Ken Carman is a BJCP judge; homebrewer since 1979, club member at Salt City Homebrewers in Syracuse, NY. Former member of Escambia Bay Brewers, Clarksville Carboys and Music City Homebrewers. Ken has been writing on beer-related topics, and interviewing professional brewers all over the east coast, for well over 20 years.
A casual review of one of Utica’s newer breweries.
Millie and I met in 1974 at MVCC: Mohawk Valley Community College. Back then we felt blessed we had ONE brewery: FX Matt Brewing, noted mostly for Utica Club, Matt’s and occasional one offs like Maximus Super. This was just a few years into the craft boom and almost all of them out west, like Anchor.
Once we got married we lived, briefly, in Utica, then moved to Nashville area for 45 years. Meanwhile when we came back to visit relatives, and then when I was on tour, FX morphed into Saranac, basically the same brewery, same family owning it, but now increasingly more dedicated to craft beer. And eventually breweries like Woodland, Nail Creek and Bagg’s Square popped up.
On St. Patty’s Day Millie had a doctor’s appointment, so we stopped.
Personal note: Bagg’s isn’t far from our old haunts The Barber Shop and Trackside. Both had hardly dark beer: an American spin off of their usual lagers with slightly darker malts and food coloring. Even that was a tad rare back then. The Barber Shop is long gone, but Trackside is now a fancy restaurant.
Parking is kind of a pain, and you really have to look to locate the brewery. Too easy to drive by.
Of course we got the sample tray: Snow Day IPA, Peace Porter, Triple Deuce (brown ale) and Winter Ale. I also ordered a full glass of their Russian Imperial: Hop Goblin. Hey, what would you expect from the guy who started a big beer competition?
I have to admit the RIS was pretty much perfect. A firm, yet background, roasted barley-like sense. The trick always being too many brewers use too much, this was just right. Black as hell, light tan head. Body did seem tad light but still within the style. Aroma: hint roasted barley, complex malts, some light caramel sense, no hops. But hops in the taste? Yes,: herbal, earthy, yet still well balanced. Sometimes we find the bitter to the hops, combined with a roasted barley sense, when not done well, can seem to rip open another hole in the piehole, other than the obvious.
Another pretty much perfect to style brew was the Snow Day IPA: slightly hazy, fruity to match that… (Orange, grapefruit and slightest hint of peach and lemon. All background.) …hop bitter firm but the fruity sense more the star here. Both nose and to taste. Medium body.
Then we got a hint off the rails, in our opinion. The brown ale was black and the Baltic Porter was brown. Caramel/Toffee seems to have taken over the recipe. Yes, that is grand in a Baltic Porter, but this just dominated it in aroma and taste. We swore the body of the brown was bigger on the palate. We kept wondering if the servers mixed up which was which, but we asked at least twice: two different people.
No defects, just style issues.
Possibly might have something to do with their brewer left: these are the last beers he brewed. Not an unusual event. We have been to many small breweries/brewpubs and they tend to go through brewers. The restaurant combined with brewery model is tricky. Not a perfect match. Brewers want to brew what they brew and how they brew, owners want the brewery and the restaurant to compliment each other. Sometimes they just have different goals.
The new brewer is the owner, Jenn. We will return to check out her brews.
We also had a some of their well spiced Winter Ale. The Christmas spice-like quaff was excellent. Reminds me of another fav: Steve Fried’s Christmas Ale at McGuire’s in Pensacola, FL. He no longer brews professionally, but that and his barelywine were always a joy. I would think this would be a fav.
The facility was pleasant. This was a part of Utica that, when we were living here before, was turning kind of ratty. There has been some serious spiffing up inside some of these buildings. At Bagg’s Square Brewing the serving bar, the back room were all homey and comfortable. I could spend a whole day here and feel at home.
Millie is the designated food person when we go to breweries and we wanted to go light. She’s the German potato salad person, so I trust her judgement. She thought it was good but needed more vinegar. Utica used to have two great German restaurants: Koehler’s and Deller’s. It was her family, with some German roots, that introduced me to some of the best German food I have ever had. Both good, Koehler’s the best.
But we couldn’t sing enough praiseworthy songs for their apple pie with ice cream: crunchy, the ice cream in what is usually called “pie ala’ mode.” They called it “Swedish Apple Pie:” warm, ice cream slowly melting into the apple base, overall not too sweet.
It was an enjoyable, pleasant visit. We will return.
Brew Biz : Werts and All: a column dedicated to reviewing, discussing, and commenting on beer-related topics. Including, but not limited to, marketing, homebrewing and homebrew/beer related events, how society perceives beer. Also: reviews of, and commentary on, beer related businesses, opinions about trends in the brew business, and discussions regarding all things beer.
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