Tastes of the Region #13: Breweries and Brewpubs

Of the many trends and fads that sweep America, some have more substance than others. The mid-90s, along with Roseanne and pogs[1], saw the appearance of ‘micro-breweries’ and ‘brewpubs’ in large numbers upon the American scene. The American beer scene of the 1970s and 80s had become highly homogenized; beginning with Prohibition, the American beer industry had become centralized into the hands of a tiny number of corporations—led by Anheuser-Busch—that standardized beer around mild, pale lagers.

The reaction against national beer uniformity around what many considered to be a relatively insipid standard, was that many beer affecionados turned instead to homebrewing in the European ‘cask beer’ style. Slowly, some of the more successful homebrewers began opening brewpubs (a small brewery with its own pub attached) and microbreweries (small scale breweries with local distrobution).

Able and willing to focus upon flavor and variety, these small operations have risen to 3.04% of the national market. This seems small, and it is, but it must be noted that sales of craf beers in the USA have risen every year for 36 years and they currently produce 6.25 million barrels of beer a year[2]. Craft beer is the fastest growing segment of the American alcohol industry.

The growth of the craft beer industry has paralleled the rise of similar movements in organic food, local food, artisan cheese and Slow Food—they rise out of a shared concern for a growing homogenization of, and decline of quality in, the American diet. Unfortunately, this shared affinity has not been fully recognized by either side—most organic beers are from overseas (Germany and England from my experience), American craft brewers pride themselves on traveling overseas to buy hops (especially from Central Europe) and, for instance, my co-op does not carry organic alcohol.[3] This is especially painful for us here in NY, since at one time (back in the halycon days before Prohibition), we were the source of the finest hops in the United States. Hops barns in the Hudson Valley and the Leatherstocking region moulder into oblivion as our local brewpubs fly to Germany.

Recently, though, there has been a glimmering of change. For the first time in 50 years, a local brewery has created a beer entirely using NYS hops: the Ithaca Beer Company’s Double Pale Ale. On a similar note, the national Brewer’s Association has begun an alliance with Slow Food to promote craft beer not only as a form of artisan food but as a politically charged alternative to food homogenization. We can perhaps begin to see a future where small local breweries using local grain and hops create a regional drinking culture where the land’s bounty can be tasted.
In the meantime, for those of you who are now hankering to try a local beer, I have set up:

A York Stater’s list of Upstate microbreweries and brewpubs

Whether you live in Corning or Plattsburgh, there is probably a local taste right in your neighborhood. For instance, Syracuse, where I live today, has two excellent choices: the Middle Ages Brewing Company and the Syracuse Suds Factory (I’m partial to The Beast at Middle Ages and the Irish Red at Syracuse Suds). You might also want to check out this article on Ommegang brewery in Cooperstown and the future of NYS beer tourism and http://www.pubcrawler.com/ for a national listing of such establishments.


[1] On a bizarre side-note, the Army Airforce Exchange Service has begun issuing pogs as a form of currency in Iraq and Afghanistan stating that shipping metal currency abroad for the soldier’s use has become prohibitively expensive. Here’s a site dedicated to them: http://www.aafes-pogs.com/
[2] Statistics from http://www.beertown.org/craftbrewing/statistics.html
[3] Though, this may be for various legal complications of which I am ignorant.


Shane said...

I am a huge fan of Brewery Ommegang, and they have used NYS hops back in 2000 (see here for more).

We are blessed with some really good breweries in this area. For those who live further east, there's the Albany Pump House and Brown's brewing in Troy. In the Adirondacks, Lake Placid Brewing has the Ubu Ale, which is always a huge hit at the beer festivals.

It may not be York State beer, but Wolaver's Brewing Co. (part of Otter Creek in Middlebury, VT) is an organic brew. They put out solid examples of classic styles like brown ales, IPAs, lagers, and oatmeal stouts.

York Staters said...

Shane, thanks for the message. I didn't know about Ommegang using NYS hops in 2000, and its definitely worth noting. But there is a difference between what they did with that specialty batch for the Farmers Museum (a great place to visit if you're in the neighborhood) and Ithaca Brewery created an entire line utilizing local hops.

Lake Placid's Ubu Ale is good, and that's the one they sell in stores and bars around here, but I prefer their Garnet Ale, which I believe you have to get at the brewery. According to rumor, Clinton used to have Garnet Ales specially shipped on a regular basis to the White House while he was President. I guess that's one of the perks.

Shane said...

It would be great to have some NY varities of hops get back into cultivation. Local homebrewers would be real keen on getting something local for their brews. I know I'd love to put, say tug hill hops in my pale ales as opposed to cascade hops.

I don't drink much LP beer, being in VT, we have some stellar offerings ourselves. If you're ever in Burlington, be sure to get a pint of Switchback Ale.

York Staters said...

There has been a recent hops revival in Upstate NY, spearheaded in particular by some researchers at Cornell (which is our Land Grant University).

The Northeast Hops Alliance is the organization pushing a hops revival.

Here is a link to an article about an exhibit at the Farmer's Museum called "When The Hop Was King"

Another article called The Past, Present, and Yes, Future of the Hops Industry

Anonymous said...

Beirs in the woods.

Upstate has some pretty interesting brewing past. During the old days of Prohibition in the good ol' US of A, I heard that a lot of the beers and other goodness would come over from our dear friend to the North, oh Canada. Eventually landing in places like Oswego and the surrounding towns, for example the Sandy Creek bootlegging process. The old underground pipeline from the North, or something like that. Ever read The Great Gatsby?

Here in occupied territory Finger Lakes region there are some hops growing out back from back in the old growing days when the same land used to be a hop farm, now the hops only creep up towards the skye on one lone post.

Nowadays, it seems just like the water from the lakes making it into the bears.

If I'm out killing my liver it is nice to know that you are drinking a fine brew. There is a lovely brew pub in Oswego, NY for those snowy days - King Arthurs, which has brews on tap that have been crafted in Woodstock, NY or something like that. Try the double IPA, its tasty. When I was younger I heard a strange rumor that Oswego County had the most bars per capita out of all of New York State. At the time, I was skeptical, but then I noticed that there are a ton of bars in Oswego, especially in the city of Oswego. That city is built off of drinking (and maybe ridiculous weather). Bridge street run anyone?

I also like Custom BrewCrafters from Honeoye Falls Lima region. The 19th Hole is better than ever playing golf. The Growler was an amazing invention.

Or better yet, start a Brews Not Bombs in your town! Brew your own beer, very carefully - and share with your friends. It is not that hard, you just have to invest in the equipment and ingredients, take extreme care, and you're on your way to brewing. Here in the Finger Lakes, you can visit the vineyards and ask for the juice to take home and brew your own wine. I don't think every winery does this (who knows?), but I know that the Bully Hull Winery in Naples - the ol' fishing hole - does.

A couple years back I went to the Boston Extreme Beer Festival, where it was basically all independent American brews, with the owners of the venture handing out the samples. It was an interesting perspective on what is going on in terms of American brewpubs and the such. I learned that Neo-prohibitionist movements such as MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) have turned up the heat. Funny enough, because MADD was not meant to be use to outlaw the buzz - but rather, importantly enough advocate against drunk driving. Dogfish Head Brewery has created a video a la reefer madness, but instead it is hops, pretty funny. You can also watch one of their "anti-advertisements" here.

Beers, ahh.... They are so important to our culture here in the good of US of A that you can join the army and kill other people in war at the age of 18, but you still can't have a nice cold sip of beer until you are 21. And that is what I call freedom.

How about some vino?

Interesting facts

"The first beer legally sold in the United States after Prohibition was Utica Club of the F.X. Matt's Brewery in Utica, New York." [wikipedia]

- sangria

Jim Lougen said...

Regarding upstate breweries, check out Cooper's Cave in Glens Falls:

They are right on the bike path that connects Glens Falls with Lake George and have a good selection of English style ales as well as their own seasonal brews like "Pathfinder Porter." --Jim Lougen

York Staters said...

I don't know if you've ever had Utica Club, but the fact that's it's cheap and that it was the first beer sold after Prohibition are about all its got going for it. Still, if you ever meet someone who drinks it, you can pretty safely pinpoint their geographic origin to the Mohawk Valley and the North Country. Even here in Syracuse, the next city down the line (of the Erie Canal) from Utica, you don't see it anywhere.