Being Brewer for a Day at Empire Brewpub in Syracuse!

19 Apr

 

Last month (yes it’s been awhile since I’ve updated my blog!) I wrote about Empire Brewery’s “12 Pack Challenge,” that my bf and I completed during New York City Craft Beer Week back at the end of February.   So it turns out, we won! (Ok so he technically won but I’m sharing the credit since it was definitely a joint effort!).

Next thing I know, we’re being whisked off to Syracuse (in an Amtrak train) and put up in a sweet hotel so that we can spend the day brewing with Empire at their brewpub located in Armory Square, a trendy neighborhood in downtown Syracuse. 

Being at the brewpub is like hanging out with your family: the cooks, servers, and bartenders, and the staff in general are all just a great group of people who seem to really enjoy their work.  The pub serves up great grub as well as their signature beers and is definitely worth a visit (or 2) if you happen to be in the area. 

While Empire brews their beer both on premise at the brewpub (where we brewed) and on contract at Greenpoint Beer Works in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn (a brewery where Kelso and the Heartland chain also brew their beer), they are about to break ground for their own farm-house brewery in Cazenovia, New York, a town about 30 minutes southeast of the city of Syracuse.

David Katleski, owner of Empire Brewing Co., and president of the New York State Brewers Association, has been super-busy with this project but was still able to spend some time with us during our upstate visit.

 He was most recently awarded the F.X. Matt “Defender of the Industry,” award at this year’s Craft Brewers Conference and it is a well-deserved title for this pioneer who has had a heavy hand in aiding with the passing of some new brewer-friendly laws that were recently approved in New York state.  Plus, he’s just a really nice guy who acted as a gracious host during our brief visit up there last week.  I can’t wait to follow the progress of this new brewery, sure to be a state-of-art facility with an emphasis on local ingredients and resources. 

So what was it like to brew at Syracuse’s Empire Brewpub?  Amazing, of course.  After a hearty Monday dinner at Dinosaur Barbeque (you can not visit Syracuse without eating here—it’s a definite must!) and a few beers afterward at the brewpub, Brewmaster Tim Butler reminded us to get a good night’s rest (aka don’t be too hung-over tomorrow) since we would meet him bright and early the next morning to start the brewing process.

Thank goodness for the hearty breakfast served up at our hotel, The Jefferson Clinton, conveniently located a stone’s throw away from the Empire Brewpub.

We entered the brewery (a pretty small space) and were greeted by Tim as he searched for the recipe we’d be making that day.  He had a special surprise in store for us and while some home-brewers and brewmasters may scoff at the idea of brewing a simple pale ale, I believe it’s a benchmark brew that every great brewer should master.  Empire does not currently have a Pale Ale on tap and brews the style seasonally (at harvest time using fresh hops from local Central New York farmers).

Nat, the assistant brewer, showed us to their storage room (where they keep their grain), requiring a walk through the kitchen.  We helped him left 10 bags of malt, each weighing in at 55 lbs. (those bags were heavy!) and wheeled them back to the brewing room. 

The brewing room is located behind the bar and adjacent to the dining room, so if you are having lunch or an afternoon beer at the pub, you can watch the brewers at work. 

We (kind of) helped Nat empty the grain bags into the mill where a long black pipe carried the grains into the mash tun.  Tim stood above the tun making sure the mash temperature was correct and stirring in the grains.  While we were there to brew, I have never worked on commercial equipment before (just a stove in my kitchen) so Nat and Tim pulled the levers and set the temps while explaining the process to us.

Next we helped empty one of the fermenters, which was full of their delicious coffee Scotch Ale, Local Grind, and was probably the last of the batch for this year, since the beer is more of a winter seasonal.  The fermenter yields about 12 barrels which are then stored into the cooler or driven down to NYC.  The brewpub serves 10-12 of their house-made beers at any given time, but they only brew about twice a week on a regular basis. 

Throughout the hours-long brewing process we watched Nat work his butt off, making sure everything stays clean and sanitized at each step along the way.  The brewing room felt like a sauna, and we were told it becomes unbearably hot in the summer time. 

Brewing beer is tedious and physically challenging as I discovered that day, and although the process is essentially the same as it is home-brewing in our kitchen, it is of course on a much larger scale.  Time for a beer break (because we were there to drink as well as brew): I went for their seasonal maibock, Empire Strikes Bock, which seemed an appropriate beer to drink during a long day of brewing. 

After mashing, the wort is piped into the brew kettle where it has to reach a boiling point.  This is the fun part: adding the hops!  We added a series of hops every 15 minutes or so, finishing off with Chinook (for aroma) and after 60 minutes, the brew is cooled before being blasted off into the fermenter where the hungry yeasties lie dormant, waiting for their meal. 

Overall, it was a simple process, and we did a lot more watching than brewing but we enjoyed the experience fully.  Nat talked us through the entire process, letting us know exactly what he was doing with every pull of the lever and every hose that he hooked up. 

In a few weeks, we hope to drink our beer with the Empire crew on their next visit down to New York City! 

After lunch and brewing, we went across the street to the Blue Tusk, which seems to be the spot the Empire crew hangs out at while not working at the pub and it’s easy to see why!  The “Tusk,” as it is fondly referred to by the natives, has an amazing tap selection that ranges from local to rare to imports.  Certainly a well-curated collection, as the owner, Mike, truly knows his beer. 

Knowledgeable Brewmaster, Tim Butler, gave us a mini-tour of the surrounding area, describing a scene on the Armory’s grassy lawn where he revived a man during his days former to being a brewer. A native of Syracuse, Tim told us about the history and the architecture in the neighborhood and made a great tour guide.

After a nap (completely necessary after a day of brewing and imbibing some brews), we were treated to a lovely dinner at the brewpub and plenty of Empire schwag to take home with us, including a couple of growlers filled with their well-balanced and easily quaffable IPA and one of my personal favorites, Deep Purple.

I can’t wait until their new brewery is up and running, and the building of it is a process I will be following closely.  Thanks to Tim, Dave, Nat and all the crew at Empire for showing us a good time and letting us brew at their facility!  I can’t wait to try our beer…
                 

 

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East vs West Coast Craft Beer Tour!

13 Mar

 

                                        Image

Many of the craft beer events in my life are built around tradition.  The monthly meetings I attend, like my local, Staten Island group of beer enthusiasts, The Richmond County Beer Club (RCBC) who meet the last Wednesday of every month for over 3 years now, my ‘ventures into home-brewing with the great crew of Pour Standards, our local home-brew club that meets the second Tuesday of every month.  Everything from local beer festivals (this will be third year attending Sixpoint’s Beers for Beasts) or beer events like our NYC Craft Beer Week that just went by—these have all become a big part of my life.  And now, this Wednesday night, I’m more than just excited about another tradition: East Coast VS. West Coast!!

This year’s event (this is the third year now) has doubled in capacity!  Where there were once only four breweries (Smuttynose and Victory representing the East, and Ballast Point and Lagunitas reppin’ the West), the event has now expanded to 8 breweries (with the addition of Sixpoint, Oskar Blues, and Sierra Nevada)!  Holy Sh**t!  I can’t wait!  Why?

            Because this is an event that brings the craft beer community together: From the brewers to the reps to the craft beer fans and enthusiasts (aka drinkers).  Plus it allows us to taste an amazing line-up of beers and compare/contrast styles.  For example, it was two years ago that I first tasted Ballast Point’s Sculpin.  My life was forever changed.  And what’s as fun as tasting all these great beers like Lagunita’s “Sucks,” Smuttynose’s “Finest Kind IPA,” and Sixpoint’s “3 Beans,” is the punk rock music that will be accompanying the tasting.  Beer + Punk Rock= A wonderful pairing.

            If you can’t make it to tonight’s event at 120 Bay Café, located just a few block from the Staten Island ferry, check out the East Coast Vs. West Coast Facebook page for more dates. 

This year the “tour” is hitting cities like Buffalo, Rochester, Washington D.C., Philadelphia, and Providence.  If you live in NYC though you will have several chances to attend one of these tour dates as the ‘reps will be hitting places like Greenwood Park in Brooklyn, and the Bronx Ale House in where else, but the Bronx!  Not only will I be there tonight at my local watering hole, I hope to hit maybe 1 or 2 other tour dates along the way.  Obsessed?  Maybe—but this is one of the coolest beer events I’ve ever been to!  Hope to see you there and can’t wait to try all the great beer that will be poured this year.     

 

(cover art by Brian Profilio, artist, teacher and drummer for the Budos Band)

NYC Beer Week Continues: Part 2

5 Mar

Part 2

After a week of great beer events (including the amazing Brewer’s Choice at City Winery on Wednesday) it was time to complete our mission.  After all, it was the second-to-last day of craft beer week and therefore our time was limited. 

Our first stop was Queens, to collect the only stamp from that borough at Sunswick 35/35.  It’s a long train ride from lower Manhattan but we were ready.  Here, we had a White Aphro, a tasty and refreshing Witbier brewed with lavender and just the thing to kick off another long day of drinking Empire beers.  I would’ve loved to stay here all afternoon—it’s a great craft beer bar and we were surrounded by other beer enthusiasts who were stopping in from Queens craft beer crawls and visits to Singlecut Beersmiths, whose taproom and brewery are close by.

Back into the city via the Q and transferring to the L at 14th street so we could head into Williamsburg and visit Crown Victoria.

This bar is a bit of a hike from the Bedford stop but totally worth it.  Our bartender, Erin, was great and poured us the Empire’s IPA and stamped our card.  The bar has picnic benches outside and must be a great place to hang out during the summer.  We’ll definitely be back.  It was here that we ran into some Empire people, Mike and John, who wished us luck on the rest of our journey.  We were in it to win it!

We were able to catch an elusive yellow cab and headed to Park Slope and 4th Ave Pub, located a couple of blocks from the Barclays Center.  Crazy town!  Another bachelorette party and friendly bartenders who were eager to stamp our card and pour us an Empire Amber Ale

Just a quick walk to Bierkraft as light flurries continues to fall from the sky.  While tempted to stock up on some great craft bottles and a growler or two, it would only slow us down at this point.  Three more bars to go and our mission would be complete! 

On to Washington Commons, a beautiful bar with great taps and a nice, mellow atmosphere.  Here we had our first Cream Ale of the day.  Not too far from the park in Prospect Heights, this would be a good place to grab a beer with a date in this area.  From here we walked a little north to Woodwork (and right past Bitter & Esters on our way which was thankfully closed or we would’ve spent an hour there picking up homebrew supplies).

This seems to be a sports-focused bar with a small food menu and some great brews on tap.  We had an Empire IPA and a quick sandwich and maybe a pickleback shot.  What?  We were almost done and it was time to celebrate.  Thanks to the dudes at Woodwork for just being cool guys—we had a great time.    

So back on to the 2 train and into Manhattan’s Upper West Side.  When you get off at the 72nd street stop you just have to get a Papaya Dog so that’s exactly what we did.  Into packed Dive Bar 75 for our last Cream Ale of the night and our last stamp to complete out journey.  Victory was ours!

So thanks to Empire for making my NYC Beer Week more interesting and of course, challenging.  I visited bars I’d never heard of and walked around neighborhoods I never get to visit.  Those postcards are going in the mail today and hopefully, I’ll be declared a winner.  I already feel like one. 

 

The Empire Challenge: A NYC Beer Week Adventure

5 Mar

 

NYC Beer Week is now officially over and I hope that you enjoyed the events (and of course, the amazing beer) as much as I did.  While I do have a full-time job (which I should take vacation from next year during this week), I still managed to attend a few events and best of all, complete the Empire Brewing Company’s 12 Pack Challenge.

The task was to visit 12 (and a bonus 13) bars listed and order an Empire beer at each location.  After ordering the beer, one received a stamp on a postcard indicating your purchase.  Completed entries will have the chance to win a slew of prizes including being “Brewer for a Day,” up at Empire’s Syracuse location or a Grand Prize of “Beer for a Year,” a growler full of an Empire beer for each month of the year plus other fun stuff.

If you know me, you know I like a challenge.  I also really like beer.  And Empire is one of my favorite breweries.  So, naturally, I had to do this, no matter how intimidating the task seemed.

The first day of Beer Week I was browsing through the events: I had my handy “Voice” guide in hand and a desire to not miss anything this year’s beer week had to offer.

While it may be the 5th year this city has held a beer week, it’s the first year that it was organized by the New York City Brewer’s Guild (NYCBG)—basically a conglomerate of our city’s brewers, who joined forces to become even more awesome and share their craft with the city and beyond.  It’s like “The Fellowship of the Ring,” but even better because it involves drinking great beer, not trying to rid ourselves of some evil force (unless of course, that evil force is bad beer, which if that’s the case then it’s a very honorable mission).

Anyway, after reading about this challenge (thanks to Brew York, New York for the head’s up), I decided it was on, and no matter what happened this week, I would collect all 13 stamps!

First, I had to figure out where to start.  This was fairly simple, because I live on the North Shore of Staten Island, lower Manhattan is a cinch to get to.  Taking the 6 train to Spring Lounge was easy enough.  It was here we picked up our postcards and had our first Empire beer: the awesome Nitro-fueled Cream Ale (Yes I said “we” because I dragged my bf through the whole thing with me—two entries is better than one!  And if he wins, I hope he takes me up to Syracuse with him).

Spring Lounge has always had a solid craft beer selection—I attribute it as one of the first places I ever had craft beer back in college.  Unfortunately, on this particular Saturday afternoon, the bar was packed full of bachelorette parties and bros hugging each other.  Needless to say after we collected our first stamp, the challenge was on and it was also time to move on.

To Puck Fair, another great NoLita bar with a decent craft selection (Brooklyn Blast!, anyone?) and Irish bartenders.  Empire Cream Ale again—and also confused bartenders with no stamp in sight.  Ok, well, a signature validates our visit and its on to the next—no time to linger with 11 more bars to go.

After a pizza pit stop (one can’t forget to eat in drinking challenges like this) we visited Randolph Beer, a bar I had never been to.  Their prices were a bit steeper than the other places we visited (this place is FANCY) but our bartender, Surendra, was gracious and excited to help us complete our journey.  Here, we had both the Deep Purple (one if not my favorite from Empire) and Empire’s newest brew, Local Grind: A Scotch Ale brewed with coffee beans.  So good!  We had a great time here and will definitely be back.  But it was time to travel on.

While we could’ve (should’ve) walked to our next stop, it would have been a long stroll through the East Village and we were desperate to get to our next stop, Upstate.  This is a destination I’ve been dying to get to and I thank this challenge in forcing me to visit for that elusive 13th stamp, which would enter us into the “Baker’s Dozen” portion of the contest: a chance to be “Brewer for a Day” at Empire’s home brewery in Syracuse.  Sure, we’ve been up there before, but the winner also gets a farm-to-table-dinner with Brewwmaster Tim Butler and Founder David Katleski.  I want that!

Upstate is more of a restaurant than a bar with a focus on local seafood and local (New York State) beer.  I don’t eat really seafood (deathly allergic to shellfish—could be worse—I could be allergic to beer) so we asked the guy at the door (who happened to be one of the owners) if we could just grab a beer.  Problem with a place like this on a Saturday is that it’s tiny and it was PACKED.  The small bar is more of a place to hang out while  waiting to be seated at a table, but they were able to and kind enough to seat us at a table even though we didn’t plan to eat.  Awesome.

Well, one beer turned into an order of ceviche (beautiful) and a nice little dessert of their famous whiskey cake (so tasty!).  Our server was a sweetheart and we were able to drink the There Will be Bock, a delicious bock beer that one doesn’t see often in the Empire line up.  We were happy—happy enough to trek to our next spot: Taproom 307.

Another place I was excited to visit—Beer Sommelier Hayley Jensen and chef (and husband) Stephen Durley have created a “Beer Emporium,” at this Gramercy tavern, and again, being Saturday night, the place was packed.  We ordered up our Empire brews and received our stamps but didn’t linger too long.  We’ll have to go back to this place soon and when it’s a little easier to move around.  Their beer list is impressive and they hold numerous beer events weekly.  A more ideal time to visit would’ve been this past Saturday, March 2nd, when they held an Empire Brewery brunch and New York State beer tap takeover!

Our next and last stop on February 23rd was The Pony Bar, again one of Manhattan’s premier craft destinations (with a tap list that sticks to American craft beers).  After an Empire here it was time to throw in the towel for the night and figure out how (and when) we’d finish this adventure.

Our Newest Two Girls One Pint Video featuring the guys from Bitter and Esters

25 Feb

Our Newest Two Girls One Pint Video featuring the guys from Bitter and Esters.

New York City Craft Beer Week!

25 Feb

Friday kicked off the week-long event(s) we’ve been waiting a year and a half for (The last beer week was in September 2011 and was run differently, making 2012 beer-week-less).       

            Why the delay?  Well now “New York City Beer Week” is run by our local brewers and their local sponsors!   The New York City Brewers Guild (NYCBG) is made up of Brooklyn, Bronx, La Birreria at Eataly, Chelsea, Kelso, Heartland, Schmaltz, Sixpoint, City Island, Rockaway, and Gastropub 508.

 In past NYC Beer Weeks, before the unity of our city’s local breweries, the NYC Craft Beer Week was not run by the newly-formed Guild and participants were issued “passports,” (for the affordable fee of $10) that lead them on an adventure of sort where descriptions of participating bars lined the pages and mini-coupons would get one a discounted beer at said bar (1 per customer), along with some other events and discounts that would happen throughout the week.

But this year’s beer week seems to have evolved greatly and is more organized, sans passport, and participants don’t really have to pay anything (except the ticket price of a special event or the price of that delicious beer in your hand), with an emphasis on local and multiple venues are participating complete with beer dinners, pairings, special tap takeovers, musical guests, etc. 

So how will YOU tackle NYC Beer Week this year? A beer week as big is this one is an individualized experience and will require diligence and pre-planning on your part.  But if I can offer some advice, I certainly will.

My first suggestion, which is the most important, is PICK UP A COPY OF “THE VILLAGE VOICE.”  NOW!!  (I said that in my best Arnold voice).  There is a guide in there that lists all of the participating venues across the 5 boroughs as well as the dates they are having special events.  The bar listings are in alphabetical order!  Couldn’t be simpler.  Find you favorite beer bar or restaurant and find out what they are doing for NYC Craft Beer Week. 

I’ve been hoarding giving out copies to my friends since Wednesday morning.  I feel as though it’s my civic duty to inform my friends of what’s going on.  If you can’t seem to find those little plastic red stands all over the city then go to the NYCBG Web site and check out their event page: http://microapp.villagevoice.com/nycbg/eventsFeb22.php.  Here, the events are listed by days of the week (in case you don’t have a favorite bar). 

The“Metro,” (those free papers they give out all over the city) and the great Web site “Thrillist” also have guides.  I love Thrillist’s “choose your own beer-venture” map!  http://images.thrillist.com/files/images/3018152popup.jpg   

Next step, if you really want to get the full experience of this year’s Beer Week, I would suggest (if your budget allows) buying a ticket to Wednesday’s event at City Winery.  The “NYC Brewers’ Choice” is being called the premier event, with 20+ brewers from 20+ breweries pouring beer for you, paired with artisan food prepared by NYC chefs.  It’s really going to be a “Who’s Who” of the NYC brewing world, and you’ll be rubbing elbows with brewing greats like Garrett Oliver and Chris Cuzme.  We bought our tickets this morning and I am SUPER excited about this event.  Seriously, go here now: http://brewerschoice2013.eventbrite.com/ and thank me later!  If you attend one event this week, this is the one.      

Friday, February 22ndThe “Opening Night Bash” being held tonight at 7pm in Brooklyn’s Galapagos Art Space.  Problem is this little party is completely SOLD OUT!  If you didn’t get a ticket (like me), there are plenty of other events happening tonight that you can attend that don’t require a ticket! 

One particular standout is the Singlecut Beersmiths Tap Takeover and dinner at the Alewife Queens.  It’s a $65, five-course meal paired with delicious beers from Queen’s newest brewery.  If you live in Queens or just have a lot of love for the borough, this is your event!

Speaking of Queens, The Queens Kickshaw will be pouring all Queens brews all week, including beers from Bridge and Tunnel Brewery, SingleCut, Rockaway and Beyond Kombucha (ok so not technically beer but still a fermented beverage).  Queens is on the map! 

Sunswick 35/35 has an Empire Brewery night tonight from 7-10 p.m. and The Pony Bar UES has a Hudson Valley Brewers & Distillers night with beers from Newburgh, Rushing Duck (!), and Sloop.

Saturday February 23rd:  While it seems like Queens is getting all the attention these days, let’s not forget where the NYC Craft Beer revolution began: Brooklyn!  A steady (and strong) player in the brewery and craft beer bar field, Brooklyn has many events of its own.  Today (Saturday) take one of Urban Oysters many beer tours like the “Brewed in Brooklyn” tour, which runs from noon-3:30.  Get tickets here:  

Also in Brooklyn, for you “real ale” drinkers, dba Brooklyn in Williamsburg is kicking off their 7th annual “Williamsburg Cask Beer Festival.”  The Festival runs through Tuesday and will feature 16 rare and delicious cask-conditioned beers tapped simultaneously.  There is no entry fee, and the beers are pay-per-drink.  If you enjoy your beer the traditional way, then this is the event for you.

We love 508 Gastrobrewery, and tomorrow they will be releasing “The Revered King,” a double black IPA.  This beer is sure to be delicious.

If you live in the Bronx then you won’t want to miss the Bronx Alehouse event that will feature rare and barrel-aged beers from NY state breweries. 

 

This is just the beginning of NYC Beer Week and there are plenty more events that will be held throughout the week (it’s a bit too much to highlight them all in this blog post).  Later this weekend I will talk about more specialty events to attend and beers to drink but for now enjoy your weekend and the beginning of NYC Beer Week!     

 

 

             

Video

Our Newest Two Girls One Pint Video featuring the guys from Bitter and Esters

25 Feb

Szoke from Two Girls One Pint brews an English Style IPA with the guys from Bitter and Esters