Anniversary weekend with my wife – beer was definitely on the agenda. With the GPS set for the Catskills, we managed to sneak in a few detours. The first was a brewery that I’ve been meaning to visit, which became one of the major highlights of our weekend sans babies. I heard great things about the Newburgh Brewing Company and my interest was certainly piqued after recently having two of their beers at the Harlem Tavern. Newburgh Brewing Company’s space is nothing short of wonderful. Located in an old paper box factory, the building exudes history and charm. It’s an immense space for a brewery’s tasting room, making its guests feel transported to a beer hall in Germany. With live music, foosball, and great food, it was very difficult to leave to continue our trek up north.
When I reflect on my past brewery experiences, the main factors determining my contentment, of course, revolve around the beer: quality, variety, and availability. You can place a check next to all three at Newburgh. With twelve beers on rotation, it’s difficult to figure out what you should try first. That’s a good problem to have. All of the beers I tried were superbly crafted. My favorite beers were Hop Drop IPA, a 9.5% ABV Double IPA, and Sterk Aal van Hoodie, a delicious 10.2% Belgian Strong Ale. Their flagship beers, the Cream Ale and Brown Ale, were also excellent representations of the style, although I often crave something with more of a pungent punch. (Admittedly, I can never turn down a nitro-poured cream ale.) In terms of availability, there is something special about traveling to taste beer that is impossible or at least very difficult to find back home. I guess that’s why I didn’t mind spending over 14 hours in my car for a one-day trip to Waterbury, Vermont to load up the trunk with Heady Topper from Alchemist. We’ll make a similar trip to Hill Farmstead one of these days.
Before continuing our journey towards the mountains, we had a chance to sit down with Chris Basso, the creative genius responsible for the beers we enjoyed that night. Chris paid his dues in the gastronomy and craft beer world, graduating from the French Culinary Institute in Manhattan and later spending seven years behind the brew kettles of Brooklyn Brewery. The former experience provided a keen culinary lens which has allowed him to think creatively about new beer ideas. The latter experience, working very closely with the renowned Garret Oliver…well, you can only imagine what that was like. While working at Brooklyn Brewery, helping to brew some of their much lauded beer, he longed for the freedom to brew his own stuff. After several years of dreaming, business planning, and fundraising, all in collaboration with friend and co-founder Paul Halayko, the duo broke ground on the brewery. They wanted to keep much of the original structure intact, building tables from existing factory pieces and allowing the rich history of the building to return to life.
Chris embraces the duality of brewing. He tries to strike an even balance of artist and scientist. He explained that a beer crafted with science but no artistic soul, could potentially be formulaic and boring, like many beers hailing from Germany. An artist that doesn’t respect the science of brewing could potentially churn out sloppy and uneven beer. Chris deftly maintains this balancing act while embracing experimentation. The artist/scientist/chef loves to experiment with new styles of beer, pushing the envelope a bit, while maintaining approachability. “Sessionable” is a beer mantra he lives by, but you will often find him working on a Double IPA, Belgian Tripel, or Imperial Stout. For Chris, local is key. He is working on a Gose, a rather sour beer originating from Leipzig, Germany. His version will include locally sourced Coriander and sea salt from the coast of Long Island. The beer will have a special release at Hoptron Brewtique.
Towards the tail-end of our conversation, we spoke about the future of Newburgh Brewing Company and the New York craft beer scene. Newburgh should be canning beers within a few months. The label approval application is probably sitting on someone’s desk. Be sure to look for Newburgh in a can very soon. Chris often wonders why craft beer bars in NYC have a hard time opening up more tap lines for local craft beer. Bars in other regions do a better job of supporting local craft breweries, from Boston to Colorado. We both hope NYC catches up with the other thriving craft beer regions of the country. If you see one of Chris’ beers on tap, order one right away! If you live in New York or plan to visit soon, consider taking a day trip to the Hudson Valley and definitely visit the Newburgh Brewing Company.