A couple weeks ago, I booked a reservation on the Hoppy Trails Brew Bus, which operates out of the Lake George area. On a few occasions, I’d seen the mini tour bus with its Hoppy Trails logo in Greenwich, Glens Falls, and Saratoga Springs. I was intrigued, and The Alt’s Brew issue was as good a reason as any to learn more. So, I booked seats on “The Local,” which is an evening tour that hits three breweries in four hours.
As it happens, Gabe Sutton, the owner, called to let me know I was the only reservation he’d received for that night. To be fair, it was the first Friday in March, which isn’t necessarily a busy part of the calendar. It’s more of a hit-or-miss time of year, especially in the North Country. To his credit, Sutton was still willing to forge ahead, but instead, we decided to meet at Mean Max Brew Works in Glens Falls to chat about the business, the Adirondack Craft Beverage Trail, and the breweries included on his tours.
Hoppy Trails Brew Bus
Sutton is an affable guy, and he’s very knowledgeable about the area, the craft brewery explosion, and the variety of experiences the breweries in our region have to offer. Within the first few minutes of talking, it was clear that Hoppy Trails is a labor of love for Sutton. It’s a small family operation (which includes his wife Olivia and brother-in-law), but demand is high, especially during weekends and the summer months.
At Mean Max’s, my wife and I order a couple flights while Sutton gives us the lay of the land, which starts with those breweries that built the foundation for this Adirondack Craft Beverage Trail – Davidson Brothers, Adirondack Brewery, and Cooper’s Cave. The mix of established microbreweries and up-and-coming microbreweries in the greater region is exciting (and marketable). The Adirondack Chamber of Commerce has attempted to harness the momentum by creating a trail and map that showcases “the emerging craft beverage industry thriving locally.” Of course, these actions make supporting businesses like Hoppy Trails possible.
I ask Sutton when the idea for a brew bus struck him, and he describes a moment of inspiration. In 2014, he says, while vacationing in Maine, he was reading about the hops operations in upstate New York and chatting with his wife about how best to connect the breweries, wineries, and distilleries in the Lake George area. During that trip, he discovered the Maine Brew Bus and immediately knew that the concept would work in the Adirondacks. By the drive back to New York, he had the business name, the logo, and the start of a plan. After securing the proper license, permits, and insurance, the first tour kicked off on the same night at Common Roots’ opening in December 2014. Since then, he’s completed 230 tours and counting.
Hoppy Trails offers a variety of tour options, 15 in total plus custom and private tours. Sutton says his most popular tour for mixed groups is the Summit Tour, which includes a behind-the-scenes look at the Adirondack Brew Pub and stops at Argyle Brewing, Common Roots, and Springbrook Hollow Distillery. That said, he’s confident that by the end of the summer, the Cascades North tour will unseat the Summit Tour as most popular. Cascade North is an eight-hour trek that include a stop at Paradox, Big Slide, and Lake Placid Pub and Brewery, as well as free time in the village of Lake Placid. Hoppy Trails also conducts a Southern Cross tour, which reaches south to Schmaltz Brewing in Clifton Park, and currently, he’s in the planning stages of another Southern tour that would hit new Schenectady-based breweries with possible free time at the Rivers Casino.
Even though he believed at first that the business would be evenly split between mixed group tours by online reservation and private tours, he says that he’s currently serving private tours 70 percent of the time. It’s a weekend business, he says, so there’s a limited number of tours he can conduct, and there’s high demand for private and custom tours.
Sutton notes that so much of the business is about building relationships with the breweries and brewmasters. “It’s all about creating a memorable experience,” he says, explain that the behind-the-scenes aspects of the tour, the peek at the equipment and brewing operations, the interaction with the owners, and the group discussion with fellow riders is what sets the experience apart. While he realizes that some prefer to drive themselves to one or two breweries, he recommends Hoppy Trails for anyone who wants to have some fun and see the bigger picture of the craft beverage boon in the region.
Even though I didn’t get to go on the official Hoppy Trails Brew Bus tour this time, I still made the rounds to the three breweries that were on the “Local.”
Mean Max Brew Works, 193 Glen Street, Glens Falls
Well, out of every taproom I visited, Mean Max offers the most space, by far. Located across the street from Davidson Brothers and a few doors down from the Charles R. Wood Theater, it’s in a prime spot to benefit from downtown foot traffic. It’s a great brewery to hit for an informal end-of-day meeting or an after-work drink, and I imagine that many stop in before or after a show at the Wood.
Like many things in Glens Falls, the theme is Adirondack-inspired. The bar itself is built from reclaimed wood from covered bridges that fell during Irene. It’s dark and the music is loud, but it hits the right notes. Think of it as the hip urban bar with a lot of beards. And, of course, here’s the best part – Mean Max offer an incredible selection of beer. We order two flights, each containing five five-ounce glasses, and we still didn’t taste everything they had on tap that night. No matter your preference, you’ll find something that you’ll love. As a stout fan, I enjoyed the Antagonist (habanero, vanilla, chocolate stout) and the Percolator (coffee milk stout). Stout No Doubt also hit the spot. My wife’s favorite was the Flipside (black lager), and we both enjoyed the Lower Wolfjaw (double IPA) and the Quarter Stick (hoppy pilsner).
Common Roots Brewing, 58 Saratoga Ave., South Glens Falls
If you haven’t been to Common Roots, go now. The taproom is cozy, warm, and cheery. It’s colorful like their wonderful red, black, and yellow logo, which they’ve found a way to put on everything, including the clock. Laughing, cheering, clapping, the patrons were having a great time. Beyond the wood and warm paint, the room has an industrial feel with a spiral staircase by the bar and beams overhead. The brewing equipment is on full display through big, wide windows. The centerpiece of the taproom is the bar, of course, and the big Common Roots logo on the wall behind it. The bar resembles three-quarters of a giant barrel or cask with wooden staves and metal hoops.
The beer itself is delicious. I only regret that I couldn’t taste all eight options. Instead I chose two based on Sutton’s recommendations, and I stayed clear of the high test Double Cup (13 percent) and Senescence (9 percent). The Half Cup, a coffee stout, was incredible. It was strong, sweet, and smooth, and I could drink it every day. Next up was Tasteful Deception, an American Wild Ale that was tart and tasty. It packed a punch, especially when pivoting from the stout. Honestly, it was tasted like no beer I’d ever had before, in a good way. It’s worth a trip north to South Glens Falls for those two beers alone.
Argyle Brewing Company, 1 Main Street, Greenwich
Argyle Brewing launched in 2014 on Main Street in Greenwich, and they were welcomed in with open arms. Sutton describes Argyle Brewing as “the quintessential farm brewery,” and there’s no doubt that they embrace that tag. The first craft brewery in Washington County, Argyle Brewing is an active part of the community, celebrating Washington County and supporting family farmers. Recently, they installed a new brewing system, which was made by Fronhofer Tool Co. in Greenwich (even the equipment is local), and later this summer, they will open a second taproom in the Cambridge railyard at Hubbard Hall.
The tasting room in Greenwich is tiny, but what it lacks in space, it makes up for in charm and lively conversation. On tap are Rough & Ready #2 (an Irish red ale), Cute Little Blonde, Oatmeal Stout, Altbier, Woodland Pale Ale, and Hop to It IPA. They’re all great, and my growler is often filled with the Blonde or the Rough & Ready. The popular but limited Maple Porter will make a return when the sap is ready. The maples that produce the sap are in Washington County, of course. The “farm to glass” experience that Argyle provides is second to none. So, keep an eye on Facebook and have your growlers ready. You would want to miss the Double Tap Maple Porter.