The rising popularity of craft brews
FINGER LAKES—Bock, pilsner, ale, stout, lager, porter, IPA are some of the styles inspiring Finger Lakes brew-masters, whose creativity flowers into a wide spectrum of beer flavors to delight customers on the Finger Lakes Beer Trail. It’s no secret some people prefer beer to wine—and some foods taste simply amazing with suds.
Like wine, beer can be an entirely home-grown product, which is why New York’s Governor Cuomo signed the New York Farm Brewery Law in 2012, supporting production of grain and hops and exempting small craft breweries—those producing 6 million gallons of beer or less—from state liquor authority taxation. “Hops grow really well in this area,” says Teresa Hollister, co-manager of the Finger Lakes Beer Trail. “Pre-Prohibition, New York State used to be the leading hops producing area of the country, and now we’re seeing a true resurgence in the hops industry.” The Farm Brewery bill encouraged many home brewers, who had been experimenting with very-small-scale beer production, to take their skills to the next level. Artisanal breweries have been sprouting up nearly as fast as barley can be malted—and most of the ones in the Finger Lakes measure their production by hundreds of gallons, not millions.
Brewmaster Mark Goodwin, co-owner of the Finger Lakes Beer Company in Hammondsport, paused in the midst of grinding 200 pounds of fresh watermelon for their popular Watermelon-Wheat beer to talk about the business. The Finger Lakes Beer Company, in business two and a half years, and with a seven-barrel brew system is considered mid-sized for a craft brewery, brewing about 420 gallons of beer per week in the peak warm-weather season and supplying restaurants as well as walk-in customers.
“The process from start to drinking is about a month,” Goodwin says. “The actual brewing process takes 6-8 hours—the rest is fermentation and conditioning.” The alcohol content of beers ranges from 3.5 percent in “light” beers to 10 percent—the amount found in some wines—in some complex, heavier brews.
Beer’s basic ingredients are barley, water, yeast and hops —this last another home-grown crop whose flowers add flavor and stability to beer. Hops are bitter, counteracting the sweetness of the malt, and also help preserve beer—though unlike wine, beer is best enjoyed within six months of its manufacture. The manipulation of the standard ingredients and the addition of others can create a seemingly infinite variety of nuances, styles and flavors. Beer knows how to be subtle.
“I couldn’t even put a number on the number of different styles,” says Matt Fitch, one of two brewmasters at Roosterfish in Watkins Glen. With a 15-barrel system, one of the area’s highest-volume craft brewers, supplying their beer to more than 30 restaurants, as well as to customers at Nickel’s Pit BBQ and Doug Thayer’s Wildflower Café/ Crooked Rooster Brewpub.
“Beer has been part of every culture since the start of time and every region has their own style. There are so many variables to the brewing process you could never get bored with it. There’s always something else to tweak and play with.” Roosterfish has moved their facility a block north of their original location to larger digs at Nickel’s Pit BBQ where customers may be able to watch the brew process through a plexiglass wall. Fitch also admits a substantial amount of time in every brewing day is spent cleaning and sanitizing equipment.
“It’s great to see so many new places popping up,” says Robert Henry, general manager for G.C. Starkey Beer Company in Dundee. “There’s lots of couples where one likes wine and one likes beer. The more options the better.” The Starkey Beer Company is a contract brewery, meaning their beer is brewed off-site in another facility, to their own specifications. “Nationwide, craft brewing is taking off. Consumers are tired of the same old bland stuff. They’re expanding their palates and looking for new flavors, wanting more, better, different options.”
At least 10 new area breweries are waiting for licensing and expect to be open before the end of 2013. At this point in time, tasting rooms on the beer trail are widely spaced, but the new opportunities for beer-makers and the enthusiasm of new customers mean fans of good local brews can expect new breweries to continue to open for some time, closing those gaps.
Are you ready to taste a few beers? One good source to check the locations of a craft brewery close to you is the website www.fingerlakesbeertrail.com