by Mark A. Cotch
On Saturday October 4, fellow MUGGZ member John Thibodeau and I joined eight other history seeking people on a walking tour of Albany's past and present breweries. This tour was jointly sponsored by The Hudson Mohawk Industrial Gateway (P. Thomas Carroll, Executive Director) and The Historic Albany Foundation (William Roach).
After a brief introduction of all attending and an explanation of the basic process of the brewing of beer, we were off to the first stop of our tour. Our first location was the site of the former D. Coleman & Bros. Brewery and Malting Company at 132-154 Chestnut Street, just off Lark Street. It was explained that most breweries at this time were also malting companies. This involved bringing in raw barley grown on huge farms located just outside the surrounding cities and processing the malt to make it ready for the brewing of ale and lager beer. So much malt was grown on these riverfront farms (owned by the breweries), that what could not be used by the brewery was sold to other breweries in Albany or shipped to other cities.
The second stop of our tour, the Amsdell Brothers Brewing and Malting Company was located a few blocks away on Dove Street between Jay and Lancaster Street. This brewery was considered one of Albany's largest at that time. It is a five story building that has the length of almost a full city block. At its peak it had a brewing capacity of 100,000 barrels or 3,500,000 gallons of beer a year. This building still stands today and is known as the Knickerbocker Apartments. Looking closely this building still shows evidence of a past brewery that produced much beer in its heyday. It was noted by our tour guides that these two breweries existed in this particular area for a specific reason. Refrigeration had not yet been developed, so the only way to keep the beer from spoiling was to store it underground. This part of Albany had basements cut into clay which turned out to be excellent for keeping them very cool.
We then drove to our next location, The Hinckel Brewery located at Park Avenue and South Swan Street. This brewery was founded in 1857 as the Cataract Brewery by Frederick Hinckel and A. Schimerer. Hinckel bought out his partner and changed the name to the Hinckel Brewing Company. When Hinckel died in 1881, his brewery was described as one of the costliest and best equipped in the country. This brewery is now the Hinckel Brewery Apartments. The exterior brick of this structure is beautifully preserved. Looking at this brewhouse and the adjoining ice house, one can see that Hinckel stopped at no expense in erecting a structure that would tell Albany's brewing history for a long time.
A short walk around the corner to Myrtle Avenue brought us to the site of the former John S. Dobler Brewing Company. A building that was once the carriage house for 18 horses the brewery used to deliver their beers still stands. Dobler had a work force of 50 and produced more than 25,000 barrels of lager beer a year.
Our last stop of the tour brought us to the only present brewery operating in Albany today, The Big House Brewery. Our hostess gave us a tour of the brewing process (mash tun, brewing kettle, fermentation tanks, and aging tanks). We were then given a sample of all eight beers and two sodas that they were selling at that time. All who tasted the beers agreed that the Big House Brewery produced some very good ales and lagers that will be remembered as part of Albany's brewing history.