Something’s brewing in the Hudson Valley’s Black Dirt region.
No, it’s not anything of the bubble, bubble, toil, and trouble variety (at least, we don’t think so). Yet in a land that’s akin to gold for the farmers of the region, a sort of magic is happening atop Warwick’s midnight-hued terrain. It’s brewing inside a 100-year-old building, a quietly majestic and historic place where The Drowned Lands Brewery makes its home.
For a brewery so deeply entrenched in the regional identity of the Hudson Valley, it comes as something of a surprise that owner Mike Kraai didn’t know exactly where he wanted to open his space – at least, not at first. While he knew he wanted to create a destination brewery similar to the ones in Maine and Vermont, it wasn’t until he drove past an eye-catching old building on his way to view a lot down the road in Warwick that he realized just where he needed to lay down roots.
Admittedly, the building was in rough shape at the start (we’re talking no electricity or running water). Dating back 100 years, it was boarded up and with nary a “For Sale” sign in sight. Curious, Kraai called the town to learn more about the property. In doing so, he discovered it was originally home to the Warwick State Training School for Boys in 1914 and the State Training School for Boys in 1933. Both organizations focused on the rehabilitation of young men from New York City, with the latter operating until the late ‘70s. After closing for a short time, the building reopened as part of the Mid-Orange Regional Correctional Facility, which continued to operate until 2011.
By the time Kraai put his first payment down on the space in January 2018, the building had been vacant for nearly 10 years. As such, it required an extensive gutting and overhaul to restore it to its former glory and adapt it to fit the brewery’s needs. Two years and countless hours later, The Drowned Lands Brewery was ready to debut its tasting room and event space in the Hudson Valley.
Open since Labor Day, The Drowned Lands Brewery is a realization of the concept Kraai first envisioned the day he made that fateful drive to Warwick. Housed in a historic building on a 700-acre park with views of both the Wawayanda Creek and the Appalachian Mountains beyond, it’s a true destination experience in the Hudson Valley. And, as such, it has the day trip-worthy brews to match.
“We set out to do a few different things with the brewery and the brand,” Kraai explains. “We focus on beer. We try to have the best possible beer that we can brew out of anywhere in the world. We want people to be spoiled with our beer.”
To do this, he aims to make the beer of The Drowned Lands as distinct and irreplicable as possible. He focuses on three styles of brews, including hoppy and experimental IPAs, easy-drinking table beers, and farmhouse beers. While he and head brewer Travis Lancaster enjoy testing out sour and fruited sour IPAs and smooth Wits, their signature farmhouse brews pay the truest testament to the essence of the brand.
“It’s the concept of terroir,” he explains. Although most familiar in the wine world, terroir touches upon the power of the land and the environment when it comes to flavoring something with an inimitable essence of place. For The Drowned Lands, that place is the Hudson Valley’s Black Dirt region.
“Our beer can only be brewed at our facility and on our land,” he notes. He’s not exaggerating, either. To craft the farmhouse beers, he and his team partner New York-sourced ingredients with yeast he’s harvested from his own backyard.
“When you brew wild beer, you can harvest microbes from the land,” he says. “We’ll walk around and look for anything we think might have cultures on it. If we like what we smell and taste, we’ll keep going with it.”
Just as the local yeast flavors the brews in unexpected ways, so too does the oak barrel fermentation process. Instead of using industrial fermentation tanks, The Drowned Lands ages its beer in fouders, large oak barrels similar to the ones used in wine-making. This aging process results in a slower fermentation, with more work required and less control due to the porous nature of the wood, but it also invites greater opportunity for local microflora to influence fermentation and create a style of beer in which no two batches are ever the same.
“When we brew a beer in December versus summer, it’s going to be a really different beer,” he notes. “No one else is going to make that beer just the way we made it.”
Fortunately for Hudson Valleyites, the beer of The Drowned Lands is available for sampling inside the brewery’s renovated Warwick tasting room. With cathedral ceilings and a 1,000-square-foot deck, the space is just as stunning inside as it is outdoors. On the first floor, visitors walk into the tasting room, which, due to COVID-19 restrictions, can hold 150 people (in more normal times, it can fit 300). It’s an open, welcoming environment, and one that’s perfectly in line with the brand’s crisp, natural aesthetic.
“I think people really connect with that,” Kraai observes of the brewery’s atmosphere. “We try to be multi-dimensional with it to inspire thought and reflection.”
As a brewery of the land on which it rests, The Drowned Lands is all about slow living in the Hudson Valley. It’s a place where old world techniques meet modern innovation and where industry finds harmony with nature. The brewery encourages what it calls “is-ness,” a sense of being in a time and in a place and simply existing within and enjoying the moment. It’s a concept that appeals just as easily to visitors who want to get away for the weekend as it does to locals who crave a chance to unwind after a busy day.
With the tasting room officially up and running and a dedicated event space on the second floor, The Drowned Lands is a welcome addition for beer lovers across the Hudson Valley. It offers around 15 house beers at a given time, along with one local cider for any gluten-free visitors. During the warmer months, it opens its three-acre beer garden for those who want to sip outdoors. It also does regular can drops, with brews selling out nearly as quickly as Kraai and his team can stock them.
And that’s just the beginning. Looking ahead at 2021, Kraai reveals that he already needs to expand the brewhouse in order to ramp up production. Plus, he has big aspirations for a kitchen addition, since that will be the first step to launching his gourmet, onsite food concept.
“People will come for the beer and stay for the food,” he reveals. “We’ll do in-house fermented sausages, pickling, and artisanal farmhouse cuisine.”
Until then, The Drowned Lands invites guests to experience the hoppy terroir of the Hudson Valley. Kraai can’t promise the brews will taste the same during every visit, but, then again, that’s kind of the point.
“Beer should represent the land that it’s brewed from,” Kraai explains. “We’re making new experiences with beer.”
The Drowned Lands Brewery
251 State School Rd, Warwick