Tag Archives: craft beer in Ithaca

Eat Drink Finger Lakes: A Late Summer Smorgasbord of Food and Beer

It’s that time of year. Thousands of you have just moved halfway across the continent and are settling in at one of the universities or colleges in the Finger Lakes region. Even more of you live in one of the large urban areas within three or four hours of the Finger Lakes. Perhaps you’re thinking of getting out to enjoy the setting summer, or maybe you’re just passing through the region. Whatever the case, you might find yourself in need of a drink at some point. And probably some food too.IMG_3586

Shifting gears for a moment: It’s been a busy summer hiking, cycling, and riding trains around Austria. No complaints, but no matter how hard I try, I rarely manage to write posts while on the road. I’m on the road again –– this time in rural Pennsylvania after a conference in Philadelphia and a short visit to Pittsburgh. Since I’m only a few mountains and rivers from the Finger Lakes, why not finish up something I was working on last summer before I head back to Vienna? The piece below complements the various articles I have written about the region over the years. Taken together, they give you a comprehensive introduction to craft beverages and good eats in the Finger Lakes.

New York’s Finger Lakes Region: A Back-Road Craft Beer Tour

Serving Up a New Tradition at the Finger Lakes Cider House

Gorges and Good Beer in Ithaca, NY: Vol.1

Ithaca is Craft Beer

The Barn and the Brewery: A Touch of Tradition and a Dash of Creativity at Abandon

Cultural Archeology, Hopshire Style: The Revival of Hop Cultivation in New York

If you’re looking for something to do during those late summer and early autumn weekends before the frosts hit, read on! And since it’s an ongoing story, let us know in the comments about some of your favourite places that I haven’t written about here.

Skaneateles

Wine has long been a Finger Lakes staple, and the notion of good beer no longer raises eyebrows at the communal table. Add cider and the occasional artisanal distillery, and your glass will never be half empty.IMG_3499 You won’t go hungry either with the abundance of local fruit, bread, meat, and cheese.

And fish ’n chips –– or, as they call it in the region, fish fry. The most famous of them all is Doug’s Fish Fry, a local pilgrimage site and seafood shrine in Skaneateles. With its stately boulevard and lakeside mansions, Skaneateles is also one of the most beautiful of the Finger Lakes towns. Finger Lakes on Tap hadn’t yet opened when I was in Skaneateles in 2015, but now you can find roughly 60 breweries represented, ranging from Southern Tier in the west and Ommegang in the east to help you digest your visit to Doug’s Fish Fry.

Auburn

Travel fifteen minutes west along U.S. Route 20 and the undulating green farmland gives way to the shady lanes of Auburn, home of famed abolitionist, Harriet Tubman, and William H. Seward of Alaska Purchase fame. Like many towns in Upstate New York, Auburn was once home to several breweries before the combined blight of consolidation and Prohibition knocked the total to zero. But the aroma of mashed grain and hopped wort is in the air once again. Tucked away at the back of a small commercial building, Garrett of The Good Shepherds brews his beer on a nano setup about the size of a large homebrewing rig. Open since 2014, his rotating roster of brews was heading in the right direction when we visited in the summer of 2015, especially his Raz Brown and Sour Irish Red.IMG_3546 Check the website to see what’s on tap now.

Auburn is not just home to famous historical personages. It’s also the site of the maximum-security Auburn Correctional Facility. The latter inspires the jail-themed beers at Prison City Pub and Brewery, with names like Escape from Alca’razz. The impressive Blaubeere, an “American Sour Berliner Weisse aged with wild Maine blueberries and all-Brett yeast” makes up for an ambitious if slightly uneven food menu. Beers change regularly, so you might have an entirely different gustatory experience.

Rochester

If you’re a photography or film buff, Rochester’s Eastman Museum is well worth a detour from your craft beer itinerary. Time was short after the museum visit, so we opted for one of the newer breweries generating plenty of buzz in the Rochester area: Swiftwater Brewing Company. Located in the gentrifying South Wedge area of Rochester, Swiftwater is attracting a young and stylish set in droves. The beers: Belgian? American? German? Experimental?IMG_3702 All of the above, and none of the above at this urban farmhouse brewery.

Then there’s the venerable Genesee. Founded in 1878, Genesee is one of the oldest continually running breweries in the U.S. Recently they began to brew sound but cautious Scotch ales, black IPAs, and English-style brown ales under the Genesee name. At $3 for a flight of 4, it’s probably one of the best deals around. Skip the rather pedestrian tour of their 7-barrel pilot system and spend your time in their well-appointed gift shop/museum learning about the history of brewing in Rochester.

Ithaca Area

Perched on a ridge overlooking the western shores of Cayuga Lake outside of Ithaca, Bellwether has been producing hard ciders among the wineries for well over a decade. Bellwether has since been joined by a growing chorus of cider producers, including Eve’s Cidery, Black Diamond Cidery, Redbyrd Orchard Cider, Good Life Cider, and South Hill Cider. The latter five cideries peddle their wares at the Finger Lakes Cider House at Good Life Farm in Interlaken, NY, a farmhouse surrounded by bucolic meadows. Ciders range from still to sparkling, and bone-dry to lusciously sweet, with the occasional fortified cider and ice cider thrown in.

IMG_3559

Hopshire, built to resemble a historic hop kiln.

Heading out of Ithaca in the other direction, Dryden’s Hopshire Farm and Brewery continues to pump out a range of solid beers emphasizing local ingredients. Among the additions to their lineup when I last visited are Dragon Ash, a rich porter with fruit and chocolate notes, and Abbey Normale, a majestic Belgian dark strong ale with a spicy caramel-plum-raisin character. If these beers aren’t on tap when you visit, chances are you’ll see them when the season’s right.

Last but least, the old standby: Ithaca Beer Company. The burgers have inched up in price, and they’ve switched up the selection, but the quality is as high as ever. That’s not surprising, given that they source their meat from Autumn’s Harvest Farms in nearby Romulus, NY. (If you’re in the area long enough, give them a call and head out for a tour of their farm.IMG_3563 Their pork products are superb.) Over a few sessions with friends, I had the Cheddar Burger and the Smokehouse Burger, both accompanied by fries with homemade ketchup and herbed mayonnaise dipping sauces. The great food and solid beer isn’t the only reason to stop by for lunch or dinner; the brewery and restaurant setting is stunning at all times of the day –– a bit like Switzerland minus the snow-capped peaks. Try the perennial favourite, Flower Power IPA, or opt for a one-off in the taproom. (I had a compelling golden amber-coloured coffee beer during my last visit.) It seems like just yesterday that the Ithaca Beer Company opened up their new brewery and restaurant amid the rolling hills and verdant pastures, but even that space wasn’t large enough to meet the double-digit increase in demand. When you visit, lift a glass of one of their experimental Excelsior series ales to celebrate all that the Finger Lakes has to offer.

Postscript: Madison County Hop Fest

Before plant diseases began the job of devastating Central New York’s hop crop and Prohibition finished it, Madison County was the center of hop production in North America. Just a few steps beyond the Finger Lakes proper, the region merits a visit both for its beer history and its contemporary embrace of hop production and local malting. With a bit of luck and the help of a local, the intrepid hop head can find nineteenth-century hop kilns tucked away in hollows or hidden in the shadows of hillocks and knolls along sleepy back roads. Though some structures have succumbed to the ravages of time in the decade since this map was produced, you can still use it to put together a fascinating day trip. For those who don’t want to venture out into the back of beyond, twenty-first century hop yards have sprung up in conspicuous locations along well-traveled country thoroughfares within the past several years. (See my Cultural Archeology, Hopshire Style: The Revival of Hop Cultivation in New York if you want to read more about why that’s the case today.)

For over two decades now, the Madison County Historical Society has been helping locals and visitors celebrate all things lupulin at the Madison County Hop Fest. Mark your calendars: this year’s edition takes place between 16 September and 18 September.

While you’re in the region, be sure to check out Good Nature Brewing in Hamilton and Henneberg Brewing Company in Cazenovia. And for a quick sip of the cultural history of hop production in the region, check out my oh-so creatively titled Madison County Hop Fest.

Ithaca Brewing Company

Ithaca Brewing Company

All images: F.D. Hofer

© 2016 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All rights reserved.

Save

Ithaca is Craft Beer

If Ithaca is Gorges, it is also rapidly becoming a craft beer destination. In the first article of this series, I recounted the story of Ithaca’s first craft brewery and tasted a few of their beers. Here I introduce readers to the new breweries that have attracted the attention of both Ithacans and people passing through the Finger Lakes.

Breweries and Brewpubs (Part Two)

Bandwagon Brew Pub (2009)

Bandwagon Banner (bandwagonbeer-com)

 

 

The past decade-and-a-half has witnessed a parade of restaurants and even a barber shop make valiant but ill-fated attempts to gain a foothold in the subterranean space at 114 North Cayuga Street. Would a brew pub have enough staying power where so many other businesses had failed to capture the attention of passersby? Right out of the starting gate, the owners of Bandwagon seemed to have grasped that ambience would be as important as the food and beverages they’d be serving.IMG_0829 They converted their downtown location into a contemporary dining establishment a cut above the average brewpub, creating a bustling but still intimate seating arrangement with warm, subdued light falling on roughly-hewn stone walls and rustic wooden floors.

Now, as for Bandwagon’s liquid offerings, I’ll qualify what is about to come by stating that I have a soft spot for the place. As inconsistent as Bandwagon’s beers can be, they can also be of high quality when all goes well. Their brewing setup––almost a museum piece, really––is viewable through a window in the cozy lounge area set off to the side from the restaurant. Couple that with an insistence on brewing ten-gallon batches––ten gallons, not ten barrels––to supply a thirsty crowd of regulars and out-of-towners, and you get a not insignificant number of beers pushed through the system well before they’ve matured. But despite all that, I keep going back. Maybe it’s the nostalgia of sitting down there with Papazian’s classic to plot my first few homebrews. Or maybe it’s all those orders of Belgian-style frites and mayonnaise shared with friends.

For reasons noted above, the following beer evaluations are temporally contingent. The High Step Weizenbock is a justifiably celebrated brew.Bandwagon Flight (bwgn-com) I’ve sampled it turbid and blueberry-like, but when the beer’s done well, it’s a richly malty, warming, and convincing interpretation of the style. Roll the dice and give it a try if you’re in town when the beer’s in season. The Pirate Eye IPA is a decent stylistic iteration: rich, creamy, and with an aperitif-like level of bitterness on the palate. Delicate tangerine and mango backed by honeyed brown sugar and mild caramel define the aromas. On a recent visit, the Robust Brown Ale was a standout. Clear and mahogany-brown with garnet highlights, the beer negotiates a compelling balance of malt and hop character. Look for rich maple, toffee, caramelized citrus peel, and earthy coniferous forest notes with just a hint of mocha. The beer is full-bodied and creamy, with a bitter nuttiness getting the better of a caramel-maple syrup sweetness by the finish.

As for the food menu, the aforementioned frites are a consistent favourite, along with the excellent (and jalapeño-spicy!) veggie burger. Salads are prepared with fresh local greens, and the dressing is made in-house. Bandwagon is always abuzz no matter the time or the day, so let’s hope that the proprietors will one day redirect some of the proceeds from the lively house into a brewing system that will yield greater consistency.* (See the addendum below.)

Rogues’ Harbor Inn (2011)

IMG_0099Not more than ten minutes out of town, a historic landmark inn dating from 1830 sits atop the ridge on the southeast shore of Cayuga Lake. What is now Rogues’ Harbor was reputedly a stop along the Underground Railroad. But it attained its notoriety as a den of iniquity in its heyday, when many a colourful ruffian passed through the inn’s doors. Today the clientele consists of a more subdued crowd of Lansing locals and wine trail travelers, along with a small handful of people who know that Rogues’ Harbor has been brewing its own beer since 2011. Beer aside, Rogues’ Harbor merits a trip by virtue of its combination of bric-a-brac taproom décor and the faded stateliness of the dining rooms alone.IMG_0103 Hats off to the proprietors for not succumbing to the temptation to “update” their period piece. And a stein hoisted to them for installing a small brewing system in one of the inn’s outbuildings.

Chris Williams’ and Alex Schwartz’s small-batch brews complement the locally-sourced menu that consists of dishes like Curried Butternut and Chickpea Cake, Steak Fries with Ale-Infused Cheddar Sauce and Bacon, and Basil-Walnut Linguini. Of the four perennials on tap, the delicate and creamy golden-hued East Shore Pale Ale is your best bet. The ale showcases light brown sugar malt sweetness, an earthy-woodsy accent, and a trace of floral-muscat hops.IMG_0104 The rotating Brewer’s Choice tap, which gives the brewers the chance to roll out experimental beers that diverge from the safer year-round offerings, is also worth inquiring about. A recent visit to the inn’s restaurant yielded a pleasantly refreshing and mildly soured beer that bore a passing resemblance to a Berliner Weisse: lemon, fresh almonds, and a hint of lactic acidity in the aromas gave way to crisp green apple acidity and stone fruit richness buttressed by a fresh cereal malt character. If you want to forego food and head straight for the beer, Rogues’ Harbor recently opened a tap room adjacent to the inn. Hours are 12:00 pm to 4:00 pm, Saturday and Sunday.

Hopshire Farms and Brewery (2013)

The most recent arrival on the Ithaca craft beer scene lies not far beyond the Ithaca city limits on the road to Dryden and Cortland. Hopshire distinguishes itself from other farm breweries with its aspirations to revive the architecture of the pre-Prohibition hop kilns that once dotted central New York.Hopshire Pint Unsurprisingly for someone who wrote the draft of what eventually became the farm brewery law, owner and head brewer, Randy Lacey, sees to it that the emphasis falls on local ingredients like honey, cherries, maple syrup, and, of course, hops and malt. Hopshire’s Beehave, a honey blonde ale, and Blossom, a delicately scented cherry wheat ale, are both crafted from one-hundred percent New York State ingredients. My article, “Cultural Archeology, Hopshire Style: The Revival of Hop Cultivation in New York,” paints a more detailed picture of a brewery that has quickly endeared itself to the local craft beer-drinking population.

 

_____________________________________

Of the four breweries I’ve profiled in these last two posts, only Ithaca Beer Company and, to a limited extent, Bandwagon, package any of their beers.

* * *

*Addendum (July 26, 2014)

After I posted this article, Michael from Bandwagon Brew Pub got in contact with me with news about some important developments with his brewpub. Bandwagon has recently begun brewing on a sixty-gallon system (approximately two barrels), which has been a boon for consistency. Michael acknowledged the issues I addressed above, and noted that Bandwagon is currently constructing a new facility on the edge of town. The new facility will feature a larger brewing system, increased storage and lagering capacity, and a large tasting room. With the larger facility, they’ll be able to produce consistent renditions of their classics such as Pirate IPA and High Step Weizenbock, as well as continue to make their small-batch experimental brews. (Incidentally, Michael informed me that they have a limited-edition batch of Raspberry Jalapeno on tap through this week for those with an appetite for a little spice.) Michael is also branching out to answer the demand for locally produced malt. You can contact East Coast Malts in advance to visit the facility, which is located along Route 13 near Dryden. I wish Michael the best of luck in both of these exciting-sounding endeavours!

* * *

Up next: where to find a good pint of Finger Lakes beer, and where to find more international and domestic beers (and wines) than you can shake a stick at.

IMG_0826Images

Bandwagon banner: bandwagonbeer.com

Bandwagon interior: F.D. Hofer (Note: The case displaying vintage fermentation equipment is not the display window in the lounge that I reference above.)

Bandwagon flight: bandwagonbeer.com

Rogues’ Harbor Inn menu cover: F.D. Hofer

Rogues’ Harbor tap room: F.D. Hofer

Rogues’ Harbor flight (with wine slushy (!) in the background): F.D. Hofer

Hopshire pint: Hopshire Farms and Brewery Facebook page

Six-Mile Creek, Ithaca: F.D. Hofer

© 2014  Franz D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.

Gorges and Good Beer in Ithaca, NY: Volume One

Only four hours from New York City, but centrally isolated. Ten square miles surrounded by reality. Partly sunny. And gorges aplenty.

There’s no denying that Ithaca is Gorges.IMG_7308 Spend less than half an hour in this town cradled by rolling hills at the foot of Lake Cayuga’s waters, and chances are that you’ll have passed by a torrent of water issuing forth from one of Ithaca’s many creeks cutting through the stunning shale formations. If not, you’ll have caught a glimpse of the ubiquitous bumper stickers, T-shirts, baseball caps, mugs, and even stuffed animals proclaiming the fact.

But Ithaca’s myriad claims to fame do not stop at cascading waterfalls and steep hills. Vladimir Nabokov wrote Lolita during a teaching sojourn in Ithaca. If literature’s not your cup of tea, the city is also the reputed birthplace of the ice cream sundae, first served in 1892. A half century or so after this great culinary invention arrived on the scene came yet another: the chicken nugget, invented by a Cornell food scientist in the 1950s.

* * *

Incorporated in 1821, Ithaca’s history as a settlement dates back to the immediate aftermath of the Sullivan Expedition of 1779. As part of the broader Revolutionary War campaign against the Loyalists,IMG_7301 this slash-and-burn military expedition drove the indigenous peoples allied to the Iroquois Confederacy out of the region. These acts prepared the way for Congress to award soldiers parcels of land in the Ithaca area in lieu of monetary payment. Ithaca was nothing if not fortuitously situated, and over the course of the nineteenth-century, Ithaca eventually grew into an integral component of the Erie Canal System. Its location at the southern tip of Cayuga Lake made it an ideal staging ground for coal from Pennsylvania via the Ithaca and Owego Railroad, which began rolling freight between the Susquehanna River and Cayuga Lake in 1834.

Ithaca is no longer a transportation nodal point, but its one-time geographical importance gave rise to the post-secondary institutions––Cornell and Ithaca College––that make Ithaca the vibrant college town it is today. And adventurous latter day mariners can still set sail across Cayuga Lake from Ithaca and reach the Atlantic to the east, the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway to the north, or even the Mississippi and the Gulf of Mexico via the Erie Canal.

… Or stay high and dry and drink a beer instead.

Breweries and Brewpubs (Part I)

Ithaca Beer Company

Ithaca got its first craft beer brewery back in 1998 when a Cornell alum with a yen to brew set up shop in an unassuming location on the edge of town. A few years back, the Ithaca Beer Company––which made a reputation for itself brewing plenty of Apricot Wheat, the locally resonant Cascazilla Red IPA, and a perennial National IPA Championship “Final Four” finisher, Flower Power IPA––pulled up stakes and moved to a more spectacular location a stone’s throw from the original facility.IMG_0147 With the surrounding hills framing hop bines and gardens, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more picturesque spot in Ithaca to settle down to a pint or flight. Ingredients for their pizzas, salads, and house-made ketchup are so local you could go out and pick them yourself. Meat for their excellent burgers––among the very best in the region––and pulled pork dishes also comes from nearby farms.

Their beers? The Apricot Wheat flows as freely as the local waterfalls, but if you find that you’re not a fan, remember this: without all that Apricot Wheat, no Excelsior series. Ithaca Beer Co. is unique among breweries in that they package a completely separate line of experimental releases in 750-mL bottles bearing the Excelsior label. One of my perennial favourites is the AlpHalpHa, a “double honey bitter” that is the pinnacle of simplicity: organic Pils malt, New York State Cascade hops, and local alfalfa honey. Don’t be fooled by the straw-honey colour. Like a Tripel, this beer is much more potent than its countenance would suggest. Subtle spicy-floral and clover-grassy aromas mingle with honeyed graham cracker, and the weighty yet silky palate finishes surprisingly crisply.

The Excelsior series is comprised of beers ranging from limited edition blueberry sours to the more widely available White Gold,IMG_0823 a “Belgo-American” ale brewed with Nelson Sauvin and Lublin hops. Also part of the series are the brewery’s sturdy anniversary releases that typically feature a seemingly impossible hodge-podge of malts, hops, and yeasts from Belgium, France, Germany, the U.S., the U.K., and (hey, why not?) New Zealand. From year to year, these concoctions usually manage to come together and form a palatable whole proverbially greater than the sum of its disparate parts. (At a future date I’ll post tasting notes for Fifteen and Sixteen.)

Ithaca Beer Company’s regular and seasonal lineup is comprehensive, and a few gems (Flower Power, for example) sparkle among the solid workaday beers that don’t venture too far beyond the stylistic midpoints of a given category. The rye-clove-peppery and tangerine-floral-citrusy Ground Break Saison, along with the char-roast-coffee and earthy licorice yet blackberry-fruity Oatmeal Stout are among my top picks from the year-round and seasonal offerings. Recent additions to Ithaca Beer Co.’s lineup,IMG_0145 such as the seasonal Cayuga Cruiser Berliner Weisse and the Green Trail Easy-Drinking IPA, are less than stellar, so here’s to hoping that Ithaca Beer Co. doesn’t lose its way in the wake of its otherwise impressive build-out.

Sources, Notes, and Odd Lots

For a quick introduction to the early history of Ithaca, see Daniel R. Snodderly, Ithaca and Its Past (Ithaca: DeWitt Historical Society of Tompkins County, 1982). You can also visit The History Center, located just up Martin-Luther-King Boulevard from the Ithaca Commons pedestrian zone.

Fast Facts and Trivia: http://www.visitithaca.com/about-ithaca-tompkins-county/facts-trivia.html

If you find yourself spending any length of time in Ithaca, check out the South Hill Recreation Way, which follows the abandoned bed of the Ithaca and Owego Railroad (later renamed the Cayuga and Susquehanna Railroad Co. in 1849) through the woods for much of its length. The trailhead at Burns Road is an ideal starting point for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in winter.

All images: F.D. Hofer

© 2014  Franz D. Hofer. All Rights Reserved.