Experiences Series: Vroman's Nose and Green Wolf Brewing Co.

Last year, I had an idea that I felt was good enough to put into action: combining my love of hiking and the great outdoors with my love of beer. It was good: I climbed a few mountains and took some pictures at the summit drinking an excellent local beer. You may remember the Summit Series. The best of both worlds, right? The idea has since evolved, however, to a point where I feel compelled to make it a central focus of this website. Growing pains are usually tough to deal with, but in this instance, the notion of beer paired with the great outdoors has been validated by a lovely hike up Vroman's Nose with two of the Capital Region's rising beer stars, Craig Gravina of the Albany Ale Project and Justin Behan of the Green Wolf Brewing Company. Together, the three of us, joined by a dozen local beer fans, hiked and conducted a sampling of local farm-brewed beer. We also learned about the history of beer and the events that have unfolded within the nooks and crannies of the landscape spread wide before us from the summit of the Nose.

Vroman's Nose. A good place to have a beer.

Vroman's Nose. A good place to have a beer.

The hike to the Dance Floor, as the summit is known, was a simple 20-minute walk through the woods. There is a bit of a steep section at the end, but the hike itself wasn't the reason for our visit. Along the way, Craig serenaded myself and the group with some local geologic history, talking about the unique nature of the Schoharie Valley and the interesting forces that create and changed the Nose over time. I have always been a little intrigued by New York's geology, but after the hike I know I need to spend more time reading up and educating myself in this rich subject. According to Craig on his DrankDrank blog post, Vroman's Nose is "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." (Source: http://www.drinkdrank1.com/2014/09/albany-ale-beery-history-on-high.html)

The walk up wasn't too long, but the fall colors were breathtaking.

The walk up wasn't too long, but the fall colors were breathtaking.

Finally, when we had arrived at the summit, we were able to enjoy the unbelievable view. It was a sunny October day with highs in the lower 60s and very low humidity. The clear skies  made it possible to see the distant high peaks of the Catskills as well as the patchwork of farms butting up right against the bottom of the southern cliffs of Vroman's Nose. It was this wide and total view that drew me to Vroman's Nose for this event in the first place: it provides a chance to the see the entirety of the valley where Justin is hoping to spread his message, his idea, and his beer. His brewery is all about community, and taking a sip of his finely-crafted product and seeing both the essence and physicality of his vision was immensely meaningful. It isn't often that a vision can be so literally translated; that it can be so easy to see just what our neighbors and friends find so meaningful.

The view was phenomenal. Better weather may not actually be possible.

The view was phenomenal. Better weather may not actually be possible.

At the top, it was time for a history lesson. I'll leave the storytelling to Craig, who has a way of explaining the events that doesn't make imagining them playing out very difficult, especially with the rich landscape of the narrative quite literally below us. He spoke a bit as we shared a few bottles of Green Wolf beer amongst ourselves. The main idea of his mountain talk was also shared on his blog, which I am excerpting here:

"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." (Source: http://www.drinkdrank1.com/2014/09/albany-ale-beery-history-on-high.html)

The best classroom is probably a mountaintop with beer nearby.

The best classroom is probably a mountaintop with beer nearby.

Justin also spoke a bit about the three beers he brought along for the trip: his Abbey Gargoyle Belgian Dubbel, the Ravens Black IPA, and the Dire Wolf Whiskey Porter. We started with the dubbel, which was a rich and dark-fruity interpretation of the classic Belgian style with the requisite complexity. Next up, the Ravens Black IPA, was an extremely well-balanced American Dark Ale. I'm certainly looking for the best of both worlds with this relatively new style, as opposed to the "hop it to death" mentality of many craft IPA brewers. This one has the stickiness expected from an American IPA coupled with a robust malt flavor, making it much easier to drink for a guy with a palate like mine. Last was the Dire Wolf Whiskey Porter, an imperial porter aged in Tuthilltown Whiskey barrels. This, of course, was my favorite. Extremely rich, warming, and surprisingly easy to drink, this dark brew needs to be enjoyed on a cool night under the stars or by the fireside. Green Wolf's beers are, overall, a wonderful addition to the regional brewing scene and are worth the drive out to Middleburgh to enjoy.

Obligatory glamor shot.

Obligatory glamor shot.

After the sampling, and quite a while spent taking pictures and chatting, the group decided to head back down the mountain in order to go over to Justin's brewery, which happens to be less than a five minute drive from the trailhead. Along the way, we stopped at Under the Nose, a brand new gift and snack shop located adjacent to the trailhead parking area. I highly recommend a stop at this cute little store after a hike. The shop sells locally-made goods including biscotti, scones, and the Booger, a colored rice crispy treat. (Because it's Vroman's Nose.) We then drove to Green Wolf, and Justin walked us through the premises, which are nearing completion. First, we had a chance to see the brewing system, which, typical to most farm breweries, is small. Upstairs from the brewery is the grain room, which, true to Justin's mission of sustainability, contains a manual malt mill. (It's a bicycle!) The group also got to see Green Wolf's almost-complete taproom. Things are coming along great for Justin and his dream, and the proof is available for sale in 22 oz. bottles, available right on Main Street in Middleburgh and soon, hopefully, in a beer store near you. Get your hands on some while you can! 

The brewing system.

The brewing system.

I'd like to thank everyone who made this event possible, with a special thanks to Justin Behan and Craig Gravina. I look forward to working with you in the future on further events. Thanks also to our hikers and drinkers for coming along and sharing the event with your friends. I promise there will be more. I also encourage my readers to follow me on social media to keep up with all of the events and activities as they pop up.

Twitter: @inthenameofbeer

Facebook: facebook.com/newyorkcraftbeer

What a good-looking group!

What a good-looking group!

New For TAP NY (Part Five): Mill House Brewing Company

We travel next down the New York State Thruway, as I recently did, from Albany to Poughkeepsie. Though written off frequently as a post-Industrial wasteland, Poughkeepsie has its charms: the Walkway Over The Hudson, the waterfront, the beautiful old buildings. It's also the last stop on the Metro North commuter rail line, making it easily accessible to city folks and vice versa. The core of Poughkeepsie, however, is its people: the folks who live and work there, the ones who have the greatest stake in seeing it thrive. The Mill House Brewing Company is a physical manifestation of the power of the local community to will itself into greatness. It is boosterism reborn.

The Mill House Brewing Company is located in a gorgeous renovated building.

The Mill House Brewing Company is located in a gorgeous renovated building.

Let me start off by saying that the interior of Mill House is, in a word, stunning. The reclaimed wood and brick that makes up the walls and ceilings is an aesthetic marvel. The juxtaposition of the rustic motif with the clean stainless steel of the brewery itself as well as the kitchen is extremely visually pleasing. It's a gorgeous space, fitting in well with the established tradition of New York brewpubs occupying unique buildings. The funding for such an endeavor came from a well-meaning (and well-to-do) Poughkeepsian who wants to see The Queen City of the Hudson restored to her former glory. The brewery opened its doors last fall, and is already becoming a popular hangout for workers and locals in and around Poughkeepsie's business district. On a recent Friday evening, the bar and restaurant areas were full of people enjoying both the beers and the excellent food menu. Jaimie Bishop, brewmaster and proprietor, walked me through the gleaming seven barrel brewhouse, which is separated from the restaurant only by floor to ceiling glass windows. They are making enough beer for now, he says, but that will certainly change, as the local movement and its brother-in-arms, the craft beer movement, takes off in Poughkeepsie and elsewhere.

The building is full of cool little old-timey accents.

The building is full of cool little old-timey accents.

Mill House has big ideas for their future, but is excited to be taking on the craft beer industry one pint at a time. They are steeped in the rich history of their region, taking the farming and culinary prowess of the Hudson Valley very seriously. 2014 being the brewery's first visit to TAP, they are excited to use the festival as a chance to introduce a wider public to their beers as well as forge relationships with other breweries for collaboration and mutual assistance. Keep an eye out for their Kilt Spinner Scottish-style Ale, the PK Pale Ale, and the Velvet Panda Stout. If you're in Poughkeepsie, the brewpub is a stone's throw from the rail station at 289 Mill Street. The dinner menu is fantastic.

New For TAP NY (Part Four): Nine Pin Cider Works

New York State's first farm cidery, located right in my own base of operations, Albany, is the next destination on our introductory tour for this year's TAP NY festival. There was a great deal of fanfare when Nine Pin Cider Works opened a few months back, and the outfit continues making waves throughout the regional beer scene. As a recipient of the farm cidery license, which is similar to the farm brewery license, the business has been granted certain tax exemptions and has been allowed to operate an on-premises tasting room. The law was passed in October of last year, and went into affect in January. As soon as he could, Alejandro del Peral, the man behind Nine Pin, had his application in at the State Liquor Authority. 22 days later, he was licensed and just about ready to open. Now he, along with his family, are producing some of the finest ciders in the Northeast.

Nine Pin Cider Works is located in Albany's industrial downtown corridor.

Nine Pin Cider Works is located in Albany's industrial downtown corridor.

Nine Pin's apples come primarily from the Samascott Orchards in Kinderhook, a short drive from downtown Albany. The cidery prides itself on being able to source its apples from as close to their production base as possible, maintaining both freshness and the innate sense of localism that drives the operation forward. Because the apple crop only comes in once a year, the cidery has to gauge how much cider they should produce ahead of time, which presents a bit of a logistical nightmare. Although cider has been eagerly swept up by craft beer fans as an integral component of the growing beer culture, there are a few notable differences between cider and beer. The fact that cider producers have to anticipate demand over the course of the year, instead of just brewing to specific needs, is but one. It's also easy to think that cider-making is substantially easier than brewing, but Nine Pin is actively disproving that notion, taking the time to finely craft an excellent fermented beverage. The cider itself is fantastic. It’s crisp and refreshing. It pours a very gentle straw color in the glass, with a pleasant light carbonation. It manages the perfect balance between sweet and dry, knocking the artificially sweetened mass-produced ciders for a loop and proving that New York's state fruit is the apple for a reason.

Cider kegs, reporting for duty.

Cider kegs, reporting for duty.

This will, of course, be Nine Pin's first TAP NY festival. They just opened their taproom and began widespread distribution through Remarkable Liquids in February, but are already receiving acclaim from all throughout the Capital Region. For those of you coming to the festival from different parts of the state which have not yet had a chance to try this cider, I highly recommend you do. When you're there, look for their flagship product, the Signature Blend, and be sure to say hi to Alejandro & Co. If you find yourself in Albany, stop in at their tasting room, located at 929 Broadway.

New For TAP NY (Part Three): Paradox Brewery

From Montauk, our beer tour of New York leads us to one of the most rugged and remote corners of the state: the mountain town of Schroon Lake in the eastern Adirondack Park. It is here that the Paradox Brewery opened its doors in late July of last year. They will be making the trek to Hunter Mountain for TAP NY for this first time this year. You may remember Paradox from an article I posted a few months before they opened, back in the infancy of this blog. It was amazing to see the shell of a brewery forming, in a place as unlikely as Schroon, where I had spent summers with a backpack and hiking boots not long before. To see the folks behind the brewery putting the finishing touches on their masterwork as they waited patiently for approvals and licensing was inspiring, with implications that went far beyond one little town. In a lecture I gave about craft beer in New York last summer, I mentioned Paradox as a sign of the times: though they had not yet opened, they represented the vitality of the industry in New York. That prediction seems to have held: Vaughn, David, and Paul, the founding partners, are running a successful and popular brewery in forever wild country.

This will look even more spectacular come summer.

This will look even more spectacular come summer.

The Paradox Brewery operates a 10 BBL system, housed in an old log-sided building just south of the cute little town of Schroon Lake on Route 9. It's one of the most majestic parts of the Adirondacks, full of sparkling blue lakes and heavy with the smell of pine. There's even a roadside chainsaw art dealer right next door to the brewery, ensuring that visitors get that authentic rustic experience. The name Paradox comes from a nearby lake which, during times of substantial rainfall or during the spring melt, will reverse its flow, with the inlet becoming the outlet. For now, the brewery is only able to do samplings and growler fills in their taproom, located just upstairs from the brewhouse. That will change, though, as Paradox has applied for and is waiting to receive the coveted farm brewing license. They are working with local farmers to ensure that they will have the necessary hops and malted barley to fulfill the minimum requirements of the law. The brewery hopes to source the bulk of its ingredients from within the Blue Line (the slightly anachronistic term that park natives use to delineate their realm) which is a tall order, but a noble one. The onset of summer means the return of boaters, day trippers, hikers, and a host of other folks who will bring with them a thirst for beer. I imagine it will get pretty busy.

Rustic is the name of the game.

Rustic is the name of the game.

The folks at the brewery are excited to be a part of TAP NY this year. They had hoped that licensing would have enabled them to attend last year, but some last minute hiccups kept them away from the festival. They have been working hard in the past few months to get the name and the beer out. I was happy to see Paradox at the Night at the Brewseum event in Saratoga in March, and I'm even happier knowing they will be at TAP this year. Keep an eye out for the crew. They'll be bringing along the Beaver Bite IPA, the Paradox Red Ale, the Paradox Pilsner, a stout, and a Belgian-style tripel. I have a deep appreciation for the breweries that recognize the fundamental aspects of their community that makes it unique. Building upon this, as Paradox Brewery has, is a powerful force for positive change in regions that are begging for innovation. Their logo, also, is fantastic. Any hiker in the group will recognize it and love it immediately.

paradox_logo.png

New For TAP NY 2014 (Part Two): Montauk Brewing Company

Part two of this year's New For TAP NY series brings us to the far tip of Long Island: Montauk Point. A few miles short of the eponymous point, complete with the windswept (and obligatory) lighthouse, the village of Montauk is now home to a world-class microbrewery. I spoke with Vaughan Cutillo, founding partner, who just got home from the Craft Brewer's Conference in Denver. He was excited to have been a part of the festivities out West, but is happy to be home, making beer in the town in which he grew up. (I anxiously await my return to Denver for the Great American Beer Festival in October. But I digress.) As a Long Islander myself by birth and upbringing, I have always been fascinated with the very concept of The Hamptons. The exuberant wealth, the expensive restaurants, but, truth be told, not a single brewery aside from the Publick House in Southampton. As it turns out, municipal government was the culprit, as it is in so many of the island's problems.

Vaughan, Eric, and Joe, the crew behind Montauk Brewing

Vaughan, Eric, and Joe, the crew behind Montauk Brewing

To be fair, Montauk Point is its own beast. It's The End. In many ways, Montauk, the place, is far removed from the South Fork's other beach towns, while maintaining a similar feel and aesthetic. The brewery is cut from the same cloth, embracing its surroundings but proud of its own achievements and heritage. The whole thing began, as many of the best brewery stories do, with a legal problem. The Town of East Hampton, in which the Montauk Brewing Company is located, was operating with antiquated code books that lacked any mention whatsoever of the word "brewery." It was as if the town had never anticipated a brewery opening within their jurisdiction. After incorporating in 2010, Montauk's partners faced an uphill battle, but were finally able to open a taproom in 2012. They were forced to contract out the brewing process while they figured out their standing with the town. However, they have since received final approval to construct a system of their own and renovate their lovely little building just off the traffic circle in the village. Later this year, they are breaking ground on their new brewery, a 7 BBL brewhouse with multiple 15 BBL fermenters and two Brite tanks. The future is looking bright.

I'm sold. My favorite kind of Driftwood.

I'm sold. My favorite kind of Driftwood.

Going forward, the brewery is actively considering going the farm brewing route, because the East End of Long Island is full of farmland where hops and barley can be grown. It's an interesting juxtaposition, where the beach towns give way to rolling acres of farms. It is this meeting ground, though, that will fuel a new economy, one that works to the benefit of all New Yorkers. The local-first mentality has always existed in places like Montauk, manifested as a fierce sense of nativism. It lends itself well to a beer culture that stretches across the state. The Montauk Brewing Company is looking forward to their first TAP NY festival. They are bringing along their favorite beers, to introduce New Yorkers from all over to their nautical-themed creations. Keep an eye out for the Driftwood Ale, the Arrowhead Irish Red Ale, the OffLand IPA, and the Guardsman's Stout, a beer brewed in honor of the men and women serving the United States Coast Guard, an integral component of life near the ocean. If you're in Montauk, be sure to stop by the taproom, located at 62 South Erie Avenue, which is open Saturday and Sunday from noon to five.