Thursday, May 29, 2008

Saranac Brewery Fire

As if the hops crisis, the malt shortage and the constantly rising price of gas weren't enough of a burden on beer lovers, a fire has reportedly broken out at the F.X. Matt Brewery. And it doesn't look good. The phrase "total loss" has been mentioned by fire officials and brewery president Fred Matt has already expressed that the historic brewery will be rebuilt, should it come to that. I know what kind of beer I'll be picking up this weekend.

From the Utica Observer Dispatch:

Utica - City public safety officials are telling everyone to stay as far away from Varick Street as possible while firefighters battle a toxic fire at the Matt F. X. Brewing Company.

The fire began shortly after the start of this summer's first Saranac Thursday as flames erupted from the portion of the brewery right behind the music concert stage.

Utica police Officer Shannon Acquviva said Varick Street is being closed by orders of the fire chief. Officials are urging residents to get out of the street and have blocked off either end to traffic.

A Toxic blaze
Utica Public Safety Commissioner Daniel LaBella said the fire is ammonia-based, and the four to five blocks around the brewery are being evacuated.

"It's toxic. We're worried about the shift in the wind. If it comes over here, there's people over here," LaBella said about the residents gathered outside.

“This is a bad one,” LaBella said from the scene.

All of Varick Street has been evacuated, and LaBella described the circumstances as an “emergency situation.” He also encouraged everyone to not inhale the smoke.

“People, this is toxic smoke, please, please go back to the light,” LaBella shouted to some bystanders near Varick Street. “This is toxic smoke.”

Duane Evans, assistant chief with the Whitesboro Fire Department, described the fire as a “massive stream situation.” This means they are trying to drown the fire with as much water as possible.

At least four hoses up on ladders shooting at the building. Evans said the fire seems to be contained to that building. However, the building has noticeable cracks and firefighters are worried about collapse, so no personnel are inside.

“It’s going to take a lot of water to put this out, ” Evans said.

Large chunks of ash and debris are coming down across the city from the large plume of smoke coming from the brewery fire on Court Street. The plume is being blown by a wind out of the west.

Police continue to evacuate because of concerns of hazards materials and smoke inhalation.

Unconfirmed injuries
There are two unconfirmed reports of injuries sustained by Saranac employees, according to Utica Fire Chief Raymond Beck.

Beck said there was no one else in the building.

There is going to be a media briefing at the command post around 7:30 tonight.

Brewery officials react
Meghan Fraser, marketing coordinator for the brewery said they had done a head count and all of their employees were accounted for.

The fire is in a building on the Saranac compound that relates to processing and the canning line, said Meghan Fraser, marketing coordinator for the brewery.

The alarm went off at about 4:45 p.m., she said. They initially called it in as a smaller fire and then it grew.

One aspect of this is that there is a lot of smoke that relates to packaging and to plastic, Fraser said. Fraser said everybody had been evacuated in the brewery.

Two employees had smoke inhalation issues but they had managed to evacuate everybody, said Fred Matt, vice president of F.X. Matt Brewery.

The fire could severely impact brewery operations because the building houses their can operations, Matt said. Asked about what the fate of Saranac Thursday will be, he said he anticipated the party would come back, possibly next week.

Local politicians react
State Sen. Joseph Griffo, R-Rome, also reached out to LaBella and he is in the process of getting extra emergency help for the city's firefighters.

Common Councilman Jim Zecca, D-2, represents West Utica, and said he was assisting with the evacuation.

Zecca was going door to door on Huntington Street with paramedics to see if anyone was having any health problems and to encourage people to seal their homes.

“It’s pretty smoky down here,” Zecca said. “I just want to make sure everybody is safe.”

Zecca said he has been told the gym at Kernan Elementary School on York Street is being prepared as a shelter if any areas of West Utica need to be evacuated.

Zecca has also talked with the Matt family and expressed concern about what this blaze means for the future of the brewing facility and Saranac Thursday.

“The brewery is the cornerstone of West Utica and the city, and this is a disaster for the community,” Zecca said. “It’s a beautiful facility, and it looks like it’s going to be a total loss, from what I can see. I hope they’re going to rebuild and move on from this. I’m wishing them well.”

Still, Zecca said he was impressed that police and fire officials seem to have the situation “pretty well under control.”

“Nobody’s getting panic-stricken, and the police and fire department are doing excellent jobs,” Zecca said. “I’m very proud of everybody that’s been pulling together and other elected officials. The fire is just outrageous.”

The band in the middle

Mike Santalucia from the band The Bomb said they were in the middle of the third song when they noticed smoke behind them.

Brewey officials at first told them it was a small fire and to keep playing. But then a law enforcement official came on stage and said everyone should leave.

Santalucia said he was concerned about $80,000 of equipment and was trying to get some of it off the stage.

Jennifer Crossway ust moved to Utica from Florida and was at Saranac for the first time. Her brother, Jim, is a guitarist for band, and was on the stage at the time of the fire.

“All I can think is that my brother won’t leave his equipment and he won’t leave his phone,” she said.

Residents react
Traffic on the streets around the brewery is deadlocked and people are standing in their yards and on nearby streets watching the smoke.

77-year-old Beverly Eddy lives on Hamilton Street and was standing on Columbia Street in front of the Polish Community Home.

"They came and told me I had to get out for two hours because of the smoke," she said. "I could smell it. I was starting to choke in the house, and all the windows were shut, too."

Kevin Hight of Ilion has come to Saranac Thursdays for the past few years.

He said he came around 5 p.m. with a few friends.

“The flames were peeking out over the roof,” he said. “My first thought was that it was a nearby building, but at that point, everything happened quickly.”

Sherri Harris-Dame was one of the more optimistic ones.

“I’m hoping they get that under control and reopen the bars so that people can enjoy themselves,” She said.

Edward Street resident Don Stockbridge, 41, said Utica police told him he had to leave his home because of the fire at F.X. Matt Brewing Co.

“My doors are open and everything,” he said. “I grabbed my wife, kids and the dog, put them in the car and told them to hightail it.”

When asked why Stockbridge himself didn’t evacuate, he replied, “Because I live here. I’ve got a lot of stuff in that house.”

Stockbridge was standing on Columbia Street, a few blocks from his home, where he’s lived for the past 17 years.

“I’m not going anywhere,” he said.

Carleen Gilot, coordinator of social recreation for Catholic Charities, said there was an event planned for tonight at the West Side Senior Center, but it has since been canceled.

A bus load of people were coming in for the event, but it was canceled out of concern.

“It's too bad,” she said. “I feel bad for the brewery. That's one of the only things we have left in the city.”

Janet Riquelme lives on Court Street, just a couple blocks from where the fire broke out.

She said she came outside once she heard about the fire on the news.
She's concerned for her two kids.

Her daughter, Savannah, 7, said she was scared.

“I don't want to sleep in my room,” she said.

More help requested

According to 911 dispatchers in Oneida and Herkimer counties, the following fire agencies have also been dispatched to offer mutual aid in fighting the Utica blaze.

Mutual aid from New York Mills, Whitesboro and New Hartford was requested at 5:31 p.m., dispatchers said.

Frankfort town police were then requested at 5:48 p.m., followed by Ilion firefighters at 6:12 p.m., dispatchers said.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Two Minute Guide to Moe's Tavern

Moe's Taven in Lee, Massachusetts, has been a longtime destination of ours for a couple of reasons. First of all, we are geeks, and any geek worth a damn knows that Moe's Tavern is Homer Simpson's favorite hangout. Secondly, we had read -- and been told by those who know -- that they have a terrific setup and a very good beer selection.

Moe's is tucked away on a side street in this quaint Western New England village, a fact which caused us to miss our turn and have to circle back to find it. From the outside, it's hard to know what to make of it. In the windows are some neon beer signs, as well as some words written backward on the windows. In some ways, it looks like a hip indie record store from the outside.

Walking inside gives a clearer view of the bar's vibe. First, it becomes apparent that the writing on the windows is a list of the beers available on draft, as well as their prices. ("Victory Lager $4," "60 Minute IPA $6," etc.) This list apparently is updated every once in a while, but not always immediately.

A beer menu is also available at the bar, listing all the bottled beers available at Moe's, ranging from $4 (Stone Coast 420 IPA, Brooklyn Lager, et al.) to $399 (Unibroue Fin Du Monde 6 litre). There are also about a dozen specialty beers in the $10 to $25 range (Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA $19, Stone Russian Imperial Stout $12, Dogfish Head Red and White $25). The menu helpfully splits all their bottles into four categories: IPAs and Big Beers; Browns, Porters and Stouts; Pales, Pils, Bitters and Lagers; and Belgian Styles, Whites and Wheats.

There is a large sign painted above one of the windows that states "No Coors Light," which was apparently added as a reaction to being requested so many times. Now the barkeeps need only to point to the sign. Please note, there is no BudMillerCoors fare to be found at Moe's.

The decor is decidedly beergeek friendly. Remember the episode where Moe said in order to open a family restaurant, all you had to do was "throw a bunch of crap on on the walls"? Well, the real life Moe's Tavern took that advice to heart, although with a beer lovers in mind. Paraphernalia for Rogue and Dogfish Head line the walls, and bumper stickers and signs for Smuttynose and Berkshire can be found strewn all about. It's like a townie bar with Bennigan's walls, but with tons of beer and a smaller menu.

On this sunny day, only about 4-5 people were inhabiting the Tavern. Javen and I placed our orders: a Six Point Bengali IPA for Jables, a Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA for me. We bellied up to an out of the way section of the bar, near the restroom. Javen and I placed an order for a light lunch (three small slider burgers and a buffalo chicken strip sandwich, neither one bad at all).

Of course, no Beerjanglin' adventure would be complete without an unusual encounter; this day we ran into a wonderful 50s-ish couple named Bronco and Rita. [Note: we forgot their real names.] I lied to them about Javen being a federal officer (he denied it, for the record) and told them my name was Ramon. Bronco rewarded my blatant disingenuousness by giving me the red Gritty McDuff's hat off his own head when Javen pointed it out to me. He was just, in his words, "payin' it forward."

Hopefully our trip to Moe's will not be our one and only. And though I didn't see a Flamin' Moe on the menu, a cozy, friendly atmosphere, a terrific beer selection and lively conversation make this a spot well worth the detour.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Twelve Pack Review: The Abita Party Pack

Maybe it's our white guilt, but we really enjoy supporting the breweries of New Orleans -- or at least the ones that are available where we live. Dixie Lager and Dixie Blackened Voodoo are fine examples of the lager and dark lager style, respectively.

I'm not sure how Hurricane Katrina affected the Abita Brewery; I know it took quite a toll on Dixie Brewing, but they are thankfully doing fine even though they sustained some damage.

Upon a Saturday sojourn to the Finger Lakes Beverage Company in Ithaca, NY, we saw the Abita Party Pack, two beers each of six different selections. We have not been able to secure twelve-packs of Abita in the Syracuse area, so we decided to give it a whirl.

The six selections are:
  • Turbo Dog Brown Ale
  • 20th Anniversary Pilsner
  • Abita Amber
  • Fall Fest Oktoberfest
  • Purple Haze Raspberry Wheat
  • Golden Lager

I decided to tackle them head on. Here are the results.

  1. ABITA AMBER. Rather than the amber color I expected, more of a dark orange. Not much head and is more clear and light-looking than a typical amber. The smell is a sweetened burnt malt. Lots of brown sugar. It almost has a mild Scotch ale smell, with nice toasted barley. It's both sweet and dry at once.

    The taste is a striking sharp malt with some sweet brown sugarcane and molasses. Some mild caramel in there as well. It tastes like a liquid "Sugar Daddy" candy bar. It's sweet, but thankfully not saccharine. The feel is thick and chunky and chewy. It's milky and smooth. Really a nice feel. Overall it's very sweet but not TOO sweet. Well crafted and delicious. A hell of a good start.

  2. FALL FEST. Has a light copper color. Decadent white foamy head. Light bubbly carbonation. It's sturdy and quite nice. The aroma is a rich bittersweet toasted malt with fresh English-smelling hops wafting above. Light caramel. Hints of mild liquid yeast as well.

    The taste is a rich toffee/molasses over a roasted (but not burnt) malt. The hops are a welcome bittering accent; they are mild and serve to balance that sweetness. Also a hint of pale malt.

    It feels creamy and thick. Stays on the tongue for a while; it's substantial. It's a sweet caramel/molasses beer with some mildly bitter hops. It's more like a roasted pale than anything, but a good Oktoberfest.

  3. GOLDEN LAGER. It's a cloudy yellow with a proud finger of head. Looks more thick and chunky than a normal lager, for sure. The smell is a dry pilsnery/lager malt. The aroma is light, but it's clearly all-malt. Bitter but mild Hallertauer-smelling hops. Malt is German-lagery.

    The sweetness in the taste is the bitter malt, with the nice bitter hop accent. The taste matches the smell almost exactly, with the right bitter notes all around. It's a nice lager, much better than the typical Bud/Miller/Coors pale lager fare.

    It feels light and bubbly, like the feel of a nice, slightly spiky Belgian ale. It's a light and easy-drinkin' lager with lots of strong flavor.

  4. TURBO DOG (Brown Ale). Well this is the beer that Stuff Magazine named the #1 beer in America back in 2005. Remind me to never listen to Stuff Magazine when it comes to beer. Not that Turbo Dog is bad, but it's average at best. It's dark brown like Coca-Cola with an off-brown cardboard colored head. It looks deep and murky.

    The smell is a strong whiff of alcohol with some darkly sweet roasted malt. It's got brown sugar practically wafting above the glass. It smells slightly darker than a normal brown.

    The taste again has that heavy blast of alcohol at first, with a sweet malt swooping in immediately afterward to apologize. Then it hits me that this beer is just too sweet and saccharine, without enough balance. This would have been a perfect example of adding some hops to a dark beer to give it a rich full flavor. Instead, we get heavy and sweet sugars. It's not awful, it's just unbalanced.

    It feels thick and milky, although not as smooth as typical browns. It's more of a choker-downer. Overall, not really balanced enough for me to recommend. It's got some of the flavors of a brown, but with more alcohol (which by the way, doesn't count as bitter enough to balance). It's decent, but Stuff Magazine should stick to putting ridiculously hot women on its magazine and get the #&$@ out of the beer game.

  5. PURPLE HAZE (Raspberry Wheat). I have heard mixed things about this one. really doesn't like it, and I've heard that it's a beer for chicks. Let's see for ourselves, shall we?

    The color is a peach-color with minimal head. It looks fruity all right, and it's hazy. Not a horrible sign. The smell, on the other hand, isn't what I'd call incredible. It's far too sweet for sure, with a sugary raspberry flavor with some mild wheat to dry it out. This could use a bitter malt balance, such as a chocolate or caramel malt to even the score.

    It is very sweet in the taste, but the wheat does a much better job of balancing everything. It's still too far on the sweet side of the spectrum, but decent. It's a little tart and puckery. It does get better as it warms up, but a nice toasted malt would have done wonders for this beer.

    It feels creamy, with some dry yeast on the tongue to remind you of the good old days. It is clearly too one-sided for me to drink it all night, but all-told it's a decent "guilty pleasure" beer.

  6. 20th ANNIVERSARY PILSNER. A fine bookend to the first beer, this is one of the better pilsners I have had in quite a while. It's a hazy bright golden color, and a half-finger of foamy head. Classic pilsner look.

    Before I go on, I have to say I'm not a huge fan of pilsners in general, and that's because they are all so similar, they are like bitter pale ales (yes, I know pilsners are actually lagers) with a smidgen of mandatory bitter hops. And there is very little deviation from this tried and true formula. (If I have my head up my ass on this, please give me some examples to prove me wrong. I'm all ears.)

    Ok, so, the smell of this pils is really good. It's got a pleasant flowery aroma, with bitter Euro-German style hops. Doesn't have the too-bitter chlorine smell to which so many lesser pilsners fall victim. Really crisp aroma.

    Now the flavor took me completely by surprise. It's got such a nicely diverse hop flavor. Not only does it have the bittering pilsner hops, but also a flowery, estery hop with a burst of citrus. But it's not an IPA or overly hoppy; it's just well balanced. The pale-ish malt steps aside for a second to be the Stockton to the hops' Malone. The finish is pure grapefruit (Javen!).

    It feels fizzy and bubbly like champagne. Really nicely crafted, and the bubbles help evangelize the good word of the effervescent flavors. It's a superior pils, bursing with diverse flavors. It's got a wonderful finish. It is to what all pilsners should aspire.

As far as the 12er goes as a whole, I would say the 20th Anniversary Pilsner and the Amber are the two best, and both worth picking up a popularly-priced sixpack. The Fall Fest and the Golden lager are a good addition to mix up the 12-pack. And the Turbo Dog and Purple Haze -- ironically the most widely available of the twelver -- are just okay.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Our Stolen Sunday at Keegan Ales

The passage from boyhood to adulthood is a difficult one, but three short months ago my good friend and colleague Mr. Bojangles decided to try and soften the blow of aging by escorting me to Kingston, NY, home of Keegan Ales, one of the well-kept secrets in the eastern part of New York State.

Keegan Ales is a brewpub unlike any I've been to. First of all, the inside feels more like a lounge than a brewpub. The inviting foyer area has hardwood floors, some couches for relaxing and enjoying, and a very chilled out vibe right from the start.

The beer-tasting area slash bar experience began inauspiciously when I knocked about 150 flyers and papers off a narrow ledge when first walking in. As I picked up the strewn papers from the floor, Javen proceeded to order for the both of us.

The bar area is a charming, hardwood bar, with about a dozen taps and lots of stuff to look at. Under the glass in the bar was fossilized barley, leaving no ambiguity as to the source of the brewery's malts. About six picnic tables sit in the bar area, perfect for a laid back beer-drinking evening. This night, a big band jazz combo was expected to come in -- on a Sunday night, no less -- so the tables were moved to the side. It seems like an atmosphere where club-goer and hippie alike would feel right at home.

Javen and I hunkered down at the bar moments before a snow squall engulfed the Kingston area and slightly frightened a few of us into thinking we might not be able to leave. (I was kind of secretly hoping we would get stranded there.) Luckily, it was short-lived and we were able to enjoy the fine Keegan offerings without fear of being marooned.

The beers on tap were the Old Capital golden ale, Mother's Milk stout, Hurricane Kitty (a hoppy red), Four Philosophers Abbey Tripel, as well as a few guest taps -- He'brew, Genesee Ale, Captain Lawrence and Six-Point -- and a light beer. I started with the Old Capial -- which Javen said was due to Kingston being the capital of New York State at one time -- and Javen started with Hurricane Kitty, Keegan's flagship beer.

The atmosphere here was about as laid back as can be. A man was reading a book at the bar while the bartender and a cook sat and hung out. The bartender was very helpful, offering what knowledge she had of the beers, and and giving small samples of the beers we hadn't had before. She even allowed some half-pints, which gave us the chance of trying pretty much all the beers in the place.

The drive from Glenville to Kingston is about an hour, but it is all highway, and if you live anywhere in the Capital district, take the trip. It's one of the more charming brewpubs I've been to, and is about as perfect a Sunday afternoon destination as I can recommend. If you go on your birthday, it's even better.

Monday, May 05, 2008

6Pac - April 2008

Today we embark on a Beerjanglin' experiment, we will get a mixed six pack, we will drink the entire thing, and we will tell you about it. The emergence of mixed six packs has been a godsend to geeks such as ourselves, as it allows us to sample a great variety of beer one bottle at a time, rather than one full six pack, and at a cheaper price than at the local tavern. Because seriously, what could possibly worse than having to endure a full six pack of beer, when you can tell from the first sip of the first bottle that you aren't going to like it. Well, I suppose being hit by a meteor could be worse, but only by a slim margin.

At any rate, here is your line-up for this inaugural entry; the story of some beer I bought back in April of 2008, in six chapters:


  2. WILD GOOSE - English Style Amber Ale

  3. AVERY - 14'er E.S.B.

  4. WILD GOOSE - India Pale Ale

  5. SIERRA NEVADA - Stout

  6. MENDOCINO - Imperial IPA
And now, the verdict on each....

  • #1: Green Flash Brewing - West Coast IPA. To call this sucker an IPA is like calling an Escalade a station wagon. This is a supremely bitter IPA offering, more akin to an Imperial ippa than the regular variety.
    The first thing that strikes me about this beer is its look, which is copper-orange and with big chunks of something or other floating around. It looks like it's suspended in amber. It looks big and chunky. The smell is full of those sweet, pungent west coast hops we all know and love so well. The hops in the smell are citrusy and flowery; breathtaking ... literally!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Actually, I would have to say that this is one of the most perfectly-aromatic beers I've had. The smell is balanced, however the flavor is all hops. If you are a hophead, this is going to be right up your alley, but don't expect much malt in the flavor. It's a thick and chewy beer, and incredibly bitter. Just don't buy the "regular" IPA label.

  • #2: Wild Goose English Style Amber Ale. While it appears like a standard red/amber ale. Like the West Coast IPA, the smell on this one is fantastic as well, although in a different way. The Wild Goose's aroma is smooth and buttery, showcasing a sweet and biscuity malt, with just a hint of butterscotch (and not spoiled kind). It has hints of honey and even a mild sweet grape. As it warms, the aroma becomes more roasted.

    The flavor is nicely balanced between a hint of sweetness in the pale ale-ish notes and the roasted amber malt. It tastes like a pale amber, and has a nice tension between the burnt and the sweet. Not bad at all. It becomes more sweet, but never cloying. A good, solid ale.

  • #3: Avery 14'er ESB. There appears to be a glow coming from within this beer in the form of a hazy light orange. The smell and taste of this beer are both mild and balanced. The sweet and biscuity malt is the perfect counterpoint to the flowery-but-bitter hop presence. Starts sweet at the sip, ends bitter at the swallow. It's a perfect change-of-pace beer; not incredible, but incredibly pleasant.

  • #4: Wild Goose India Pale Ale. Lots of bubbling carbonation floating to the top of this hazy bright orange brew. Leaves a nice icy lace and a big fluffy head.
    The smell is slightly sweeter than a normal pale. It does smell more like a regular pale than an IPA, that's for sure. There are some bitter hops, but more pislnery in the nose than IPA'y. A definite hint of pale crystal malts and even a hint of a burnt malt. To call it even an English IPA is pushing it.

    The taste is a bitter symphony of both malt and hops. The hops are a tad flowery, but overpowered by the pilsner/pale flavors. It could use a bit more balance, in my opinion. It feels bubbly and bites a little on the way down. It does mellow out after a little while. It's a tad too bitterly harsh to drink all night. (That's not to say I don't like bitter flavors, but this one could have used the relief of something a little more sweet or muted.) I'm honestly not a huge fan of pales lately for some reason, so that may be shaping my opinion here.

  • #5: Sierra Nevada Stout.
    One of my go-to beers of the past winter. It's a dark chocolate brown with a head the color of Nestle Quik, big and puffy. The smell is burnt coffee and dark chocolate, charred to perfection.

    The taste is a beautiful balance of sweet dark chocolate & toffee, countered with the burnt coffee malt. Just a deliriously good beer. I'm sad to see it go away, but it kept me warm for many cold months. It is thick and rich. It feels milky on the way down, but smooth like motor oil. Only 5.8% but you'd never know it, cuz it gives the warm feeling if drinking brandy. Top notch.

  • #6: Mendocino Imperial IPA. One of my all-time favorite IPAs of any kind, and possibly the first IPA I really fell in love with. Clear right orange color with a nice pillowy, foamy head. Sits still in the glass with no sign of carbonation.

    The smell of this beer is to die for. West Coast hops that are slightly piney, slightly citrusy, and completely intoxicating. Other than possibly Stone Ruination (of which this beer reminds me a great deal) there might not be a better balance of hop flavors on Earth, or Caprica for that matter. (Sorry, I'm watching Battlestar Galactica as I drink this.) This one has been sitting in the fridge for a few weeks, so it has just the slightest hint of mustiness, but we'll see what happens.

    The taste confirms why they used to ship these from England to India. The hops have a graceful citrusy sweet first taste (like a grapefruit, Javen!) and then a woodsy bitter second wave. It hits both parts of the tongue and together they form a terrific combo. The sweet tries to charm you; the bitter acts like it could care less if you like it or not. What a beautiful balance in the hops. The malt is really an afterthought here.

    As I'm drinking it, there are beautiful icicles of lace surrounding the inside of the glass. It leaves a bitter residue on the tongue, like nature letting you rent it out for a few extra hours at no charge. Magnificent. And 7.5%.

I hope this little journey gave you a couple of good suggestions. I certainly enjoyed the research.