Newburgh, NY has been the underdog for the last hundred years. It was a boomtown during the Gilded Age, with its ideal position between NY and Albany, directly on the Hudson River. Edison built his first power plant here and so Newburgh was one of the first American cities to be given light. Since then there has been a darkness looming over the town and all modern developments, from trucks to shopping malls, have lead to its decline.
A quick drive through town highlights all of its potential and former glory. A cruise down Water Street will reveal the cool postindustrial brick factory buildings, breathtaking views of the Hudson River (Beacon, Cold Spring and Garrison on the opposite side) and the remaining mansions from the former Gilded wealth, now converted for multiple families. Every decade someone comes by and sees Newburgh for all these positives and proposes a revitalization of some sort to try to pick the town up, but inevitably it is not seen through.
Not until the renewal of the Newburgh waterfront, with its restaurants, art galleries and shops in the opening of this century, has Newburgh gotten a leg up. The waterfront has become a destination for visitors and residents of the city (and adjoining towns), but the rest of the city seemed unchanged by this- until someone else stepped up to the plate.
The Newburgh Brewing Company has opened its brewery and taproom on Colden Street, a once no-mans-land, just below Washington’s Headquarters. This move up the hill, away from the river and towards the city, is a brave, but promising move that only a few have ventured (namely on Liberty St). The waterfront has been great for Newburgh, but a vacuum for visitors to frequent without actually going into the city. As new businesses open and lure customers deeper into the streets of Newburgh, the city has a real shot at a second life.
I stopped by the brewery to suss out the situation and see if this was real or a hoax. “Someone promising something great in Newburgh again but to no avail?” Well my friends, it is real. And my cup runneth over! The taproom is beautiful, built on the second floor just above their brewing operation, in one of those cool postindustrial brick buildings Newburgh is known for. Wide plank hardwood floors, thick wood and metal jointed community tables, and a wide half moon bar. The ceilings are at least 20 feet high and the tap carries nine choices.
With the comfortable rustic industrial design, generous amounts of space and wide selection of session beers, it is a fine place for anyone to enjoy a pint. Part of the breweries philosophy is invested in the idea of session beers. Session beer means brews with a lower gravity or alcohol content, so you are able enjoy more without getting soused too quickly. Low gravity does not mean low flavor, just try the Peat Smoked Stout and you’ll have new respect for the deep dimensional flavors they are able to achieve.
The English Bitter is sharp and then sweet, and goes down smooth. The Brown ale is full and pleasant, while the IPA is floral and notably not aggressive or as overly bitter as the West coast IPAs. My personal favorite was the Saison. Brewed as traditional Belgian ale, it had a great mouth-feel, with the natural effervescence imparted from the yeast.
I was so taken with the quality of the beers, I made sure to reach out to the source of my new happiness. I interviewed the owners and brew-master of Newburgh Brewery to find out what’s next:
F+B: What was your background in beer?
Chris Basso: I was lucky enough to work at Brooklyn Brewery after I graduated undergrad and then culinary school. I had learned about better beer junior and senior year of college and really enjoyed the variety that was out there. I began home brew after college and during culinary school with a love of beer quickly growing. I landed a part time job with Brooklyn and then full time. I was there for seven years and tried to learn everything I could about brewing professionally.
Paul Halayko: I really started to get into “good” beer when I lived in Germany for a year. I was there for work in 2007. When I came back from Germany, I discovered all the great American craft beers that existed.
F+B: What was the inspiration to start a brewery?
Chris Basso: I always wanted to have total control over the most creative part of brewing and that is making your own recipes and then brewing the beers. I loved brewing at Brooklyn but I was never in control of what we made and it was the one thing really missing. I love the Hudson Valley and Newburgh has always seemed to me like a place that could really grow with a new business like ours and be good for each other along the way.
F+B: How has the response been since you opened?
Paul: Response has been great, which we are so incredibly grateful for. The Hudson Valley has truly embraced us, and we couldn’t be more thankful. Each of our beers has been well received in their own unique way.
F+B: How have you advertised or let people know your here?
Paul: Because of budgetary constraints, we have refrained from traditional advertising. By “traditional”, I mean print, radio, or television advertising. We’ve tried to cultivate a nice following via social media, and I think we’ve done a fairly good job of that thus far. We also depend on the strength of word-of-mouth – whether it be from people visiting our taproom, or trying our beer at a great bar or restaurant. Ultimately, making a great product will lead to the product advertising itself. In the craft beer industry, there is such a strong following, that if you do make something of high quality, people will seek it out. It’s been fortunate that we’ve had that experience. We also participate in various brew festivals and charity events, where we can get our beer out and into people’s hands who maybe haven’t tried it before.
F+B: Did you self finance or work with investors?
Paul: We worked with a great group of friends and family to help finance the brewery. We also worked with Chase bank. Both Chase and our friends/family have been incredibly supportive and believed in our vision from Day 1.
F+B: Who is your ideal customer?
Paul: What’s great about craft beer is that there really isn’t any stereotypical “ideal” customer. Ultimately, anyone who likes our beer enough to seek it out on a continuous basis is the perfect situation. But – a craft drinker is, by nature, “adventurous” in their drinking habits – and that means they want to try other things. The greatest compliment to our brewery is if an avid craft drinker tries 1-2 other beers, and then ultimately settles in with our beer for a nice session.
F+B: I love the idea of session beers especially when they are as flavorful as yours. Will you do any high gravity beers as has been the trend the last five or ten years?
Paul: We did just release our “Sterk Aal van Hoodie”, which is Flemish for “Strong Ale of Hoodie” (Hoodie being our fearless brewery cat!). This beer had a starting gravity of 21.0, and a final gravity of 3.0 – which puts it at roughly 10.2% ABV. We do love all things sessionable here at Newburgh Brewing, but we also love holding to the traditions of styles of beer. So – when we make an IPA or a Belgian Strong Ale, we certainly wouldn’t be trying to make a beer like that sessionable – the style of the beer dictates that they be higher in ABV.
F+B: Why Newburgh?
Paul: We are local (from Washingtonville), and we love the potential of Newburgh. Newburgh is a city so incredibly rich in history and culture, and it’s a city that is truly on the verge of revitalization. We hope that our brewery can play a small role in making that happen. It’s one of the reasons we named our company “Newburgh Brewing Company” – we want people drinking our beer, from the Hudson Valley to NYC, to know that our brewery is proudly located in Newburgh.
F+B: Do you use or plan to use NY grown hops?
Paul: The NY hop market is still developing – in a perfect world, a few years down the road, we’ll be able to source a great deal of our hops from NY state. But – we are releasing today (Oct 12th) our “Menditto-Madura 2012 Harvest Ale”. Tony Menditto and Dan Madura are 2 local farmers (Tony being from Walden, Dan being from Pine Island) that gave us all our hops for the Harvest Ale. It’s a wet-hopped American Pale Ale, and it’s very tasty.
F+B: I’ve always seen Newburgh to have great potential but it has had a hard time turning around… Do you see the development of the waterfront and now your brewing as a turning point?
Paul: The waterfront was a major first-step in the re-development of Newburgh. It was a tremendous capital investment by those who decided to develop the waterfront, and it’s certainly brought a great number of jobs into Newburgh that didn’t previously exist. What excites us, and many people in Newburgh, about the geographic location of our brewery is that it’s a bit off the waterfront. Which means the brewery has the potential to serve as a bridge between the thriving waterfront and the rest of what Newburgh has to offer. Right next to us is historic Washington’s Headquarters, and just up the street is a great art store called “Newburgh Art Supply”, a wonderful coffee shop called “Cafe Macchiato”, and a stellar craft beer bar called “The Wherehouse”. If we can be a bridge for people to discover these other great businesses, that would be fantastic.
F+B: How many jobs has Newburgh Brewing Company created?
Paul: We’ve created just over 20 part-time positions in our taproom. The actual brewery is still run by 3 day-to-day people, who are all owners (myself included).
F+B: I know its early but will you eventually offer bottles?
Paul: Eventually, but likely a year or two away.
F+B: Do you sell to restaurants? Or bars?
Paul: Yes we do – as of today; we’ve been in over 250 bars and restaurants in the Hudson Valley and NYC.
F+B: I noticed a UK and Belgian influence in your brewing, how did that arrive?
Paul: It’s just the style of beer that we enjoy – no particular influence from either of those countries. But – both the UK and Belgium have a rich and wonderful history of brewing. The beer that has quickly become our flagship, Cream Ale, is an American style of beer.
Chris: These countries just have a great brewing heritage and specifically a heritage of Ale brewing. Germany is probably best known for beer but it is largely a lager based brewing country these days. Belgium and the UK also have a much more creative brewing philosophy because they are lot limited by the very strict and in my opinion extremely outdated German Purity Laws. Still, I am really influenced by all the great flavors in the world whether beer or food or spirits or wine or anything else. Fellow American brewers with the vast array of craft beers available today are probably the biggest influence of all.
F+B: Who are your favorite brewers?
Paul: My personal favorite breweries are 21st Amendment and Lefthand.
Chris: I’ll always have a special place in my heart and on my palette for a great Brooklyn Brewery beer. After that I would say that New Glarus in Wisconsin is great and Firestone Walker in California but I try to drink beer that is more local. Fellow NY brewers and friends like Keegan Ales of Kingston and Captain Lawrence in Westchester as well as the newest that I know of, Rushing Duck in Chester.
F+B: Where does the peat in your stout come from?
Paul: It comes from malt that we use, which has been smoked over peat.
F+B: Do you feel the Hudson Valley in general has been growing or improving its agro tourism, reputation as a region of great producers and crafts people as the Sonoma Valley?
Paul: Absolutely – the Hudson Valley has long been a great wine destination. We are proud to now be a part of the overall beverage industry here.
F+B: Do you feel the Hudson Valley community is communicative and supportive enough to grow businesses and wealth in the region?
F+B: How can people get your beer?
Paul: They can seek it out in Hudson Valley bars/restaurants, as well as (more limited) NYC – and starting Oct 23rd, in Long Island as well. We publish a list periodically on our Facebook page and on our website. Or, you can visit our taproom at 88 S Colden Street in the City of Newburgh. We are open on Wednesday from 4-9, Friday 4-11pm, Saturday 1-10pm, and Sunday 1-8pm. We also do a farmers’ market here at the brewery that runs every other Wednesday and opens at 2pm. The next market is on Oct 17th.
F+B: What is the most important thing people should know about Newburgh brewing company?
Paul: We are proud to be in Newburgh… proud to be making craft beer… and proud to be a part of this community.