The Topic: Syracuse Gordon Biersch and Salt City
Living in Nashville since 1978 I had always wanted to visit a Gordon Biersch. I heard they were an upscale version, and the anchor pub, for the Rock Bottom, now deceased Big River, Biersch chain. The Rivers were changed, so now they have more Rock Bottoms.
You know that really doesn’t sound right when I read it back to myself, but I’ll leave it just for the fun of it.
I had heard Gordon Biersch was more German-lager focused, oh, and dedicated to the Gersundheitgesneezen. Oh, sorry, I always get that wrong! The Reinheitsgebot where they can only use water, barley and hops… then yeast when we all figured out that mini-me magic trolls weren’t passing gas to make alcohol. (Actually not too far from what yeast do, in a sense, only if they were human it would be grosser than that.)
As you can see the pub is pretty upscale.
For a number of years I had been trading Facebook posts with Salt City Brewers in Syracuse, NY and one of their former presidents even tried to get me to judge at NY State Fair. This year I was able, and also lucked out: I made a meeting at none other than Gordon Biersch. Jackpot!
Syracuse’s Biersch is in a mall, which I found odd: pictures of their stand alone pubs I’ve seen are very upscale: even futuristic, looking. But it doth fit well in a mall too! And, as I kept telling the Jonathan, their brewer: to your right, they made very efficient use of their space.
I got there early because I wanted to speak to a manager and see if I could bring in a drop box for my competition: The Old Forge Old Ale Competition, and Robin agreed to make an exception since no one would be drinking the entries at Gordon. I yacked it up with Chris Sack: former president I had traded Es with a few years ago and… surprise! I found out I knew their presidents. That’s right, I typed “presidents:” Sarah and Ben, co-presidents. We all judged at the state fair this year.
Jonathan got us together and arranged small tours: logical since space is limited. Syracuse’s Biersch has a 25.5 barrel Specific brewing system. Jonathan said a normal batch was 15 barrels. Biersch has in house recipes for all their beers and every year they send all the brewer’s samples out to see how close they got. Brewers are judged by those lab results. Consistency is crucial at Gordon. Expectations are exacting: like keeping mash ph at 4.5-4.7. Every aspect of each sample is judged by the lab to make sure the brewers hit their targets.
As a brewer who loves to get exotic: even at the last moment, the ability to do that amazes me, mostly because it’s not all that important to how I brew. But I respect it: a lot. A friend of mine who I have interviewed at least twice: Tim Rastetter, was brewing beyond California crazy in the mid 90s. Then in the 2000s he worked for quite a few years where he couldn’t vary from classic German styles one bit. The master brewer had to be German. I remember asking him if that drove him crazy, “Yes, but I learned more about brewing than in all my previous years.”
He’s now the master brewer at Thirsty Dog , in Akron, Ohio.
I did mention to Jonathan that he’s lucky, in a sense. He could be brewing where Tim brewed back then: Hofbrauhaus. 4 basic beers that are straight off classic German recipes. I understand the discipline. But, to me? B… O… R… I… N… G.
However management at Biersch seems interested in stepping out a little, like the smoked porter they had. To me it could have been a little less chocolate malt-like focused and just a hint more smoke, but otherwise an incredibly nice grain bill, high side of medium, firmly, yet softly, bittered porter. Great deeply tan head that lingers like a heavenly pillow. The Munich malt-sense was exquisite. I assume they’re using it, but doesn’t matter either way. I find Munich quite rich and that’s what I mean. And if he did use it, that’s not all. Seemed a pretty complex grain bill, and Pale mixed with just Munich usually wouldn’t do that from my experience. Brewers at Biersch send in different recipes and then corporate decides which one they might try next, not straying too from from classic German brews. Of course that’s a matter of perspective that seems to have wider latitude here than say, oh, at Hofbrauhaus.
One example of this is their Dampfbier, a steam beer.
I went on the first tour in case I had to leave early. As you can see no space wasted. The device you see with the window on it may look like and odd hop back, or spider, but it actually helps assess and take care of the
vorlauf. It also helps take care of clarifying the wort being drawn out of the mash tun.
Yes, I just repeated myself,
Yes, that was a weak joke.
If I understood his system, basically the mash tun on the left feeds into the lauter tun and then the mash tun doubles as a boiler.
The serving tanks are in these pictures here too.
Brewers are expected to come to Biersch with 2-3 years experience and be able to hit stride right away. Training, like at Siebel, is not necessary.
Once the tour was over I sat outside and chatted for quite a while, lost track of time.
That’s never happened at any club meeting before.
I saw a Salt City-er drinking a… Fest beer? How did he get that, Jonathan said it was in the tanks still!
Had to go back and get some.
I lingered after the meeting was over, only a few folks left, then headed out, after talking with Brent Blanchard and his wife about our next adventure together: The Old Forge Old Ale Competition.
A marvelous time had by all.
Brew Biz: Werts and All, is a column dedicated to reviewing, discussing and commenting on all things beer including, but not limited to: marketing, homebrewing and homebrew/beer related events, how society perceives all things beer. Also: reviews of beer related businesses, opinions about trends in the beer business, and all the various homebrew, judging and organizations related to beer. Essentially, all things “beer.”
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