Friday, September 24, 2010

2007 Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Barleywine; Eulogy

Oak barrel tables. An authentic, working, bright red English telephone booth. A worn out "no tipping" sign. $2.00 pints of Genessee Cream Ale. The faint aroma of freshly sliced roast beef. These are some of the familiar characteristics of Clark's Ale House, an English style pub seemingly frozen in time in an area of downtown Syracuse that features businesses, expensive condos, and weekend dance clubs.

Sadly, Clark's is being forced to close its doors today, due to the expansion of the nearby Landmark Theatre. There are no plans to reopen elsewhere, and apparently not enough funds. I understand the city's need to host productions of Cats, Annie, and other big Broadway shows, but this just seems wrong. The little old man slicing roast beef behind the bar was one of the most reliable and comforting scenes I can think of, and it will now dissapear, possibly forever, to be replaced by glamour and showtunes.

If there is anything positive that can be taken from this, it is that a place like this can survive in Syracuse, a city along with all the others in upstate New York that have struggled for the last 100 years or so to establish any sort of economic identity and stability. Clark's made it work by serving only roast beef sandwiches, along with a rotating selection of about 15 craft beers. You wouldn't find a Bud light behind the bar, or a martini, or even a shot of whiskey. It is a testament to what they stood for. They knew how to do one or two things, and they did them right, for 18 years without bowing to trends or shifts in the marketplace. It goes to show that if you provide a consistent quality service and do it with character, people will come. Maybe they will open elsewhere, maybe not. Maybe someone will take their place and fulfill Syracuse's need for a tasty pint and a hot beef sandwich. Either way, it will never be quite the same, and I am glad that I got to experience this truly authentic beer lover's paradise.

As Clark's gets ready to shut its doors for the final time, they are bringing out out all of the kegs they have been saving for a rainy day. Among them, a 2007 Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Barleywine. I have had this beer several times, and have even tried aging it myself, but usually ran out of patience after a few months. It is one of my favorite beers, so I was excited to review a 3 year old version on my final trip to Clark's.

The aroma was surprisingly hoppy for a barleywine, especially considering it had been aged. There was also some caramel in the smell, with an obvious deep malty backbone.

Taking the first sip, I was taken aback by the complexity of flavors. Vanilla, caramel, malt, nutiness, with some subtle hops. It all ended with a warm, comforting finish. If you were to go to the store and try a current version of this beer, you will find that the finish is a bit harsher, due to the approximately 10% alcohol content. After aging, that bite mellows out, leaving behind a pronounced sweetness.

This was a fantastic beer, and a fantastic, if bittersweet, environment to drink it in. In a nod to Clark's and all of the enjoyment it has given me over the last several years, I give this beer 10 guys slicing roast beef. Clark's, you will be missed. Thank you.

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