Tag Archives: Ithaca

New York’s Finger Lakes Region: A Backroad Craft Beer Tour

Waterfalls, gorges, and verdant rolling hills. Eleven long, picturesque glacial lakes carved into the area just south of the Great Lakes during the last Ice Age. Combining stunning natural scenery with a tapestry of interlacing beer and wine trails, the Finger Lakes region of Upstate New York is one of the most ideal regions for the adventurous drinker to explore. Long a travel destination for connoisseurs of fine wine seeking Riesling and cool-climate red varietals such as Cabernet Franc, the Finger Lakes is quickly gaining a sterling reputation locally and regionally for its craft beers. A scenic beer route has grown up along the country roads that meander along the lakeshores and connect Cayuga and Seneca Lakes with smaller lakes like Keuka and Canandaigua. Hop farms and fields of barley sway in the lakeshore breeze alongside row upon row of grapes. IMG_7301

You might be asking why the Finger Lakes aren’t more well-known outside of New York State as a craft beer destination. The answer, fellow intrepid beer traveler, is one of the main reasons you’ll want to visit the region. Many of the breweries that dot the landscape are “farmhouse breweries” that have taken advantage of favourable legislation passed recently to stimulate the local hop and malt industry. Production at these breweries is small-scale –– so small that the only way you’ll get to sample the beer is to head to the taproom or a local tavern that might occasionally have a keg or two of Finger Lakes beer on tap. Only a small handful of the breweries in the region bottle or can their beer, and even then, distribution doesn’t stretch much further than a few hundred miles beyond the brewery.IMG_1171

Need another reason to visit the Finger Lakes? I can think of very few places outside of Napa/Sonoma that offer such a rich blend of culinary-cultural activities. You can take in brewhouse and winery tours in combination with visits to hop farms, vineyards, and micro-malting facilities. And you can dine on high-quality local cuisine tailored with an eye toward the wine or beer you’re drinking.

Installment #97 of The Session comes to us courtesy of Erin and Brett at Our Tasty Travels. The Session is a monthly opportunity for beer bloggers and writers from around the world to chime in with their own unique perspective on a particular topicSession Friday - Logo 1. Erin and Brett have proposed that we think about emerging craft beer scenes or destinations undergoing a renaissance. This seemed an ideal opportunity to start working through the stacks of notes I have on the Finger Lakes region. I spent several years living in Ithaca, NY, and return every summer. Over that time, I have watched the local craft beer scene blossom into a flourishing patchwork of small breweries scattered about the towns and countryside. What I’ve written here is the beginnings of a longer work on the breweries, hop farms, and maltsters past and present in Upstate New York.

When I feature a brewery or region in these pages, I usually include tasting notes. In this case, I’ll just list a few of my favourite beers so that I have space to introduce more of the people that make the Finger Lakes and the counties between Syracuse and Albany a region that remains special to me. Stay tuned for longer features of the breweries I’ve written about here, including some not listed.

Without further ado, your whirlwind tour of the Finger Lakes.IMG_0689

Located at the intersection of I-90 and I-81, Syracuse makes a convenient starting point for a tour of the region. Check out Empire Brewing Company for a pint of White Aphro (a Belgian-style wheat beer brewed with ginger and lavender) before making a slight detour out of the Finger Lakes region in search of one of the few pre-Prohibition hop kilns still standing.

Carrie Blackmore of Good Nature Brewing in Hamilton, NY, is a wealth of information about these kilns tucked away along the back roads of Madison County, once the focal point of nineteenth-century American hop production.IMG_0208 Whether you’re a local history buff or not, grab a stool at Good Nature’s cozy taproom in the heart of town to find out more about the history of hop production in the region or sample beers made with hops grown a mile up the road. Unlike many of the other farmhouse-licensed breweries in the region, Good Nature has no plans to grow its own hops or malt its own grain. Rather, Blackmore and her husband (who’s the head brewer) prefer to support the surrounding agricultural community by keeping the new hop farms and maltsters viable. Tempest’s faves: Bavarian Dream Weissbier; Rabbit in the RyePA.IMG_0557

On your way back to the Finger Lakes proper, you’ll want to stop in at Galaxy Brewing Co. in downtown Binghamton. The father-and-son team of Mike and Seth Weisel have made quite a splash since Galaxy’s recent founding, taking home a silver medal at the 2014 World Beer Cup for their St. Stusan Belgian-Style Pale Ale.IMG_0784 Popular among the downtown office workers, young professionals, and the SUNY Binghamton graduate student crowd, Galaxy also serves up inspired cuisine prepared by a chef with a Culinary Institute of America pedigree. The name of the brewery and several of its beers pay homage to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Tempest’s faves: St. Stusan is not the only medal-worthy beer that the Weisels brew up. You won’t go wrong with the luscious Omega Dubbel Nitro or the brooding espresso and dark chocolate-accented Pulsar Porter.

By now you’ll be looking for a place to bunk down for the night, so head to Ithaca on the shore of Cayuga Lake. Long before it’s time to turn in, head to the Ithaca Beer Company on the edge of town for a wide range of beers and Ithaca’s best burgers.IMG_0145 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. The Ithaca Beer Company made a reputation for itself brewing a waterfall’s worth of Apricot Wheat, the locally resonant Cascazilla Red IPA, and a perennial National IPA Championship “Final Four” finisher, Flower Power IPA. But it may well be the Excelsior series –– a completely separate line of experimental releases in 750-mL bottles –– that’ll capture your attention. Tempest’s faves: AlpHalpHa, a “double honey bitter” from the Excelsior series; Flower Power IPA.

Rise and shine! From Ithaca, you can head out to Hopshire Farms and Brewery for drinks with Randy Lacey, one of the driving forces behind what eventually became the farm brewery law.IMG_8756 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. Unsurprisingly for someone so heavily involved with the farm brewery legislation, Randy 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. Here’s a bit of trivia for you: Randy is the person who got me into homebrewing. Tempest’s faves: Beehave; Daddy-o Scottish ale.

After drinks at Hopshire, head through one of the last dry counties in Upstate New York en route to FarmHouse Malt and Brewery in Owego, where you can hear about Marty and Natalie Mattrazzo’s trials and tribulations turning raw grain into kilned and roasted barley, wheat, and rye.IMG_0170 Be prepared to be fully entertained. Marty and Natalie embody the indomitable spirit that set craft beer on its current course way back in the seventies, and their enthusiasm is infectious. I’m not exaggerating when I say that some pieces of their equipment are genuine museum artifacts, yet somehow they’ve managed to make it all work. Not only are they among the pioneering northeastern micro-maltsters, but they also found time to get a brewery off the ground in 2014. For a Picaresque read on how to become a maltster while also setting up a brewery, check out Natalie’s blog. Tempest’s faves: Marty and Natalie. As for their beers? Ayam Cemani Black Saison; Hog Hollow Belgian-Style Pale Ale.

When you’ve satiated yourself on good beer and lore, follow your compass west along the Susquehanna River to Upstate Brewing Company in Elmira. A Norwich College grad with an avuncular smile, head brewer and co-owner, Ken Mortensen, was a lieutenant in the armed forces before a non-combat injury sidelined him and set him down a different path.IMG_0592 Upstate is unique among the smaller Finger Lakes breweries in two ways: it packages two of its year-round offerings in cans, and, with the exception of a few seasonal brews, its offerings don’t go very much further than that. As Ken explains it, he’d rather focus on consistency at this point and go with a small but high-quality line-up of beers. Bucking the trend of sour this and barrel-aged that, Upstate’s year-round offerings are correspondingly (and refreshingly) unconventional: Common Sense (a Kentucky Common Ale); I.P.W. (an imperial pale wheat); and X.P.A. (an extra pale ale). Tempest’s faves: Common Sense and I.P.W.

From Elmira, you’ll head through Revolutionary War-era towns like Horseheads and lush vineyards en route to Seneca Lake, the longest lake in the region and, at 630 feet deep, the second-deepest lake in the country. Make for Climbing Bines on the western side of the lake, where you can also stop in at wineries such as Herman J. Wiemer and Anthony Road before settling down to a pint among the gently swaying hop fields of Climbing Bines.IMG_0141 After a stint as an elementary school teacher, Climbing Bines’ Chris Hansen returned to his farming roots. His great-grandfather emigrated to the U.S. from Denmark in 1905 and farmed 280 acres fronting Seneca Lake. Today, Hansen grows fifteen acres of hops that go into Climbing Bine’s brews, and sources grain from local growers and maltsters. Brian, Climbing Bines’ co-owner and head brewer, acknowledges that with the smaller economies of scale, “You get what you get, and we figure out ways to work with the unique qualities of the local ingredients.” A Cascade hop grown along the shores of Seneca Lake does not taste and smell the same as a Cascade grown west of the Rockies. Northeastern brewers realize this, and are beginning to produce some compelling brews that bear the stamp of the region. Tempest’s faves: Big Ivan’s Red; Imperial Stout.IMG_1116

It’s just a hop, skip, and a vineyard or two from Climbing Bines to Abandon Brewing Company perched above the western arm of Keuka Lake. The Abandon story begins several years ago when owner, Garry Sperrick, purchased the barn and 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 in a barn? All he needed was a brewer.IMG_1130 Enter Jeff Hillebrandt, who once worked for Ommegang. If Hillebrandt favours traditional Belgian styles and yeast strains, he doesn’t shy away from experimentation. I still have fond memories of a splendid April afternoon before Abandon opened. Jeff had invited me out for a brew day on their pilot system. I arrived to the sound of “Thwack! Thwack!” When I got inside, I saw Jeff smashing up black walnuts with a 2 X 4 for a Belgian-style dark strong beer with walnuts and cinnamon. Whatever works. Then as now, 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. Tempest’s faves: Abbey Ale; Peppercorn Saison.

The back-road drive from Abandon to Naked Dove Brewing Company on the outskirts of Canandaigua makes for a quintessentially bucolic outing. You climb a steep hill to the ridge above Abandon, where you can see clear across Keuka Lake and almost to Seneca Lake. From there, the road dips down and meanders along wooded valleys that open out periodically onto meadows and small dairy farms.IMG_1157 You’ll pass through a few small towns and traverse a few more valleys before reaching the glistening shores of Canandaigua Lake. Slung low along a light industrial-commercial stretch of National Route 20 on the outskirts of Canandaigua, Naked Dove’s setting is less impressive than that of Abandon or Hopshire, but the beers are no less well-crafted. The folks at Naked Dove don’t raid the orchard or the spice cabinet for their beers, preferring instead to brew excellent examples of American, British, Belgian, and German standards. Tempest’s faves: 45 Fathoms Porter; Altbier. Alas, the Altbier was a one-off. Here’s to hoping it appears again some day.

Once you’ve slaked your thirst at Naked Dove, it’s but a stone’s throw to Rochester, where a vibrant craft beer scene awaits. I’ve yet to check it out, though, but when I go back to the Finger Lakes this summer, you know where I’ll be heading.IMG_1180

Odds and Ends

Even though I’ve written this article as a day-by-day itinerary, what I’m outlining here is less an actual itinerary than a set of possibilities. In most cases, it would be unadvisable if not impossible to fit in everything I’ve suggested for a given day. Take your time. Drink some wine. Stretch your legs exploring one of the many gorge trails. Grab a bite to eat at one of the many bistros and restaurants that dot the shores of Cayuga and Seneca Lakes. Enjoy.

Related Tempest Articles

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

All images: F.D. Hofer.

© 2015 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.

Tempest Turns Nine Months Young: An Index of Writing to Date

Cue up all the old clichés about time’s swift passage, for it has been three-quarters of a year now since I posted my first article on A Tempest in a Tankard. Thanks for all the support over these past several months! I’ve learned plenty from all of your insightful comments.IMG_9931 I’ve also learned much just by traveling around to do the interviews and research for Tempest’s articles, to say nothing of the people I’ve met who have led some fascinating lives. No two brewers took the same journey to their brew kettles and fermenters.

On the occasion of Tempest’s nine-month birthday, I’m putting together an index of articles that I’ve written to date. I’ve decided to do this for a few reasons. First and foremost, I’d like to introduce newer readers of Tempest to some of the previous articles buried deep in the virtual archives of the blog.

Second, I don’t really write pieces that are “of the moment.” I’d like to think that much of what I write––brewery profiles, travelogues, recipes, reflections on craft beer and culture, beer evaluations––has utility beyond the few days after I post it. Blogs are sequential by nature, making navigation difficult even with the aid of the categories listed across the top of Tempest’s home page.IMG_0153 Pieces written months ago tend to get lost under the weight of a temporality that favours the most recent post.

Finally, I don’t usually write my serial posts sequentially, so an index will give me the opportunity to group series pieces together––and will give you the opportunity to read them as a series, if you so choose. With a few weeks left of summer travel, the regional spotlights and brewery profiles are particularly timely.

I’ll post this index in two installments. First on deck is a list of my articles on beer and culture, together with my regional spotlights. Next up: a list of my brewery profiles and beer reviews, along with recipes I’ve posted to date for those interested in cooking and food/beverage pairings.

If you haven’t already signed up to have A Tempest in a Tankard’s articles delivered via e-mail, please consider subscribing so you can read the articles as they’re posted. Cheers!

Reflections on Beer and Culture

Never the Twain Shall Meet?

My very first article for A Tempest in a Tankard, one that I posted when I had all of three regular visitors to the site. The article answers a provocation unleashed by another beer blogger on the occasion of a monthly beer writers’ forum called The Session. The question: “What the hell has America done to beer?, AKA, USA versus Old World Beer Culture.”

Celebration Time? Women in the Craft Beer World

Times, they are a changing, but the gender gap is still quite wide in the craft beer world, especially on the marketing end. I’d be rich if I had a dollar for every time someone told me that women prefer fruity beers.

Drinking Lager in an Age of Extreme Taste

A few thoughts on how our taste is shaped by trends and tastemakers. I don’t mind hops, and Imperial Stouts are up there among my favourite beer styles. But by indulging our drive toward ever more intense and novel flavours, we have, perhaps, devalued more subtle beer styles in the process.

Terroir and the Making of Beer into Wine

Guest writer Kevin Goldberg’s insightful piece debunking the notion of terroir, which generated so much interesting discussion that I wasn’t able to confine my own response to the comments section of the article.

The following three articles approach the notion of place and locality from different angles. A fourth piece will appear at some point that redeems some elements of the notion of beer and place.

Of Isinglass and Other Fine Additives

This response to the “Food Babe’s” article on the “shocking” ingredients in beer is my most widely-read piece to date, likely because the issue of fish bladder in beer flares up at regular intervals on the interwebs.

Celebrating Craft Lager Day

As much as it is an article on a particular beer (Kapsreiter Landbier), it also represents a challenge to prevailing sentiments that sometimes confuse IBU levels with quality.

The Curiosity Cabinet

Donuts? Bacon? Ancient recipes? Southern Tier’s Crème Brûlée features here, but expect other articles on beers in my curiosity cabinet in the coming months.

City and Regional Spotlights

Austin: A User’s Guide for the Craft Beer Enthusiast:

This is a comprehensive series that you can take with you as you visit Austin. Break it down into parts, or read the series as a whole.

  • Part I––Brewpubs
  • Part II––Breweries. Saké, too.
  • Part III––Taprooms and Bottle Shops. Craft Pride and Sunrise Mini-Mart. ’Nuf said.
  • Part IV––Tempest’s Tankard Ratings and the Best Brews in Austin. The tankard system unveiled. You’ll see more of this in the future, much as I dislike ranking beers.

The Epic Stillwater to Vancouver Road Trip, Spring 2014:

  • Tempest Hits the Open Road: Dispatches from the Beerways of North America. Not much about beer, but the piece––one of my personal favourites––lays the groundwork for the rest of my Stillwater-Vancouver road trip this past April and May.
  • Wyoming––A Snapshot from a Moving Vehicle. Cheyenne kicks things off, followed by Coal Creek in Laramie.
  • Idaho and Montana––Of Roadtrips and Aleways. I’ve always been fascinated by the routes we travel. The “discovery” of this trip is Trickster’s Brewing in Coeur d’Alene. Missoula has plenty to offer, too, including Kettle House’s Cold Smoke Scotch Ale.

Gorges and Good Beer in Ithaca and Environs:

  • Part I: A brief history of the Ithaca area, followed by a visit to Ithaca’s oldest craft brewery.
  • Part II: Includes features of the newer faces on Ithaca’s craft beer scene: Bandwagon Brewpub, Hopshire, and Rogues’ Harbor.
  • Part III: A guide to some of the best craft beer watering holes and bottle shops in Ithaca.

IMG_1114

Images:

Capital Brewery (near Madison, WI): F.D. Hofer

Malted grain at FarmHouse Malt (Newark Valley, NY): F.D. Hofer

Hop bines and grape vines at Abandon Brewing Co. (Penn Yann, NY): F.D. Hofer

 

Colourful Taverns and Well-Stocked Bottle Shops in Ithaca

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 IMG_0978(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. IMG_0985Way 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.IMG_0816 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. IMG_0892

(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.)

 

Bottle Shops

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),FLBC Logo 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.Ithaca Coffee Co - Logo 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.Northside - Banner (northside-com) 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)

IMG_7884Keep your ears to the ground for profiles of all of the breweries listed above in the coming months, along with a few more New York State breweries and brewpubs outside of the Finger Lakes region.

Images

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.

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.

 

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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.

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*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!

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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.

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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.