Beer Tourism Getting a Lift in Central New York

Everyone knows about the wineries of the Finger Lakes; now there’s a big push to make their neighbors to the East famous for breweries. An initiative called Brew Central has mounted an aggressive campaign to highlight breweries, cideries, distilleries and even hop farms in the rolling hills Madison, Onondaga, Broome, Schoharie, Otsego and Oneida counties

Using NY’s farm brewery license, ushered into law last year by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, as a springboard, the campaign aims to bulk up agritourism in the area, even to reinstate the hop industry in Madison and Oneida counties, once the nation’s largest hop growing area.

Since the legislation passed last year, close to 50 farm brewery licenses have been granted.

Farm Brewers

Good-Nature-05Good Nature Farm Brewery & Tap Room in Hamilton was one of the first to take advantage of the new license. Founded two years ago by the energetic young couple, Matt Whalen and Carrie Blackmore, Good Nature is moving fast. They went from a 2-bbl system to 7-bbl, then opened a taproom in Hamilton’s townsquare across from the Colgate Inn (a great place for dinner if you’re visiting, with a more than decent tap list). Now they have plans on the drawing board for a brand new brewery with a 20-bbl brewhouse to be built on the edge of town. As their name suggests, Good Nature plans to be as green as possible.

The use of locally grown hops and grains, as required by the farm brewery license, is right up their alley.

Justin Behan at Green Wolf Brewing Co. in Middleburgh, in Schoharie County is brand new — just now opening his doors. Justin had plans to go into organic farming, but fell in love with brewing. With the farm brewery license he can combine both his passions on his 3-bbl system.

Not so new are Larry and Kate Fisher at Foothill Farms in Munnsville. They’ve been dabbling in hop growing for several years and now have six acres devoted to a dozen hop varieties. Hands on is an understatement for Foothill: Larry, who runs an electrical business, built his own 20-ft-tall hop harvesting machine; Kate, a technical coordinator in the local school system, makes all kinds of hop related goodies on sale in their farm/homebrew shop: beer glazed almonds and walnuts (Good Nature beer brewed with Foothills hops); hop infused shampoo; and various hop jellies and jams.

critz3Critz Farms is no stranger to agritourism. Matthew Critz, a former civil chemical engineer, bought his Cazenovia farm 20 years ago. Along with his wife, Juanita, he began growing Christmas trees as a cash crop; then he harvested pumpkins and pick your own apples; then maple trees and syrup. Don’t forget a restaurant to cater to visitors, and a corn maze.

When he installed a heavy-duty cider press, things began to get really interesting. Now he produces a range of award-winning hard ciders using both imported European cider apples as well as his own, under the Harvest Moon label; visitors to his farm/tasting room reach 5,000 a day during harvest season.

The well-established orchards at Beak and Skiff in neighboring Lafayette took notice. They now produce their own ciders as well as vodka and gin distilled from their own apples that have been grown commercially for generations. A brand-new visitor center sits on their hilltop property selling all kinds of craft beverage related products.

Cazenovia is sort of a poster town for Brew Central. In addition to Critz, the town hosts a winery (Owera Vineyards) and an about-to-open distillery (Life of Reilly) — and as Madison County tourism Exec. Director Scott Flaherty says, Empire Farmstead will become the fourth leg of Cazenovia’s craft beverage stool.

A “natural” outgrowth of the 20-year-old Empire Brewpub in Syracuse, owner David Katleski, has plans for one of the largest farm breweries in NY State so far: A 60-bbl JVNW brewhouse with an estimated 60,000-bbl annual production; eight of the farm’s 22 acres devoted to barley, rye and wheat crops and six to hops; as well as a 32,000 sq ft visitor center.

Katleski, who co-founded the New York State Brewers Association, and was instrumental in the passage of the farm brewery license, expects to break ground on the Cazenovia location this month (Aug).

saranacinset2Utica Some breweries may never be able to take advantage of the farm brewery license, which currently requires 20% state-grown ingredients, and as much as 90% after 2023 — they are simply too large. In central New York, one brewery spreads its wing like an eagle over the surrounding territory — the venerable FX Matt Brewing Co.

Founded in Utica in 1888, Matt is into its fourth generation. The brewery has seen the seasons change — from its inception and days of rapid growth around the dawn of the 20th century, to weathering Prohibition, to struggling against national breweries as post-industrial Utica was turning into a backwater, and finally embracing the craft brewing revolution with their Saranac brands. The brewery has continually reinvented itself and with a view to the future is helping fuel a renaissance in Utica.

Their Thursday night summer concert series at the brewery has become legendary and turned Varick Street into a veritable nightlife hotspot. “We finish the concerts at 8 p.m. so you basically have a captive audience of 2,000 people who want to go out somewhere,” said President Nick Matt.

Chris Talgo, who opened his Nail Creek Pub next door to the brewery six years ago, said Matt has been a great neighbor. He also said that a fire that destroyed the brewery’s packaging room five years ago, might have had a silver lining. “I think it enabled them to upgrade a lot of their equipment,” he said.

Notably, Matt has invested a lot in lab equipment including a $100,000 spectrometer to study the beer aging process. One new toy in the brewhouse that Rich Michaels is particular proud of (his title is Quality Innovation Manager) is a horizontal decanter which strips liquid from hops making their whirlpool much more efficient. Another toy is a 2-bbl pilot brewery that Matt took on from Good Nature when they upgraded, although Michaels said, “they wouldn’t recognize it now.” New blood to the brewery comes in the person of Nick Matt Jr. who brings marketing savvy in his return to the family business with his father and uncle, Fred Matt, CEO.

Talgo has been part of the Varick Street renaissance. He says he bought the first part of his current operation for $2,000 seven years ago. While his 3-bbl brewhouse is currently on hiatus, he has found growing success in his increasingly locally-sourced menu. I can attest the chicken, cappicola, red pepper sandwich was fantastic and if you don’t want a side of fries or slaw, you can order a side of Utica Club beer.

ADK-Distilling-05At the other end of Varick Street, past the pubs and pizza places, is Adirondack Distilling Co. Jordan Karp, a former political advisor, has invested in high-end microdistilling of gin, vodka, bourbon and white whisky. His spirits are all distilled from corn, which he says is a “a little more expensive and a little more finicky.” But there are three main reasons why he does so: “One, it’s gluten free; two, the flavor — it makes a slightly sweeter spirit; three, there’s a good local source.”

He will be making a whiskey for Good Nature using their wort. Good Nature will sell it in their tap room.

Indeed, farmer brewers license holders are able to cross-promote selling each other’s beer, wine, ciders and spirits in their shops.

The Craft Act

There’s good news coming from Albany for non-farming craft brewers also. When Gov. Cuomo signs the Craft Act, as he is expected to do, all craft breweries will be able to sell by the pint at their breweries and tap rooms, not just serve samples.

While some are now questioning the advantages of now applying for the farm brewery license. NYBA Director Paul Leone says most who have applied for the license are in it for the opportunity to source locally, not just to sell beer by the pint.

Said Katleski, “Brewers used to be the ugly step-child of the wine industry.

Not any more.”

“This will provide an important revenue source for small breweries,” said Nick Matt. (The Governor’s) just trying to make it easier to do business in the state.”

And that’s a good thing.

– Tony Forder, Ale Street News


Happy Birthday to Brew!

Brew Central launched one year ago, when it set out on its mission to tell the “Stories on Tap in Central New York” with profiles of the area’s breweries, pubs, cideries, distilleries and wineries.

Tapping into the ever-growing national craft beer market and burgeoning craft spirit scene, Brew Central highlights the one-time hop capital of the country. That rich history and current growth make us “America’s Craft Brew Destination.”

Brew Central boasts more than 50 partners and continues to grow in 2014. As our followers and fans know, Brew Central is about more than tastings. We focus on the people, their histories in brewing and their personalities. Visitors can actually meet and talk with brewers, distillers and craft pub proprietors when they travel to Brew Central.

To date, Brew Central has visited a dozen partners for photo shoots and this year adds video to the mix. Look for featured profiles under each category on this website.

The site launched in June 2013, when the first digital ads appeared on national sites like craftbeer.com, beeradvocate.com and beerconnoisseur.com as well as the Ad Network. Draft and Brew Your Own magazines promoted Brew Central to their readerships via e-communications. We’ve also earned some great coverage from the press.

Print ads were produced and placed in national publications, including Beer Advocate, All About Beer, Beer Connoisseur and Zymurgy, the official publication of the American Homebrewers Association. We’ve expanded this exposure with placement in the Ale Street News, Great Lakes Brewing News and Yankee Brew News. Regional magazines in the Finger Lakes and Capital Region also ran ads.

The series focused on the “Stories on Tap” earned national recognition with Communicator Awards of Distinction in four categories last month. Images focused on the people in Brew Central with strong imagery and teased their stories with short copy in the ads.

The website has done extremely well thanks to our readership and the number of fans and followers on Facebook and Twitter continues to swell.

What else is on tap in Central New York? Well, we’re on the road once again, so keep an eye out for new photos and video as we continue to tell the “Stories on Tap in Central New York.”


Critz Farms/Harvest Moon Cidery Establishes New Cider Apple Orchard

Farmers in Madison County are busy with the planting season, and Critz Farms is no exception. Christmas trees, pumpkins, corn and flowers are consistently on the list, but this year, they are investing in the apple and cider side of the business. The Critzes are establishing a second apple orchard on their Rt. 13 farm in Cazenovia.

The existing apple orchard at Critz Farms, planted from 2005 to 2007, contains six acres of popular apples varieties, including Cortland, Macoun, Empire, Honeycrsip and several different types of McIntosh. “These traditional New York apples are great for eating and baking, and have been our mainstay in both the sweet apple cider and hard cider that we produce right here on our farm”, said Juanita Critz, who owns the farm with her husband Matthew. “Becoming apple growers and cider producers has been one of our best business decisions”, she added. Critz explained that revenues from apples and cider sales now make up 40% of the company’s gross income.

This week, the Critz Farms crew began planting their new orchard. “With the success of our hard cider business, we knew it was time to plant some special cider apple varieties” Matthew Critz explained. Critz has selected over ten different types of cider apples specifically for use in hard cider production. “These apples are high in tannins and interesting flavor profiles, and will add structure and complexity to our ciders,” said Critz. Until this new orchard begins to bear fruit, three growing seasons from now, the Critzes will continue to purchase their specialty apples from a grower in Ithaca, NY. According to Critz, having his own reliable supply of the right kinds of specialty cider apples was a key motivator for establishing the new orchard.

Critz Farms, located on Route 13 in Cazenovia, is a diversified agritourism farm that welcomes visitors from March through December. The Harvest Moon Cidery at Critz Farms is a small farm winery specializing in handcrafted hard cider. On Saturday, May 24, the Critzes will host Apple Blossom Bliss: A Critz Farms Spring Celebration from 12-6 pm. The family friendly event will include orchard tours to see the apple blossoms, live music, children’s activities, and a local foods lunch. Admission to the event is free. For more information visit critzfarms.com.


New York State: America’s Former Hop Capital

Talk hops with the modern American brewer and the conversation will likely drift to the Pacific Northwest. The region boasts the perfect growing conditions for hops, so whether you’re in Cleveland or Albuquerque, you’re probably enjoying a beer brewed with hops from that area. According to the Hop Growers of America, in 2011, 100 percent of commercial hop production in the United States came out of Washington (78%), Oregon (14.5%) and Idaho (7.5%).

Flash back a century and that was not the case. Believe it or not, there was a time when Central New York ruled the hop industry. The state attained national leadership in hop production in 1849, and was selling over three million pounds annually by 1855.

Sadly, the Empire State lost its footing in the hops market when Prohibition slayed all things beer related in the country. A killer fungus in the early 20th century also played its own role in putting the nail in the coffin of New York’s hop industry.

Sensing economic possibilities and the state’s hoppy past, Governor Andrew Cuomo worked with area brewers in 2012 to create a farm brewery license to promote the use of local ingredients.

“The legislation signed today demonstrates that the new New York is truly working for small business, as this law will allow breweries and wineries the opportunity to invest in new opportunities and expand their operations,” Governor Cuomo said in a July 2012 statement.

A little over a year later, and Central New York is already seeing benefits of this legislation throughout Madison County in the form of Harvest Moon Cidery, Henneberg Tavern, Foothill Farms, Empire Brewing Company and Good Nature Brewing.

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