Ryan Fields doesn’t have to think too hard when he starts playing around with Saccharomyces cerevisiae, a unicellular fungus more commonly known as yeast.
To him, it’s all elementary--the 30-year-old holds a degree in environmental science from Plattsburgh State University.
The Canandaigua native uses the organism as a key ingredient in the ales he makes from scratch at Hammo’s Brewpub and Lodge in the Greene County hamlet of Hensonville, which held its grand opening on Saturday night.
Fields has created eight beers, including a brown ale known as Mountain Goddess and one called The Hoppy Carpenter, a caramel-like malt layered with five different hops.
He’s been working 90-hour weeks to get it all right and said he wouldn’t want to be anywhere else at this stage in his life. With 16 years of restaurant experience, Fields has turned his love of brewing into his dream career.
Above: The recently-renovated Hammo's Brewpub and Lodge was once the Horton Smith House, and Hilltop House before that.
“When I was done with college, I was having a hard time finding a job in my field, so I went back into cooking, and during that time, I started to homebrew,” he said. “The bug bit me hard, so I was brewing for family and friends almost every weekend in our [Schenectady] kitchen, and I kept learning new techniques and improving on the system I was working on.”
Fields had been working at Across the Street Pub in Albany when he saw an ad this winter on Craigslist looking for a cook with brewing experience.
“I answered the ad and brought Hammo [that's owner Gordon Hamilton's nickname] some beer and some homemade chips, and he hired me right on the spot. I got really lucky,” Fields said.
Above: Tiramisu in the kitchen at Hammo's.
The Hilltop House lives again
Hammo's, located in the former Horton Smith House bed and breakfast, is a combined restaurant, brewery and dog-friendly motel.
The historic structure, built in 1865, also had been known to locals as the legendary Hilltop House, a onetime Greek resort in the Catskills, and later as a pizzeria in the 1990s, according to Paul LoPresti, Hammo's general manager, who has a long connection to the building.
Hamilton, a Manhattan developer, got wind of the property online and bought the 11,676-square-foot wood-framed structure for $170,000 at an auction last year.
The structure had been vacant for close to two years and was in “pretty bad shape,” according to Katie Fields, Ryan’s wife and the front-desk manager.
“The previous owners had started to renovate it, but the whole hotel side was shut off,” she said. “It wasn’t done. There was a lot of plumbing and electrical work and painting and sheet rocking that had to be done.”
Hamilton spent about a half million dollars to renovate the lodge—three miles from Windham Mountain Ski Resort—and is billing it as a trendy place to grab a beer and shepherd’s pie and stay the night.
Hammo's 15-person staff has been on the job since a soft opening on July 29, and so far, business has been brisk, Ryan said. The hotel was sold out during the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup Festival at Windham Mountain, she said.
Twelve rooms on the second floor are open to guests, while the third floor will be operating as a hostel, said Katie, who provided a tour last week with her Labradoodle rescue dog, Betty, tagging along.
Initial feedback has been good, she said.
“A lot of people said they wanted to come back and spend more time and tell their friends, and it’s been overwhelmingly positive about the food and the beer,” Katie said. “We’ve attracted a broad spectrum of clients. We really hit every demographic.”
Chicken and biscuits and tiramisu
In the restaurant, Hammo's is concentrating on comfort foods like chicken and biscuits, macaroni and cheese and beer-battered fried fish to complement the dry stouts and imperial black ales on tap.
Ryan Fields’ philosophy for food is to “keep things simple,” though he and his wife have discussed implementing a farm-to-table-inspired menu as they go along.
Above: Ryan Fields in the kitchen.
Last week, the kitchen staff was preparing for the dinner hour, hand-shaping ground beef into burgers and lining parfait glasses with lady fingers and mascarpone custard for tiramisu.
Nadia Morales, the sous chef, called Hammo’s a “wonderful place” that likely will become a favorite hangout for locals and travelers alike.
“I couldn’t wait for it to open,” she said. “This is a good opportunity for the town and the people who live in this town.”
Carl Jansen, the bartender, agreed. The Cairo native has been bartending for 40 years and was about to go back to Austin, Texas because he couldn’t find work in the field.
“It’s a great place to work,” he said in between mixing drinks for the bar patrons filing in just after 4 p.m. last Tuesday.
Katie said that the staff already is like a close-knit family, and each member has been integral in making the brewpub and lodge a positive space in the Catskills, a growing destination for the craft-beer industry.
Above: A family affair. Ryan Fields is the brewer and chef at Hammo's, and his wife Katie Fields is the front-desk manager.
“It’s truly a labor of love, and everybody has a lot of their heart invested in this,” she said. “We’ve spent so much time working on it, and for Ryan himself, it’s his life.”
Ryan doesn’t deny that. Ever since he made his first batch of beer, he admits he’s been obsessed.
“I put a lot of care and thought into what I’m creating and try to make it to the best of my ability,” he said, adding that he has plans one day for his own brewery.
“This is a starting place and stepping stone to get me where I want to be,” he said.