New York: Sackets Harbor Brewing Co., Sackets Harbor

 

We visited the Sackets Harbor Brewing Co. in the North Country of New York State last weekend. Sitting at the eastern end of Lake Ontario in the bay that once saw one-half of the US navy located there around two hundred years ago, the brew pub is in one of the prettiest settings around for a glass of real ale. It is also one of the smallest brew pubs I have ever seen. The building set on the waterfront next to a marina is divided into a pub side and a dining side with their DME brewing equipment set up in the front with a view from the pub. There is also a patio on the marina side.

 

 

 

 

We really didn’t take in the full range of the beers offered as we were in the middle of a day long Father’s Day upstate road trip with two little kids in tow but that is ofter a good measure of the capability of a pub. It was kid friendly if only because of the active harbour out the window of the dining room – count the boats, kids. While that was going on, I had their stout which I was really pleased with – full of flavour with a bit of chocolate and a bit on minty hops over a clean milky yeast. We also tried a half pint of a cherry wheat which was clean and refreshing with a solid cherry flavour which leaned a bit towards cherry pie as opposed to cherry picked off the tree.

 

 

 

 

I had had lowish expectations as I had not fallen in love with the brewery’s bottling of its 1812 Ale when I tried it a year and a half ago. Not only was that view of their beer dead wrong based on that sample given the two we tasted – but just the food and the view at the pub would make it a destination regardless of the beer. I will have to try their 1812 again.¹ Lew points out that Sackets Harbor has a new brew master, Andy Gersten, who previously had worked at Oswego at King Arthur’s reviewed here last month. I liked his last stop, too.

Three advocatonians have visited and reported.

¹ 29 Dec. 2006: I have two left in the stash now and can confirm they are quite lovely session ambers. I will do a proper review soon.

 

Big Hop Bombs: Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA, Delaware USA

We were this close to staying at a hotel between the Dogfish Head Brewery and the beach at Lewes, Delaware…this close…then I bailed on the great southern credit card run and opted for the nearer north-east of New England. I would have learned so much about Dogfish Head – not to mention and Victory Brewing in PA on the way. Ah well, next year in Delaware.

Thanks, however, to the good folks of Galeville a little bit of the Delaware shore makes it upstate. I picked up this four pack of these 9% brews for about 8 bucks US which is a good deal. I don’t need six 9% brews and that savings allows me to pick up another quart of Rogue or maybe a little something from Middle Ages. I have had Dogfish’s Pumkin’ Ale and their Belgian dark strong ale, Raison D’Etre. Both are quality with a bit of querky and expect something of the same and get it. The brewery explains the “minute” the 90 minute IPA in this way:

Our family of Indian Pale Ales includes the 60 Minute I.P.A. and the 90 Minute Imperial I.P.A.. Both feature our unique continuous hopping program, where they receive a single hop addition that lasts over the course of the entire boil (60 and 90 minutes respectively). This breakthrough hopping method makes for a beer that is extremely hoppy without being overly bitter.

The hop effect is very nice, giving great green gobs of hops which bite the back of the throat coat the mouth and fill the nose while maintaining a mellowness which envelops the ale’s hot boozy heat. It would make a heck of a match for hot Cambodian soup or a curry. The effect of the continuous hopping also is a lack of layering or steps in the flavours. There is not so much a noticing of that nutty tone or that raisin in the corner as a continuum of shifting thoughts bouncing off the palate. Under and amongst all the hops and heat is sweet pale malt with maybe cherry/apricot notes as well as perhaps a twong of crystal sultana and definitely a grainy edge in the finish. The body is medium-large without quite the bigness of a Stone.

At the beer advocate an astounding 458 reviews of this can be found and we have learned that 2% of those who post there have absolutely no idea what they are talking about, like this chappie:

Clear rusty tan in color, slim foam. A small hint of hops in the smell but not to much at all. The taste is hoppy but is unfortunatley covered by the terrible alcohol taste , like wise it leaves an after taste of alcohol. IMHO not a great brew, not at all.

So…he gave an Imperial IPA at nine percent 2.2/5 for being hot and boozy. Please stay away from the Belgians, pal. Hands off the Belgians.

One of the greats: hot, hoppy and handsome.

New York: King Arthur’s Steakhouse & Brewery, Oswego

While across the way on the weekend we had dinner at King Arthur’s Steakhouse and Brewery in Oswego, New York and we were very glad we did. I had a little problem with the camera but I expect that you get a sense of the place from these photos. The building is quite impressive and is on one of the main corners downtown in this small city of 18,000 or so on Lake Ontario. The dining area is split into two, a bar and a restaurant. The site also has conference rooms on the second floor as well as suites for overnight on the third.

 

 

 

 

We sat in the restaurant side and found the place very kid friendly – important when you have a five and a six. Mac and cheese and other friendly food kept them happy for a while allowing we parents to enjoy ourselves. I tried a six sip sampler before dinner and had their IPA with a steak. Across the table, a shepherd’s pie was partnered with an Oatmeal Stout. Also, I am happy to report that the medieval theme was fairly tastefully done. It is not like the wait staff have to dress like court jesters or anything, it avoids Monty Python references and the mural of the Knights of the Round Table sits up in a recessed part of the ceiling. The bright gleaming brew equipment – made in Canada by the way – gets much more prominent place of pride.

 

 

 

 

Lew Bryson, in his book New York Breweries, does not cover the spot as it came into being after his first edition came out – but he does provide notes from his visits over the last couple of years at his websites’ updates page for New York:

Opened in the Buckout-Jones building (1st & Bridge Sts., Oswego, right by the river), site of a former brewery (Buckout). Strongly medieval in theming. Visited 8/12/03: not good news, I’m afraid. Very cool place, great location, but two were horrible, others mostly flawed, one good one. A new brewer had just been hired, I’m hoping for the best.

12/19/04 Update: Just saw on Pubcrawler that former Empire Syracuse brewer Andy Gersten is brewing at King Arthur’s. This is great news for both the pub and Andy; glad to see him working and them getting his excellent beers!

4/22/05: Andy Gersten has moved on to Sackets Harbor (excellent news for them), will be replaced by former Flour City (and Empire Rochester) brewer Greg Smith.

The beer was excellent. Earlier in the afternoon, I had taken a long drink of Oswego water and thought how good it was, soft and likely drawn from the lake. The beer had that quality as well. I scribbled some notes from the sampler. The brown as lighter on hops than most US browns, had a nice medium body with some chocolate notes. The APA was malty with some crystal sweetness and good green hops. The IPA was higher test with lots of fresh green hops and loads of fruity malt. It went really well with a blue cheese toped Delmonico with garlic mash totties – which is something of a testamony to its size. The oatmeal stout was thick espresso mocha with a rich creamy yeast. It could take on a scoop of Hagan Daz vanilla as a float. I thought the Old English did not have any noticeable stale or soured quality that should be part of the style and, yet, the Bitter was a light green English hopped clean sip. Drinky drama trying to think it all through.

 

 

 

 

All in all, despite the shifting brewmasters over the last two years that Lew notes, I think they have achieved quality. The ingredients are clearly first rate and the choice of yeast is particularly well suited to the local water – something not often achieved by many good brewers wanting to copy a style rather than express what is local. Two litre growlers were available for take-away. We refrained but if I was passing though, I would definitely pop in for one of the IPA and another of the Oatmeal Stout.

 

Denmark, New York

There are places you hit the brakes. It can be a view but more often than not it is the question of what the heck was going on here. As you can see from these pictures, there are three great stone houses in a row on a rather quite back country road in Lewis County New York. The afternoon shadow across their fronts confirm their eastern orientation facing across the valley. But why, away from a river where mills could develop, did this small hamlet have such a grand life almost 200 years ago. The sign next to the pink sided Freedom Wright’s Inn gives some indication of the importance of the place at one time, as does the solid but closed up church.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The first occupation by Europeans of the area comes relatively late or so sayeth the 1927 The History of New York State (pub., Lewis Historical Publishing Company, Inc.):

The settlement of the northern section of New York was greatly delayed by the ignorance concerning it. Old maps of the section named it Irocoicia. “The Land of the Iroquois,” or Coughsagraga, “The Dismal Wilderness.” Travelers who skirted the edges said it was a region of swamps and mountain barrens. Sauthier’s map, published in England in 1777 and supposed to be the beat and latest in its information, mentions it as “This marshy tract is full of beavers and otters.” There is no map earlier than 1795 that shows a trace of the Black River. Soldiers, possibly those of Sullivan’s expedition, knew something of the territory. But it is in no way surprising that when offers were made to the land commissioners of New York for these supposed waste barrens, that they should be accepted readily, and the land sold for mere pittances and on the easiest of terms. One of the many sales, and the, was that to Macomb. On June 22, 1791, Alexander Macomb made an offer for certain lands, the payment to be one-sixth part of the purchase price yearly until the account was complete, no interest to be charged. The price offered was eight pence an acre. Macomb secured net 3,670,715 acres, divided into six great tracts. The one numbered four included the larger part of the counties of Jefferson and Lewis. Macomb conveyed this tract, with others, to William constable, and he in turn part to others sop that the deeds to Lewis County are traced back to nine great tracts known as: Black River, Inmans’ Triangle, Constable’s Four Towns, Brantingham, Brown’s, Watson’s, Castorland, and Great Tract Number Four.

Early settlers included Bedells and many others. Denmark was the first township to be constituted in 1807 after the founding of the county two years before. Someone of local legal note – who attened Denmark Academy and who studied law… in Lowville – was born there in 1825 as was an Iowa banker in 1833 as well as a Mayor of Ottawa. It wasn’t until about 40 years after its founding that the now larger towns formed in the valley below:

In 1848, the towns of Croghan and New Bremen were formed by French, German, and Swiss immigrants.

These towns were likely created as part of the development of the Black River canal, an unprofitable spur off the Erie, which opened in 1855. Denmark was on one branch of the underground railroad, moving slaves from the US south to Canada. A golf club formed in 1925.

National Six-Pack XI: 10W30 Dark Ale, Neustadt, Ontario

10w30

The trouble with Ontario is really expressed in its beer distribution system: it is too big. Half the nation lives here, half the office space and half the bears as well. It goes from the arctic to the Carolinian forest, from the western prairie to a few miles from Montreal. The effect on beer distribution is a focus on localization so that if you want to find one of the beer from the handful of brewers in the province you have to drive. Driving on the weekend for other reasons, I took the opportunity to test the LCBO stocks in Guelph, north on highway 6 just past the Sleemans Brewery, four hours drive to my west.

This beer was worth the drive. A dark ale that actually tries to be something other than a darkened lager like the quite foul Waterloo Dark. Dark ale is not really a style so much as a place there by brown on the lighter side and porter on the richer. It is a small place and this beer settles there well. The body is heavier than the average Canadian ale – as the automotive oil name would imply. It is however fairly fresh with bright, if twiggy, hops cutting quite a sweet rich malt profile. Within the malts there are grainy pale malt flavours as well as some chocolate. Amongst those there is also a treacle note and perhaps a little hint of licorice. A brighter and lighter Theaksons’s Old Peculier? Here is what the advocates say.

Perhaps not the most amazing ale but – for those named dark – the best I have had from Canada.

National Six-Pack X: Sgt. Major’s IPA, Scotch Irish, Ontario

sgtmaj

Finally the wee truck from Fitzroy Harbour up on the Ottawa River near Arnprior made its way down to Kingston giving us a taste of this excellent local ale. This is a hoppy that reminds me a lot of my recollection of the Dragon’s Breath Ale contract brewed and bottled by the old Hart Brewery of Carleton place about (without looking) 35 miles south of Fitzroy Harbour. Candy cane Goldings and grapefruity Chinook hops combine to provide quite a bit of a sour tang to this fairly lightly bodied clean ale. The finish is a nice combination of the slight rough edge of the hops and the light graininess of the pale ale.

The brewery has a pretty good web presence which provides the names of bars where you can buy a pint of tap. It also describes the Sgt. Major IPA as follows:

Our Sgt. Major’s IPA is our most intense ale to date. It’s a massively hoppy and quite bitter beer, yet one with a nice, full-bodied malt background. It weighs in at 5.5 percent Alcohol (balanced by its big body). It is hopped with lots of Chinook hops which impart a tasty white-grapefruit/spice/resin flavour and aroma (and a total of 68 IBU) making the ale wonderfully refreshing. Being at the low end of the alcohol range for the style, it’s as close to a supping pint as tradition allows. While the Sgt. Major’s rather considerable bitterness is nicely balanced by its full-bodied maltiness, this is overall a predominantly hoppy ale. The full body of our India Pale Ale comes from lots of English pale ale malt and crystal malt, with a very small amount of chocolate malt. Our all-natural draught ale uses no artificial additives or preservatives.

I don’t know if that means the bottled version does have artificial additives and preservatives. I would also think that the full-bodied characterization is pushing it a bit in a world where a drive as far south as this is north will get me a Middle Ages Wailing Wench or Druid Fluid. It is, for example, lighter but hopper than Propeller’s ESB from Halifax, one of the nicer bodied ales in Canada, but according to the standard scheme of bitters and pale ales a grade below an IPA. But this all is not to distract from the ale, just the adjectives. Like Mill Street Tankhouse Ale, the lighter mouthfeel I think reflects the apparent or possibly emerging Canadian style of pale ale, as opposed to my suggested putative style sweeter fuller Canadian amber but less hoppy. Both are a degree or two off the standard for an American pale ale or its amber sibling and different again from English ones.

Nevertheless, this is very good beer and a worthy addition to quest for the National Six-Pack. The quality of the craftsmanship makes me think a wee trip to the Manx in Ottawa is in order to try out the brewer’s draught only Session Ale, a rare ordinary bitter which – if true to style – should not hit 3.5% and ought to be as refreshingly quaffable as a good dark mild.

The Blue Tusk, Syracuse, New York

The last of what Lew Bryson has called “the triumvirate” of Syracuse’s temples to ale, the Blue Tusk, was my favorite for the mood of the day. Much Middle Ages on tap as well as Stone and Victory and even Blue Lite for who knows why. Loud and chatty, we walked in and immediately got into a two and a half hour conversation about Canadian and American differences with a couple of chemical engineers who were regulars. SU had just won a basketball game at the Dome and the place and the streets were loaded with fully grown men dressed in orange. The staff were happy to please and, though busy, a pleasure. One thing I liked is that the place smelled like beer. Not fried food and not smoke.

 

 

 

 

The real surprise of the night was the Syracuse Pale Ale on tap, a revelation of simplicity and quality over complexity and gimmick. If I had one beef it was the understocking of lower alcohol styles. There are some great milds and ordinary bitters out there and, unless you are aiming at getting plastered, a session of 8% to 10% beers is a bit much. Even with that being said, as with Clark’s, the Blue Tusk is all about the quality and handling of real ale but with the hubbub that you sometimes want with your brew.

Awful Al’s, Syracuse, New York

Never was a beer from Stone so appropriate…
 

We only stopped in Awful Al’s briefly when walking between Clark’s and the Blue Tusk. Two reasons. I was told to stop taking photos and it is a reminder of how great the anti-smoking laws are for the consumption of fine beers. It is, however, the dimmest lit bar I think I have ever been in and as a result the doctored photos give you the sense of the place as cross between photographer’s dark room, a 1970s era Soviet submarine and a very merry upper level of Hell.

One kind correspondent, Jim of Maltblog, has written me:

Awful Al’s is the place to go for whiskeys and bottled beers. They have a very good selection and a hip atmosphere and clientele. It’s a bit of a meat market, so be warned – it can be very crowded and is filled with the yuppies that you didn’t find at Clark’s. But if you are looking for a dram of Balvenie PortWood or a Laphroaig, this is your place. It’s also the only place I know of in Syracuse that have a waiver from the smoking ban in bars and restaurants – it’s very smoky as a result.

Very smoky as the streets by dark industrial mills at midnight in 1840 were smoky. The ever excellent Lew Bryson is warmer to this particular flame to the moth in his ever informing book New York Breweries (1st ed, p. 205):

…walk over to Awful Al’s Whiskey and Cigar Bar (321 South Clinton Street, 315-472-4427), across from the Suds Factory and lose yourself in contemplation of hundreds of bottles of spirits. Come back to your senses and realize there are some great taps of beer here as well, a big old humidor, and big couches and armchairs to relax in while you enjoy your smoke whiskey. This is civilization….

Look – he’s right. The wall of wickedness. You know, you really ought to buy Lew’s books if you have any interest in ales and find yourself in New York or Pennsylvania or coming soon Delaware, Virginia and Maryland. You can’t be relying on us for every good opinion. Sure I am looking for a signed copy to review…but I will pay. The piper is due his wages.

 

 

 

 

 

So in the end I did not have a dram or a drop in Awful Al’s, driven by oxygen deficit syndrome as well as my fear of such a complete temple to appetite and someone’s reasonable sensitivity to having your face on the internet. I think that I would have to get to know it better, drop the residual asthma and have a change of clothes so that I could burn the nicotine soaked ones I would be leaving in. And buy those spy camera glasses everyone is talking about. But that is just me. Every heaven is not the same heaven and you might like Lou’s better than mine. I know I found mine at the Blue Tusk which I will report on anon.

It is, in reflection, interesting that Al’s, Clarks, the Blue Tusk and even the hotel bar at the Marx where we stayed each suited a different definition of comfort-and-joy and God-rest-ye-merry-gentlemanliness. All distinct from the Maritime and New England taverns of benches and heavy wood tables like those of Halifax or Portland Maine’s Gritty McDuff’s and Three Dollar Dooies, again, despite the shared goal. Speaks to the differences in local culture as much as anything I suppose.

Clark’s Ale House, Syracuse, New York

Click above for bigger beauty

I came away from a visit to Clark’s Ale House knowing I should visit it again in a different circumstance. In the middle of a semi-sub-roaring tour of the town with friends, the quiet of Clark’s was a little disconcerting and, given a wrong moment, felt like pretense…but I figure it was me. It has no TV, no music, no bellowing bartendings shouting to be heard. It is also smaller than I had expected with a few tables up on a second level above the bar.

 

 

 

 

Clark’s famous roast beef sandwich on an onion bun. Dapper gents neatly sliced beef and pulled pints behind the bar. I had an excellent Armory Ale, a Middle Ages brew only available at Clark’s. Every brew I’ve had from Middle Ages is so well done, I should have expected this American pale ale to be as good as it was but well-made and well-handled beers are actually so rare that you have to note when you are in their presence.

The reviewers over at the Beer Advocate are far more certain and with a return visit maybe on a Sunday afternoon as opposed to after the game on Saturday night I would also write as does one from Michigan:

From the outside Clark’s is mighty inviting when your walking about the streets of downtown Syracuse on a biting cold late Autumn evening. You can see the jovial patrons, their heads reared back with laughter, through the large paned glass front. The warmth draws you in. The beer keeps you there. A pint of Middle Ages and a warm roast beef sandwich amid the chatter of beer lovers melts the icicles fixed to your eyebrows. Nifty layout holds pockets of seating, against the bar, under a window, in the back room with your best buddy, even an upper level I didn’t explore. Dark stained woods around and ivyed trellis above. Cozy.

Go to Clark’s and know a quiet night with their beers.