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What I Was Up To

August 2003

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(if I have any; these are thumbnails, click for larger images) 

What I Was Drinking


Camping, Signing, Drinking in New York

I went tent-camping with my family in the Adirondacks the first week in August. We drove up to Boonville the night of August 1st (we stopped in Barneveld at Gilligan's Island for ice cream: a must-stop) and stayed over in a motel, then went for provisions the next morning. Bad news: very limited beer selection. Good news: Saranac is everywhere. Okay, make the best of it, and we got Saranac Hefeweizen (a real hefe, you West Coast types), Pale Ale, Black Forest, and Pilsner. Off to 8th Lake in the Fulton Chain of Lakes, where we meeting my brother-in-law Chris and his family, and his friend Fred's family.

We actually saw Chris and family drive by while we were gassing up in Inlet, and flagged them down. Good excuse for a beer... get more ice, let Chris gas up, get more beer...half an hour later, we headed for the campsite. We got set up, sent the kids down to the beach, and arranged our stuff. Another good excuse for a beer. 

We went down to Old Forge on Sunday. Had some great pizza (and some excellent steamed clams!) for lunch, then split up to wander around town. I hit the Tow Bar...nice place, but they're severely beer-retarded. I think I got the last bottle of Saranac Black Forest in the place, and left. Cathy and Thomas and I cooled our heels in the lake, got some ice cream, then we all headed for camp. Where it rained.

It rained a lot. I drank my way through half a bottle of Jim Beam 7 Year Old the next evening while it rained and we played euchre. Tuesday was actually pretty nice, which was good, because I had a book signing at Lake Placid Pub & Brewery that evening. 

We got to Lake Placid about 3:00, and parked behind the brewpub. I dropped off the books and the banner, and hiked up into town to see Rob Davis at Great Adirondack. I was running late, and had just missed him. I didn't miss his Pilsner, though, and it was an amazingly good beer for it being his first try at a Pils: great malt body, restrained but definite hop presence, and just clean as a whistle. I talked three people into it while I was sitting there, including a couple who wanted a growler filled. 

I had some Smoked Porter, and the Dubbel, and some more pilsner, while selling three books to one of the owning Kane family who happened to be in that afternoon. Chris, his toddler son Liam (my godchild), and Fred came by, having abandoned the women and other kids to their shopping frenzy, and they had some pilsner. Then Rob did show up, and there was a lot of laughing and man-shoving, and more drinking. Chris and I grabbed one more pint at the Zig-Zag, then walked down to the other brewpub. (Signing stuff is here.)

We had great food and the very best batch of 46'er IPA I've ever tasted (and some Ubu, natch), and I grabbed a growler each of 46'er and Ubu for the camp. Everyone else had already left, and with Cathy driving (I was a bit impaired), we headed out of Placid after a stop at the Sunoco station in town, which has the best selection of beer in three counties: we got Davidson Bros. IPA and Magic Hat Blind Faith. The rain started just as we left town. Again. But this time it poured down, slow-down-to-15-mph-rain, and when we got back to the camp we sent the kids to bed and sat around looking at each other, because the rain was making so much noise you could hardly hear each other speak! Rain got into our tent in a big way. Nora's sleeping bag got soaked, so I gave her mine and slept in the van. A little. 

The next morning I was grumpy, cursing the rain, the tent, the lake, the flies, the illiterate guests at Lake Placid (you don't have to be fair when you're grumpy). We decided to take steps to supplement the inadequate rain fly on our tent and went into Inlet to get tarps. After buying a huge 20X30 tarp, tent poles, and twine, we doodled around town and got some coffee, some muffins, more beer and ice, and some odd clam dip. We went back to camp.  It was a struggle to get the tarps up in the rain, and the 20X30 tarp was really much too big for our tent, but when we were done, we had this I.M. Pei-looking blue triangular overhang that kept us dry the rest of the week. 

Of course, as soon as we were done cussing and slipping and swinging hatchets in the stopped raining. It didn't rain again until late Friday afternoon. Only one thing to do: we put the kids in their swimsuits, got the guide boat out and rowed all over 8th Lake, then did it again the next day with a bucket of beers (Saranacs (the Pale Ale and Hefeweizen were great, the Pilsner was disappointing, kind of sappy-sweet) and Davidson Bros. IPA (nice Ringwood-IPA) and Blind Faith (second fave of the day for me, after Saranac Hefe)) along, and it was golden. One of those days you remember forever. As Chris said as we lazily rowed more beer out to Fred and his brother-in-law  where they floated in mid-lake (we just kept adding people!), "This is vacation."

Not much else beer-wise happened. I did my signing on Friday, ran up to Long Lake to find a sadly diminished beer selection at Hoss's Country Corner (though they did have a nice selection of Lake Placid Brewery growlers!), then went back to camp just in time for ... rain. We had a very soggy breaking of camp Saturday morning, had breakfast, said good-bye, and headed for home. Had an excellent seafood dinner at Al's in Phoenicia (highly recommend this place, and our waitress was a pisscutter), and got home about 8:30 Saturday night. 


Signs and Discoveries

August 12-14

I decided to make something out of my mid-week signings in Syracuse and Rochester this week, and scheduled in some brewery and bar visits. I left home about 7:00 Tuesday morning and scooted up the Northeast Extension of the PA Turnpike to Wilkes-Barre. A couple exits and turns, and I was slipping by the big Lion Brewery on Pennsylvania Ave. to a little bar called Dukey's. Dukey's used to be a fairly divey place, shot-and-a-beer joint...and I liked that. But the last time I was in, it had been painted, cleaned, and they actually offered me hand-cut potato chips (with a dusting of Old Bay seasoning!) with my draft Stegmaier at 10:15 in the morning. 

Things had changed, obviously, and I wanted to see how much. Sure enough, Dukey's was serving breakfast. I had a good mushroom and cheese omelette, great coffee, great home-fries, and fresh toast, sitting at the bar. The guy sitting beside me was kind of reassuring: he was drinking a Stella Artois on ice. Weird, wonderful, Wilkes-Barre.

Back on the road, north on I-81, rolling all the way to Watertown. I wanted to check out the situation at Red Lion Brewery, the brewpub in Watertown. Things were pretty busy out on the deck, but I wanted to check out the brewery, so I sat at the bar. Owner Mike Martini's mom was tending bar, and she got me a sampler of four beers: Northern Light (surprising body and malt flavor with just a hint of yeasty spice), Mojo ESB (good, but not great, could definitely use more malt body), Belgian Devil (close, but a bit tart and chalky: something's wrong, but it's a near miss, a little too phenolic), and my fave Velvet Elvis Stout (just fine, thanks, although not quite as rich as I remember it). They'd been hit pretty hard the day before; they do $1 pints all day on Monday, and people were enjoying the weather. The menu had changed quite a bit (local food has been de-emphasized, too bad), but I got the was much like a pirogi in a tortilla, wet onions, cheese, and quite delicious, if a bit unexpected.

I paid my check and bolted. I wanted to get to King Arthur's in Oswego before it rained. I didn't. It bucketed down on I-81, almost dangerous, then let up just before I turned off. Oswego's a cool setting (in the summer; I hear it's pretty bleak in the winter), right on Lake Ontario with the Oswego River running right into town. King Arthur's was dead easy to find: take Rt. 104 into town off I-81, and when it crosses the river, there's the brewpub. 

I parked the car and went it. The place was literally deserted, just me and the bartender. I had called ahead on this one, and I introduced myself and asked for a sampler. He complied, setting out six beers (they were out of two). I started with the palest, Guinevere's Wheat Potion. It was horrible, very sour, undrinkable to the point of recoil. I moved on to the Harborfest, which was much better, on the malty side, and quite drinkable. Then it was Taliesin "The Radiant" Pale Ale, which was quite bitter, and reminded me of one of my old homebrewed pale ales of which I'd been quite proud. Things were looking up. Sir Gawaine's Amber had a weird spicy note, almost like curry, that distracted from an otherwise well-bodied beer. Merlin's Mystical Porter seemed pretty good at first, almost a classic pounding porter, but as it warmed up I caught a whiff of vomit that was very off-putting. Gareth's Oatmeal Stout was the dark equivalent of the Wheat Potion: too sour to even sip.

What the hell was going on here? The story came out that the former brewer (Steve) had left a few months before. A new brewer (Mark) had been hired, but hadn't had a chance to brew yet. These beers were up to six months old, and the aging hadn't done them any favors. I suspect that another part to the problem was that Oswego was pretty shallow water, adventurous beer drinker-wise, and these guys had dove in head-first with a bitter pale ale, stout, and porter. 

That's a damned shame, because it looked like a really nice place. The bar was an elegant place with a wide selection of wines and spirits, the dining room was comfortable and well-decorated. They even had the Round Table portrayed in an overhead. Maybe the new brewer can turn things around; I sure hope so, because this is too nice a place to go down the tubes. As I told Marc Rubenstein later that day, a brewpub with bad beer doesn't help any brewer.

That's where I went next: Middle Ages. Not much of a leap from King Arthur's, eh? I hung with Marc, Tim, and Mike, drank some beers with the Friday afternoon gang (the Old Marcus was tasting particularly good), and made arrangements to meet Tim at Kitty Hoyne's for dinner.

I parked the car, looked longingly in the direction of Dinosaur BBQ, and carried the books down to Kitty Hoyne's. I grabbed a Highlander and settled down. Tim came down with some homebrewers, and we all got shepherd's pie with more Highlander out on the sidewalk. A pleasant hour ensued, and then it was time for the Salt City homebrew club meeting. I did a presentation on the book, they bought like mad, we drank homebrew and commercial IPAs. Good fun! Then we went to the Blue Tusk for another beer (I had a Brooklyn Brown; good, but not what I remembered, just as I was explaining to Tim). I had one and headed for my brother-in-law's house in Newark (New York, about 50 minutes west).

August 13

I got up about 8, had breakfast with my sister-in-law K.D. and the nieces (Liam wasn't up yet), then got on the road. I wanted to do a little running around early in the day. I drove down through Letchworth State Park to see the falls. It was spectacular with all the rain the area had been having; the falls were roaring, and the drive was extremely picturesque and relaxing. 

I was headed to Cuba, NY, to see my wife's Uncle John (who's in the Acknowledgments in the book for some good Buffalo suggestions), who owns the pharmacy in town. I gave him a copy to thank him for his help, shot the breeze a bit (John's a hoot, very funny guy), then popped down to the Cuba Cheese Shop for some fresh curds, a block of cheddar, and some stuff for lunch. Then it was a high-speed run through the backcountry to Geneseo, where I visited the Big Tree Inn.

What a mistake. No, I mean, what a mistake not putting this place in the book! First, Geneseo is a neat little college town that sits up on a ridge overlooking miles of farming country, a spectacular view. But the Big Tree is excellent, a mid-1800s mansion that has been made into a restaurant and bar that is very high-class. The beer selection was great, local, import, high-quality (I had a pint of Southern Tier Mild and a great taster of Hogan's Park Avenue Pale Ale (a la Custom Brewcrafters)), and the bottles were excellent as well, a fantastic find out here in the country. Best of all, the bartender knew what she was talking about, the writeups were all correct (no typos, no "imports" that were really domestic), and the place was extremely comfortable. I'll be back, and this will be in the 2nd edition!

After that I headed to Honeoye Falls and stopped at Custom Brewcrafters...duh, they were closed! And I've got the damned book, with the hours, right there in the car. I felt like an idiot. (I felt worse later that night when Jason Fox told me he'd seen someone knocking on the door, and if I'd knocked again he probably would have come and opened it!) Back to Newark, where I picked up Chris to go to the meeting.

We stopped for dinner at MacGregor's in Perinton. We got an order of nachos...which did us in, no need to order any sandwiches after that plate o' food. We did have beer: I had a Big Man Porter, a beer Ithaca Brewing makes for MacGregor's. Good stuff, too, just a hint of sweet and vurra drinkable. Chris got HopDevil and Southern Tier IPA. To my amazement, the Southern Tier was bolder, peppier. HopDevil must have been a bit old. The meeting went well, and we headed home. The next morning I headed home, picked up beer at Middle Ages and books at Stackpole. Good trip.



































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8/6, the tarped tent: Cathy proudly displays our ridiculous but secure tent. (Note Adirondack guide boat being used to hold down tarp)
























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8/12: The deck and the Black River at Red Lion






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8/12: King Arthur's Steakhouse & Brewery











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8/12: Round Table at King Arthur's














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8/13, Middle Falls, Letchworth




Hmmm... Guess I didn't drink in August. 
Copyright 2008 Lew Bryson. All rights reserved. 
Fee required for reprints in any commercial media.
Revised: November 04, 2003