New York has become synonymous with New York City. Its identity has been almost entirely consumed by that massive city/cultural center of the world. It’s a very understandable situation, but the rest of New York shouldn’t be overlooked; and as far as craft beer goes, there is quite a lot going on. Throughout the state, there are many great breweries such as Ommegang, Ithaca, Three Heads, Medieval, and Southern Tier (Captain Lawrence is just as much NYC as it is upstate, thus the omitting), and many new breweries are popping up regularly. One such brewery is the new home for Shmaltz Brewing Company, just outside New York’s capital city, Albany.
Albany is one of those cities that is currently forming its identity in the craft beer world. There are a number of great bars and breweries starting to open, forming a new culture sure to rapidly continue. One of the great boosts for this city will be the aforementioned Shmaltz Brewing Company. Shmaltz, better known as He’Brew Brewing or Coney Island Brewing, is by no means a new brewery, but as of July 2013, they are celebrating a new beginning. After many years of contract brewing, owner, Jeremy Cowan, has finally opened the doors to his very own production brewery. Located just outside Albany in Clifton Park, his beautiful, shiny, new brewery was 16 years in the making and the dream of contract brewers everywhere. Their 20,000 square ft. brewery boasts a 50 barrel brewhouse and gives Albany a production brewery they can proudly call their own. Making both their He’Brew Ales and Coney Island Lagers in their own backyard instantly added great credibility to this blossoming beer scene.
Outside of Shmaltz, the Albany area really only consists of a handful of brewpubs. You have C.H. Evans Brewing Company, better known as the Albany Pump Station, Mad Jack, and Troy Pub and Brewery, also known as Brown’s Brewing.
Brown’s Brewing is located in a restored warehouse just outside of Albany in the suburb of Troy. Opening in 1993, Brown’s was the area’s first brewpub. The brewery has won a number of awards throughout the years, including a gold and silver medal at the World Beer Cup. Visiting the brewery will typically provide the opportunity to try at least a dozen different beers in the industrial, classic-feeling pub. Also, not far down the road, you’ll find a pair of bars worth checking out. An Upstate classic, Dinosaur Bar-B-Que is a fairly famous BBQ chain that’s been featured on multiple TV shows, but also has an impressive draft list to complement the BBQ. There are twenty-five beers are on tap—most of which are craft—and even a pair of drafts brewed just for them, including a smoked porter. Also nearby is The Ruck, which offers a fantastic selection of draft beer. This no frills, dive bar is a mix of neighborhood bar and destination, so you can expect to sit side-by-side with some regulars throwing back their bottles of Bud as you enjoy the great variety of local and hard to get beers. This bar also offers a simple pub menu with some tasty wings and classic bar games like shuffleboard, which is a rarity nowadays. This is definitely one of the best casual drinking bars in the region.
Back in downtown Albany, you find the Albany Pump Station. The Pump Station is located in what used to be an old water pumping facility. There are still two massive, functioning cranes located in the building, used for maintaining and fixing the water pumps and more recently used for installing the brewhouse. The lofty ceilings, exposed brick, along with the cranes, make the atmosphere of The Pump Station truly unique and a worthwhile experience. They also make some quality brews with about ten different beers on tap at a time, along with New York made Doc’s Draft Ciders. You can also find spirits from Albany Distilling Company, which is located in the same building. If you plan your visit appropriately, you can visit the distillery as well.
In the same neighborhood, you will also find The City Beer Hall and The Merry Monk. The City Beer Hall is somewhat hidden in a massive, old bank-type building. Adorned with beautiful, oak woodwork and long bier hall-type tables, the bar has a very comforting feel. This spot offers up a great selection of both drafts and bottles to go along with a gastropub menu featuring locally sourced food. On the second floor of the bar, they go a little western with the theme and even have a mechanical bull.
The Merry Monk is Albany’s take on a Belgian-style bar. The drafts are heavy with Belgian beers to go along with an extensive bottle list of imports. The Monk is a small, simple bar and the complete opposite of City Beer Hall, allowing for a nice variety of experiences. Nearby, you will also find Albany’s German biergarten, Wolff’s, and their English pub, The Olde English Pub and Brewery, for those looking for a thematic experience.
In another suburb, Schenectady, you will find what is easily the region’s best draft list at The Bier Abbey, located in an old Victorian-style house. A mix of craft and European, one can expect anything from a local New York craft to Tilquin Gueuze on draft. Their 30 drafts are filled with very high quality offerings, guaranteeing there will be many beers you’ll want to drink. This is a bar definitely worth leaving downtown Albany for a visit. Also, while in Schenectady, you can visit the Mad Jack Brewery at the nearby Van Dyck Lounge—a classic Jazz hall.