In the midst of the Finger Lakes, Ithaca is an ideal base from which to explore the veritable explosion of craft breweries, micro-maltsters, and hop farms of the Finger Lakes region. In the first article of this series, I recounted the story of Ithaca’s first craft brewery, Ithaca Beer Company. The second article of the series introduces readers to Ithaca’s newer craft breweries and brewpubs: Hopshire Farms and Brewery; Bandwagon Brew Pub; and Rogues’ Harbor Inn. This final piece points you in the direction of taprooms and bottle shops where you can get more beer and wine than you’d ever need before ending off on a few suggestions for tasting forays in the region.
Places to Get a Good Pint
The Chapter House (known to locals as the Chappy) is the granddaddy of Ithaca craft beer establishments, and the place where I drank my first pint in Ithaca. Even if some of the beers occasionally sit in the tap lines for a bit longer than is desirable, the Chapter House is well worth a visit. Located just down the hill from the hue and cry of Cornell’s Collegetown, this classically decrepit tavern with its pool tables, vintage photographs, popcorn popper, and well-worn wooden walls and tables attracts a broad mix of town and gown weighted in the direction of graduate students. During more quiet hours, you might be able to eavesdrop on reading groups discussing Hegel, contemporary critical theory, or the literary absolute. Weekend live music events are always well attended, the forty-nine taps draw heavily on offerings from central and western New York State, and pint prices are amenable to grad student budgets. Way down on the other side of town, relative newcomer, Da Westy, has quickly garnered a loyal following for its summer beer garden precincts and cornhole board in back and cozy atmosphere in winter. The bar sits at the very end of the beaten track of State Street eating and drinking establishments, and is tucked away to the rear of the building that houses it. Keep your eyes open for the metal gate with the Westy stencil. The number of craft beer taps is on the small side––about ten or so––but the bar features a judicious selection of seasonal releases. (Prices for some of the limited edition beers tend to be on the high side for Ithaca. Expect to pay around ten bux for snifters of these beers.) On occasion, Da Westy welcomes local breweries for sampling events. Cash only, so plan ahead for that.
Right in the heart of Aurora Street’s restaurant row just off the Ithaca Commons, the Ithaca Ale House Grill and Taproom strikes the right balance between classic American pub food and a fairly broad selection of domestic and international craft beers on tap and by the bottle. Even if the burgers aren’t quite as good as the ones at Ithaca Beer Company, the range and sheer audacity of the choices make the Ale House a worthy lunch or dinner appointment. Bring an appetite (all portions are quite epic) and be forewarned: if you order the “Fat Kid” Burger, you won’t have much room for beer.
(As you’re looking out at what looks, at first glance, to be building renovation going on across Aurora Street, spare a thought for the victims of the tragedy that struck Ithaca in June of this year when a runaway car carrier smashed through the front door of Simeon’s at the head of the Ithaca Commons.)
The Finger Lakes Beverage Center, which has just about completed its expansion into an attached building, is among the best beer-centric bottle shops I’ve come across in the U.S. When I lived here, little did I know what kind of gem we had tucked away here on this forlorn stretch of State Street next door to the FedEx copy and shipping shop. FLBC carries an excellent selection of Belgians (including lambics and gueuzes), along with a decent list of British pale ales, porters, and stouts. You’ll also find a few of your Scottish favourites, and a strong cross-section of German beers assures that those of us who appreciate lager won’t be disappointed. France is fairly well represented on the bière de garde end of things, and bottles from the Czech Republic, Poland, Russia, Finland, Norway, Denmark, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Canada, Brazil, Japan, and various other countries dot the shelves. The domestic selection is prodigious, and includes a range of ciders and sodas. Prices are reasonable, and every beer in the store is available for purchase as a single bottle.
The Ithaca Coffee Company has a respectable and continually rotating stock of perennials and seasonals from the U.S. and further afield. Their two locations are also licensed, so once you’ve grabbed your coffee, cheese, chocolate, and beer, you can sit down to a pint. If you’ve just arrived in Ithaca for the longer term, ask about their point program. The points accrue quickly if you buy beer regularly.
Northside Wine and Spirits is not a beer shop, but it deserves special mention for its array of wines, whiskeys, rums, tequilas, gins, brandies, and other spirits. Northside’s sherry selection is better than what you’d find at most places, and it stocks the widest selection of Finger Lakes wines in the region. Cases of mix-and-match wine (including sherry, port, and vermouth) net you a discount of twenty percent. Seek out Jason or Dave and ask them to guide you through their fine selection of French, American, German, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese wines. Between the two of them, you’ll receive a colourful palette of suggestions for obscure Italian varietals, Cru Beaujolais (more robust Beaujolais from villages/areas such as Juliénas, Moulin-à-Vent, Morgon, and Chiroubles), Loire Valley wines, unique Portuguese red blends, German Rieslings, and plenty in between.
In the Vicinity
Wine established itself earlier in the bucolic Finger Lakes region, but in recent years the craft beer industry has enjoyed a symbiotic relationship with the many world-class wineries in the area, some of which have branched out into brewing. Pick up a copy of the Finger Lakes Beer Trail map, or visit their informative website to help you plan your tasting itinerary. And if you like wine––Riesling, in particular––be sure to visit some of the following wineries: Sheldrake Point and Heart and Hands on Cayuga Lake; Hermann J. Wiemer, Red Tail Ridge, and Anthony Road on Seneca Lake; and Dr. Konstantin Frank on Keuka Lake.
Some of the breweries within forty-five minutes of Ithaca include:
- Birdland Brewing Company (Horseheads)
- Cortland Beer Company (Cortland)
- FarmHouse Brewery (Owego)
- Upstate Brewing Company (Elmira)
Further afield, but still feasible over the course of a leisurely day that might include lunch somewhere before heading back to Ithaca are some of the following breweries:
Abandon Brewing Company (Penn Yan), which I profiled in my article, “The Barn and the Brewery.”
- Climbing Bines Hop Farm and Brewery (Penn Yan mailing address, but on Seneca Lake)
- Galaxy Brewing Company (Binghamton)
- Rooster Fish (Watkins Glen)
- Wagner Valley Brewing Company (Lodi)
With the exception of logos and banners from a given company’s website, all photographs by F.D. Hofer.
© 2014 Franz D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.