How 3 Locals Followed a Familiar Course to Sudsy Success in Highland
A traditional ale tale.
photo by Benjamin Cotten
The origin story is well known. Man buys beer-making kit. Man makes beer for friends and family. Friends and family say, “This is good beer. You should sell it.” Man pays small fee to New York State — thank you, Gov. Cuomo — and becomes a licensed commercial brewer. Man finds a decrepit industrial space, and convinces loved ones who are crazy enough to believe in him to help fix it up. Man goes into business. Hard work and happiness ensue.
In this case, the brewery is Hudson Ale Works, and it is three men, Josh Zimmerman and brothers Neil and Adam Trapani, old friends from Highland, who inhabit the story. Theirs began in 2009, when they acquired a kit and made beer in a large pasta kettle in Neil’s garage. That garage became the hangout for their friends, who started asking them to brew up batches for baby showers, holiday parties, and similar events. They would leave their day jobs — Zimmerman at MidHudson Regional Hospital, Neil at IBM, Adam at a telecom company — and brew at night and on weekends. “It was well received, so we started to look for a building and equipment,” Zimmerman says.
They wanted to stay close to home, and found a suitably decrepit, 7,500-square-foot industrial building on Milton Avenue in Highland’s quickly reconstituting downtown. Since the 1940s, it’s housed a laundry service, a machine shop, and a cabinetmaker. When they signed the lease, it was a warehouse for “a guy who bought stuff at auction and stored all this junk there,” Zimmerman says. “The roof leaked, all the stuff got wet, it was terrible. Everything was trashed.”
A full gutting and rehab — including new gas lines and electrical work — followed. “We did 95 percent of the work ourselves,” he says. They maintained the space’s industrial bones, including the cracked concrete walls and floor and the tin ceiling. “We kept it pretty sparse, to be a cool, simple place to hangout,” he says. The bar top is fashioned from concrete as well. They purchased a three-barrel system to install in the space.
After all this work, the beer-making part was relatively easy. “We all brew; we all formulate recipes,” Zimmerman says. (As befits a new operation, they all also do sales, marketing, distribution, delivery, and bartending.) “Neil and I love hoppy, sour beers, but Adam is more into Belgian styles. He pushed for one of those, and it is doing well, so we can’t hate on him too much.”
There are typically eight beers on tap, including their hoppy Citra/Mosaic IPA, which earned the bronze medal in the IPA category at this year’s TAP New York Craft Beer and Food Festival. “Not too shabby for our first year there,” they posted on their Facebook page. They also craft various other IPAs, a Belgian Witbier, and some sour beers in these warmer months. “You don’t want a 9 percent maple beer when it’s hot out,” Zimmerman explains. In congruence with their Hudson Valley moniker, they infuse brews with locally sourced flavorings such as Crown Maple syrup. A simple bar menu, meanwhile, features Valley-produced victuals, like pretzels from Frida’s Bakery in Milton, meats and hot dogs from Hudson Valley Sausage in Highland, cheeses from Sprout Creek Farm in Poughkeepsie, and paninis with chicken cutlets from Kirky’s Deli in Milton.
Expansion is already in the works. They purchased a canning machine to produce on-the-go 12-ounce cans. This spring they decided to buy the building, and then set about adding a large deck out front for more seating, all while still working their day jobs. In May, they spent one weeknight brewing, opened for the Rangers playoff game the next night, and rushed back to work the following morning. “It’s mostly just the three of us going crazy,” admits Zimmerman.
Hard work, after all, is part of that origin story. But so is happiness. “After two years, it has been a long road, but it’s great,” he says. “It is different from what we normally do, and that makes it fun. Six or seven years ago we started in a garage with our first kit. We never dreamed of owning a brewery and turning a profit from it.”
17 Milton Ave, Highland; 845.384.2531; www.hudsonaleworks.com