What’s Brewing in the Finger Lakes

Wagner Valley Brewery’s brewmaster, Brent Wojnowski (left), and marketing and public relations director Katie Roller, offer a tasting of a special brew – oak-aged stout casked with dark chocolate – to Jon Rodgers, an owner of Two Goats Brewing in Hector, at the Seneca Lodge Beer Festival. Both breweries are situated in especially-scenic spots along the eastern shore of Seneca Lake. Photo by Bill Wingell

The number of craft breweries in the United States has increased sharply over the past three decades, from eight in 1980 to over 3,000 today. New York State boasts more than 150 of these breweries, the third highest state behind California and Oregon, with the greatest concentration of these breweries in the Finger Lakes Region.

The growing allure of craft beer
Since the early days of European settlement through much of the 19th century, brewing was a vital industry and source of tax revenues for New York State. During the mid-1800s, the state boasted hundreds of breweries and was the nation’s largest producer of hops, producing over 90 percent of the nation’s supply at one point. Eventually though, the hops plants fell prey to blight and competition from the Pacific Northwest where there was no risk of plant disease. Then along came Prohibition and the price went from $1 per pound to 5 cents. Literally overnight, most of the hops plants in New York were pulled out of the ground.

After Prohibition ended in 1933 and through the mid-’70s, beer brewing was dominated by a handful of major brewers making a small selection of beer styles – usually Pilsners with large amounts of rice and corn added. However, after President Carter lifted the prohibition on home brewing in 1978, the resurgence of home brewing brought with it a new demand for beer styles from throughout the world. To meet this need, microbreweries and brewpubs started to pop up in the 1980s and 1990s throughout the country providing a huge selection of beer styles. Momentum really began to pick up for the microbrewing phenomenon in the early to mid-1990s, both nationally as well as right here in the Finger Lakes Region.

Breweries continued to pop up throughout the Finger Lakes and surrounding regions into the 2000s, but the growth over the last three years has been tremendous. When the Finger Lakes Beer Trail was launched in May 2011, there were 24 locations. In 2012 that number grew to 37 and today there are over 75 locations!

What is behind this exponential growth? One undeniable factor is the passing of the Farm Brewery Law of 2012. Modeled after the Farm Winery Act of 1976, the 2012 legislation created a “Farm Brewery” license which allows craft brewers that use products grown in New York State to operate in a similar fashion to the state’s farm wineries. The new law makes it easier to establish breweries and encourages brewers to use New York grown ingredients. It allows craft brewers to expand their operations by opening restaurants or selling their products at events like farmers markets without any red tape. It also exempts breweries that produce small batches of beer from paying annual fees to the State Liquor Authority. The result is increased demand for locally grown farm products, as well as expanded economic development and tourism.

The resurgence of New York State’s hops agriculture has also had an impact on the brewing industry in the Finger Lakes and surrounding regions. New York’s hop revival began in 2000 when enthusiasts gathered to preserve the few remaining barns. According to the Cornell Cooperative Extension, hops farming has increased steadily across the state over the last 10 years, but the greatest growth is happening now. Within the past five years alone, hops acreage in New York State has increased from 15 acres to over 150 acres.

Finally, many people believe that the growth of craft beer is the result of consumers’ demand for more interesting, better tasting, locally-sourced products. Because they brew in small batches, craft brewers can push the envelope and experiment with the blending of various ingredients, such as seasonal fruits and vegetables, often times resulting in some very interesting flavor profiles. In many cases, these ingredients are sourced nearby, whether it be locally harvested hops, grains or fruits. Whatever the combination, the resulting craft beer is a deliciously fresh, eco-conscious product appealing to today’s locavorian-focused consumer.

Craft brewing as a market for tourism
With the craft beer industry growing at incredible rates, the desire to travel and discover another tasty brew has created an emerging market trend in tourism – “beer tourism.” Simply put, beer tourism represents the growing interest in craft beer – or microbrews – and the willingness to travel great distances to sample dozens of brews, meet the brewers, and learn how they turn grain, yeast and water into tasty regional suds.

Evidence of consumer demand for craft beer-related tourism initiatives can be drawn from the increased number of beer trails popping up around the country. As noted in an article by Anthony Orig on craftbeer.com, “beer trails are quickly becoming one of the best ways to get a feel for an area’s beer culture, and taste a variety of craft beers, especially those styles that are specific to that region.”

In fact, right here in New York State, we have the Finger Lakes Beer Trail – which in just over three years has become a major player in the beer tourism industry.

The Finger Lakes Beer Trail
It’s no secret that the wine trails of the Finger Lakes area have demonstrated success in marketing and promoting the area’s world class wine industry. But, in recent years, the region’s microbrew industry has seen a sharp increase, now boasting nearly one-half as many breweries as there are wineries. Furthermore, over one-third of New York’s total breweries are located along the Finger Lakes Beer Trail, contributing to an economic impact of $1.5 billion and support for approximately 9,400 jobs in the region.

A homegrown success story
Capitalizing upon the increasing interest in beer tourism and recognizing the need for increased awareness and promotion of the region’s craft brewing industry, the Finger Lakes Beer Trail was officially launched in late May 2011. The trail is managed by Finger Lakes Beer Trail Marketing & Tourism Associates, LLC, which is comprised of two local individuals, Theresa Hollister and Adam Smith, who are passionate about community development as it relates to the craft brewing industry in New York State.

While modeled after the concept of the wine trails of Seneca, Cayuga, Keuka and Canandaigua, the Finger Lakes Beer Trail is not limited to just the outlines of the lakes. They have mapped out an area that spans roughly 210 miles throughout the central part of New York State from Rochester to Syracuse and down into Corning and Binghamton. The geographic reach encompasses 15 counties which collectively experienced almost $4.7 billion of economic activity related to travel and tourism in 2012, approximately $1.3 billion of which was related to “food and beverage” sales, according to an analysis done by Tourism Economics, an international tourism consulting firm.

In just over three years, the Finger Lakes Beer Trail has established itself as a proven marketing and promotion vehicle for the region’s craft brewing industry and the microbreweries that comprise the trail. The Finger Lakes Beer Trail has been featured in dozens of regional television features, countless newspaper and magazine articles, and has even gotten some national media attention from the New York Daily News, BBC Travel Online, and Beer Advocate magazine. Most notably, however, the Finger Lakes Region was recently recognized by the Travel Channel as one of the “Top 7 Beer Destinations” referring to the area as “New York’s Beer Hub.”


The Ideal Resource for Craft Beer Enthusiasts
New York State is home to over 150 craft breweries, and a good number of those are located in the Finger Lakes and surrounding regions. This picturesque region, traditionally known for its wines, is experiencing astounding growth in the craft brewing industry, increasing three-fold in the number of microbreweries in just three years. Compiled by the Finger Lakes Beer Trail, What’s Brewing in the Finger Lakes is the most comprehensive guide to the region’s 75-plus craft breweries and brew pubs.

The 90-page paperback is $19.95 and available at fingerlakesbeertrail.com/book. Theresa Hollister is a founding partner of Finger Lakes Beer Trail Marketing & Tourism Associates LLC.


Cook With Beer
What’s Brewing includes recipes that feature beer as an ingredient. Here’s just one of them.

Beef and Irish Stout Stew
Recipe courtesy of GAEL Brewing Company, Geneva

• 2 lbs. beef stew meat
• 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
• 2 tablespoons flour
• black pepper
• salt
• pinch cayenne pepper
• 2 large onions, chopped
• 1 clove garlic, crushed
• 2 tablespoons tomato paste
• 1-1/2 cups GAEL Brewing Company Templederry Irish Stout
• 1 cup chopped carrot
• 1 cup chopped celery
• 1 cup chopped potato

Toss beef with 1 tablespoon oil. In a separate bowl stir together flour, salt, pepper, and cayenne. Dredge beef in this mixture to coat. Heat remaining oil, add beef and brown on all sides. Add onions and garlic. Stir tomato paste into a small amount of water to dilute – pour into pan and stir to blend. Reduce heat to medium, cover and cook for 5 minutes.
Pour 1/2 cup of GAEL Brewing Company Templederry Irish Stout into the pan and as it begins to boil scrape any bits of food from the bottom. Pour in the rest of the stout and add carrots and other vegetables. Cover, reduce heat and simmer for 2 hours, stirring occasionally.

excerpted from the new book by the same name, compiled by Theresa C. Hollister

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