Tag Archives: Finger Lakes Beer Trail

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

By the 1990s, the craft beer renaissance was in full bloom, and North Americans were developing a taste for Pacific Northwest hops redolent of pine, citrus, and tropical fruit. On the other side of the continent, where the last beer produced with New York State hops rolled off the bottling line in 1953, the memory of hop production had all but fallen into oblivion.

There was a time, though, when New York State supplied the hop needs of the nineteenth-century industrial brewing behemoths of Milwaukee, St. Louis, New York City, and Chicago. New York State played host to the United States’ first commercial hop operation in 1808; by 1849, New York was at the national pinnacle of hop cultivation. Centered around Otsego, Oneida, Madison, Schoharie, and Montgomery Counties, the state churned out nearly ninety percent of the United States’ total hop crop before the industry was laid low by the double blow of downy mildew outbreaks and the onset of Prohibition.

Until that time came, hop cultivation transformed the pastoral landscape of upstate New York as family farms rushed to build hop kiln additions to their barns. Even as Prohibition and the eventual demise of upstate hop production spelled the end of the functional hop barn, many a material trace of these pyramid-shaped structures dotted the rolling hills and valley floors. These were vestiges forgotten by many, but discernible to the preservationists and hop enthusiasts of the 1990s who rekindled an interest in the New York State hop industry.

Hop Kiln in Otsego County (Photo by Richard Vang)

Hop Kiln in Otsego County (Photo by Richard Vang)

These early forays into preservation provided the impetus for the Northeast Hop Alliance (NEHA), founded in 2001 and incorporated as a non-profit business alliance in 2010. Fueled by the combined efforts of NEHA and the Cornell Cooperative Extension in Madison County, hop production has soared from a mere fifteen acres three years ago to close to one-hundred-and-fifty acres today.

The NEHA also spearheaded the initiative that led to the New York farm brewery law of 2013 (which I’ve touched upon here and here.) One of the driving forces behind this piece of legislation is NEHA board member, Randy Lacey – also head brewer and co-owner of the family-run Hopshire Farm & Brewery, which opened in May of this year.

Hopshire - Logo

What sets Hopshire apart from other farm breweries is its homage to the pre-Prohibition hop farms. Its hop kiln, poised to dry the eventual bounty of Hopshire’s four-acre hop yard, is a prominent architectural feature of the newly-constructed brewery and tasting room. The brewhouse, too, bears witness to the material history of agriculture and brewing in New York State: Lacey procured the brew kettle from nearby Horseheads Brewing Company, and has repurposed several vessels from the dairy industry in the construction of his seven-barrel system.

The Hopshire Brewhouse (Photo by author)

The Hopshire Brewhouse (Photo by author)

Lacey got his start as a homebrewer at the instigation of his son, Sam. From there, he spent several years creating innovative brews for appreciative members of the Ithaca Practitioners of Alemaking homebrew club, and gathering ideas during road trips to  brewpubs and breweries far and wide in the company of his wife, Diane Gerhart. Together with Gerhart, their two sons, and their daughter-in-law, Lacey and family assure that a steady stream of sought-after brews keeps the tasting room crowd coming back to the recently-opened brewery.

Unsurprisingly for someone who had a hand in drafting what eventually became the farm brewery law, Lacey sees to it that all of his beers showcase local ingredients like honey, cherries, maple syrup, and, of course, hops and malt. Lacey sources the ginger for Hopshire’s Zingabeer from a farm in nearby Trumansburg, and even uses hops grown by Ithaca homebrewer, Clair Haus. 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.

Hopshire's autumn coHOPeration event

Hopshire’s autumn coHOPeration event

Hopshire’s line-up of perennials and seasonals fall into “mellow,” “middling,” and “mighty” categories. Odds favour the Daddy-O English Pale Ale and the Shire Scottish Ale to keep the looming upstate winter at bay; both blend appealing dark fruit aromatics (plum, dark cherries) with complex, layered expressions of malt flavours. Beehave and Blossom find their niche in more humid seasons.

Hopshire has recently added Hop Onyx, a bracing black IPA featuring Falconer’s Flight, a hop blend starring the so-called “Seven Cs” of Pacific Northwest hop fame – Cascade, Chinook, Centennial, Citra, Cluster, Columbus, and Crystal. New to the seasonal hearth is ’Round Yon Virgil, a spiced brown ale with a warming blend of brown sugar, fresh ginger root, cinnamon sticks, cloves, and allspice. (The reference is not to the Aeneid, but  rather to a nearby hamlet.)

Winter is at the gates, but Hopshire will continue to serve guests in the taproom and sell growlers to weary travelers at their farm and brewery located at 1771 Dryden Road (State Route 13), Freeville, NY. Opening hours are Wednesday to Friday, 4-8pm; Saturday, 11am-6pm; and Sunday, 1-6pm.

The Hop Kiln at Sunset (Photo Courtesy of Hopshire)

The Hop Kiln at Sunset (Photo courtesy of Hopshire)

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For discussions of the history and revival of the New York State hop industry, see:

Amanda Garris, “Hop yard takes root in Geneva,” Cornell Chronicle, July 8, 2013 (Link here.)

Blaine Friedlander, “For first time in more than half a century, a brewer makes beer entirely with New York-grown hops, with help from Cornell,” Cornell Chronicle, February 19, 2004. (Link here.)

Lucas Willard, “In New York, More Local Ingredients Make More Local Beer,” WAMC Northeast Public Radio, November 27, 2013. (Link here.)

Richard Vang, “The Past, Present, and Yes, Future of the Hops Industry,” Upstate Alive Magazine 1:4, 1996. (Link here.)

If you find yourself in the upstate area wanting to learn more about the history of hops in New York, stop in at The Farmers’ Museum in Cooperstown, NY. Among other family-friendly activities, visitors can help plant, cultivate, and harvest the hop crop on the Lippitt Farmstead.

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

Grape vines have long been cultivated in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York, and the resulting wines – in particular, the Rieslings reminiscent of the Rhine and Mosel –  have spelled growing acclaim for the region. Keuka Lake, one of the eleven glacial lakes that makes up the Finger Lakes AVA (American Viticultural Area), has played a central role in the region’s development, with the town of Hammondsport laying claim to the first commercial viticultural venture in 1862. In the post-prohibition years, personalities such as Dr. Konstantin Frank, a Ukranian immigrant and founder of the eponymous Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars, convinced skeptics that the Vitis vinifera grape varieties of Europe could grow in the region’s cold climate. His untiring work with the vineyard and with Cornell’s New York State Agricultural Experiment Station (NYAES) in Geneva, NY, helped Keuka Lake and the rest of the region become the pre-eminent food and beverage location it is today.

Photo courtesy of Abandon Brewing Company

Photo courtesy of Abandon Brewing Company

And now the Finger Lakes wineries dotting the shores of Keuka Lake have a new neighbour, one that works with different bounties of the surrounding fields. Not far from the sleepy town of Penn Yann, and up a gravel road with a sweeping overlook of Keuka’s eastern arm, sits Abandon Brewing Company. Abandon began serving up its Belgian-infused farmhouse atmosphere a month ago – just in time for legions of appreciative craft beer drinkers to enjoy their pints on the deck with a touch of autumn in the air.

The Abandon story begins seven years ago when owner, Garry Sperrick, purchased the pastoral land on which Abandon is sited. With nearly eighty vineyards in the immediate vicinity, Sperrick thought something a little different was in order. Why not a farmhouse brewery? Nestled in a carefully restored nineteenth-century barn amidst seven acres of vineyards, apple orchards, walnut groves, and hop bines, Abandon joins fourteen other breweries licensed under New York State’s recently enacted farmhouse brewery bill. The legislation requires that twenty percent of the hops and twenty percent of other ingredients making their way into the brew kettle or fermenter be produced in New York State.

Enter Jeff Hillebrandt, a young brewer with a long résumé that includes time in Germany and at Ommegang – and a brewer with a knack for creating innovative but harmonious beers with the ingredients that grow up around Abandon. I had the pleasure of meeting Hillebrandt at a tasting event earlier this year, and had the opportunity to visit Abandon while the barn was in the late stages of renovation. What I saw and tasted impressed me.

Belying the bucolic scenery of its surroundings, Abandon is driven by a state-of-the-art geothermal system integral to the operation of the brewhouse and tasting room. The system heats both the barn and the water used for brewing and cleaning, serves to chill the water used for the heat exchangers post-boil, and keeps the fermentation vessels cool.

The Abandon barn, pre-renovation. (Photo courtesy of Abandon Brewing Company)

The Abandon barn, pre-renovation. (Photo courtesy of Abandon Brewing Company)

Hillebrandt favours traditional Belgian styles and yeast strains, but doesn’t shy away from experimentation. Unique hybrids are often the result, such as a Farmhouse IPA packed with American hops but fermented with a blend of saison and Brettanomyces yeasts. The rest of the year-rounders run along similar tracks, and include a peppery-spicy Belgian Rye, a malt-driven Abbey Dubbel with a fruity character, and a lower ABV Session Saison perfect for keeping the summer heat at bay. Plans are also in place to turn several of Abandon’s current harvest editions into year-round affairs.

Photo by author

Photo by author

Seasonal offerings showcase the crops that grow on and around Abandon Acres. Walnuts and black currants grace recently-released and soon-to-be-tapped beers, and the Smoking Pumpkin Ale conjures up images of Thanksgivings of yore, lightly spiced and laced with local pumpkin slow-roasted over an apple-wood fire.

Hop aficionados won’t be left wanting either. As much as Hillebrandt is an eloquent advocate for Belgian styles, he’s also fond of bold American flavours. Abandon’s Wet-Hopped Double IPA delivers hints of blueberry from the popular new Mosaic hop variety in combination with other hops grown locally. For added variety, Abandon makes a Hoppe Cider from Cortland apples and Fuggles hops from their farm.

Months before the brewery even opened its doors, Abandon was drawing attention from the regional and national media. Anticipation for Abandon’s opening ran so high that Sperrick and Hillebrandt began contemplating expanded production. The current three-barrel system has kept the tap room guests happy thus far, but with plans for bottling and wider distribution on the horizon, the two opted for a ten-barrel system that arrived last week from Prince Edward Island. (The land of Anne of Green Gables, Malpeques, and the ill-fated Charlottetown Accord makes brewing systems?!) With the larger system in place, Hillebrandt will reserve the smaller system as an outlet for his creative impulses.

Even though the weather has turned winter, Abandon will still be pouring pints in their taproom and beer hall located at 2994 Merritt Hill Road, Penn Yann, NY, from Friday to Sunday between noon and 5pm. Keep an eye out, too, for regional events featuring Abandon’s beers.

Abandon - Logo