“Once you put the yeast in, you have to call it beer.” So proclaimed Mark Stier, farm director at Vosburgh Orchards in Elizaville, as Sloop Brewing’s brewmaster Justin Taylor and head of sales Adam Watson loaded up a shiny new vat on the second floor of a restored barn with a dose of the live culture needed to make boiled barley mash start to ferment. It was the tenth of June, 2015, and glasses of Red C IPA were handed around to toast the launch of the very first batch of beer to be brewed at Sloop’s new Vosburgh headquarters.
Downstairs, contained chaos still reigned in a former fruit-packing room that was halfway through its transformation into a tasting room and gift shop, hopefully to be ready for visitors by the time that first beer batch would be done. Built in the 1830s, the post-and-beam structure had “started as a cow barn,” according to Stier’s maternal uncle, Arnie Vosburgh, the Cornell-trained owner of Vosburgh Orchards and great-great-great-grandson of Gilbert J. Vosburgh, who purchased the farm in 1847. The surrounding farmland has been used at different periods to grow rye, raise poultry and pasture dairy cattle, until “My grandfather turned it into a fruit farm when he took it over,” related Stier.
Today, the orchards are mature, producing apples and pears and inciting Uncle Arnie to dream of starting a farm cidery. The family grows corn, pumpkins and cut flowers as well. Fields are hayed annually, and a honey producer from Clermont keeps his bees there. All this humming agricultural activity goes on thanks in large part to a Purchase of Development Rights deal brokered last year by Scenic Hudson and the Columbia Land Conservancy, using farmland preservation funding from the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service, a subagency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The injection of funds has enabled the Vosburgh family to renovate the historic barn and expand their business — including the provision of a new home for Sloop Brewing.
Taylor grew up in New Paltz, where his father Jim took up homebrewing as a hobby in 1989. Justin met Watson during their college days, when they were both working at the Loft restaurant, in the building at the corner of Routes 299 and 208 that now houses A Tavola Trattoria. Together they started brewing their own beer. Later, married and living in Beacon, Watson began taking samples of their products to the local farmers’ market and found an enthusiastic reception: “People started coming back for seconds, then thirds, then fourths,” he recalled. So the two friends applied for a commercial brewer’s license and retrofitted Taylor’s Poughkeepsie garage into a nanobrewery. By December 2011, the Sloop Brewing Company had become a reality.
Marketing and delivering their products themselves, first to farmers’ markets and then to restaurants and pubs, Watson and Taylor quickly found demand outstripping their capacity to supply. Nano needed to be pumped up to the micro level. Through their acquaintance with Stier, they conceived a seemingly grandiose plan: to form a partnership with the Vosburgh family, relocate and expand their operation into the historic barn as part of its restoration and repurposing. Craft Beer Guild Distributing of New York, based in New Paltz, agreed to distribute their product once there was enough of it.
And now they’re well on their way, with a system of three 60-barrel and two 30-barrel fermenters providing the capacity to produce 4,500 barrels a year of their regular product line — Red C IPA, Waves of Grain pale ale, Galaxy Farm farmhouse ale and Sauer Peach Berlinerweisse — and several seasonal and special releases. The brews are complex, multilayered, full of flavor and body, several of them dry-hopped; even tipplers dubious of IPAs (like this correspondent) find their hoppier products well-rounded and thoroughly enjoyable.
An official Grand Opening date for the Elizaville tasting room has not yet been announced, nor are hours of operation being publicized; but Sloop is now informally serving the public there. And while waiting for the new beer to brew, Watson and Taylor have been making the rounds of watering holes throughout the region, promoting their expansion with “tap takeover” nights featuring Sloop beers. They have also been a regular presence at Hudson Valley beer and food festivals, sometimes creating a special brew for the occasion — like Smoking Fiend, a “barbecued” beer made from smoked grain spritzed with bourbon, “served with a bacon garnish,” according to Watson.
The tasting room has a stylish-but-cozy retro look, its walls covered with worn, rustic wooden clapboards salvaged from the outside of the barn during renovation. Old rotating metal stools sit in front of a beautiful bar, 13 feet long, made in Amish country from a thick slab of flitch-cut walnut. Overhead hang handsome, Steampunk-style antiqued brass lighting fixtures. On the wall is a chalkboard where the specials of the day are scrawled. Outdoor beer-garden seating is planned for this fall.
Vosburgh Orchards are located at 1061 County Route 19 in Elizaville. Per the Sloop Brewing website at www.sloopbrewing.com, “visitors are more than welcome to stop by and say hello!” If you’re a beer-fancier at all, I recommend that you take them up on that offer very soon. And look for their fresh, tasty, locally made products at a tavern, restaurant or beer store near you.