A License to Brew
Story by Michael Durante Jr.
This article is from the April 2014 issue
Evidence abounds of the Hudson Valley’s food resurgence, but amidst the tide of local produce, meats, breads and cheeses, true Hudson Valley beer is still in development. Try not to blame the brewers. Beer production does not begin in the brewer’s kettle. To discover the way toward Hudson Valley beer, understand the agriculture behind it.
When considering an agricultural problem, it never hurts to consult Wendell Berry. For those unacquainted, Berry’s farm-centric literature comprises a secular gospel for American craft food producers. Berry has put forth the notion that farmers must “solve for pattern,” meaning they should seek solutions that solve multiple problems without causing new ones to emerge. Berry argues that agricultural solutions are not found in a can, or a bag, or in technological progress. Instead, producers will find success at some crossroads of compassion for the land, mastery over one’s craft, and social agreement.
Now all of that may sound like hoo-hah until you remember: beer is an agricultural product. As Berry writes in his essay, “The Pleasure of Eating,” “eating is an agricultural act.” You cannot separate the act of drinking the beer from the land in which it was produced. Luckily, the Hudson Valley carries a distinct brewing history, a gift from our Dutch and German heritage. Before Prohibition, New York produced more malting barley than any other state. Now Canada and the upper Midwest dominate malting barley production. Hop houses on New York farms, once used to dry the day’s hops harvest, now store miscellaneous tools. Brewer’s Street, the first paved by-way in New York City, still carries forth the legacy of beer: now called Stone Street, the tiny cobblestone alley is home to several taverns whose patrons drink and dine right in the middle of the road.
Local craft breweries are easily misidentified as the way to a better pint. These producers are, of course, an integral part of the process, but recall Berry’s insistence on solving for pattern to understand why local breweries will not alone fuel a regional beer renaissance. A beer is only as good as its brewer, a brewer only as good as their ingredients—barley, hops, water and more. Without regional control over and enthusiasm for these ingredients, the brewer will be stymied in his efforts of achieving beer nirvana.
A brewing term reveals the heart of the matter. Beer is made from wort (pronounced “wert”), the sugary liquid extract of the grain-mashing process. This wort contains the sugar that will be fermented by the brewing yeast to create the all-important main ingredient—alcohol. Wort derives from the German wurz (“root”) and the Old English wyrt (“herb, vegetable, root”). Without a perfectly balanced wort, beer will either be decidedly sweet or bitter, hoppy or flat. Trusting the language, assume that better Hudson Valley wort will lead to better Hudson Valley beer.
Luckily, New York State has an answer to the profitability problem: the Farm Brewery License, which took effect in January 2013. The new state farm brewery law licenses craft breweries to serve their beer and cider by the glass directly to customers in taprooms, restaurants, farmers’ markets or even at the brewery itself. By selling direct to the customer, the brewery is not forced to meet high production numbers that require large upfront money, but can sell smaller amounts of beer and use the sales to grow. Over a dozen breweries took advantage of the license in 2013, many able to enter the business because of the legislation. Many additional breweries are in the licensing pipeline. The legislation mirrors the 1976 Farm Winery Act which gave similar rights to New York State wineries. Since then, the number of wineries in New York has tripled, including the addition of 261 farm wineries. Hudson Valley tipplers hope for similar success to follow the farm brewery legislation.
Dr. Jonathan Post, better known by the title he shares with his nanobrewery, The Beer Diviner, was one of the first brewers in the Hudson Valley to benefit from the farm brewery license. Post’s taproom on Route 22 in Stephentown has enjoyed consistent support from locals and the nearby Jiminy Peak skiing crowd. The Beer Diviner believes strongly in the collaborative culture of brewers. In 2002 a colleague invited Post to brew beer for the people in his hometown—a village in Burkina Faso. Dano, the name of the village, means “good beer” in Dagara, the local language. Dano’s leaders considered beer to be a cultural gift. Beer is the result of their community’s hard work to grow and process grain, and it is also its own reward for all of that work.
Post took that attitude back to the Hudson Valley where he has found a wealth of collaborators, from coffee roasters to apiarists to hops growers. The Beer Diviner’s taproom also offers meat products from a nearby farm and a variety of New York State–labeled spirits. Dr. Post plans to open a second taproom in Albany in 2014, where he would pour beer from other New York farm breweries and sell locally grown produce.
The Beer Diviner’s focus on local ingredients is not just an act of good faith; it is also a component of the farm brewery legislation. New York State–licensed beer must have at least 20 percent of its hops grown in New York, as well as at least 20 percent of its other ingredients. In 2018 that portion rises to 60 percent, then in 2024 to 90 percent. Governor Cuomo and the New York brewing community are betting that state farmers will be able to significantly increase their production of malting barley—the key ingredient in beer—by 2018.
Farmers to the Rescue
“Alas, what wonderful ingenuity vice possesses,” Roman historian Pliny reminds us. He was, in that instance, discussing the creative production of beer. Pliny would have been well accustomed to wine, the production of which must begin with some haste after the grape harvest. Fresh grapes are pressed and the pulp or juice is then fermented into wine. It is simple enough, but relies on vintners being ready for winemaking when the grapes are ready for harvest. Pliny was impressed to learn the craft of Germanic peoples, whose brewers had developed an alcoholic beverage that could be made at any time of the year: beer.
Beer differs from wine in that beer’s main ingredient, barley (or sometimes other grains), is malted and dried prior to the brewing process, enabling the brewer to work year-round. The human creativity is all in the malting process. Alcohol is produced by fermenting sugars. Barley is not particularly sugary, but it does have more complex starches, which the seed uses to feed itself after sprouting. At that early stage of growth, the barley seed converts its starches into simpler sugars, which would be perfect for fermenting into a delicious brew. Malters soak the barley—replicating the effect of rainwater—until the seeds sprout, converting their starches into useful sugars. At that point, the sprouting process is truncated, the barley is dried and the sprouts are removed. The remaining product is malt, a sugary, storable product ready for the brewer.
Breweries depend on a large, consistent supply of malt. Malting houses, which act as intermediaries between barley growers and brewers, generally operate in large scale in the American Midwest or Canada, near the barley growers. There has been a recent resurgence in smaller, regional malting houses in the Northeast, but their cumulative production is dwarfed by the scale of even a moderately sized craft brewer’s needs. New York’s breweries used tens of millions of pounds of malt in 2012, while the production of New York’s five malting houses flirted with 100,000 pounds.
If the farm brewery law progresses as intended, by 2024 farm breweries will be required to source 90 percent of their ingredients from New York suppliers. At current New York malting barley production, that would be impossible. But hope is not for naught. Researchers at Cornell University are at work testing varieties of malting barley seeds to find the best adaptations for New York soils and climate. Agricultural extension agents are speaking to farmers about the possibility of converting to malting barley production—likely encouraging a shift from other grains grown for animal feed. Malting barley used for beer would fetch a much higher price per bushel for farmers. That, plus long-term contractual agreements with malting houses or brewers, should be enough to encourage the changeover from other grains or even some grain-farming start-ups across New York over the next decade.
Are New York farmers ready to produce more malting barley? No one can know for sure, but Ken Migliorelli of Migliorelli Farm has a clue: “Because New York State has made the laws more lenient for breweries, the production side will have to come up to it at some point.” Leave it to a third-generation family farmer to trust in the foresight and talent of New York growers. Migliorelli has been growing grains on his Dutchess County farm for about four years. He keeps a close eye on Cornell’s small grain test trials, through which they are considering 30–40 different grains for suitability to New York soils and climate. Of the 40 acres of winter barley Migliorelli has planted currently, he expects to sell it all to New York brewers and distillers.
Grain can provide a beneficial complement to other sustainable farm operations. “It’s a nice rotation out of vegetables, to grow grains,” Migliorelli mentions. By keeping field crops diverse year-to-year, farmers can return vital nutrients to their soils and reduce the damage done from weeds and pests. Additionally, it would not hurt to offer a farmstead brew alongside fresh vegetables at farm stands.
Migliorelli Farm, in Dutchess County, has seen eight decades of agricultural change. This year they will stay on the cutting edge, as far as small farm innovation goes, as the incubator and home to From The Ground Brewery. Jakob Cirell’s start-up brewery will source its barley directly from Migliorelli Farm, where Cirell also does his brewing. From The Ground’s production will require around six acres of planted barley, and Cirell can experiment with other seasonal farm products, such as pumpkins. Migliorelli’s family has no history of brewing on their farm, making Cirell’s venture a new highlight in the farm’s story and the beer a welcome addition to Migliorelli’s farm stores. The relationship can provide a model for other farmers and brewers—one which would make New York’s farm brewery law more aptly named than expected.
The stereotype of American grain farming calls for big tractors, endless land, commodity pricing and profits dependent on the price of diesel, but by focusing on malting barley as a niche crop, New York grain growers can escape that tired image while earning better margins for their work. Though there can be no guarantee that all farm breweries will meet the progressing local-ingredients mandate, as even one prominent farm brewery’s malt needs would overwhelm the current market. But the law encourages a start in the right direction. As far as gambles go, growing malting barley has a serious upside for New York farmers. Giddy up.
Time for a Drink
Statistics support the New York State craft brewing hullabaloo: people will continue to demand more and more new beer. For the past decade, craft brews have crept up in the U.S. beer market share, growing from a stagnant 2.5 percent of total beer sales to 6.5 percent today. That is hardly much to make a fuss about in the industry—besides gobbling up some promising regional brands for national distribution and altering their advertising strategies, the big boys churn out the same old stuff—but it translates into over two thousand craft beer brands nationwide. While craft beer’s positive growth has continued now for over a decade, it is hard to imagine it continuing indefinitely under similar conditions. Seemingly endless options already crowd grocery store shelves and brewpub taps. Perhaps space remains for a few thousand more, but surely not for tens of thousands.
Brown’s Brewing Co. has been around for the entirety of America’s craft beer resurgence. Garry and Kelly Brown started the brewery in 1993, converting an old Troy warehouse into the capital region’s first brewery restaurant. Brown’s has enjoyed two decades of success—building everything along the way in bootstrapping fashion—and continues to evolve. Brown’s Brewing Co. earned a number of awards over the years, including TAP New York’s 2008 Matthew Vassar Cup for the Best Brewery in Hudson Valley, as well as a Gold medal for their Pale Ale by the Culinary Institute of America. They also won the prestigious World Beer Cup Gold and Silver Awards for their outstanding Oatmeal Stout and Whiskey Porter. As demand for craft beer and other regional craft breweries has increased, Brown’s is opening a new production facility in Hoosick Falls, scaled up for regional distribution.
Brown’s has learned that as craft breweries grow, their challenges change. “You’ve got to be mechanical to be doing it at this level,” Garry Brown explains, while describing the difficulties of working with decades-old bottling machines that cost tens of thousands of dollars. Brown calls this ongoing practical learning “a survival technique” for brewers who want to grow their businesses. While new brewers might be perfecting recipes or opening their first taproom, the team at Brown’s is installing wastewater treatment facilities, moving enormous steel tanks and learning how to rewire the electronic control panel for their brewing equipment. Not all microbrewers realize how complicated operations become at a mid-size brewery.
Along with the new challenges, larger craft brewers have new needs. Brown’s uses hundreds of thousands of pounds of malting barley every year, much more than New York State farmers currently produce. A large Midwestern malthouse supplies Brown’s with malt of consistent quality year-round, at the quantities they need. They still experiment with local ingredients, such as hops, but rarely does a local grower offer something at the scale needed for such large production. Garry Brown sees that beginning to change. Farmers come to his brewery with samples of hops or other produce, offering to grow exclusively for Brown’s use. “That wasn’t happening ten to fifteen years ago,” Brown says.
Brown’s Brewing Co. is a licensed New York State farm brewery. To retain the license, Brown’s must use 60 percent local ingredients by 2018, a tremendous opportunity for New York grain growers. Though its size may make it an atypical farm brewery, Brown’s inclusion—and that of others like it in scale—can provide a large enough malting barley market to really convince New York’s grain growers to enter the niche. In that way, big movers like Brown’s will really drive the change that New York’s farm brewery law has encouraged.
Garry Brown is used to moving things by now. When Brown’s Brewing Co. opened in Troy over 20 years ago, it was not the bustling small city it is today. Brown has similar high hopes for Hoosick Falls, where his company has completed the conversion of a centuries-old factory into a brewery for regional distribution. More exciting for locals and beer pilgrims: he will soon open a taproom too. Brown is convinced that people will flock to historic New York factory towns, but “you’ve got to give them a reason to go.” Beer may be just that reason.
A Renaissance in the Making
Great beer might be a legitimate public goal in itself. Likely, though, New York legislators passed the farm brewery law to provide a nourishing draught to the state coffers: new local businesses; tourist draws; regional branding opportunities. Wendell Berry, an American novelist, environmental activist, and probable beer drinker, would judge the new law in an entirely different light. Berry tells us “a significant part of the pleasure of eating is in one’s accurate consciousness of the lives and the world from which food comes.” All the activity in the past year—breweries opening, farmers testing out malting barley, hops growers proliferating and people discovering new local brews—is about more than good beer. It’s about finding a sense of place. This place, the Hudson Valley, has a history of brewing. History can and probably should help determine how a place develops, but defining a place is always an ongoing negotiation among the people who call it home. If great beer improves the sense of a place—and how could it not?—then the Hudson Valley is looking like a better home every day.
Hudson Valley Breweries
Plan Bee Farm Brewery
Plan Bee Farm Brewery is located in Fishkill, and is a 100 percent self-sustaining, ground-to-glass farm brewery with a variety of handcrafted beer from which to choose, from the Strong American Ale to a milder Saison. It was born through the creativity and experience of Emily and Evan Watson, and they are serious when they say they are a small local brewery. All ingredients are sourced from the state with many grown on site.
The name Plan Bee Farm Brewery was inspired by the two beehives on premise. These bees produce honey that goes into each beer during the carbonation stage. By using unpasteurized honey each bottled beer has the potential, if aged, to become a sour. Sour beers are intentionally tart and funky…and deliciously regional.
You can find them almost exclusively at the Beacon Farmers’ Market. For more information go to their website at livingdef.blogspot.com.
Keegan Ales was founded in early 2003 when Tommy Keegan learned about an empty building in Kingston that nobody would buy because there was a defunct brewery stuck in it! Although the building was built in the early 1800s, the building was most recently home to the Woodstock Brewing Company. After months of cleaning and rebuilding, Keegan Ales brewed its first batch later that year and set out hand-selling beer to local bars and restaurants. The first kegs of Old Capital, Hurricane Kitty and Mother’s Milk went to TAP that year. For more information go to their website at keeganales.com.
Hyde Park Brewing Company
Hyde Park Brewing Company is located in Hyde Park, New York. Hyde Park Brewing Company typically brews the following types of beer: Belgian ales, lagers, and wheats. The brewery has eight beers to taste on tap. You can enjoy the happy hour, live music, restaurant and tap room during your visit to Hyde Park Brewing Company. Hyde Park Brewing Company was established in 1995 and has been brewing ever since. For more information go to their website at www.hydeparkbrewing.
Sloop Brewing is a true nano brewery located in Poughkeepsie. A nano brewery is a licensed brewery using a brewing system of less than three barrels. Brewing at this level allows them to spend more time crafting each and every beer to be exactly as it should be. Additionally, their local distribution ensures that every Sloop beer you drink will be fresh out of our brewery. For more information go to their website at www.sloopbrewing.com.
The Peekskill Brewery
A brewpub showcasing artisanal craft beer as well as carefully chosen guest draughts. We take our food as seriously as our beer by creating seasonal American pub cuisine that sources local ingredients. Local beer supports local farms!
Providing exceptional value, quality and service whether you enjoy our lively pub or the more laid-back atmosphere of our dining room, we look forward to your patronage. For more information go to their website at thepeekskillbrewery.com
Brown’s Brewing Co.
Brown’s Brewing is an active member of the New York Brewers Association, a nonprofit organization focused on promoting the New York State Craft Brewing Industry. Brown’s has been working with the NYSBA as well as New York State Agriculture and Markets and Empire State Development to rekindle the growth of New York State hop and barley farmers and processors. Their taproom is located in Troy. For more information go to their website at brownsbrewing.com.
Newburgh Brewing Company
By honoring the rich history of Newburgh, a tough-minded town that’s still as hardscrabble as it was when General George Washington stationed his army here more than 200 years ago, Newburgh Brewing Company honors the beer-making process and their patrons. People have been brewing beer in Newburgh since before America was America; it’s a tradition they are proud to be a part of. For more information go to their website at newburghbrewing.com.
Like most craft brewers, Jake Cunningham and Tom Crowell started out brewing to sooth their own palates and enjoy the camaraderie of brewing quality beer. As they’ve grown they have developed a dedicated following. Chatham Brewing is located on Main Street in Chatham.
In 2012 they won won the Matthew Vassar Brewers’ Cup for Best Craft Beer Brewery at TAP New York. They offer a range of seasonal and ongoing favorites. Beer is brewed fresh daily and can be purchased on Saturdays from 11 am–5 pm on Main Street, Chatham in kegs ranging is size from 3 gallons to 15.5 gallons, and 64-ounce growlers. Later this summer they will begin bottling some of their premium styles: a Bourbon Barrel aged Brown Ale and the Belgian Tripel in 22-ounce bottles. This summer, they will also be at local farmers’ markets. For more information go to their website at chathambrewing.com.
Mill House Brewing Company
Located in Poughkeepsie and opened in the fall of 2013, it combines years of professional culinary/hospitality experience, expressive design and construction, and craft beer artistry.
Located in the rehabilitated Mill House, Mill House Brewing Company offers a warm, historic and visually appealing setting; casual, yet professional service; food cooked from as close to the source as possible; and artfully crafted ales. For more information go to their website at millhousebrewing.com.
Cave Mountain Brewing Company
Cave Mountain Brewing Company in Windham, NY, offers mouth-watering food as well as our own selection of beers, craft-brewed on site, including: Hefeweizen, Belgian White, Sweet Oatmeal Stout, American I.P.A, West Coast Red and Blueberry Wheat. For more information go to their website at cavemountainbrewing.com.
Broken Bow Brewery
Located in Tuckahoe, NY, Broken Bow Brewery’s passion is offering the very best. This family-owned and -operated brewery’s earliest brews were designed to be enjoyed with family and friends. With those gatherings as their standard, they committed to delivering every drop with the thoughtful attention to detail that special people and times deserve. The brewery includes a bar and tasting room that is available for private events. You are welcome to bring your own food, or order in from one of the many amazing local restaurants.
Tasting room open from Wednesday through Sunday. If you’d like to take a tour of the brewery, they are available Friday and Saturday from 3–6 pm. For more information go to their website at brokenbowbrewery.com.
The Defiant Brewing Company
The Defiant Brewing Company exists to bring high-quality, craft-brewed beer to the the area. They strive to create outstanding ales and lagers, challenge the conventions of mass advertised and mass-produced beers, and offer a unique production micro-brewery experience to their customers. They use top-notch raw ingredients to brew outstanding beer. Their passion for innovation shows in the variety of offerings you’ll find at the brewery every day.
Bring friends, have a meal, take a tour, have a taste and
take beer home! For more information go to their website at defiantbrewing.com.
Captain Lawrence Brewing Company
Billed as “Westchester’s only craft brewery,” Captain Lawrence brews about five beers year-round—most are on draft. The bar often is standing-room-only and highly convivial during its limited hours, when several bartenders keep their beefy, beer-drinking arms in shape pulling the tap handles. Patrons are welcome to do tastings and fill up their “growlers” 4–7 pm Fridays and noon–6 pm Saturdays.
The “Freshchester” Pale Ale has a clean bitterness with a woodsy aroma. The Sun Block Wheat Beer is a hazy Belgian-style wheat beer that’s evocative of cream soda. The Captain’s Reserve Imperial I.P.A. (India Pale Ale) is a hoppy beer with a citrus taste that won a best beer in New York prize in 2006.
Brewmaster Scott Vaccaro’s father, Vincent, conducts free brewery tours on Saturdays, every hour on the hour, and thus his son has dedicated a specialty beer to him: St. Vincent’s Dubbel. This caramel colored, classic, Belgian-style abbey ale is rich and malty. For more information go to their website at captainlawrencebrewing.com.
Rushing Duck Brewing Company
Rushing Duck Brewing is a family-owned business located in Chester, NY. The philosophy behind Rushing Duck’s beer is to constantly be forward-thinking and innovative. They promise to never compromise, cut corners or accept anything less than the finest beer that they are capable of making. Rushing Duck beer will be available on draft in bars and restaurants all over Orange County and the Hudson Valley.
Additionally, Rushing Duck Brewing Company encourages you to come by our tasting room located at the brewery on Saturday afternoons between noon and 5pm to get samples, brewery tours and sales of beer to go. For more information go to their website at rushingduck.com.