There was no finer way to decompress on the Saturday before Election Day than an afternoon wandering the neighborhoods of the Capital District on a chartered CDTA bus (we don’t do blackened-window Google land yachts here) for a touristic adventure sponsored by All Over Albany. Bad Boys, Broads and Bootleggers was actually two tours happening in parallel, one conducted by journalist Duncan Crary and the other by historian Craig Gravina.
The Crary tour was about mobster Legs Diamond, who was a local hero until he was murdered in 1931, the night after he was acquitted in the Troy courthouse on a charge of kidnapping and torture. As things unfolded we saw the barbershop where Legs would get his grooming (Patsy’s in downtown Albany, a wonderful and still operating old-school place) and the courthouse where the trial took place. It turns out that Crary’s great-grandfather, also a journalist, was the likely the first to happen on Legs’s body and that a sponsor of the tour was the E. Stuart Jones Law Firm, helmed by the great-grandson of the attorney who got Legs Diamond acquitted (and did it for free, since he declined a stack of twenties outside the courthouse and said “pay me in the morning” which of course Legs was unable to do).
The Gravina tour was mostly about beer. There is a growing number of craft breweries (and distilleries) in the area today, but in colonial times Albany was a veritable Milwaukee, brewing strong (8-11% ABV) “liquid bread” to sustain the Dutch through the brutal winters. In the 19th century, large scale breweries had easy access to barley and hops which they used to make ale, and later lager, which was shipped down the Hudson and around the world. The Albany Ale Project is dedicated to recreating some of those beers, using a recipe that was fortunately passed down intact from John Taylor, a brewer who was fined for using water with dead horses in it during the 1840s.
We tasted a rendition from Real McCoy brewery in Del Mar, made with 6-row barley, Cluster hops and honey and horse-free water. I told Craig it was fine but a bit muddy in flavor and he corrected me that it was more a cereal taste, characteristic of 6-row. He and I then descended into the usual debate about 6-row vs 2-row among New York State beer drinkers: 6-row grows better in our climate, which makes it the smart choice for brewers who are looking to comply with the only-local-ingredients edict of the New York Farm Brewery Act, but brewers prefer 2-row because it is more efficient and because mass-consumption brewers use the 6-row.
(Craig pointed out that the original Dutch beers were actually made with wheat, which grows better than any barley in our warmer (and getting still warmer) climate. Maybe that’s where brewers should be focusing their experimentation: hoppy wheat beers.)
At the next stop we tried a modern version which Real McCoy’s Mike Bellini had crafted with 2-row and Cascade and Citra hops. Of course, one wants to try them side by side which will require some careful planning since Real McCoy is only open 10-2 on Saturdays. Friend their Facebook page to find out when the two Albany Ales will be on tap together.
There was quite a bit of drinking and eating associated with this tour, as well as the history lesson; pictures are available here. The Bad Boys, Broads and Bootleggers Tour is an annual event, happening about this time of year, and it sells out very quickly. Mark your calendar for November 2017, and I’ll likely see you there.