Raquette River Brewing
If you have heard rumblings about a new brewery in the Adirondacks, you are correct. It has been about 10 months since Raquette River Brewing first opened their doors on Balsam Street in Tupper Lake, and like the river it is named after, the beer has been flowing ever since. On a recent cold January afternoon when I popped in to the brewery, I was pleased to find out that not only were they finishing brewing up a fresh batch, but they were in the process of expanding their production (in fact, they were actually doubling it).
Raquette River Brewing is the brainchild of Tupper Lake natives, Mark Jessie & Joe Hockey. Mark started brewing beer in his garage about 20 years ago. He continued the hobby on and off for years and eventually introduced the art to his friend, Joe Hockey. They began brewing together with a $4,000 home brew kit, mastered their skill and after about a year and a half, they decided to make a go of it (and we are certainly glad that they did)! They officially opened to the brewery on March 15, 2014.
When talking with Mark, you will automatically notice that he takes great pride in serving only the highest quality product. Their beer is produced in small batches which enables them to produce a wide offering of fresh beer. As I took a tour of the brewery, I could hear Mark’s passion and strong focus as he spoke about the different beer and the brewing process. “People come and they are like ‘why don’t your beers have names?’ and they're right, it’s Raquette River Pale Ale, Raquette River IPA... That's because it is about the beer, not the name. We want to stay focused on the beer. It’s not about the awesome name and some crazy label.”
What's On Tap?
The brewery currently has the capacity of serving up to 8 different samples at one time. When I was at the brewery, they had 6 brews on tap. Mark was kind enough to walk me through the different hand crafted beers.
Here is a rundown of what was on tap the day I stopped in. I will stick to Mark's philosophy on beer and simply let them speak for themselves.
Raquette River Blond Ale
Raquette River Blond Ale is the mildest beer brewed at the brewery. Mark explained that it was originally designed to appeal to people who don’t typically love craft beer or are a little nervous to give it a try. It is pretty light and extremely smooth.
Raquette River IPA
The IPA they have played with a little since they opened to attempt to perfect the recipe. It is what Mark refers to as a “balanced IPA - it is not crazy hoppy and it has enough malt to carry the hops so it doesn’t wreck your pallet.”
Raquette River IPW
The Raquette River India Pale Wheat (IPW) is an IPA where they taken some of the barley out and replace it with wheat. The result is that the body of the beer is lighter and the hoppy character, from the three different hops, can come through stronger.
Raquette River Smoked Red Ale
The Smoked Red Ale is the most popular beer that Raquette River Brewing serves up. Ironically, this beer was actually made as a mistake. When they first started brewing, they had a slightly different system which malfunctioned and they accidently scorched a batch of beer. Mark tried it and decided it "wasn't horrible, but it wasn't quite right." The beer was still good in that it couldn't hurt anyone, so they let people try it. A lot of people really liked it so they, "put it on tap, sold it and people went crazy for it." Then they demanded that they make more, so they decided to take them up on this, however they needed to develop a recipe and "legitimately make it, we couldn't just keep burning beer." They did some research and found some German smoked barley and built their signature Raquette River Smoked Red Ale. Mark explained that it is similar to a German Rauch beer.
Raquette River Stout
The stout they just added to their selection about 3 months ago, but Mark intends that it will be a regular. It is a lighter-bodied stout. I believe this one was my favorite.
Raquette River Imperial Pumpkin Ale (Seasonal)
The Raquette River Pumpkin is a seasonal beer. They originally planned on brewing one batch, but the demand was there so they ended up brewing it five times. They are on their last keg, so you will need to wait until next year to try it. Ok, so I lied, this one was my favorite. Actually, there wasn't one beer that I sampled that I didn't care for.
They also usually have the Raquette River Pale Ale on tap, however they were out on this particular day, as they had been hit pretty hard over the previous weekend.
What's Next For Raquette River Brewing?
As I had mentioned earlier, Raquette River Brewing is doubling their production capacity. This week, four new fermenters arrived at the brewery. These bad boys will be hooked up and producing Raquette River Brewing's signatures brews just in time for the spring and summer season. With expanded production, not only will you pretty much have a guarantee that your favorite beer will be on tap, but it will also allow for them to experiment with some different seasonal or specialty beers - or as Mark puts it "one-off, kinda radical beers."
Plans are already in the works that this spring when the sap starts flowing from the trees, Raquette River Brewing will be partnering up with The Wild Center to create a special Maple Beer using some of the locally produced Tupper Tapper's pure maple syrup. Mark said that they still need to sit down and write the recipe, but he predicts that it will probably be a Maple Porter.
The Beer Garden
Over the past few months, a few of the houses surrounding the brewery have come down. With this new land available it is making way for a new beer garden outside the brewery. If you visit the brewery this summer, in addition to tastings and tours at the brewery itself, you will also be able to sit outside and enjoy beer by the pint and grab a bite to eat under a tented picnic area.
In addition, Arthur's On the Road food truck will be on site serving up a variety of different food options 6-days a week. I happened to have Don Vaillancourt's (the gentleman who runs the food truck) phone number in my contact list, so I thought I would give him a quick call to see what his plans were for this summer. He seemed really excited about the beer garden and about partnering up with Mark and Joe at Raquette River Brewing. He explained that he specializes in BBQ but you will also find a variety of other choices on the menu - like German. The menu will keep rotating throughout the summer, he plans to “keep it fresh, keep it rotating, and keep it exciting.” In addition, Arthur on the Road is currently working with the brewers to create a beer pairing menu in order to "create great flavor combinations for the customers."
22 oz Bottles
In addition to purchasing beer by the growler and half-growler there are a few other options. In December, Raquette River Brewing added 22oz bottles to their beer distribution system. Now, not only can you pick up your favorite brews by stopping by the brewery, it is also starting to show up at different spots around town. Currently it can be found at Mountain Market & Redemption, Shaheen's IGA, Larkin's Junction Depot and Wawbeek Quick Stop. However, over the next few months the 22oz will most likely be showing up in more locations, including some local restaurants. You can also now purchase it by the pint glass right at the brewery.
Plan a Visit
Whether you are a craft beer lover, or simply someone who is looking for a unique experience next time you are in the Adirondacks, make sure to stop by Raquette River Brewing in Tupper Lake. Plan some time to talk with the brewers, sample the hand crafted beers and take a tour of the production room. Plan in advance and book a room in Tupper Lake, then you can kick back and enjoy a few and not have to worry about driving afterwards. Or take my advice, grab your beer to go and enjoy a little after you have conquered your favorite xc-ski trail or when you are somewhere sitting on the bank of the beautiful river it is named after.