Many of the beers made at Hudson Valley Brewery in Beacon, New York, require a good chunk of time to come to completion. So much time, in fact, that the brewery began a “traveling barrel” program using other brewery’s equipment to get some beer aging nearly a year before Hudson Valley Brewery released its first beers in November 2016.
But just because the wood-aged, mixed-fermentation wild ales require the patience of the brewers doesn’t mean they should require drinkers’ patience.
“These are meant to be really complex and long-aged beers with very nuanced flavors that are also super playful and fun,” says HVB brewer Michael Renganeschi, who co-owns the brewery with John-Anthony Gargiulo and fellow brewer Jason Synan. “A lot of sour beers in general are sometimes a little too heady and they’re not too fun to drink. They’re meant to be a slow pour and something you really need to think about, and sometimes I think they suffer from that angle. They become a novelty. We wanted to make it so you could hang out and drink a couple and not just having your nose super deep in the glass.”
Ideally, the ease of enjoyment belies the effort behind the beers. The brewery’s wild ales age between four and 14 months in wine puncheons, foeders or barrels, and are then blended with a portion of fresher, near-three-week-old saison. Beers aged for just a few months turn out bright and still hoppy, while the longer-aged beers pick up tannic and oak structures from a longer time on wood.
They’re not fermented spontaneously, but are instead catalyzed by the brewery’s house bacteria and yeast culture, which Renganeschi calls the “lifeblood” of the brewery. The culture began to form when Renganeschi and Synan were brewing together in their former jobs at Brewery at Bacchus, a brewpub in New Paltz, New York. They hoped to open their own, larger venture one day, and so they began collecting yeast and bacteria that could eventually ferment their future brewery’s wild ales.
The house culture includes a mix of bacteria gathered from orchards and herb farms in the Hudson Valley (“We went out there with mason jars, yeast-hunter style”) as well as dregs from Crooked Stave and Jester King beers the brewers admire. It also includes sourdough yeast from a bread-baker friend, so Renganeschi now says it’s impossible to determine what flavor or aroma in an HVB wild ale is traceable to each of these components.
“Overall [the house culture] creates a balanced, lemon acidity and a lot of really pretty saison character that’s still very citrusy,” he says. “After a year, it develops a pretty delicate and soft Brett character, not super barnyardy or funky, just really pretty and pleasant. So my main job now is babysitting this thing and keeping it alive.”
After they’re blended, the beers may also be flavored with botanicals, flowers or fruit. A beer called Animal Balloon, for example, is a blended wile ale hopped with Simcoe, then conditioned on passionfruit, vanilla and lemon balm. Rather than just adding fruit for fruit’s sake, Renganeschi says HVB’s fruited wild ales are deliberate: The additions of fruit (or spices or flowers or herbs) are designed to heighten flavors and aromas already present in the beer itself.
“There have been so many beers with fruit in them as an afterthought,” he says. “They taste like someone poured apricot in the beer at the end and didn’t think about why, instead of blending that flavor and making it a unified beer. With our beers made with fruit, all the flavors come together really well but also come out of the beer itself. The fruit is meant to highlight some of the fermentation character of the beer.”
Wild ales aren’t the only type of beer HVB produces, though. The brewers also have a line of sour IPAs, which explore the intersection of hops and kettle soured beers. Incandenza, for example, is a sour IPA with a portion of wheat in its grain bill, hopped with Citra and Simcoe and fermented with a mixed culture of yeast and souring bacteria. Renganeschi says it smells like “frothy, fresh-squeezed O.J.” The third component of HVB’s lineup is a series of New England-style IPAs characterized by fruit-forward, citrusy hops and hardly any bitterness.
Down the line, the brewery hopes to release more results of its “traveling barrel program,” which include a saison brewed at Elizaville, New York’s Sloop Brewing racked into wine barrels, some of which are still aging at HVB. The crew also traveled to Plan Bee Farm Brewery in Poughkeepsie, New York, and Kent Falls Brewery in Kent, Connecticut, where they brewed lambic-style, spontaneously fermented beers that may become some type of blended, gueuze-type beer down the road.
For now, the HVB team is focused on getting more beers into more people’s hands. You can find their wares a few ways. The most direct is to visit the brewery, which is open for tastings Fridays through Sundays. The taproom is located amid the barrels and wood, with the day’s offerings scrawled on the sides of foeders. HVB’s beers are also distributed on draft throughout New York City, Albany and the Hudson Valley. And if you’re attending New York City Beer Week festivities at all, look for them at Brewer’s Choice and other events. HVB anticipates purchasing a packaging line for 750 or 500 mL bottles set up soon, with a canning line for IPAs further down the road.
Come summer, the brewery plans to open a wood-fired pizza restaurant onsite in Beacon. They hope the dough will mirror their brewing philosophy: “fun, easy and casual, but with really nuanced fermentation.”