It’s undoubtedly an exciting time to be a beer lover in New York. Any brewmaster will tell you that the local beer scene has grown at an astonishing pace in the last few years, as the state has sought to tie agriculture, economics, and brewing together more aggressively — and more successfully — than perhaps any other in the country. Case in point: In 2011, only about 50 breweries existed in the state; last year, the New York State Brewer’s Association (NYSBA) announced that number had more than tripled (154). When the NYSBA unveils this year’s update, don’t be surprised to see that number top 200 — and you’ll get to meet more than 100 of them at this year’s TAP New York Craft Beer & Food Festival at Hunter Mountain on April 25 and 26.
One of the best aspects about TAP New York is that the brewers themselves attend. No volunteers, no distributor reps: these are the very people deeply connected to (and knowledgeable about) the beer they’re handing you. And even if you aren’t a hardcore beer nerd, the opportunity to ask questions is a great bonus. (At least until you’ve had too many to ask them coherently).
But with more options awaiting you than you could possibly drink in a day (we’re talking over 350 craft brews) — and so many newcomers that you may have never heard of before — it helps to have a game plan. I’ll certainly be returning to a few favorites from last year. Friends tell me that Community Beer Works out of Buffalo was a highlight, and one that would be a bit of haul to visit otherwise for most of us Valley folk. Peekskill Brewery remains one of the best anywhere in the state. And the guys from the Brewery at Bacchus in New Paltz (not to be confused with another standout, Bacchus Brewing, based in the Finger Lakes) may have brought their A-game harder than anyone with the sort of experimental wild ales many others won’t even touch.
Last year, Druthers of Saratoga Springs won gold at the World Beer Cup for their gose (a German style of briny, sour wheat beer), and for good reason: along with Peekskill and the Brewery at Bacchus, they’re helping to introduce New York to approachable sour beers.
On the other end of the flavor spectrum, Long Island’s Barrier Brewing has been very-deservedly building a reputation for their stellar hoppy beers, and their booth should be a must-stop for anyone who doesn’t happen to venture south often. Same for Queen’s Finback and the Bronx’s Gun Hill, both more newish and notable entries in the booming NYC scene. And speaking of hoppy: last year, upstate’s Good Nature Brewing (in Hamilton) really impressed me with their double IPA, and I’m excited to check in with whatever they have this time around.
Truly, there’s too many breweries to even cover. While those of us in the Valley may have ample opportunities to sample their offerings, Mill House (Poughkeepsie), Newburgh Brewing Company, and Rushing Duck (Chester) are generally highlights of any festival they attend.
Over a third of the breweries at the festival this year will be new, so I’ll be looking forward to trying many of them for the first time myself. Abandon (in Penn Yan, near the Finger Lakes), Big Alice (Long Island City), Catskill Brewery (Livingston), Nedloh (Bloomfield, near the Finger Lake), and Rare Form (Troy) are at the top of my list. The state’s farmhouse brewery initiative has inspired dozens to put together a business plan, and since many of them include “farm” in their name, I’ll be very curious to see what sort of angle these brewers are taking.
Another under-mentioned bonus of the TAP New York Festival: free food. When so much beer is involved, this perk really can’t be overstated. The theme of this year’s cuisine is “The History of the Sandwich,” with sandwich recipes from around the world. And if I’m going to try to sample 30 different beers in a day, eating a dozen different sandwiches sounds perfectly reasonable, too.
The two-day event takes place on Saturday, April 25 from 1-5 p.m. and Sunday, April 26 from 12-4 p.m. Beer tasting competitions will commence both days and are facilitated by a panel of judges who will determine winners for The Matthew Vassar Brewers’ Cup, The F.X. Matt Memorial Cup, and The Governor’s Cup, as well as medals for best individual beers in New York State and the Hudson Valley.
Full admission tickets are $78 on Saturday and $68 on Sunday ($70 and $60, respectively, if you purchase them early online). Designated driver admission is $25 for each day, and two-day full-admission tickets are priced at $111. Guests must be 21 or older; tickets can be purchased online at www.tap-ny.com.
I’ll be back after the festival to report on my favorite discoveries. If you’re like me, and want to actually remember what you drank (and what you thought of it), you might want to bring a notepad.
Derek Dellinger is the creator of the brewing blog Bear-Flavored.com, brewmaster at Kent Falls Brewing Co., and author of The Fermented Man, out 2016. He leads homebrewing workshops and classes in the Hudson Valley with Beacon Homebrew.