WHAT was ALBANY ALE?
 

The Hudson Valley's history of brewing is a story of ale.

From the mid 17th century to the first two decades of the twentieth century, it was ale that was being brewed by an industry that spanned the length of the Hudson River—from Poughkeepsie in the south, to Troy in the North. Albany however, was the epicenter.

For much of its history, Albany has thrived as a center of the North American beer industry. First as part of New Netherlands, then as the New York Colony under English Rule, and continuing after independence. By the 19th century the emergence of "Albany Ale" earned the city’s breweries international recognition and a reputation that would extend into the 20th century. Although Albany Ale no longer exists, research being done by the Albany Ale Project is increasing interest in the oft-forgotten history of Albany’s brewing past – and the Ale that accompanied it.

THE BEGINNING


Rutger Jacobsen Window, 1656
Attributed to Evert Duyckinck
(1621–c. 1702)
Stained glass with lead insets
Albany Institute of History & Art, exchange with Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute, 1984.22
Brewing in the Hudson Valley has a long and rich history, dating back to the first Dutch settlers of 17th century Beverwijck—now present-day Albany. An integral part of society, brewing was a major trade in Dutch New York. Because brewery equipment was expensive, many of the brewers were wealthy and many were appointed to positions of authority, becoming the city's founding fathers. Many of the original Dutch brewer's families continued beer making in and around Albany well into the 18th century. The Gansevoorts, Van Schaicks and Visshers—well known names in the Capital Region today—all operated breweries in Albany. By the 1660s there were at least eight breweries operating in the area. While the Dutch would lose control of New York to the English in the 1660s, their brewing traditions would continue. It is suspected that much of the beer made by these early, Dutch brewers was wheat-based. Although other grains were used—such as barley, oats and spelt—wheat was plentiful; made a fine, strong brew; and unlike barley, was well suited to New York’s growing conditions. Thus wheat became the primary brewing grain, especially. In 1679, a traveler to New Netherlands, Jasper Dankaerts, wrote in his diary about brewing around Albany, "…they brew the heaviest beer we have tasted in all New Netherland, and from wheat alone because it is so abundant."

As settlements began expanding west from the Hudson River in the early 1700s, a new form of "local" brewing emerged. While most the larger breweries were found in New York City or Albany, under British law, tavern owners could brew their own beer, so small, beer-making inns and taverns began appearing in the Mohawk and Schoharie Valleys, and the need for locally grown, raw materials for these taverns, helped to establish grain-growing farms in this area. By the mid-18th century, New York's ability to grow wheat became fully realized. Wheat grown in New York was often shipped to the British colonies of the Caribbean in exchange for sugar. By the American Revolution, Central New York was known as the ‘bread-basket of the colonies’—so much so that during the war, the British Army burned fields and raided farms in that area to deplete the Continental Army's wheat supply. The recovery from the war was a slow process and an infestation of the Hessian Fly devastated New York's wheat crop, forcing a move to barley as the primary grain used in brewing.