Beercraft Newspaper Column #4- The beers of Upstate NY

The beers of Upstate New York- Our own little secret

By Mark Tichenor and Bruce Lish

Upstate New York is the Rodney Dangerfield of the Northeast. We have culture, history and fine art, but it is scraped out in the shadow of the Big Apple, and goes largely unseen by the rest of the country.

Still, Buffalo, Rochester, Albany and the spaces in between have a great deal to offer, especially when it comes to beer. We Upstaters are blessed with a rich variety of excellent microbrews. Anchored by two large regional breweries- F.X. Matt in Utica and Rochester’s High Falls Brewing Company (formerly Genesee), the region is a hospitable one for microbreweries. Economically, it’s as tough here as anywhere else, but, perhaps because of our geographic inferiority complex, Upstaters have a very pro-little guy mindset.

Fortunately, we have a lot of little guys to choose from; over fifty at last count. That puts our region on par with many countries in terms of consumer choice, if not actual number of barrels brewed. You could have a different Upstate-brewed beer every day for over a year.

With this in mind we set ourselves to the grueling, arduous task of sampling some random selections from our region.

Cooperstown, New York’s main attractions are its breweries. Oh, and some sports stuff. Cooperstown Brewing of nearby Milford, NY produces a wide range of high-quality ales, including Old Slugger: a solid, medium-bodied pale ale that leans toward sweet rather than bitter. Expect a pleasantly high level of carbonation, a healthy head, amber color and floral aroma.

Whereas West Coast pale ales tend to lead with bitter hop flavors, Old Slugger pays more homage to the original English pales. Cooperstown Brewing uses English malts and Fuggles hops, just like the Brits, but there’s some cascade hops from the Pacific Northwest tossed in to satiate the palates of American beer geeks.

From the Ithaca Brewing Company comes Cascazilla, a light, nicely balanced IPA with citrus and pineapple overtones. It has enough bitterness to please most hopheads, but not so much that drinkability is an issue; you certainly don’t have to force it down. Ditto for the next one you order.

Cascazilla is a pretty beer: dark amber with a luxurious head. It’s pretty much exactly what the average Joe would expect from a microbrewery. Quality for all the senses. It also goes well with Doritos, the official food staple of Ithaca.

Lake Placid Ubu Ale is a fantastic après-ski warm up. It’s a darker, slightly toasty-smelling brew with the somewhat alcoholic aroma and full flavor you’d expect from a beer that weighs in at 7% alcohol by volume. A pleasant surprise upon tasting this big, malty beer is the unexpected hop bite in the finish. It rounds out the character of the brew and brings it into balance.

Ubu is brewed by the Lake Placid Brewing Company. Guess where they’re located. If you’re going to brew a beer this strong, you might as well do it in a place where its drinkers can rocket down a ski slope and bobsled run. Just make sure you enjoy it AFTER your winter fun, because Ubu’s definitely going to warm you up.

In other beers:
It has been brought to our attention via reader mail that some beer geeks are suffering; they must, for various reasons, resort to non-alcoholic beer from time to time. Fortunately, there are a couple of decent ones out there.

When buying Alcohol-free, stay German. The Paulaner and Bitburger breweries produce malt beverages with actual body, in contrast to that thin, beer-belchy consistency that tends to be the norm in this category. They actually taste reminiscent of German Lager, although you wouldn’t have a problem distinguishing between alcoholic and non in a blind taste test. Both are available by the case at Beers of the World.

Both the Rohrbach Brewing Company and Custom Brewcrafters have taken part in a national brewers’ movement to honor the 300th birthday of Ben Franklin, with respective interpretations of Poor Richard’s Ale. Franklin, best known for his beer-related aphorisms such as “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy,” also invented bifocals and helped found the United States of America.

These beers were available throughout the area: notably at J.B. Quimby’s and Monty’s Krown. With luck, they’ll still be on tap at the time of publication.

Bruce is a certified beer judge and former commercial brewer. Mark owns a laptop and likes beer. For more on beer, check out the beercraft blog, updated daily, at http://beercraft.blogspot.com. Send your questions, suggestions, or comments to beercraft@rochester.rr.com.

Thursday night is Beer Night.

And a great, social, fulfilling night out with your friends starts in a great bar. Our Beer Nights take place at The Old Toad, much to the chagrin of the British hospitality students that work there as part of their Study Abroad Program.

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My wife, Nancy, and myself doing what we do best. No, I’m not pissed off.

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Bruce (with the beard) and some buddies, probably telling an amusing beer-related anecdote.

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The highlight of the evening: Franziskaner Hefe-Weizen

To me, the concept of beer and friends are inseparable. Sure, throwing down the occasional brew with dinner or in front of the tube is nice, but something is missing . The flavors of good beer are only enhanced when enjoyed in company.

Unless that company is a personal injury attorney.

-Mark

By the way, sorry about the size of the photos, but I’m too lazy to resize them at the moment.

-Mark

Oatmeal stout

If you’re going to drink beer for breakfast, it might as well be an oatmeal stout. Picture a brown-headed strong stout beer that’s extra smooth and a bit sweeter than normal due to the addition of oats to the mash.

Of course, the paragon of the Oatmeal Stout style is Sam Smith’s Oatmeal Stout from Tadcaster, England. They revived the style, defunct since WWII, in 1980. Do yourself a favor and stock up.

The style is a popular one in America’s microbreweries as well. You can often find them in places where the brewer is kinda tired of making the same old pale ales and IPAs.

Distributive Properties

New York has awesome breweries. Tons of them. Wagner Valley Brewing, Sackett’s Harbor Brewing Company, Lake Placid Brewing Company, and many other fantastic places dedicated to this craft.

So why, when I sit in a 100-tap bar, smack-dab in the center of Upstate, can I only get beers from California?

Distribution for micros is a mess.

-Mark

Riding the elephant

Monty’s Krown Lounge has Carlsberg Elephant. I haven’t had a bottle of Elephant in about three years, and it’s a good as i remember.

Unfortunately, i forgot how strong it was.

After my third Elephant, the world kind of went…left. I should have taken that as a sign and gone home. Instead, I ordered another Elephant.

As I write, it feels like someone pulled out my eyes, stuffed bleach-soaked cotton balls in the sockets, and shoved them back in. Here’s to moderation.

Beercraft Newspaper Column #3

American Lager: The guilty pleasure of the “Cold One”

By Mark Tichenor and Bruce Lish

Although nearly 7 million barrels of craft beer were produced in the United States during 2005, the fact remains that 85% of the American beer market is owned by a handful of monstrously large breweries, and by far the most consumed beer in the country is that butt of European jokes: the American lager.

American beer started out as German beer, brewed by immigrants and closely related to the brew in Bavaria. Prohibition, however, killed many of the regional breweries, resulting in the loss of countless traditional recipes and brewing techniques.

After repeal and the Second World War, the demand for beer was higher than ever. Americans had money, and they were thirsty. The Breweries that survived the dry period became conglomerates, which grew to prodigious size. The beer giants were producing beer more cheaply by using adjunct grains: starches like corn and rice which cost less than all-barley brewing, and standardizing their beers’ flavor for sale over the entire American continent. The light color and flavor, and the taste characteristics imparted by the alien cereals used in the brewing process are the signature of Big Brewing.

The national brewers utterly dominate the industry, and they benefit from huge marketing budgets, the result of which is a fifty-year string of cheesy beer commercials that has continued unabated to this day. Beer companies dominate sporting event marketing, which results in television tragedies like “Bud Bowl” and the utterly paradoxical Budweiser Racing Team (remember, don’t drink and drive).

As beer columnists, we’re supposed to condemn Budweiser, Pabst Blue Ribbon and the like as non-potable slurry, fit only for frat-boy binges and happy hour amongst the bluest of collars, but that wouldn’t be honest. While the uniform blandness inherent to the style ensures a lesser status among beers, there’s nothing inherently lowbrow about knocking back a cold one.

The fact is, there’s a reason American mass market beer became so successful, and, in the right setting, a cold longneck “lawnmower beer” can really hit the spot. And when one considers consistency of product flavor, no microbrewery in the world can match the big boys.

It’s an easy beer to drink; you grew up with it, you don’t need to acquire the taste as you would for hoppy IPAs or dark Irish stout. For many people, an ice cold Genesee can really hit the spot on a hot day. And frankly, no other style feels remotely appropriate to drink at a baseball game. Even notable gourmets enjoy consuming American lagers, albeit in the furtive manner that a prominent community figure might enjoy pornography.

Some microbreweries have even co-opted the style for themselves. In Rochester, the Rohrbach Brewing Company has been making its light-bodied American Lager for several years, while regional breweries like Genesee, Pennsylvania’s Yuengling and Iron City Breweries, and Lone Star from Texas have built impressive businesses on the strength of traditional suds.

Despite their efforts to sell American drinkers to the contrary, Canadian light lager is the same as American light lager. Labatt and Molson are brewed using fundamentally the same adjunct grains, techniques and equipment as their U.S. cousins.

Surprisingly, American lager has found a foothold in Europe, especially among younger drinkers, doing to traditional European drinking what McDonalds did to their food. Budweiser vies with Bulmer’s cider as the trendy selection in Dublin pubs, with Guinness seemingly relegated to the tourists, while the Germans slurp down Miller Genuine Draft in sufficient volume for the German airline Lufthansa to stock the Milwaukee brew for in-flight serving.

As the most-brewed beer in the world, American light lager can withstand its share of ribbing from studied drinkers and European traditionalists. We’re certainly going to provide plenty ourselves. But if it’s the brew you enjoy, then cheers from Beercraft. We’ll spring for a round during the seventh inning stretch.

In other beers:

• As the NFL Playoffs continue, many bars are stocking up their Big Brew selections as opposed to introducing new craft beers, so things are a little more homogenized than normal. Look for greater selections after the Super Bowl.

• Joe McBane, the unrepentantly English Cellar Manager at The Old Toad, made some phone calls to his contacts on the other side of the pond. This week, he’ll be featuring Hobgoblin Strong Dark Ale from the Wychwood Brewery in Oxfordshire, England. It’s a chocolate-colored and complex brew, around 5.5% alcohol by volume. There won’t be a lot, so don’t expect it to last too long.

Bruce is a certified beer judge and former commercial brewer. Mark owns a laptop and likes beer. For more on beer, check out the beercraft blog, updated daily, at http://beercraft.blogspot.com. Send your questions, suggestions, or comments to beercraft@rochester.rr.com.