful, easy to use, high sugar yielding 2-row barley. Adjunct brewing smacks of big boy, uber-industrial rice solids, and macro-brewing—like Bud, Miller and Coors—and as everyone knows craft brewers want zero association with those guys.—even when it comes to ingredients. Here’s the thing though, American brewing has almost always used adjuncts—literally for hundreds of years. Thomas Read, a Troy NY brewer, testified to the New York State Legislature in 1835 that his brewery added:
“…about two or three pints of honey to the barrel, we think makes the pale ale finer, and is rather an improvement.”
Honey is an adjunct. The Brits did it too, those same Brits who inspired the American craft brewing craze. Those same Brits who extoll their purist of ingredients—water, hops, yeast and malt—imported millions of tons of American-grown corn into the U.K. explicitly for use in brewing. That is until the Kaiser’s U-boats started sinking all their cargo boats. Oh, yeah let’s not forget about the gold standard of brewers—the Belgians. Belgian candy sugar is an adjunct.

The blind acceptance that 6-row barley and adjunct brewing is bad, is misinformation, and I hate to say, but it’s misinformation that seems to be perpetuated by politics in craft brewing, rather than— perhaps—what might be best for the industry. Far be it for me to imply that craft proponents are prone to blindly accept anything, either.

Okay enough about adjuncts. On to the fourth side of the coin… or is it the second side of the other coin? In any case, and here’s where it gets really sticky—Federal crop insurance or not. Farmers don't want to give up field space to barley because growing malting barley is essentially a niche market. Malting barley is grown for basically one reason—to make booze. Booze is big business, but not as big as food. Corn and wheat are easier to grow and waaaaaay more profitable—think about it, High Fructose Corn Syrup is in just about every food product, and corn-based ethanol is in our gasoline, not to mention how much shit is wheat flour based. And then, there’s the Canadians. How can New York even conceive of competing with the fully established—and significantly cheaper—Canadian barley industry?

So, the Alpha and Omega of New York barley growing is this: brewers have backed themselves in a corner, because the've gotten themselves in bed with politicians who don't really know the whole story—or the industry—and who are waving the "We've got to grow barley in New York because, if North Dakota can do it, so can we!” flag, but the barley that would be the best choice—6-row barley—the brewers don't want to use. The politicians have stepped in it too, because they really don't know why New York doesn't grow barley, or more importantly, that the craft industry doesn't really want the kind of barley that would grow best here—they just want a sound bite to get re-elected.

I'm not sure what side of the, apparently, 4 dimensional coin I'd bet on (although I'm leaning toward the growing and advocating for 6-row route) I just wanted to put the whoooole story in perspective. 

At least it isn’t complicated.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The New Model

This past Saturday, I wound my way through the back-roads of Schoharie County to one of my favorite places in New York—the village of Middleburgh. It’s about a half hour drive from Albany, and a gorgeous drive it is, even on a rainy, winter's day. Farms emanate east and west off of Route 30 as you roll towards the village and to the south rises Vrooman’s Nose, one of the best hiking trails in the whole area. Middleburgh is the personification of a quaint rural American town. There can’t be much more than 1,000 people living in the village. It has thriving downtown, with the pre-requisite post office, Stewart shop, and pizza place. It’s also home to my good friend Justin Behan’s 2-barrel brewery—Green Wolf Brewing Company.

I spent an hour chatting with Justin and his wife, Tracy, about a few upcoming projects. I sipped a 10.6% ABV Belgian Style Quadruple, dubbed Hal’s Old Singular, and chased it with a significantly less potent Schoharie Pale Ale. Both were fantastic. Justin and I planned and discussed and Tracy set about getting the tap room ready for service. Then something happened at 4 o’clock—and when I say 4 o’clock, I mean exactly at 4pm. 

First a woman came in for a growler fill-up, followed by two mid-20 something women. Then what looked like,  a father and son in-law arrived. Three more mid-20 something women strolled in shortly thereafter, meeting up with the first two women. A couple in their early thirties sauntered to the bar, and in quick succession two plaid shirt and Carhart wearing fellas, arrived. By 4:15 the bar was shoulder to shoulder and most of the four-top tables were occupied. Justin mentioned that it was slow compared to most Friday and Saturday nights. He said he’s become the village brewer and tavern keeper all rolled into one.

This substantiates theory I have. A theory that I was in fact discussing with Justin that very afternoon—but before I get into that, I need to step back for a moment.

I’ve always been a little skeptical of the nano model. It never seemed like a sustainable business plan. It seemed like a short cut that would eventually end up costing more than it was worth. Here’s what I mean. In 1995 if you wanted to open a brewery you did one of two things: 1) Open a, minimally, 7 barrel capacity, brewpub, or 2) open a 10 to 15 barrel capacity microbrewery. The thought was, anything smaller and you’d have 1) brew two or three times as often—which is less efficient and therefore more expensive, and 2) eventually have to expand into a larger system, and having a relatively large system to begin with, would be less expensive than with a smaller system. That way was the way, until say 2008* or so—which was when someone had the idea of developing a small 1, 2, or 3 barrel “nano” brewing system. Nanos were a way to ease into production brewing. a $30,000 (as opposed to a $150,000) way to gain a little experience, build a fan base, rise in popularity, make a little scratch, and eventually expand into the next Southern Tier.

There’s are two problems with that: 1) Expansion is expensive (which hearkens back to the old idea of “having a relatively large system to begin with, would be less expensive than with a smaller system.”). The logical step is to garner investors for said expansion—which means another level of debt—and of course investors demand returns; and 2) There are 1.2 billion nano breweries opening in New York, with the same exact plan as everybody else—to be the next Southern Tier. That is obviously a bit of exaggeration, but nonetheless not everyone can be the next Southern Tier.

But that’s not Justin’s plan for Green Wolf.

Here’s my aforementioned theory. Green Wolf is the new “nano” model, or rather a very old model adapted to today’s situation. One hundred or two hundred years ago, most little American villages had a brew house and taverns. Green Wolf is the re-imagining of the village brewery/tavern. There’s also no reason this model can’t work in an urban environment. If a village brewery, why not a neighborhood brewery? Sure Justin wants to grow his business, but he’s not looking to dominate the craft market. He’s looking to fill a void, and there’s obviously a void to be filled on a Saturday afternoon in Middleburgh. He’s happy to be the village brewery—and therein lies the key to the model.

Long theory short, if you’re a small stay small.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Albany Ale: It All Comes Back to Beer

When Alan and I first started writing Upper Hudson Valley Beerone of the things we really wanted to do with the book was contextualize beer. Beer does not exist in a bubble, and we wanted to show how the economics, politics, culture, religion, language and… well… generally everything about a specific place effects the beer of that place throughout history.  Contextualization—placing beer within time and history—broadens the story. It shows the big beery picture, not just that this "type" of beer was made at this "location." But why that type of beer was made, and why at that location.

One of the other wonderful things we've found, is that on many occasions, events and individuals that might not appear on the surface as beery, quite often are. An email I received just before Christmas from local author and historian David Fiske, proves my point.

Fiske who wrote Solomon Northup: The Complete Story of the Author of Twelve Years a Slave, sent me a note about someone associated with Solomon Northup who had an interesting connection to Albany’s brewing industry.

First though, who’s seen the three time 2013 Academy Award Winning film (including Best Picture) 12 Years a Slave

Not surprisingly, the movie is based on the book, or rather the memoir, Twelve Years a Slave, written in 1853, by Solomon Northup—a musician from north of Saratoga Springs. Born free, Northup was kidnapped in Washington D.C. in 1841, and sold into slavery, and sent to Louisiana for—you guessed it—twelve years, but was eventually freed.

Don’t worry I won’t give any more away.

In his email David told me, that after Northup returned to New York, he was approached by an Albany lawyer and journalist—David Wilson—to tell his story. Northrup, relayed his story to Wilson, who ghost wrote and edited Twelve Years a Slave on behalf of Northrup. As far as Fiske is concerned, the narrative was all Northup, but the panache of the writing was Wilson. Simply put, Northup wasn't writer, so that's where Wilson came in. Wilson had written a few other books on historical subjects, but Twelve Years a Slave was his most successful work.

And successful he was (Here’s where the non-beery becomes the beery). In David’s email, he also informed me that after having read a passage in Upper Hudson Valley Beer about the Kirk brewery on Broadway, something dawned on him. Here’s the passage:

“The building sat idle for a few years after Kirk’s death, until Patrick Kearney and James McQuade began operating at the site in 1860. In 1867, the property was sold to Wilson & Co. and operated until John Smyth and James Walker purchased it in 1870.”

As you’ve figured out by now, David Wilson was the “Wilson” in Wilson & Co.

Incidentally Smyth & Walker were the “& Co.” and bought out Wilson’s holdings in the brewery after his death; they would eventually sell the property to The Fort Orange Brewing Company in the 1880s. Wilson’s brewery building—or rather Kirk’s building—is gone, however one of the Fort Orange building still stands, and is now Stout, and Irish-themed bar.

See, what did I say? Contextualization—what might not appear as beery, quite often is. 

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

"I love scotch. Scotchy, scotch, scotch..."

I’m back—after my long winter’s nap—and I’ve had a bit of a revelation. 

I think I’m in love. In love with Scotch ales.

Truth be told, I think I’ve known this for a while, but a week and a half off of work and an abundance of the stuff sort of solidified it for me. There was a moment, ever so fleeting, where I realized that supping on a Founder’s Dirty Bastard with my feet up, while sitting in front of a roaring fire, as the snow and ice was whipping around outside, that I might—just might—be experiencing one of the most pleasant happenings of the holiday season. Sure, watching the kids tear into their presents is exciting, and the big, family dinner is fun, but that one quick moment, well, that was just nice.

There’s something soothing about a Scotch Ale. Be it Brooklyn Winter, Old Chub, Claymore, Skull Splitter, or good old McEwan’s. Sure they can be a bit boozy, but that’s part of it. Sometimes they lean Cherry Coke, other times dry with a nice hop bite, while others go a bit smokey and peaty, but they all have big maltiness, and It’s that warming, bittersweet maltiness that make them so seasonally appropriate.

They’ve been around for time immemorial, too. Here’s a few snippets from the good doctor Pattinson’s phenomenal book, The Homebrewer’s Guide to Vintage Beer.
The mainstay of Scottish breweries at the beginning of the [nineteenth] century was Scottish ale. It was the rough equivalent of English mild ale and it came in a variety of strengths… The different strengths were classified by a number of shillings 60/-, 80/, 100/, 120/-, 140/- and sometimes even 160/-or more… A similar system was used for pale ales…
 In the second half of the nineteenth century, William Younger launched a new range of strong ales clearly inspired by those of Burton… The original versions of all Scottish strong ales, like shilling ales were pale in color. As with many English styles, they began to darken sometime around 1900. During the twentieth century, they became dark brown.
So sayeth Ron. 

Incidentally, at the turn of the twentieth century Amsdell Brewing and Malting Company, here in Albany, made a Scotch Ale, as well. Although it was quite a bit weaker (about 4.9%), than it’s Burton-esque, Scottish cousins, being made round the same time. It was probably more akin to those pale shilling ales, and more in line with a 60/- PA. Now, I’m sure Amsdell’s Scotch Ale was tasty, but it’s the decedents of those dark, early twentieth century brews my heart longs for. 

Nevertheless, Scotch ale seems to be here to stay—and I’m glad, because I have plenty of wood to burn this winter, and I have plenty of Dirty Bastard, too.