Friday, August 22, 2014

Ellicottville Brewing Company

Even — okay, especially — on vacation, I like to find places to enjoy a couple of local beers and kick back with friends. Headed upsate to Olean, home to St. Bonaventure University and my nephew’s graduation, I decided to drive a little farther and check out Ellicottville Brewing Company, one of two EBC brewpubs in western New York (the other is in Fredonia). I invited a friend to come down, and we met up in Ellicottville. EBC is situated on a side street, but then, most of Ellicottville is side streets.

The space screams small-town America, and it’s very inviting, especially on a cold, rainy day in the middle of nowhere. EBC brews all its draft beer in-house, while beer destined for bottles is contract-brewed at nearby Southern Tier Brewing. It’s rather a large space for the area, it seems, with a long bar ringed by, alas, backless barstools, and plenty of dining tables, an alcove looking out onto Monroe Street, and elbow room all around.

As I like to do at new brewpubs, I opted for the sampler of the year-round beers, and was presented with six small glasses to taste and enjoy.

Clockwise from the beer to the right of the beer with the blueberry, then:
Lennon’s Toasted Lager – every brewpub needs to have that “bridge” beer, to bridge the gap between fizzy yellow lager drinkers and craft beer, and it’s typically a style like this. While this lager had a little more corniness (from DMS off-flavors, not from using actual corn in the grain bill) than I prefer, this proved a thirst-quenching little beer, at a mere 4.2% abv.
Blueberry Wheat – okay, I get the hook: a blueberry or two is floated in each glass of this low-alcohol, refreshing wheat beer (also 4.2%). Even funnier, they shovel the little guys into every growler fill. What I didn’t expect? This is quite a good fruit wheat beer, with the blueberry ‘essence’ restrained enough to let a pretty solid American-style wheat (read: no banana, no clove like in most German-style wheat beers) refresh the palate.
Two Brothers Pale Ale – another brewpub standard, but I was pleased with this. Hopped well, nice citrusy aroma and decent bitterness with a maltiness that didn’t descend into caramel atrocity, just a clean, tasty, Cascade-hop pale ale of reasonable (5.5%) strength.
EVL Amber – clever, using your town’s shorthand name! But this beer wasn’t evil at all, and didn’t fall into the trap of adding too much caramel malt, and thus cloying sweetness, to achieve its color. It uses a Belgian specialty malt to get that and a “cleaner” malt backbone to let the pleasingly bitter side of the equation shine. One of the best beers of the day.
Buchan Nut Brown – another brewpub staple, the Nut Brown did indeed taste like hazelnut thanks to the malted barley EBC uses. It’s also rather roasty, so it adds an extra dimension not usually found at your friendly neighborhood brewpub.
Black Jack Oatmeal Stout – served on nitro, as almost every single bar and brewpub does for their stouts (thank you, Guinness, for forcing this from everyone so their stout looks like you), this stout was just okay. A little too roasted for my tastes with an oatmeal stout, not as rounded as I’d hoped for.

Oh, did I drink other beers? Glad you asked. The ESB — Extra Special Bitter, a seasonal beer for EBC — scanned like any English ESB I’ve had in England on cask — there’s a certain flavor to the malt from the water in England and the yeast employed, and I think Ellicottville Brewing has found a way to recreate that. They stayed away from diacetyl as well, so it’s all just a showcase of balanced English-style brewing.

The Mowmaster Ultra Pale on the right, another seasonal, is a “lawnmower beer” for people who like good beer. Lots of citrusy, grassy hoppiness in a light-bodied, but still flavorful, beer, and at the average 5% strength, something you can drink a couple of without feeling too tipsy (as long as you aren’t a tiny person).

Like any good brewpub, beer was available for home use via growler, and plenty of folks stopped by during my hours there with refill requests (any growler will do). New growlers range from the reasonably-cheap standard glass jug, to the $32ish cost of the pretty swingtop version with a metal handle that are all the rage these days. Pint glasses, T-shirts, and swag of all kinds are displayed for sale as well.

Yes, of course I had a bite while waiting for the rest of the family to arrive. The Spicy African Peanut soup was touted by the bartender as unbelievable, her favorite item on the menu, accolade et cetera et cetera, so yeah, I got me a crock of that. What lurks below the surface…

Why yes, loads of vegetables, chicken, and yes, peanuts dropped by my spoon for a visit. And it definitely brings a bit of spicy heat, like a chili powder. I didn’t really figure out what made African peanuts different from their American counterparts; maybe their stings were more deadly? (Yes, I know the soup is the African part.)

Once I saw these on the menu, I knew they would be mine. Fried Macaroni and Cheese Balls? I’ve had the fried mac and cheese ball at Chip Shop before, and enjoyed it, so… well, two balls are better than one, right?

In a word, yes. Shells and a blend of cheeses, with less a batter crust than a heavy panko breading, topped with parmesan shavings and sitting in a puddle of yet more cheesy goodness. The shells weren’t overcooked, and the kitchen seems to know just how long to cook these balls. The mac and cheese itself wasn’t particularly cheese-laden, but the cheese on the plate made up for that. Very satisfying and filling!

I finished off with a couple last beers during and after dinner before we needed to leave. First, a pint of the Two Brothers Pale Ale, as it really shone as an easy-drinking, hoppy beer, which was pretty much exactly what I wanted. And also, because I wanted to compare it to a beer from the EBC “Imperial Series”: on the right, in a 12-ounce glass, their 10.6% abv “Imperial Pale Ale”, affectionately named “Pantius Droppus”. (Lest you think EBC is the only clever brewer equating a high-alcohol beer with eventual relations with a lady, this is hardly a unique name for a beer.) From the description — “tons of delicious, secret malts”, “loads and loads of glorious hops” — I fully expected a boozy, overly-sweet mess, like a bad American-style barleywine, but in reality, Ellicottville did a very good job reining in the overuse of crystal malts while using hops appropriately, i.e., dumping in a boatload. The Cascade-hop aroma, piney and citrusy, overpowers the nose and sets up the rather dry body and clean, drying finish. It definitely does not drink like it’s twice the stength of the pale ale, that’s for sure, and I enjoyed my glass of this before my friend had to leave.

Ellicottville the town doesn’t have much for the casual tourist, but if you’re into beer, the brewpub is worth going out of your way to visit. The locals are friendly — we had several conversations with people who seemed to be regulars who love the beer here — and the food and beer are quite tasty. I’m glad I chose to come here instead of heading a little farther west to Southern Tier Brewing (it’s a tap room only), and got to absorb a pleasant day of eating, drinking, and catching up in a comfortable setting. Now if they’ll just do something about the backless barstools….

Ellicottville Brewing Co. on Urbanspoon
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