NOTABLE EDIBLES

The Hometown Heroes of Argyle Brewing Company

By Maria Buteux Reade / Photography By Brie Passano | April 19, 2016
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 farm to table brewery, Washington County, local brewery

Stop by any village pub in Europe if you want to catch up on the news and rub elbows with the locals. Argyle Brewing Company, located at the bend of Route 372 in Greenwich, New York, has much the same feel.

The unassuming brick and concrete block building has space for a few cars out front but many of their patrons live close enough to walk. The tasting room’s white tiled floor, sun-infused western windows and varnished blond wood bar are the antithesis to those dark, sticky-floored establishments we’ve all frequented. Also absent are a television and … stools. “TV kills conversation, and the lack of stools encourages people to socialize with whoever is standing near them, whether they know each other or not,” says Chris Castrio, one of the founders.

Argyle Brewing has developed an arsenal of more than 21 styles, and six or seven are always on tap, including at least one seasonal beer. (See sidebar) Matt Stewart, another founder, explains: “We brew mostly session ales with the alcohol by volume percentage in the upper 4 to mid 5 range, although some seasonals, like Witches Brew and Maple Porter, do reach up to 8%. The low to moderate ABV allows people to sample several styles. We also have Slyboro hard cider on tap from Hicks Orchard in Granville. It’s nice to offer a gluten-free option in our tasting room.”

Castrio and Stewart met at a homebrew competition just across the border in Bennington, Vermont, in October 2008. The kindred spirits started brewing together, and that morphed into a hometown brew club, the Argyle Suds Society, which they established in early 2009. The club welcomes anyone with an interest in brewing or drinking beer, cider or wine; it now has more than 70 members. Castrio hosts the gatherings at his house. “He’s got all the essentials,” says Stewart. “A great patio for setting up equipment, a bocce court and plenty of bathrooms. All levels of brewers are welcome, from first-timers to experienced. A number of our patrons at the brewery are also homebrewers, so it’s fun to talk shop with them.”

Rich Thomas, the third business partner, showed up in spring 2009. “My wife, Leah, worked at the same law firm in Glens Falls as Chris’s wife, Cathi. Leah and I were invited over to their house for National Homebrew Day in May, and the minute I walked in and saw all the equipment, I was hooked. I grabbed a catalog and started ordering gear that night. Brewing really meshed with my science background.”

Rich Thomas, the third business partner, showed up in spring 2009. “My wife, Leah, worked at the same law firm in Glens Falls as Chris’s wife, Cathi. Leah and I were invited over to their house for National Homebrew Day in May, and the minute I walked in and saw all the equipment, I was hooked. I grabbed a catalog and started ordering gear that night. Brewing really meshed with my science background.”

Like many dreams, the Argyle Brewing Company began over a couple of pints. Wouldn’t it be great if we…. Fortuitously, New York State instituted the Farm Brewery Law in 2013, and that spark catalyzed the Argyle Brewing Company. “We applied for a farm brewery license and became the first farm brewery in Washington County,” Stewart says. “By law we’re required to use at least 20% New York State farm product. We generally hit 40% with our malt, and our hops percentage will rise as more become available. Our wittbier and maple porter are 100% New York grown.”

Thomas continues, “We try to source locally whenever we can. It was difficult to find New York hops at first, but now people are approaching us with product. We buy from Hop Holler Farm in Petersburgh, Saratoga Hops in Ballston Spa, and Dry Town Hops here in Argyle. Malt must be grown in New York State but can be processed elsewhere. We get two-row base malt from New York Craft Malt in western New York, which grows and malts right there in Batavia. That’s the foundation of our beer.”

“New York is the birthplace of North American beer because wheat and rye grew so well here,” Castrio adds. “In fact, the first brewery in North America was registered in Albany back in the 1600s.”

After more than a year of planning, the Argyle Brewing Company officially opened on March 28, 2014 … in Greenwich. Huh? Argyle is a dry town (yep, they still exist), which means that alcohol can be manufactured, distributed and consumed in town but not sold. So the men landed nine miles south of their beloved hometown. “The infrastructure and logistics just fell into place, and [Greenwich] Mayor David Doonan was instrumental,” says Stewart. “The whole town has been incredibly supportive. People sometimes drop by with food for us! Our tasting room has become a meeting place, a spot where people of all (legal) ages stop in for a drink and some conversation. They get that we’re a tasting room, not a bar. We don’t offer food and we close up shop at 8 each night.”

Stewart has the deepest roots in Argyle, reaching back to 1797. “My whole family lives within about a square mile of each other.” Thomas grew up in Granville and moved to Argyle in 2010, and Castrio arrived in 1998. Prior to Argyle Brewing, Stewart worked as a chimney sweep in southern Vermont. Thomas had been a research scientist for the New York State Department of Health and at SUNY Albany. Castrio was a general contractor specializing in historical restoration and then became a counselor at two area middle schools. 

Stewart and Thomas now work full time at the brewery, tending the daily operations of brewing, taproom and distribution. Stewart handles distribution while Thomas focuses on the science of the process: water treatment, yeast propagation, cleaning and sanitation. Castrio manages the business end, overseeing finances, marketing and special events, ordering raw materials and supplies. All three shoulder the tasting room duties. And quality control, of course, as each tilts a pint glass under a different tap….

Thanks to fellow homebrewer Dan Kamarony of DK Machine, Argyle Brewing Company has the capacity to bottle beer. In addition to engineering valve balls for the space shuttle, nuclear subs and offshore oil rigs, Kamarony developed a bottling apparatus to help out his compatriots in the brewing world. His prototype, the Micro Bottler, allows the men to bottle nearly 300 bottles an hour.

They now bottle four styles: Oatmeal Stout, Hop To It IPA, Cute Little Blonde, and Alt Bier. Woodland Ale and Red Ale should be up next once they get final label approval. The brewers self-distribute the bottled beer to stores, taverns and restaurants mostly in Washington County, thanks to Stewart’s truck. They also fill growlers to go at the tasting room.

The trio still participates in homebrew competitions because, according to Stewart, “It gives us unbiased feedback. So many little breweries open and they get their egos boosted by friends and family. But critical assessment from sanctioned judges ensures our beers are up to snuff.”

Argyle Brewing keeps it small, green and local. As a three-and-a-half-barrel brewhouse, they have a maximum capacity of 440 barrels a year, or about 25 barrels a month. The spent grain mash goes to local farmers for their pigs or chickens. Hot water is solar-heated, and photovoltaic panels for the roof are under consideration. “In Washington County, people help each other out,” Stewart explains. “We try to support local organizations and charities, like the Fun Run for breast cancer research. We’d love to open a beer garden through the alley out back and maybe invite local people interested in developing as food vendors.”

“Agritourism is popular in Washington County,” Castrio observes. “People come here to experience the local scene. It’s cool to drink a beer made within a few miles. Thanks to our farm brewery license, we can sell at farmers markets. Last summer we had a stand at the Saratoga markets on Saturday and Sunday. We also do the Glens Falls Brewfest in March and Saratoga’s Night at the Brewseum in April. It’s a great way to get our name out there, do some education and develop a following.”

Stop by the tasting room this spring to celebrate Argyle Brewing Company’s second anniversary. There’s always standing room at the bar.

 

A PRIMER OF ABC’S FAVORITES

Hop To It, a West Coast–influenced session IPA, is ABC’s most popular seller. Goes well with a meal and won’t ruin your palate.

Red Ale, an Irish-style red with a roasty finish, soon to be renamed “Rough and RED-dy No. 2.” The new name was inspired by New York State’s oldest hand-pump fire truck parked a few doors down the street at the Rough and Ready No. 2 Fire Company.

Woodland Ale, an American amber ale, has less hoppy bitterness than an IPA.

Alt Bier is a smooth, German-style amber ale.

Cute Little Blonde is the lightest offering and considered by many as a gateway to craft beer. Stewart used to make this as a homebrewed Christmas gift and named it after his youngest daughter.

Oatmeal Stout pours dark yet drinks smooth. Not a typically thick and chewy stout.

Witches Brew, a bitter chocolate oatmeal stout, uses Ghirardelli chocolate. Chocolate and oatmeal? What’s not to like?

Article from Edible Capital District at http://ediblecapitaldistrict.ediblecommunities.com/drink/hometown-heroes-argyle-brewing-company
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