At Hudson Valley Brewery, It's Not About the Brewing

June 08, 2017

By Andrew Craig, June 08, 2017

Your standard, mass-market beer recipe is simple: add grains and hops to hot water, cool, add yeast, and let ferment. If you're double dry-hopping a double IPA or pitching lactobacillus in a Kettle Sour, things get a little more complicated, but the general idea is still largely the same.

Hudson Valley Brewery in Beacon, New York takes a slightly different track. Since opening in 2016, they've been producing some of the most unique, daring, and all-around best beer in the state, if not the country, with a unique approach to brewing – and, more importantly, blending.

It started just a few years ago, at a restaurant and bar called Bacchus in New Paltz, where Jason Synan and Mike Renganeschi were working. The bar program was already running smoothly, but there was some extra space in a cramped storage area in the back of the house, and Jason and Mike, being home brewers, wanted to turn the area into a small brewery.

Bacchus went from a restaurant to a brewpub, and since the brewing program was a tiny part of an already comfortable business, there was no pressure to make any particular styles with any kind of consistency. So Jason and Mike went wild, so to speak: within six months, they were making fruit-conditioned Farmhouse Ales, barrel-aged Imperial Stouts, 100% brett IPAs, and maybe most significantly, they had the beginnings of a sour barrel program – all based out of a small nook in the back of a restaurant.

Bacchus was turning out extraordinarily good beer, though it largely flew under the radar given their location and lack of distribution, and the limitations of their space were more than a little frustrating –  they'd haul garbage pails of spent grain past bustling cooks during service, and do their best to ferment delicate, mixed fermentation brews in a hot, wildly chaotic kitchen. After two years, they were ready to grow into something bigger, and so Jason, Mike, and their founding partner John Anthony Gargiulo started work on something new.

Hudson Valley Brewery was born.

Andrew CraigFounding brewer Jason Synan in the abandoned factory floor of the brewery's building, which will eventually become a secondary taproom and event space.

Housed in a formerly abandoned factory at 7 East Main Street in downtown Beacon, New York, the brewery still feels raw and industrial even now that they've been up and running for a few months, with a humble taproom area opening up inside the brewhouse only recently. The fact that the beers they're releasing (they usually have one new one each week) are some of the best that the New York area has ever seen, and that the taproom is packed full every weekend, is a testament to just how special Jason and Mike's approach to beer is.

But what they actually brew at Hudson Valley isn't actually all that important, according to Jason – they don't even really have recipes as they exist in most breweries. Instead, it's all about what happens later: blending. "The majority of the beer that we make isn't intended to stand on its own – it's being brewed with the specific intent of being a blending component in a larger product," Jason says. "It's one of many threads that's going to contribute to the larger product."

Because of that, it's not so important that they lay out a highly specific, perfectly dialed-in recipe for each brew day. "It's not a singular, linear process where you start with a recipe and follow a series of steps and end up with a finished product, where there's a clear line from beginning to end in terms of process and ingredients."

So rather than brewing specific recipes, they brew different threads, intended to be woven together in new ways to create unique tapestries.

"We'll have an acid beer," Jason says, "which is primarily fermented with lactobacillus in a high-temperature environment to just produce very bright, lemony notes. You wouldn't want to drink that on its own – it's too much. And on the other hand, we'll have beer that's fermented with mixed cultures and fermented for a much longer amount of time. It's way funkier than you want it to be and exhibits way more barrel character than you want it to have, so you wouldn't drink it by itself. But when it's blended with, say, 20% of that acid beer, you start to see what a finished product can really look like."

Andrew CraigHudson Valley Kinds of Light, a Sour Ale that was open-fermented in puncheons with Whitecliff Vineyards Chardonnay grape skins.

So while the descriptions of their beer may sound interesting but, ultimately, fairly normal on a tap list – like Animal Balloon, a sour Farmhouse with Simcoe, conditioned on passionfruit, vanilla, and lemon balm, or King Wavy, a double IPA brewed with oats and hopped with Citra and Simcoe – the process by which they're made is anything but.

Take Isosceles, one of their recent releases, for example. The base is a foeder-fermented sour Farmhouse Ale conditioned on pineapple. But added to that, you've got that simple lactobacillus acid beer to add intensely bright, lemony notes, plus a very mature, oaky, funk-heavy mixed culture beer for balance, plus some of the brewery's "puncheon beer," a kind of hoppy farmhouse ale. All four of those individual components are delicately blended together into a stainless steel tank, then dry-hopped with Azaca, as well as orange flowers and vanilla beans.

The result is mind-blowingly delicious, with layers of tart fruit notes, a lightly creamy richness, a touch of earthiness, and a level of complexity that's hard to put into words.  "I don't think that kind of beer is even imaginable in a linear process," Jason says.

Everything that we have on hand is fair game.”

All of this blending happens with the giant stack of one hundred and fifty wine barrels that line the taproom wall, plus two foeders and twenty puncheons. They're filled with a handful of blending components and allowed to run their course so that each barrel develops similar but tangential flavor profiles depending on the microenvironment of the wood – meaning there are as many threads to blend as there are barrels in the brewhouse.

And unlike traditional sour breweries, Hudson Valley isn't limiting themselves to any sort of convention. Incandenza, which might loosely be called a sour IPA, is a hop-forward brew blended into sour beer of varying ages. "A lot of times, when people are blending beer, they're limiting themselves with what's conventional to blend into sour beer. And maybe IPA isn't something that's traditional to blend into sour beer, but we're blending everything," Jason says. "Everything that we have on hand is fair game. And that came from Bacchus – we were just trying to make beer with what we had on hand, and ended up with new ideas of how mixed culture beer can be made based on the limitations of our system."

Keep in mind, too, that this is only the very beginning for Jason and Mike. They currently distribute to the surrounding area, offer crowlers in their tasting room, and are aiming to package their beer in bottles and cans as soon as next month. But they've got plenty of room to grow, since behind the brewhouse is a still-raw, three-floor factory area that will eventually house a restaurant, a secondary taproom that overlooks the brewery, and an event space.

If all goes well – and, given their track record so far, continued success is all but a certainty – their beer will spread further, their brewery will become a destination, and their experimental attitude towards beer-making will continue to evolve as their blending components grow and mature.

Given how masterful their offerings already are, it's only a matter of time until Hudson Valley starts appearing on all manner of "best of" lists. In the meantime, do whatever you can to get ahold of their beer – you'll be glad you did.

ZX Ventures, a division within AB InBev, is an investor in October
Related Articles

This Distillery Is Turning Spoiled Beer Into Sanitizer

Deacon Giles Distillery in Salem, Massachusetts has teamed up with craft brewers to produce hundreds of gallons of germ-killer.

How Two Canadian Siblings Founded One of the Biggest Craft Breweries in the US

Manjit and Ravinder Minhas founded Minhas Brewery as a small family business at the start of the craft beer boom. Today, the company is worth $550 million.

Drinking Through Copenhagen, Where Mikkeller Is King

The city has 14 Mikkeller bars. How many can you visit in one weekend?