Destination: beer

brewery visiting composite

By Jesse Drury

Beer enthusiasts will travel a bit to drink at a bar and restaurant, but the most gonzo beer appreciators like to travel to the source. A visit to the TAP New York festival this past April was a reminder of how easy that is to do if you live in the Capital Region.

One downside to beer festivals is that an hour into the tastings most palates are ruined, and the rest of the evening is spent coping without peripheral vision as you polka dance with strangers and speak/scream drink orders. In contrast, brewery tours allow you to taste beer, pair it with food, and learn something about its production.

After the jump, some tips on brewery tastings and a list of some local favorites with details on what to taste, when to visit, and some side excursions to turn a brewery visit into a day trip...

Some background for the novice
If you have never been to a brewery, you may want to make your first trip to a brewer you're familiar with. Most brewers are eclectic, but the beer world is sharply divided into lagers and ales, and further divided into those beers that taste of hops and those that do not. These divisions become even more complicated the more you learn about your favorite brewer's process. However, none of these distinctions will change your mind about your favorite brewery or beer style, so focus on what you enjoy first.

Order a flight of their current beer selection. Most breweries offer a selection of their beers to try, typically six to ten styles. When you try a flight of beers, ask the waiter or bartender to recommend a drink order so you can sample beer by order of alcohol content, from low to high (indexed as Alcohol By Volume or ABV). Not only does alcohol affect your palate, but beers with lower alcohol content tend to impart milder flavors and crisper finishes; they will taste like water if you begin your flight with an imperial stout.

Here are some great destination breweries within driving distance of Albany:

Lake Placid Pub & Brewery
813 Mirror Lake Drive
Lake Placid NY 12946 (map)
Phone: (518) 523-3813

Varieties of beer:
Maibock, Shot in the Dark India Pale Ale, UBU Ale, Lake Placid India Pale Ale, Adirondack Gold Ale, 46'er Pale Ale

Favorite beer:
The UBU Ale (7% ABV) is one of my favorite beers. Its profile is very balanced, like dark caramel, and it has the cleanest finish of any seven point beer I have tasted. For that reason, it pairs well with pub food, but avoid fresh seafood. At the Glens Falls Brewfest, after drinking a horrible smoked beer, I ran to the Lake Placid table for this ale; it cured me.

When to visit:
11:30 am to 2 am Monday through Saturday, opening at noon on Sundays. Tours by request before 5:00 pm.

Other things to do:
Eat at the pub. My wife has drawn me into her vegetarianism and we agree that the black bean burger may be the best in all of New York.

Long Trail Brewing
5520 Route 4
Bridgewater Corners, Vermont 05035 (map)
phone: (802) 672-5011

Varieties of beer:
Long Trail Ale, Blackberry Wheat, Traditional IPA, Pale Ale, Double Bag Ale, Pollenator, Belgian White, Double India Pale Ale, Double White, Hit the Trail, Triple Bag, Goodnight Irene Ale

Favorite beer:
The Double IPA (7.2%) features sour notes, but they are intensely pleasant and balanced by creaminess. Do not let this beer get too warm or you will begin to taste the alcohol.

When to visit:
Self-guided tours are available from 10 am to 7 pm, slightly earlier and later than the pub, which serves from 11 am to 6 pm.

Other things to do:
Bring the family. No, seriously; every time I visit I see large tables of multiple generations eating pub food in colorful baskets. Even the underaged looked happy.

Davidson Brothers Brewing Company
184 Glen Street
Glens Falls, NY, 12801 (map)
phone: (518) 743-9026

Varieties of beer:
Wheat Ale, Brown Ale, Red Ale, India Pale Ale, Dacker, Smoked Porter, Oatmeal Stout, Scotch Ale, Alt, Cohan's Porter

Favorite beer:
Davidson's India Pale Ale (5.9%) is a great hop-oriented ale with fruit scents. It is advertised as dry and bitter, but it is also their bestselling ale, and ultimately drinkable.

When to visit:
11:30 am to 9 pm Monday through Wednesday, but open until 10 pm on Thursday; 11:30 am to 11 pm on Friday; noon to 11 pm on Saturday;, and noon to 8 pm on Sunday. Tours by request.

Other things to do:
Listen to live music almost every week. See their calendar of events for dates and times.

Brewery Ommegang
656 County Highway 33
Cooperstown NY 13326-9248 (map)
Telephone: (800) 544-1809

Varieties of beer:
Abbey Ale, BPA, Hennepin, Three Philosophers, Rare Vos, Witte

Favorite beer:
Hennepin (7.7% ABV) is liquid gold, with orange peel and ginger notes. The end.

When to visit:
Noon to 5 pm Sunday through Thursday, and noon to 7 pm Friday through Saturday.

Other things to do:
Eat a peanut butter and jelly waffle. Go to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

Old Saratoga Brewery
131 Excelsior Avenue
Saratoga Springs, New York 12866
phone: (518) 581-0492

Varieties of beer:
Lager, India Pale Ale, Root Beer

Favorite beer:
The Saratoga Lager (6% ABV) is a peculiar beer. It is a lightly-carbonated dark beer with sweet, toffee notes.

When to visit:
The brewery serves samples from 5 pm to 10 pm Monday through Friday, and Saturday from 12 pm to 10 pm. On Saturday tours are available from 1 pm to 3 pm.

Other things to do:
You probably already have favorite spots in Saratoga, but I like music and coffee at Caffè Lena.

These suggestions only begin to exhaust the many breweries within driving distance of Albany. What is your favorite destination brewery? What brings you out: beer pilgrimage or brewmaster scholarship?


Crossroads Brewing in Athens is worth the trip:

Looking forward to when their kitchen is finally up and running.

I see you gave FX Matt brewery in Utica no love at all. Shame on you. Shultz and Dooley we're selling beer here before those little microbrews grandparents were even born.

Great run-down! Just a little nit to pick: IPA is an abbreviation for India pale ale, not "Indian" pale ale. It's a style originally brewed in England for export, and especially popular with the East India Company - hence the name.

Apparently, the story that the beer was brewed with a high alcohol content and more hops so it would survive the trip to India is probably apocryphal - the recipe came first, and it just happened to be well-suited for the journey.

Editors: Thanks for catching that. Copyediting continues to be a collaborative process.

I'll second jamband. the Utica Club & Saranac brewery is actually a great tour, and they make a number of other beers that may surprise you.

Yeah sad to see no props to Matt Brewing who also sponsors the best 15k and after party ever. Also, if you're going to send people to Vermont, might as well have them go to Magic Hat, Otter Creek, and American Flatbread in Burlington. Tons of gems right there.

Madison Brewing Company in Bennington is a fairly short drive from Albany and will set you up with an 6 beer flight for $7.

Also, one of my favorite places to go for a tasting is Chatham Brewery, the guys there are awesome and the beer is great. Chatham won the Vasser Cup at this years TAP.

I agree with jamband about FX Matt Brewery. Plus there are several other places to check out after you've sampled some beers if you're artsy like Sculpture Space (just a a little walk from the brewery) where sculptors from around the world are on residencies creating new work or there is the Munson Williams Proctor Art Institute.

Keegan's Ales in Kingston might be my favorite place to stop any time I'm headed towards the city (or back from it). It's not far from the exit and I just love it there.

Mad Jack, Schenectady. The brewing is done at the Van Dyke. Small operation that is doing a great job.

I've only visited Sam Adams in Boston and Ommegang in Cooperstown, but I will get a flight of beers at places like Davison's, the Pump Station or whenever I see it on a menu (especially on vacation), but never have I really loved every beer on a tasting flight until I went to Ommegang a few weeks ago. I've had a few Ommegangs here and there, but it was outstanding to try them side-by-side. That beer is something special. How fantastic that they're right in our backyard.

Also within an hour and change of Albany and worthy destinations are The Gilded Otter in New Paltz, Harpoon Brewing in Windsor, VT (love this place!), and Berkshire Brewing in S Deerfield, MA.

we have two breweries right here in Albany (well one in Albany and one in Troy - C.H. Evans Brewing Albany Pump Station and Brown's Brewing Company respectively)

Definately check out Crossroads in Athens- once you take one sip, all other beers melt into into the background to become faded memories, filed away with your mis-spent youth. They were also recently featured/written up in Beer Advocate.

Also a short drive to Pittsfield, MA to the Wandering Star brewery is well worth the trip- but go on a Saturday 'cuz that's the only day they do growler fills (it's more of a production brewery- tasting room, but no food).

Then there's the Captain Lawrence Brewery in Elmsford, NY (near Tarrytown/White Plains- a bit farther from the Cap. Reg.). Their golden ale is to die for!

And I'm pretty sure there's a brewery in Chatham (Chatham Brewing perhaps?), but I don't know if they do tours or anything.

Chatham is a great brewery. It's really small so they don't really do tours or anything but you can sample and get growlers filled, which I would highly recommend.

Another gem in Glens Falls is Coopers Cave pub and brew-- nice sitting area outside on the deck, overlooks the bike trail. The birch beer is the most refreshing and try the lobster club and eggplant fries!!

2nd the Coopers nod. Please throw the Adirondack Brew Pub in Lake George in the mix, never quite sure how this place seems to stay under people's radar as they have created some of my favorites. Website is thoughtful too.

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