Ulysses S. Grant drank here. Maybe. Originally built in 1838 as an army barracks for enlisted men, known as Old Stone Barracks, the grand building on Ohio Avenue in Plattsburgh is now home to Valcour Brewing Company.
Though Grant is reported to have stayed in the officers’ barracks that once stood adjacent in the mid 1800s, it’s possible he may have sat on the porch of the Old Stone Barracks swilling beer and swapping stories with the enlisted men.
Even if Grant didn’t drink here, Valcour Brewing Company can openly boast that Kim and Pam Ladd drank here – twice in one day.
Operating a brewery was a long-time dream for Terry Schmaltz and his wife, Mary Theresa Pearl. Establishing it on military grounds seemed natural for the two retired Army Colonels. Terry was able to see the project through to completion before he lost his battle with cancer in 2016. An engineering background and the desire to fulfill his dream were instrumental in the refurbishment of the building and management of the many skilled local tradespeople involved in the restoration. Mary’s visionary ability made the Old Stone Barracks a place to admire and long to visit again and again.
After several years of renovations, a $1.5 million project, the building that once housed, fed, and medically treated enlisted army personnel now operates as a brewery, bar, restaurant, a seven-room inn, and a spacious event room. The event room, located on the second floor, is available for any event, meeting, dinner, or wedding. Rooms at the inn are located on both the first and second floors and a reasonable distance from the revelry of the bar and restaurant. Despite the military history, reveille will not be heard either. A gift shop on the main floor offers t-shirts, sweatshirts, glassware, and other items to commemorate your visit to the Valcour Brewing Company. Perhaps regional bar and brewery guides will soon be on sale there as well?
A lofty list of five area craft beverage establishments would have us struggling to stay on schedule for the day. Valcour was our first. Kim wasted no time looking over the flight list. Ranging from Holden’s Golden ale to Big Ben double IPA and a couple of darker brews in between, making four choices from the nine would prove challenging. Bartender Ben (no relation to the IPA) made some suggestions and so it began.
Valcour’s flagship Copper Nails, one of Terry’s original recipes, was a no-brainer. Caramel, nutty, and hopped with a light hand, it’s one of Valcour’s most popular beers. Downie’s Demise, an English pale ale that actually tastes like one, is named for British Royal Navy officer Capt. George Downie. Commander of a group of inexperienced and dubious characters, Downie was killed in the War of 1812’s decisive Battle of Plattsburgh when the cannon he was standing behind was struck and knocked from its carriage, mortally wounding him. The aptly named Enigma is unexpectedly light and crisp for a dark beer. Blackberry Lakeside, a variation of Valcour’s best selling Lakeside Lager, was supposed to be the last, but Ben intuitively picked up on Kim’s enthusiasm for beer and pressed onward. Before we left for the next venue (in true workaholic form), every beer on the board had been tasted. Various other brews rotate in and out based on season and availability.
While working through the rest of the samples, our ears perked up when we overheard a nearby couple discussing their brewery experiences. Serious brewhoppers Mary Beth and Jeff are from Syracuse. At the time we met them, Jeff was in 4th place among users of the New York State Brewers Association craft beer app, with 177 breweries under his belt since March 2017. We’re pretty proud of having visited 130+ bars in two years’ time, but Jeff blew us away! We are humbled and impressed. The app includes up-to-date brewery information and a map of every brewery in the state (over 400) along with other goodies like a passport, rating system, label scanning tool, and craft beer style guide.
Brewer Vincent Thompson, who grew up in the Plattsburgh area, joined Valcour Brewing Company’s ranks in June 2018. Vinny, who has a background in culinary arts and home brewing, knew he was going to get into the beer industry. When he was ready, the local craft industry was in its adolescence, so he headed to Charlotte, North Carolina where the boom was already taking place. When he found an opportunity at Valcour he left his position at Cabarrus in Concord, North Carolina to return to Plattsburgh. Vinny’s enthusiasm, commitment to taste and quality, and the creativity and courage to take risks are traits which lend themselves well at Valcour. While there is some need to keep up with the trend, risk is an important factor.
As he puts it, “If you’re not progressive, you’re late to the party. And if you’re late to the party, that’s just that. All the good food’s gone. All the alcohol is gone. You’re late, you know? You almost have to be ahead of the game and project it. You don’t want to chase the style or the trend, because you already missed it.”
Adhering to his own advice, Vinny devotes time to reading – books, forums, trade publications – and is always talking with other brewers and just tasting, tasting, tasting.
“You can’t make good beer unless you drink good beer. That’s the key to success. I really do believe that. If you don’t seek out good product then you will not be able to make good product.”
With that in mind, he expects to face challenges as the New York Farm Brewery license requirement to incorporate a greater percentage of New York State products increases. Under the current standard, farm breweries must obtain at least 20% of their ingredients from New York State. That requirement is scheduled to increase to 60% in 2019 and 90% in 2024. It’s not so much grain, but hops that will be the sticking point.
“I can get all of the grain in the world that I would ever need to make any other beer that I could possibly come up with right here in New York State…but the hops – that’s going to be the challenge. They’re limited as to the varieties.”
Valcour operates a seven-barrel Prospero brewing system with two seven-barrel and two fifteen-barrel fermenters. At that capacity, it can be tough to keep up with the demand for popular products like Lakeside Lager and still find the space for experimenting. Vinny managed to get a saison and the Oktoberfest out, and has a peach sour in the works. He loves making historical beers, sours, and beer cocktails which he works in around his regular brewing schedule. Valcour serves its beers straight from brite tanks, meaning there is a wait for space to send the next batch in, especially when brewing a lager, for example. The fermentation time for a lager is much longer than for an ale. For now, growlers are the current beer take-out vessel at Valcour, but canning is a future possibility.
A New York Farm brewery, Valcour Brewing Company is committed to using local and state sourced products as availability allows – and not just in the beer. The menu includes numerous salads, sandwiches, panini, and flatbread, using locally sourced products whenever possible. Burgers take the spotlight though, with BBQ, Rajun Cajun, Hawaii 5-0, The Wilbur, and Veggie. The restaurant also serves lunch, mid-day snacks, and Sunday brunch. Wines and spirits, only of the New York State variety, are also served. Valcour is open Tuesday through Sunday. Distribution has recently expanded beyond the Old Stone Barracks to a new tasting room and restaurant in Lake Placid.
From ATM to zealous brewer, Valcour Brewing has it all. Whether you come for craft brews or booze, lunch or dinner, as a wedding or overnight guest, with or without a penchant for souvenirs, you will take away an experience to remember and a want to revisit.