From left to right: Moderator Jimmy Carbone of Jimmy’s No. 43, Jakob Cirell of From the Ground Brewery, Jason Sahler of Strong Rope Brewery, Jamie Adams, of Saint James Brewery and Dietrich Gehring, of Indian Ladder Farmstead Brewery & Cidery © Tokyo Racer for WhereNYC
Bottom Line: Over the past five years, New York has experienced a boom in local farm and micro-brewing thanks to recent New York State legislation. It spawned a mini self-sustaining economy led by passionate individuals who continue to invest tremendous toil and energy into building a nearly 100% New York industry.
Review: Farm-to-Tap brewing was virtually non-existent until recently when Governor Cuomo with the State Legislature approved New York’s first Farm Brewing license. Jimmy Carbone, craft beer aficionado and owner of famed Jimmy’s No. 43, sat down with four farm brewers in the last of three Craft Beer Jam events the Greene Space. While some farms like Hill Farmstead Brewery have been around for a hundred years. Other brewers came to the industry later in life and have won the respect of the local farming community and millers whom they support.
It didn’t start off so easily for these farm brewing pioneers. New York State lacked essential resources and facilities such as milling plants for barley and hops. Not long ago, brewers had to send their barley to the nearest processing facility in Massachusetts before it could be shipped it back. Needless to say, it was cumbersome, expensive and time consuming. The majority of barley was also destined for the Midwest. Today, the revenue of upstate New York has reached nearly $3.5 billion dollars, according to Jakob Cirell. Inspired by the success upstate, other brewers in regions like Long Island have appeared on the beer map.
Since the Farm Brewing license came into being and New York finally acquired its own local milling centers, the story has changed for the better. Rather than restriction, the state licensing laws have actually given these beer producers both recognition and flexibility, allowing them to distribute independently and sell beer at the Green Market. Under the licensing law, they can have up to five off-site tasting rooms. It’s not, however, always harmonious as overlapping federal, state and local agencies sometimes clash over divided interests. Jamie Adam’s plan, for instance, to open a brewery elsewhere in Long Island was rejected by the local county.
The farm brews are unique, and although some use French names like saison (season) or fraise (strawberry), they are far from copying their Belgian counterparts. Climate change and produce availability also affect what goes into the beer and invariably creates individualistic taste. Much of their seasonal beers result as well from improvisation and discovery. Similarly to American brewers in the 17th and 18th centuries and sake producers in Japan, they make the most of the terroir, or land in terms of its agriculture and regional characteristics. Instead of using cherries for a Belgian-style kriek like my favorite Mort Subite per se, they could substitute with plums or other ingredients, depending on the harvest. For this evening’s panelists, between 90% and 100% of their ingredients come from New York State.
From the tastings, the brewers are clearly not looking to fit established beer style molds. Instead, they have put their own stamp on beer. My favorite of the evening was the fraise or strawberry-flavored ale from Saint James Brewery. Far from sweet, it was incredibly enjoyable with that little hint of strawberry tang. Very clever indeed. I could have had six of them. Other stars included the Saison by From the Ground Brewery. Although it was a little flat, I really enjoyed its refreshing quality with a nice dry finish. An unlike any I had tasted when I lived in Belgium, his version was incredibly smooth and perfect on summer’s day. Brewers Jason Sahler from Strong Rope Brewery and Dietrich Gehring, of Indian Ladder Farmstead showcased their IPAs. I enjoyed the citrusy orange peel ( the only ingredient from Florida!) taste. Although IPAs are just not my preference, both of them rightfully won over many in the audience who applauded with a big grins.
It is fantastic to see that farm brewing has taken off in New York and elsewhere in the country, but it is still has a long way to go. Many of these breweries are small operations and still virtually unknown, making it difficult to keep up with the more well-known microbreweries, and of course, the larger nationals and imports. The task that these gentlemen have taken on is extraordinary. The flexibility and freedom that allow them to grow their own crop, brew, distribute and run off-site tasting rooms also adds to their shoulders. Instead of relying on distributors, they do almost everything themselves. Less expensive, yes, but a lot more work required.
Following the event, guests were treated to complimentary tangy, fruity cider from Indian Ladder Farmstead.
For upcoming events, visit the Greene Space at WNYC and WQXR.