TAP New York, Kegs in the Catskills

Sloop Brewing Confliction Sour Ale
Sloop Brewing Confliction Sour Ale

All photos by Mark Marnell. 

The world going global is not without backlash and it is about time. As physics would have it, an equal and opposite reaction is taking place in New York state and it's spilling over into our beer glasses. From greens to grains, local is back in style and brewers, like chefs, are increasingly opting for ingredients that are closer to home. People are proud of their local breweries and outsiders are eager to discover what it is that they might be missing out on.

Capitalizing on this provincial allegiance, the state government passed legislation in 2012 to issue Farm Brewery Licenses for beers that are made and marketed with Empire State ingredients. The law eliminates some taxes and fees while expanding sales venues if the beers incorporate at least 20% hops and 20% all other ingredients. These percentages increase incrementally over time until they reach 90% in 2024 and a corresponding agricultural support network is beginning to take root. New hop yards are sprouting up, farmers are dedicating more and more fields for grain and small malt houses like Germantown Beer Farm are converting starch to fermentable sugars.

Growler from 2 Way Brewing
Growler from 2 Way Brewing

NY craft beer is big business. With an economic impact of 4 billion dollars, it ranks 5th in the US for brewery numbers with 240 and it ranks 7th in annual production volumes with 1.1 million BBLs. That's 363,733,333 cans of beer and if you were to line them up side by side, starting in NYC, you could go out to LA and back 3 times.

All this barley-based sophistication has catalyzed a boom in regional beer festivals. These local beer buffets have become tourist destinations where attendees converge, to eagerly cram in as many examples of the local beer scene as possible. In the Empire State, TAP® New York has emerged as the largest and longest running craft beer festival and when it comes to numbers of participating breweries, also the largest single state craft beer fest in America. This is where tourists have the opportunity to meet and greet NY brewers who come to compete for the best brewery and beer titles in both the State and the Hudson Valley.

Nineteen years ago, the Hudson Valley Beer and Food Festival began at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park. A single ticket price that included something to sup on and to soak up what you sip on proved to be a winning combination. In just 3 years, the popularity forced the event to move to the 300,000 square foot ski resort, going from a Hudson Valley oriented event to the state wide and newly branded TAP® New York.

The two day event takes place at the Hunter Mountain Ski Resort, on the last Saturday and Sunday in April. In 1819, Rip Van Winkle was lured to his legendary sleep in these beautiful Catskill Mountains by a man with a keg. Two centuries later, it is craft beer kegs that still have mountainous magnetic appeal. This year, 116 New York breweries rolled out more than 468 barrels of big flavored beers into the small mountain top village of Hunter and over 6000 people heeded the call.

Brown Brewing Casks
Brown Brewing Casks

The sky was the limit on styles. Plenty of Farm Breweries touted their provincial virtues of local hops, herbs, honey and fruit and there were over 120 IPAs pouring, enough to keep a single minded hop head busy all weekend long. The festival was well laid out and the short lines were loaded with friendly people waiting for beers of every conceivable color and persuasion. If there were any questions about what you were drinking, the answers flowed as freely as the beer itself from the brewers and brewery owners who served you. Although I did not get a chance to try all of the beers (I gave it the old college try), there were a bunch of beers that were memorable.

On the Bold Side:

Rushing Duck's War Elephant, a luscious unfiltered 8.7% Double IPA packed with 80 IBUs (4.5lbs/bbl) of Simcoe, Summit and Galena Hops, pleasurable fragrance and flavor bomb, uniquely blended for big blasts of tropical, pine and citrus

The Beer Diviner's 11% Double Dry Hopped Divinator Double IPA, with 20% NY grown malt and 100 IBUs of 100% New York Grown Cascade and Zeus Hops, some from the brewery hopyard. big bold hops over a partial NY backbone of big malt, downright prodigious farm beer

Newburgh's 7% MegaBoss, an American IPA that bursts out tropical, citrus and earthy notes, a gentle 45 IBU balance of Amarillo, Apollo, Cascade, Centennial, Delta, Lemon Drop, Simcoe and Sorachi Ace hops.

Keegan Ales Bourbon Barrel Aged Mother's Milk
Keegan Ales Bourbon Barrel Aged Mother's Milk

High Point's Double Platinum Blonde, a 7% Weissbock that is a very happy marriage of wheat, barley and Weihenstephan yeast, bubbly balance of banana, clove and other fruity esters

Sloop's Confliction, a 5.5% American Sour/Wild Ale, there was no conflict in this light but bold wonder, uniquely dry hopped with Citra and Galaxy hops, bursting with citrus fruit and peaches to perfectly balance the tartness

New Paltz's Rauchbier, a marvelous smoky masterpiece with a nice counterbalance of sweetness; perfect with my bratwurst

Keegan Ales' 5.7% Bourbon Barrel Aged Mother's Milk, benevolent balance of lactose sweetness, chocolate and vanillin from the barrel walls of the Widow Jane Bourbon Barrels, liquid candy

Brown's Eised, Bourbon and Oaked Imperial Brown Ale on Cask, 20% freeze distilled, aged 6 months on bourbon soaked oak chips, a Herculean explosion of alcohol, chocolate, vanillin and malt

CH Evans's 12.2% Belgian Quad, loaded with alcohol, currents, fruity esters and malty sweetness, a real balanced sweet bomb of fruity goodness

Binghamton's 10.5% Belgian Dark Strong Ale, luscious, sweet, strong and ester rich, incredibly complex and simple at the same time

And on the lighter side:

2 Way's 5% Revolution Red, perfectly engineered (brewer owner is an engineer) straight up Irish Red Ale, mild sweetness balanced by moderate East Kent Goldings hops, in a world full of pushing the limits, this is refreshingly to style

Tap Tent 4
Tap Tent 4

Bull & Barrel's Honey Blueberry Ale made with blueberries and local wildflower honey, break out the lawnmower, just as the name implies, a refreshing and easy drinking all the way

Mill House's 5.2% Queen City Cucumber Cream Ale, light refreshing American Cream Ale big on cucumbers

Nothing is better for you than a vacation and a festival, where you can take a healthy break with many like minded and down to earth people, to sample an abundance of, at least in part, fresh farm to keg Empire State beers. Beers that improve digestion, lower bad cholesterol, ward off osteoporosis, fight neurodegenerative disorders, improve vitamin B12 levels and eliminate, at least for a little while, all forms of stress. Mix in music, merriment, fresh unpolluted crisp mountain air and nearby hiking trails and you have gone downright ethereal!

Each April, where Rip Van Winkle was born in legend, you can pursue those famed Catskill kegs, get lost in home grown misty mountain hops and allow your normal life to temporarily get swept away by a steady and cold Catskill mountain stream of beer, that flows from taps on the tops of mountains, straight into the bottom of your sampling glass.