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“The fact is new and seems strange to many that there should be in the northeastern part of New York a wilderness almost unbroken and unexplored, embracing a territory considerably larger than the whole state of Massachusetts; a territory exhibiting every variety of soil, from the bold mountain that lifts its head up far beyond the limit of vegetable life to the most beautiful meadow land on which the eye ever rested.” – Rev. John Todd
Well past Watertown and Fort Drum, so deep in the Adirondacks that it’s closer to Vermont and Quebec than to any of New York’s metro areas, lies the Town of Tupper Lake. This small logging town, whose population was just under 6 thousand people at the 2010 census†, sits beside Raquette Pond, an extension of a large body of water whose southern end bears the expected name of Tupper Lake. And in this little town, not too far from the much better known Saranac Lake and its associated brewery, is an outpost of beerdom called Raquette River Brewing.
Thursday, 09 July
As soon as I’d hit publish on last week’s post, we packed up the car and lit out for Fort Drum—to those who have earned the right to shop there, it’s the last, best supply post for trips into the Adirondacks. Never mind that we drove the whole way under an annoyingly extensive cloud system that alternated between torrential outbursts and barely-noticeable sprinkles. We needed a break, goldurn it, and we were gonna take one.
Freshly supplied with a 12 pack of Great Divide beers and some other necessities, we headed into the mountains. About twenty miles west of Tupper Lake, between hamlets so small that the one or two restaurants close at six or seven p.m., is Cranberry Lake and its associated NYS campground. Armed with a campground map and list of available sites, we drove around until we found the perfect spot; right next to the lake, with a firepit in good repair, enough trees to hang our hammocks from, and no campers in the sites immediately adjacent. There was even a bathroom a short walk away—which, while reducing the feeling of roughing it, was mighty convenient—and right outside the campground, a stack of self-serve firewood ($5/bundle, please). Except for the occasional noises from other campsites: a baby crying; someone evidently having a nightmare; folks walking to the bathroom; it was a perfectly restful night.
Hungry and leaning towards tired, we took our grumbling stomachs up the winding and shockingly well-maintained NY-3, towards Tupper Lake. To our relieved surprise, we found a pub right by the highway. The only watering hole for several miles, The Thirsty Moose gave me a fresh perspective on the old real estate mantra, “location, location, location.” Granted, the grub came with middle-of-nowhere prices, but the beer didn’t, and the Philly Cheesesteak and French Dip sandwiches were huge and tasty.
Like probably every local watering hole since the Sumerians, or Egyptians, or whoever it was invented beer, The Thirsty Moose has its collection of colorful characters. Most are locals, some are just passing through. I still have the lottery ticket that one of the regulars bought me, with the understanding that if I won, he’d get $1 million. Given that the jackpot was up to $106 million, this seemed like a fair deal. It wasn’t a winning ticket, and so I’m not writing this from a sun-drenched beach while sipping Caribbean rum.
Friday, 10 July
Having eaten (Ben’s campfire cooking is the best) and struck camp, we got on the road and arrived in Tupper Lake around with a couple of hours to spare before the Wild Center was due to open. Near the western edge of town, a fabric banner advertised, “Brewery,” and another promised, “BBQ.” After checking the hours of operation, we filed this tempting combo under “lunch plans” and mosied on to Lumberjack Inn. Chainsaws, other logging tools, paintings on sawblades, and other bits of logging art and paraphernalia adorned the diner’s walls, paying homage to the town’s apparent heritage.
The daughter of a former sawmill worker—until the spotted owl debacle—I found it all very familiar and homey.
“This place could totally be in Oregon,” I quietly remarked.
“Yeah,” Ben agreed.
Eventually, the Wild Center opened, and we could explore the thing that had drawn us to Tupper Lake in the first place; the Wild Walk, an elevated construction that reminded me of my favorite park playground, only built on a grander scale. Swinging bridges, a human-sized eyrie, wilderness vistas, and a big rope “spider’s web” delighted both the youthful and more mature visitors to the nature preserve and museum. In the parking lot, I saw license plates from as far away as Florida, though none, I noted, from the West Coast. You don’t come from the other side of the Rockies to visit the Adirondacks.
Our hike finished, we headed back to the brewery for some beer and—we hoped—nosh.
And now, the beer
Raquette River Brewing is housed in a brown building that resembles an alpine supply post, complete with an enclosed bookshelf on the outside, bearing a sign that reads, “Free Library.” Inside, the bartendress fixed us up with two tasting flights, while the—appropriately bearded—brewer, Mark, went about producing their Smoked Red Ale. We took our beer to the sheltered tables outside. The sweet smell of wort drifted from the brewery, adding to the pleasant atmosphere. Sadly, I can’t tell you anything about the BBQ truck, other than the fact that they didn’t take card, and we didn’t have cash. Fortunately, the brewery had no such limitations.
Belgian yeast and wheat notes in the nose—some cloves and banana, but not too strong, with a slight tanginess to the smell. Unsurprisingly, there’s coriander and orange in there, along with a “funky, earthy” character.
The color is straw yellow and cloudy. There might be a hint of bubblegum in the flavor, and definitely a bit if citrus. As Ben described, the “spice profile is somewhere between a golden strong and saison. Powerful at first, but the wheat takes over; finish is wheat soft.”
The nose is resinous, almost piney, with sweeter malt notes. It’s a pale yellow, fairly translucent ale, though not quite as clear as their IPA. Blonde ales are far from my favorite style, but this is certainly better than the examples in the recent UNYHA brew-off competition. Sorry, guys. “Hops are pungent,” Ben noted.
(Ben) Some kind of dank, earthy, resinous hops. Words you’d use to describe weed, but they’re accurate. Classic American pale.
“Has a similar flavor the orange coriander wheat, without the Belgian character, plus hops,” Ben remarked. It’s not the same, but this one does remind me slightly of Great Divide Rumble.
It has the expected cloudiness and soft flavor contributions of a wheat beer.
It has a lovely nose; roasty, but with hints of vanilla. I couldn’t really smell the maple. The color is quite dark, with burgundy highlights. It has a smooth mouthfeel, which is not always true of porters, and a dry, toasty finish from the maple. Maple beers never taste the way you might expect, because, as Ben said, “Maple is almost entirely fermentable.”
This one is made with Cascade and Columbus, and it smells like it. The nose is floral, citrus, and something slightly earthy, almost piney. It’s a very clear beer, with a pale amber color, as of the actual fossilized resin. It’s lightly bitter; I found the hop flavors refreshing.
It’s basically a hoppier, meltier version of the IPA. Like the menu says, “Full bodied and smooth.”
Smoked Red Ale
The nose is pleasantly smoky, but not overpowering. It reminds me of this morning’s campfire, and smells a bit like hickory. It has a deep amber, maple syrup color. It’s a decently balanced red ale. Ben said, “Lightly smoky, smells like what he’s brewing. Lightly saline in the nose, smells like beech. If so, it’s very light.”
The finish is somewhat dry and toasty, as I expect from a red ale. It’s sort of a smoked Altbier.
Raquette River Brewing makes a tasty collection of beers, and there weren’t any that I disliked. Of this batch, my favorites were probably the Maple Porter and Smoked Red Ale. I like hoppy beers, but those two are fairly unusual. I like to try rauchbiers whenever possible because they’re uncommon from U.S. breweries, and I have to give Raquette River props for producing a smooth porter with good body and mouthfeel, and not too much astringency.
The brewery is apparently fairly new; the bartendress said they’d been open for around fifteen months. Ben said he’d compare them favorably to Basecamp, in Portland, OR, “especially the Belgian wheat…probably a couple of points over.”
Home away from home?
The funny thing about the Adirondacks is how different they are from anything else I’ve experienced on the East Coast. American and/or POW and other military flags proudly waving over many homes, businesses and public spaces; little towns whose architecture and eclectic mixture of shops seem borrowed straight from Wyoming; well-maintained highways that twist and turn their way through mixed alpine forests then open up to gorgeous views of sparkling lakes with tree-covered islands; the region seems almost entirely divorced from the rest of the state. For this Pac NW expat, the trip was a very nice break, made even better by a stop at Raquette River Brewing.
Photos by Benjamin Wilson
“About Us.” Raquette River Brewing. Accessed July 17, 2015.
Reverend Todd, John. “Quotes.” Adirondack Park. April 12, 2000. Accessed July 17, 2015.
“Town of Tupper Lake.” Tupper Lake, New York. Accessed July 17, 2015.
“Wild Center.” Wild Center. Accessed July 17, 2015.