Craft Beer Week celebrates Finger Lakes growth
TRI-COUNTY AREA--Home to more than 75 breweries, the Finger Lakes Beer Trail will be celebrating its growth with a Craft Beer Week running from Saturday, May 9 to Sunday, May 17. Beer Trail Co-Founder Theresa Hollister said the event coincides with the American Craft Beer Week, with several breweries holding special events like beer dinners, food pairings, limited releases, cask nights, brewery tours, educational classes and more. For a map of the beer trail, visit www.fingerlakesbeertrail.com.
Hollister said there are seven breweries each in Yates, Schuyler and Steuben Counties for a total of 21 in the tri-county area. Hollister said the largest breweries in Yates County are Abandon Brewing Company and Climbing Bines, adding "they are probably all pretty close to the same size." She said the largest brewery in Schuyler County is Rooster Fish.
The Finger Lakes region is also conducive to growing hops, as some breweries currently grow their own, while others purchase them from local producers.
"Many breweries do grow their own hops, and those that don't all tend to buy locally grown hops," Hollister said. "Climbing Bines has their own full-scale hops farm and I believe the Abandon Brewing has a small patch for their own brewing purposes."
"We are blessed to have an ideal environment for the growing of hops, once being the national leader in hops production," added Finger Lakes Economic Development Center CEO Steve Griffin. "We are similarly blessed to have a number of entrepreneurs and early innovators who stepped up and planted hops and opened breweries. We've also been successful in utilizing our agricultural loan fund to help valued added service provider companies, such as hops processors and pelletizing equipment locate to Yates County to support the growth of both our hops and craft brewing industries."
Craft brewing has experienced a boom in business recently, growing as much as 59 percent statewide last year, according to a press release from Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office. Hollister said the Finger Lakes have been no exception, seeing rapid growth in the past four years. Some of the recent openings have included LyonSmith Brewing Company in Penn Yan and Grist Iron Brewing Company in Burdett, both of which opened this past week. Bradley Gillett and Brandon Banks, co-owners of the Seneca Lake Brewing Company in Rock Stream, added their opening weekend is scheduled for May 30.
"The growth over the past four years has been tremendous," Hollister said. "I don't think anyone would have expected that our region would grow from 24 breweries to nearly 80 today [in the Finger Lakes region]. With the recent Farm Brewery legislation, it is much easier for people to open a craft brewery in New York State, so I am sure we will continue to see a growth for some years to come. Of course, at some point, we will see the growth steady off, but it's hard to predict when that might be. But at least for the foreseeable future, we expect the growth to continue. For example, I do know that many organizations and breweries offer classes and workshops for those interested in opening their own brewery and they continue to be in high demand."
"I believe there are some simple and convincing reasons for why we've seen such an explosion in craft breweries in Yates County," Griffin added. "The first and most basic is there is already well established, well-travelled and well-marketed wine trails in Yates County with the Keuka and Seneca Lake Wine trails. In addition we have growing food trails such as artisan cheese trails. And the amazing volume of national and international articles, television spots and other publications describing the beauty of the Finger Lakes continues to draw additional visitors to our area."
While many Finger Lakes wineries are known for their Rieslings, Hollister said there is not really any style of beer the Finger Lakes region is known for.
"A craft brewer's passion lies in variety and experimentation," Hollister said. "Therefore, you'll find a little bit of everything on our local brewery's menus, ranging from standard brews to unique, one-of-a-kind concoctions."
Hollister said the craft brewing industry is not the same as the wine industry in that they don't typically cater to large groups of people. She said there are a few places that can handle large groups of people, but added most locations are smaller in size and cannot accommodate groups larger than 20 people. Hollister said there are some wineries in the region that also offer beer tastings to their customers, adding she sees believes this trend will continue as the craft beer market continues to expand.
"Bill Wagner from Wagner Vineyards (in Lodi) was the first in the area to recognize the market share that craft beer drinkers presented," Hollister said. "Back in the 1990s, he noticed that many of his patrons came with tagalongs who confessed they preferred beer over wine and were just along for the ride. Realizing the opportunity this captive audience presented, he started Wagner Valley Brewing Company in the mid-1990s and today they are one of the largest breweries located along Seneca Lake."