Intrepid freelancer D.G. Dunford continues his moving piece on the ever declining role that cheap, locally produced beer has played in the game of baseball. Read Part I here.
I was born in the in 1977, a time and place that brought the world both the Son of Sam serial killer and a Yankees World Series title. This title was the first in the new Yankee Stadium. Previous championships were won in the old , which was overhauled in 1973-75, and prominently featured signage from the Yankees' old beer sponsor: Ballantine Ale, which was brewed in nearby . Each of the other New teams had prominent sponsorships : the Brooklyn Dodgers were sponsored by NYC-based Schaefer (their logo was prominently displayed on the scoreboard, which was in play on the right-centerfield fence near a less-prominent but more famous sign that said, "Hit Sign, Win Suit"), the were sponsored by Knickerbocker, and Rheingold Beer advertised very heavily with the then-fledgling . It was possible, then, that if you lived in at this time, your brand loyalty with beer would also indicate the baseball team you supported.
Correlations between locally-brewed cheap beer were certainly not limited to . In , a pseudo-tank of Iron City Beer lay just beyond the outfield fence of the long since replaced Forbes Field. Not too many pictures of this exist. Apparently, if you squint really hard while looking at pictures of 's famed 1960 World Series-ending home run (which led the hometown Pirates over the Yankees), you can spot it. Cincinnati's Crosley Field's center-field scoreboard proudly displayed an advertisement for the regionally-brewed Hudepohl. (As an aside, we had some Hudepohl once. The year was 1998, the place was , and the price was right, 50 cents a glass. I don't know if I could give it a Beer Advocate-worthy breakdown, though).
On the , the minor-league Pacific Coast League served as a primary baseball outlet for fans of the game who didn't have major league baseball teams and stadiums until the late 1960s and early 1970s. One of the teams in this league played in . The name of the team? The Rainiers. The team shared their name with the iconic locally-brewed cheap beer, although (to be fair) both took their nickname from the nearby mountain range, so a direct correlation cannot be established. However, you could definitely drink a Rainier while sitting in the stands and watching the Rainiers.
The relationships between locally-brewed cheap beers and baseball weren't limited to the pre-1970 era of baseball, although that is certainly the "boom" time for this relationship. When returned to with the Orioles team in 1953, the team was owned by Jerrold Hofberger, the owner of the National Bohemian brand of beer, who purchased the team from and moved the team from . The Orioles subsequently were affiliated with "Natty Bo" (and their wonderful, winking mascot) until the team's ownership passed to onetime Jimmy Hoffa lawyer Edward Bennett Williams in 1979.
Today, most major-league ballparks feature Budweiser, , or Miller products. The play in , which is technically named after a locally-brewed cheap beer, but when one "heads for the mountains of Busch," as the advertisements once sang, they're heading for a beer that's available on a national level. Additionally, the and play in stadiums that reflect area brewers ( and Miller, respectively), but these brands of beer are, again, too national to qualify. There is one exception, however; the feature Old Style Beer at , and have since 1950; while Old Style is now owned by the Pabst Brewing Company and brewed by Miller, we'll give them a pass for the sake of this piece because, well, it's a cheap beer that is brewed and marketed locally (within 100 miles of the ballpark) and despite the changes in ownership, there have been effortswithin the Chicagoland area to maintain the tradition of Old Style ingeneral. Also, despite Budweiser's efforts to sway the Cubs with sponsorship dollars, you can still get a fresh pour of Old Style at Wrigley and that's a pretty cool thing.
As I write this in 2007, almost every major-league Baseball team has made a conscious effort to position themselves with retro-styling. The majority of uniforms hearken back to old-school styles, and new ballparks across the country, from to and everything in between, are styled to look like the Crosley and Forbes Fields of yonder days. But those quirky relationships between teams and locally-brewed cheap beers are all but gone, and probably will never return. Ah, well.
Saturday, June 30, 2007
Intrepid freelancer D.G. Dunford continues his moving piece on the ever declining role that cheap, locally produced beer has played in the game of baseball. Read Part I here.
Friday, June 29, 2007
Intrepid freelance reporter D.G. Dunford has had this piece "brewing" in his mind for several months now. He even did some research on it! Some would say this research includes well over a decade of drinking cheap beer out of cans, and nearly three decades of infatuation with the game of baseball. It turned out to be so epic that we had to split it into two parts.
In 1979, then-United States President Jimmy Carter signed a law that repealed federal restrictions on small-batch home brewing. This law cleared the way for microbreweries to gain a serious market share in today's beer economy; according to the national Brewer's Association, there are currently 2,000 breweries in these United States, 1,400 of which are classified as "craft brewers" (independent breweries that produce fewer than two million barrels of beer per year).
What does this mean? Well, first, it means that a beer blog such as this one has its work cut out for it, 1,400 craft breweries means a lot of sampling and writing. However, I'd like to focus on one of the less obvious ramifications of this act, the lessened restrictions on small-batch home brewing changed the way that brewing occurred on a regional level. Between this shift and the triumph of marketing achieved in the 1980s by major brewing behemoths and Miller (which was in and of itself furthered along by eased federal restrictions on television marketing of alcoholic beverages), the last three decades have witnessed the slow decline of a once-great American tradition: the locally brewed cheap beer.
How to define the locally brewed cheap beer? You'd know it if you saw it. It comes in cans, and can generally be found alongside national cheap beers like Busch (an A-B product), Milwaukee's Best, and Pabst Blue Ribbon (both produced by Miller). It's the kind of beer that, by its very presence on the shelves, reassures you that you're close to home. Previous posts in this blog have discussed two pretty solid examples of locally brewed cheap beer; Utica Club, a lager brewed by the FX Matt Brewery of Utica, New(a mere 70 miles away from the Capital Region of ), and Genesee Cream Ale (a favorite of many of ours from way back, brewed at High Falls Brewery near Rochester, ).
Over the past few years, after a decades-long decline in popularity and consumption, some cheap beers have seen a resurgence of sorts; spearheaded by a hipster-led desire to drink cheaply and ironically, brands like Pabst Blue Ribbon have achieved a sort of credibility and have been seemingly re-energized by a new consumer base. However, from all appearances, this has only been occurring with brands that have support on a national level, like the aforementioned Pabst as well as brands like Hamm's and Rainier which are produced by Miller. Ultimately, despite this ironic resurgence, it seems as though the locally brewed cheap beer is dying a slow, painful death, replaced by nationally brewed cheap beer and locally-brewed craft brewing. While we generally think that this is a good thing, we have some sad feelings, as there is a character that locally-brewed cheap beer has that can't really be replicated. For this freelance reporter, that character is inherently tied to our national pastime, baseball.
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
Next up in our storied Quest For the Perfect Can is Snapperhead IPA from Butternuts Beer & Ale, a brewery housed in an old dairy barn in rural Garratsville, not all that far from Cooperstown. Butternuts was founded by a couple of guys from the now defunct Long Island Brewing company. They started shipping Porkslap Pale Ale and Heinnieweisse (a Hefeweizen) in March 2006. Snapperhead followed in the fall, and rumour has it that a milk stout, the exquisitely named Moo Cow Thunder, was released at that time as well, though we are yet to see it make an appearance in any of our local beer stores.
We've had a soft spot for Butternuts beers since they were first introduced. They are a small, somewhat local operation, they brew only in kegs and cans, and they have a certain chutzpah that we totally dig. It must also be mentioned that Butternuts makes their beers available at very reasonable prices: $5.99 to $6.99 for six, which is something that we wholeheartedly support. The problem is that the beers just aren't great, in our experience. We've tried the Porkslap Pale and Heinnieweisse a few times from a can, and it's just okay. Not bad, but not something you'd ever crave or bestow with the incredibly prestigious award on the line here. Snapperhead seems to fall into that same "solid" category. We were a little worried when we cracked the first can from this officialy sanctioned contest sixer, because the cans all seemed a bit too giving to the touch, as if they might have been compromised in some dark, islolated corner of a warehouse somewhere. They were also drizzled with a thin sheen of concentrated cola-esque syrupy goo. Welcome to flavour country, indeed. The first taste put to rest our fears of a beer gone bad. Despite the odd "softness" of the cans, it poured with a healthy head that disappeared quickly, leaving behind a fine glass of orange coloured, if not all that strongly hopped, India Pale Ale. Having sampled it a few times previously and already consumed five of the six official contest cans, we can say with some certainty that it makes for a pretty solid drinker, and the price is quite agreeable. Butternuts beers are still not what we'd like them to be, though they might offer some better qualities on draught. Sadly, a Butternuts brew on draft is something that we are yet to see, and one that, logically, given the brewers' Long Island roots, seems to be concentrated more in the metro New York area. Too bad, as it might be the ultimate litmus test of just how good these beers actually are. Perhaps a visit to the brewery itself is in order, eh?
Contender: Snapperhead IPA
Style: American India Pale Ale
ABV: (oddly, not revealed - we'll guess it at) 6%
Price: $6.99 for six 12 oz. cans
Verdict: Economic cooler filler
Monday, June 25, 2007
Sure, we've been to Valentine's Music Hall and Beer Joint. Once. It was to see a last minute Camper Van Beethoven show. We arrived quite early, the better to squeeze in a couple of pre-concert libations, and remember being pretty surprised by their beer selection. Valentine's is a grungy little two story club on New Scotland Avenue, near Washington Park. The first floor is mostly a bar, a dirty floor and a small stage. There is a slightly smaller bar, an equally dirty floor and slightly larger stage upstairs. The slogan on their web site is "blow it out your ass", so it seems a safe assumption that they aren't catering to an upscale clientele or competing with Mahar's for beer snob customers. We enjoyed the place, but haven't been back in a few years. No particular reason for this absence comes to mind, other than the fact that most of their acts tend to be the angry, aggressive rock of the disaffected youth. We're plenty angry, but hardly aggressive, disaffected or youthful. Anyway, Valentine's has a pretty sweet happy hour. The details:
Sure we carry Bud, Coors Light, Heineken, etc., etc., this is America, we have to.
But we also offer up excellent micro brews, seasonals on tap and in a bottle and regional specialties. We have a happy hour every Thursday and Friday that stretches from 3pm-8pm and every tap is $2.50. You can't beat that I can't repeat that. Here's a partial list of the goods:
..and in cans Pabst Blue Ribbon and of course Schaefer, the official beer of The Valentines.
Apparently, it's also a Met's bar. How very intriguing - gotta like the attitude, and a solid beer list to boot. We plan on checking it out and (of course) reporting our findings, soon.
Saturday, June 23, 2007
As long as we're on the subject of the sad demise of regional macros...
We visited Saratoga Spa State Park today for a bit of bike riding. It has been a very pleasant, if not overly warm, day, and we had a fine time. Afterward, we were able to sneak in a couple of pints at Olde Saratoga while faithful companion hit the mall. They put on a fresh keg of White Hawk IPA while we were there, and it was truly fantastic. The piney smell of the hops was very present, and it just seemed to explode with a pleasing bitterness on the tongue. Whoo! We'll say it again: this is one of the most underrated beers out there.
Anyway, while in the tasting room, we happened to strike up a conversation with someone who'll we will call an industry insider with a strong knowledge of New York State beers. Here is some of what we learned and/or discussed:
- Genny Cream is an underrated beer, and the Genny "screamers" myth has been scientifically disproven. And that is a scientific fact! It is very similar in composition to the long lamented Genesee 12 Horse Ale and is thought of by some in the know as "the micro of the macros". Look no further than Clark's Ale House for proof of this. We make a solemn vow, here and now, to drink more Genny Cream.
- Corona is a terrible beer.
- High Falls does a ton of contract brewing for Sam Adams, as in almost a third of all Sam Adams' beer. At least for now.
- Genesee Red and it's first cousin, Michael O'Shea's Irish Amber have, sadly, been discontinued due to lack of strong sales. Which were, in turn, probably due to lack of strong marketing.
- High Falls is the second largest brewer in NYS, while Saranac is third. The gap between them, however, is cavernous. Saranac does barely half the volume that High Falls does.
- The J. W. Dundee line is pretty solid and should sell better than it does. With the exception, perhaps, of Honey Brown.
- There is no good reason for the state of the Greater Capital Region beer scene. The bar scene is quite healthy, thanks. Now, how 'bout some better beer in those bars, people?
We visited a local downtown tavern, the Shamrock Pub, last weekend for the express purpose of enjoying some of their Utica Club on draught. It was fresh, and very good for what it was; a crisp, refreshing, light yellow lager with a bit more flavour than the adjoining Bud or Busch taps could ever hope to offer. The only reason it is offered is that the owner is a nostalgic sort. He once spent nearly forty five minutes trying to show us that his 50's era Budweiser tavern lamps were still in working order (they weren't, at least on that occasion). He came in after we had been there awhile, and was noticeably beaming when he saw that we were enjoying the beer he had made an extra effort to make available to his customers. He said that U.C. is difficult to get, and he has to pay the same as he does for a keg of Budweiser, meaning he has to charge $2 a pint. It is difficult to get people to drink it anyway, even among the 50 and over set that tends to frequent the place and should gravitate toward a beer that was so popular in their youth.
Utica is only about an hour from here, but finding an opportunity to "join the club" is a rare thing, to say the least. Saranac products made by the same brewer, F.X. Matt, in the same facility, are not uncommon, but the Shamrock is the only place we can think of that offers draught Utica Club. Bomber's Burrito Bar in Albany used to offer it among their dozen or so taps, but has recently switched to offering it in cans only. Slick's Tavern ("Famous for sandwiches since 1974") used to offer Matt's, the "premium" cousin to U.C., as one of their two draught options until a couple of years ago when, according to Slick's owner Mike Naumoff, it became impossible for him to get when his distributor dropped Matt's from their portfolio of beers. Not one to give up so easily, Naumoff offered to drive the 70 miles to Utica and pick up the kegs himself. He was given a long, convoluted explanation as to why this could not be allowed. It involved, among other things, state liquor laws, the three tiered distribution system, global warming and the fall of Communist Russia. He relented, and switched to Rheingold. Then Molson Export. Pabst Blue Ribbon currently occupies the "economy" tap at Slick's. Regulars have adapted, but another small piece of our heritage crumbled that day.
We were thinking of the plight of Utica Club and Matt's as we read this story on the demise of another popular beer of that era, Schaefer. "The one beer to have when you're having more than one" was founded in Brooklyn in 1842, and was for a time the most popular draught beer in the country. At it's height, it was brewed in Broolyn, Baltimore, Cleveland and Albany. The brand has stumbled in recent years, first being brewed by Stroh's, then Pabst, and now Miller, and largely becoming an afterthought. Any day now, the last draught's of Schaeffer will be served up in the Northeast. It will still be brewed by Miller and available in cans, but it won't be the same. Maybe it hasn't been the same for years. Still, something makes us want to go out and enjoy a couple pints of that Utica Club while we still can.
Thursday, June 21, 2007
While we did not attend the Third Annual Microbrewery Festival and Contest, held as part of Lobsterfest '07 on Saturday, June 9, in Albany's Washington Park, we would be ignoring our journalistic oath were we not to report the results of said festival - as reported in the Albany Times Union - to you, dear reader. Ten local and regional breweries participated (sadly Chatham Brewing was not among them). The weather was warm and sunny, and there was a healthy turnout of over 800 people. That seems to be a good sign. That means the microbrew festival grossed somewhere in the neighbourhood of $16,000 to $20,000, which can't be a bad thing. Beers were divided into three overly simplistic categories - Light, Dark and Specialty.
- Adirondack Pub & Brewery
- Brewery Ommegang
- Brown's Brewing Company
- Butternuts Beer and Ale
- C.H.Evans/Albany Pump Station
- Great Adirondack
- Keegan Ales
- Lake Placid Pub & Brewery
- Mendocino Brewing Company
- Saranac/F.X. Matt
- Pump Station Pale Ale - Pump Station
- Ausable Wulff Red Ale - Great Adirondack
- Black Eye Ale - Old Saratoga
- Saranac Black Forest - Saranac
- Snapperhead IPA - Butternuts Brewing
- Evans Wit - Pump Station
- Lake Placid IPA (aka Frostbite) - Lake Placid
- Special Bitter - Brown's Brewing Company
Evans Wit - Pump Station
Big Bear Imperial Brown - Great Adirondack
Certainly a nice showing from the Pump Station, which took home two first place trophies as well as best in show. Awards were decided by a panel of judges certified by the Beer Judge Certification Program, an independent, nonprofit organization of judges. This really seems to be a nice little event, and one that provides great exposure for the participating breweries. Maybe we will check it out one of these years.
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
We sent sometime freelancer D.G. Dunford on another beer mission, and this time we rode shotgun! Actually, it was a little day trip to Bash Bish Falls State Park just across the border in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The Western part of Mass is surprisingly tolerable; the falls proved quite scenic and worth the trip. It was hot, though, and the 1/2 mile hike down a very steep, winding and rock strewn incline to the falls made for a powerful thirst in a man. The climb back up only served to exacerbate the situation. Providentially, the town of Chatham, New York happened to be on our way home...
Chatham is a charmingly preserved small town that is, perhaps, a bit too popular with folks of the Downstate persuasion. Chatham Brewing is located right on Main Street, just behind Ralph's Pretty Good (though mildly overpriced) Cafe. Since they don't have a proper tasting room just yet, we were "forced" to sample their wares at the Peint o Gwrw, a Welsh pub about three doors down on Main. Following in bold is sometime freelancer D.G. Dunford earning his keep, with our comments in italics:
The IPA, given my small sample, was quite delicious. It had a complex bitterness that was genuinely appreciated, and a smooth, refreshing finish.
This was a very, very solid IPA. Really fresh, crisp and well balanced. We'd have probably enjoyed it more, but it disappeared too quickly for some mysterious reason. It could have used a little bit more in the hops department, but we'd take this on tap anywhere, any time we could get it.
The Porter was dark, almost chocolatey in nature - it was served ice-cold, and while it might have benefitted from warming up, went down nice and easy on this summer's day. This was my favorite of the three, and I'll be interested to try it again, perhaps having let it sit awhile on an autumn's day.
Chatham's Porter won a bronze at Tap NY in April, and there is no doubt as to whether it was deserving. This immediately joined the ranks of the best porters we've ever sampled. Not to geek out, but this had incredible depth. It had flavours of coffee, chocolate, caramel, toffee, you name the tasty adjective, but without being too busy, too sweet, or losing its identity. It was creamy smooth, but with a little bitter snap to it. Can't wait to have it again. Amazing beer.
As for the Amber. Wow. For what might be the first time in my entire life, I didn't finish a beer. I've had some terrible beers before, but this took the cake. You know the verbiage with which the "Anchorman" characters describe Brian Fantana's "sex panther" cologne? This was similar to that; pure gasoline, diaper filled with Indian food, reminiscent of the member of Bigfoot - the whole nine yards. This beer reeked of vinegar. There was much speculation as to whether it was a bad batch or a bad line at the Peint o'Gwrw, but honestly, it shouldn't matter - when the brewery is a mere hundred or so yards away from the tap, there should be better quality control.
Yuck. This beer had a buttery/diacetyl/Summer's Eve thing going on. Something went horribly wrong. Horribly, horribly wrong.
All in all, Chatham has potential - not bad for a brewery that has been in operation for less than six months, but certainly there is work to be done before they expand...
We're very impressed overall and look forward to visiting the actual brewery. This region really needs a few more good, local beers with broad availability - we've got a long way to go to even be in the same neighbourhood as Syracuse. We're chalking the amber disaster up as pure anomaly and hoping for more good things from Chatham Brewing.
Monday, June 18, 2007
Very appropriately, our first contender in the Quest for the Perfect Can is the granddaddy of canned craft beer, Dale's Pale Ale from Oskar Blues Brewery in Lyons, Colorado. These guys declared that the "canned beer apocalypse is upon us" as they began to package their "big, beefy beers" into cans two at a time on a tabletop canning machine way back in November of 2002. Here you'll find a pretty good Wall Street Journal article from 2005 on the subject. It is also interesting to note how quickly things have changed in the two years since that story was published. Anyway, it may not exactly qualify as the apocalypse, but production has grown by 1200% (that is no typo) since then, and their main beers, Dale's Pale and Old Chub Scottish Ale have consistently won rave reviews. Pretty impressive stuff, and that is without making mention of the many other brewers who have followed Oskar Blues' aluminum lined trail over the past five years.
On to the quest. We've tried Dale's on several occasions previously, both on draught and from the can that made it famous. And a handsome can it is; deep royal blue background with snappy red trim and silvery mountains. It vaguely calls to mind the look of our favourite pop (soda to the ignorant) can, Royal Crown Cola, which is never a bad thing. But the beer is the thing here, and that's where this one has always left us wanting a bit more. It pours a pretty copper color, with plenty of head and a pleasing hop aroma. The flavour, while well balanced, comes across a bit "soft" to us, like the edges were rounded off and filed down so as not to offend any pallet. The first couple of times, we chalked that characteristic up to the beer having aged a bit on its journey from the Rockies, as in our experience a little age will sometimes take the bite out of a pale ale or IPA. After this many tastings, however, we've begun to suspect that that is simply what this beer is - a very good, but hardly great - American Pale Ale. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
Contender: Dale's Pale Ale, Oskar Blues Brewery
Style: American Pale Ale
ABV: 6.5% ABV
Price: $8.99 for six 12 oz. cans
Verdict: Solid (if unexciting) possibility
Sunday, June 17, 2007
In our brief stint of beer
snobbery advocacy we have found ourselves having a love/apathy relationship with the beers of the Rogue Brewing Company, located in Newport, Oregon. There is so much we have appreciated -- notably from a marketing standpoint -- and much to which we have met with indifference, or even mild disapproval.
The first Rogue sample we had was in approximately 1999 when we acccompanied co-worker John Taylor to the Blue Tusk after a hard day of restocking videos and quoting Steve Buscemi movies. John had always referred to us a "rogue" whenever we said something particularly irreverent, so when we saw that the Tusk had a brew called "Rogue Dead Guy," it was a no-brainer. Back then, of course, we were used to the fizzy, piss-yellow beer of our youth, and weren't ready for a brew with such a dark and alcohol-heavy punch.
From a marketing and labeling perspective, we have always been an admirer of Rogue's labels with thematic screen-prints with one hand filled with a mug of beer, the other hand raised victoriously. And we have gone deep into their library to sample many of their brews, some we've really liked (Brutal Bitter) and some ... well we appreciated the effort at least (the adveturous Chipotle Ale).
But over the last month, there have been two of the Rogue's gallery that have truly impressed us.
The first is the St. Rogue Red Ale, an outstanding amber. We have always been ambivalent about ambers, moreso than we have been with Rogue. Ambers have generally turned us off due to that bitter German malt bite at the end (think Killian's). But this brew has none of the bitterness, and so much more. The color is an impeccably deep red hue ("it's got a fine cheek") and a beautiful, rich lacing.
The malt smell isn't the usual bitterness we're used to. Instead it's a rich, subtly roasted aroma; dry but with a hint of molasses. And even some of that pale ale malt smell that isn't usually associated with such a dark brew. And as for the taste .... well, you aren't going to get a lot of hops in this one, but you will get a deep, rich ale flavor with that dry and biscuity malt the style deserves. The hints of caramel and molasses add that slightly sweet punch to the otherwise subtle brew. It's possibly the smoothest red/amber ale we've ever had.
The other outstanding brew we were so fortunate to encounter was Rogue's Younger's Special Bitter, an authentic English Bitter, perfectly dovetailing with our current Anglophilia. Younger's is more along the lines of a true English ale, dark yellow, thick (almost chunky) looking with a big, frothy head. The smell is only slightly bitter, with more of that dry biscuity English smell. Like the St. Rogue's, it's also nutty and roasted in the aroma.
The taste is perfectly dry and ale-like. It has a slight accent of hops, and even a bit of apricot. Other than that, it's very mild, but incredibly delicious. As it warms up it gains a tiny bit of pungent sourness, just a bit to add another dimension. It leaves that wonderful film at the end so you can enjoy it for a few minutes more.
Rogue continues to be a rather hit-or-miss affair at times, but with quality brews like this holding down the fort, we will be far more willing to take a chance on any other of their attractive 22oz bottle that comes down the pike.
Saturday, June 16, 2007
Now that summer is fully upon us, it means that plenty of outdoor activities are in order. We'd naively like to think that much hiking and biking will be among said activities. One thing that is surely on the agenda is a visit or two to the historic Saratoga Race Course. It just wouldn't be summer without spending at least one full day getting a second degree sunburn and losing money hand over fist on ill informed trifecta wagers on the ponies. A thoroughly enjoyable way to waste a day, to be sure. One of the most wonderful things about the track at Saratoga is that you are allowed to bring in a cooler full of your favourite foods and beverages. The only fly in the ointment, as it were, is the track's fairly firm ban on glass containers. Luckily, more and more craft beers are available in cans, with approximately 20 craft brewers putting out at least some of their products in aluminum. New technologies enable beer to be canned more inexpensively than ever, and without the "tinny" taste so often associated with the pale yellow, fizzy, swill put out by the big boys. Cans are also impervious to light, cheaper and easier to transport. We told you previously about New England Brewing's delightfully offbeat Sea Hag IPA. Our plan is to introduce several more contenders in our Quest for the Perfect Can (QPC) before the races start at Saratoga in late July. The ideal candidate will be readily available, interesting on repeated tasting, and agreeable to steady consumption in an environment that includes hot sun and heavy monetary losses. Come to think of it, cost may be a deciding factor as well. Developing...
Friday, June 15, 2007
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.
Thursday, June 14, 2007
It ain't on Cape Cod, we know that much. Not sure how the newest area brewery has escaped our attention to this point, but an investigation is certainly in order. Chatham Brewing is a small production brewery on Main Street in Chatham, New York, about 30 miles southeast of Albany. It opened back in February, and they are currently making an IPA, a porter and an amber ale. All beers are brewed "in the British tradition," and are unfiltered. There is no tasting room yet, but they do offer growler hours on Fridays and Saturdays, and all three beers are on tap at Peint o Gwrw, Chatham's only Welsh pub (the name means pint of ale). The porter must be pretty good, as it won at bronze medal at TAP NY in April.
We visited the Peint o Gwrw a couple of years back and we liked it plenty well. The main room was low, long and full of dark wood, and it had an old-style tin ceiling. We sampled several good beers on draught and ate copious amounts of cheese. Despite our Welsh heritage, we know far too little about the pubs of Wales. Some say this one feels pretty authentic. We've been talking about heading back to the Peint o Gwrw for entirely too long, and now we have another reason to make that trip soon. Chatham Brewing plans to offer seasonal beers in addition to the three current staples, and will hopefully be distributing their kegs to reputable establishments in the Mid-Hudson Valley and Capital Region by later this summer. For now, we're willing to travel just a bit to satisfy our curiosity.
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
We sent D.G. Dunford, our sometime freelance correspondent, to check out this very intriguing New York State brewery that recently celebrated its first anniversary. He's a good man, and thorough. Plus, we got this sweet pint glass out of it.
I wish I could clearly recall the circumstances under which I was introduced to the wares of the Captain Lawrence Brewing Company. I'm mostly sure that I had my first pint of their delicious Smoked Porter at downtown Albany's Lionheart Tavern, and I can say with near-certainty that I was introduced to their Liquid Gold Belgian-style at the Troy tavern known as Holmes & Watson. Regardless of my introduction to the beer, I was quickly able to decide immediately that this was a brewery that does good work. As the fates would have it, I was able to squeeze in a visit to Captain Lawrence's brewery towards the beginning of a weekend-long jaunt up and down the Northeastern corridor of these United States. The brewery only opens for tasting twice a week, three hours on Friday afternoons and six hours on Saturdays. Through divine intervention and/or Google Maps, I was able to get to the Friday tasting, accompanied by my surly, Keystone-loving younger brother.
Captain Lawrence's headquarters are far from fancy. They're located in the pretty posh town of (for the sake of comparison, it should be noted that the Clinton family lives just down the road). However, their headquarters are in an industrial section of town, adjacent to some facilties management offices of Pace University. It's pretty unobtrusive, you pretty much have to know about it to get there.
The owner and brewer of Captain Lawrence is Scott Vaccaro, an area resident who graduated from the beer making program at the University of California at Davis and worked for 6 years at before returning east to pursue other opportunities, which led to eventually deciding to start Captain Lawrence (a brewery which is named after the street on which he grew up in nearby South Salem, NY). Also, and this was astounding to me, Vaccaro has yet to reach his 29th birthday. He's a young'un.
The tasting room at Captain Lawrence is intimate without being cramped or cozy. There is not an abundance of seating, three tables at best, and the room is painted the same shade of light green which can be found on their label. There is an open space in the wall, a windowless window, as it were, which looks out onto their spacious brewing area. (There were tours available, but we weren't able to partake this visit). Posters on the wall and a beautiful, well-lit tasting bar made this a very appealing place to enjoy some samples.And enjoy some samples we did. They had four beers on tap (FreshchesterPale Ale, Captain's Reserve Imperial IPA, and the aforementioned Liquid Gold and Smoked Porter). The sample sizes were generous, about 4 ounces each, and I began to taste.
First up was the Captain's Reserve Imperial IPA, and holy cow, this might have been one of the best "strong beers" that I've had ever. The initial taste of hops - a dominant one - was soon followed by a smooth malt taste. The hops were extremely pleasant, but didn't linger on the palate by the time I was finished with a sip. This was really, really interesting, and the 1-2 punch of hops and malt made every sip refreshing and flavorful. Next up was the Liquid Gold [it's a Belgian Pale - Ed.]. This could be described as a "light beer," with a slight citrus hint and a taste not particularly dominated by hops or malt. That doesn't sound like much, really, but holy cow, this was really, really good too. Even my younger brother, who doesn't generally drink anything without mountains on the can, agreed, this and the Double IPA were really, really good beers. The Freshchester Pale was a solid, understated pour, nowhere near as spectacular as the first couple of beers. It was extremely reminiscent of , which makes a lot of sense when you consider Vaccaro's background. My last sample was the Pleasantville Smoked Porter, which I cannot say enough about. The smoked flavoring does not seem remotely artificial to the process, and compliments the natural roasted taste of what tasted like coffee and malt quite nicely. I walked away with a growler of Liquid Gold for $12, and purchased a couple of pint glasses as well. Other merchandise was available. I cannot recommend this brewery enough. When 3 of the 4 beers are as good as the the Double IPA, Smoked Porter, and Liquid Gold are, you can tell that there is a bright, bright future ahead for Captain Lawrence.
Editor's Note: Captain Lawrence won the Matthew Vassar Brewer's Cup for Best Craft Brewery in the Hudson Valley, and their Imperial IPA won the Gold Medal as best individual craft beer in New York State, at TAP New York in 2006. Pretty impressive, especially for a first year brewery. TAP is one of the biggest (and probably the best) beer festivals in NYS. We've liked everything we have heard and tried from this place. It just might be a visit we need to make in person. The brewery is open for tours, tastings and sales on Fridays from 4 - 7, and Saturdays from 12 - 6.
Monday, June 11, 2007
Thousand Islands Pale Ale is among the robust stable of contract brews at the underrated Olde Saratoga Brewing Company. It is our opinion that Sackets Harbor brewing for themselves (and possibly picking up some other contract business) will be a very good thing for all involved. During our last visit to Olde Saratoga, their usually broad range of 8 - 10 available drafts was rapidly shrinking, and had been reduced to only oatmeal stout by the time we took our leave. This facility is the fourth largest brewery in New York, and the gentleman tending bar claimed that he had never seen beer supply in such short, umm...supply. They were brewing in two shifts and shipping beer out as fast as they could make it. Adding more contract business shouldn't be a problem if either brewery so desires, and it would be great to see both gain more of a regional foothold with their own brands. Olde Saratoga has quickly become one of our favourite beer destinations. It doesn't hurt that the basic set up is just like any normal bar, or that they have the cheapest place to get a decent beer in the Spa City. Click here for a pretty interesting history of the brewery.
Update: We visited Olde Saratoga's tasting room on Friday night, and the situation had improved greatly since last we graced the premises. They had eleven beers on. including a solid wheat beer from the
Saratoga Thoroughbrews homebrewing club An interesting beer, no doubt, but more interesting that they would let homebrewers put something on tap - very cool. They also had a Dopplebock that they are doing for Dock Street Brewing of Philadelphia. Dock Street is an interesting story. Technically speaking, they have been around for more than twenty years and were a player in the craft beer revolution of the 1990's. We seem to remember, from a tour we did at F.X. Matt about ten years ago, that Saranac was doing some brewing for Dock Street at that time. Since then, the Philadelphia beer scene has exploded, while Dock Street changed owners a couple of times and slowly faded to the point that they went out of business. According to the gentleman we spoke to at Olde Saratoga, however, the original owners bought back the rights to the name a couple years ago. They hooked up with a veteran of the brewing industry who "has to be about 80," started a brewpub in Philly, and have had several beers contract brewed for them. Olde Saratoga is doing the flagship Philadelphia Amber, as well as the Illuminator Dopplebock that we tried. It's a deep amber colour with a sweet, malty scent. The thin mouthfeel means that the strength of both the flavour and alcohol are somewhat masked up front. By the time the beer was finished, both the malt complexity and the 9% ABV became more apparent. A nice beer to try, though more than one might be pushing it. It is choices like this that always make visits to the Olde Saratoga tasting room fun.
Friday, June 08, 2007
We will actually be the first to admit that we are going through a rather unusual "English Ale" phase right now. The porters of winter and the imperial IPAs of last autumn have ebbed, and will likely rise again, but currently we are experiencing a bit of an affinity for the subtle, balanced ales, ostensibly perfected by our neighbors across the Atlantic. We suspect that this affinity for the English style is perhaps subconsciously concurrent with our obsession with all things English (we just finished watching the first season of Fawlty Towers on DVD of all things), yet we digress.
Enter Gritty McDuff's, a heretofore slightly average (in this critic's eyes) brewery based in Portland, Maine. Granted, I had only had two of their other brews -- The Black Fly Stout and the Christmas Ale -- neither of which are particular favorite "genres" of ours. Now maybe it was the lowered expectations, but I found this beer to be a really excellent session brew, with a little something for everyone.
First of all, it just looks like an English ale. Flat and warm. Well, not really, but there is no pillowy head, no deep dark haze. In other words, no gimmicks. It isn't trying to wow you with flashing lights while it serves up a mediocre brew.
Then there is the flavor. Oh the glorious flavor. It's actually one of the more versatile brews I've had in a while. It would be just as welcome on a hot summer Saturday by the pool as it would watching the snow fall at Clark's Ale House on a Tuesday evening. It's light, yet substantial. It's dry, yet utterly thirst-quenching.
The hops are strictly an accent to the dry, biscuity malt flavor. No bitterness, no bite. Easy to drink: sip, finish, repeat. The hops that do come to the forefront are slightly sweet and with a flowery character. They are a perfect complement to the understated malt.
Technically, I do suppose this is actually an American Pale Ale, but rather than having that distinctive pale malt with a dash of hops, it has more of the English style. Even the label (shown above) conjures up the merriment of an English pub. The scary part is, this is apparently twice as good on-tap, and I had it out of a bottle.
Get out there and try one. You know you can trust us.
Thursday, June 07, 2007
The Third Annual Microbrewery Festival and Contest will be held as part of Lobsterfest '07 on Saturday, June 9, in Albany's Washington Park. The details:
Microbrewery Festival and Contest Schedule:
- 2 - 6 pm: Beer Tasting
- 5 pm: Judging and Presentations
Advance Sale $20
Day of Event $25
Click Here to purchase tickets online
Must be 21 years of age. Proof of age required. Limit 1 ticket per person. Ticket entitles holder to a souvenir beer tasting cup and three different samplings from each microbrewery.
Purchase tickets online until Friday, June 8 at 8 pm.
Day of event, limited tickets will be available at Lobster Festival Information Booth (cash, checks with I.D., Visa and MasterCard accepted) Or at Microbrewery Tent (cash only).
Live Entertainment in the Microbrewery Tent 2 - 6 pm
- 2:00 to 3:30 PM: FLAME
- 3:00 to 4:00 PM: Short Circuit
- 4:00 to 5:00 PM: FLAME
- 5:00 to 6:00 PM: Short Circuit
- Adirondack Pub & Brewery
- Brewery Ommegang
- Brown's Brewing Company
- Butternuts Beer and Ale
- C.H.Evans/Albany Pump Station
- Great Adirondack
- Keegan Ales
- Lake Placid Pub & Brewery
- Mendocino Brewing Company
- Saranac/F.X. Matts
I went to it last year. It was pretty good but there were some disappointments. There were about 15 breweries or so and they each had three beers. They were supposed to have a light, a dark, and one in the middle but they kind of each brought what they had. You get a card when you get there and you can basically try a 3-4 oz sample of each beer once. At the end, you can vote for your favorite.
As, for the disappointments, Ommegang was there but didn't have Three Philosophers with them. Bummer. Also, the setup kind of sucks with a tent outdoors and very little seating or tables. The ground ended up getting kind of nasty too.
I'll probably go again this year though.
Apparently, Sackets Harbor Brewing Company is part of some sort of North Country juggernaut of hotels and restaurants (which also includes hometown favourite Jreck Subs). To this point, they have existed as a brewpub only, and have had their beers contract brewed at Olde Saratoga Brewing. They already have a pretty strong following for 1812 Amber Ale and the aforementioned Thousand Islands Pale, and had a pretty decent run with Funny Cide Light a couple years back. They plan to break ground on the new $4,000,000 brewery this summer, and should have sufficient capacity to take on some contract business of their own, which can only mean good things for CNY and the North Country. In other exciting news, Jim Boeheim has signed on as spokesman for both Jreck's and Sackets Harbor brewing!
To further whet your appetite, here is one man's take on Thousand Islands Pale Ale:
Cloudy orange/bronze color. Has an interesting, though small dish soap head. The head does not stick around on the sides, but does sit upon the top throughout. The smell is a serious hop aroma. Much stronger hop small than most regular Pale Ales. The hops are sweet and floral. There is a hint of pine too, but definite flora. The taste is a sweet and woodsy hops flavor with hit of end-bitterness. Slight malt, but hops rule the brew. There is a thick and creamy feel. Gets a bit milky as it warms up. The carbonation dances on the tongue, sits there after the swallow. The hops are absolutely delicious, but not so bitter that I can't drink several of them.