A cold afternoon is as good a time as any to escape into the woods. My latest foray didn't bring me north, however: I was headed to a little town I had not heard of previously, tucked in the wilds of Greene County. Earlton. Earlier in the year, when the dust was settling from the farm brewing legislation and the first licenses were being issued, I had received word that Matty Taormina was establishing the Honey Hollow Brewing Company. After some setbacks, the brewery was ready to begin selling their beers. It was on this blustery afternoon that Matty was opening shop for the first time for folks to come on in and taste what he'd been brewing. After a drive through the hills, I stumbled upon the driveway.
I immediately fell in love with the place. The brewery itself is a converted shed, located just behind Matty's home and just far enough from it to become a retreat. The endless forest begins just beyond the brewery, a symbol itself of beer as an essential tool in taming the wild and restless forces of nature. Although the day was cold and dreary, the crowd assembled inside the brewery was warm and welcoming. A few dozen of Matty's neighbors and friends came out to support his new brewery, as well as some folks who are spearheading the nearby Carey Center's farm brewery initiative. Everyone was in high spirits, imbued with the camaraderie that beer so effortlessly provides. Be it a small system or a massive one, people are always excited to see where the magic happens. The finished product was ready for the spotlight, flowing for all to try. It didn't take me very long to decide to delve in.
The head brewer himself has quite an interesting story to tell. Born in Sicily, he came stateside as a child along with his family and settled in Ravena. "My first memory of fermentation was in my grandfather's wine cellar," he says, ever the good Italian boy. The finished product intrigued him, though, and after picking up Charlie Papazian's immensely influential The Joy Of Homebrewing , he graduated to beer and decided to let all of us enjoy the results. He teaches the art of brewing at The Carey Center and, coupled with his wife Donna's background in gardening, has joined the growing ranks of farm brewers and is actively using locally-sourced ingredients in his beers. There were three beers available to try. I started with the Hurricane Pale Ale, brewed first on the eve of Hurricane Irene. This beer has no noticeable hop presence on the nose but does have a mild and satisfying citrus sweetness from the Chinook and Cascade hops on the finish. At 6%, it's a bit stronger than its flavor betrays. Next up was the Arabella Nut Brown, a malty American-style brown ale made with crystal and chocolate malts. This beer is very malt-forward and super roasty and smooth, like a good cup of coffee. Last on the docket for sampling was the Black Jack Porter. This is the one I kept going back to. This is the nut brown's older brother, with a creamy mouthfeel and distinct roasted malt character. It has a higher ABV, as well, weighing in at just over 7%. Matty calls the porter "strikingly memorable." I have to agree.
The brewery itself is small -- very small. The current brewing capacity is 1/2 barrel, or about 27 gallons. To put that in perspective, the average homebrewer is using a 5 gallon system. This is a brewery, though, with big ideas. Matty hopes to work within his community, planning events that benefit the local food bank and that bring awareness to the plight of the local farmer and the struggles of his community. This is all music to my ears. The "go local" movement isn't necessarily about the quality of local ingredients, although that debate rages on. What it truly is about is the quality of local people, folks like Matty doing what they love and giving back. Quite simply, it's about humble individuals with grand ambitions. Local beer, therefore, is a conduit. I don't mean to politicize beer, because this process is organic and is ongoing at the most grassroots level, but it is important to tap into that latent potential. That's how civilization began, and how it will continue to thrive. As I've said before, local beer is community. It's about helping out struggling neighborhoods. It's about revitalizing downtowns. It's about supporting those we interact with for our food, for our groceries, and for the greater good. Whether you're in New York City or Catskill foothills, it's hard not to feel pride in the place you're from. If drinking a pint can further strengthen that bond, especially one that is finely crafted and delicious, what do we have to lose?