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Cayuga County Craft: Beer line culture and its place in Auburn

Mass Riot release

More than 200 people line up at Prison City Pub & Brewery in Auburn to buy 16-ounce cans of its Mass Riot IPA in March 2018.

One recent Friday morning, I got into my car and drove an hour to spend more than $100 on a case of beer. And I absolutely dreaded it.

I drove that hour to the new East Bloomfield location of Other Half Brewing, of Brooklyn, whose New England-style India pale ales have made it one of the most sought-after breweries in the country. Since buying the former Nedloh Brewing in July, Other Half has been releasing those IPAs and other beers by the truckload at its new location. I say "truckload" because Other Half has been hauling the beer from its Gowanus facility while it readies the Ontario County one to begin production. According to Will Cleveland at the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, that should happen early this year.

Anyway, my dread: When Other Half releases beer, people tend to line up for it. That was true when I visited the Brooklyn location on a Wednesday evening in summer 2017 and waited behind about 60 people just to reach the bar. And, just as I feared, that was true the other day. I could already see a line of cars as I crested the last hill before the brewery on eastbound Routes 5 and 20.

I mostly dreaded the wait itself, but I was also wary of everything that comes with it. When more than 100 people get together in adverse conditions to spend considerable money on something scarce, anxiety can take over. The people in the front of the line can be grumpy because they've been there the longest. The people in the back can be uncertain there'll be anything left for them to buy. And if people are drinking in line for beer, as they sometimes do, that anxiety can turn to something uglier. God forbid a dispute arises about someone cutting the line or losing their place.

I should note, however, that I went to Other Half alone. Waiting in line for beer with friends can be positively fun, a time to chat as you share an experience you might reminisce about later. Speaking of which, I should also note that I'm anti-social as hell. Waiting in line for beer can introduce you to new people, perhaps over a rare bottle one of you has shared.

Alas, I was just there to get my beer and get out. And so, with gritted teeth and hunched shoulders, I stepped from my car into the 15-degree cold and took my place in line. There were about 60 people in front of me. Within minutes, there were another 40 behind me. And I'd get through whatever unpleasantness the wait threw my way, I told myself. 

Less than half an hour later, I left Other Half with my case of beer. And ... it was fine? 

The line moved swiftly, much more so than the one I endured at Avon's Mortalis Brewing Co. in December. The sun came out, dulling the bite of the cold. And I don't know if it was the weather or the weekday morning malaise, but the people in line were nothing less than pleasant. The only one I could have done without was the guy rapping aloud to Eminem's verse in "Forgot About Dre."

I guess I needed the reminder: Beer line culture, for all its inherent silliness and occasional horror stories, isn't that bad. And that's worth remembering as said culture comes to Cayuga County's breweries.

It's already been to Auburn's Prison City Pub & Brewery, but when the brewery opens its 10-times-bigger second location as soon as later this year, it'll be producing Mass Riot and other hit beers in the kind of numbers that make lines more regular, and longer. And with its own IPAs, Ledyard's Aurora Ale & Lager Co. isn't far behind on the hype train.

So I'm sure their lines will be fine, too. Especially if you bring a friend — or if, like me, you come ready to shed your most unfairly bad expectations.

What's on tap

Aurora Ale & Lager

Joe Shelton and Mark Grimaldi's Ledyard brewery recently released three new beers: The STZA (imperial stout), Wading in a Cashmere Sea (7-percent ABV New England IPA with rye and double dry-hopped with Citra and 100-percent New York-grown Cashmere that gives it "unreal aroma," the brewery said), and Reach Into My Pockets for the Fresh Amounts (7.6-percent ABV double New England IPA, a new rotating hop series that's double dry-hopped this time with Azacca lupulin powder, El Dorado and Vic Secret). In about a week, Aurora will also release Bluebonic Chronic, a sour with milk sugar, blueberries, cinnamon and vanilla hopped with Citra and Mosaic. And in the near future, the brewery will release a red wine barrel-aged brett saison, Buffalo Trace bourbon barrel-aged STZA and a Belgian quad that's been aged three ways: in rum barrels, in Buffalo Trace barrels and on black currants.

Good Shepherds Brewing Co.

Garrett Shepherd's downtown Auburn brewery is preparing a few more house ciders, and in the next few weeks will have four or five styles for flights. A few new New England-style IPAs are also in the works for First Friday on Feb. 1.

Prison City Pub & Brewery

New at the State Street brewpub is the fourth edition of Turf Wars, the rotating hop series that, this time, pits Mosaic (U.S.) against Enigma (Australia) hops. "This battle of terroir always has interesting results and this beer is no exception. Bright citrusy and mango aromas quickly give way to herbal and piney flavors," co-owner Marc Schulz said. Tapped Friday was a version of cherry sour Cherry Poppins that was partially aged in red wine barrels, as well as brewer Ben Maeso's first dopplebock at Prison City, Perpetrator: "Screw the bread and milk, this beer has everything you need to survive impending snow storms and deep freeze days," Schulz said. Also this past week, Maeso went to Buried Acorn in Syracuse to collaborate on a dark saison that'll be available within the next few weeks. Some of it might also be barrel-aged and/or have raspberries added, Schulz said.

The brewpub also has several events coming up: A five-course beer lunch with Sierra Nevada from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 27, a Beer vs. Wine Dinner in collaboration with The Underground Bottle Shop on Wednesday, Feb. 13, and two events in New York City in February. First, on Feb. 17, Prison City will be at Other Half for a tap takeover Feb. 17. Then, Feb. 23, the Auburn brewery will attend the New York City Beer Week Opening Bash with several of the country's best breweries.

Lake Life Editor David Wilcox can be reached at (315) 282-2245 or Follow him on Twitter @drwilcox.


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I edit The Citizen's features section, Lake Life, and weekly entertainment guide, Go. I've also been writing for The Citizen and since 2006, covering arts and culture, business, food and drink, and more.

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