Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Beerjanglin' Presents: Our Brewery O' The Month

We have turned back the clocks and left Election Day in the rear view already, but this month is far from over. Certainly not too late to declare Southern Tier Brewing Company as our brewery of the month for November.

Southern Tier has only been around since 2004, but has already earned its place as one of the up-and-coming craft breweries in the Northeast. With a very solid lineup of year-round offerings, a full stable of seasonals, and an ever growing number of "big beers," Southern Tier has something to offer every discriminating beer drinker. Over the next three weeks, we'll attempt to give you a little taste.

In the interest of full disclosure we shall now note that Southern Tier is something of a "hometown" beer for us. It's located just outside of Jamestown, New York (home of Lucille Ball, NFL commish Roger Goodell, and the 10,000 Maniacs!), about 30 minutes from where we grew up. Sure, we'd been gone for five years by the time the brewery opened, but it still tastes like home. Or at least like damned fine beer.

Southern Tier was started in 2004 by Ellicottville Brewing co-founder Allen Yahn and his stepson, Phin DeMink, who had brewed the first batch of beer made at Ellicottville before moving on to work at Goose Island in Chicago. DeMink moved back to Western New York and, in 2003, teamed up with his wife, Sara, and Yahn to buy the brewing equipment from the former Old Saddleback Brewing Company in Pittsfield, MA and got to work. There were a couple of missteps to start, namely the failure of the original "flagship" mild and pilsner, but their IPA went over pretty well, and Southern Tier was off and running.

According to the Brewers Association, Southern Tier has grown 140% since 2005, and was the 39th largest brewery in the United States in 2006 with sales of 6,000 barrels. Beer Advocate Magazine named them No. 35 of the top 50 breweries in all the land. Not bad for a three year old business located in a rural corner of economically depressed Upstate New York.

Brewery tours are offered on Saturdays at 4 pm and cost $8. This price seems to include generous amounts of beer at their tasting room, the Empty Pint Pub, which is open on Fridays from 4 - 8 pm and Saturdays from 2 - 8 pm. The Empty Pint recently added an outdoor beer garden and always has eight brewery fresh Southern Tier beers on tap, including Chautauqua Brew, an amber ale brewed as a tribute to the brewing history of the region and available exclusively at the brewery and select locations within the county. Southern Tier is a definite must-stop destination for craft beer fans who find themselves anywhere near Jamestown. You can even drop in after a visit to the Lucy museum. Kinda ridiculous that we haven't made it to either the brewery or the museum yet.

You can read a bit more on Southern Tier here and/or here.

Friday, November 02, 2007

The Session 9: Beer and Music

Well, this month's Session is upon us. The topic at hand is Beer and Music, and it comes to us from Tomme over at Lost Abbey, who poses this challenge:

For this session, I am looking towards my fellow bloggers to share a music and beer moment with. It could be that Pearl Jam show I attended 7 years ago where I was forced to drink 5 Coronas to stay warm. But more likely, it could be an album or song that you’re always listening to.


In thinking about this month’s Session, which is beer and music, I took some time out the other day when I shut most of my myriad daily distractions down – cut off the television, cut off the computer, and put away the extraneous reading material. I ambled over to my refrigerator, and popped open a bottle of Flying Bison Aviator Red (an Irish Red-style ale), and poured it into a pint-glass. The next step was to rifle through my CD collection. Upon finding my copy of Fleetwood Mac’s Greatest Hits, I was good to go. It was time for the Fleetwood Mac Hour.

The tradition of the Fleetwood Mac Hour dates back to the fall of 1998, when I was a Senior at Le Moyne College in Syracuse. Admittedly, then I was a bit less of a aficionado of good beer: I was indiscriminate in my consumption of a number of indistinguishable lagers, and my palate was as one-dimensional as a Fred Durst rap, ranging from Miller High Life to Natural Ice, and encompassing every Schmidt's, Schlitz, and Blatz along that spectrum. My roommate Jake and I used to, every now and then, take a break from the crazed goings-on of that year by taking a bit of time to sit down together in our dorm room. We’d grab cans of one of the aforementioned cheap lagers from the fridge, pop some Fleetwood Mac on the stereo (it was most assuredly uncool to love the Mac, but we’d found out that it was a shared guilty pleasure), and relax. Some days, we’d talk. Others, we’d just listen. It may seem like a simpler time now, but then, it felt rushed and ominously finite. This was our way of taking a break from that. I don’t think that our other friends had this particular ritual, but I know that others did something similar (my friend PJ still reminisces about a “Steely Dan Hour” that involved hot apple cider and Bacardi 151).

(Yes, there'd be times when other albums would creep in to this ritual: R.E.M.'s "Automatic For The People," Bob Dylan's "Highway 61 Revisited," and Jeff Buckley's "Grace" all got a spin at some time or another during these times - all of them singularly remarkable albums. But there was something about the Mac - as assuredly uncool as they were - that just seemed to fit nicely with what we needed to do. I wish I could put my finger on why.)

Now, though, the Fleetwood Mac Hour is a solitary pursuit. The switch from cans of cheap lager (far too often, it'd be Milwaukee’s Best Ice, which made Milwaukee’s Best seem subtle and refined in comparison) to good beer has been a welcome one. Flying Bison Aviator Red was a good match for this warm late-October day; malty and sweet with a subtle hop taste and a hint of something smoky – which I later found was roasted barley - it was a good bridge between the summer beers I’ve been drinking for a few months and the stouts and porters that will no doubt dominate my palate in the coming snowy season.

(Previous excursions into the Fleetwood Mac Hour - my solitary, almost meditative version of it - have been celebrated with different beers. I've been really lucky - I've tried new beers during these times and have been (by and large) really happy in taking risks. Whether it's Rock Art's Ridge Runner Ale (my new favorite barleywine, from a newly-discovered Vermont brewery) or a growler of Captain Lawrence's Liquid Gold, this is as good a time as any to try new beers.)

After taking the first sip of whatever it is that I've poured for myself, it’s time for the Mac. Track 1 sucks me in – “Rhiannon.” Next thing I know, I’m transported from my current-day worries, and I’m in full reminiscence mode. The tracks of the Mac’s “Greatest Hits” compilation serve as a highlight reel of great tune after great tune – “Go Your Own Way,” “Sara,” “Little Lies,” and “Say You Love Me.” Some great Fleetwood Mac songs are missing (Lindsey Buckingham’s poignant “Never Going Back Again,” from “Rumours,” for one), but never mind. The music’s main function is to help me relax, and it succeeds on every level.

Admittedly, when the disc is over, I’m already back – television blaring, computer up and running (when I can get my blasted laptop to work), copy of “GQ” magazine nearby, and the worries of the current day pulse through my frontal lobe incessantly. That being said, it’s nice to know that I can get a little bit of that serenity back into my life, even if it’s only for a little bit.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Two Minute Guide To: Old Chicago Pasta and Pizza

Old Chicago Pasta and Pizza
111 Wolf Road, Colonie NY [other locations nationwide]
(518) 435-8007
Open 7 days a week, 11:00 am – 1:00 am

Tap Selection: While Old Chicago may be a chain restaurant, its beer selection is most assuredly un-chainlike. One of Old Chicago’s features is a beer tour that offers a variety of rewards for consuming any number of different beers that they feature. While this does include a number of macrobrewed beers (Budweiser, Coors Light, and others of their ilk), the tap selection also included some imported craft brews (Hoegaarden), American microbrews (Boulder Brewing was featured, as was Long Trail), as well as some seasonals (Brooklyn’s Post Road Pumpkin Ale). A detailed beer list is available at each table, and a beer menu is available on their website.

Food: Despite the beer tour, this is a restaurant first and foremost. On our most recent visit, we decided to focus on Old Chicago’s self-ascribed specialty – pizza. We split a large Hawaiian deep-dish pizza; while the sauce and toppings were good, the crust was disappointingly un-deep-dish like. It was served in a pan, but it tasted a lot like a premade Domino’s crust, and was not tremendously thick. Disappointing. That being said, the menu itself looks promising, with a great variety of pasta and sandwiches in addition to pizza.

Ambience: The Wolf Road branch of Old Chicago is located in a former gym (“The Fitness Factory”). In what I would assume to be a direct connection to this, this Old Chicago restaurant looks like a chain restaurant that was built inside a gym. The ceiling looks like other area fitness centers, complete with industrial-looking vents and ducts that look like the ones at the heart of the Martin Lawrence movie “Blue Streak.” The rest of the space is standard chain-restaurant stuff – nothing fancy. Of particular note, though, is the game room – almost half of the space here is dedicated to an I-Play game room. We played skee-ball and mini-bowling when we were there – it was fun! That being said, the game room is separate enough from the restaurant that you can avoid spending time there if you so choose.

Vicinity: Old Chicago is located on Wolf Road, which is Albany’s main location for hotels and chain restaurants; this strip includes Outback Steakhouse, Olive Garden, Fuddrucker’s, and other chain eateries as well as a number of hotels, as well as the revamped Colonie Center shopping mall. Quite suburban and extremely family-friendly.

Specials: Old Chicago has two separate happy hours, one during the standard, end-of-the-workday time, and another late-night happy hour (10 pm to midnight)! Happy hours come with drink and food specials, including cheap appetizers (mini-portions of pizza and nachos) and a number of cheap draft beers (although not all are included in this deal, so check with your server).

Extras: We’re fans of the beer tour and the fact that you can – if you so choose – play skee-ball here.

Verdict: Pretty cool, you know, for a chain restaurant.