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Old 12-01-2008, 04:39 PM   #1
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Default Review: Keuka Brewing Co, Hammondsport, NY

Keuka Brewing Co. (Hammondsport, NY)

Post-Thanksgiving, the_Wife and I took a quick jaunt up Keuka Lake to visit a pair of our favorite wineries, Dr. Konstantin Frank and Heron Hill. On our way out of Hammondsport, we noticed signs on the road for a new brewery, Keuka Brewing. Not being too far out of the way, we decided to make this the first stop on our itinerary.

Initial impression was that this is clearly a small-scale operation, apparently working out of someone’s house. A small (homebrew-scale) copper wort chiller was located outside of the entrance. Paid $3 for six 2-ounce samples. Pumpkin-colored tasting room is fairly plain; empty malt bags hang from the ceiling. A bar (no stools) was built along the far end. Beer taps located in the wall behind the bar.

Beers: very amateur.

· Wheat beer; hefe-style, so yeast character is called for, but the yeast bite was overwhelming. A strange astringency was noticed as well. Strange, stale aroma was noticed. Not enough poured to adequately judge body. Yeast was overwhelming, even for a Bavarian-style hefe. Menu noted use of Cascade hops; not much hop character (nor should there be for this style).

· Red ale; the menu provided made note of the use of Crystal 120L malt, which dominated the flavor profile. Very dark, even for a red ale. Dark, bittersweet fruit (raisons, etc), I would guess from overuse of the C120L for color. Red ales should be very smooth and balanced; this was not. I like a little malt sweetness in there (I use a lot of Munich in mine, as well as some medium crystal). Just tasted like C120L, Special B, way too dominant on the dark end. Hops (Centennial and Cascade) felt disconnected from the malt, non-harmonious. Still had that astringency.

· IPA; better, but unexceptional. Very limited hop nose. Decent flavor, was indicated 60-65 IBUs (not sure if the IBU figure was calculated or lab-measured; not overwhelmingly bitter). Generic American IPA.

· Brown; unremarkable; cannot recall much about this at all.

· Stout; the best beer of the bunch, but still nothing extraordinary. Fairly smooth (smoothness might have simply been from being poured from a warmer growler rather than from the tap).

· Raspberry wheat; overwhelming raspberry flavor – no subtlety.

There was a seventh beer that I am forgetting entirely.

General observations:

1. Somewhat offended that the proprietor assumed that the_Wife would automatically be interested in the raspberry wheat beer (did not offer me a sample); don’t pre-judge your potential customers.

2. Many of the beers had a note of staleness or almost a little “rotten” character, as well as an unpleasant astringency. I suspect the beers might have been young (the_Wife wondered this first). When I have been specifically presented with an example of a beer tainted with acetaldehyde, it presented itself to me as more of a “rotten apple” than necessarily just a “green apple” character, and I think that was what I was picking up in the beers’ aromas. A mild astringency would also be consistent with a beer served too soon.

3. Proprietor seemed to have little interest in conversing with us, even after learning that I was a homebrewer. I might be wrong to be put back by this, but he didn’t seem interested in really interacting with us, getting feedback, trying to explain what he was doing (I would love to have been able to ask him how much C120L he used in the red ale, for example).

4. No integration of the Finger Lakes into the brewery. The beers were just – beers (amateur-tasting examples, as well). Given all of the interesting aspects of the Finger Lakes, one would expect a brewery to somehow incorporate aspects of the region into the beers. Beers aged in retired wine barrels, for example. These were beers that could have been made anywhere.

5. Beers were really just… mediocre. Nothing exceptional, no particularly great examples of the styles, neither interesting nor executed particularly well. The whole operation felt like it was a half-step above just making homebrew. The company appears to have no web presence. Nothing appeared to be available bottled (growlers could be filled). I question whether beer is being produced on a very small scale (homebrew scale), and as a result they are unable to age the beers properly.

Not recommended.
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Old 12-02-2008, 04:21 PM   #2
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I was there shortly after they opened. Both of the owners and brewers were very nice and they talked with us quite a bit. I think the beer isn't aged long at all because they have been selling out very fast and I'm told they are having trouble making the beer fast enough. I thought the beer was drinkable when I was there and I was glad to see two homebrewers trying to start a beer business on the wine trail. I'm hopeful things will get better there.

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Old 12-02-2008, 04:38 PM   #3
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You have any idea how big a system he's working from? I mean, in one way, selling beer too quickly is a GOOD problem to have, but when even my wife is saying "this beer sucks, it's just not done yet," well... that's something you need to resolve ASAP. I suppose the excessive yeastiness of the hefe could have been related to age as well.

I still just thought the beers were boring, though. One article I saw on the brewery from a local paper was talking about how hops used to be a major crop in the area back ~150 years ago. It's be real interesting to be able to reseach what varities those might have been, or even to track down some wild hops from way back then (I know lots of farms in upstate NY have lots of old hops around) and do something with those.

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