Big Slide Brewery
Lake Placid's newest pub fuses tradition with creativity
by David Sommerstein
Big Slide Brewery & Public House is decidedly not “Adirondack-y.” Bolted sheets of hammered zinc cover the walls by the concrete-topped bar. The dining room is flanked by a sleek open kitchen and shiny silver beer tanks. Overhead, a spaghetti tangle of black wires dangles a couple dozen Edison lightbulbs. Down-tempo electronic music pulses quietly. Even the wooden strips on the bar, mimicking the silhouette of the Adirondack’s Great Range, are subtle.
Laura Thornton says the vibe is a lot like breweries she sees popping up in Philadelphia, where she works as a Realtor. She and Mike Bonesteel are up for a week at a camp near Fish Creek, and today they’re doing a local wine and beer tour. “This is the best beer I’ve had today,” says Thornton, raising the pale ale she’s sipping at the bar—one of 10 beers on tap. Bonesteel sips the amber ale, “more chocolate and vanilla flavors than your traditional amber,” he says, “but I like it.”
The big-city feel is just what co-owner Chris Ericson was shooting for when he opened his second brewery and restaurant in Lake Placid, in June 2016. “The best compliment that we have received so far is that Big Slide really feels like you’re in Portland, Oregon, or Denver, Colorado,” says Ericson, who also founded the popular Lake Placid Pub & Brewery on the northern end of Mirror Lake in 1996. At that pub, Ericson says, “we have the wood and the picture of the mountains over the fireplace and the white pine on the walls and all that stuff.”
At Big Slide the food, too, is a departure from the typical pub grub. There’s a tomatillo-based chili verde, a green tea farro salad with pumpkin seeds and roasted cauliflower, and a Vietnamese banh mi sandwich. The brick-oven pizzas are topped with wild mushrooms, duck sausage and pickled blueberries. Adirondack farms and creameries are well represented to keep the ingredients fresh and local.
Big Slide started out of necessity. All of the beer served at the Lake Placid Pub & Brewery is brewed on-site. They were starting to run out of beer, even after two expansions to four floors of brewery, restaurant and bar space. The original plan was to buy a warehouse to sock away kegs for the busy winter and summer seasons. But then Ericson discovered a former tile warehouse and showroom on Route 73, by Lake Placid’s horse-show grounds. “It had higher ceilings, a really solid floor, and concrete cinder-block walls,” he says. “And we thought, This wouldn’t be a bad spot for a brewery.”
Ericson and his wife and co-owner, Catherine, pushed ahead, but were wary about opening a brewery a mile and a half from their other one, inviting the possibility of competing with themselves.
The growth of the Ericsons’ business comes in step with another market pressure: The craft beer industry has been exploding, and consumers are increasingly discriminating about their beer. Fifteen years ago, if the Lake Placid Pub & Brewery’s signature beer, Ubu Ale, a traditional English-style strong ale, sold out at a bar in one night, it would have earned Ubu a tap handle at that bar for two years. “In this current environment,” says Chris, “if I sell out a keg in a night, they may not buy my beer for another month or so. They’re going to put the next different beer on tap.”
So he and his director of brewing operations, Kevin Litchfield, saw Big Slide as a place to experiment for the beer lover who always wants something new.
Across the country, farm- and nano-brewers dream up new styles and combinations every day, fusing tradition with bold new flavors. “We decided we needed to push the limits of beer style and stay on the cutting edge,” explains Litchfield, who’s been crafting beer at Lake Placid Pub & Brewery since 1999. At Big Slide he blends fresh herbs into his batches. On the day I visited, a spicy ginger sour ale was on tap. Inside the stack of oak barrels that greet you at Big Slide’s entrance, a stronger bourbon-infused Imperial version of Ubu Ale was being aged for six months.
Big Slide’s biggest shift to the cutting edge is in back, in a glass-windowed room isolated from the rest of the brewery, labeled “Funk Room.” “This is where our so-called ‘bugs’ live,” says Litchfield. He set loose specific microbes and yeast in the room to play with mixed fermentation beers, like a malty Belgian Quadrupel, a solera-style Flanders red ale, or a lambic beer infused with locally grown Montmorency cherries. “Right now we have three different batches at three different levels of ‘funk-ification,’ if you will,” says Litchfield, like a proud alchemist. The brews will age in red wine barrels from California for six months to two years before they’re available to purchase by the snifter or champagne-size bottle.
The experimentation is already paying off. Litchfield brewed a New England–style double IPA with New York State malts processed in Montreal and a heavy dose of Northwest Mosaic and Citra hops. The resulting 8.4% ABV (alcohol by volume) Giant Double IPA won the gold medal in its category at the 2017 inaugural New York State Craft Beer Competition.
Lake Placid Pub & Brewery celebrates its 21st birthday this year. “We’re about to turn legal,” Chris Ericson says. During that time, he’s become a godfather of New York’s craft-brewing movement, co-founded the New York State Brewing Association and is now serving as its vice-president and treasurer. He’s helped support the Adirondack economy: Lake Placid Pub & Brewery, Big Slide Brewery & Public House, Après ADK gift shop and Cake Placid bakery (bought by the Ericsons in 2015) employ 140 people, making Chris and Catherine Ericson one of the biggest employers in the Tri-Lakes region.
In a way, Big Slide is a return to Chris’s roots. “My first passion was brewing beer,” he says. Small-batch brewing invites an independent and adventurous spirit and techniques that improve the quality of all the beer he and his team craft. After two decades in a booming industry, he can infuse his passion with experience, and that’s a powerful brew.
Find Big Slide Brewery & Public House (www.bigslidebrewery.com, 518-523-7844) at 5686 Cascade Road, in Lake Placid.