Not many businesses can take a nearly 130-year hiatus, but Albany’s Fort Orange Brewing did — sort of. Albany and beer have been synonymous since its founding, in the 1600s, as Fort Orange. Beermaking was a local tradition for 300 years, up until Prohibition, and in the 1800s Albany was home to many of the country’s largest breweries. One of them was the Fort Orange Brewery, which closed in 1888.
It reopened in 2017, however, thanks to three women who liked to run together. They all had husbands who also shared a hobby: making beer. John Westcott, Craig Johnson, and Jim Eaton met one day at Johnson’s house. “He had his entire garage dedicated to home brewing,” Eaton says. “We realized Craig was very invested in this industry.”
They pooled their talents, and at a pool party sometime later they unveiled three versions of an IPA. “The third one blew us away,” he says. “People loved it and said we should do this on a larger scale.” So, they did. They originally planned to locate in suburban Colonie, where there are no brewpubs, but a real estate agent showed them a location in downtown Albany’s booming Warehouse district.
“It made sense. The location is great, a craft beer scene is there already, it’s on the craft beverage trail,” Eaton says. “It had everything we wanted, except some plumbing and electrical work was needed.” They fixed the place up, added a new seven-barrel brewing system, and began making beer on nights and weekends when they weren’t working their day jobs. “We had little experience in the beer industry,” he says. “We learned a tremendous amount about a lot of things.”
One of the things they learned was that the location was not far from the original Fort Orange brewery. “From day one, we wanted to highlight the local area, so when we had the location, we chose the name,” Eaton says. Their logo plays off the shape of the old fort, and a mural inside the tap room depicts the original trading post.
Their IPAs are, of course, the most popular, but “not everyone wants an IPA,” Eaton acknowledges. “We enjoy variety.” There are also stouts, seasonal brews, a hearty red ale and a fruit-series blond ale. Their early profits have been funneled back into the business, including a new 15-barrel fermenter installed in December to meet growing demand at regional restaurants and bars, and they started canning to supply beverage centers in and around the Capital Region. But they still self-distribute, driving their stock wherever it needs to go.
“We’re just three guys following a dream,” Eaton says.
Wed–Thurs, 4–9 p.m.; Fri, 3–10 p.m.; Sat, noon–10 p.m.; Sun, noon–6 p.m
450 North Pearl St, Albany, 518.992.3103