After a dip in the Finger Lakes in Ithaca and some time recovering from welts that must have been caused by the weird kelp-like junk found in said lakes we made our way toward Southern Tier in Lakewood, NY. A brewery pushing ten years in business we quickly learned that Southern Tier is named for the road that takes you there, and driving along the Southern Tier Expressway only made me thirsty.
I was excited to visit Southern Tier out on the far edge of NY state, and though in Jamestown they’ll tell you my title is wrong (because they’re actually Western NY state) I was just stoked to arrive. I had spoken to Nathan on the phone earlier in the morning, and had found his number by searching the website until I found someone with Media in their title, and promptly calling up and making an idiot of myself. Once I finished stumbling through the explanation of why the hell someone was driving 17,000 miles to visit breweries (cuz I’m awesome) he agreed to meet that afternoon and show us around.
Once you enter and have gotten over the shock of standing in front of a 6 foot tall Southern Tier logo (that’s the bathroom door on the left for reference) you notice that the placed is locked up like a WWII bunker. The secretary is your only way in, so you have to be charming and kind. I, of course, blurted out something along the lines of,” I’m here to see Nathan, and to look at, um, the beer stuff.” Mission Accomplished. Nathan came out and greeted us in the lobby and we chatted for a few minutes about the building, Southern Tier artwork, and coffee. Then we took a turn to the right and headed toward The Empty Pint, their on-site taproom.
The indoor space probably has room for about 60 people comfortably, and maybe upwards of 150 in a reception type setting. There are tons of tap handles, each brandishing a different weapon to swing at your tastebuds.
There are also a few choices in bottles from other breweries, and some snacks and a sandwich choice to nosh on. The taps are a bit overwhelming, but we forged ahead and tried a few of the offerings so I could give you folks a good honest opinion on what to drink. Not all of the beers I list here we tried at the brewery, since the taproom was technically closed, but I did have all of them within a day of visiting the place.
422 Pale Wheat Ale – I’ve started adding links to BA in these lists because I think getting a variety of opinion is a good thing. This beer lists as worthy on there, and I would agree – it has light hop notes though they’re not especially notable and a medium malt presence that didn’t do much for me at first. I must admit however, I enjoyed it much more in a bottle that evening outside in the heat. It strikes me as a gateway beer that might need the right setting to be truly enjoyed by a nerd, what it lacks in complexity it makes up for by being a quality beer you can hand anyone without worry.
Hop Sun Summer Wheat – This is the beer 422 wishes it was – solid grainy wheat on the tongue accompanied by great estery smells that help it go down without fading away. Only a little more hop than 422 but enough to bring out the citrus and even a mild honey note in the mix. A great summer beer that again I really enjoyed in the evening heat.
2xIPA – Ok, so this is a bit of a jump from the last pour but that didn’t affect my tasting thanks to a coffee in hand – at least I hope not. I really enjoyed 2x and it reminded me a bit of home with more fruit, particularly citrus, in the nose than the pine I had grown used to on the East Coast. Oddly enough though the malty sweetness overpowered the hop to my taste. Still a hell of a pour and something I would order regularly if I lived on the East Coast I was surprised that the hop wasn’t the dominant flavor considering how much the beer smelled of punchy hop oils.
Creme Brulee Stout – This brew we had from a bottle so comparisons to the tap beers are off. This is one of the beers I knew Southern Tier for, and I wasn’t disappointed. Strong chocolate stout overtones were quickly overtaken by that familiar mix of burnt sugar and cream I love so well. I was surprised how on the head they hit this one, and even without the bottle my immediate first thought would be creme brulee. Probably a bottle best to be shared between several people (at least that’s how we did it) I do understand why it comes in a 6-10 oz. glass most places – much more than that and it starts to become extremely heavy.
Choklat – A pure black liquid poured into another tiny glass this brew filled the room with the aroma of melting baker’s chocolate. A complete lack of head and intense syrupy pour give way to a smell that is equally intense up close. Very little hint of the 11% ABV makes its way past the intense cocoa flavor and mild bitter finish. A really enjoyable sipper that lives up to its name in every way.
As we finished our tastes and looked through the glass windows that made up the wall of the taproom toward the 200 barrel fermenters beyond our host beckoned us into the brewery. We started by slapping on a pair of safety glasses each and making our way through the offices to the brewery entryway. First on the agenda was the large bottling line, running when we arrived but slowing to a halt by the time I snapped a few photos.
The summer beers were being packaged for shipping sooner rather than later, and a crew of about five worked the line at max efficiency. The majority of breweries regularly experience bottlenecks in production, whether not enough fermenters, too slow a bottling line, or too few interns to sacrifice to Ninkasi. I noticed that there didn’t seem to be any bottlenecks here, but was quickly corrected when I learned that more fermenters were on their way soon. Luckily because of my computer crashing I’ve taken long enough to write this that you can see the new fermenters here (a bit down with the comparison photos)! We also checked out the filling station of the bottling line, which is behind glass doors on this particular unit.
We then turned our attention to the brewhouse itself, which consisted of a sweet platform and a number of vessels designed to keep the wort flowing almost non-stop.
A healthy staff of brewers keeps your favorite beer flowing out of these bad boys regularly enough that you should be sending them thank you cards at Christmas. Just across the room were rows of fermenters and a few operations folks making sure everything was being shifted between tanks at max efficiency. Sanitizer and beer were both flowing in opposite directions to different tanks and the whole operation was surprisingly smooth.
That concluded our time at Southern Tier, and as we made our way back out to the entrance we passed the employee chalkboard. I couldn’t help but grab a photo since I too appreciate a solid South Park joke.
As is tradition – Cheers!