Bacchus New Paltz: “Beer Here!”

Bacchus is a popular local spot for both food and drinks. Photo by Marcella Sorbellini

It’s hazy when you first walk in. Antler chandeliers hang from the high ceilings
and dim lighting barely touches the brick walls. Then there’s the vintage bar. Five or so
people sit around it trying to choose from the 500 different types of beer Bacchus has to
offer.

The building that Bacchus occupies has been around since the late 1800s and has
been a bar since 1973. Since then, Bacchus has built its reputation on the growing
selection of quality beer sold.

“Our goal was 400 and the challenge was to get rid of the boring stuff and have
the best beer,” bar manager David Ellison said.

Ellison started working for Bacchus when he was an undergrad at SUNY New Paltz 11 years earlier. He was never much of a beer enthusiast until Bacchus’s intimate atmosphere and wide variety changed him.

Ellison said that originally they just wanted tons of beer, but that wasn’t interesting
enough. So they spiced things up by searching for good beer from around the world and
the Around the World Passport Challenge was born.

The challenge has been around for five years and the challenge is to try 30 different
types of beers from different countries and get a stamp from each one to get the
Bacchus “Around the World” t-shirt.

Close to a hundred people have completed the Bacchus challenge trying beers
like the Affligem Blonde from Belgium or the Dragon Stout from Jamaica. Some people
stretch the challenge to last years, and some people come in on a weekend and do it all in
one sitting.

“Doing the around the world passport was awesome, and it made me try different
beers that I otherwise might have passed over, but it was very expensive. Very
expensive,” Bacchus regular Dylan Keenan said.

Each foreign ale can cost anywhere from $5 to $15, the average usually being around $7.

“We don’t have Budweiser, Coors, Bud Light or any of that crap,” co-bar
manager Jason Synan said. “We’re going to do everything we can to get people to drink real
beer.”

Real beer is what makes Bacchus customers come back.

“We have regulars who will come six nights a week and have five beers in a sitting,” Ellison said.

Bacchus has a striking array of regulars ranging from old ladies to professors.

SUNY New Paltz graduate student Megan Allen likes to walk down to Bacchus and grab a Hoegaarden a couple times a month and Keenan can be found eating dinner on any given Saturday. They appreciate the variety.

“You get to know their taste,” Ellison said. “There’s some lady right now who is obsessed with porters. She just can’t get enough.”

Synan likes to look at beer as a diverse cultural trend.

“We like taking different beer traditions, like an ale that has American hops and a Belgium flavor,” he said.

Ellison and Synan look at award winning beers and throw them into the mix at Bacchus. If the beer isn’t up to par, they wait until the case is gone and then don’t reorder it, but some favorites always stick around like any type of IPA– a category of pale ale.

“It’s very trendy from month to month,” Ellison said.

Right now the Lagunitas from California is the most popular, a beer known for tongue-twisting its customers when they try pronounce it.

Bacchus also tries to carry beer from local breweries. However, there isn’t much
of a local beer culture in the Hudson Valley. They have Brooklyn Six Point or a Cooperstown
Backyard IPA, but East Coast brewing can be hard to come by.

Hop is a key ingredient in beer making for its contribution to flavor. Bacteria wiped out the hop fields on the East Coast in the 1800s and now all the hop grows on the West Coast. However, Synan predicts that a number of brewing companies will open in the Hudson Valley in the next year trying to keep local beer alive.

“I’m obsessed with beer,” Synan said. “The hardest thing is having the largest selection possible with the highest quality possible.”

That’s why Bacchus has 14 different diverse draft beers that amount to more than half of their sales.

“People constantly want to be blown away by beer, so they keep coming back,” Ellison said.

That’s not the only reason they come back. Keenan said the best part about
Bacchus is the friendly atmosphere and slightly sophisticated crowd. Bacchus is a place for quiet drinks, not hammered crowds.

“This bar is always gonna be an ongoing conversation between what beer is good,” Ellison said. And with 500 different options, they’ll certainly have a lot to talk about.

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