Reading Time: 6 minutes read
“We may be entering a new phase of history, a time when we begin to rediscover . . . the traditional teaching that power must entail restraint and responsibility, the ancient awareness that we are interdependent with all of nature and that our sense of community must take in the whole of creation.” – Donald Worster, The Vulnerable Earth
New York State is a strange and surprising place. Seemingly obsessed with itself, it has fewer Federal services, authorities, and areas than anywhere I have ever lived. And with over 400 people per square mile*—many of whom seem to think littering is acceptable—it is also the most populous and trashy place I have ever domiciled. But despite the city-ness of its cities, New York does take environmental preservation seriously; the Adirondack Park, “is the largest publicly protected area in the contiguous United States,”† and then there’s the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge. Situated at the top of Cayuga Lake, it straddles I-90 and U.S. 20, encompasses several smaller bodies of water, and has several rivers running through it. The refuge’s 10.94 square miles (according to a Google search) include many walking and hiking paths, overlook platforms, long-distance viewers, and a visitors’ center.
It’s significantly harder to find any good roads (or off-roads) for Tiny to play on in the Finger Lakes than in the Adirondacks, but we did manage to find a couple of gravel roads in poor repair. The motor vehicle-friendly paths through Montezuma (whose idea was it to call it that, anyway? We’re far from Mexico, and no, that little town in Oswego County doesn’t count) were mostly in good repair, and perfect for driving slowly, while looking for birds. Cranes have a frustrating knack for hiding in the tall reeds, but we did see one. Migrating Canadians were everywhere, so Ben took some cool pictures of them doing goose-y things.
Returning home by way of Seneca Falls and Geneva, we found a pretty (and fairly steep) hike down to Seneca Lake, and then stopped in at Gaël Brewing Company. I’d meant to take the brewery tour and write about them back in August, but didn’t make it in then. But driving along State Route 14 after our little hike, there it was. Perfect timing for a drop or two.
Owned and operated by George Adams and Elizabeth Lauzon, the brewery has been open since June 24, and offers free brewery tours on a regular basis. According to their website, Gaël is a combination of George and Elizabeth’s names, and a celebration of their “cultural backgrounds and love for craft beer.”‡ When I asked George about it, he explained that Elizabeth’s family are from Ireland, not many generations back.
Now, I’ve heard some criticism of the Gaël beers, but of the seven they had on tap, not one was bad. Even the cream ale was drinkable, and I don’t like the cream ale style, no matter how many people tell me it’s classic, etc. Corn does not go in beer, thanks. But George managed to produce a cream ale that I don’t mind drinking. He also has no problems with clarity; every one of the Gaël beers was brilliantly clear.
As usual, these tasting notes are a joint effort between Ben and I.
Lightly sweet, fairly effervescent. The faint malt sweetness and reasonably low hop profile complement each other, and I didn’t get any off flavors from it. As the tasting sheet claims, it’s a refreshing choice for a summer day.
Craic! Vanilla Cream Ale
George brewed this one with vanilla, soaked in Irish whiskey (I didn’t ask which kind), and a hint of orange peel. As previously stated, I don’t care for cream ales, but the vanilla and orange make for an orange cream character that is pleasant, without being overpowering, or cloyingly sweet.
It smells of caraway, which makes sense, since the beer is actually brewed with caraway seeds. It truly does taste like rye bread. It’s dry, and would pair with any food that goes well with rye bread.
Dry, a little bit toasty, and with a smoky finish. The nose is much less caramel-y than usual for an Irish red. It has a light earthy flavor, with some of the expected cararmel-like malt sweetness. Brewed with Cherrywood-smoked malt, this beer reminds me of the Smoked Red Ale from Raquette River Brewing.
Just an American IPA
Well-balanced IPA with a hint of resin (but not pine), citrus notes, something fruity, tropical, and orange-y in the nose. Sweet finish, and an almost 1:1 ABV/IBU ratio. Hop contract woes mean that smaller breweries often have to reformulate recipes, so George didn’t want to reveal the exact hops he used. He did admit to some Cascade, and I suspect there might have been some Citra, though it’s hard to say for sure.
1st Batch Session IPA
Notes of Irish Breakfast tea and lemon in the nose, and, as Ben said, “Probably the hoppiest session beer I’ve had.” It’s not astringent, or overly tannic, but there’s plenty of hop bitterness; impressive for such a low ABV ale. In its alcohol to IBU ratio, it’s almost the opposite of the Just an American IPA, which is perfectly balanced.
Templederry Irish Stout
Roast and coffee notes in the nose, and the color, as Ben described it, is, “Palo santo with bubinga highlights.” This dry Irish stout is a bit light on the body, and I’d like to see more head on it. Of course, I was sipping from a tasting glass, and not a proper pint. It’s poured on nitro, which works well for Irish stout, and the flavor is just right. Roast, coffee, chocolate, with a dry finish. “No coffee, chocolate, or any of that,” George said. “It’s all malt.”
Unlike so many of their fellows, Gaël Brewing Company does not operate under a Farm Brewery License. This gives George the freedom to choose whatever hops and grains are appropriate for his beers, regardless of their origin. I think that helps to explain why all of his beers were good, which is a rarity among the recent crop of small breweries in New York State. Swiftwater Brewing, of Rochester, does well enough, and I hope for good things from Griff’s Brewery (opening up later this month, y’all), but I’ve noticed a sour flavor in many of the local brews, which becomes more prominent as they use more locally grown hops and barley.
Locavore eating and drinking is all well and good, but the local terroir lends itself to grapes and apples, better than to hops and barley. I strongly suspect it’s to do with people living on and abusing the land for hundreds of years, without giving it a break to regenerate the nutrients that make for sweet, rich harvests.
By operating under a different brewing license, Gaël avoids that problem, while still celebrating their locality and the people who make it a worthwhile place. As in everything else, balance is key, and George and Elizabeth have struck a good one.
Photos by Benjamin Wilson
*50 States Populations (2010 Census).” Netstate.com. March 30, 2015. Accessed October 9, 2015
‡”About Gael Brewing Company.” Gael Brewing Company. 2015. Accessed October 9, 2015.
†”The Adirondack Park.” About the Adirondack Park. Accessed October 9, 2015.
Worster, Donald. “The Vulnerable Earth,” in Worster, ed., The Ends of the Earth (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989), p. 20.