WHAT was ALBANY ALE?
 

THE RISE


R. Dunlop & Son’s Albany Ale and Porter
Printed by Joel Munsell, Albany, NY
1840–1850
Lithograph and letterpress on paper
Albany Institute of History & Art, bequest of Ledyard Cogswell, Jr., 1954.59.10
By the first decade of 19th century, however, things began to improve. Matthew Vassar—the founder of Vassar College—was operating a very successful brewery in Poughkeepsie, while the Benjamin Faulklin's brewery had been running in Hudson since the 1780s. This brewery would eventually become the famed Evans Brewery. James Boyd opened his brewery—considered to be the first modern brewery in the city— in Albany in 1796.  Between 1800 and 1825, twelve new breweries were manufacturing beer within the city.

Albany's 150 years of Dutch family breweries established the city as a well-known brewing center. At this time, the first advertisements for "Albany Ale" began to appear as a euphemistic term for the best beer—of any kind—brewed in Albany. The completion of the Erie Canal in 1825 and an Albany brewer named John Taylor would soon change that perception.


John Taylor & Sons'
Taylor opened his first brewery in the early 1820s and second larger one in 1831. A savvy businessman, Taylor saw the opportunity to exploit New York's new water highway. Albany's access to the Hudson River and position at the terminus of the Erie Canal afforded it a monopoly on the distribution of beer. Raw materials for beer making could be brought east to Albany via the Canal, and Taylor, in-turn could export his beer south, down the Hudson River to the port of New York. From there the beer could shipped anywhere in the world. By the 1850s Taylor had built the largest brewery in the country in Albany, capable of producing 200,000 barrels of beer a year. Taylor began advertising a double X ale, which would become his flagship beer, that he dubbed "Imperial Albany XX Ale." As the demand for this double X strength ale grew, so did the number of breweries in the city—seventeen by the mid-1860s—almost all of them producing some kind of XX strength Albany Ale. No longer was Albany Ale a euphemism; it had become a specific thing.

Breweries like Taylor & Sons, Amsdell Brothers, The Albany Brewing Company and Quinn & Nolan thrived in Albany, all taking advantage of the ease of distribution allowed by the Erie Canal and Hudson River. While, those breweries produced variety of ales, like IPA, Burton and Stock Ales, XX strength Albany Ale, still was most popular.

Hops, an essential ingredient in beer, grow wild in New York, but had also been brought by the Dutch in the 17th-century. The region was home to wild indigenous varieties of hops that had been bred with imported Dutch and English plants by early brewers. The first commercial hop farm, however was opened in Madison County, by James Coolidge in 1808. As demand for beer grew, the hops industry in New York boomed. By the 1830s, eleven counties in central New York were actively growing hops, and by the end of the 19th-century—in an area extending from the Finger Lakes in central New York and as far east as Western Albany County—New York was producing , at it's peak, 80 percent of the hops in the United States, and exporting much of that overseas.