Monday, June 19, 2006

Mahar's: It's a Beer Bar

After an absence that was altogether too long, we finally ventured, at the behest of a friend, to the most highly acclaimed of local watering holes. Not a place for everyone, Mahar's. Certainly, the selection of beers is without compare in the region, yet there is no television to entertain, nor even music on many evenings. Little food to be had, aside from blocks of cheese and microwaveable meat pies. Service ranges from subpar to average. We're still not sure exactly how we feel about Mahar's. While we certainly like many things about the place, we have serious doubts that it is among the top dozen places to get a beer in this great country. They typically have several casks among the twenty to thirty draught choices, and nearly ten times as many bottles at any given time. We get the feeling that the place fancies itself to be some sort of Americanized English Free House; half the draughts seem to be English/cask, and cask Coniston Bluebird Bitter is considered
the "house" ale. They claim to have been among the first in the country
to offer it on draught. We would prefer to see more local and regional choices, given all the fantastic beers currently being produced in the Empire State, but the current situation seems to work pretty well for them.
One of the cool things that Mahar's has going for it is their beer club:








We're still working on the t-shirt...sad, we know.

This is a place that does not post any beer menu or prices. Upon entering, one first heads for the keyboard and printer in back. Updated beer lists can be printed by beer style or country (bartenders prefer country, as it is easier for them
to locate and highlight the beer on your individual list for updating in
the system later). The one obvious drawback of this system is that beers
are completely eliminated from your personal list after you have sampled them. This
is not necessarily a major problem, as Mahar's constantly rotates their
beer stock, especially the draught. But allow us to imagine, for instance, that it
is a hot day in June. You are rather desirous of a refreshing summer beer.
Mahar's happens to have Hoeegarden White and Paulaner Hefe Weissen among the choices on tap, but you've already had them on your tour, so you might not necessarily know
that from simply perusing your list. The way the bar is set up, it can be difficult to see the extent of the taps, and, again, there is no visible posting of available beers. Sure, one could ask the bartender, but they tend to the rather surly and mostly avoid being helpful in these sorts of situations. No, you'll have to
either depend on guile and good fortune, or print the full beer list in addition to your personal copy. Even then it might be difficult to convince yourself to order a
beer that you've already had and, therefore, won't be credited for on your
beer tour. Hey, we never said Mahar's makes things easy. So what is it that draws the meandering wayfarer to it's nondescipt door? We imagine it is the beer, mostly. Really good beer, served the way it should be served. It's easy to overlook small shortcomings when there is great beer to be had in abundance. Don't just take our word for it, the following is stolen directly from a poster at We feel that it gives a very accurate and succint picture of what you will find should you choose to visit Mahar's:

The highlight of Mahar's is its cask-conditioned real ale, many imported from England and lately a number of casks from Middle Ages in Syracuse.

On tap, Mahar's has a variety of American craft beers, rare beers from Europe and elsewhere, and some of the better European standards -- including a well-served pint of Guinness, NOT extra cold, and with plenty of texture.

If this isn't enough, there's also an *extensive* bottle list from around the world, with a good number of American craft beers as well. The markup on bottles tends to be about 100% from retail prices, so make a visit to Oliver's [Oliver's is a beer store a few blocks away from Mahar's. They boast of carrying 800+ beers - ed.] first! You'll still find lots at Mahar's unavailable elsewhere.

The entire food menu consists of a small fridge underneath the bar, at the back end. Their meat pies -- usually steak and mushroom, but I've had steak and kidney too -- are awesome. An excellent place to pair a cheese with a beer too. Don't go expecting a full dinner, but I've intentionally gone to Mahar's for dinner and love what they have.

The hours are limited, but very easy to remember: 4pm to midnight, Monday through Saturday.

Mahar's is not for everybody. Seating is limited, music is either off or quiet, there's no pool or darts, etc. They can also be leery of groups of young people (Mahar's is between the city's so-called "student ghetto" neighborhood and UAlbany's main campus), but not excessively so: I first started going when I was an upperclassman myself.

Well done, assumed friend. Better than we were able to say it ourself. Why did we even take the time? We will endeavour to keep our faithful readers updated as we continue to make periodic visits to Mahar's and other fine establishments throught this region (and the world).

Note: On this particular visit, we must note that the standout beer was a Rogue Integrity IPA on draught. We have never seen this beer anywhere else. Sexy beer. It blew our mind. This is one reason Mahar's is always worth a visit.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Three Ain't Exactly a Crowd: Malt River to Brew No More

As recently as two years ago, the Capital Region boasted six brewpubs:

The Current

Albany Pump Station - Albany
Brown's Brewing Co. - Troy
The Van Dyck - Schenectady

The Former

Big House Brewing Company - Albany
The Original Saratoga Springs Brewing Co. - Saratoga
Malt River Brewing Co. - Latham

Big House never really had too much in the way of good beer, or service. It was, first and foremost, a club. They first stopped brewing their own beer (they had a contract deal with Brown's) and then sold the three story building on Pearl Street, now known as the Skyline Lounge. No great loss on that count, we say. In a related note, the former owner of the Big House (which, to be fair, really did play an important role in the transformation of the Pearl Street corridor in Albany from mostly deserted after dark into an annoying, crowded, collar poppin' scene) is currently renovating a building in downtown Schenectady, scheduled to open in fall 2006, which city officials hope will help to do much the same thing for lower State Street in the Electric City. We are not aware of plans to brew on premesis.

Original Saratoga Springs Brewery should have had a lot going for it; great location just off the main drag in a tourist town, cool, Victorian style brick building, guaranteed summer time Saratoga crowds with money to burn. But it never seemed to be run very well, the food was inconsistent at best and, most importantly for a brewpub, so was the beer. We recall it being somewhat difficult to tell the Pale from the Amber from the Wheat. Still, it's always sad to see even a mediocre brewpub leave the scene, and we do miss the $1 beer special on Thursday nights.

Now, with the recent announcement that Malt River will no longer be brewing, the number of brewpubs in the region has been halved since 2004. We were never a big fan of Malt River on the handfull of occasions we visited, despite generally solid reviews. None of the beers stood out to us, the food left plenty to be desired, and it is located in a dying mall in Latham. The news was actually encouraging for a couple of reasons. First, Latham Circle Mall is currently scheduled for a multi-million dollar refurbishing. Sprucing up the joint and adding stores to a place that is now anchored by a Burlington Coat Factory stuck in 1991 can only be a good thing. Secondly (and, of course, foremost to us), Malt River Brewing Company is not going anywhere, just dropping the Brewing Company part. They are actually greatly expanding their beer offerings! We are of the opinion that going from six or eight marginal beer selections to twenty-six imaginative and varied beer choices is certainly a positive move. The plan is to focus on European ales and American craft beers, rotating the taps seasonally. Summer should feature as many as eight wheat beers. We like the sound of that! Despite being in a dead mall, Malt River actually occupies an enjoyable space, and it is easy for one to forget the surroundings soon after entering. The area that formerly housed the brewing equipment will be turned into a "VIP lounge" with leather couches and flat screen telly. Oh, my! We shall endeavour to visit in the near future and report our findings. We surely have high hopes.

Editor's Note: The three remaining brewpubs in the immediate region will, without doubt, be reported on extensively in future posts. Near future posts...

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

High Falls Brewing

Category: Macro
Location: Rochester, New York
web site:

Brewing at the site of the present day High Falls Brewing Company in Rochester, New York dates back to the 1850's, when it was home to the Rau & Reisky Brewery, as well as a first class saloon. It was first known as Genesee as far back as 1878 and there was continuous brewing on site until Prohibition forced a cessation of operations in 1920. One of those who lost his job as a result of this most ignorant and small minded of all Constitutional Amendments was Louis Wehle, who had been the company's superintendent. We share this information because we feel that it may be of at least of mild interest to some, should they manage to stay with the story. Probably not, though.

Louis Wehle had brewing in his blood. His father had been a brewer, as had his father before him. He even attended the National Brewers Academy in New York City before taking a job at the brewery. When Prohibition shut things down, he became a baker and a grocer, eventually founding a grocery chain which he sold for $1.3 Million in 1929. Following the end of Prohibition, Wehle re-entered the family business using the proceeds of that sale to found the Genesee Brewing Company in 1932. Successful from the start, Genesee continued to grow in the years following WWII, and buoyed, no doubt, by the introduction of Genesee Cream Ale in 1960, was among the nation's 30 largest brewers in the mid 1960's. Despite a marked drop in production (from a high of 4 million barrels in the late 1970's to just 2.2 million 15 years later), Genesee was the 7th largest brewer in the country by 1990.

The 1990's saw the launch of two new lines for Genesee. Michael Shea's Irish Amber and Black & Tan were remarkably unremarkable and shall not soon be spoken of again in this space, but JW Dundee's Honey Brown Lager was an immediate success locally, and even more so on a broader regional- perhaps even national - level. The name came from a combination of the intials of Louis Wehle's son, John, by now chairman of the brewery, and the source of the honey used in making the beer, Martin's Farm in nearby Dundee, New York. The modest success of this new line, however, did little to help the brewery's overall bottom line, and Genesee's struggles continued. In August of 1999 Pabst made an offer for all of the brewery's brands. The Wehle family felt loyalty to Rochester and, correctly fearing that local jobs would be lost when Pabst relocated brewing operations, rejected the offer. In 2000, an investment group led by the brewery's management took over operations and the company's name was changed to High Falls Brewing Company.

That gob may have been a bit long winded, but here are the important things to know:

Genny still makes beer that is every bit as good as Bud and Miller, no matter what the born on date, or how much less filling it may be. We respect people who drink beer because it tastes good and they enjoy it, not because they laugh at the commercials, don't feel full, are in the awful habit of always buying the same thing, or because more than half of the country drinks the souless, pale yellow substance.

Speaking of beer that tastes good, JW Dundee's is now making a variety of pretty fine brews. As our main man, Lew Bryson, says:

New beers are out under the Dundee label: reports are that they are Saranac-like in character. Hope to hear more...Whoa! I've had 'em, and they're at least Saranac-like. The Dundee Pale Bock rocks, the IPA is rippingly bitter. Expect great things in the future.
Full disclosure: while Mr. Bryson is indeed our favorite writer of all things beverage, we do not know him. Were we to know him, he would probably not like us. But dammit, do we respect him!

Dundee's offers four seasonal variety packs - that's one for each season! These represent an excellent value (approx. $9.99 for a 12 pack). Variety packs include three each of their American Pale Ale(very good, nicely hoppy), American Amber Lager (decent, we'd take it over a Killian's any day), Honey Brown Lager (solid; the old standby - we'd probably tend to underrate it) and the corresponding seasonal beer. Spring is Pale Bock, Summer means Hefeweizen, Fall the IPA, and Winter brings with it their Festive Ale. The Pale Bock is excellent, a gold medal winner (German Maibock/Hellerbock - Category 28 - for those of you scoring at home) at the 2006 World Beer Cup Championship. Hard to find a better sixer for less than a buck a beer, we say. We have only sampled the Hefeweizen a couple of times so far. In fairness to us, it has been an unseasonably crappy summer. Solid beer, if a bit disappointing. We must admit that, so far at least, we enjoy it a bit less than Saranac's Hefeweizen. It is not overly spiced or full of flavour. To be fair, it is labeled as JW Dundee's Hefewizen American Wheat Beer, which may or may not be a concession to truth in advertising. Still, we find it enjoyable, and a nice complement to it's packaging mates, which we are gaining new appreciation for even as we type. The IPA is highly anticipated in these quarters, as is the "Special Edition" Festive Ale, albeit to a slightly lesser degree. Overall, let us just say that JW Dundee has become a viable choice for craft beer fans, especially those like us who tend to support local and regional products when the opportunity presents itself. Get yo' bad self a seasonal craft today!

Editor's note: Let it be known to all that we are actually at least passing fans of Genny Cream. It's good. Does not every man fancy a Screamer now and then?

From the News That May Interest Only Us Category:
JW Dundee joins aluminum bottle crowd

High Falls Brewing Co. has begun to package JW Dundee’s Honey Brown lager and American Pale Ale in flashy 16-ounce aluminum bottles as a single-serve product for bars, restaurants, groceries and convenience stores.

“We’re looking at this as a way for people to sample the product,” said High Falls Chief Executive Officer Tom Hubbard. “These are just more ways for us to gain the momentum of the craft line of products that we are offering.”

Sources: Great Lakes Brewing News, The Internet, Our Vast Knowledge

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Beerjanglin' Presents: Ripped From the Headlines!

CHICAGO, Illinois (Reuters) -- Could Irish coffee be the perfect drink?

Researchers report that drinking coffee cuts the risk of cirrhosis of the liver from alcohol -- by 22 percent per cup each day -- but they stopped short of saying doctors should prescribe coffee for that reason.

The report from the Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program in Oakland, California, was based on a look at data from 125,580 people.

"These data support the hypothesis that there is an ingredient in coffee that protects against cirrhosis, especially alcoholic cirrhosis," concluded the report published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

What could cause the apparent protective effect is not clear, the report said.

"Coffee is a complex substance with many potentially biologically active ingredients," the study said. "The fact that coffee is also frequently taken with added cream, milk, sugar or other substances adds more possibilities for health effects."

Other studies with similar findings have led to speculation that caffeine could play a role. However, the protective effect was not found among tea drinkers, though the authors said they were not nearly as numerous in the study as coffee users.

The report did not suggest alcohol users increase their coffee consumption or seek out drinks like Irish coffee that combine booze with coffee.

"Even if coffee is protective, the primary approach to reduction of alcoholic cirrhosis is avoidance or cessation of heavy alcohol drinking," the researchers said.

Copyright 2006 Reuters. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

More Than Half Empty

We guess that sentiment could be used to aptly describe the state of this blog lately. It was fast becoming another Toasted Blog?? No offense meant by that statement, of course, just sayin'. No excuses. Like Al Gore before us, we like to think we invented the 'blog. Sure, we had no idea what one was until about three years ago. And we never really did any blogging ourself, per se, other than the odd ten minutes here and there, but we did have a hand in a now defunct venture that helped to start the blogging revolution, and our opinions and perceptions are rarely fact based anyway. It's true, ask anyone. Were also not given to staying on topic for long. Suffice to say that it is time for another of our periodic overhauls. We've tried bitchy. We've experimented with gay and trashy, though it was just a faze. We've done periodic and random. We've been utterly dormant for months at time. We didn't often venture into the potential cyber-quicksand of feelings, but we may have visited there a time or twice. What say you we now attempt, at least for a spell to be a gathering place for fascinating tidbits on craft beers and the craft brewing scene? At least on a local and regional level. It will never work, you say? You are right, of course. But, if nothing else, maybe it will help keep all the good stuff we pick up from our beloved brewing publications straight for our own benefit. If nothing else, it ought to appeal to those who have been drinking, keep me on this dude's ever popular blogroll for a little longer, and ward off the bitterness for a bit. We know it won't appeal to everyone. After all, there will always exist the ignorant masses, the Bud drinkers, if you will. Or those who simply prefer the wholesome goodness that is a Genny Cream Ale. We might just talk a bit about Genny, though, and their fellow High Falls Brewing line,
JW Dundee's. For those who most enjor the cheap, inoffensive flavour of a can of Keystone Light we will be of little interest, but you can gloat about how much better your blog is. To each one's one. We are not here to judge. Well, we are judging, but it's mostly just the flavour of the beer. Mostly. Anyway, with a little luck and a little sticktoitiveness, we'll manage to stick with it through hefeweizen season and into pumpkin ale time!