October 18, 2012

Beyond Wine: The Best Upstate Breweries, Distilleries and Cideries

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There are some days during autumn in upstate New York when things fall apart. You look outside and hate the foliage. You go to Starbucks and you despise pumpkin spice lattes. You eat an apple and you cringe at the sweet flavor overwhelming your mouth. Who am I kidding? This never happens.

Fall in Ithaca is the most savored of all seasons! Despite the sudden onset of prelim season (which never really ends, FYI), fall is the best time of year. Other than dressing in fishnets and a bandeau in portrayal of a cat on Halloween, the best way to celebrate fall is by going on a wine tour. Better yet, skip the bias, and tour all types of alcohol producers in the area!

The Finger Lakes region, as you very well may know, has more wineries than there are Cornell students. Don’t quote me on that. There are also, however, breweries, distilleries, cideries (?) and even wineries in churches! Here are a few notable stops crucial to any “wine” tour. You can easily hit them all in one day, but make sure to have someone else drive if you plan on tasting at each stop.

Bellwether Cider: About 20 minutes from campus, Belweather is a great place to stop for a cider tasting. They boast dry, sweet, fruity and even mulled hard ciders. There is really no better way to enjoy a sunny day in the fall (or winter, for that matter) than by enjoying a glass of warm, mulled hard cider. Belweather sells glasses of warm, mulled cider for $3.50 or you can buy the spice packet and a bottle of cider to make it at home. They also have cheese, beef jerky and a variety of chutneys from the surrounding areas for those of you who develop a craving for oddly-paired condiments, dehydrated meat and dairy with your glass of cider.

Eremita Winery: I was at first attracted to Eremita because I had never heard of it and it was on the route between Belweather and Wagner. When the map led us to a church, I decided that would work, too. My friends and I walked through a small doorway that opened up into a beautiful, stained-glass-and-all church-turned-winery. The bar is strategically placed where the altar once existed. Eremita is only a few years old, but the owner is very friendly (read: a blonde twenty-something who just returned from Napa) and the variety of wines is just about perfect. Nothing is too sweet, and there a fair amount of both reds and whites. Although the conversation with the owner did not really move beyond what we will name our kids, Eremita does look like it could accommodate functions. They also serve beer.

Wagner Brewery: Wagner is one of those colossal locations on Seneca that has signs for miles that imply that “the place you really want to visit is four miles ahead.” It was packed, which almost made us turn around, but we decided to check it out because, after all, it was a winery, brewery, and restaurant in one. If you really enjoy mingling with inebriated adults in Buffalo Bills jerseys, Wagner is your Heaven. If you also enjoy a massive variety of wine and beer, along with pulled pork sandwiches, you may also really appreciate Wagner. While we did not sample the wine, we did try a flight of beer, which included an amazing, dark, rich coffee porter.

Finger Lakes Distillery: Yes, we made it to the distillery. This was definitely the most interesting of all stops on the “wine” trail. The Finger Lakes Distillery will only give you three samples of about 1/2 shot each, so don’t get your hopes up. They can make mixed drinks for the tastings if you are scared that you might vomit at the taste of straight liquor. Many of you men out there can go on pretending you truly enjoy that bourbon, but I’m going to take the option of letting the pourer make me a mini mixed drink. The berry vodka is actually drinkable alone, but when mixed to make a berry cocktail, it’s divine. I’m not a gin fan, but I hear the gin also goes down easy. For an interesting take on a Bloody Mary, try their version made with corn whiskey.

Before you get caught up in hating on Ithaca, get out of Ithaca. Travel to the surrounding towns to appreciate the true fruits of the Finger Lakes. Do it quick, though, because once the foliage disappears this place really begins to get dreary.

Original Author: Sarah McKeen