Ultimately, the question I was seeking to answer on Sunday evening’s trip to DestinyUSA was this: With its great brewpubs, microbreweries and bars like Clark’s Ale House, J. Ryan’s and The Blue Tusk, does really need the World of Beer?
And maybe the word need is the wrong one. This area certainly doesn’t need a bar. DestinyUSA doesn’t need another bar, not with Toby Keith’s Loud Country Music and Lousy Food Experience down the hall and the TGI Jack Daniels Grill Friday’s across the way.
What this area could use is another place where craft beer is celebrated, and not just local brands Middle Ages and Empire Brewing (not that they don’t deserve their praise). It needs to be the type of place that sells you on the extraordinary when you order the ordinary, not sneer at you when you order Brand X’s IPA because Brand Y’s is made with dry hops or in a sustainable manner. So, when a patron approaches the bar and orders a Michelob Ultra, it shouldn’t be served blindly. It should be dealt with in the way Danielle, the affable bartender that tended to me and my friend Mike for the bulk of our trip, did. She told said patron, who clearly looked lost amid the 40+ taps on the wall, that she could get him that but he should try something else that he might like better. Danielle returned with a Gaffels Kolsch.
World of Beer is a growing franchise-based business that opened its first located in Tampa. Since 2007, it has grown to more than a dozen locations with plans to double in size by mid-2014. Syracuse is the first New York location to come online with a storefront at Crossgates Mall in Albany to follow in 2014. Each location has a similar inventory: a solid mix of 40-50 regional, national and international craft brews on draught, followed by another 200-250 bottles in large coolers near the bar. Many of the World of Beer locations feature servers with a Cicerone certification, but it’s clear that the bar staff went through an intensive training on glassware, tasting and pouring. WOB Syracuse features a limited food menu — Friends of Al Dente have mentioned that other locations do not have a food menu — to offset the beer, but you are not going there for dinner anyways (If you’re idea of dining is a restaurant called World of Beer, we have to talk.). You are going for beer first, food second. That said, the food we sampled was quite good as I’ll discuss later on.
As is the case with soft openings and VIP events, Sunday evening’s soiree was more about testing the staff and systems. Mike and I found seats at the bar and spent the better part of the evening entertaining (and being entertained) by Danielle. Large TVs showed football, as you might expect, and a small stage at the rear of the restaurant hosted a rotating selection of local musicians. WOB Syracuse will feature bands on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings.
Mike and I each ordered our comped draught beers, trying things that we never had before — he went for B. Nektar Meadery’s Zombie Killer (a Michigan-made mead) and Lil’ B from Denmark’s Evil Twin Brewing; I had the Left Hand Brewing Nitro Milk Stout and Brasserie d’Achouffe N’Ice Chouffe. Like any good bar, Danielle would pour samples of items before we committed to a pint. The sampling led to a rush on small glasses, typical of one of these events. I had no sooner set my empty sampler down before the glass was whisked away for sanitizing and another try. Somewhere along the way, a bartender surprised us with a better-than-I-thought-it-would-be margarita made with an IPA.
Mike and I each wrapped with a flight of four 4 oz. beers. We each ordered a Kwak and Empire Cream Ale. I rounded out with Southern Tier Brewing Company’s Compass and Founders’ Breakfast Stout. He had…yeah, I don’t remember. I drank a lot of beer. As you do at these things, we tipped Danielle well and not because she didn’t earn it.
On to the food. As I said, you aren’t coming here specifically for dinner anyways, but the food was not a detraction. Bar food exists mainly to offset the alcohol one is pouring into their body. Based on the samples of golden shrimp, Bavarian pretzels, chicken wings and pork wings — a slow-cooked pork shank tossed in barbecue sauce — the food is truly a complement.
I think that the World of Beer has the same effect as Wegmans’ beer department upgrade and Sunoco’s growler filling stations. It’s going to make this market better and force the craft beer mainstays of this area to dial up their respective games. So, back to my original question, I think that if World of Beer can make people put down the Bud Light in favor of a Gaffels Kolsch, force a particular bar or two in Armory Square to take the act of flushing their beer lines seriously, and offer a place where your beer order isn’t greeted with judgment and smug, then yes, I think Syracuse needs World of Beer.
World of Beer is located on the third level of DestinyUSA near Pole Position Raceway. The author was invited to the location’s soft opening and provided complementary beverages, which affected only his memory and not the content of this piece.