The Reaverbocker Beer and Public House probably isn’t taking a unique approach to stepping into the craft beer scene in New York State. In the grand scheme of things, the “Membeers Only” event, a private social club soiree, is just another beer tasting event. However, at the same time, it’s not. It’s blatantly clear the couple Jess Reaves and Elizabeth Knickerbocker know what the hell they’re doing.
We have plenty of breweries hanging around the Syracuse area: Eastwood, Empire, Local 315, Middle Ages, Prison City, Willow Rock and WT Brews. For good measure, throw in the nearby Hopshire, Ithaca and Saranac. There are also the copious beer-related “festivals” popping up around town. Unfortunately, the number of beer fests that are born and return quantitatively outnumber breweries and the varieties offered. In turn there is a lack of variety: The same brewery names and their same offerings, aside a couple here-and-there become familiar; and people go intending to get sauced.
Here, there isn’t that expectation. It’s quality over quantity.
Pale Ale (5.6% ABV): American pale ale hopped exclusively with Azacca hops. Herbal, fruity and spicy with note of peach from a famous heady yeast strain.
In the seemingly abandoned bottom floor of the Cosmopolitan Building (across the lot to the Gear Factory), lights were delicately hung from the ceiling and over the table constructed of re-purposed wood from City Wood. The layout of the event space can be definitively described as cosmopolitan chic with a rustic appeal in an industrial setting. The building itself is in the process of revitalization; and being the bottom floor, this is essentially the root of the process in many ways than one.
The food was as good as the beer. The accompanying crowd: There were plenty of familiar faces midst several unfamiliar faces. The sold-out limited-seat event, a forthcoming effort after a champagne bottle breaking investment trial, allowed more than one opportune moment for strangers to cross paths and familiar faces to reconvene, and all of this acknowledgement was solidified by embracing handshakes and hugs.
Hibiscus Saison (7.5% ABV): Belgian saison featuring hibiscus, lemon and tangerine peel. Tart and yeasty with a dry, earthy finish.
Toward the back of the room sat a trailer, which posed as a selfie booth. It was past the bar with the foliage-covered back wall. It was adjacent to a quasi fire pit area with three hanging lamps providing the dimmed light instead of live flames. Although it was part of the same room, the nook provided a getaway from the hubbub around the long dining room table and bar area.
The lights hanging above the blatantly wooden table (the bark crust still clearly visible) was romantic. In some regard the setup has the romantic dinner for two appeal, but the romance followed suit with the intimacy of the event. The aura set the scene and encouraged conversation.
Every single dim-lit-kissed aspect was photogenic in its own right.
Rye Bitter (5.7% ABV): Two types of rye offer a dry spiciness to this amber-hued British bitter while layers of dark crystal malts keep it all in balance.
When tongues stopped flicking words, they were occupied with tasting.
The food presented by Chris and Emily Whalen paired well with the seven offerings. Two guest beers were from Middle Ages — Highlander Scotch Ale (cask) and Boxing Day Bitter — and they were more than welcome.
The mac and cheese, the chili and the brisket (especially) were all mouthwatering, and the horseradish sauce (and jalapenos for topping) couldn’t have complimented the pork The donuts, which varied from peanut-covered to chocolate to powder sugar-covered to plain and more, beckoned to be consumed.
Double IPA (7.9% ABV): Intensely hopped with American and Australian hop varieties. Medium-bodied and super hazy with a soft finish of tropical fruit and citrus.
Who knew an IPA would go so well with donuts? Perhaps they don’t, but it’s for certain that two great tasting things yield bliss.
The beer isn’t anything to joke about. If you’re looking for quality, great-tasting grog — this is one the craft breweries you’ve been searching for. Judging by the varieties of beer — the descriptions listed appear as written on the notes provided by Reeves and Knickerbocker — is for the connoisseur, not the constant drunk.
Wanting to try all of them was a must, but getting thrown out for belligerence was and is frowned upon. You just hoped everyone would get a fair share to propel the progression.
Coconut Porter (5.4% ABV): Light-bodied brown porter brewed with lots of dark chocolate and crystal malts. Finished with toasted coconut flakes.
After one keg was kicked, another would go on. Waiting to try the porter was a test of patience. Of the eight of us, the porter was seemingly most desired. Porters and coconut are personal favorites as is, so the final beer of the night would essentially be the dessert… beer, because there were plenty of donuts to go around.
Choosing a favorite of the five is difficult. Apples would have to be compared to apples, IPAs compared to IPAs, porters to porters and so forth. People do have a style preference, but I enjoy the ends of the spectrum: really hoppy and really malty. All five stood out and tall. Although, I’m not a huge fruit or wheat beer, saisons are a way to my heart; the Hibiscus Saison was delightful.
The Reaverbocker certainly paved another path into the community: This was a perfect event to socialize in even for an introvert. The tasting event also provided a gateway into the craft beer community; if you’re timid to try or crafts aren’t your thing, like most breweries, there were varieties for everyone.
Reaves and Knickerbocker are part of a huge spectrum in the world of beer, but they’re speaking loudly and on the local level. Perhaps even on the state level. The “Membeers Only” social event instills more faith in the small business world and in local, regional and national agriculture.
It also makes a great Christmas gift, and a night out with a great friend. (A huge thank you to you, Tara.)
Cover photo by Christopher Malone.