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.
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.
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.
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