Archive for the ‘New York’ Category

‘CuseQuest Bonus Round: Albany Pump Station

Ok, I’ve got to get this out of the way right now.

That song goes through my head every time I think of the name “Albany Pump Station.”

Pump it up
A little more
Get your body moving on the dance floor

Have I started yet?
I have?

The Lady Friend and I departed Beeracuse and headed to the wondrous Capital Region to meet up with some friends of mine just outside of Albany (actually outside of Schenectady, a town with the most ridiculous name… Niskayuna, not easy to type into a gps while on the Thruway). We got to see the newly-relocated Casey Sage, a golden retriever who loses her furry little mind every time she sees me, and the resident pooch, Rosie, a black lab. Critter Count: 12! Five of us (humans) went to the Albany Pump Station for some grub, and a beer tasting for me. Sadly, the pups stayed home (in separate rooms; they get into mischief together).

The Albany Pump Station, formerly the Quackenbush Pumping Station, was used to pump Albany municipal water from the Hudson River. A guy named Neil Evans bought the building in 1999 to build a brewhouse, bringing his family back into the brewing world. The Evanseseses had started a brewery way way back in 1786 in Hudson, NY, but, like everybody else, got closed down by Prohibition in 1920. According to their website, they were quite popular, even exporting to England and France. They also boast one of the country’s first bottling facilities in 1889, and even malted their own grain. The Pump Station is a solid two story brick building; very cool and industrial looking. Two giant cranes still hang inside and were used to haul the brew tanks up to the second floor, where they now sit making gallons of bubbling happiness.

It was certainly a cool place, and hopefully the beers would hold up. I’ve been let down before, but Albany Pump Station (C.H. Evans Brewing Company) more than rose to the challenge. I was the only one in our group to tackle the eight (8!) beer sampler for a very reasonable $7, though the other male with us stepped up and had a hefeweizen. Before the food came, I got to wander around and take a few shots. They opened up the main dining area by cutting away most of the second story, and you can look down on the whole place from the upper mezzanine.

Hi, BBack!

The group consisted of my friend from Maine, BBack, who had just moved to the area for a teaching job. Her twin sister, and the twin’s husband had been living in Cambridge for awhile before moving to Albany a couple years ago. BBack’s husband is the owner/operator of previously mentioned Blue Line Apiary in Maine, and he’s due to follow to NYState soon. Naturally, the Lady Friend was present as well.

When the beers came I scuttled back downstairs to start the sampling. The group was somewhat intrigued that I go to the trouble of taking notes, though Lady Friend was all too used to my nonsense and wasn’t fazed in the slightest.

Scottish Light
Described on the beer list as “an amber hue and short finish.”
Just like me!
…wait, what?
Nose: Sweet cereal, barley, with a slight cherry fruit
Taste: Cereal. Barley. Very refreshing.

Quackenbush Blonde
…I knew a Quackenbush blonde once…
Nose: No discernible aroma
Taste: Cheerios! Also had a light, floral hop flavor.

Smoked Hefeweizen
Nose: Banana wheat hefe smell. Slight smokiness. Everyone else smelled much more smoke than I did.
Taste: Cinnamon/ clove with a slight smoke finish. Not bad for a hefe.

Doc’s Pear Cider
They were out of the Belgian-style strong ale, and BBack wanted to try the pear cider, so I requested this as a substitute. A good choice.
Nose: Um. It smells exactly how you would expect pear cider to smell. Sweet and pear-y.
Taste: Light and crispy. Nice pear flavor with a touch of tart sweetness. Lip smacking. Very tasty. I am not generally a fan of pear flavors, or cider in general, but this was really good. After my taste, BBack drank the rest and I was sorry to see it go.

Belgian-style Dubble with Cherries
Nose: Mild, dark cherry aroma
Taste: Belgian wheaty texture, though no banana flavor. A tart, cherry syrup sensation with a malty roast.

Oatmeal Stout
Nose: Roasted malt. Slight sweetness detected.
Taste: Nice bitter roasted flavor. Dark and malty. Delicious.

Kick-Ass Brown
Nose: Sweet, with a hint of lemon fruit.
Taste: Malty with some lemon. Smooth. Low carbonated mouthfeel. VERY nice flavors. More going on here than a regular brown.

Pump Station Pale
(Amarillo Hop)
Nose: Piney hop aroma, though not overpowering. Some tree fruit juiciness.
Taste: Very nice. Bitter hop balanced well with the malt sweet. Yum.

Our food came as I was finishing up the tastings, and everyone was impressed with the size of the sandwiches. Very tasty, and good fries. The New Yorkers picked up the check for my birthday (thanks!) and Lady Friend and I hit the Thruway back to Boston, battling traffic and downpours the whole way back turning an easy cruise into a demolition derby. We made it back unscathed, unloaded our precious cargo, and I finally got to sleep in my own bed of awesomeness. I declare the ‘CuseQuest completed!

Treasures from the journey!

‘CuseQuest Part 5: MORE Wine

Oh there was way too much wine fun to put into one post. I’m also trying to mention wine as little as possible, which has been working out quite well so far. Onward to the rest of the day!

This is what the Lakes Region looks like.

Yeah, it’s mostly cornfields. Occasionally a big lake shows up. This was just over the hill from our first stop, Knapp Winery & Vineyard. Happily, they had some critters to chase around: a number of geese, ducks, chickens and a cat. Points for Knapp. Critter count: well, let’s call it 7 so far. I’m not going to include individual ducks and geese. We did our tasting in a warehouse section among stacked the stacked casks. I did actually taste two wines this time, but Knapp also makes several spirits, so that was my focus.

Also pictured, Mama Cat, camera left.
She was viciously passed out several minutes before this until I woke her up with some ear scratching.

Brut sparkling wine.
Chardonnay and Cayuga (naturally) grapes
Nose: Fruity and dry
Taste: Syrupy, cut with a dry, carbonic acid bit. Tasty.

Cabernet Sauvignon 2009
Nose: Whoa. Peppery. Like green bell pepper. Spicy with a touch of “red grape” smell
Taste: Bell pepper. Not much sweetness, but a lot of zip to it.

Brandy 40% abv
Knapp has their own copper pot still (awesome) used to make their spirits. They essentially all start off as grappa, but the brandy is then aged for five years in oak casks. Neato!

Nose: Acetone. Lots of burn, but with a chemical smell. A light toffee undertone.
Taste: Medicinal, with an oaky quality. The sterile alcohol sensation lingers in your mouth. Meh.

Grappa 40% abv
In case you don’t know, grappa is a distilled spirit made from all the “leftover” parts after making wine: stems, seeds, grape skins… it’s all grouped as “pomace.”

Nose: Brown sugar with a hint of maple.
Taste: Wooden, but not oaky. Burnt toffee. Syrupy sweet. Unlike any other grappa I’ve had. Very strange.

Limecello 18% abv
In addition to making a more commonly-found limoncello, Knapp also makes a lime variety. Basically it’s spirit (commonly vodka, though grappa was used in this case) flavored with either lemon (or lime) peels marinated in the spirit, or just straight up citrus juice. They use juice.

Nose: Fresh lemon/limeade
Taste: Citrus tart start, smoother sweet finish. VERY tasty. Want more. NOWS.

Limoncello 18% abv
…and this was the lemon variety. Danny DeVito even makes a brand of this.

Nose: Brighter than the lime version, a higher citrus. More alcohol.
Taste: Lighter, citrus fruit. More of a Pledge Furniture Polish-like fake lemon flavor. Not that I know what Pledge tastes like… I only huff it.

Limoncello with Raspberry Sparkling Wine

This was a suggestion from the server: mix equal parts limoncello with their raspberry sparkling wine for a very summery drink.

Nose: Lemon with juicy raspberry fruit. Makes sense.
Taste: Overly raspberry (prob too much of the rasp. poured in overwhelming the lemon) but very tasty and refreshing. A good summer tipple. Serve VERY cold.

That did it for Knapp. We tormented the various waterfowl for a bit, then headed off to the next stop, Goose Watch Winery. Goose Watch did have some nice views of Cayuga Lake, though I imagine it’s ungodly cold in the winter with the wind whipping across the water. All of their wines are aged in stainless steel, so you don’t get any oaky interference. Our server was friendly and knowledgeable, though it was quite busy, so we didn’t get to really chat much. No critters here, but some of the standout wines were the 2007 Chambourcin which smelled like musty, rotting vegetables, but tasted like dark cassis fruit (very strange) and the Strawberry Splendor, which the server described as “Smuckers in your glass.” I can’t think of a better description. It was very tasty, but a whole glass would prob be a bit much.

From Goose Watch we cruised along the lake to Buttonwood Grove Winery (apparently there is also a Buttonwood Winery in Santa Barbara County, CA). I took a break from the wines at this point, and Lady Friend didn’t really have a great time, as the older woman serving the wines was all bubbles and sunshine for a quartet of 50-somethings beside us, while largely ignoring Lady Friend. After she finished her samples, we checked out the critters lodged here: a Scottish Highland cow (I wonder if he knows how to make Scotch?) and several goats. Critter count: 9 (I’m lumping the goats together as one.)

After a slight revival on my part with the aid of some sugar and caffeine, we were on our way to Cobblestone Farm Winery and Vineyard.

It was purty.

This place was nice. Newer looking, solid interior, simple strong lines, and tasteful lighting, as opposed to the gift shop on steroids look of several other places.

It was also purty inside.

I only had three samples, while Lady Friend went full bore with six. Their 2009 Dry Riesling I found to be very oaky and grape syrupy, the 2009 Riesling (Blue) was juicy apple tart with a nice floral sweet nose, and finished with the very tasty Cobblestone Red, a five grape blend with cherry and sweet stone berry flavors. Yum. I have no idea what Lady Friend was throwing back, but she seemed to be pleased. Not pleased enough to buy anything, however.

Ok. One more. Please let it be just one more.

Swedish Hill Winery. The last wine stop. This one I had actually been looking forward to all day because they had… a miniature donkey!

His name is Doobie and I want to ride him.

Critter Count: 10! Sadly, that’s all Doobie done did. He hung around the middle of the pasture munching grass and keeping a wary eye on us with no intention of coming over. Also, he’s almost exactly the same height as Zero the Massive Mastiff, but with a bigger belly. Zero lets me ride him. Kinda. He gets very confused and tries to back up. He is large but his brain is oh so small.

So. The wines. Um… not too much excitement here. I enjoyed the Sparkling Reisling, which was a bonus pour since another server (not ours) offered it to us after noting to the group to the left that it wasn’t on the regular list, a tip which OUR server didn’t mention. Again, I think we got a dud who either didn’t know or didn’t care to share much information. Other amusing notes: Lady Friend described the Country Concord as smelling “like a juice box with toothpicks” due to its grape juice aroma laced with a wooden tinge. She also noted that the 2007 Cabernet Fran-Lemberger “smells like cardboard boxes,” to which our server (walking by us quickly as was the theme) piped up “Oh, we have boxes if you want a case!” Sorry lady, I think you missed the point. We also felt really rushed here, clearly taking notes and trying to taste the wines with our server either hovering in front of us ready to pour another sample, or zipping by in a blur when we were trying to get her attention.

This really seemed to be the theme of the day. Our suspicions were that most wineries didn’t really have their varsity squad on hand due to the holiday weekend, so the servers were the B team of cranky old ladies with nothing better to do. We felt rushed and ignored most places we went, which was unfortunate because Lady Friend is more than happy to spend hours discussing each wine with the staff. That’s part of the reason we were able to squeeze in so many stops in one afternoon; we didn’t linger anywhere to chit chat or look at touristy souvenirs. The wineries were not terribly friendly environments, and felt almost like a cafeteria where they fill your glass and expect you to drink it quickly and keep the line moving. I understand that there are other people being served, but no place we went was really that busy, so it seemed unnecessary and rude to basically push us out the door, then seem confused when we didn’t buy anything. The wines weren’t great, and we didn’t get a very welcome feeling anywhere we went, especially Swedish Hill where the server asked SEVERAL times “are you done yet?

Maybe that’s why Swedish Hill has a jackass for a mascot.

So, wine day completed (finally), we drove back to Syracuse for dinner and beer shopping at the wonderful Wegmans in Dewitt. Lady Friend had never heard of this glorious place, so it was an adventure. They also have a fantastic craft beer section (in NY you buy beer in supermarkets) and despite the fact that it was about 8pm on Sunday night, we were still allowed to buy alcohol. Yeah, Massachusetts, I’m giving YOU the stink eye. I ended my ‘CuseQuest with the acquisition of some YUENGLING! and several craft bombers. I also scored a sixer of Anderson Valley Hop Ottin’ IPA, which I have yet to see out here (I have seen the Boont Amber ale and Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout, in six pack bottles). They also had a mix-and-match six pack section, where you build your own sampler for $10. It was tempting, but there weren’t enough singles that tempted me enough to take advantage of it. As a bonus, I found a fancy new Kuhn Rikon paring knife for cocktail fruit prep that I had wanted for awhile but never ordered. Worked out well, since it was several dollars cheaper at Wegmans and I didn’t have to pay shipping charges. I TOLD you this place was magical. I got my fix of Wegmans pizza and craft beer shopping and we loaded up the trunk with bottles of happiness, heading over to my aunt’s house for the night, resting for the trip home in the morning. One more stop to go before Boston, however…

‘CuseQuest! Part 4: Wine Day

Mama noooooooooo!
Wine day.
No more Beeracuse; time for the Finger Lakes region and many many (many) wineries and vineyards.
What a c-bomb.


Geez. “Compromise” is the c-bomb I was referring to. Stupid compromise. That’s how I talked the Lady Friend into this trip in the first place… there are a silly number of wineries and vineyards scattered around the Finger Lakes, and of course, she loves wine. I… do not. I don’t hate it, but between cocktails, beer and wine, it’s third on the list. Besides, compromising is silly. I should just get my way all the time. Everyone would be much happier that way. Mostly me.

Anyway, we left Syracuse and started driving west on Route 20, a roller coaster road of small mountains and farmland. The Lady Friend had some targets in mind, mostly around Cayuga Lake. Our first stop was Montezuma Winery, located on Rt 20 in Seneca Falls. Heads up: our GPS said it was about three miles farther than it actually was. I’m thinking they know about this, since about 1/4 mile past it, there’s a large sign that proclaims “You just passed Montezuma Winery!” After a semi-legal U-turn, we drove back to the correct spot. When we walked in the place, however, something was instantly wrong.

This is my idea of Hell.

It was horribly touristy and kitchy, as if a Christmas Tree Shop violently vomited after consuming some undercooked poultry. Just… junk. Absolute CRAP. Little cutesy knicknacks everywhere. Holy chazzwazzers. However, in addition to being a winery (not a vineyard… they buy their grapes from elsewhere) they do have a small distillery, and offered a spirit tasting. See how sneaky Lady Friend is? She chose this place on purpose because of that. Wikid smaht.

It’ll take a large amount of liquor to make me ok with this. Also, they were selling Christmas decorations.
In August.

So she chose her wines, and I opted for a tasting of two of the spirits, since they made you pay PER spirit and I had no interest in their honey vodka. Lame. Also, noted on the bottom of the spirit list was a little tagline that read “WARNING: Due to the high percentage of alcohol in spirits, New York State law limits the amount of spirit tastings to three (3) 1/4 oz samples of spirits per person, per day.” Um. Really? You want me to believe that NY State only allows you to have less than one ounce of spirit sample per day? I’m going to call shenanigans on that.

Apple Brandy
Nose: Apple aroma shines through the alcohol burn.
Taste: Sweet apple start. Alcohol wash through the mouth burns away the flavor, but finishes with a tasty, apply finish. Slight syrup mouthfeel.

Queen’s Flight Honey Brandy
Distilled from honey and aged one year in bourbon barrels.
Nose: Honey, caramel sweetness with some vanilla.
Taste: Not as syrupy as expected. Initial alcohol burn evaporates to leave a sticky honey-vanilla bourbony flavor. Tasty and sweet.

So you’ve probably noticed a lot of honey going on, which is a bit odd for a winery. Well, apparently Montezuma started as an apiary, and produced a honey mead for a local Renaissance Fair(e). I guess they decided to go ahead with the wine thing from there. I didn’t get the whole story. The servers weren’t terribly friendly or forthcoming with info at this place, a trend we noticed through the rest of the trip.

Mildly annoyed, we left to grab some lunch, popping over to Bull’s Run Grille & Alehouse. The place was pretty empty when we went in for lunch, and somehow the service still took forever. The food was simple, but tasty, and Lady Friend had a couple glasses of white wine. I took the opportunity to grab a beer that I had never heard of. The waitress did give me a sample to try, which is always a nice touch.

CB’s Caged Alpha Monkey
After doing a bit of digging, I found out that Caged Alpha Monkey is an IPA from Custom Brewcrafters in Honeoye Falls, NY, outside of Rochester.

Nose: Hoppy, with some piney sharpness
Taste: Piney hop. Tree sap. East Coast style bitter; not a lot of malt reward.

It was decent. Apparently I drank it too quickly for a picture.

I have no idea how busy this place gets at night, but seems like a good local hangout with nice beers and food. It’s right on the corner next to the bridge; you don’t go in the front, but rather down the steps or ramp on the left to the actual entrance. The old timey guy painted on the wall points the way with his cane. It’s down by the canal/ river/ whatever it is and there’s an outdoor patio. It was another muggy CNY day, so we opted for the air conditioning indoors away from the old, mustachioed, shirtless men drinking by the water. Put some clothes on, Old Man River. Your tan lines are making me lose interest in life. We finished our pizza and drinks, and set off for an afternoon of further wine adventures.

‘CuseQuest! Part 3: Beer Day Cont’d – EMPIRE

Whew. Way too much in the last post to try to squeeze in Empire, which deserves a little space. Empire Brewing Company is down on Walton Street in Armory Square, a historical part of downtown Syracuse. The armory (now the Museum of Science and Technology, or M.O.S.T.) was built in 1859 and was part of the industrial bustle of old Syracuse. Its proximity to the Erie Canal, and subsequent railroads, created an economic boom in the area, and large hotels and businesses flourished until the 1930s when the railroads were removed from Syracuse city streets and the area gradually declined. Which is a nice way of saying it fell apart. It joined the rest of Syracuse in the condition of “urban renewal” without the “renewal,” a motif which lingers throughout the city to this day. However, in the 1970s, bunches of yuppies and artists started buying and fixing up the old buildings, and now Armory Square (there is no actual “square” unlike Clinton Square) has a lot of the trendier places in town and is on the National Register of Historic Places. As a student, I never really ventured into the city, as most of us stayed in our university bubble on top of The Hill. I had always heard about it, but only went down there maybe once or twice. This was another area of the city I’d have liked to explore further, but just didn’t have time on this trip. We did, however, manage to get to Empire, the exterior of which is reminiscent of a subway entrance, as you descend the covered stairs into the depths of the brewpub.

The belly of the beast.

We sweatily plunked down at the bar, grateful for it’s dark, subterranean climate, embellished greatly by the steady air conditioning, one of America’s greatest inventions, and the namesake of the Carrier Dome. See how I tied that up all nice and neat? Yeah, I was proud of that too. Anyway, the point is, it was as hot as hornets on a hound dog, and I was in desperate need of cold air and colder beer. The bartender, Cinthia, (all “i’s” as she was quick to point out, though the “y” or “i” question was on the tip of my tongue) set to work pouring our six-beer flights, though she glanced warily when we requested a flight for each of us, not to share. “It’s two and a half pints of beer,” she added in her Rah-chester styled upstate accent, a dialect that almost sounds Chicagoan in influence. I let it slide, though my internal arrogance wanted to boast “Silly hu-man female! No mortal pint can drown the likes of SquirrelFarts McAwesome! Now fetch my flagons of ale, post haste!” Instead, I set to tasting.

Flagon fetching!

Skinny Atlas Light
The name plays on “Skaneateles Lake,” the nearby finger lake that is Syracuse’s water supply, and is so pure and clean, the city uses the water unfiltered. Not to be confused with Lake Onondaga, one of the most polluted lakes in the country. Apparently this beer won a gold medal in 1999 at the Great American Beer Fest. There are other such medals framed around the brewpub, so these beers come with some credentials.
Nose: “Beer.” Light, not much to smell.
Taste: Apricot-like fruit. Apparently everything was tasting of apricots to me… I was getting a lot of it at Middle Ages. Plenty of flavor for a light beer. Nice and refreshing. I could drink it all day and enjoy it.

Empire Amber Ale 5.2% abv

Nose: Weak aroma. Hint of malt.

Taste: Buttery. Popcorn. Malty with cereal grain. Sweet and tasty. I know a buttery flavor can be the result of some renegade yeast, (UPDATE: It’s called diacetyl) so I’m not sure if this is how the batch was SUPPOSED to taste, but either way it was delicious. Sweet, but not in a sickly sugary manner. Yum.

Black Magic Stout
This used a nitrogen backing instead of carbon dioxide, as does Guinness.
Nose: Coffee. Roast. Some sweetness. Smells excellent.
Taste: Creamy. Milky. Lactose? I asked Cinthia, and she said it wasn’t a milk stout; it was just the nitrogen (smaller bubbles) that gave it a smoother mouthfeel. She gave us a bonus taste of their nitrogen-backed blonde ale as well to see another example of the creamy smoothness. The stout also tasted with a chocolate finish, but of a high-cacao dark chocolate. Semi-sweet chocolate chips or other bitter cocoa. Very nice. Black magic indeed.

Downtown Brown (seasonal)
Anyone else immediately think Downtown Julie Brown? No? Just me? I’m old. This seasonal was described by Cinthia as an English style brown ale but with American hops. She didn’t know specifically which hops. I asked.
Nose: Roasted barley, much like a stout.
Taste: Syrup mouthfeel, though not too overwhelming. Flavors of roast coffee (from the roasted malt) and maltiness. Very tasty. Four out of four have been good so far, Empire.

Empire State Pale Ale IPA 6.8% abv
This was served to us as the pale ale, but later on Cinthia decided we were the real deal, since I was taking pictures and writing tasting notes, so she came back over to chat a bit and let us know that they were out of the pale ale, so this was actually the IPA instead. I had initially thought it was quite hoppy for a pale ale, so it’s good to know that I’m not crazy. Well. Debatable.
Nose: Excellent fruity hop, floral. Lady Friend described it as “Cat pee?” quickly adding “…but not in a bad way.” Um. Ok then.
Taste: Citrus. Nectarine/ peach/ tree fruit, as a Citra hop, but not quite to that level of flavor. Similar however. YUM. Lady Friend described it as tasting of Sauvignon Blanc, but I have no idea what that means.

Empire Summer Ale (seasonal) (duh)

Nose: Weak, but with a hint of lemon. Summery in color and aroma.

Taste: Grain sweet. Lemon/ citrus. A slight stale finish, but light and refreshing. Tasty, with lots of flavor, almost in defiance of its pale aroma and color. Nice.

That takes care of my six samples. However, two of the spots are reserved for seasonals, and they had a number of rotating brews available. I had the summer and brown while Lady Friend got two others. Somewhere along the way with our beer tastings we figured out that to cover the whole range, we should each order as many different ones as possible and then share. We didn’t specifically set out to do it this time, but it happened to work out nicely, thanks to Cinthia’s proficient pouring prowess.

White Aphro (seasonal)
This was a Belgian-style white ale. Not my chosen style, but I give everything a fair chance. However…
Nose: Spice. Winter ale-like. Wheaty/ banana aromas typical of a Belgian white. Hint of orange peel?
Taste: Urinal cake. Yup. That’s exactly it. It tastes the way a urinal cake smells. Fake “citrus” chemical grossness. Ewwww. Big swing and a miss on THAT one.

Deep Purple (seasonal) 8% abv!
Apparently this fruity beer is made from organic Concord grape concentrate sourced from Geneva (Geneva, NY, I’m assuming.) Deceptively sweet, clocking in at eight percent alcohol by volume.
Nose: Sour wine. Grapey. Grape off the vine, not “grape flavor.”
Taste: Um, grapey. Winey. Juice-box. Too much flavor to want to finish it. Meh. Couldn’t imagine an entire pint of this. Yowza.

Blonde Cream Ale

This was the nitrogen cream ale that Cinthia and I were discussing earlier along with the nitro stout. I’ve found that in bars/ breweries/ brewpubs, if you simply talk the talk, bartenders recognize that you know what you’re doing and will often slip you something extra to try or discuss. It’s not my intention to score free tastes, but a) bartending can be very boring, especially an afternoon shift b) product is cheap. Sure, everything has a cost associated with it, but for a manufacturer, product is worthless until someone is willing to pay for it. Not that a 5oz pour from the tap will bankrupt anybody, but it’s always appreciated on my end. The best tasting booze is FREE booze.
Nose: Slight hop, but it was a struggle to get any aroma off of it.
Taste: Creamy mouthfeel. A nice, mild hop. Very tasty. Lady Friend’s take: “You could drink a LOT of that.” The nitrogen really does make for a very smooth drink.

Off and on, I had been wandering around the place taking some pics. It was a quiet, Saturday afternoon, so it was pretty empty and didn’t get many stares. Yes, I take pictures of bars people. I’m not trying to take a picture of YOU, so quit staring at me like I’m a stalker. I love the look of this place. It may not have the “proper” pub atmosphere of dark wood, but the brick walls make a nice alternative. Low ambient light (as it should be) with plenty of accents highlighting various art pieces and awards. Around the corner, next to the bathroom, I stumbled upon a cool piece: a mixed-media mural (hey, I’m an art kid. I get to use terms like “mixed-media”) of the Empire “e” logo in copper, with the “e” composed of bottle caps. The background? A star stylized with, of all things, Genesee beer labels.

Genesee Brewing, or “Genny” as it is known, is famous for making an, um, economically-priced, cream ale. The brewery began way way back in the early 1800s as the first brewery in Rochester, NY. They started making their creme ale in the 1960s, and it is both revered and reviled throughout the Northeast, particularly in NY State. Seriously, ask any baby-boomer who grew up in the Northeast if they remember Genny and you’ll get either a grin or a gag. Maybe both. Currently, Genny is part of a corporation called simply “North American Breweries” that includes Magic Hat, Dundee (they make a Honey Brown beer), and Labatt’s USA division. Whether the Empire poster was created as homage or satire, I don’t know. Empire is all about local, fresh ingredients, so my guess is that it’s more of a reaction to the mass-produced Genny gems.

So, Empire was great. A lot of tasty beers. Well above average. After Empire, we made a stop at Liquor World in Dewitt, right next to Wegmans. They boasted low prices and delivered on that promise: I scored a 1 litre-sized bottle of Campari to replenish my dwindling supply for about $26, at least $4 less than the smaller 750ml counterpart costs in MA. Same for a bottle of Old Overholt Rye… the 1 litre size was cheaper than the 750ml equivalent. Score. The Lady Friend bought a couple of bottles of wine as a thank you to funcle and his female companion for letting us crash with them, and the whole family clan converged at his home for a cookout that evening, some of which I hadn’t seen since my graduation from SU. I helped myself to some Saranac in funcle’s fridge; a black and tan, and a vanilla stout, both of which were tasty, unlike most of Saranac’s offerings which I find uninspiring. Lady Friend and I cracked the Stone IPA bomber to sip with dinner, and after the family left, she and I relaxed on the porch with the Peak Organic Hop Noir black IPA, though I was sleepy at that point. Time to rest up: Sunday was *shudder* WINE DAY.

<- Click that picture!
This is it! We're down to the wire!
The last day of voting for me is Sept 9th, so DO IT.

Don’t make me angry.
You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.


‘CuseQuest! Part 2: Beer Day – Dino BBQ and Middle Ages Brewery

Day two of the ‘CuseQuest happened to be my birthday. The Lady Friend woke me up in the morning with a very loving, intimate and special surprise in bed.

Beers you sickos! Get your minds out of the gutter.

Left to right, they were:

Peak Organic Hop Noir black IPA (drank it Sat night; didn’t make it back to MA)

Stone IPA (also didn’t make it back. Barely made it past breakfast.)

Brewdog Punk IPA (saw this one on James May Drinks to Britain)

Veuve Cliquot Ponsardin (for my birthday champagne tradition)

Fuller’s 2010 Vintage Ale (an aged ale which is nicely bottle conditioning further at this very moment)

Glenmorangie 10yo Scotch Whisky (’nuff said)

*sniff sniff* I’m so proud. She’s learned so much!
I woke up and there was a card and the champagne sitting on the bedside table. Apparently she’s been honing her ninja skills because I never noticed her doing it. The rest of the goodies were presented in a giant party bag of happiness.

The SquirrelFarts birthday card. Yikes.

We trundled downstairs and spent the morning with my fun uncle (funcle). He’s got a couple cats that roam about (Frank, short for Frankenstein, and Devil, critters numbered one and two on our trip. More critters to come.) We chatted and walked around, checking out his yardwork and car collection. I didn’t mention the car collection? Yeah…

This is why he’s the funcle. Click to embiggenate.

Left to right again:

– BMW 325xi (daily driver)

– 1986 Porsche 911 Carrera Cabriolet

– 1995(?) E36 BMW M3

– 1967 VW Bug (dark blue, lurking in the shadows. He restored this one)

– 1970(?) VW Bug (red)

– 2006 Porsche 997 911 Carrera S

– BMW 328xi (another daily driver)

– 1971 VW Bug (green)

– FAR RIGHT 2006 Toyota Corolla. The Phantom. One of these things is not like the others.

Yeah. Too many choices. We were going to take the ’86 911 (my fav) for a spin, but it had some issue with the battery/alternator, so we left it to charge on a Battery Tender and took the ’06 911 instead while Lady Friend went for a jog. Holy rocket ship. We blasted over to visit my aunt’s house in Jamesville, and got there 7 minutes before we left. It’s so fast that we traveled BACK IN TIME. I think. My poor 944, Elsa, feels like the Flintstones’ car by comparison.

Not a DeLorean.

Ok. Back to alcohol. Our first stop of the day was the legendary Dinosaur BBQ restaurant, a Syracuse hotspot since opening in 1988. It’s much like Redbones in Somerville’s Davis Square: great food, and a surprisingly good beer list. Dino boasted 21 drafts and 48 bottles to choose from. They will do a four-beer flight, but we had more tastings to get to later so I went with a pint of Ithaca Cascazilla. Floral hop with sickly sweet malt aroma. Tasted smooth, not a lot of carbonated bite. Slight piney hop, finished malty but the bitter hop lingered. Very good. I thought it was an IPA, and found out later in the trip that it’s actually a hoppy Red Ale. Very interesting and tasty. We stuffed our gullets with some good bbq (Lady Friend was probably the only person in the place to order a side of fruit) and rallied out of a growing food coma for our next stop, Middle Ages Brewing.

Pig heads on the wall, jammed packed for lunch on Sat. Dino is that kinda place.

Middle Ages Brewing Company was one of the few breweries in/around Syracuse that I was interested in visiting. Again, when I was a student at SU, I didn’t know about such things, so I was going in fresh. I’d occasionally seen some of their bombers in MA craft brew stores (Double Wench Ale is particularly, um, eye-catching) but had never tried any.

Pictured: eye-catching label design.

Tasting hours are 11:30-5p on Saturday, (tours by appointment only) so we wandered in and did a sampling of seven beers.

Apricot Ale 4.5% abv
Nose: Slight fruit aroma.
Taste: Light tasting, similar flavor to Magic Hat #9 (also an apricot-flavored ale).

Wit (Belgian-style wheat beer) 4.6% abv
Nose: No discernable aroma
Taste: Slightly spiced, followed by a mellow fruitiness (apricot again?)

Middle Ages Pale Ale ?% abv
Nose: Slight fruit again.
Taste: Hop bitter, followed by a copper metallic, as in some red ales. Not too sharp, however.

13th Double Wit ?% abv
Nose: None. We really struggled to get much of ANY aroma out of the whole line of brews.
Taste: Fruity once more, but not too sweet. More of a wheat sweet. That rhymes! Are you still reading this?

Old Marcus Ale strong ESB 6.5% abv
Nose: Are beers supposed to smell?
Taste: Sharp hop bitter. Balanced malt, with some metallic aftertaste.

ImPaled Ale IPA 6.5% abv
Nose: Beers don’t smell ‘cuz they don’t have noses!
Taste: A very SHARP hop bitter. Again, slight metallic after, but could just be the hop.

The Duke porter 6.5% abv
Nose: Very slight roasted waft.
Taste: Coffee roast flavor, not too bitter. A bit creamy but not too sweet either. Very well balanced and drinkable. This was pretty much the only one that both Lady Friend and I enjoyed.

The brewery even looks kinda like a castle!
Also of note: unusual blue sky in Syracuse. Frightening to behold.

I really think most, if not all, of their beers are of a British style, which tends to be more bitter and sharp, unlike the citrus sweet hops of a West Coast style ale. While none of them were unpleasant, many were a unremarkable. The Wit didn’t have much going on, while the Double Wit started to have some character to it. The pale ale and IPA were both of the bitter hop variety, with some piney flavors that perhaps accounted for the metallic tastes I was getting. The Duke porter was quite good, and I’ll look for it locally. Middle Ages is distributed in MA, however only in bottles, as they own their kegs (instead of using MicroStar) and have problems getting them back if they’re shipped too far. We didn’t do the tour of the brewery, but they seem to offer a large variety of beers, over 15 by my count. I didn’t really get to see if their operation is that large, or if they just rotate batches quickly.

Middle Ages seems to have a large selection of merchandise, which I suppose is easier when you have that many beers to advertise. The Lady Friend snagged a 12-pack sampler and a pint glass for my collection. They also had the fun addition of a cat in a basket, bringing the Critter Count up to three so far. Judging from his lack of interest in the tasting room visitors and his constant yawning, being a brewery cat must be a terribly rough life. Imagine, only sleeping 14 hours a day! He was quite receptive and appreciative of petting, so while I was disturbing his nap, I asked the bartender if nearby Syracuse Suds was worth visiting, drawing a shocked reaction from several people. Apparently, they brew using malt extract (the horror!) and their beers aren’t great. According to their website, their original brewmaster retired at the start of this year, and I wonder if that has something to do with it. Time permitting, I would have liked to check it out for myself, but we decided to skip it and head directly to Empire Brewpub.

Cat in a basket! Critter Count = 3.

Only a couple days left to vote for me!
I even have pictures of wenches and cats in this post!

If you don’t vote, Basket Cat cries a tiny kitty tear.
Why would you make Basket Cat so sad?

‘CuseQuest! Part 1: The Arrival, Faegan’s, Chuck’s

Labor Day Weekend. A chance to get away from New England for a bit and continue the drinking adventures a bit farther from home. Due to the Lady Friend’s small cache of available vacation time, we decided to take advantage of Monday’s holiday and skedaddle. But where to?

Syracuse! Tha ‘Cuse. The Salt City. Not making that up.

Somewhere in my various online readings, I had seen something about a couple breweries around the Syracuse, NY area. My dad’s family is from the area, and Syracuse University is where I spent four, bitterly cold, years at college. So I can say that I have some familiarity with the area. SU is where I learned to drink, but Beast Ice was the standard for freshman year, and I was up to terribly mixed Manhattans and pitchers of Yuengling by senior year. Craft beer never really entered into the equation.

This trip was a bit more focused. There are a couple breweries scattered throughout Central New York, but only a few places I was interested it (no, not you, Genny.) The Finger Lakes region is also big wine country, so that was the compromise for the Lady Friend. From Boston, the trip is a straight shot: get on the one road that goes to ‘Cuse, I-90, the MassPike in MA and Dewey Thruway in NY.

It looks like this for about 3 hours.

It looks like this for the other 2 hours.

‘Cuse is one of the cloudiest cities in the country, and the constantly lurking cloud cover can be seen when approaching from about 20 miles away. It’s also terribly humid, and has some of the snowiest winters of any major US city, because of a large amount of lake effect. The snowiest month EVER was in Jan of 2004 (I was there) with 78″ of snow in 31 days. Yeah. Hence the name “The Salt City;” it’s needed for the roads. The summers are hot and humid, fall lasts for about 20 minutes, and then it gets cloudy and starts snowing from about October to April. When we rolled into town, it was about 85°, hazy, with humidity somewhere in the neighborhood of 247%.

23 miles to go. The cloud looms ahead.
It’s always winter and never Christmas.

We parked over by my old apartment (whatup 319 Euclid!) and wandered around the campus, including the Carrier Dome, the largest domed (college) stadium in the country. I should know; I had to walk around it every day freshman year. You turn the corner and it becomes a wind tunnel. Fun in a tropical climate like February in Central New York State.

A pain every resident of Lawrinson and Sadler knows all too well.

Following the campus tour, it was time for a drink. We walked down Marshall street and over to Faegan’s on South Crouse. I had been here many times as an undergrad, and they were a “classier” bar, unlike than some of the others on M Street. (oh wait… Konrad’s is closed? Shocking!) They were notable for having a list of beers which got your name on a plaque if you finished them all. Don’t look for my name; it’s not there. I spent more time at Chuck’s. For former alum: yes, Chuck’s is still there. Harry’s is also alive. Maggie’s, Konrads and Darwin’s are gone.

Anyway, I’m a tad more grown up now, and can appreciate a good craft beer list (if only I knew then). Looking at it through the eyes of a beer geek, it’s a pretty good list. 40 craft beers on draft (ok, Labatt, Bud Light, and Heineken are on there too) and nothing over $5 (well, Hoegaarden was $6, and a 7oz pour of Lindemann’s Framboise is $7, but the rest top out at $4.75.) Compared to the 99 bottle list I’m in the process of working through at my local brewhouse, these 40 offerings seem easy. It’s also getting to the point where I’ll look at a list and struggle to find something I’ve never had before. There were three from local Middle Ages Brewing, but we were going for a tasting there the next day, and I started with a Southern Tier IPA. I can’t recall if I’ve had their “normal” IPA before (UnEarthly, their double IPA is fantaaaaaastic) and certainly not on draft. Lady Friend had a Great Lakes Burning River (pale ale) and an Ommegang Hennepin. We had considered stopping by Ommegang in Cooperstown, but they only make Belgians, and I wasn’t too excited about that. My second was a tried and true Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA for $4.75. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.

Click to embiggen.
Seriously. Out of 40 drafts, only two are over $4.75.
Maybe I’ll move back.
Um, yeah, no, I won’t.

Post lunching and cheap beers, we investigated the demise of Darwin’s (one of my previous hangouts; it’s now an Indian restaurant) and strolled down the alley to Chuck’s. As near as I can piece together, years ago, there was a club-type place in the same location, and the original Chuck’s was downstairs. Chuck’s reopened my senior year in the upstairs spot it is now, with some Alice-In-Wonderland-inspired murals on the walls, which were soon overrun with student’s names and other graffiti. It’s a dive, but in a good way. A student bar, with cheap pitchers and FOOD, which was key on marathon drinking nights. We were there for a couple pitchers (in bars, time is measured in drinks, not minutes), and yet the place was surprisingly quiet for a Friday (NY bars are allowed to have Happy Hour specials, and usually do, especially on Fridays, unlike stupid Massachusetts where it’s banned.)

Years of graffiti. I’m sure some of my scrawls are in there SOMEwhere.

We started with a pitcher of Yuengling, a lager from Pennsylvania that is quite popular, and yet, still unavailable in MA. I’m not sure if they don’t want to distribute that far, or have run into problems from the state Commonwealth of MA, but it’d be nice to see it in Boston someday. Yeungling (say “ying-ling”) claims to be the oldest brewery in the country, and is one of the largest, just behind the Boston Beer Co. Sam Adams juggernaut. The RockBottom Gang sampled about several thousand of their beers during our senior year at SU. One of the goals of the ‘CuseQuest was to procure and transport some Yeungling back to Boston, but enjoying a pitcher of it at Chuck’s for only $5.50 was a good start. Yes, Massachusetts, other states will serve pitchers at a discounted price. Take note. There was a Friday special for a Miller Lite pitcher for $3.50. Mother trucker. In Quincy, I recall pitchers of Bud Light selling for around $12 at The Stadium. Another tip: in NY, you can buy your own pitcher. MA will not serve it to less than two people. UGH. I should have bought a pitcher for myself just out of principle.

So the Lady Friend and I had our delicious and refreshing Yeungling pitcher in celebration of not being in Mass. She wanted another, and chose Sam Adams Octoberfest of all things. Maybe she was homesick. I dunno. Since I was driving us to my uncle’s house, where we were staying, she took care of most of it, and was slightly in her cups when he called. We strolled back through campus, and drove over to Manlius and a delicious dinner of pasta and fresh bread, with Pastabilities’ tasty zesty sauce. Time for bed. Beer day awaited.

Ok. Voting for “Most Valuable Blogger” is open until Sept. 9, so you have the rest of the week to do the right thing.
Be. A man.

Voting for me puts hair on your chest.
Just like drinking whiskey.

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