Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Beercraft newspaper column #41- Beers of the Finger Lakes

Beer can add body to your next wine tour

By Mark Tichenor and Bruce Lish

Wine tasting in the Finger Lakes is a time-honored activity. Every weekend, hundreds of area residents tour the rolling hills, going from winery to winery, swishing, sniffing, (sometimes gulping) frowning at color, comapring “legs,” reciting lines from the movie Sideways, and growing less sophisticated wth each progressive tasting room.

That’s fine. We do it too. But there’s more to the Finger Lakes than just wine; there is also beer. Just to mix things up a bit, why not add a stop at one of the region’s breweries on your next wine tour?

You can start reasonably close to home. Custom Brewcrafters’ taphouse, at 93 Paper Mill Street in Honeoye Falls, features a tasting room. They’ll also give you a free tour of the brewery on Saturday and Sunday afternoons.

It would be a shame to leave without a growler of their best beer: CB’s Double Dark Cream Porter. It’s opaque and full bodied, with lots of malt sweetness and hints of mocha and toffee. While rich and hearty, the Double Dark is still accessible enough for novice palates.

Hopping back in the limo bus (you’re not freakin’ driving are you?), it’s time to trek to Lodi, on the eastern shore of Cayuga Lake, home of the Wagner Brewing Company, 9322 Route 414. Although possibly overshadowed by Wagner’s vinyards and winemaking operation, their brwewery consistently pumps out award-winning beers.

Wagner’s India Pale Ale, Sled Dog Doppelbock, and Dockside Amber Lager are staple beers of the region, which can be purchased in bottles directly from the brewery or in beer stores. In addition, you’ll always find an interesting seasonal or two.

The Sled Dog Doppelbock is of particular interest. It’s a sweet, heavy, high-strength lager, with very little hop character. Expect a full-bodied, bready mouthfeel, and a hint of raisin in the flavor profile. It’s 8.5% alcohol by volume, so you might want to bring a Mormon to drive you home.

The Brewery hosts a pub night every Friday evening on the brewdeck. It’s food, beer and live music in an outdoor setting that’s chock full of, uh, scenicness. Wagner Brewing’s full lineup of beers and Pub Night schedule can be found at www.wagnerbrewing.com.

Since you’re already close by, head on down Cayuga Lake to the Ithaca Brewing Company, at 606 Elmira Road in Ithaca. The brewery opened in 1998 and has grown rapidly over the course of the last decade. Their bottled beers are available in four states and beers by Ithaca Brewing feature regularly on local taps.

Of note is the CascaZilla, the name of which is a descriptive pun playing on the proximity of the Cascadilla creek and the prominence of powerful cascade hops in the brew. Pouring a rich copper color, Cascazilla is one of the most palatable of the currently trendy “extreme” hoppy beers. The aroma and flavor are all hops, but brewmaster Jeff O’Neil’s recipe pulls the hop punch at the last moment with a malt balance. It’s refreshing, complex and tantalizing, and showcases what can be done with American-grown hops.

Of course, Ithaca Brewing offers a wide range of beers. They’ll educate you while you taste, fill your growler, and try to sell you a T-shirt. Find them online at www.ithacabeer.com/

There may always be a sociological gap between highbrow wine and plebian beer, but when you incorporate a couple microbreweries into your wine tour, you become a more well-rounded connoisseur of fine beverage. After all, if happiness is a cellar full of good Finger Lakes wine, than a fridge stocked with Finger Lakes beer must be ecstasy.

At the very least, it can lead to a temporary euphoria. Cheers!

Bruce is a certified beer judge and former commercial brewer. Mark owns a laptop and likes beer. For more on beer, check out the beercraft blog, updated regularly, at http://beercraft.blogspot.com. Send your questions, suggestions, or comments to beercraft@rochester.rr.com.

1 comment:

Man About Town said...

I would also recommend the Crooked Rooster (or 'Crooked Cock' as the locals call it) in Watkins Glen for their Rooster Fish brews and excellent food.