Monday, April 6, 2015

A nano beerfest for nano breweries

Usually, when you think of beer festivals you think of huge outdoor gatherings where dozens of breweries are pouring samples of their suds for hundreds of people. But last Saturday, I participated in a much more intimate sort of festival, the first-annual “Upper Hudson Valley NanoFest” at The Hollow Bar + Kitchen in downtown Albany.

nanofest (2)

This was an event I personally helped organize along with fellow Albany beer writer Craig Gravina (author of Upper Hudson Valley Beer – the history of Albany Ale) and Dora Philip, the owner of The Hollow Bar. We thought it would be a lot of fun to combine the themes of our two books along with promoting several local small breweries. In fact, all the breweries that participated are legally considered to be nano breweries: Green Wolf Brewing of Middleburgh; Honey Hollow Brewing of Earlton; Argyle Brewing of Greenwich; Rare Form Brewing of Troy; and The Beer Diviner of Stephentown. Not surprisingly, every brewery brought either a porter or a stout to match the theme of my book The Handbook of Porters & Stouts (NOTE: Green Wolf brought a Black IPA, which is close enough in my opinion).


Of course I tried every beer from every brewery, let’s go down the list shall we:

Nanofest 004Green Wolf

The first and only modern brewery in Schoharie County. Justin Behan runs the operation nearly single-handedly. Not only does he brew a variety of styles, he even makes a good portion of his suds available in bottles. I know Craig Gravina is a fan of his taproom.

Ravens Black IPA: It’s pretty daring for a tiny brewery to make a niche style like this as part of their regular portfolio. I think it’s probably his best beer.

Abbey Gargoyle: The only Belgian style beer at the event. Another interesting choice for a nanobrewery; it’s a solid example of the Abbey Dubbel style.

Honey Hollow

This was my first time trying beers from this tiny new brewery located about a half hour south of Albany. I will try to swing by their taproom sometime and get a few growlers filled for a proper review. I did try the two beers they were pouring here, though:

Ruby Red Ale: Centennial and Cascade hops give this a nice flowery aroma and accompanying taste. It’s nice to have a red ale instead of an amber ale for a change.

Black Jack Porter: There was something wrong with this beer. It tasted like wasabi – very sour and phenolic. A few other patrons told me they noticed this as well. I didn’t have the heart to tell them the beer tasted spoiled (NOTE: This raises an important question of ethics, protocol, and etiquette which I’ll cover in a future blog post).


Another local nanobrewery whose offerings I had never had the chance to try until now. Unfortunately, none of Argyle’s representatives were able to attend the event, though they did have plenty of promotional material for their two brews (which were poured by an employee of The Hollow Bar).

Woodland Ale: Described as a harvest ale, it’s similar to many hoppy amber ales you tend to see released in the fall. Well balanced and plenty flavorful.

Coffee Porter: Probably better considered an amber ale with coffee than a true porter. Maybe it was just being served too cold but I found the coffee flavor quite mild. I let it warm up for a while and it emerged much stronger.

Rare Form

If you’re a regular reader of this blog you know I have been a fan of Kevin Mullen’s new nanobrewery in downtown Troy pretty much since Day 1. My homebrew club was able to brew a barrel-aged barleywine there and Brendan Palfreyman’s “Les Verts Monts” pale ale was a scaled-up homebrew that was fantastic. I have tried most of their core beers, and I’d like to eventually do in-depth reviews of these two:

Karass Porter: Named after a Kurt Vonnegut reference, this is a robust porter that’s exactly to spec. Seriously, any BJCP judge should try this beer as a shining example of Style Category 12B.
Wee Plaid Scotch Ale: Ditto, except for Style Category 9E.

iphone 261The Beer Diviner

You’ve probably heard of New York’s “Farm Brewery” law by now, right? Well, did you know the Capital Region’s own Beer Diviner was the first such licensed brewery in the state? Retired UAlbany English professor Dr. Jonathon Post has been making some unique and delectable brews way out in on the Massachusetts border for a few years now.

Got Your Back (imperial coffee oatmeal stout): Let’s just say I liked this beer so much I insisted my publisher include it in my book –>

The Divinator (imperial IPA): This particular keg was filled from the bottom of the bright tank, so it was extremely hazy. I described it as a “hop shake,” though I meant that as a compliment. Huge hop aroma and flavor; remarkably drinkable for 11% ABV.

As I did at the Craft New York Brewers Festival in February, I brought along several bottles of my “Café Latte” homebrew. It’s a “breakfast stout” made with oatmeal, lactose sugar, grapefruit peel, French Roast coffee and vanilla beans. It was brewed using unfiltered, untreated Troy Spring water which I entered in The Ruck’s most recent homebrewing competition for the “Free Range Water” category.

Of all the homebrews I’ve ever made (and that’s a lot), this one has been the most well-received, even by people who don’t tend to like “dark beer.” I think it’s because the lactose sugar, coffee and vanilla give it an ice cream-like flavor (in retrospect, I should’ve called it “Coffee Ice Cream: The Beer”). It’s always a great feeling hearing compliments about my homebrews, but whenever a professional brewer or someone within the industry tells me my beer is actually one of the best they’ve had all day, that’s really meaningful to me.

Thanks to everyone that came out to this festival. I hope you all got a souvenir shaker glass to remember the event. I’m quite sure we can make this an annual event.

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