Pssst. Hey, buddy.
Wanna try some beer?
I'm gonna send you to a place that doesn't have a street address, and you can buy beer only on Saturdays from 11-2. And no bottles -- only growlers. But don't worry, they'll hook you up.
If you're looking for a brew pub or a fancy tasting room, you might be disappointed with Chatham Brewing. If you're looking for good beer, you won't be.
The brewery. Not a lot of glamour, but a lot of good beer.
"Some people are turned off by it, but others really dig it," says Master Brewer Matt Perry of what he calls the brewery's "back-alley Prohibition style." The place does have a I've just discovered these guys! feeling -- but actually, Chatham Brewing has been around since 2007.
The whole brewery is not much bigger than a two-car garage. They offer eight beers, all unfiltered, all brewed in a space-conscious tank that combines a mash tun, brew kettle, and whirlpool into one unit. They have three fermentation tanks and a "bright tank" for carbonization. And that's it.
Chatham Brewing's owners, Jake Cunningham and Tom Crowell, have proceeded cautiously, testing the market, conscious of the fate that befell so many microbreweries in the 1990s and 2000s. They're now at the point of wondering what step to take next. (My vote, after tasting their product: Make more beer. Sell more of it in Albany. Seems simple enough to me.)
But they're not hiding their pint under a bushel: Chatham beers are on draft in about 35 restaurants (in the summer, it's closer to 50). Most are in Columbia County. Places to find Chatham beers on tap in the Albany area include Taste (formerly Dale Miller); Athos in Guilderland; and Uncle Marty's Adirondack Grill in Averill Park (you can fill Chatham growlers there, too).
If the range of restaurants strikes you as a bit curious -- like something that evolved by word of mouth -- then you're right. That's pretty much how it happened. Matt and the two owners do their own distributing. They do everything themselves: They answer the phone. They bring kegs to the restaurants. They shovel out the mash tun and hose down the floor.
Parts of their operation reflect a local/sustainable consciousness. Some of their hops are locally grown, and they use local maple syrup in their maple amber. Their spent grain goes to nearby farms, where it is fed to pigs. Some is also offered to locals to use in fertilizing their gardens.
They don't bottle their beer, partly because the operation is too small; but they say it's partly for sustainability reasons, too: They like the reusability of growlers.
Like many small businesses, Chatham Brewing tries to distinguish itself from the big guys through good customer service. Matt emphasizes how they've stepped in to quickly replenish restaurant clients' stocks with an unscheduled delivery. And they're flexible with the walk-up sales, too: There's a "For Beer Emergencies, Call ..." number posted on the brewery window, and if one of the guys is in the area when you call, they'll try to set you up.
Want to visit?
Finding Chatham Brewing isn't as easy as knowing a street address. It's more like a set of instructions.
Look for Ralph's Pretty Good Cafe on Chatham's Main Street (which isn't actually labeled "Main Street," as far as I could see, but you can figure it out). See that alley next to the cafe? That's where you want to go. Head to that grey stone garage down the way, with the door half open and the sharp smell of cooked grain wafting out.
Bring a container. They're not particular. "People bring in Mason jars sometimes," Matt says. A growler from another brewery? No problem. "I just want my beer to get out. I don't care much what it's in." Or, of course, you can get one of their growlers.
So. The beer.
Old Chatham Blonde is their best seller in the summer. IPA sells best the rest of the year. Matt himself favors the IPA and the Eight Barrel Super IPA.
Their porter was delicious: Malty, rich, and dark. How can porter not be everyone's favorite beer? Ah well, more for me.
Eight Barrel Super IPA was my second favorite offering. It does have a higher ABV - 8 percent - and tastes to me like a strong English ale. Bold.
The Scotch ale had a creamy head like a stout. A malty brown ale, but not too heavy.
The maple amber, a cloudy dark caramel in color, was bright and, happily, not too sweet. A surprisingly summery beer.
Eh. Reading about beer is no fun. Go get some for yourself.
20-22 Main Street
Chatham, NY 12037
The map marker shows the (approximate) location of the alley. Walk down it to find the brewery.
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