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The Hudson Valley Craft Beer Scene

A Revolution on Tap

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Brewer’s supplies at Beacon Home Brew. - THOMAS SMITH
  • Thomas Smith
  • Brewer’s supplies at Beacon Home Brew.

Tania Dougherty coined the term Hudson Valley Beer Trail in 2011 to help brand the local craft-beer industry and attract tourists. Her Little Beer Bus company, started in 2007, offers tours of breweries and hops farms. "Everyone wants to visit a hops farm and sit down and have the beer they made from their own hops," says Dougherty, 42, who estimates she ferries 3,000 people a year to local breweries. "The beer tours are so popular I have to turn away business."

Farm Brewery Initiative

Craft beer's share of the total US beer market grew last year by 9.6 percent, while beer sales overall fell slightly. Governor Andrew Cuomo's Farm Brewery initiative, which took effect last year, is helping to spur the growth in New York. Under the new rules, microbreweries can sell beer by the glass in their tap rooms as long as 20 percent of their hops and 20 percent of all other ingredients come from the state. Rushing Duck, which is set to expand production from 540 barrels a year to about 1,000, offers tastings in its Chester tap room but will be able to sell flights of beer once its Farm Brewery license is approved.

The initiative has stimulated the state's hops production, which doubled to 150 acres last year from 75 in 2012, while the number of microbreweries more than doubled to nearly 100. At four acres, Dutchess Hops is the biggest Hudson Valley hops farm among just a handful of others in earlier stages. To fine-tune his hops for breweries, Riccobono is working with Vassar College chemistry professor Christopher Smart, who is leading students in analyzing the acid and oil profiles of the farm's hops.

Increasingly, farmers are growing hops to use in their own beer, including Ray Bradley of Bradley Farm in New Paltz, who is partnering with Pull Brewing Company to brew beer in his barn. Pull's Farmhouse Ale, which also contains honey from the farm's apiary, is paired with fresh produce and other local ingredients for Bradley's farm-to-table dinner series.

Assorted barley from Beacon Home Brew. - THOMAS SMITH
  • Thomas Smith
  • Assorted barley from Beacon Home Brew.

The Beer Boom

After just a year in business, Yard Owl Craft Brewery is expanding from a 400-square-foot shed in James and Michelle Walsh's New Paltz backyard to a 4,000-square-foot renovated barn in Gardiner that will quintuple their brewing capacity and allow them to add a tasting room and a beer garden. The Walshes and their partner, winemaker Kristop Brown, hope to open by the end of the summer. "We're going to be a real farmhouse Belgian brewery—in America!" says James, 37.

In Poughkeepsie, two-year-old Sloop Brewing Company is in negotiations to double its yearly production capacity to 1,000 barrels, according to co-owner Justin Taylor, 32. Craft brewing runs in his family: His father, James Taylor, 60, a member of the Hudson Valley Homebrewers along with Justin, won the New York State Homebrewer of the Year competition in 1996. "He passed the passion down to me," says Justin, who started brewing at 21.

Also in Poughkeepsie, Mill House Brewing Company, a sleek brewery cum upscale eatery, opened last fall in an 1800s mill house after a million-dollar-plus renovation. "There hasn't been a brewpub in Poughkeepsie for 100 years," says partner and brewmaster Jamie Bishop, 38. "We saw it as a great opportunity to bring great craft beer and food to the area."

To help disseminate all this brew, bars with as many as 20 taps devoted to craft beer are springing up—including The Anchor in Kingston, Schatzi's Pub & Bier Garden in Poughkeepsie, and The Hop in Beacon, a farm-to-table café that sells 200 types of craft beer. In Ellenville, Aroma Thyme Bistro holds a tasting of 99 types of craft beer every fall and partners with a local brewery every month on a "beer dinner," pairing various brews with the restaurant's farm-to-table food. Not content simply to sell other brewers' beer, establishments like The Dutch Ale House in Saugerties, Bacchus in New Paltz, and the brand-new Bull & Barrel Brew Pub in Brewster are brewing their own.

Still, all the new players haven't changed the collegial nature of the local brewing landscape. Brewers say there's room for everyone given craft beer's inherent individuality. "We all work together," says Mark Peffers, 42, head brewer at Bull & Barrel and a former supermarket frozen-food manager who was so taken with the craft and the community that he switched careers five years ago. "I can call Newburgh [Brewing Company] and say I need some hops, and they'll sell it to me. We don't feel that we're in competition."

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