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Think Globally, Drink Locally

A survey of local watering holes reveals an abundance of locally crafted libations

By Josh Potter

It seems that our cult ural vocabulary hasn’t yet coined a term for the practice, but as a growing swath of the populace gets hip to the idea of eating “locally,” a parallel trend is emerging in the realm of beverage. For the “locavore,” eating food that is produced within a relatively small radius—100 miles is the somewhat arbitrary standard—is an effort to access higher quality healthy produce, meat, grains and dairy, which cuts out the fossil fuel expenditure involved in shipping these foods great distances, and simultaneously stimulates local economy through the support of small farms, community gardens and farmers markets. For the, um, “locoholic” (locoozer? locuzzler?), drinking locally crafted beer, wine and liquor is an extension of these principles, not to mention a great way to taste the region’s unique flavor.

Most drinkers wouldn’t place the Capital Region in the company of iconic beverage producers like Milwaukee, the Napa Valley, or Bourbon County, Ky., but a quick survey of a few local bars reveals a surprising number of local options for the thirsty locavore.

Microbrewed beer is not a new concept, and as beer tends to be the most populist of alcoholic offerings, it also provides the most local options. In this area, two brews reign supreme. Albany’s C.H. Evans Brewing Company, housed in the Albany Pump Station, touts a varied line, foremost among them the award-winning Kick-Ass Brown and Munich-style dark lager. On the other side of the river, it’s Brown’s Brewing Company, with their flagship pale ale, oatmeal stout, and a rotating lineup of fruit-enhanced ales. On the wine side of things, the Saratoga Winery and the Brookview Station Winery (at Goold Orchards) offer a wide variety of reds, whites, and apple-, pear-, and strawberry-based wines.

But you don’t have to go to a brewery or tasting room to drink locally. Adam Baker, manager and head bartender at Justin’s, says that customers ask him for local suggestions four or five times a week. The bar stocks four Belgian-style ales from the Ommegang Brewery in Cooperstown, as well as Red Hook (from Red Hook), Saranac (from Utica), and most recently Ubu (from the Lake Placid Pub and Brewery). As for wine, it’s Lamoreaux Landing from the Finger Lakes.

Kevin Blodgett, a bartender at Café Madison, agrees that the idea of drinking locally is becoming a greater concern among the restaurant’s patrons. “People are asking for [local brews],” he says, “and everyone working is really into it as well.” For a place like Café Madison, acquiring local beverages is the next step in a policy that already has the head chef shopping at farmers markets for local produce and the Honest Weight Food Co-op for their wide selection of local cheese.

For the New World Bistro Bar, building a locally sourced menu means finding the proper local wine pairings. Currently, the restaurant has eight New York wines on its list, and bar manager Kevin Tighe says they feature one red and one white every week. Their approach is to feature different regions different weeks, moving between the Hudson Valley, the Finger Lakes, Long Island and Niagara (at the looser end of “local”). Fox Run, Millbrook, Dr. Frank, Duck Walk, and Pindar have all been featured. “These wines are competing against the Napa Valley product,” Tighe says, “so we try to find reasonably priced wines, between $6 and $8 a glass, for people to try out. More often than not they’re really pleased.” The restaurant also uses theme-based meals to help customers explore their local wines. Last week, for example, they featured the Game Bird line of Heron Hill wines in conjunction with special game-bird menu items.

Everyone seems to agree that the new frontier in local drinking is liquor. In this area, one name rises to the top of the list: Harvest Spirits in Valatie. Their flagship offering is Core Vodka, a vodka made from local apples, but they also produce an applejack, pear and apple brandy, and are experimenting with grappa (an Italian grape spirit) and himbeer geist (a German raspberry spirit). Baker describes the vodka as “really good, light, with a hint of apple flavor at the end,” but he admits that Justin’s doesn’t yet stock Core due to how small the market is and how much vodka is dominated by big brand names. Blodgett, too, admits that Café Madison doesn’t yet stock Core due to minimal demand, but he says that “for the price and quality, it definitely holds up to the brand names.”

To spark interest, Tighe says, New World has offered a few drink specials using Core in an appletini, caramel apple, and pomegranate appletini. He’s also toyed with a boutique rye whiskey called Tuthilltown from Gardiner, but confesses that rye is not an especially big seller.

As a whole, the three seem convinced that local drinking is catching on and are enthusiastic for where the trend may lead. In the end, more options lead to better drinking, and this is something bartenders, local brewers, and thirsty locavores can all get behind.

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