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Bye Bye Big Beer

May 4, 2018

There is a lot about the Capital Region food scene I hope never changes.

This past week, I took my daughter to Jumpin’ Jack’s in Scotia. That’s a magical place. On a warm spring night that felt like summer there were about 80 people ahead of us in line. She got the joy of hearing the orders converted into the lingo short order cooks call out to their brigade. And we watched the flames lick the grill to cook a seemingly endless stream of burgers.

But even places like Jumpin’ Jack’s can change in positive ways. For example, I have no idea when they put a veggie burger on the menu, but it’s delicious. One of my Yelp friends swears by their veggie burger with cheese, cooked onions, slaw, and red relish. And I have to say, after finally trying it this week, it’s now my favorite sandwich there.

Little Miss Fussy got the clam roll, and it is one of the better ones we’ve found locally.

Another classic Capital Region place out of time is Ralph’s Tavern. In an attempt to get more people to experience the joys of one of my favorite takes on Mozz & Melba, I hosted Yelp Office Hours there on Monday night. Since it’s a place that resists change, small changes are very very noticeable.

This one has to do with beer, and it’s not just interesting, it’s important.

When I asked about what beer was on tap, I was given the long list of usual suspects. In the past, the top of the tap list was Sam Adams. At some point, that expanded to include Southern Tier.

On Monday, they had Sloop Juice Bomb.

To some of you that will be meaningful. Others will likely be scratching their heads. So let me try and contextualize this as quickly as I can.

Sloop is the name of a brewery. It’s south of Albany. And it’s small. Really, really small. Juice Bomb is its New England style of IPA. It’s cloudy and has dominant citrus flavors, not from actual fruit or juice added to the beer, but from the skillful use of hops in the brewing process.

It’s delicious, to be sure. But this darling of the beer swirling and sniffing set is not the kind of thing one would expect to see in a dark and divey tavern.

I’d love to learn how this happened.

Here’s what I know. It did not come at the expense of the tavern’s better beers, because Sam Adams and Southern Tier were still available on draft.

I also happened to spy a sign by the server’s station which explained the change. Apparently the draft line that this small local craft brewery replaced was the one for Budweiser.

What?

Let that sink in for a moment. One of the biggest, most popular, heavily marketed beers in the world, lost a tap line at a place that’s been historically filled with macro brew drinkers, to a small, regional brewery.

This fills me with hope and optimism. For those who want Bud, it’s still available in bottles. I can’t tell you if the experience of Bud improves when it’s served on draft. My hunch is probably not a whole heck of a lot.

So bravo to Ralph’s for taking a leap. I just hope that’s the only thing they change. Well, I suppose they could trim down the menu… a lot. Just so long as they keep the Mozz & Melba.

My biggest fear is that all this pushing for change will result in not just the change I seek, but further changes that will ultimately doom some of my favorite classic Capital Region joints. There are a lot of places to mourn already. But heading into the weekend, let’s stay focused on the positive.

Our beer culture is improving. And if people are paying attention to the beer they drink, hopefully they are paying more attention to the food they are eating too. In the end, I have to believe that’s a very good thing indeed.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. May 4, 2018 10:29 am

    Juice Bomb is my current favorite IPA, it is excellent.

    I remember the bad old days when the best beer one could hope for at most bars and restaurants in Albany was Sam Adams. I think I mentioned this at Ralph’s, but I still have a soft spot for Sammy because they essentially mainstreamed the microbrew revolution (in the Northeast) in the early 90s. That’s no small achievement.

    I wouldn’t give Ralph’s too much credit, though. You can walk into any mediocre chain restaurant and find locally brewed craft beers on the tap list, and it’s been that way for a few years now. Ralph’s is very late to the party.

  2. -R. permalink
    May 4, 2018 10:43 am

    Good for Ralph’s, and their patrons. My usual tavern in Troy, with a mere 12 taps, dumped Bud off their tap list quite some time ago – nobody was drinking it. Of course, it’s available in bottles and there are folks who drink it religiously much to my dismay. Also, the proprietor has never had a light/lite beer on draft which says a lot about his enthusiasm for quality beer. He always has at least three or four micro/craft brews on the rotating lines, ranging from IPAs to porters to sours to lagers – well curated and generally local-ish breweries.

  3. May 4, 2018 11:06 am

    Wouldn’t you be more excited if Bud was replaced by a local brewery who could churn out a crisp, clean lager or Pilsner made from quality locally sourced barley and hops? You know, to eat with a pizza or something…

  4. May 5, 2018 2:00 am

    I don’t think you have to worry too much about the region changing so much that places that that will go away, Daniel. If there’s one thing I’ve learned – sometimes the hard way – during my eight years here, it’s that the culture, with notable exceptions, is very resistant to change. People hold on with both hands to what makes this area unique, with good reason, and they prefer the tried-and-true. That’s why I think you’ll continue to see the culinary climate slowly warming in terms of innovation and outside ideas, but the classics will remain.

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