Better Know A Beer City, Part 5 – Syracuse!
I have a confession to make: I love Syracuse, New York. This is definitely an uncommon, and for some reason unpopular, declaration. While it’s true that Syracuse has felt the effects of suburban flight and the general decline that has come with the shuttering of multiple types of industry in Central New York, it still maintains a unique charm common in small to medium-sized cities in the northeastern U.S.
My first experience with Syracuse came when I started visiting my wife’s family in the Finger Lakes during high school. Syracuse was the closest airport to Owasco Lake and, at that time, even supported a direct flight from Hartford, CT. We never ventured into the city for anything – it was aways straight to the lake and then straight back to the airport. When I started working in New York City I was offered the chance to represent our firm during campus visits to Syracuse University. On three separate occasions I flew to Syracuse and spent a couple of nights at the Sheraton located a few blocks from campus.
During those visits I began to appreciate all that Syracuse has to offer, including, you guessed it, beer! Faegan’s Cafe & Pub is just a short walk down Marshall Street from the Sheraton. It’s not much more exciting than your standard college bar, but it does offer about 20 taps of pretty decent craft beer. I recall trying my first Middle Ages Brewing Company beer while eating there in 2008 – a Swallow Wit. A couple of my other favorite bars in the city include The Blue Tusk and Shifty’s. The Tusk has almost 70 taps and is generally regarded as the best beer bar in the city. Shifty’s offers 25 taps and the second-best wings in Syracuse.
Where can you find the best wings in Syracuse, you ask? Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, of course! The original (and best) of the ten locations is located on West Willow Street only blocks from Clinton Square. Drafts like Ithaca Cascazilla, Middle Ages Smoked Porter, Southern Tier 2xIPA, and a rotating high-octane selection offer something for everyone. I clearly recall arriving at Dinosaur after a 4 hour nonstop drive from Massachusetts in the summer of 2010 – the Southern Tier Hop Sun passed over the bar was one of the most satisfying beers I’ve ever had. My extremely high opinion of Dinosaur might be biased by the fact that my parents hosted a wedding rehearsal dinner for my wife and me on the second floor in the summer of 2011, but I promise that you will not leave disappointed!
My second-favorite place to eat dinner and enjoy a beer in Syracuse is Empire Brewing Company in the bustling Armory Square neighborhood. Empire, which is in the process of opening a farmstead brewery in nearby Cazenovia, offers 10 to 12 taps of beer brewed right behind the bar (seek out Downtown Brown or Local Grind). The menu is also fantastic – don’t miss out on a side of the Blue Corn Bread. The most well-known Syracuse brewery is likely Middle Ages Brewing Company, which has been producing English-style beers in the city since 2005. It’s worth a visit to the small tasting room to try a few of the 12 or so different offerings. My picks would be the Highlander Scotch Ale, Wailing Wench, and the Old Marcus ESB.
I’ve found beer shopping to be somewhat limited in the Syracuse area, but I have always enjoyed visiting Brilbeck’s Corner Market on Avery Street in the Tipperary Hill neighborhood. The Wegmans Grocery stores located in the area typically have decent beer selections as well. If a 35 minute drive doesn’t seem too daunting, head west on NY-5 to visit D & L Truck Stop in Auburn. It’s by far the best selection in the area, and even has a growler filling station with 8 pretty amazing drafts. Speaking of easy trips from Syracuse, scenic Skaneateles is located less than 30 minutes away and offers great craft beer at both The Sherwood Inn and Blue Water Grill. A one hour drive southeast of Syracuse brings you to the town of Hamilton, the home of Colgate University. Be sure to check out the beer selection at the Colgate Inn and make a visit to the Good Nature Farm Brewery & Tap Room just a few short blocks away!
Be sure to add a visit to the Syracuse region to your future travel itinerary. I can assure you that finding good beer and good food will not be a challenge!