Move over, Shawangunk Wine Trail: Room is needed in the near future for a Mid-Hudson Beer Trail, as one craft brewery after another springs up in our midst, blooming from the big dreams and hard work of young homebrew hobbyists. And beer-lovers — long consigned to the redneck fringes of perceived sophistication, but now finding themselves on the cutting edge of refined taste — raise their pint glasses in pride and gratitude.
The latest addition to the list of local microbreweries whose formulations are eagerly awaited by those who reach by default for the sturdy stein rather than the fragile stemware is called Hudson Ale Works. Founded by three Highland natives, its headquarters in that burg’s burgeoning downtown is nearing completion of a massive-scale renovation that has required a year-and-a-half of sweat equity to accomplish. The shiny new three-barrel brewing system is installed, and as of last weekend just needed some cleaning before the first test batches can start fermenting. An official opening is projected for early spring.
The new microbrewery, located in a leased 7,500-square-foot industrial building at 17 Milton Avenue, across the street from the M & T Bank, has seen service as a laundromat, machine shop and cabinetry shop. Its most recent tenant used the space to warehouse “stuff he bought at auctions,” according to Josh Zimmermann, co-owner with brothers Neil and Adam Trapani. “It was a hoarder’s paradise…packed with trash from floor to ceiling.”
It fell upon the three friends to clean out that enormous mess, then gut and rehab the building — with some volunteer labor from friends but mainly their own, after their day jobs and on weekends. Rather than cover up its spare Machine Age look with country chintz, they decided to heighten the space’s “industrial chic,” like a little patch of SoHo or TriBeCa that had drifted north to the Hudson Valley. Floors are concrete and so is the taproom’s bar. They covered the ceilings with corrugated metal roofing panels and the wall over the bar with planks from recycled pallets stained varying shades of green and grey. Concrete block walls in the public spaces will retain the chipped and pitted plaster surface revealed when the old sheetrock was stripped away. “We’re keeping it beat-up and industrial,” Zimmermann explains.
In fact, the trio have adopted as their company logo a rusty gear that also suggests a bottlecap. Not only does it appear on their labels and tee-shirts, but also as an interior design motif: The two large public tasting rooms in front each feature a long, tall counter topped with a thick slab of timber (bark included), supported by iron legs resembling I-beams and rebar with a faux-rust finish, all connected by a big gear. Taps, lighting and other fixtures all echo the post-Steampunk aesthetic. They haven’t put up any artwork as of this writing, but it’s easy to imagine being surrounded by a WPA mural of factory workers or posters of Art Deco airplanes or Soviet tractors on these walls.
Behind the scenes, the theme of “repurposing” old industrial spaces and materials continues with a roomful of secondhand metal kegs purchased from a commercial brewery down South. Growlers take the form of recyclable, reusable, shatterproof 32-ounce PET plastic bottles and 64-ounce bags that would fit nicely in a hiker’s or cyclist’s hydration pack. Long-term, Zimmermann and the Trapani brothers envision a 97-foot-long room at the rear of the building as a potential indoor bocce court, expanding on the board games and TV that will be available in the tasting rooms. And their plan includes reselling the spent grain mash from brewing to local farmers as animal feed. Small wonder that this sort of ingenious sustainability mentality earned the trio an Adaptive Reuse award in November from the Town of Lloyd’s Economic Development Committee.
But the real brewmeisters’ magic will happen in the room where the boil kettle, hot liquor tank, mash tun and the four temperature-controlled fermenters and four brite tanks are located. The friends have been brewing beer together on a small, noncommercial scale since 2013, when Josh “brought a beer kit over to my house,” Neil recalls. “It started out as a big pasta kettle,” says Daniella Di Martino, who acts as Hudson Ale Works’ public relations rep. “Friends would come over and hang out in Neil’s garage and urge them to make more.” Before long the trio were supplying homebrew to baby showers, Christmas parties and the like, and the response was so positive that they decided to make the leap toward starting a microbrewery in their hometown.
What sorts of beer do they brew? It depends on which partner you ask. Josh is especially partial to IPAs, and has made session-style, green tea and black IPAs in the past. He also comes up with unusually flavored stout recipes, like coffee and coconut/vanilla. Adam loves Belgian-style beers like sauers and lambics, often with fruity notes. Lagers and an Irish red ale are also in the trio’s repertoire. “We use all natural ingredients. We roast the coconut ourselves,” says Josh. Locally sourced ingredients like apples from the Bad Seed cidery and hops from Dutchess Hops are also a priority. “The more local stuff we can use, the better.”
Though an opening date has not yet been set, the Hudson Ale brewers anticipate running their taproom Thursdays through Saturdays from noon into the evening. Their target market, besides local microbrew aficionados, is the tourist trade that the Walkway Over the Hudson and the expanding intercounty rail trail system are drawing to downtown Highland. No bottling or canning is envisioned in their short-term plan. “The focus now is just to make beer and get it out to bars and restaurants,” says Josh.
While you wait for Tap Takeover nights at local watering holes to start featuring the Hudson Ale Works line, you can check out the new business’ progress at www.hudsonaleworks.com and on Facebook. Cheers!