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Friday, June 01, 2007

The Session #4: Drinking Local Beer Puts a Smile on Your Face

Local beer is very important to me, because I know what it is like not to have it. I was born in Syracuse, N.Y., in 1960, at the start of what would become a decades long local beer depression. It was not always that way and thankfully, it is no longer the case.

Syracuse was once one of America's great brewing cities. The first commercial brewery was established in the city in 1804 by physician and German immigrant Johann Mang. Because the Erie Canal made it easy to get raw ingredients in and finished beer out, Syracuse became a center for brewing from the 1860s through 1920. After Prohibition ended in 1933, just five breweries reopened: Zett's, Bartels, Greenway, Moore and Quinn, and Haberle, which was the last brewer in the city when it closed down in 1962.

During my youth, the "local beers" were Genesee from Rochester and Matt's from Utica. Happily, my Father was a Matt's drinker. In 1975, Miller Brewing opened a giant plant in Volney, N.Y., near Oswego. It would close that brewery in 1995. Schlitz Brewing opened a plant in Baldwinsville, N.Y., just outside of Syracuse, but shut the modern facility in 1980. Anheuser Busch would buy this brewery and reopen in in 1983. The modern craft beer era came to the Salt City in 1991, when the Syracuse Suds Factory brewpub opened in downtown. It was followed by another brewpub, Empire Brewing, in 1994 and then Middle Ages Brewing, a fine microbrewer, the next year.

Empire Brewing became a favorite for its beer and its food. It would open spots in Buffalo and Rochester, which ultimately created operational and financial strains causing the brewpub chain to fold in 2003. It appeared that Mighty Fine Barleywine, Black Magic Stout and Skinny Atlas Light (actually a pretty good Kolsch) were gone forever. However, one of the former owners, David Katleski, and a brewer from Middle Ages, Tim Butler, have teamed up and the Syracuse location will reopen on June 5th. Empire Brewing is back. I cannot wait until my next visit home.

I left Syracuse in 1996 and after a nine year stay in Saratoga County, N.Y., where I got to enjoy local beers made at Ten Springs Brewing (which later became Olde Saratoga Brewing under the Mendocino Brewing umbrella), C.H. Evans Brewing at the Albany Pump Station, Malt River Brewing, Troy Pub & Brewery, Van Dyck Brewing, Saratoga Brewpub, Cooper's Cave and Davidson Brothers Brewing, I moved to Charlotte, N.C., two years ago.

Which brings me to my assignment for The Session #4, which is being hosted at the Gastronomic Fight Club blog. The theme for this session is to review a beer or beers from a brewery within 150 miles of your home, preferably the closest brewery. The assignment should be fairly easy for beer bloggers, since the Brewers Association says most Americans now live within 10 miles of a brewery.

North Carolina has a number of great breweries. It happens the closest to my home is the Rock Bottom location at 401 N. Tryon St. in Uptown Charlotte. It's just 11.5 miles from my house.

Rock Bottom is a chain of brewpubs. I have been to several of their locations, including the spots in Denver and Chicago. Each location always has the standard brewpub offerings of an IPA, a stout and an amber. These are usually fresh and pretty good bets. The best beers at Rock Bottom locations are the local creations and seasonal offerings. That was the case at the Rock Bottom in Charlotte when I visited this week.

I had a chance to meet brewer Dave Gonzalez during the recent Charlotte Beer Week celebration. His creation for the blistering Charlotte summer is a refreshing Summer Wheat. Rock Bottom serves the beer in a traditional wheat beer glass. It is bright yellow, slightly cloudy and has a nice thick creamy head. The beer has the classic spice and fruit notes you want from a wheat beer. Gonzalez has certainly done his job with this beer.

Remember when you are out and about: Think Global, Drink Local. You never know what you might find.


Ron said...

Great article and history. One may never put a requirement that "local brew pubs" are required for where one might move to, but it sounds like you lucked out.

I've been to Empire Brewing and had great food and beer there.

I haven't been up to Davidson's or Cooper's Cave for quite sometime... they should be on my list.

snekse said...

The Session #4: Local Brews Round-Up is now posted!

snekse said...

The Session #4: Local Brews Round-Up is now posted!

Local Brews: A Field Guide