Monday, October 14, 2013

Brewpub review: Albany Pump Station (C.H. Evans Ales)

On Saturday, two friends from out of town were traveling through Albany and wanted to meet up with me for a drink. They wanted to try some locally-made beer, so I suggested we meet at one of my favorite Capital District brewpubs – the Albany Pump Station (aka C.H. Evans Ales). I’ve attended some of their beer dinners, which have been fantastic, and I’ve also found it to be a good place for meetups with friends and colleagues. It’s a nice alternative to the noisy, overly-trendy, crowded bars and clubs in downtown Albany.

Here’s a video of a beer dinner I attended at Albany Pump Station back in February:

APS (2)It’s no secret that George de Piro, the founder of the Times Union “Beer Nut” blog, was the original brewmaster at Albany Pump Station when it opened in 1999. He left in 2012 when he opened his own brewpub, Druthers Brewing Company, in Saratoga Springs. George’s recipes have won several awards, and the banners for them are proudly displayed. Several of his beers are still served year-round, though some have been retired or replaced by new recipes by current brewmaster Ryan Demler.

I have to say I’ve found myself enjoying their beers a little more in the last year or so. Not that there was anything wrong with the classic recipes, but the newer ones seem bolder and more experimental. Though one thing I noticed when I tried a sample flight is that they were all remarkably sweet, including the IPAs. I don’t have a problem with sweet beers in general, but it seems a little odd to me that beers of various styles would all be so noticeably sweet. However, none of them were cloying, and I did genuinely enjoy them all.
Here’s a quick breakdown of my flight ($8 for eight, 3oz samples):
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Evans Wit (5.3% ABV): A good way to start out. This witbier is much more robust and fruity than most American-made beers of the style. I almost got a jelly-like flavor to it. I could’ve used this back in July.

Oktoberfest (5.2% ABV): The Marzen style is actually my least favorite style in all of beerdom. For a brewery to make one that I like is quite an accomplishment, and to make one that impresses me is extremely rare. This beer did both. A little sweeter than most; it drinks more like an ale than a lager.

Oatmeal Stout (4.4% ABV): Definitely one of the sweetest examples of the style I can recall. Heavy on the oatmeal, light on the roasted malt. Quite a lot of character for a relatively light body. Perhaps a bit one-dimensional, but it’d make a good dessert beer.

Session IPA (4.4% ABV): Reminiscent of Founders All Day IPA in that it has the great taste of citrusy hops, with enough body to make it drink like a refined brew and not just an overly-hopped amber ale. Refreshing for a hop-forward brew.
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Doppelbock (7.3% ABV): Not quite on par with a Celebrator or Salvator, though it’s impressive for it is. Sweet with some malty fruit notes, though it’s not cloying at all. Just like the Oktoberfest, it drinks more like an ale than a lager. I could see myself drinking this in a much larger serving size.

Handsome GuyPA  (7.4% ABV): By far the hoppiest beer in the lineup and the hoppiest beer ever brewed here, according to the menu. This was made in collaboration with my buddy Scott Veltman of Ommegang. It’s a West Coast-style IPA with huge citrus aromas and flavors. Slightly sweet with an orange sherbet flavor and creamy texture. I hope they make this a mainstay.

Cascadian Dark Ale (7% ABV): I don’t usually associate Black IPAs with sweetness, though that’s the first thing I noticed about this beer. Not that it was bad, though I would’ve preferred more roasty flavor. This would pair well with a lot of the spicy-flavored foods on the menu.

Belgian Strong Ale (9.2% ABV): This beer is bursting with authentic Belgian taste. Huge banana and vanilla flavors, along with the classic Belgian yeast esters. It reminds me of a Trappist tripel ale, though it’s light on the spiciness. Between this and the witbier, I’m thinking they should brew Belgian-style beers more often.

I’ve had a lot of different beers at Albany Pump Station over my many visits here. Some have been great, like the Pump Station Pale and the Kick-Ass Brown Ale (which has won many awards), but I skipped them this visit since I wanted to try something new (though I highly recommend those beers to first timers). I’m not too crazy about some of their lighter offerings like the Quackenbush Blonde, Scottish Light, and the Capital Light. Not that they’re bad, they’re just not very appealing to me.

Of course, there’s more to this place than just beer. Their food is delicious and reasonably priced. It seems like I’ve tried all the starters, specialty sandwiches and burgers by this point. Some of my favorites include “The Gobbler” turkey sandwich, the pulled pork sandwich, the prime rib French Dip, and the Pump Station Burger. In fact, that’s what I ordered on this visit. It’s a ground beef burger blended with the Kick-Ass Brown Ale, scallion, cheddar jack cheese and barbeque sauce, topped with bacon, pepper jack and chipotle ranch dressing. My mouth is watering just thinking about it! I hope this picture can do it justice–>

APS (14)My friends Dan and Matt had just come from lunch, though they split an order of the Maryland-style Jumbo Crab Cakes as a snack. A bit pricey at $11 for two patties, but they said it tasted great and was worth it. Dan ordered a pint of the Kick-Ass Brown and was impressed by how hoppy it was for a brown ale while still having the malty sweetness of the style. Matt had the Handsome GuyPA and enjoyed it a lot, comparing it to some IPAs made in San Diego by the biggest-name breweries. I agreed.

APS (13)My only complaint about Albany Pump Station is that while the servers themselves have always been polite, friendly and knowledgeable, the service itself seems rather slow. It was fairly slow when we were there on Saturday afternoon, and even though I didn’t time how long it took for our food to come out (then again, I never do), it just seemed much longer than your average wait. Though this is not all that uncommon in my experience. It’s easily overlooked, though, and nothing that would prevent me or most patrons from returning.
Here’s a video all the way back from April of 2009 of my first-ever visit to Albany Pump Station:

Albany Pump Station
19 Quackenbush Square
Albany, NY 12207
Phone: (518) 447-9000
Monday – Thursday: 11:30am – 11pm (Kitchen hours 11:30am – 10pm)
Friday & Saturday: 11:30am – Midnight (Kitchen hours 11:30am – 11pm)
Sunday: 12 noon – 8pm (Kitchen hours Noon- 8pm)

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