Question: is there a better way to take in new surroundings than by sitting on a porch on a warm summer night, leaning back in a lawn chair, and popping open a local beer?
Actually, there very well may be – let’s be serious. Still, the beauty of the aforementioned scenario is once you’re in it, you could care less about anything else. I had the pleasure a couple times recently, with beers from upstate New York as well as from around the country. Some were better than others, but as you could imagine, it’s hard to be a total miss under such perfect conditions.
Let’s start with the standout: Mow Master Pale Ale from Ellicottville Brewing Company. I’d never heard of Ellicottville before and wasn’t really expecting much. Mow Master? I figured on a pretty binary profile: yellow and fizzy. Not the case. The best way I could describe this beer is like Dale’s Pale Ale, lightened up for summer consumption. It’s got nice full hoppiness with no astringency, a little bit bigger of a body than you’d expect, and mouthfeel that’s more fluffy than fizzy. Honestly, if I were actually riding a lawn mower on a hot summer day I’d probably reach for something crisper. But for a relaxing summer night, it’s dead on.
As far as the brewery, it’s in the town of Ellicottville (from the website: “sometimes referred to as ‘the Aspen of the East’”), 3 hours due west of Ithaca. It seems to be a pretty small-scale operation: just a brewpub that was opened 15 years ago and another that opened recently. Still, the little brewery’s had some serious success, racking up 3 International World Beer Championship awards. Now, on the bottle (in the finest print you could imagine) it says EBC is part of the much bigger Southern Tier Brewery. I’m not sure to what capacity that relationship exists, but even though I’m a big Southern Tier fan, I’d like to believe little EBC is chugging away pretty independently. From the web presence, it’s a moderately safe bet.
Moving on, these past weeks also saw a couple variations on a familiar theme: the orange and spice summer brew. The first took an all-American approach: Buffalo Bill’s Orange Blossom Cream Ale. First of all, between the name and bottle, this beer’s marketing is a slam-dunk. Unfortunately, success sort of ends there. I’ve never had a beer that so closely mimicked orange soda: super thin, super fizzy, super orangey. To its credit, the flavor was a little more Aranciata than Sunkist, but still pretty weak for the category.
Next up was the Belgian take… actually, the Mexi-Belgian take: Breckenridge Brewery’s Agave Wheat. This unfiltered Witbier hybrid was definitely in the Blue Moon camp. Where it stood out was a body just a little bit fuller than the Orange Blossom and a refreshing tartness (almost approaching lambic-sour) that other wheat beers definitely lack. Still, the flavor was pretty shallow and the experience didn’t go much beyond: “Mmm… orange!”.
I’ve had better stuff, for sure. But again – sitting on a porch (or, perhaps, a lawn mower), it doesn’t take much for a beer to be transformative. Do my standards drop in the summertime? I don’t know, maybe. I see it more like… on nights like these, it’s hard to get me down.