A few weeks ago, I spent some time eating, drinking, and touring my way through upstate New York, a northward trip from the Hudson Valley through Troy and Cazenovia, and up to Utica. We've already taken a look at the incredible applejack from Harvest Spirits, the European-style cider from Harvest Moon, and the Utica icon that is the FX Matt Brewery, but the good stuff didn't stop there.
Quite the opposite: New York State's drinks scene has never been more vibrant, and that includes everything from wine and spirits to hard cider and beer. Here are six beverage makers you should know, and what you should sip from them.
Good Nature Brewing
Good Nature Brewing has a staff of two: the husband and wife team of Matt Whalen and Carrie Blackmore, who work out of a 1,700 square foot space to supply central New York with with ales using New York-grown barley and locally grown hops when available. Their beers are clean and easy-drinking, but also layered and surprising. Take their chocolate-forward American Brown Ale, which is almost egg cream-like, but nutty and hardly sweet.
Whalen and Blackmore met near Lake Placid and began their married life in Massachusetts, but moved back home to central New York to be closer to family. The brewery, less than a year old, is their love letter to New York, a way to contribute to the economic and cultural revival of the area. "I love this place," Blackmore tells us. "I want to raise a family here. And if beer's the answer to making that happen, that'd be great."
The brand new Adirondack Distilling, a short walk down the street from FX Matt Brewery in Utica, has a corn-based vodka (made with New York corn) that just hit liquor store shelves. Well, they call it vodka, but it drinks like white whiskey: smooth and a bit sweet, and full of corn flavor, but lacking the harsh alcohol heat that plagues all too many new-wave designer moonshines.
We also got to taste their very first test batch of gin, which had an almost creamy character I haven't tasted since my introductory sip to the incredible Blue Gin from Reisetbauer in Austria. Keep an eye out for Adirondack's gin in the months to come.
Breezy Hill Orchard
Breezy Hill Orchard sells an array of apple products: pastries of all sorts, sweet cider, and a delicately effervescent hard cider that I've been sipping as a substitute for dessert. The brew, available by the growler, is on the sweeter side but not overly so, and has layers of baked and caramelized apples given lift and brightness by a gentle carbonation. Open this growler slowly: it'll bubble up fast on you, even if you unscrew with care.
Though Millbrook Winery is the most talked-about spot in the immediate area, Ghent's Hudson-Chatham Winery has also received acclaim and awards in its short history. The winery boasts the now-classic story of a husband and wife, wine fans both, who said, "Let's just start a winery! It'll be a fun part-time thing!" As they sell at several markets a week, host innumerable events at the winery, and, oh, also make wine, Carlo and Dominique DeVito are re-thinking the part time bit. Their Baco Noir, made with a hardy grape that can withstand the Hudson Valley's less-than-ideal weather, is deep with sour cherry and dried fruit flavors, smooth, and refreshing—an autumnal treat also available in an oak-aged Reserve edition.
Brookview Station Winery
Like Harvest Spirits and Harvest Moon, Brookview Station Winery is an extension of an orchard operation looking to diversify its products to 1) increase profits from extra fruit and 2) draw tourists in year-round. Their still apple and fruit wines run the gamut from semi-dry to dessert sweet, and are geared towards table wines that happen to play well with food.
They recently started brewing a hard cider that's fresh, clean, and light—a little like the PBR of cider (comparably priced, too), which I mean in the very best way. Most large-scale ciders available in the States are grossly sweet and taste more of the steel tanks they're fermented in than actual apples; here's an honest brew made for gulping after mowing the lawn on a hot summer day. At their tasting room, you can also have what they playfully call a "Hudson Valley Kir": a cup of hard cider with a spare pour of their very own cassis.
Aaron Burr Cider
When I brought a bottle of Aaron Burr Cider to the office—a find from a trip to the New Amsterdam Market in NYC—it admittedly received mixed responses. But it may be just the thing for an appetite-stimulating pre-dinner sip. The dry cider is aged in bourbon barrels and made barely effervescent with tiny, Champagne-like bubbles. You smell sweet oak and corn on a whiff, but a taste is all dry, funky cider apples—until the very end when the bourbon comes back for a sweet boozy kick.
Note: Max's trip to upstate New York was arranged by the New York Tourism Board. Introductions to Good Nature Brewing, Hudson-Chatham Winery, Adirondack Distilling, and Brookview Station were made on the trip.