Last year, I had an idea that I felt was good enough to put into action: combining my love of hiking and the great outdoors with my love of beer. It was good: I climbed a few mountains and took some pictures at the summit drinking an excellent local beer. You may remember the Summit Series. The best of both worlds, right? The idea has since evolved, however, to a point where I feel compelled to make it a central focus of this website. Growing pains are usually tough to deal with, but in this instance, the notion of beer paired with the great outdoors has been validated by a lovely hike up Vroman's Nose with two of the Capital Region's rising beer stars, Craig Gravina of the Albany Ale Project and Justin Behan of the Green Wolf Brewing Company. Together, the three of us, joined by a dozen local beer fans, hiked and conducted a sampling of local farm-brewed beer. We also learned about the history of beer and the events that have unfolded within the nooks and crannies of the landscape spread wide before us from the summit of the Nose.
The hike to the Dance Floor, as the summit is known, was a simple 20-minute walk through the woods. There is a bit of a steep section at the end, but the hike itself wasn't the reason for our visit. Along the way, Craig serenaded myself and the group with some local geologic history, talking about the unique nature of the Schoharie Valley and the interesting forces that create and changed the Nose over time. I have always been a little intrigued by New York's geology, but after the hike I know I need to spend more time reading up and educating myself in this rich subject. According to Craig on his DrankDrank blog post, Vroman's Nose is "a 1,200 feet tall "scour and pluck" formation—a geological rarity by which the side of the hill was scraped, or "plucked" off by passing glaciers of the Pleistocene—resulting in an abrupt cliff on the hill's southern face." (Source: http://www.drinkdrank1.com/2014/09/albany-ale-beery-history-on-high.html)
Finally, when we had arrived at the summit, we were able to enjoy the unbelievable view. It was a sunny October day with highs in the lower 60s and very low humidity. The clear skies made it possible to see the distant high peaks of the Catskills as well as the patchwork of farms butting up right against the bottom of the southern cliffs of Vroman's Nose. It was this wide and total view that drew me to Vroman's Nose for this event in the first place: it provides a chance to the see the entirety of the valley where Justin is hoping to spread his message, his idea, and his beer. His brewery is all about community, and taking a sip of his finely-crafted product and seeing both the essence and physicality of his vision was immensely meaningful. It isn't often that a vision can be so literally translated; that it can be so easy to see just what our neighbors and friends find so meaningful.
At the top, it was time for a history lesson. I'll leave the storytelling to Craig, who has a way of explaining the events that doesn't make imagining them playing out very difficult, especially with the rich landscape of the narrative quite literally below us. He spoke a bit as we shared a few bottles of Green Wolf beer amongst ourselves. The main idea of his mountain talk was also shared on his blog, which I am excerpting here:
"In 1713 Adam Vrooman established the first farm in the Schoharie Valley, and Vroman's Nose is his namesake. Vrooman had immigrated from the Netherlands in the 1670s, first to Beverwyck, then to Arent van Curler's settlement on the Mohawk River, Schenectady. Vrooman built a mill, brewery and a family in Schenectady, until tragedy struck on the night of February 8, 1690. That fateful night, a contingent of nearly 200 Canadien and Mohawk raiders, slaughtered many of the villagers and destroyed most of the settlement in retaliation for a similar massacre in the French frontier settlement of Lachine, in what is now Quebec. Vrooman defended his family home and brewery, with his eldest son, Barent, and a single rifle, but his efforts were for naught. His wife and youngest son were murdered, and ten-year-old Barent was kidnapped and taken to French held territory.
Vrooman, would eventually travel to Canada, and negotiate for his son's release. With Barent free, Adam expanded both his brewing and milling operations in Schenectady, buying land along the Brandywine creek. Barent took over his fathers brewing endeavor, and continued to operate well into the 18th century. When Adam retired to his Schoharie Valley farm in 1726, he was one of Schenectady's wealthiest businessmen, and the city's most successful early brewer." (Source: http://www.drinkdrank1.com/2014/09/albany-ale-beery-history-on-high.html)
Justin also spoke a bit about the three beers he brought along for the trip: his Abbey Gargoyle Belgian Dubbel, the Ravens Black IPA, and the Dire Wolf Whiskey Porter. We started with the dubbel, which was a rich and dark-fruity interpretation of the classic Belgian style with the requisite complexity. Next up, the Ravens Black IPA, was an extremely well-balanced American Dark Ale. I'm certainly looking for the best of both worlds with this relatively new style, as opposed to the "hop it to death" mentality of many craft IPA brewers. This one has the stickiness expected from an American IPA coupled with a robust malt flavor, making it much easier to drink for a guy with a palate like mine. Last was the Dire Wolf Whiskey Porter, an imperial porter aged in Tuthilltown Whiskey barrels. This, of course, was my favorite. Extremely rich, warming, and surprisingly easy to drink, this dark brew needs to be enjoyed on a cool night under the stars or by the fireside. Green Wolf's beers are, overall, a wonderful addition to the regional brewing scene and are worth the drive out to Middleburgh to enjoy.
After the sampling, and quite a while spent taking pictures and chatting, the group decided to head back down the mountain in order to go over to Justin's brewery, which happens to be less than a five minute drive from the trailhead. Along the way, we stopped at Under the Nose, a brand new gift and snack shop located adjacent to the trailhead parking area. I highly recommend a stop at this cute little store after a hike. The shop sells locally-made goods including biscotti, scones, and the Booger, a colored rice crispy treat. (Because it's Vroman's Nose.) We then drove to Green Wolf, and Justin walked us through the premises, which are nearing completion. First, we had a chance to see the brewing system, which, typical to most farm breweries, is small. Upstairs from the brewery is the grain room, which, true to Justin's mission of sustainability, contains a manual malt mill. (It's a bicycle!) The group also got to see Green Wolf's almost-complete taproom. Things are coming along great for Justin and his dream, and the proof is available for sale in 22 oz. bottles, available right on Main Street in Middleburgh and soon, hopefully, in a beer store near you. Get your hands on some while you can!
I'd like to thank everyone who made this event possible, with a special thanks to Justin Behan and Craig Gravina. I look forward to working with you in the future on further events. Thanks also to our hikers and drinkers for coming along and sharing the event with your friends. I promise there will be more. I also encourage my readers to follow me on social media to keep up with all of the events and activities as they pop up.