Aspall Cyder - Cider and Vinegar

New York Stories – tales from (nearly) up state

09th June 2014

Henry's Travels

I achieved a long held ambition on this trip to New York – going up state. Well, when I say up state, I mean 2 hours up the Hudson Valley. New York State reaches actually reaches all the way to the Canadian border.

Still, even up state ‘lite’ was worth it. Our destination was Beacon, a pretty town on the banks of the Hudson and home to the art gallery “ Dia”. Dia is housed in an old Nabisco packaging factory and was clearly built in an age when industrial buildings were afforded as much architectural respect and integrity as other public/service buildings such as theatres, libraries and train stations.

With its high ceilings, natural light, timbered floors and red brick walls, for a while it was the building itself that held my attention.

Frankly, there are only so many “white canvasses” on a white wall that I can handle. One, in truth; the rest I keep looking at in a half-hearted sort of way entertaining the vaguest possibility that I might “get it” at some point. Art truly is in the eye of the beholder.

Richard Serra

And then, I wander past some vaguely assembled piles of sand, grit, glass, shingle – in front of mirrors! – and there before me, filling the entirety of what must once have been a loading bay, is a series of Richard Serra spheres. All in a row, enormously lined up like a series of towers, bent and twisted from inch thick iron plate and climbing at least 30 feet. You can walk around them, in to them, through what feels like the intricate steep sided gulleys of a dried out river in The Grand Canyon. I was truly awe struck. A Richard Serra fan for life me.


An appetite for art

After Richard Serra were the intricate line drawings of Sol Lewitt. As with Richard Serra’s work, it was the scale of these pieces that appealed to me; huge walls of intricately, hand drawn lines. Boxes of them, all “assembled” to some extraordinary and meticulous vision of the artist, carried out to the number by a league of students and volunteers. What did it mean, and what did the artist set out to achieve? For a moment I wished there were a video of the late artist explaining his work to me. But perhaps that would ruin the whole thing – maybe it’s just what it means to you.

I don’t go to art galleries very much, but this left me wanting more and to reward ourselves for such artistic endeavour we headed in to Beacon proper for some lunch. On the recommendation of one of the staff at Dia we headed for Hop on Main Street. Hop is a classic US craft beer bar cum restaurant cum bottle shop. Eat in or take away. Great range of beers – less so of ciders (sadly no Aspall) and a great menu.

I’m quite particular about what I drink and when – I also like to try a local one if I can.

On this occasion, I fancied something crisp, light and refreshing; and there it was, at least potentially, on the beer board. “Peekskill NY Pilsner 4.9%”. Perfect Saturday lunchtime post art gallery refreshment. I ordered one before taking a quick look around the shop.
When I got back I was thrown in to confusion. It seemed everyone else had their drink in hand, and the only one unclaimed was a pint of something black. But I’d ordered Pilsner. Yes came the answer, that’s the Pilsner. It was black.

All in the name

Pilsners are not black – by their very definition they are made from pilsner malt, a light biscuity malt that makes a…… yes, light clear liquid. This was, well, an aberration – like a chocolate crème brulee; delicious but not “crème”…. It was a perfectly well made beer, but I don’t often drink black beers for a reason – the bitterness imparted by a chocolate or a crystal malt needs something to go with it; on its own I’m not a big fan. Still, on the flip side, if this had been marked as “Black Pilsner” on the board, I wouldn’t have ordered it, and I actually ended up being happy that I did.

So, am I too rigid? Who makes up the rules? What is art?

The US drinks scene in particular has a reputation for “mixing it up”. It was they who re-invented the India Pale Ale and elevated it back to the reputation it once had before English brewers slowly diluted it to the pale (sorry) imitation of the IPA’s we most often see on these shores, and they should be celebrated for that. But then they go bursting on through the glass ceiling and we have “Belgian”, “Imperial”, “Black” IPA’s – none of them beers I hate, but I have to ask myself do they really add anything to the definition? What’s wrong with a category defining IPA like Dogfish Head 60 Minute? But then I guess, they can’t just brand it as “Beer”.
And does it really matter? As with art, taste is on the tongue of the beholder, and the personal enjoyment one derives from it is exactly that – personal. So, I will wind my neck in; I do accept that interpretations of a style may sometimes be weird, but they can also be wonderful; have a read of my 5 unexpected drink hits of the trip to see how I have warmed to this theme.

Now, take me to a Richard Serra installation and pour me a Dogfish Head.