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There are many things that go so well together we often forget they aren’t natural partners… peas and carrots (sorry Forrest, aside from the freezer section of the grocery store those two veggies are far from neighborly), beer and food (the world is finally realizing these two can intertwine amazingly well), life and work…. well, that’s where I’ve been struggling—hence this disappointingly long hiatus.
Balance truly is a paradox to me (sadly both literally and figuratively). Writing can be tough to fit in the schedule once it’s not your job anymore, but beer? I was never paid for the beering, so my drinking schedules haven’t changed (whew!). There are many things beer pairs perfectly with—its forte is its flexibility—beer and food, beer and books, beer and studying, beer and a long day, beer and vacation, beer and mountain biking, beer and camping, beer and football (especially if you’re watching the Giants not live up to your expectations), beer and travel, beer and solitude, beer and friends… I could go on, but let’s cut to the chase.
Beer is awesome and fun. And the best breweries I’ve encountered have wholeheartedly embraced this concept, which is what sets them apart from the mass of micros that have appeared in all shapes, styles, and sizes.
This summer I was blessed with some truly amazing adventures (many of which you’ll read about in the forthcoming posts that I promise will continue to appear). One such adventure brought me to the heart of the Adirondack Park—a massive state park filled with a plethora of wilderness, breweries, and scenic towns. This trip in particular brought me to a rock climbing camp nestled off the side of the road and some climbing on the aptly named Beer Walls.
After a weekend of climbing, mushroom foraging, and camping with dear friends, we found ourselves reluctantly returning to civilization… albeit slowly as there is a long drive down Interstate 87 to truly exit the Adirondack Park, sometimes requiring back-road detours to break monotony. That’s where we happened on Paradox. As we drove by the rustic trailhead sign (a common sight in these parts), we both suddenly turned to each other exclaiming “did that say brewery?” and “was that a keg hanging below that sign?!”
It did and it was, so we turned around and found ourselves at Paradox Brewery. Paradox Brewery is a small, but expanding operation in Schroon Lake, New York. Open for about a year now, this low-key, rustic beer haven welcomes a constant flow of regulars (acknowledged by name by the amiable bartending “wenches”) and visitors alike, who this time of year enjoyed an outdoor tented “tasting room” complete with a wooden bar, trailer with taps, camp chairs, corn hole (or bean-bag toss, depending on your place of origin), and hand-carved bench seating surrounding a small stage area.
Indicating the taped off area of their gravel parking lot we’d stepped over as we entered, our petite, pixie-cut pourer (and wife-of-owner, Paul) Joanie noted that the brewery is in the process of expanding the current brown, log-faced former post office to add space for more fermenters and a canning line. Joanie also had plenty of insight into the beer samplers she poured for us, discussing with ease the flavor profiles, quirks, and forthcoming experimentation the 10-barrel brewery incorporates into their array of brews.
We sampled an impressive selection that ranged from their Schroon Summer Ale—light, crisp, and not overly wheaty—to the unique Effinger Steam and well-crafted and flavorful Paradox Tripel—which included the addition of Hatian orange peel, the same one used to make Gran Marnier. We topped that tasting off with the Beaver Bite IPA, which boasted a subtle hop aroma, but kept a well-balanced bitterness to malt flavor.
During an impromptu brewery tour, part-owner Paul Mrocka quipped about his Pilsener “it’s so simple it’s hard to make,” noting this beer’s tendency to pick up off-flavors from poorly washed tanks. Paul, a homebrewer for 30 years, co-owns Paradox with bearded partners David Bruce and Vaughn Clark. Coming out from washing kegs to talk beer with tasters, Paul adds “I don’t have a lab, I’m not going to dilute…you get what you get,” as he laments the challenges of working with varying sugar quantities in barley.
The Paradox family melds the perfect combination of beer knowledge and fun-loving, with an Adirondack twist that allows the brewery to fit effortlessly into its wooded setting. The brewery embraces the local, so much so that it not only mimics its home park’s trail signs, but is also established as a Farm Brewery—meaning it either sources ingredients from local farms or grows a portion of its own, which Paradox does, using ornate, towering hop plants as a backdrop to its tasting tent and game area.
It may be closed on Christmas, but the Old Forge in Lanesborough, Massachusetts, is definitely in the holiday spirit.
Adding Christmas cheer to their 300+ (and international) bottle list, the Forge has a sampling of the festive line from England’s Ridgeway Brewery.
Don’t be put off by the goofy names (like Reindeer Droppings or… Santa’s Butt), Ridgeway is serious about its beers. When the lauded Brakspear Brewery closed in 2002 (re-opened by Wychwood Brewery since then), master brewer Peter Scholey devoted his talents to opening his own brewery. Scholey, obviously with a wordy sense of humor, started Ridgeway, whose wide-ranging styles with themed names pop up around the holidays, imported to the States by the Shelton Brothers.
The Ridgeway holiday lineup includes:
Bad Elf (a strong, warm, 6% ABV IPA)
Very Bad Elf (a 7.5% ABV well-rounded English bitter… are we noticing a pattern here?)
Seriously Bad Elf (a popular 9% ABV Belgian tripel, banned in Connecticut apparently due to the appearance of Santa on the label… bah humbug!)
Criminally Bad Elf (a hefty 10.5% ABV Barleywine-style ale)
Insanely Bad Elf (this 12% ABV imperial red is only available in elf-sized 330 ml bottles)
Pickled Santa (a whole-spiced 6% ABV traditional English bitter)
Reindeer Droppings (a 6% ABV English amber balancing it’s sweet with a bit of tartness, what has that Rudolf been eating?)
Reindeer’s Revolt (a low-key 6% ABV English ale for those of you protesting Christmas’s spice)
Warm Welcome Nut Browned Ale (a classic 6% ABV brown warmed up for the season with extra hop and malt character, perhaps a better welcome than the ol’ milk and cookies routine?)
Lump of Coal (you may remember this from my 12 Sips of Christmas post, a dark 8% ABV holiday stout)
Santa’s Butt (a 6% ABV winter porter named for a large brewing barrel (or “butt”), not Santa’s rear)
With whimsical labels illustrated by Massachusetts artist Gary Lippincott gracing the 550-ml bottles, Ridgeway’s offerings make the holidays a bit brighter… or darker, depending on your tastes.
If you’re looking to escape from family frenzy, the Old Forge offers about five of these by the bottle, plus holiday tap selections like Tröegs Mad Elf and Anderson Valley Winter Solstice, in its rustic wood-paneled pub garnished with twinkle lights, hot wings, and gleaming beer-club mugs. (Or, if you want to spread the cheer, check out your local beer store and bring ’em home to your loved ones).
Ho-ho-hop to it.
Special Thanks to: Shelton Brothers, Peter Scholey, and Santa’s little helpers.
Three years ago, stuck on an IPA kick (not unusual for me), I asked my most trusted bartender for a bottle recommendation as I’d exhausted the tap hoptions that night and wanted to continue with something new.
She thrust a map-imprinted bottle down on the bar without hesitation, followed by a glass.
I poured, I drank, I fell in love.
I had a new go-to IPA, one I could count on for hop-filled satisfaction with enough balance for a low-key night than the bolder (other go-to delicious) Green Flash West Coast IPA. Set more in the middle ground, and new to me that night, Avery IPA was a special discovery—even in bottle form.
There was no question in my mind, then, when a trip to Colorado this summer offered a chance to tour some of the state’s amazing breweries, hampered only by time and travel constraints. What would I make a point of visiting and let the rest (which ended up including Wynkoop Brewing Company, Breckenridge Brewery & BBQ, Walnut Brewery …not too shabby for five busy days) pour as they may?
Avery Brewing Company, Avery was number one on my list.
I have to say, my high-hopes dipped slightly as we pulled in—the brewery is located in the unfortunate confines of an industrial park, nearly impossible to spot from road, and disrupted by another company’s office between the brewery and tap room. BUT, for what it lacked in curb appeal, Avery certainly made up for on the inside (and, really, that’s what counts anyway, hmm?). Besides, our tour guide noted that owner Adam Avery has a stand-alone, owned brewery space brewing in the future.
So, atmospheric concerns aside, we embarked on the brewery tour, which was the usual (with a touch of color courtesy of a road soda to quench our thirst… for knowledge…? and our tatted, brogue-tinged tour guide), but had the bonus of a postlude trip and more extensive discussion in the cask-conditioning room—a rough barrel-lined space bedecked in rogue twinkle lights and an impressive, customizable bar for private parties (yes, please).
After our brains were full, we worked on our livers. Ordering a sampler of eight different brews we ran the gamut from the sunny Wheel Sucker Wheat to the Seventeen Anniversary black lager, to the syrupy sweet knockout 2009 and 2010 Beast Grand Cru (the 2009 having been cellar-aged and coming in at 15.01% abv, while the 2010 stepped it up to 16.21%, beastly indeed.)
Avery rotates their tap room menu and fills it to the brim with special offerings that can be hard to find elsewhere (especially way out here on the East Coast, sigh, distance relationships). We definitely had a few that were… not for us, per say, but it was a well-rounded tasting experience full of new flavor. And the tap room atmosphere was stellar, peppered with regulars including quite a few cyclists.
Avery was my scratch at the surface of the many, many top-notch (and inventive) brews that come from the Centennial State. I consider that trip the first of many, the next being for the first-ever Beer Bloggers Conference.
So stay tuned…
Special thanks to: Sadie, Craig,
Donny & Meredith,
and the great state of Colorado.