Who doesn’t enjoy a good beer now
and then? There’s nothing like
a frosty glass of ale to quench a
thirst on a hot summer’s day, a
satisfying lager after a hard day’s
work, or warming up with rich, creamy stout on
a chilly fall evening. But what makes craft brews
more desirable and all the rage in the Hudson
Valley right now? For starters, they’re fresh, full
of flavor and you can taste their natural, most
often local, ingredients. Plus, brewpubs are a fun
place to hang out, especially when there’s a good
food menu to complement your choice of beer.
Although brewing dates back to the age of the first known civilization – the ancient Sumerians – many of us don’t realize how much of the process of going from grain to glass is dependent upon the brewmaster. Like wine, making beer depends on the personal preferences and experience of the maker, and in the case of craft breweries, the brewmaster’s penchant for experimentation is what establishes his or her own style and reputation.
Unlike winemaking, though, a brewer can experiment more quickly with different flavors and ingredients, and even with fermentation practices (such as aging the beer in used wine or bourbon barrels, or letting the beer ferment right in the bottle) and the end result can be sampled in about 8 to 12 weeks. With winemaking, the process transpires over seasons, sometimes years.
The basic ingredients – grain (such as barley), water, yeast, and hops, are a constant in beer making. A brewer will use hops in practically the same way a chef would use salt or pepper, to balance the sweetness of the malt. Specialty ingredients like herbs, spices, sweeteners, and fruit impart a subtle, yet unique flavor to the beer, and are used to create seasonal, sometimes signature styles. It’s interesting to note that although each brewer will use their own unique recipes, the same recipe can produce varying results from brewer to brewer, depending on the minerality of the water they use, where the ingredients come from, and how the grains are malted (hydrated), usually by an outside “maltster.”
They say that variety is the spice of life, and with all the different styles and unique flavors of IPAs, ales, lagers, and stouts being crafted at the Hudson Valley breweries, you’ll want to be sure to stop in and taste what’s new on tap.