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 firstname.lastname@example.org.