By The Usual Gang of Idiots

On a Friday after a hard week of work, a buddy and I (the Commander), ventured to Ellicottville for a few beers and a burger. Of course, our wives are part of this — thank goodness — as they are the ones that talked and conversed on the short ride.  My buddy, who I will call Mr. Friday Night Cranky Pants, Cranky for short, told me read to myself as I was informing everyone in the car what beers John Harvard’s has to offer and is known for. I’ve known Cranky for many, many years, and I knew this mood was temporary.

I have noticed when I travel the short distance from Olean to Ellicottville, I start to relax more and more the closer I get. Thankfully, EVL has the same effect on Cranky. By the time we parked and walked into John Harvard’s, Cranky was no longer cranky and any frustrations I had from the day had passed. We were entering a familiar place knowing the staff, food, and most importantly beer, would exceed our expectations and needs.

Commander: Upon entering, being greeted and expressing our wants — to sit at the bar and have a beer or three — we found the corner of the U-shaped bar and nestled in. After a hard week, but good week, we were ready to sample some good craft beer. I ordered the beer flight of five samplings, which included three of the John Harvard’s brews on tap and two of Southern Tier’s.

I first sampled the John Harvard’s selections. Fox Fire Amber was an excellent start, with its smooth start, bitter middle and light end. The bitter taste is what I love about craft beers, because, when done properly, the bitter-sweet play on your tongue makes or breaks the beer. The Fox Fire Amber makes you want to take another sip, and it also quenches your thirst with the light finish.

The Tamarack Pale Ale had a more creamy beginning and hop-fueled end. As with many good India pale ales, the bitterness of the hops did not stay around, inviting you for another sip.

The last of the John Harvard’s was the Black Diamond Oatmeal Stout. For me, stouts are the light beer. They look heavy and harsh, but in reality, most are light with a creamy start and a finish that does not linger. A good stout clears your mouth out for another sip. The Black Diamond also had a Scotch ale hint for me.

Now, onto familiar ground — the Southern Tier offerings and my favorite type — IPA (India Pale Ale). The Southern Tier IPA has a full front, hitting you with all it has including the fortified sweetness surrounded by the bitterness of the hops. To properly sample an IPA, one must take three sips: the first to get over the fullness and initial hit of the hops, the second to identify where the sweetness happens, and the third to recognize where the bitterness plays on the tongue. This IPA is what I look for — a sweet beginning with a bitter ending.

I finished my flight with the 2X. Because it has a higher alcohol content, it starts with a sweeter hit, followed — but not too quickly — with a bitter finish.

Cranky Pants: Okay, now my turn. Cranky Pants here. I don’t know why he calls me that. I think I’m extremely pleasant all the time!

Anyway, the Commander drags me over to E’ville with the promise that he’s buying. I knew he wouldn’t pay, but I do enjoy E’ville’s beers and burgers, so I didn’t care. The Commander ordered a flight and I did the same.

My choices were Southern Tier Brewing 2X IPA, Hop Sun, Summer Love, Anchor Steam and Farmer’s Tan. I’ll say right up front that I’m biased toward IPAs, but I purposely chose four that were not so I could expand my horizons.

I started with the 2X. It’s an excellent IPA with a bitter, hoppy start and a surprisingly smooth finish. If this were my only choice for the evening, I wouldn’t have complained.

Next was the Hop Sun. It’s a great summer beer, smooth start to finish. I could see myself on my deck on a hot summer day enjoying a few of these.

Summer Love — now, I took a lot of grief ordering this. Apparently, the rest of the Usual Gang of Idiots found the name less than manly. This beer wasn’t my favorite, but as I said, I’m biased toward IPAs. This is a beer Mrs. Cranky Pants might enjoy.

Ah, Anchor Steam, one of the first craft beers that I ever had. What’s not to like about Anchor Steam? It’s still great — nice and balanced, always good.

Farmer’s Tan was a new one for me, and it was a pleasant surprise — very hoppy start to finish. It made me want more. I can see buying many more in the future, if Mrs. Cranky pants allows it.

Commander: After my beer flight, the Usual Gang of Idiots and I, along with our wives, moved to a table and were greeted by our server “Stacy.” You see, I call all my servers Stacy — I have a name problem. She talked me into a new appetizer — Ham Wings. I was skeptical but felt adventurous so I ordered it and a Smokehouse Berger. The Ham Wings were wonderful, with a mustard glaze, garnished with blue cheese dip. As Stacy said, they are worth a try. I will order this again. The burger was very taste and hearty. I was getting full after half, so I took the leftovers home and enjoyed them again for lunch the next day. I also want to mention the fries, seasoned, crisp and fabulous.

As we were finishing, Stacy, suggested the EBC Chocolate Cherry Float, a dessert float made with Chocolate Cherry Bomb Stout beer. Why not finish with what we started? It was a real treat. The bitterness of the beer tempered the sweetness of the float ingredients. You need to try one to understand!

Cranky Pants: What’s beer without a burger, right? I chose the Brew House Burger, rare. I’ll admit I’ve had it before. Excellent, it’s a classic American burger, juicy and large with minimum amount of stuff on it — the way God meant burgers to be. Oh, a word about John Harvard’s fries: They’re some of my favorites, crispy with a light and salty seasoning. I also tried the float for dessert and was surprised at how well the beer complemented the ice cream.

Commander: John Harvard’s is familiar to the UGOI and we are very familiar with the fabulous view out the windows. However, on this visit, I didn’t notice the view, because the atmosphere and wait staff completely entertained me.

Don’t drink and drive! Make sure you have a designed driver before heading out!