As you might recall, a few weeks ago, we visited upstate New York for a weekend camping trip.
We were pretty excited to visit Central New York at the beginning of fall, looking forward to cooler temperatures, plus loads of local food, beer and wine.
Outdoors in Central NY
Our first stop — before the booze — was to visit the beautiful Chittenango Falls.
The 167-foot waterfall was visible just near the parking area, but the park itself has miles of hiking trails, fishing and pavilions and picnic areas for day travelers.
We checked out the falls from the top, and I took about a million photos.
There are plenty more outdoor adventures to choose from in Central NY, from biking and hiking to all kinds of water activities. Come cooler weather, there are also ample winter activities — like skiing and snowshoeing — to choose from as well.
Empire Farmstead Brewery, Cazenovia, NY
From there it was a fairly quick trip to Empire Farmstead Brewery in Cazenovia (an adorable town in its own right).
Located adjacent to a historical site on 22 acres of farmland, this is Empire’s second location (their first is in Syracuse), and though a long time coming, it opened just earlier this year. As leader of the state’s craft beer guild, owner David Katleski was vital to New York’s recent farm bill, which lobbied for its creation for years, and created a massive uptick in New York breweries.
Katleski, who shared part of his story when he happened upon our standard brewery tour that Saturday afternoon, had dreamed of this farm brewery since 2010. Given his proximity to the project, which allows “farm brewers” extensive sales and expansion opportunities, Katleski figured he’d be the state’s first farm brewery when the law passed in 2012. Instead, Empire was registered as farm brewery no. 102.
Empire’s Cazenovia farm grows not only beer necessities like hops and barley but also lavender, vegetables, herbs, honey, and fruits. The produce makes its way into Empire’s award-winning brews, as well as items on menus at both the Cazenovia and Syracuse locations.
Katleski’s work changed the scope of New York craft beer. Some would say he created his own competition. But those of us who have watched our own craft beer community grow and develop, we know that more breweries are great for a region — and New York’s Brew Central is proof.
Empire Farmstead Brewery is gorgeous — one of the most beautiful brewpubs we’ve visited. From its lush green acreage to interior decor, the place was simply enjoyable to be in. A line of Adirondack chairs in the back were particularly inviting (though ultimately, rain kept us away), and we first perched ourselves at the main bar to begin sampling.
We ordered everything (everything, including local ciders featured on Empire’s guest taps), plus a healthy helping of snacks to tide us over for the day. Ordering was much like we’ve become accustomed to at Tröegs — separate ordering line (but savvy enough to hold one tab, thankfully), though here Empire will run the food out to you after you’ve returned to your seats. If you sit at the bar, they’ll even maintain your entire order for you.
The food was outstanding — much of the products locally sourced — and beers were good. The ambiance was bustling but comfortable. We stayed for hours, just relaxing and taking it in. During our visit, the crowds ebbed and flowed – families, small groups, couples. Empire Farmstead Brewery is a clear weekend destination for Central New York and with good reason.
1911 Spirits, LaFayette, NY
Our friends, Steve & Lissa, were along for this weekend adventure. Lissa is really into hard ciders, so I knew we needed to visit a local cidery making good use of those famous New York apples.
1911 Spirits is the name of the distillery at Beak & Skiff Orchards, a more than 100-year-old family-owned apple orchard in LaFayette, NY. They began producing gins and vodkas — one of the only in the country to be distilling from apples — in the early 2000s.
They pride themselves on producing “tree to bottle,” meaning they own the land, grow the apples, press then ferment the cider, and then distill that cider into spirits.
Today, Beak & Skiff/1911 Spirits runs a veritable apple playground, aptly named “Apple Hill,” a collection of massive buildings perched atop a hill overlooking orchards. You can pick your own apples, explore the Apple Hill Country Store & Bake Shop, buy apples at the Apple Barn (fall only), enjoy tastings at the 1911 Tasting Room (or even grab a cocktail or bite at the Tavern), and kids have their own area. In-season, they have weekly events.
We hit the Tasting Room and asked for a sample of everything. Lissa and I dove into the ciders and apple wines, selecting a few favorites to take home (for me, the 1911 Founders’ Reserve Hopped Cider and the 1911 Founders’ Reserve Rosé), while the guys explored. Andy brought us fresh apple cider donuts (my favorite), and Steve sampled the cocktails on the Tavern side.
The apple wines were also hits, particularly the 1911 Empire, a dry apple wine made from 100% estate grown Empire apples.
1911 Vodka and 1911 Gin are both Gold Medal Winner small batch spirits. On our visit, 1911 also featured a Vanilla Chai Vodka, which was surprisingly good. We tend to do this thing where we buy overly sweet stuff when we’ve been sampling only to never drink it at home, but I feel confident that the small bottle I snagged will serve well this fall and holiday season for spiking coffee, hot chocolate, or even as the base for a couple fun cocktails.
A weekend of great local food and drink is a win for us anytime, and I think it’s safe to say, Central New York — we’ll be back!