Tuesday, January 31, 2006

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 apr├Ęs-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.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

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.


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


Thursday, January 26, 2006

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.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Beer in C-town

For reasons totally unrelated to beer, Bruce and myself will be travelling to Cleveland this February. While there, we hope to find a few good beer bars or micros and have a good old-fashioned epic pub crawl.

Hopefully, someone reading this blog can point us in the right direction.


Tuesday, January 24, 2006

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.


Monday, January 23, 2006

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.

Friday, January 20, 2006

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.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Thursday is Beer Night.

Normally I'm a pretty chaotic person, but for some reason I regiment my social entertainment into neat little rituals. Sunday is Wing Night at Acme Pizzeria. Wednesday is Game Night at Matte and Carolyn's. Thursday night is Beer Night.

Every Thursday, several friends and myself gather at The Old Toad for expensive lager, which causes judgement to lapse just enough to rationalize even more pricy Hefe Weizen. Stay too long, and I'm looking down the barrel of an Orval, and writing a freelance beer column doesn't exactly pay for the Belgian stuff.

So here's to good friends and good beer. For it's in the company of others that a fine brew is best appreciated. Tonight, I'll be appreciating Jever Pils.


Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The Czech Republc: Epicenter of Pilsener

"Pilsner" is a classification largely stripped of meaning by the mass-market American breweries. But in Europe, It's far more than just light colored lager.

The term desribes one of the oldest styles of lagered beer, which originated in the Czech city of Pilsen. Expect is a light gold colored, noticeably hoppy brew with a thick, foamy head.

Several excellent Czech pilsners are available in the USA. Pilsner Urquell being the best known and mst common.

Czechvar, from the town of Ceske Budejovice, (Budweis in German), was fromerly known as Budvar, "The Real Budweiser,"until Anheuser Busch sued their ass, having co-opted the Budweiser name over a century ago. Needless to say, Czechvar is superior to the American usurper in every conceivable way.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

When is a pint not a pint?

The standard system of measurement is a funny thing. Upon its founding, The USA adopted the British wine gallon (231 cubic inches), and derived the 16 ounce pint from that meaurement.

The British, however, switched to the 20 ounce imperial pint in 1824, derived from a new gallon measurement based on 10 pounds of distilled water.

What does this mean for beer drinkers? Four extra ounces of beer.

Many bars serve Guinness in an Imperial pint. Not so many serve all their beers in one. If you're looking for value, find a watering hole that pours all their beers into Imperial pints.


Monday, January 16, 2006

Green bottles and skunky beer

Have you ever noticed that some beers have a lot more of that "skunky" flavor than others? That taste is caused by a chemical reaction in the hops, triggered by the ultraviolet component of sunlight.

No glass bottle is skunk-proof, but green or clear bottles are the worst. Five minutes of direct sunlight can skunk your Rolling Rock. Some brewers, notably Heineken and Grolsch, incorporate skunk into the flavor profile. If you ever find Heineken on draft, compare it to the bottled version. You'll find that it tastes a lot less like the Heineken you know. In fact, draft Heiney tastes pretty much like nothing.

If you hate skunk, buy cans or beer in brown bottles. Pittsburgh's Iron City sells beer in an aluminum bottle that has the side benefit of keeping your beer super cold. Lok for it in beer stores around the USA.


Thursday, January 12, 2006

A belated Copenhagen Christmas

Takk To Thomas and Lars Hojberg of Copenhagen, Denmark, for sending me five cans of Tuborg Julbryg. Julebryg is Danish for "Christmas Brew," and it is absolutely the elixir of the gods. I can't decide whether to drink it or stare at it.


Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The "Coldest Tasting Beer"

Bruce and I were discussing beer advertising the other day, and he mentioned Coors Light's "Coldest tasting beer" tagline. What a piee of nonsensical garbage.

"Shipped in refrigerated rail cars." the ad proclaims. Presumably, this helps the beer to taste colder. Never mind the six weeks that it spends parked on pallets in the distributors' room-temperature warehouses. I guess the cold flavor survives the prolonged thaw.

I can see why they'd want people to drink Coors Light cold. It's pretty insipid. But when your primary consumer group is underage drinkers, I guess you have to fool them somehow. Luckily for Coors, people believe the hype.


Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Light post today

I can't think of a lot to say, so here's a link to afantastic beer.

Monday, January 09, 2006

"I won't drink anything I can see through."

"I won't drink anything I can see through." You ever run into this self-styled beer expert? Nothing like a quick smug dismissal of nearly the entire gamut of ales and lagers to kick off what will undoubtedly be a fascinating and two-sided conversation.

If you can't see through it, you're basically drinking Guinness or Murphy's. Enjoy. I myself prefer roaming from nation to nation, culture to culture. Perhaps I'll try the rich Vienna-style lagers that took root in Mexico, or maybe a Biere de Garde, the only style the wine-loving French even come close to brewing well.

Each beer style reflects the geography, agriculture, and mindset of the place where it was brewed. Within these beers, you find an insight into culture, into how people connect with each other and their surroundings in daily life.

I like stout as much as the next guy, but it only takes one trip to the beer store to discover that there's so much more. Just because the beer is opague doesn't mean the mindset has to be, as well.


Saturday, January 07, 2006

F.X. Matt: a brewery reinvented

Years ago, the primary product of the F.X. Matt Brewery in Utica New York was Utica Club, a beer as bland and sour as the city in which it originates. Larger national brewing conglomerates nearly destroyed the family-owned brewery. In order to survice, the Matts launched a premium beer that became their prime product.

Saranac Pale Ale, the flagship of the Saranac line, isn't perfect but it's pretty damn good. The same can be said for just about every other variety of Saranac (except for the cloying Caramel Porter, which is like licking peanut butter out of a dog's ass).

Saranac comes in variety packs which feature the Pale Ale, Amber, and a surprisingly excellent American lager. t's amazing how good Utica Club can taste when not served in it's own can. -Mark

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Frat boys' delight

I was in the beer store yesterday and, as usual, three mouthbreathing Dave Matthews heads from Phi Kappa Daterape were at the counter buying a case of Coors Light.

I see this all the time, but I don't get it. The goal of fraternity drinking is to get wasted. So why do frat boys always buy light beer? Wouldn't something shitty like Busch, or a couple of 40s, get them even more wasted, more efficiently?

I asked the clerk what she thought. She shrugged. "Maybe they're watching their figures." Yeah. They probably rdered a diet pizza to go with the beer.

Rant over.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Bigger, Badder, Sweeter- Baltic porter

Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia- the Baltic Nations- derive most foreign influence on their culture from their immediate neighbors (principally Russia, their post-war occupiers untill 1990), but did you know there's a direct, delicious link between their beer and that of England?

Beginning in the late 18th century, the porter breweries of England began searching for continental export markets. Since the North Sea and the Baltic provided a natural shipping route to the Scandinavian and Baltic countries. English porter soon found devotees in the aforementioned countries, as well as in Sweden, Finland, and Poland.

Around the same time, English breweries started exporting stout and porter to Czarist Russia. Because the voyage was long an cold, the beer was made extra strong. It soon found favor in all levels of Russian society, even in the Imperial court itself.

This "Imperial Stout" became a style in its own right, and countries along the shipping route began to adopt recipes for a mishmash of porter and strong stout. Today's Baltic porter is a style in its own right. Dark and complex, with caramel coloring and a mild but noticeble roasted flavor, Baltic porters are more interesting than their English cousins. For all their opacity and flavor, however, they're surprisingly light in body, reminiscent of a German Dunkel. They're also on the strong side at around 5.5%-7% abv.

I've never seen a Baltic porter in a bar. When beer shopping, look for Okocim Porter, (Poland), Aldaris (Latvia), and Saku (Estonia) among others.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Beercraft Newspaper Column #2: Doppelbocks

Doppelbock: the German antidote to light beer

Monastic life seems kind of a downer; early mornings, chores, silence, no foosball table in the Abbey, pretty boring stuff. Lift a German Doppelbock to your lips, however, and you start to think those medieval monks had a good thing going.

Originally brewed in the Alps to provide Franciscan monks with sustenance when fasting, Doppelbock (double bock) is an offshoot of the traditional spring bock lager, already strong in its own right. In comparison, Doppelbock is a darker more filling beer, very sweet, with a chewy mouthfeel, roasted character and powerful alcoholic kick, making this style better for a nightcap than a ballgame.

You can usually identify a Doppelbock by its name. By tradition, it will end in the suffix –ator (as in Celebrator, Salvator or Kulminator). American breweries have largely carried on this tradition.

Technically, Dopppelbocks are seasonal spring beers, historically consumed in March and April. That’s when you’ll fund the widest variety. Demand is strong all year round, however, and the prominent German Brands are pretty much always available.

Probably the easiest one to find is Spaten Optimator from Munich’s Spaten brewery. This deep caramel colored beer has a modest head, with only a slight discernible aroma. Expect a very pronounced and pleasantly sweet barley malt flavor that lingers after you sip.

Like all Doppelbock lagers, Optimator is no beer for a hophead. The hops are there, but way back in the mix, serving more to keep the sweetness in check than to add to the flavor profile. Believe us; you’d miss them if they weren’t there (although the resulting liquid might be good on pancakes). Optimator is currently featured on tap at The Old Toad, 277 Alexander Street, and at all specialty beer stores.

Ayinger Celebrator, brewed in Aying, Germany, can sometimes be found in pubs that cater to beer geeks. It shares Optimator’s malt sweetness, but it’s darker and, according to some connoisseurs, more rich and complex in flavor. The bottles come with a little plastic goat on a string wrapped around the neck. It looks good hanging from your rear-view mirror.

One of our favorite Doppelbocks, Tucher Bajuvator, is brewed in Nuremburg, well north of Munich and the Alps. The Tucher Brewery is best known for a range of second-rate (by German standards) wheat beers, and Bajuvator is a surprising gem in their product line. It’s darker than Optimator, and much more dry on the palate. Because of the reduction in sweetness, the other complexities of the roasted malt are more appreciable. There’s a subtle rye bread flavor that really sets this beer apart. You won’t find Bajuvator on tap anywhere in town, but it’s available in bottles at Beers of the World.

Doppelbock is less common among American microbreweries. Its long lagering time and intricate decoction mashing technique make it demanding and expensive to brew, and doesn’t sell as well as the IPAs and pale ales that dominate the indie beer scene. If you find one, there’s a good chance it’s straying away from the style.

Some micros, however, create a fine Doppel. The consistently excellent Wagner Valley Brewing Company of Lodi, New York offers Sled Dog Doppelbock, a former gold-medal winner at the Great American Brew Fest in Boulder, Colorado. It shares Optimator’s buckwheat honey color and thick mouthfeel. A slight hop nudge in the aftertaste is the only clue that Sled Dog didn’t come off the boat from Germany. Look for it in bottles at specialty beer stores.

Doppelbocks are quite filling in their own right, but go well with German cuisine. Forget about pairing them with subtle foods or fish. Go for steak and lamb dishes, or save them for dessert. Careful, though. At 7-8.5% alcohol by volume, there’s enough alcohol in these beers to staple a Coors Light drinker’s lips together for hours. Like that’s a bad thing.

In other beers:

• The Rohrbach Brewing Company has released a Vanilla porter, dark with a pleasant cream-soda touch. Find this unique style at Johnny’s Irish Pub, among other places, or try it at the Brewery on Buffalo Road.

• Green King IPA, from England’s Green King Brewery, known for Old Speckled Hen, is popping up around town. A pint of Green King will demonstrate the difference between a British IPA and its more florally aromatic cousins from the Pacific Northwest. Several places are carbonating it with nitrogen, which makes for a creamier, less bubbly beer.

Bruce is a certified beer judge and former commercial brewer. Mark owns a laptop and likes beer. Send your questions, suggestions, or comments to beercraft@rochester.rr.com