Long before designer microbreweries emerged to dot the Hudson Valley landscape, the stalwart patriarch Matthew Vassar owned and operated a brewery in Poughkeepsie. It’s how he made his fortune – which is also how he was able to establish a college for women in 1861, handing over a cool $408,000 in cash and a deed of conveyance for 200 acres of land on which to establish the campus. That represents a lot of ale brewed and sold, up and down the Hudson River Valley. Started by his father (James Vassar) when Matthew was still a boy, the brewery eventually grew to ship over 30,000 barrels per year, prompting the construction of the first railroads from New York City to Poughkeepsie to support distribution.
The English-born American brewer, merchant and philanthropist – a descendent of Huguenots named Vasseur – was noted as one of the most prolific makers of beer and ale in the US. And that’s a good enough reason to celebrate a small part of the Vassar family legacy in our region. On Saturday, September 24, the Cunneen-Hackett Arts Center will hold the third annual Vassar Street Brew Fest to mark Vassar’s contributions – particularly the ones from the family’s lucrative brewing endeavors.
The original brewery was housed in a building at 12 Vassar Street, a location where the Vassar Brothers Institute theater currently stands. Now a big tent will rise up to welcome visitors to a festival of beer and cider and classic pub grub, along with gourmet snacks and amusements aplenty. The Brew Fest is set to connect the old and the new, with an array of artisan craft brews and hard ciders from local purveyors like the Beacon Aleworks, Beacon Brewing Company, Hyde Park Brewery, Mill House Brewing Company and Yankee Folly Cidery for sampling. All hail the excellent local brewmasters, without whom there would be nothing to imbibe!
Schatzi’s Pub and Take 5 Deli will offer edibles for purchase. “And Mahoney’s is doing corned beef sandwiches and shepherds’ pie” says Andrew Burgreen, executive director of the Cunneen-Hackett Arts Center. “And visitors can expect to meet Matthew Vassar at the event.” That is, an impersonator dressed in period costume will be making an appearance to welcome attendees and talk about his fascinating life. “Plus, we’ll have live music with TransArt’s Interplay, a group of young jazz artists and an art exhibit!”
Brew Fest is geared for adults interested in good beer and good times, punctuated by the Valley’s rich history. In fact, visitors can take the historic building tour to get a sense of what Matthew Vassar and his family brought to the region. Admission for the festival – a fundraiser benefiting the Arts Center – includes a commemorative pilsner glass and the brew sampling. The Cunneen- Hackett Arts Center is a 501(c) (3) not-for-profit organization. Check it out. And plan to carry on the festivities at Mahoney’s Irish Pub from 5 to 8 p.m., where Mick Lynch will keep the music going.
Vassar Street Brew Fest, Saturday, September 24, 1-5 p.m., $20/$15, Cunneen-Hackett Arts Center, 9 Vassar Street, Poughkeepsie; (845) 486-4571, https://cunneen-hackett.org.