Where to Drink in Syracuse, New York

Destinations by | Mar 2015 | Issue #98

Illustration by Sam Brewster

Incorporated in 1847, Syracuse, N.Y., was once known as “The Salt City” because of its abundance of salt mines. Rail and canal connections built to transport other goods also provided growth opportunities for the city’s brewing industry. Irish, English, and later, German, immigrants operated these early beer businesses, bringing with them their brewing traditions.

In its heyday, Syracuse was home to more than 40 breweries, and by the late 1800s they were producing over 250,000 barrels of beer annually. Brewing became the second largest industry after salt mining. By the turn of the century, the now extinct Greenway Brewery occupied an entire city block along the Erie Canal and exported beer as far away as Europe, Australia and Asia. Prohibition ended the golden age of brewing in Syracuse though, save for a few companies that produced soft drinks.

Locally brewed beer returned to the city in 1991 with the Syracuse Suds Factory. The arrival of Empire Brewing Company in 1994 and, a year later, Middle Ages Brewing Company, helped to revitalize the industry and put Syracuse back on the map.

The Craft New York Act, signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo in November 2014, has only helped to boost the state’s beer industry and today, Syracuse is a growing beer destination. It hosts the Craft New York Brewers Festival in the fall, and Empire Brewfest in the summer. Returning to its roots, Syracuse is once again a dynamic beer city for residents and tourists alike.

Empire Brewing Company
At Empire, director of brewing operations Tim Butler doesn’t shy away from new and rare ingredients. For a view of the tanks that supply the brewery’s 12 taps, walk downstairs to its cavernous dining area and bar. Then, try White Aphro, a Wit brewed with lemon peel, ginger and lavender, or Skinny Atlas Kölsch—a three-time GABF gold medal winner—named for the Skaneateles Lake from which Empire draws its water.

Dinosaur Bar-B-Que
The “Dino” has been churning out great meals since 1988, along with live music six nights a week. Come for the slow-smoked ribs, and stay for the beer. Of its 21 taps, two house beers—Smoked Porter and Ape Hanger Pale Ale—are brewed exclusively for the restaurant by nearby Middle Ages. Complementing the draft selection is a variety of cans and bottles to please all tastes.

Funk N’ Waffles
Two Syracuse University students founded Funk N’ Waffles in 2007 with a simple formula: waffles, a funky vibe and live music. In December 2014, a second location opened in downtown’s Armory Square with 12 locally focused taps. Try Bromigo, a smoked maple Amber Ale from Three Heads Brewing in Honeoye Falls, paired with a bacon, brie and basil waffle. Or order the American Brown Ale made by Good Nature Farm Brewery in nearby Hamilton.

Eastwood Brewing Company
Thirty-year homebrewer Pete Kirkgasser had a dream to start his own brewery. In November 2013 his nanobrewery opened in Syracuse’s Eastwood neighborhood. A family enterprise, the owner and his wife Janet serve customers as their teenage daughter spins vintage vinyl and Sally, the family dog, hangs out in the tasting area. The eight rotating taps pour mostly one-barrel batches, like the hoppy ACC IPA and fast-selling Oatmeal Stout. Sample all eight for $4.

J. Ryan’s Pub
Located downtown, J. Ryan’s Pub offers 69 taps and one cask. A casual, working-man’s pub, it’s also a beer lover’s dream. IPAs, such as Galaxy Brewing Company’s Andromeda, brewed in Binghamton, N.Y., dominate the draft list. Various Belgian beers, like Delirium Tremens, are part of the bar’s core lineup, too. Delight in a full menu of bar fare, play darts or pool, or choose some music on the jukebox as you contemplate your next beer. Every May, J. Ryan’s hosts a cask festival featuring over 25 real ales.

Clark’s Ale House
Originally located in Armory Square, this legendary pub revolutionized how Syracusans drink beer. Clark’s opened in 1992 as a British-style pub with 22 taps and a famous roast beef sandwich. After shutting its doors in 2010, Clark’s reopened in November at its new location in the heart of downtown with 35 taps and an expanded food menu. Now you’ll find special beers, like Sierra Nevada’s Barrel Aged Narwhal (the only bar pouring it in the state) and Lagunitas Sucks on cask.

The Blue Tusk
The Blue Tusk opened its doors in Armory Square in 1995 with three taps. It has since grown into a spacious bar with 69 taps, gourmet deli meats, cheeses, soups and sandwiches. With a heavy focus on Belgian and Belgian-style ales, this is where to go to find Duvel Tripel Hop and Rodenbach Grand Cru on draft. Blue Tusk owner Michael Yorton also makes sure there’s always a cask offering from Middle Ages Brewing Company.

Kitty Hoyne’s Irish Pub and Restaurant
Hailing from County Kilkenny, David Hoyne and his wife Cindy brought Ireland to Syracuse by opening Kitty Hoyne’s in 1999. Decorated with stained glass doors airlifted from Kavanagh’s pub in Ireland, this pub and restaurant also boasts the largest selection of Irish whiskey in Upstate New York. Five of its 21 taps are dedicated to Irish selections like nitrogenated Kilkenny Cream Ale and an assortment from White Hag Brewery out of Sligo, Ireland. Pair your pint with Rueben fritters or Irish meatloaf.

The Blarney Stone
In Tipperary Hill on Syracuse’s west side, this neighborhood bar and grill stands out among the many area Irish bars for its beer selection. Owner Matt Bruce devotes a rotating tap to IPAs from across the country, like Ithaca Beer Company Flower Power and Firestone Walker Union Jack. The West Coast options don’t end there either, with a dedicated Lagunitas IPA handle and offerings from Seattle’s Elysian Brewing. Plus, an award-winning burger from the walk-up window only sets you back $4.

Brilbeck’s Food & Grocery
Also located in Tipperary Hill, Brilbeck’s opened in 1961 as a convenience store. When competing grocery chains moved in, the Brilbeck family shifted its focus to craft beer. Today it sells more than 350 brands, specializing in breweries from New York and the US. Look for California’s FiftyFifty Brewing Company’s Eclipse Stout and, closer to home, beers from Southern Tier. Plus, three growler lines that rotate regularly.

Middle Ages Brewing Company
Middle Ages Brewing Company owners Marc and Mary Rubenstein bought an old ice cream factory and began beer production in 1995. Inspired by British-style ales, Middle Ages’ core lineup includes an ESB and an English Porter—both of which feature malt from England. Try a flight or a pint from one of the 11 taps, like the new, decidedly American Late Knight, a West Coast-style Double IPA. Just don’t forget to grab a growler to go. Later this year they’ll expand the tasting room.