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.

New York: Variety 12- Pack, Cooperstown Brewing, Milford

Another big buy from my trip a few weeks ago to the Party Source in Syracuse, NY. The case of this happy vista upon cracking the cardboard. Cooperstown Brewing is not actually in Cooperstown but is a proud cornerstone of the Milford, New York business community.

Like the Smuttynose case review posted ten days ago, I will work through the varieties included in this combo pack and give my impression of what the brewery is up to. One preliminary point, however. In this pack there are twelve bottles of six types as opposed to the four types. For me this takes out the “what do you think opportunity” – I don’t mind sharing a third but I think two bottles separated by a couple of days helps me think about whether I like a brew or not. Also, without having had one, drop the “golden ale”. Maybe once I have popped them, I will feel differently but to me that sounds like a pale ale that can’t work itself up to call itself even that. Plus, having sneaked one each of the stout and porter already, I know you could drop the stout. The porter is a real winner but the stout is not. You are trying to win me over with these mixed cases, so my advice is play your best cards.

I will review all six ales – and they are all ales which is a plus from the get go – as I pop ’em.

Golden Ale: I am not sure whether I have to retract what I wrote above, now a few days ago, but I am also not minding this light ale. That is what it really is at 4.3%. The brewery says:”Nine Man” is a golden ale, brewed from English pale and crystal malts, and with torrified wheat. It is bittered with Cascade and Cluster hops and finished with Cascade hops. “Nine Man Ale” was first brewed as a summer seasonal beer in 1996. It was kegged the first season but not bottled until the opening of the baseball season in April 1997.

– Original Gravity 1.045 / Final Gravity 1.012 /4.3% abv.

There is more body in this than a supposedly full-bodied Canadian macro-ale like Labatt 50. The hop selection and timing provides a good edge to the brew without florals or fruity flavour – maybe a wee lemon rind thing. The crystal malt gives it a slight nutty tone as well. Nothing remarkable except that at that moderate alcohol level, it does not come across as any kind of compromise. The beer advocatonians are a little restless with a 19% thumbs down rating. Here is one unhappy soul’s tale:Found this to be a decent, quaffable light ale. It has a pleasant medium gold appearance with a slight head. The aroma has hints of mown grass with some hints of Saaz hops. Tart, slightly fruity flavor. At the end, find it to be a bit clingy and starchy on the aftertaste.That reviewer rated it 2.9 out of 5. What do you want from a light ale?!?! But that is it! It is not called a light ale or even a lite one but a golden one. By not admitting what it is, has Cooperstown lost a market? Perhaps. For now, I say leave three of these in the box…maybe as a summer seasonal.

Pride of Milford: Strong Ale. The brewery says 7.7% which is about 2.2% higher than I would have guessed from the mouthfeel. It is rich but not Belgian fruity, more restrained like a low-end barley wine. The excellent Lew Bryson in his excellent, nay, seminal New York Breweries (1st ed. 2003 Stackpole Books) calls it at page 166:…a big beer that showcases the beautiful character of the Yorkshire [Ringwood] yeast. It’s malty, cookie-sweet and touched by fruity esters and Ringwood nuttiness that I love…I would agree with everything but the “cookie-sweet” unless we are talking ginger snap or milk lunch. I think this is actually moderately rich and dry – think amontillado or oloroso rather than fino if we were taking sherry which we are not but I thought I would say it anyway. The brewery says:

“Pride of Milford” is a very special ale with a tapestry of complex flavors and aromas. It is brewed with five malts and fermented with the Ringwood yeast at a higher temperature which gives this beer a uniqueness all its own. “Pride” has a distinctive reddish copper color. It is strong and rich beer. When “Pride” was first brewed in December 1999, many thought the flavor and aromas of this beer had fruit overtones. No fruit or adjunct flavoring is added to this beer. The unique flavor comes from our special brewing process.

It is not particularly pungent and has a soft mouthfeel, which would make it quite sneaky if one faced an afternoon at a cottage in winter with a fridgefull. Which raises the question of why this would be included in a case in July. I say include three of these in the case in winter replaced by the Golden Ale in the summer. I think beerish advocates would agree.

Strike Out Stout: The head fizzed like a Coke as it was poured and dissolved away within ten seconds. A nice flavour with chocolate and dry darker malts but subdued, a lighter bodied stout. An oxymoron. Fades in the mouth leaving a cocoa-chalky feel then just a little sour tang. The brewery is kinder to itself:

“Strike Out” is brewed with 6 malts including a balanced portion of chocolate and crystal malts. It is also brewed with 5% flaked oats for a velvet-like mouth feel. English pale, Munich and black malt, plus roasted barley round out the malt bill. Considerably lower in alcohol than both Benchwarmer Porter and Old Slugger Pale Ale, “Strike Out” is a well-rounded stout, opaque black in color with a roasted palate.

        People looking for a stout will be disappointed, especially with the 4.6% but also the crystal malt, quite off style, even for an oatmeal stout. Consider these

two great oatmeal stouts

         easily accessible to someone in the east end of Lake Ontario region. Both have richness. Strike Out does not. It should be reformulated with some body added or it should be called a dark ale, a lesser style. The yeast is a bit sour, too. Not really on for the style. I think I have made a stout like this and not been that proud of it.

One unhappy beer advocate

       captures my thoughts:

Almost black. Big Huge fizzy brown head. Good retention. Head forms craters as it dissintegrates. This beer appears to be very charged up by its appearance. Coffee bean, soap and leather are present on the nose. There’s something wrong with this beer. (Actually, many things.) Mouthfeel is way too carbonated. I get so damn much gas in every gulp that a burp is always the aftermath. The taste is astringent. Husky. Tannin like. Soapy. Stale. No stout qualities to speak of. I haven’t dumped a beer in months, but I just don’t feel like burping 20 times by the time I finish this one.

      So ditch this beer, Cooperstown. I think I am going to like the porter better from the recollection of the first. Leave this one out of the variety case to make some room of the seasonal.

Old Slugger Pale Ale: If there are two words that are bad in beer they are “Mt.” and “Hood”. Some call them spicy. Others, like me, rough and dirty, like a little bit of bark in every sip. I didn’t know what was so odd about this brew until I saw those two words – then I knew. Al Korzonas in his text Homebrewing – Vol. 1 (Sheaf & Vine, 1997) writes:

Another recently released American-grown cousin of Hallertauer Mittlefrüh. It is spicy (cinnamon), resiny and slightly sweet. It is recommended for any German or American lager. It is quite close to the Hallettaur Mittlefrüh in character, perhaps a little spicier. I recommend against using this hop for beers in which you want dominant bitterness – in a recent experiment I found its bitterness to be slightly abrasive when used in a recipe where the bitterness strongly dominated the malt.

      Not good news for a pale ale – that fairly malty, fairly bitter style.

Don’t get me wrong. This is an ambitious brew – ringwood yeast and its sour, woodsy thing; three very different hops, Mt. Hood as well as twiggy Fuggles and citrusy Cascade; as well as four barley malts including two types of crystal. For all that work there is an absence of finesse, the balance that makes all that flavour pull together. What would help? There is butterscotch but it is sitting there in a gap that needs to be filled up with biscuit. Again with the body…Cooperstown is just making them too light for the amount of flavour they want you to take in. Like the stout, it leaves you with an impression that it is thinner than it ought to be. Also like the stout, the head disappeared fast. The beer advocates give at a fairly low average for a micro.

Back Yard India Pale Ale: The head sustains longer than the stout or the pale ale. This is a good sign. The first taste is of vegetative rather than herbal hops. Clover sweet. There is a rough malt grain edge but is works in this one. This beer would go well with rich earthy flavours like ox-tail soup, parsley potato soup or roast squash. You know what I saying. I know you do. Maybe it is just that the ringwood challenge has been met with this one. A full three ales in the variety pack year round.

Interestingly, the unhappy beer advocates are talking about gushing bottles, cloudy ale and high burposity. These comments all go to problems at the brewery. My bottle was nothing like this, fairly still and balanced. So be prepared for bottle variation. The brewery says something very interesting:

English pale barley malt is predominant in this beer with just a small amount of crystal malt. It is well bittered with Cluster and Cascade hops and finished with a mix of local hop and larger amounts of Fuggle hop.The southeast zone of the leather-stocking region in New York (west of the Syracuse-Binghampton corridor south-west of Albany) was a hop growing area before the west was truly won and a local hop is a good hop if it is a heritage variety as this claim might be taken to imply. All in all, I am very happy with this beer. No Flower Power IPA from Ithaca but a worthy if less brassy neighbour. Redemption in the case.

Benchwarmer Porter: Comfort beer and, again like the IPA, a worthy placement in the case. The head is rocky and tan. The mouthfeel is full and full of mocha and fresh picked unsweetened black current. A beer fit for the Ringwood, but porter usually is. I used to make Ringwood pumpkin porter in my homebrewing days…but less about me, more about the brew. The brewery says:More than 4% chocolate malt, which is the most similar to the brown malts of the early 1700’s, gives “Benchwarmer” its dry coffee-like finish. It is fermented with the Ringwood yeast which is an excellent yeast for the brewing of porters.I am buying it but are the beer advocates? 43 reviews all all positive. One says:

Big foamy head and very dark color, but not opaque. Lots of hops for a porter, and they work well in drying out a slightly chewy mouthfeel, as well as imparting nice hints of herbs and dry leaves. Very tasty underlying flavors of espresso, dry molasses and earth. The finish is dry, with the coffee/espresso flavors lingering with a touch of alcohol. Really complex on tap.

Many reviewers taste some smoke which I did not get at all. Oh, well. Such is life. Very decent porter.

So all in all this is an ok variety pack but I now know what I will buy in a six and what I will not. Some concern for production quality but when they do well they do well. Nothing life changing but they are thinking and they are achieving – two things I have to remember to get around to from time to time Work on the stout and the pale ale, mix up the case to go with four styles not six and you are going to be ok.

Four North East IPAs

4ipa

PA’s Tröegs Hopback, southwest NY’s Southern Tier,
Ithaca’s Flower Power and Maine’s Shipyard.
 

Porter lost out to India Pale Ale somewhere in the mid-1800s. The style came out of the export trade to the British soldiers in the Empire – by brewing double strength and double hopped, the ale travelled better and was expected to be diluted when it got there. Plan B was rapidly brought into play. In the revival of beer making that has occurred over the last twenty years, big hops and big body have been something of a flagship for each brewer. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. These suds are all in the game. You’ve seen the Ithacan before but now it is with compadres.

As an aside, this is something that has not taken off in Canada in the same way. If there is a great hopped ale it is more in the English style like the excellent Propeller ESB out of Halifax. The micro-micro brewery at Rogue’s Roost also in Halifax made small batches of wonderful IPAs but they were not a hit with the crowd and ended up dry-hopped in corny kegs (ie soda pop canisters) for the select crowd of Lorne’s pals. I have not had a micro in Ontario that went anywhere near where either Nova Scotian went – even they are “IPA lite” compared to any number of available brews from below the border. Can enyone suggest a rival for these four?

Southern Tier IPA:This beer is not so complex as either the Ithaca or Tröegs examples but that is not necessarily a bad thing. At the end there is a bit of alcohol heat which is expected at 6.5%. Woodsy hopping feels more like Fuggles than Goldings but there is a bit of the orange peel of the latter as well. Not real green or minty, either. Spicy, however, and with the extra body it is not unlike or perhaps a good compliment to a Sussex Golden Ginger Ale. A bit heavy to be a session beer. The Beer Advocate reviews are positive and I will buy biscuity but I am not finding the hops grapefruity. That all does go to the problem of describing taste as no one is really wrong to a certain point. Located at the very south western corner of New York, the Southern Tier Brewery is a worthy new find for me.

Ithaca Flower Power IPA: I wrote about this one before but it is good to be a standard. In fact, of the ales tested, Ithaca Flower Power IPA and Brooklyn Brown are real winners so far. This time I am impressed by the balance of the Flower Power without recourse to a particularly heavy or heady body. The brewery tells us:

Available April 1 – September 31. Elegantly traditional and rich in its hop character, this India Pale Ale is thirst-quenching and soul-satisfying. Each sip delivers a bounty of herbal and floral hop character, balanced by the fruity signature of our house yeast. Cheers! This seasonal product is available only on draft, 1/4 bbl keg, or 1/2 bbl keg.

The website is a bit behind as I am clearly drinking a bottle. The lads at the Beer Advocate think it may be a session beer but that would be like eating arugula all evening instead of dill pickle chips. I like this opinion:

It kind of sneaks up on you, through the easy going, crunchy, jam band listening feel. The oak is very distinct, meeting a walnut yeast flavor and balancing biscuity grain. A lingering woody hop flavor, with a bit of grainy malt sticking to the back of the tongue. Medium bodied, with soft but steady carbonation. A bit of a rough-hewn mouthfeel, with all the earth, wood and grain going on.

I like it. A very earthy, natural feel. The graininess is somewhat like an organic ale, and the oak flavor really conjures up a cask feel. It’s a nice enough IPA, but perhaps a little more bite would make it better. Some of that herbal, piney oiliness. Regardless, I like the woody, earthy feel, it creates character and makes the brew distinct.That is it! Arugula. The beer has that bit of black pepper zing with vegetative green in the hops that is like the green aka roquette. Damn good beer.

Tröegs Hopback Amber Ale: far left, this beer is pretty fine, a notch above medium body, a fresh hops profile, fairly sweet from crystal malts with a light citrus edge through it. The brewer says:

Tröegs HopBack Amber gets its unique name and taste from the HopBack Vessel in our brewhouse. Packed full of whole flavor hops, each batch circulates through the vessel, creating a fresh hoppy aroma, spicy taste and rich caramel note that defines this signature amber ale.

It is rich, mellow, satisfying and quite morish and the Beer advoates approve. It is not as molar janglingly hopped as other pale ales or IPAs US brewers will throw at you but sometimes the hopping can go too far if you are looking for something to have more than one bottle of. At 6% it is not a session beer but you could fool yourself despite the warming. Like the other ales I have been happy with, the challenge they place on the Canadian bigotry against US brews is definitely on.

Shipyard IPA: I have a sectret that is no secret and that is I love Shipyard’s ales. I have crawled all over the brewery on a ad hoc tour by the brew master one Saturday with portland at Portland. I have t-shirts and a ball cap. I have (briefly) abandoned my family on visits immediately upon dropping them off at the home being visited to rush to DiPietro’s around the corner – the great pizza maker, beer and wine store, corner grocery of South Portland – to pick up a captain’s case, the variety packs US micro-brewers put out of three bottles of four styles that make such sense. It sums up much of what is great about Maine – quality, tradition and independence. (In fact, the current polling in Maine giving Bush the lead give me the expectation that Kerry will win nationally…they go their own way to that degree.)

At the brewery I was stunned to find open top modern square fermenters, like found at the excellent Samuel Smith’s brewery of Yorkshire, England. Ale fans and even Ale-fan will know that the open square is a form of fermentation that requires the yeast head to effectively seal the fluid forming in to beer below it. No gauges and pipes up top, just a burbling crops of foam. That foam replicates itself when the bottle purs into a big rocky head that leaves a venerous lightly beiged lace on the glass as it settles. It is very mich alive. It also, again like sherry, arguably allows for a certain respiration, which when your Brewery is by the seashore in Casco Bay, can be argued to add a sea saltiness aspect to the brew – sort of like certain Islay malts.

The brew itself [Ed.: click on IPA on the java-ed frame] is fruity and fuggley which makes it fairly close to the orange juice of ales. The beer used to be called Fuggles IPA according to one of my t-shirts and is fairly brave in its selection of a single hop. Fuggles is the oldest variety of hops still used and has a twiggy edge not present in the more noble hops like Goldings with its fine candy cane, citrus characteristics. The website uses the word spicy but that is a little general in the sense that I like to use that word for either Christmas pudding flavours you can get in darks or peppery nutmegy clovey flavours you can get in hefeweissens. At 5.8%, there is a little bit of heat to Shipyard IPA there but it is well-framed in the hops and medium bodied malt. The beer advocatonians are mixed on this brew, 13% giving it a thumbs down for the properties that the square fermenation and use of Fuggles actually intends. They are not a mistakes so much as decisions. I also have noted that Shipyard’s flagship Export had been described as a Canadian ale in some quarters. The grainy roughness of the brews certainly is familiar to me in that regard. Consider this review:

Certainly bitter, though so many IPAs are made with one of the hops that starts with a “C” that this one seems unique despite its blandness. Well carbonated and lively, it’s certainly refreshing. Bits of lemon and berry tart drizzled in caramel. But then it’s really just hops. You get the hint of complexity, but dry, grainy, hop oily intensity takes over. Hops is the word of the day. They’re all over the backend of this beer. No harshness or alcohol to slow consumption. Goes down well.

In a sense this beer is a pinnacle of former glory Maritime brewing style which I grew up with out of the Olands and Moosehead breweries. It is like the beer Oland’s Export might be were it brewed as a real ale rather than a beer replicant containing mainly corn sugar and irish moss. If I were Mike in Halifax, I would load up a rental van with non-drinkers, drive the eight hours to the brewery, buy their share of the border crossing allowance with taxes paid and have a very happy winter.

There you have it. All my USA summer brews are extinguished, supped, downed and the reviews are complete. Good thing I have a week off after Canadian Thanksgiving and am planning a day trip two hours south to the Galeville Grocery and even perhaps the Party Source in Syracuse.

Assorted Darks

Three New Yorkers and one each from England, Quebec and Ontario
 

Here are six dark ales which I have stuck away over the last while to describe some of the differences. This is a special message to Nils who I think can start his hunt for a beer he likes with some of these.

If you were buying beer in 1880, these might appear ranked on a brewer’s list they are degrees of the same thing. On the light side in the latter part of the 19th century, pale ales ranges from light (dinner ales) through bitter/pale ale, extra special bitters, India pale ales to barley wine. Similarly we have the dark range from mild, dark, porter, stout (porter), extra stout, Russian/Baltic/Imperial stout. Gradations were marked by combinations of capital letters the most well known of which would be of the “XXX” label which would be a fairly strong pale. On top of that, just as browns are not all the same, neither are stouts. There are dry dry stouts like draft Guinness, extra stouts like Guinness in the bottle, strong stouts like Trinidad’s 7% Lion Extra Stout, milk stouts like Lancaster Brewing produces and Sweet Stouts which can be a light and 2.9%. Oatmeal stout, like these, is a sub-class all its own.

McAuslan’s St-Ambrose Oatmeal Stout: second from the left. When I see adds that make fun of American beer I think – what Canadian beer do I actually drink? This is it. From Montreal, St. Ambrose from McAuslan is on tap here in town at the Queen’s Grad House and at the Kingston Brew Pub, this stout had big body and the velvet touch. Tied with the products of Unibroue, also from Quebec, I cannot think of a finer Canuck brew. Licorice, coffee and chocolate in a sip that approaches thick and textured like espresso. McAuslan says:

At the World Beer Championship in 1994, St-Ambroise Oatmeal Stout received the second highest rating of the over 200 beers in the competition and won one of only nine platinum medals awarded. Brewed from 40 percent dark malts and roasted barley, this intensely black ale carries strong hints of espresso and chocolate. Oatmeal contributes body and a long-lasting mocha-colored head to this well-hopped beer.

Paddock Wood reminds us that rolled oats are added pre-gelatinized directly to mash. It “improves head retention, body, adds grainy flavour” all of which is on display with the McAuslan – very highly rated here, too.

Wagner Valley Caywood Station Oatmeal Stout: far left. This beer from Lodi New York in the Finger Lake district makes for a great comparator with the St-Ambrose as it also an oatmeal stout – which is really not a very popular style. The brewery says of the beer:

This robust, full-bodied oatmeal stout is rich in highly roasted malt flavor, rounded off by a touch of oats, caramel malt and Fuggles and Willamette hops… This robust, full-bodied oatmeal stout is rich in highly roasted malt flavor, rounded off by a touch of oats, caramel malt and Fuggles and Willamette hops.

Comments here include “like a mouthful of dirty pennies” and “silky smooth and sumptuous”. This stout is a little less carbonated than the St-Ambrose, which is good. Carbonation, along with acidic water, is a way of creating mouthfeel without spending money on hops or grain. If I have a complaint with the St-Ambrose, it is the carbonation level in the bottle that is not present in the draft. Wagner Valley does not have that. Not as death by mocha chocolate rich, it is nonetheless a fine example of the style.

Fuller’s London Porter: third from the left. A full pint sets you back $3.20 at the LCBO but it is worth it as there are few real porters going around and this one is one. Porter brewing was the vanguard of early industrial standardized production capturing much of the English speaking world’s beery imagination from around 1720 to about 1840. Just one London brewer in 1820 produced 300,000 barrels – nine million US gallons in a city of around 2 million. In 1814 one single vat of porter burst flooding local streets and drowning eight people.So when you drink porter, you are drinking history. As stated above, stout was originally stout porter and side by side it is clear. Where stouts rely on the darkest malts, the burnt flavors of black malt and roast barley, porters use chocolate malts and brown malts to provide a similarly big but more mellow flavour. As a result, hopping is also lighter than, say, Guinness Extra Stout which is one of the most highly hopped common traditional beers there is. It is still a mouthful, however, as Fuller’s example shows. Coffee with a hint of licorice, unsweetened cocoa, pumpernickel. Fullers says:

Fuller’s London Porter is a superb, award-winning beer. We’re proud to have won gold and silver medals at the 1999, 2000 and 2002 International Beer & Cider Competitions. The origins of Porter date back to London in the early nineteenth century, when it was popular to mix two or three beers, usually an old, well-vatted or ‘stale’ brown ale, with a new brown ale and a pale ale. It was time consuming for the publican to pull from three casks for one pint, and so brewers in London tested and produced a new beer, known as ‘entire’, to match the tastes of such mixtures. Using high roasted malts, ‘entire’ was dark, cloudy and hoppy. It was also easily produced in bulk and ideally suited to the soft well-water of London. Very quickly, it became popular amongst the porters working in Billingsgate and Smithfield markets, and gradually, the beer took on the name ‘Porter’, in recognition of its main consumers. Fuller’s London Porter captures the flavours of those brews perfectly, although you won’t find a cloudy pint these days! Smooth, rich, and strong (5.4% a.b.v.), our London Porter is brewed from a blend of brown, crystal and chocolate malts for a creamy delivery balanced by traditional Fuggles hops.

These guys like it – here is a good comment:

The mouth feel at the end is water which leads to a high drink ability, smooth and almost creamy. They way that all the flavors blend smoothly and subtly together in this beer is what makes it great. One that will fool people who don’t know that dark beer doesn’t necessarily mean strong and bold flavors. This is what I would call a perfect intro to porters.

I used to brew a pumpkin porter that needed a few pounds of roasted mashed pulp to show up in the flavour profile rather than just add body – bodacious it were, by the way. If you want to try a dark beer and like a good black coffee, you can’t go wrong with Fuller’s London Porter. A standard in the fridge around my place.

Southern Tier Mild: second from the right. Well I never expected this. A pale mild. So it is definitely the far end of the scale of darks. Why so? Because it is soft, it is lightly hopped and it is built for a session. Other pale milds I can think of are Manchester’s Boddingtons and Newfoundland’s Black Arse Horse. All look like a pale ale but are so recessed in flavour you would think you were drinking a light ale. Then you notice it taste good. Then you realize that your beer is not largely made up of Irish Moss and other seaweeds. Then you think mild is interesting after all. Maybe there’s a hint of orange peel and a little honey and a little sugar cookie – but only a little of each.The brewer, Southern Tier (of the very lower corner of western New York) says it is a beer that “deserves to be imbibed often”. As it had a little sweet, a little hop, a little grain, low carbonization and a soft water background that is a pretty good recommendation. These guys talk about its biscuit malt, doughy, bready. A small beer but that is what it wants to be.

Waterloo Dark Ale: far right. This is a beer I have liked but, like most Canadian micro-brews, is lighter in taste than the US brewers would make. How odd given our mass produced stuff holds itself out as being stronger than our southern cousins. Brewed by the Brick Brewing Company of Waterloo Ontario, who says:

A dark beer can be a very scary thought to some people. Surprise, surprise. There’s no other beer quite like Waterloo Dark, refreshingly light and delicate in taste but rich in colour. Don’t be afraid of the dark. surprise yourself.

Hmm. Not very hope instilling. Well, it is a dark…but a dark lager. I would have thought it was a dark ale, a little brewed style that is way less than a porter but bigger than a brown. No hop imprint like a US brown would have. A little molassas and a little brown sugar and a little lighter mahogony in hue than a cola: “After seeing this dark colour, I expected quite a bold, rich taste…” was a particlarly prophetic comment. Beer advocate gives it a 74% thumbs down. Yikes. They also categorize it as a Munich Dunkle lager, not something I would say I have had a large acquaintance with. I think that is actually pushing it. As I think this is really a pale ale with some caramel and maybe some other malts added. Watery end with a sour tang left in your mouth. I can leave it with this wag’s comment:

I’ve come to the conclusion that from my experience their beers seem to be very lacking in flavour and body. I do however love the stubbies though.

I do like stubbies, too, but from now on I will stick to Brick’s original Red Cap revival in the little tubby bottles.

Southern Tier Porter: The last of the set. It has sat for weeks in the back of the fridge, the ur-porter incarnate…or at least the ur-porter of the back of my fridge. Smelly of coffee and licorice. Tastey of coffee and blackberry and cocoa and tobacco. Easy-peasy good beer. Big and fresh. We like that on the committee. I did tell you there is a committee behind me, right. Anyway, the advocatonians say this, including the following:

After a hard pour, beer produces little to no head, and is not quite as dark brown/ruby as is to be expected by the style. Too much light gets through this one. Sweet roasted malt and chocolate are the predominant odors. More reminiscent of a milk stout than porter. Smokey in character, with a definitely sweet malt presence on the tongue. Not as complex and chewy as I like my porters, but thoroughly drinkable.

I have had smoked porter and smoked herring and smoked cheese so I am a wee bit surprised by the call that this is a smokey beer. A wee bit less than smokey but the faintest hint might be there. I do not know why a call can be made that something is more milk porter yet also smokey but go figure. The brewery talks about “overtones of chocolate ans espresso beans” – a bit blabalonian for me. It is bigish and yupping. Eat steak, drink this, live long.

Digger Dance

The last thing we stuck around the New York State Fair yesterday afternoon for was the JCB digger dance. Basically, six heavy construction vehicles are run around a parking lot to music doing a sort of Ed Sullivan era pop ballet. Here are some short short movies:

Here are a whack of photos:

Sunday At The NYS Fair

Here are some pictures from the New York State Fair. The first is actually a diner we passed half lost but near the fairgrounds. You’ll see crawdads, spiedies and dinosaur ribs. Maybe I have not gone to many fairs, but the amazing thing to me about the place was how there were more food booths than carnies. The butter sculpture was amazing…well…interesting enough…I guess. Clean, civilized, packed and stinkin’ hot when the weather was calling for cloudy with rainy spells. Excellent.

Here are two short short movies, the first of a crowd scene [1.5 MB] and the second of the two-seater ride I will never take [2.1 MB].

 

Beer Shop: Galeville Grocery, Liverpool, NY

 

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Directions to Galeville Grocery

So we hit the road at 8:00 am and were at the fair at 10:30 am after a few stops – one of which was the Galeville Grocery. Unlike Pennsylvania and its restrictive distributor system, New Yorkers have some of the most civilized laws relating to the purchasing of ales. As in Quebec, any corner store can pretty much be one of the best sources you will find. Thanks to a tip from the Homebrewers Digest, we turned off I-81 at the Liverpool turn-off and hunted for the 116 year old shop.

As the photo below shows, it was a small trip into a pretty nice selection of micros. Lots of Ithaca, Brooklyn and other New Yorkers plus a good selection from across the land. They even had sixes of Sleeman’s honey brown for 4.99 which is about 6.50 CND – or 4 bucks less than it costs here in Ontario where it is made. I picked up a variety pack from both Ithaca and Southern Tier as well as a six from each of Brooklyn, Wagner Valley and, because I could, one of Shipyard IPA from Portland Maine. Expect a few comparing and contrasting reviews over the next week weeks including much reference to the works of Lew Bryson.

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It was a bit of a lesson in surcharges. The beer cost me $50.45 USD or $67.10 CND. I then paid $2.10 USD New York State bottle return, $3.66 USD New York state tax, $4.00 CND federal duty, $9.64 Ontario Liquor Commission mark-up, $5.44 Canadian Federal Goods and Services Tax, $10.48 Ontario Provincial Sales Tax. Total was $103.78 CND. If I had spent 48 hours in the states it would have only been the $78.20 as there are no border charges but I am not exactly going to plan a three day holiday around saving 29 bucks.

Later: Visited again today and noticed the returns sorting room at the back and its impressive dusty collection of unreturnables. Spot any favorites?

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Local TV Dies A Little More

It had been getting a bit crappier than I was comfortable with lately due to cuts but Clear Channel affiliate WWTI ABC announced today that it was cutting its 6 pm and 11 pm news broadcasts to focus on hourly updates and weather…oh, and the internet. [I think they will be investing in the use of technology – wizards!]   Just a year and a bit ago, they had an hour and a half of local Watertown, NY news and sports every evening at 6 pm and more at 11 pm with a special Friday night high school sportscast called the Sportsblitz…or rather the Sportsblitz.

Now, the best source of corny local sports is gone. How will I know how Lafargeville or Pulaski do in high school lacrosse next spring?  How will I follow Sackets in the Class K, Division XXIV NY state boys basketball regionals?   Why do I care? Through my life, local TV news has going the way of other slowly dying things. In the good old days, CBC Halifax TV in the ’70’s had the resources to do news broadcasts from Tomaso’s pizza and other wacky places and WLBZ Bangor brought Dick Stacey’s Country Jamboree to the Maritimes via cable TV (blogged about here…it even made The Christian Science Monitor), Wingham Ontario’s CKNX-TV in the 1980’s did a feature on my brother in law and his chicken that would ride on his bike handlebars, Pembroke CHRO-TV in the ’90’s, now an Ottawa station, covered the local court scene I was working in. It is not entirely over as Kingston still has an hour of local CKWS news at 6 pm and another half hour at 11 pm and Watertown NY still has one local TV newscast on WWNY-TV but they are affiliates using a lot of national feeds and the local hokey sportscasts are the first to go.

Sad.  We’ll all eat the same cheese from squeeze tubes by the time I am 83.