Checking in with the new World of Beer Albany


Sunday night I had the chance to check out a little sneak preview and VIP event for the new World of Beer in Crossgates Mall. I’ve been to a couple of World of Beers while visiting family in FL and have had some fairly good experiences. It’s tough not to when you have great breweries like Cigar City to partner up with like they have down there. Here, the brewery situation is much more bleak (extremely evident on Sunday night’s tap list) which means reliance on the distributors for selection of beers and having knowledgeable staff able to curate a tap list from the beers available in the area will be crucial. We’ll get more into that when we talk about beer later.

I’ve got to preface this post with a reminder that this blog is not for everyone. As I’ve always said, this blog is about sharing the best beers, visiting the best breweries, and recommending the best bars and restaurants I’ve been to. That said, my like-minded readers drink some of the best beers in the world, hail from and travel all of the Northeast for breweries, and are avid traders in the community, as well. Some may call us beer hipsters or elitist dbags, and I’m totally fine with that. And the thing is, we are not World of Beer’s target audience; craft beer noobs are. They’re looking for the people who see 50 taps and are amazed at the selection, rather than those of us struggling to find something new of interest or something they wish to revisit from the very same tap list. So with that said, it’s really unfair to even write up my experience at all, at least with the readership here in mind.

Still, there is a level of expectation that I am not going to bullshit you guys or pull any punches, so I am going to deliver the most detailed and honest recounting of my experience and thoughts on my visit. It’s the best that I can do. I’ll admit, I have my reservations about chains, about malls, and about new establishments in the area in general, so bear with me here while I try to address some of those reservations while getting into my experience here as well.

Location
There’s no getting around this. It’s in a mall. It’s Crossgates Mall, too, which doesn’t have that great of a reputation (“dying mall” is a term that gets thrown around often, especially when compared to Colonie Center), has had a lot of stores dropping like flies over the years and some issues with unsavory characters and children running amok in the past. Some of that has been addressed, and new businesses like Dave & Busters, the upcoming return of Lord & Taylor, and now World of Beer are nice but I do not see this as a Crossgates revival by any means. The World of Beer in Syracuse does well because it’s in Destiny USA, where people come to shop and peruse and hang for hours and hours. It’s a destination mall. Other than movie goers, the typical Crossgates shopper comes looking for a specific store or specific item, then quickly leaves.

Beyond Crossgates’ shortcomings, the environment is not very conducive to having a bar. First off the entire mall and all of the grounds are smoke-free. I don’t smoke, but I know many, many beer drinkers who do. On top of that, and I know most reviews of this particular location will not mention this, but I have no qualms: you’re drinking right next to the Guilderland Police. And not right across the street from the police like Madison Pour House, I mean literally right next door to the police, and you’ll likely be parking in the same parking lot as they do. Some might argue well that’s why you have a designated driver, or that’s why you only have a beer or two. Both great points. But the business model of a place that has 500 bottles and 50 taps and an app that rewards based on the number of beers you’ve tried is counter to both of those points, and having just “a beer or two” can still easily put you in a bad situation when some of the beers there are 10% ABV or above. Be careful, friends.

As for the location in the mall itself, it’s where the old J|A Prep Kitchen and Houlihan’s used to be, right across the from the movie theater, ideal for grabbing a beer and a bite before heading to the movies. It does not have its own exit but it’s very close to one.

Ambiance


The ambiance is exactly what you would expect from a chain. A little too clean, a little too calculated, a little too “a design firm came up with this after a series of questionnaires were submitted by potential customers”. Madison Pour House also suffers greatly from this, but more in the Irish/Scottish Pub/Den kinda of way, instead of the modern take on the beer bar as is done here. I wouldn’t quite call it “the TGIFriday’s of bars” as some have, but it does lack the character of a more established bar.

A range of seating is available from low tops, high tops, corner benches, to leather couches and chairs. I chose the hefty metal stools at the bar on Sunday night. TVs line the walls and many eyes were glued to them during the US game against Portugal that night.

The staff wearing matching World of Beer T-shirts are a constant reminder that this is definitely a chain. Brewery shirts, or even co-branded brewery/WOB shirts that provide a little more individuality and support of favorite craft breweries would be ideal.

The music was hit or miss for me. The band, while nice, drowned out pretty much any potential conversation you could have, either between your peers or while trying to speak to a bartender. This made ordering a beer difficult, and actually resulted in the bartender serving me another beer that I did not even order. In between sets, the volume was at a much better level, with a nice mix of tunes past and present.

Food


We ordered a few things here to get an idea of what the menu would be like on a night with a bunch of people sharing and picking at things like we usually do. Nothing revolutionary here, but good for a crowd and compared to the other options in the mall. The sausages could use some adjustment in the presentation to make them look a little less like sliced hot dogs (cut on an angle?) but they were tasty enough. The cheese portion was huge, more than we could finish as a group, with each block taking at least two bites to finish. Pickled chips are usually not my thing but these had a nice crunchy batter on them. The chocolate cake was exactly what I was looking for, with a nice mixture of cold pudding and moist, dense chocolate cake layers topped with ganache. Other dishes on the menu comprised of sandwiches, burgers, flat breads and a few mains to round things out.

I’m not going to get into ticket times and whatnot because I know, just like any new business that opens around here, the first few weeks the kitchen is going to get slammed and staff needs time to get back on their feet. That’s just the way it is and it’s wrong to judge on that until things normalize. Give it a few weeks.

Beer


Again, World of Beer does not target the “Craft Beer Elite”, and I’m totally fine with that. Places like The Bier Abbey, The Ruck, even Madison Pour House are not necessarily as approachable as they could be to someone just graduating from Blue Moon, Sam Adams seasonals and Magic Hat 12 packs. There is totally room in this community for such a venue, and I think mall shoppers are good candidates for converting faux-craft drinkers into craft beer drinkers.

The beer list is available on both the combo beer/food menu and the chalkboard, although the chalkboard is a little small for how high it is. The selection was not what I would consider “bad” that day, but there were also little to no standouts. Way, WAY too many Brown’s beers on (you guys know how I feel about Brown’s), some craft beer “classics”, some newer stuff like Local Option and Off Color, some good locals, some shite locals. I went with a classic, Goudenband, then Shmaltz Funky Jewbelation (tickers’ gotta tick) and ended the night with a Beanhead to go with the chocolate cake above, as the menu recommended. Others in my group drank Local Option Sweet Lief, Against the Grain Brown Note, and a brandy barrel aged Hoften Dormaal amongst others, although the last one seemed the most out of place on the tap list, and wasn’t even listed on the menu although we identified it by the 12 Percent Imports tap handle.

As I mentioned, there were quite a few local beers on the tap list. The problem with supporting local in an area like this is that the quality of beers available brewed locally is quite poor, and supporting local for the sake of local is detrimental to craft beer. That means local “tap events” will lead to lineups from Brown’s like that night, Davidson Brothers, Olde Saratoga, etc. in the future. I shudder to think what the result will be. Sure, this is not nearly as bad as some of the “All New York” lineups we have been graced with in the past, but it is still a constant reminder that New York needs to step up its game. (Follow up reading here, Derek’s also covered the topic here.)

Ever on my quest to banish the shaker pint glass, I do take issue that it is the most used glassware in the house. A request to not have JVS’s Brown Note poured into one was met with confusion, a byproduct of what I’m sure is World of Beer corporate training rather than actual passion for serving craft beer in that glass type. Given its 22-25 oz size ANY bomber served should be done in a 13.5 ounce glass so you get two decent size pours out of it instead of one large one and one pitiful one. (Also if you’re drinking a bomber you should probably share it with someone but that’s on you.) I’ll be honest, if I never drank another beer out of a shaker pint glass again, I’ll die a happy man.

There is a section on the end of the beer list that can totally be nuked off the menu, as can most of the beers they use to make these creations. These “Mixed Drafts” are generally gimmicks to impress only those who are having their first craft beer at World of Beer, generally to sweeten up a stout with other offerings. I do not see this as a value add in any way.

The staff is very green, even beyond their two week “beer school” training provided by World of Beer. Most of the staff is coming from previous chain restaurant experience, and this is their first time with craft beer on this level, some even their first time bartending. They still need extensive training and I hope regular, continuing education on craft beer is provided for them so they get to the point where they know more about beer than the customers they’re serving.

Final Words


I’d like to point out that while I am being critical here, it is because I’m being honest with my issues that stem from it being a chain combined with some opening night jitters, and not because I didn’t enjoy my experience there. In fact, Scot and I were some of the last of the people to leave as we stuck around to finish our last round of beers and to BS with staff as things were winding down.

Will I return again? Absolutely, if there’s something on tap I am seeking out (please keep that online tap list updated and Facebook announcing special tappings), if we’re doing some shopping at the mall, or before or after going to see a movie. Did I have any mind blowing beers or food that I’ve never had before while I was there? No, but I knew that going into this, and I think if you find yourself in a similar situation while at Crossgates, knowing what you’re getting into, you can enjoy yourself at World of Beer, too.

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5 thoughts on “Checking in with the new World of Beer Albany

  1. Hey Fuj. Here’s a beer list of Lionheart’ next Beer Social for Rushing Duck/Goose Island.
    Hello, all! The next major Lionheart Beer Social is scheduled for Wednesday August 6th at 5:00PM. It is called Duck, Duck, Goose. It will be an event combining some of the very best beers of Rushing Duck and Goose Island. Here is the preliminary beer list which is subject to changes to the flocks based on availability. Plan on ducking into the Lionheart on August 6th and getting goosed. See you then.
    Flock of Ducks
    RD Rum Barrel Aged Nimptopsical English Strong Ale ABV. 11.3%+
    Here we go again! Filling up some rum barrels with an imperial version of our Nimptopsical English Strong Ale coming in at 11.3%. We’re going to let it age in the barrels so it acquires all that dark rum flavor. Non barrel aged description: is a celebration of all things malt. This beer is created with 5 different varieties of malt to produce an incredibly complex flavor profile that yield flavors of toffee, burnt sugar, toasted bread, and overripe fruit. Finished with a healthy portion of East Kent Golding hops from England, the beer has a balanced bitterness and a subtle herbal/fruity hop character. At 7.3%ABV, Nimptopsical gives you a gentle warming that demands respect. The name “Nimptopsical,” comes from Ben Franklin’s 1737 book, “The Drinker’s Dictionary” as a synonym used to describe someone that has had too much to drink.
    Ratebeer: ?

    RD Bourbon Barrel Aged Beanhead Coffee Porter ABV. 5.7%+
    Non barrel aged description: Beanhead takes the base beer of a robust porter and pairs is with a fantastic coffee flavor that comes from a Guatemalan bean roasted by Java Love Coffee Roasting Co. in Kauneonga Lake, NY. Beanhead is completely black in color with an impressive tan head. It has a taste of intense coffee with overtones of bittersweet cocoa and caramel malt balanced with a slight earthy bitterness. While it may look filling, Beanhead is actually medium bodied and lacks the cloying sweetness that makes so many other stouts and porters seem so “heavy.” Ratebeer: ?

    RD Count Koala Chocolate Quad Belgian Quadrupel ABV. 10.6%
    Pours a cloudy brown, thin off white head that clears quickly to a bare cap. A swirl puts some oily legs on the glass. Smell is deep caramel, rounded yeasty tart, sweet and spicy alcohol, herbal bitter, and cocoa. Taste follows nose, blessedly so, a perfect balance of all the flavors. As it warms the herbal bitter catches up, and the finish becomes somewhat drier. Spicy alcohol, cocoa, and caramel are the main players, but the supporting cast gives this some deliciousness it is hard to exaggerate. Just yummy! Very low carb., quite viscous, really excellent finish, and super clean flavor profile make the mouth a wonderful frame for the taste. Great beer, simply delicious. Rushing Duck continues to put out beer that makes me glad to brag about this area as beer heaven. Ratebeer: ?

    Rushing Duck Ded Moroz Imperial Stout ABV. 11.2%
    Meaning “Father Winter” in Russian, Ded Moroz, is pitch black in color. It is an imposing beer that is best enjoyed by slow sipping to fully soak up this beer’s complexity. It has a very deep flavor profile of dark chocolate, coffee, graham cracker, overripe fruit, amongst others. To add to its complexity, it is generously hopped with a large portion of imported Brittish hops to balance the sweetness and keep it true to style. Ded Moroz is a decadent treat perfect for the cold winter months!. Ratebeer: ?
    Rushing Duck Kroovy American Strong Ale ABV. 9%
    Imperial Red Ale. Loaded with West Coast hops, it could really be called a “Red Double IPA”. Citrus and tropical fruit aromas are the first thing you’ll notice about Kroovy, but don’t overlook the slight caramel maltiness, or the body provided from adding 10% malted rye to the beer. Kroovy will satisfy even the biggest hophead! Ratebeer: ?
    $ 10oz./$ growler

    RD/Remarkable Liquids Collaboration Beer Imperial IPA ABV. ?%+
    Ratebeer: ?

    Rushing Duck Baby Elephant Session IPA ABV. 4.4%
    Very pale for an IPA. A light gold with a nice white head and a touch of lace. Smell is earthy with a touch of citrus. Nice malt undercurrent that brings olfactory memories of full fleged IPAs. Taste is big with earthy hops and light pone and faint citrus. They really got the order right for the abv. Malt sweetness has just enough body to balance the considerable hoppines. Nice grains and and light sweetness. Finish is quite dry and clean with a sharp bit hop oil lingering. Feel is crisp and quenching with a light but substantial body. A perfect thirst quenching session beer.maybe the best low abv IPA i’ve had.
    Ratebeer: ?

    Rushing Duck Bauli Saison Saison ABV.
    A new take on an old style. Saison’s originated in the South of Belgium and are famous for the distinctive fruity, spicy notes given off from the yeast. They also tend to be lighter, effervescent, and quenching. Bauli Saison is all of that, but adds a unique twist. We’ve added White Peppercorns, Coriander, and Kaffir Lime Leaves to the beer to enhance the spice flavors naturally produced by the yeast as well as adding a distinct citrus flavor to make it a lighter beer on the palate but still providing tons of flavor.
    Ratebeer: ?

    Flock of Geese
    2012 Goose Island Bourbon County Stout Imperial Stout ABV. 15+%
    “I really wanted to do something special for our 1000th batch at the original brewpub. Goose Island could have thrown a party. But we did something better. We brewed a beer. A really big batch of stout-so big the malt was coming out of the top of the mash tun. After fermentation we brought in some bourbon barrels to age the stout. One hundred and fifty days later, Bourbon County Stout was born-A liquid as dark and dense as a black hole with a thick foam the color of bourbon barrels. The nose is a mix of charred oak, vanilla,carmel and smoke. One sip has more flavor than your average case of beer. It overpowers anything in the room. People have even said that it’s a great cigar beer, but I haven’t yet tried a cigar that would stand up to it.” Brewmaster Greg Hall.
    Ratebeer: 100

    2012 Goose Island Nightstalker Imperial Stout ABV. 11.7%
    Night Stalker, as an homage to the Chicago-based television show. Night Stalker is a jet black, dry hopped Imperial Stout, extremely rich and full flavored with malt and chocolate followed by a bright dry hopped aroma. It is the same base as our Bourbon County Stout, but instead of aging in Bourbon barrels, we dry hop it like madmen. ABV – 11.7% IBU’s – 60 Color – 100 Aroma Hops –Mt. Hood & Simcoe Malts – 2-Row, Munich, Chocolate, C-60, Roast Barley, Debittered Ratebeer: 100

    Goose Island Sophie Saison ABV. 6.5%
    Fermented with wild yeasts and aged in wine barrels with orange peel, Sofie is a tart, dry, sparkling ale. A subtle, spicy white pepper note, a hint of citrus from the orange peel and a creamy vanilla finish make Sofie an intriguing choice for Champagne drinkers and beer drinkers who are fond of Belgian Saisons. Ratebeer: 98

    Goose Island The Ogden Abbey Tripel ABV. 9%
    This limited release Belgian style Tripel is dry hopped to balance spicy, tropical American hop flavors with a unique Belgian yeast, giving it a bold more complex palate. Ratebeer: 92

    Goose Island The Illinois Imperial IPA ABV. 9%
    Inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright’s grandiose vision for a mile-high skyscraper dubbed “The Illinois,” we set out to brew an imperial IPA that would be similar in name and ambition. “The Illinois” Imperial IPA is dry-hopped with three of our favorite hops: Cascade, Meridian, and Citra. the result is a harmoniously hoppy ale with a flavor and aroma that is uniquely Goose Island. Ratebeer: 97

    Goose Island India Pale Ale India Pale Ale (IPA) ABV. 5.9%
    Our IPA recalls a time when ales shipped from England to India were highly hopped to preserve their distinct taste during the long journey. The result, quite simply a hop lover’s dream. And this classic ale adds a fruity aroma, set off by a dry malt middle, to ensure that the long hop finish is one you’ll remember. Ratebeer: 95

    Goose Island Honkers Ale English Style Bitter ABV. 4.3%
    Inspired by visits to English country pubs, Honker’s Ale combines a fruity hop aroma with a rich malt middle to create a perfectly balanced beer. Immensely drinkable, Honker’s Ale is not only the beer you can trust but one you’ll look forward to time and again. Ratebeer: 97

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