Serious Eats: Drinks
On the Beer Trail: Syracuse, New York
Editor's Note: Ethan Fixell tours the country as a comedian—and as a beer drinker. Can he sip a local beer in every state? Watch him try.
I love upstate New York. After all, where else can you get a truly authentic Buffalo wing, a Binghamton Spiedie, a beef on weck sandwich, Rochester Garbage Plate, or Albany...uh...Meat...Cube? But drop a self-centered Manhattanite like me in any northern New York city, and you might as well have transported me to another country. I'm that confused. So when I recently found myself in Syracuse for a show with none of my usual local contacts at hand, I latched onto the one place I recognized from various beer festivals: Empire Brewing Company.
Thankfully, the school we performing at that night offered us a meal stipend (don't get me started on college cafeteria "fish"). But when Dave and I arrived at Empire with an envelope full of beer—I mean, dinner—money, we were greeted by a thirsty crowd overflowing into the street. Was this Syracuse, I asked myself, or New Orleans during Mardi Gras? Judging by the lack of bare breasts, it was definitely Syracuse. Apparently we had arrived in town on the eve of an Orange basketball homecoming game—but with our show just an hour away, we had no time for a 45 minute wait.
Luckily, a Greek restaurant down the street had an opening for two. We sat for dinner and asked about their sole local beer offering, a pale ale from Middle Ages Brewing Company.
"Oh, yeah," gushed our former-frat-guy waiter. "Middle Ages is dope, bro."
Relying on his "ill" recommendation, we each ordered a pale ale, which proved to be middle-of-the-road, but good and lager-y enough to pleasantly remind me of my Yuengling-guzzling days while schooling in Philly.
"If you get a chance to visit the brewery," continued our waiter, "you gotta try The Duke. The Duke is where it's at, bro."
So the next day, we skipped our planned follow-up at Empire to give the dark horse a shot, and encountered a brewery like no other we'd ever visited before. For one thing, Middle Ages looks more like an elementary school than the former ice cream factory it actually is. Upon entering the tasting room, the bartender will immediately begin pouring samples of Swallow Wit, Wizard's Winter, and Wailing Wench into tiny specimen-cups seemingly bought in bulk from a urologist's office going out of business. And she won't stop the rapid fire until you've tried every beer on tap (if you play your cards right, twice).
"This is so intense, they should serve ginger to palate cleanse between tastes," suggested my comedy partner, Dave. "Put that in your article!" (This was not his first suggestion for this column. He's trying, guys.)
I especially enjoyed Middle Ages' balanced ImPaled Ale (get it? I.P.A.?). I was intrigued by their boozy, Belgian-esque Double Wit. But we all know that I had come here to pay my respects to one royal dude in particular, and The Duke of Winship did not disappoint.
A nutty Scottish ale/porter with oodles of chocolate and a touch of smoke, the Duke is elegantly balanced and tasty as hell. I might have liked a bit of hops to give the highly malt-forward brew a gentle bite, but let's not split hairs, here—it's a highly enjoyable beer, and a laudable achievement for the hybrid style.
So it turned out our skip-the-cafeteria dinner stipend bought us the keys to valuable info. As grateful as I am to the school for their financial contribution, I feel particularly indebted to my new friend at the finest Greek restaurant in Syracuse.
So if you're reading this: Ευχαριστώ, αδερφός. (Thanks, bro.)
About the Author: Ethan Fixell is a writer and comedian from New York City best known as one half of comic "dating coach" duo Dave and Ethan. He is also the creator and editor of ActualConversation.com. For more on Ethan, visit EthanFixell.com.