Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Exploring the Cooperstown Beverage Trail (part 1 of 2)

CBTmapRegional “beverage trails” seem to be popping up all over New York State these days. They’re a great way for breweries, wineries, and other makers of crafted fermented beverages to promote their offerings, take pride in their community, and make for a great tourist destination. The weather was perfect for a road trip this weekend, so my girlfriend Renée and I jaunted down I-88 to explore the Cooperstown Beverage Trail.
The trail was founded in 2004 and is the first official “cuisine trail” in the state. It includes three breweries (Butternuts, Ommegang, and Cooperstown Brewing), two wineries (Rustic Ridge and Bear Pond) and Fly Creek Cider Mill. There are two other beverage venues that are also located in Cooperstown, but are not yet part of the trail: Cooperstown Distillery and Council Rock Brewery. That’s a total of eight businesses all located within the general vicinity of each other. The trail’s brochure “Quench” fully details each of the member businesses, includes a map and addresses, and a coupon for free full size beer or wine glass once it’s stamped at all the stops.
Traveling from place to place is surprisingly easy considering the rural layout of the region (it’s all state and county highways). It’s probably possible to visit every point on the trail in a single afternoon since most of the businesses are open from noon to 6pm on the weekends. However, if you plan on stopping for lunch before or during your trip, you’re going to be cutting it close. We realized that late Saturday afternoon when 6 o’clock rolled around and we still had three more venues left on our checklist. We decided to come back on Sunday to finish the tour, as it’s only an hour drive back to Albany, so commuting twice in a weekend isn’t that big of a deal.
Here’s a recap of all the venues in the order we traveled:
We decided to start all the way out in Garrattsville at Butternuts Beer & Ale. I actually drove past the brewery, as it is a generic white barn without a roadside sign. There were no other cars when we arrived, so we couldn’t help but wonder if it was even open. Sure it enough it was, and there’s a small tasting room on the right side of the building. For $5 you can sample six of their beers, though the IPA, milk stout and hefeweizen are just poured from the can. I’ve had them before, and I think they’re all fine but nothing special. They did have three special brews on tap: a tart cherry wheat (which was clean and refreshing and only 3.9% ABV); their “Pork Slap” pale ale with Jamaican ginger (which was interesting and spicy); and a pumpkin porter (a good combination of pumpkin pie flavor and a robust porter).
Cooperstown Beverage Trail 002
Renée and I took a quick self-guided tour of the brewery. It’s amazing they’re able to put out as much product as they do considering how small the actual production space is. Butternuts doesn’t look much like a brewery you might be used to seeing, but they’ve been putting out their eye-catching canned beer for many years now, so I can only assume they’re doing a something right.
Cooperstown Beverage Trail 003
Rustic Ridge Winery
I’m not a huge fan of wine, but I don’t dislike it. In fact, stopping at local wineries has always been a fun experience for me because they tend to be quaint and serene. Rustic Ridge is a perfect example of what I mean, as it’s a little winery located on a beautiful hilltop about 8 miles north of Butternuts. They were hosting a wedding in their adjacent field when we arrived, but their tasting room and gift shop were still open for business. The woman who waited on us at the bar was very friendly and informative.
Cooperstown Beverage Trail 015
Renée and I sampled five different wines for only $3, most of which she liked (except for a blueberry wine). She prefers dry reds whereas I like sweet whites (I don’t like that vinegary taste often found in reds). I wound up buying a bottle of their semi-dry Riesling for $13 because I enjoyed the sample so much.
Cooperstown Beverage Trail 016
Fly Creek Cider Mill
When you think of a country store selling their own food items you probably think of a place like the Fly Creek Cider Mill. In fact, I’d say this is the epitome of a country store in every facet – it’s like something out of a movie. As soon as we walked in the door, a friendly woman welcomed us and showed us around. They seem to specialize in their homemade jams, sauces, and condiments and have samples of almost everything around the store. It’s cute to be sure, though there’s definitely a gourmet element to it (or at least it seems gourmet judging by the price tags).
Cooperstown Beverage Trail 029
We were there to try the cider, though they make their own fruit wine as well. The tasting room is located in a back corner and is rather cramped. They offered us free samples of pretty much everything, though they were served in small plastic cups slightly bigger than a thimble. I tried their original and apple raspberry ciders, both of which were good, but it’s hard to judge how good by a half ounce pour. Renée tried a few of their apple wines and took home a bottle of a black currant apple wine for $12, while I bought a bottle of Fly Creek Original Hard Cider for $9. We drank it on Sunday night; it was semi-dry though noticeably tart with a slight onion flavor on the finish. Not bad, but nothing all that memorable.
Cooperstown Beverage Trail 024
Cooperstown Brewing Company
This small brewery in Milford had been shut down since last autumn, though it seems like it’s been nearly two years since I last saw any of their baseball-themed bottles at my local beverage center. Cooperstown Brewing was recently acquired by Northern Eagle Beverages, a wholesaler out of Oneonta, earlier this year (how it’s legal for a distributor to outright own a brewery in the three tier system is beyond me, but alright).
Cooperstown Beverage Trail 031
Much like Butternuts, when we arrived, the place looked closed. However, as soon as we walked in we saw there were quite a few people in the tasting room. The bartender was courteous and insightful and explained the entire history of the brewery and their current situation as well as their future plans. The beer is currently being contract-brewed by Davidson Brothers Brewing in Glens Falls. I’m not sure when they plan on brewing again on site, but I was told that bottles will be hitting store shelves soon.
Cooperstown Beverage Trail 034
For $3 you can sample all four of their core brews: Nine Man Golden Ale; Old Slugger Pale Ale; Back Yard IPA; and Benchwarmer Porter. I really didn’t enjoy any of them as they are all brewed with Ringwood yeast which gives the beer a diacetyl flavor that overpowers the base palette. I’ve no idea why an American brewery would want to brew beer like this. Sure, it definitely is a distinctive, non-American flavor, but not in a good way.
I think Cooperstown Brewing is taking the path of most resistance by attempting to come back from the dead by making bland, boring, buttery, British-style brews. There’s no demand for them in this market as far as I can tell. Perhaps I’m wrong, and I wish them the best of luck on their future endeavors.

To be continued…

No comments:

Post a Comment