Hudson Valley Hops

by | Apr 19, 2015 | Thoughts, Uncategorized | 1 comment

Hudson Valley Hops, held in the Albany Institute of History and Art, was a showcase of local breweries and guest speakers knowledgeable in farming and the beer business. Surrounded by the artwork of the institute, patrons could taste the artwork from¬†brewers of the Hudson Valley and beyond. To name a few,¬†Adirondack Pub & Brewery,¬†Brewery Ommegang, and¬†Brown’s Brewing Company were some of the represented breweries.
And though the beer was good, great, even, I was there for a different type of enlightenment. The guest speakers covered a range of topics from farming (beer SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERAingredients or otherwise) to the history of brewing. Roger Savoy of the Homebrew Emporium spoke of the trials and tribulations of hop-growing. As just¬†a brewer,¬†the¬†farming and¬†production¬†side of ingredients is a bit abstract to me. I get my malt and hops from a supplier, and that’s where my job begins. According to Roger, hop harvesting can be quite a big job. When it takes approximately 1 hour to manually¬†harvest the yield from 1 plant, and it is possible to grow 1000 plants per acre, it’s no small task without some form of automation. He also pointed out that hopes are a bine as opposed to a vine in that they will grow during the spring and summer, then die back to a rhizome in the fall. And when they grow, boy, do they grow. Hop bines can reach up to 20 feet, currently in the U.S. there are about 35,000 acres of land being used for hop growing. As mentioned in a previous post, New York State at one point in time was the hop growing capital of the U.S.!¬†specifically the counties of Otsego, Chenango, Madison, Oneida, Montgomery, and Schoharie (my home¬†county). It was quite an informative little talk.
Now, I’d be a liar if I told you I sat patiently and waited for the next talk. Instead, I may have headed over to the Brewery Ommegang table. I may have had a discussion with Justin and Justin, head shift brewers at said brewery. The¬†discussion may have been about the merits of brewing and how it will lead to a much higher quality¬†of living, and¬†a happy life, as opposed to a 9-5 desk job. I may have been¬†drinking Three Philosophers (fitting, no?). But, I digress.
The next speaker was Bill Newman. Never in my life have I seen a speech about beer begin with an Irish Jig, accompanied by an accordion.¬†But, never in my life have I witnessed a Bill Newman speech. Had you asked me who this man was before yesterday, I wouldn’t have guessed he was any more influential than your Average Craft Beer Joe. How wrong a guess that would be. Newman has acted as a mentor to famous brewers such as Larry Bell, Jim Patton, and Jim Koch (of Bell’s, Abita, and Sam Adams fame, respectively) and others.
Mr. Newman related to us the touching, yet humorous¬†story of his craft beer education. A self-prescribed Anglophile, Newman claimed that his inspiration came from a 1978 copy of the London Daily Times. Upon reading the story of the founding of Godson’s Brewery by a Mr. Patrick Fitzpatrick, Bill said he received a divine message: “God to Bill: Build a brewery in Albany, NY.” The rest, as Mr. Newman said of his brewery, is history. In 1980, Bill Newman flew to London with his family to receive a hands-on¬†education at the Ringwood Brewery.
Newman went on to joke about the inhospitable, rainy weather in London, an excess of Old Thumper, and witnessing the “second creation” of alcohol in a fermenter. After his education, Bill and his family went on to a handful of other breweries across England, where he picked up all of the knowledge that allowed him to return stateside to brew his famous Albany Amber Ale at the Wm. S. Newman Brewing Company.
Unfortunately, in light of financial issues of the time, the brewery was forced into bankruptcy in the late 1980s. He first thought of contracting the recipe out. In the end, however, Bill sold the equipment to the Boston Beer Company, where it was rumored to have been used by Jim Koch for recipe formulation. Today, it sits in storage somewhere in the state of Vermont.
Though his beer is no longer produced, Bill Newman’s legacy continues in all of the brewers he taught over the years, and all of those he continues to teach.
Overall, it was quite a treat to meet such an unknown legend at a local festival in Albany. This just speaks to the nature of the hidden treasures that can be discovered if one looks hard enough.