Photo: Hudson Valley Malt
The “green” beer revolution is here. The craft beer revolution, of course, has been with us for a decade. A recent visit to TAP New York Craft Beer, featuring more than 160 brews from 80+ regional brewers, turned up two sold-out sessions, more than 3,000 attendees, hundreds of handmade pretzel necklaces (makes sense, right?) and an unbridled thirst for sustainability, in every sense. (The next TAP is later this month, April 28 & 29, at Hunter Mountain.)
New York State now harbors 400 breweries within its borders, blowing past the record of 393 breweries set in 1876. The craft beer industry has a $3.4 billion economic impact and employs 21,929 people in New York alone, according to the Brewer’s Association.
In 2012, Governor Cuomo hosted the state’s first Wine, Beer and Spirits summit, and created the Farm Brewery Law, which went into effect on January 1, 2013. The principle of sustainability, in every sense, is embedded within the farm brewery law, which calls for brewers to use New York-grown ingredients. Since then, 202 new farm brewery licenses have been issued, the acreage of hops grown in New York has roughly doubled from 2014 to 2016, and the acreage of malting barley has skyrocketed 374%.
Editor's Pick for favorite small New York State farm brewery: Plan Bee Brewery, Poughkeepsie. Tasting room scheduled to open in May, along with a seasonal farm stand on the property. Try their Summer beer!
Most breweries, because of the vast amount of space they require to make and produce beer (and frequently, store grain, kegs, bottles, and cans), can’t afford fancy addresses. Instead, they move into abandoned warehouses and factories in long-forgotten industrial neighborhoods…until their presence makes them the place to be.
Three breweries at TAP embodied the New York craft industry’s inherent commitment to sustainability.
NEWBURGH: REVIVING A COMMUNITY
When the Newburgh Brewery moved into a 20,000-square-foot former factory built in the 1850s in 2012, Newburgh was not exactly a destination for the well-heeled. But their investment in this hardscrabble corner of an economically depressed town has paid off not just for the dozens of locals it employs, but for the town itself, which welcomes the influx of hop-heads from all over the state and beyond, and has enjoyed the additional business at restaurants, stores, gas stations, and hotels that inevitably resulted.
Newburgh Brewery was founded by Paul Halayko, a former vice president at J.P. Morgan, and his childhood friend Christopher Basso. They are passionate advocates of the town and surrounding community. Halayko sits on the board of the Newburgh Community Land Bank. Every Sunday, there’s a tap takeover where local charities get to pocket the tips. The brewery has also created a vibrant community gathering spot in an area of the Hudson Valley without many. Modeled on a traditional German biergarten, the light-filled brewery features locally sourced, addictive fare (their French fries and NewBurgers are legendary), games for children (yes, kids are welcome with open arms), cornhole, and 1980s-era video games.
Photo: Newburgh Brewery
This year, Newburgh teamed up with Whole Foods on NewYorkBoss IPA, a beer made with 100% New York-grown ingredients. It incorporates hops from Pederson Farms in the Finger Lakes and malt from Hudson Valley Malt.
BROOKLYN BREWERY: THE ENVIRONMENT
The Brooklyn Brewery, founded in 1988 (the dark ages of beer history) by Middle East war correspondent-turned-brewer Steve Hindy and his neighbor Tom Potter, is the O.G. (original gangsta) of all things craft beer. Unsurprisingly, the Brewery has been on the forefront of the sustainability movement.
Photo: Brooklyn Brewery
Joe Thompson, the guru of sustainability at the Brewery, explains. “We try to look at sustainability holistically,” Thompson says. “How are we sustaining the community around us? How responsible is our beer production process? How much energy are our facilities using?”
Thompson says their efforts were launched in earnest in 1996, when Brooklyn’s new Williamsburg facility was fitted with a heat exchange system designed to reduce energy demand. They also partnered with Community Energy to use all wind energy (they purchase energy credits and support wind farms in the process). They began recycling their spent grain by donating it back to farms to used as compost or feed.
Brooklyn Brewery also moved to offset 1,500 tons of carbon dioxide production by partnering with Arbor Day Foundation and planting 375 acres worth of trees in the Mississippi Alluvial Valley. That planting offsets the carbon emitted by their Williamsburg operations, which is required to produce the 126,000 cases and 76,000 half-barrel kegs it cranks out every year.
One of the projects Thompson is most excited about is water. “We’re working with Rochester Tech on the project,” he says. “Water is the largest ingredient by volume in beer and we wanted to get a handle on it because so much can be wasted in the brewing process. Our newest initiative is to improve our water to beer barrel metric. Our goal is to get as close to four barrels of water per barrel of beer. Right now we’re closer to six, but we’re headed in the right direction.”
Supporting the community at Brooklyn Brewery’s doorstep is important too, Thompson says.
“The Brooklyn Brewery first marketed itself through in-kind community donations,” Thompson says. “We’ve never forgotten that that’s how we got our start, so we continue to give back to causes we’re passionate about, especially when the causes are sustainability and community-minded themselves, such as Services for the Underserved, Transportation Alternatives, and the Brooklyn Museum.”
COMMON ROOTS: FARM TO BOTTLE TO FARM
Common Roots was launched in 2014 and has increased its production 10-fold: from 500 barrels to 5,000 barrels. Thanks to a $400,000 grant from a state economic development fund, Common Roots built a facility to mill their own grain, added several employees to their payroll, and bought equipment to launch their own line of canned beer (they previously outsourced the process to a company in Vermont).
Common Roots’ name reflects its philosophy of honoring the local community and protecting natural resources, Bert Weber, who co-founded the brewery with his son, Christian, explains. The brewery’s impact on the rough-and-tumble South Glen Falls was visible before the first keg was tapped.
“Instead of choosing to build from scratch, we bought an existing building and renovated it,” Bert says. “It benefited the community by bringing a blighted building back to life.” They also up-cycled a lot of wood and other materials instead of buying newly harvested lumber to work with.
In the build-out they controlled for storm water run-off, planted pollinator-friendly gardens, improved insulation, and installed solar hot water panels. While Common Roots is not technically a Farm Brewery, the team sources as many of their ingredients as they can locally.
Spent grain. Photo: Common Roots
“Honey, maple syrup, fruits, and even some vegetables are provided by local farms or producers in our community,” Bert explains. “All of our spent grain is donated to local dairy farmer, Penny Gifford of Gifford Farms. We built a loading dock for it, and she built a trailer to come and get it in. I love the idea that our spent grain helps feed cows, which then in turn help feed us.”
Beer geeks are always chasing the new trend. Judging from the buzz at TAP 2018, craft enthusiasts will see a lot of Belgian quads, New England-style IPAs with added lactose, high-pectin fruit beers, and yes, dessert stout. By 2019, those trends may be tossed in favor of a new flavor, but it looks like sustainability will be here to stay.
Cheers to that.
Photo: Hudson Valley Malt