50 States of Beers, #3: New York
Note: 50 States, 50 Beers. This is my project for 2021: one beer from every state in the Union. That sounds simple, right?
If you took about a five-minute stroll due north from where I lived in Vernon, New Jersey, you’d cross the border into New York state. We may have technically lived in Jersey, but that part of the Hudson Valley right next to us made up a huge chunk of our lives. Drive about thirty-five minutes in that northern direction from Vernon — through the onion fields and TRUMP 2020 NO MORE BULLSHIT signs and quiet forests of the Black Dirt region of the Mid-Hudson Valley — and you’ll get to Middletown, New York. That’s the place that houses our brewery of the day.
I picked a place from Middletown for a few reasons; first, I wanted to get away from a New York City brewery (I may very well do something with the Big Apple in the future, but not right now) and shine some light on this kinda-overlooked region. Second, Middletown holds a special place in my heart. Crossing over into teenage adolescence in New Jersey, Middletown had the closest mall — the Middletown Galleria, a sprawling consumer’s paradise that held all the checkboxes of that last great era for in-person shopping before the Internet drove a final stake through its heart.
At one end, laser tag. We could dash through the fog machine smoke and zap each other with fake Uzis as the “Terminator” score played in the background. At the other, a 16-screen movie theater where we saw everything that came out — on Friday nights, expeditions with my five best friends from high school. On Saturdays, with my dad as my sisters and mom shopped. Sometimes I’d see the same movie twice in a 16-hour span. In-between that, a food court, Spencer’s Gifts, Hot Topic, arcade, and everything else an 18-year-old would need. Right outside its walls, an Outback Steakhouse and a Best Buy. For so many important years, it was our playground.
We never really ventured out from around that mall area. If we had, we’d have driven through a patched-up, broken-down town at the nadir of a steady decline. A one-time railroad hub that also served as a New York City exurb, Middletown once had a thriving industrial economy, blossoming downtown, and steady middle- to upper-middle-class populace chunked into distinct ethnic sections. You’re probably familiar with a spot like this one in your native state (as I read about the town, it struck me as not dissimilar to Springfield, Massachusetts, a city I grew up next to).
You’re also probably familiar with the recipe for their decline. The industrial base shut down or moved overseas, downtown withered and died, crime increased, etc., etc., etc. The tale of so many 20th century American communities. By the early 2000s, when I lived there, the Galleria Mall and the various retail outlets that grew like weeds in plazas around it was the Middletown economy; the railroads were just about gone, with only a solitary Metro-North stop outside the mall remaining in service.
Not that I really thought much about all of this stuff then. I didn’t need to see too much beyond the smoke machine of the laser tag game.
After I turned in my badge and that laser gun, I went to college and then moved to Massachusetts and (mostly) left Middletown behind — until a few years ago when my father, by then also gripped by the craft beer craze, mentioned a new brewery in the town.
“There?” I said, incredulously. I couldn’t think of much more beyond those old games and the Aussie cheese fries at the Outback. That’s really all I knew of Middletown. He sent me an article. Equilibrium Brewery, the brainchild of environmental engineers from MIT, opening a new spot in an old meatpacking building in the downtown district, driven by super-scientific principles. This I had to see.
We went on my next visit down; it was a nondescript building next to a police station, hot dog restaurant, and some wheezing old shops. There was no taproom (they recently opened up a sparkling new one in the midst of COVID, unfortunately), but they sold cans out of an open loading dock door. That day, the line snaked around the back, looking very much like what I’d seen at Treehouse so many times. Wow, I thought. All of this hype might be real.
It was. Equilibrium quickly got a reputation as the Treehouse of the Hudson Valley. They created big, epic, juicy, buzz-worthy IPAs worthy of standing in line for an hour for — the gigantic Laboratory Waves and the potent MC2 at the top of the list. Their collaboration with New City’s District 96, Sexual Fluctuation, remains one of the best IPAs I’ve ever had — well worthy of anything produced by Treehouse, Trillium, or any other brewery defined by these steamroller IPAs.
Even better news? I don’t have to rely on my dad sending me up care packages every so often anymore. Equilibrium started distributing to Massachusetts last year. At over $20 a four-pack, they’re not cheap — but they’re worth it.
So, with that, we finally get to the beer today: Above the Clouds, an 8% ABV DIPA from Equilibrium (named after the song by the same name from Gang Starr). It’s a big and thick beer bolstered with lactose, pouring golden yellow, with a pronounced edge of alcohol on the back of the sip — to my buds, tasting almost more West Coast-y than the East Coast flavors I’m used to. In all honesty?
This isn’t one of my favorites they’ve ever done; there’s a bit too much going on here for my tastes. Still, it’s a perfectly tasty, much better-than-average beer from one of the top breweries on the East Coast; if they can’t all be grand slams, this one is at least one of those solo homers over the fence. As satisfying as a good game of laser tag.
OTHER RANDOM NEW YORK CATEGORIES
Why is the state flag that way?
Whoa. A lot going on, right?
Okay, here’s what we got: the two gals on the left and right are “Liberty” (lol TAKE THAT stupid British) and “Justice” (see, she’s blind). In the middle? A couple of sailing ships cruisin’ on up the Hudson, with that oh-so-happy sun shining down on everyone. On top of that crest is an eagle chilling on a globe, which (I assume) predates the Marine Corps logo. Symbolizes worldliness, I guess? And, of course, “Excelsior” on the bottom refers to the ship that the Enterprise crew had to sabotage in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. Which is kind of cool.
Tell me about a political scandal or event from the state.
Jesus. Where to start? I mean, American political corruption kind of starts here with the Tammany Hall machine (read up on that here) and only picks up steam as the centuries roll past.
One could argue that Trump — a New York native — is the natural pinnacle of that corruption, but if I were to make him the example here, I’d be writing for days. I don’t have that. So let’s stick with some other recent examples, including:
- Eliot Spitzer, the erstwhile, crusading Attorney General of New York State, gets elected as governor in 2006 and gets taken down by a prostitution scandal a year later.
- His successor, David Paterson (he of the brutal SNL parody), trips all over himself for the rest of Spitzer’s term, then has to drop a (probably doomed) campaign for his own governorship term when he tries to hush up an aide’s domestic abuse case.
- It’s looking more and more likely that Paterson’s successor Andrew Cuomo will get taken down by purposely undercounting nursing home deaths during COVID-19.
Those are just scandals from the last three governors of the state. That’s an epic string of shittiness. That’s not even touching the hilariously corrupt Sheldon Silver, the just plain evil Eric Schneidermann, dick-texting Anthony Weiner, or the dozens of others that dot the state. It’s a brutal hive of scum and villainy. As this “New Republic” article said, The Empire State is “the most politically toxic place in America.”
How about a sports star from New York?
Plenty to choose from here. Lou Gehrig. Dr. J. Mike Tyson Abby Wambach. But there’s one that stands out from the rest: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, a Manhattan native.
Kareem won eight NBA titles, three NCAA titles, six MVPs, three College Player of the Year Awards, two NBA Finals MVPs, and an NBA Rookie of the Year Award. He’s a best-selling author, writer, humanitarian, and outspoken activist and advocate. He fought Bruce Lee in a movie and has some of the greatest lines in the funniest movie ever made (in a role that was originally intended for Pete Rose, FYI). Oh, and he might have the single most unstoppable athletic move of all time.
So, here’s to Kareem. He may be a Laker for life, but he’s worthy of admiration — even to this Celtic fan.
NEXT WEEK: Michigan