Beer Travels

We have not made it to Captain Lawrence Brewing Company yet. We missed the Microbrew Festival in Washington Park on June 9th. The silly red tape of the New York State Liquor Authority prevented us from checking out the triumphant return to Syracuse of the Empire Brewing Company last week. That doesn’t mean we haven’t been visiting plenty of great beer destinations. Here are some of the highlights:

Thursday – Syracuse, New York

Middle Ages Brewing Company

The tasting room is always a fun stop. It’s equal parts office, bar and retail store. There are always two or three cats lounging about and acting amusingly annoying. Or is it annoyingly amusing? Damn cats. Oh yeah, they also give out free samples of great beer. According to co-owner and head brewer Marc Rubenstien, it is not uncommon for MA to have as many as 500 visitors on some weekends – this in a facility that can probably fit 20 to 25 people comfortably (and is closed on Sundays). We tried several beers, but the standout was definitely the new Twelfth Anniversary, an imperial porter. It was dark, smooth and silky, and the 9% ABV is very well hidden. It would be perfect for a chilly fall football weekend or watching the snow fly on a winter night, and makes a nice cousin to their Dragon Slayer Imperial Stout. Here’s hoping this one makes it into bottles for wider distribution. We think it will.

Kelly Cole’s Improper

Right on the edge of Hanover Square (next to the Erie Canal Museum) in the space formerly occupied by McGregor’s. It still has much the same look and plenty of outdoor seating, but everything just seems better than McGregor’s ever was. 60 plus taps with a great selection, including several offerings from Southern Tier and just about everything Middle Ages offers at the moment. We tried a Southern Tier Hop Sun (light, but plenty hoppy and oddly appealing summer wheat) and a Lagunitas Sirius, a smooth, high gravity cream ale. They have a fairly simple menu packed with plenty of tasty choices. Our pesto chicken sandwich on ciabatta bread with house made chips was fantastic. Did we mention the beer is very reasonably priced and they offer featured pitchers for $8? We’ll be back. Soon.

Clark’s Ale House

Ah, the old stand-by. One can never go wrong with a visit to Clark’s, unless that visit is attempted on a Sunday. Clark’s (and the nearby Blue Tusk) are closed on Sunday. We didn’t have too long to linger, but we did manage to grab one of the outdoor tables to soak up some of the last of the late afternoon sun and sample a couple of new beers. Custom Brewcrafters and Church Brew Works. CBC is a specialty brewery based in Rochester that mostly creates custom beers for their many restaurant accounts. Their Hop Angel was very aptly named pale ale. A very pleasant pine-y scent in the nose was followed by a playful hop bite on the finish. Our pub mate agreed that it tasted almost like a wet hopped harvest beer. Very nice.

In keeping with the holy ale theme, we also sampled a Church Brew Work’s Belgian Black. “The Church” is a brewpub in Pittsburgh that actually took up residence in an old Catholic church after it had been shuttered by the local Diocese. It has a pretty strong reputation, and is one of several reasons that we want to visit the Steel City again soon. The Belgian Black was dark and slightly sweet, with the light, refreshing characteristics of a Belgian style yeast. Two very nice beers from one of our favourite beer bars, although, sadly, no time for a signature roast beef sandwich.

The craft beer scene is Syracuse has really taken off in the last two years or so. We hope to have plenty of updates for you in coming months from our CNY Bureau Chief, including his thoughts on the Empire.

Friday – Lodi, New York

Wagner Valley Brewing Company

After finishing up some work obligations, we were able to make a quick stop by Wagner Valley in the beautiful Finger Lakes region of Central New York. Wagner Valley is located just off of Route 414 just outside the village of Lodi. It actually started out as one of the many, many wineries that dot the region, and has since expanded to include the brewery and a restaurant. The grounds are fairly expansive and directly overlook the deep blue expanse of Seneca Lake, which lies directly down the sloping green lawns to the west. This place will require a much more thorough exploration than we had time for on this visit. As luck would have it, we are scheduled to attend a wedding there in July, and will attempt at that time to learn and share with you its most intimate secrets. For now, we settled for a few smallish samples for a quarter apiece. That’s right, they charge for samples of their wares. Not sure if that’s some kind of liquor license requirement, or a policy to discourage the hordes drunken (and classy, we’re sure) wine tourists that descend like so many black flies on summer weekends in this area. Anyway, you can try a “flight” of five or so beers for a buck, or go a la carte for two bits a pop. The Grace House Honey Wheat is an American style wheat made with local wildflower and clover honey. Sounds fantastic, but we found it a bit bland and disappointing. It should be noted that they poured this out of a bottle, as it was inexplicably not on draught. We promise to try it again soon. After all, we do this for you, dear reader. The Summer Sail Hefeweizen was great – light and tangy, with just the right amount of carbonation and spice. The India Pale Ale was equally as pleasing. It tasted amazingly fresh and crisp, with a great bite of hops and a solid malt backbone. We also had a taste of the Sled Dog Dopplebock. It is tasty enough, with a mighty malt wallop, but the 8.5% ABV was perhaps too much for a ninety degree day like this one. We also picked up a mixed sixer from the cooler for $7.99. For further research, of course.

Wagner Valley would not spell the end of our adventures on Friday.

Saturday – Albany, New York

It was a beautiful day for a Microbrew Festival, temperatures in the mid-seventies, with a few lonely clouds in the sky. That, however, was not the direction this day was heading. After a good burger and a beer on the big deck at Sutter’s Mining Company, we instead elected to head down the street to Mahar’s. It was the first visit for three in the party and we arrived shortly after the doors opened at four. The jury remained out as to the wisdom of this decision for a bit, but everyone seemed to settle in after the first round and enjoyed themselves. We sampled a couple of very fine beers on cask. Long Island’s Blue Point Pale Ale lent itself well to this serving style, with the subtler complexities of the hops and malt coming out nicely in this less carbonated form. We recommended it to a couple of 40 something gentleman we had somehow befriended, and they seemed quite happy with it as well. Coniston Bluebird Bitter is Mahar’s “house beer,” and they claim to have been the first in the United States to serve it. It was the Supreme Beer Champion of Britain in 1998 at the Great British Beer Festival, and it’s not hard to see why. The flavour seems quite simple at first, and that’s not exactly untrue. It is made with a single varietal hop, and comes across slightly fruity, with a biscuity malt finish. We’ll definitely be having this one again, beer tour list be damned. We hope to have a full report from one of the first time visitors posted in the near future.

Sunday – Troy, New York

Brown’s Brewing Company

We woke up on Sunday with most of us not too much the worse for wear (sorry, Toast). After several hours spent eating a hearty potato and eggs breakfast and watching multiple episodes of The Office, we decided it was time for a bit more sustenance. Brown’s is on River Street in Troy with a great rear deck that overlooks the mighty Hudson River and the Green Island Bridge. They are growing some hops on one side of the deck and have created what they are calling a beer garden. Despite the lack of sun, we sat under the covered portion on the other side that is better suited for formal eating. The “award winning” nachos were solid, if a bit disappointing – not quite up to the usual level of tastiness. The same could be said of the IPA, made with locally grown New York State hops, which is usually fantastic. The flagship Pale Ale was, supposedly, on special as the beer of the day, and was a bit more satisfying. It was very nicely balanced and quite drinkable, and seemed to be getting better as it warmed up. We had no time for such simple pleasures on this day, however. Perhaps our next visit will be spent leisurely soaking up some sun in the new beer garden and slowly sipping our pint. Chances seem good that we’ll be sampling plenty more of Brown’s beers this summer. They are also served at Tri-City Valleycat’s baseball games, whose season starts next week, and at the Man of Kent Tavern in the village of Hoosick Falls, New York, a place we have been longing to visit for several years now. Brown’s is also planning on bottling and distributing their beer at some point in the (hopefully) not too distant future.

Tuesday – Albany, New York

C.H. Evan’s Brewing Company at Albany Pump Station

After a day spent recovering from classic over-consumption and a touch of a summer cold, it was time to do a bit more local exploring. We met sometime freelancer D.G. Dunford to blow the froth off a couple at the Pump Station. We’ve written before about this wonderful place, and, as usual, it did not disappoint. They did not have the deliciously spicy Hefeweizen that is usually on tap, but the Evans Wit was a more than adequate replacement. This Belgian style wheat was pale yellow, cloudy and a bit creamy with just the right amount of spice. Perfect for a hot summer day. Or even for a day like this one, cloudy with scattered showers. The Pump Station Pale Ale seems to always be on the beer menu. It was a bit more aggressively hopped than usual this time, with a wonderful sharp pine aroma. It was eminently drinkable, and it we probably would have taken home a growler full if we had one with us. Either one of these beers was good enough that drinking one in the puddled parking lot while gazing at the monstrosity of Interstate 787 looming overhead, blocking out any view of the sky and the nearby Hudson River would have been almost enjoyable. The pale and the wit were good enough to leave us quite satisfied, but we couldn’t resist a half snifter of Old Musty Barleywine for dessert. The name is based on an Evans Ale recipe from the nineteenth century. This modern version was plenty malty, but with some noticeable hops, and a sweetish burnt sugar taste. Lighter and more drinkable than many barley wines, this one weighs in at a relatively low 8.7% ABV. It made for a nice capper without being too much for the trip home.

Well folks, there you have it, this week in beer. The week didn’t necessarily go at all like we originally drew it up, but provided plenty of good stuff nonetheless. Even more so than we had thought, now that we’ve seen it in print.


~ by bojangles on June 15, 2007.

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