The Hottest New Destination for American Craft Beer

Move over, Wisconsin: Another state is making a name for itself as the destination for beer lovers. The craft beer industry in upstate New York’s Finger Lakes region has been undergoing explosive growth over the past several years, and there’s no better time to visit than now. Peak foliage and locally sourced brewskies? Don’t mind if we do.

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The Rise of Beer Country

In the past four years alone, the Finger Lakes have become home to an additional 54 breweries, bringing the region’s total to 70. The Finger Lakes Beer Trail, a local trade group, expects another twelve breweries to open in the coming months.

The region attracts beer lovers from all walks of life and boasts unique brews thanks to its ability to source most ingredients locally, reports the New York Times. Clean water, hops, malted barley, and other ingredients for beer-making are all available from the region’s farms and natural resources. Wannabe brewers have an extra incentive to take advantage of this local bounty: New York’s Farm Brewery law (signed into effect in 2012) gives breweries tax breaks and lets them serve beer on site in exchange for utilizing local ingredients.

Among the many breweries cashing in on these ideal conditions are:

  • Abandon Brewing Company, a farm brewery that includes a functioning fruit farm. The brewers source locally grown hops, barley, fruits, herbs, and honey for their beers.
  • The Brewery of Broken Dreams, which offers a variety of American-style beers including India Pale Ales, porters, and pilsners.
  • The Boathouse Beer Garden, a family-owned establishment that features views of Cayuga Lake and is a favorite among locals.
  • Cider Creek Hard Cider, which boasts award-winning, gluten-free craft ciders derived exclusively from New York state apples.
  • Grist Iron Brewery, a new brewery on the block (it opened in the spring of 2015) that provides a high-quality dining and sipping experience with views of Seneca Lake.
  • The Syracuse Suds Factory, a microbrewery established in 1991 that credits itself with “[bringing] locally brewed beer back to the City of Syracuse.”  

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. With 70 local breweries and counting, the region offers something for virtually every palate.

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Planning Your Trip

Overwhelmed by all the choices? Your best bet is to concentrate on a particular segment of the Finger Lakes region, such as Cayuga Lake, Seneca Lake, the Southern Tier, the Western Finger Lakes, or Ithaca.

Ithaca makes for a particularly great home base thanks to its lively downtown, variety of budget-friendly hotels, and proximity to several of the region’s local breweries. Check in at the Hotel Ithaca, the Homewood Suites by Hilton Ithaca, or the Courtyard Marriott Ithaca, all of which offer pleasant accommodations and convenient locations at reasonable rates.

After settling into Ithaca, it will be easy to visit some of the area’s best breweries, including Bandwagon Beer, Scale House Brewery and Pub, Ithaca Beer Company, and Stouthearted Brewing. Visit them over the course of a few days, or if you’re feeling industrious, head to all four breweries in the same day and use the rest of your trip to visit breweries that are within a few hours’ drive of Ithaca. Find a full list of the Finger Lakes’ breweries here.

No matter which breweries you choose to visit, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Most breweries with tasting rooms will charge a nominal fee for tastings, typically in the range of $3 to $5.
  • Many of the area’s brew pubs will offer tasting flights, but some serve only pints.
  • Some breweries require advance reservations for groups of more than six people. If you’re not sure whether a reservation is necessary, check with the brewery before arriving.
  • Remember to always drive responsibly; it’s a great idea to choose a designated driver for each day of the trip. In more metropolitan areas (including Ithaca), you may be able to enlist taxi services to shuttle you between breweries.

Craft beer and brewing may just be one of the best things to ever happen to the Finger Lakes. Not only is the practice allowing small-scale brewers and brew pubs to thrive, but it’s supporting local farmers and economies. When you head to upstate New York and sample their brews, you join with the brewers in celebrating all that the region has to offer.

Hipmunk Staff
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