SCHENECTADY — The ancient art (and growing business) of beer brewing is getting a modern boost in Schenectady County, with the debut of the Schenectady Ale Trail.
Discover Schenectady County on Monday unveiled its new Digital Passport, a ticket to sample the wares of the county’s four (soon to be six) craft brewers. It's available online now through the Discover Schenectady website.
For $40, the bearer of the passport gets to drink a pint of one beer or a flight of several small glasses of beer at each of the breweries. Those who make all six stops on the Ale Trail, which will stretch from Glenville to Schenectady to Duanesburg, get a complimentary T-shirt to mark the achievement.
As they become more established, the local breweries increasingly are putting their beers and kegs that are tapped in local restaurants and bars. But each brewery has its own atmosphere, so for the aficionado, visiting in person is an important part of the experience.
That’s part of the reason for designating the Ale Trail and creating the passport, said Becky Daniels, executive director of Discover Schenectady County: to spread the word about what’s here.
“We really think that our breweries make Schenectady County a true destination to experience first-class beer,” she said.
“We’re connecting a new emerging industry,” said Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam.
Craft brewing is a rapidly growing industry in New York state, thanks in part to a favorable regulatory and tax environment put in place by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The number of breweries in the state jumped from fewer than 50 in 2008 to more than 400 today.
In Schenectady County, the growth curve has been almost as steep:
- Mad Jack Brewing started operation in Schenectady’s Stockade neighborhood in 2011;
- Wolf Hollow Brewing opened in western in Glenville in 2012;
- Great Flats Brewing opened in downtown Schenectady in 2017;
- Druthers opened its third location in Mohawk Harbor this summer;
- Frog Alley expects to open on lower State Street next month;
- Back Barn Brewing plans to open in Duanesburg in early 2019.
(Fittingly, Monday’s announcement was held at the Centre Street Pub, a downtown beer garden with upward of two dozen taps behind the bar.)
In word and deed, the Schenectady County brewers don’t act like competitors — they share resources and ideas freely. They seem more like collaborators, and the Schenectady Ale Trail is a natural evolution of that.
“We consider ourselves lucky to be in the presence of other great brewers in the Schenectady area,” said Great Flats co-owner Harry Whalen. “I think the more you work together, the more you raise the reputation of the area. We’re a beer destination.”
Great Flats has already collaborated with Wolf Hollow and Mad Jack in its two-year run, he said.
“Everyone has something to offer,” Whalen added. “Everyone’s got their own unique vibe, everyone’s personality is a little different. That’s the beauty of having options.”
Adam Elbrecht, a brewer at Mad Jack, said the same: More is better.
“It’s cool to see so many other breweries pop up in the area.
I think it makes it just a better destination for beer to have more breweries.”
It’s not competitive, either.
“For craft breweries I feel like it becomes very much us against them, ‘them’ being those big conglomerates making beer,” Elbrecht said.
Late this summer, Mad Jack brewed the very first batch of beer to bear the Frog Alley name, when Frog Alley was still getting its plumbing and wiring completed.
The brewery is up and running now. On Monday, Frog Alley master brewer Rich Michaels brought along jugs of his brewery’s first and second beers to pass out as samples. The third was on tap up front at the bar at Centre Street.
Frog Alley will be the biggest of the Schenectady County breweries by capacity, once completed, and it’s glad to be part of the community, Michaels said.
“Our biggest talent is telling people we make beer locally,” he said.