Dana Ball & Ben Brotman of Catskill Brewing
Bethel NY—For the second straight year some of New York State’s best brewers descended on the Bethel Woods for the annual Craft Beer Festival. Saturday’s dreary morning weather broke just in time for the noon start and for the next four hours thousands sampled some of the Empire State’s finest potables.
One big shift from the inaugural festival was the presence of more brewery representatives. Nearly half of the people pulling the taps last year were Bethel Woods employees. Not so this time around. While the venue did press a few of its folks into service, by and large most of the ladies and gentlemen serving up the suds were brewery employees, if not the brewers themselves.
To beer lovers like myself, getting to ask questions and get the facts from those who know best is invaluable. Hearing directly from the makers what they hoped to achieve with a certain recipe will make a connoisseur put a little more thought into what they are experiencing when they take a sip. Sometimes there’s a good backstory to the beer’s name. One brewer once told me they developed a recipe for a popular beer totally by accident. Beer is more than beer, it’s a culture.
Two fine individulas I had the chance to chat with are Ben Brotman and Dana Ball from The Catskill Brewery just a hop, skip, and a jump away in Livingston Manor. Like almost everyone who opens up a brewery when asked why they started brewing, Ball replied, “We wanted better beer.”
Quality brew being one thing, but like most in the craft beer biz, the owners and brewers also hope their products can help the local economy and their areas overall. Brotman and Ball have a long way to go. Catskill just started tapping 10 weeks ago, but with even just the four beers that they brought to the festival, they could make an impact on Sullivan County in a very short time.
Topping that list were “The Local” a 6.4% India Pale Ale. This fresh-hopped ale uses 70lbs of locally grown Chinook and Cascade hops, picked and into the kettle within hours, to produce a flavorful drink that is surprisingly light in body for an IPA. Another IPA from Catskill is the 5.7% Floodwatch. It’s blend of Simcoe and Sorachi Ace hops give it a nice floral-citrusy scent and flavor. The Ball Lightning Pilsner is crisp and refreshing while the Nightshine Black Lager has a stronger, maltier taste. Both come in at 5.5%.
Livingston Manor is just over an hour from Honesdale. I think we’ll be visiting them in an upcoming edition of “Bill’s Beer Corner.”
Further up the road is Awestruck Ciders in Walton. Surprise, surprise. The best thing that crossed my lips all day was a cider. Now, for those of you who say cider is a woosie drink, keep this in mind. Cider was the preferred day-to-day drink of the American colonists. In 1775 they waged war against the greatest military power in the world. They drank cider for breakfast. So, considering New York’s ties to the Revolution, it’s no doubt that cider should be a staple in these parts. (OK..NY is also #2 in US Apple production, so maybe that has something to do with it as well.) Regardless though, chances are the early frontiersmen weren’t drinking anything close to what Awestruck is producing.
When I first sipped the Hibiscus Ginger cider I was, well…Awestruck. The ginger is not overpowering. The hibiscus adds some light floral notes, but it blends well with the crisp apple flavor. It’s got a snappy taste but is very refreshing and was a welcome distraction after I’d already sampled a dozen beers. It woke up my taste buds for sure and after one sample, I wanted another. Cidery partner Patricia Wilcox was happy to oblige, but then pointed out the “6.8% ABV” printed on the bottle. That’s the thing about cider, it can be immensely dangerous. Unlike high octane beers where the alcohol starts to make itself present rather rapidly, good cider lacks that, thus making it all the more potent. Wilcox hopes to have some distribution in Sullivan Co. soon. At $9.99 for a 750ml magnum, one definitely will get their dollars’ worth with this beverage.
Some of the vendors that were at the Harvest Festival weekends in September also made a reprise appearance at the Craft Beer Festival. Two of my favorites, Buddhapesto and Cheeky Monkey were there offering up their wonderful delectables, as was Maya’s Jams, with whom I bartered a souvenir glass filled with Catskill Ball Lightning for a jar of Plum and Star Anise jam.
I also spied other local breweries, namely Callicoon Brewing Company and Roscoe Beer Company, who were there in force serving up Sullivan Co. beer to the masses. Jim Wilson had his flagship Brown Cow Porter, dark but yet light on the malt; and Phil Valone (and friends) were pulling a few different varieties of Roscoe, including Trout Town Brown and Rainbow Red.
Wrapping up the most notable things I had were Athens NY’s Crossroads Brewing Company’s Outrage IPA. Packed with Simcoe hops it rings in at 7%ABV and is, in their words “assertive.” Also grabbing my attention was Chester’s Rushing Duck Brewery with their oh-so-sweet Honey Seeker, a Belgian Style strong ale brewed for the summer months. It’s a far cry from a lawnmower beer though. At 8.6% it was the most potent thing I sipped all afternoon.
If you couldn’t make the festival, the good news is that a great majority of these breweries are within a reasonable drive of Wayne County. Similarly, many breweries such as Sixpoint, Ommegang, Saranac, and Lake Placid Pub & Brewery bottle (or can in the case of Sixpoint) are available at Wegman’s in Dickson City; Dutch’s in Greentown; Peck’s in Narrowsburg; The River Market in Barryville; The Mill Market in Hawley; and many other beer delis and distributors in the Lake Region. Be sure to check them out.