Craft Breweries in Central New York
Fifty craft breweries in Central New York, more than 350 in Upstate, make this a beer lover's destination region. Brewers invite you in to try their beer and enjoy the experience.
CNY has been brewing good beer since the mid-1800s
Don Cazentre has been writing about beer and the region’s breweries since the 1990s. It’s a great job, not just because of the subject, but because of where Don’s located, in a beautiful beer-touring region and an epicenter of craft brewing for decades. For his 2013 book, he visited 89 of New York's top breweries, more than two dozen in Central New York. One thing that sets the Syracuse-area apart is how breweries have become destinations. Don says brewers want customers to come by, taste the beers, and then buy what they like for home. The beer drinker has a full experience. Don has recommendations and breaks them into two categories:
First are the seasoned craft brewers that have been around for decades. Try Middle Ages Brewing Company, 120 Wilkinson St., Syracuse; Ithaca Beer Company, 122 Ithaca Beer Drive, near Ithaca; and Good Nature Farm Brewery, 1727 Route 12B, near Hamilton. That last one is in beautiful countryside hills with a nice beer garden where the kids can romp if you’ve brought them along.
Don says smaller and newer breweries focus on interactivity with customers. These brewers experiment and try techniques you won’t find elsewhere. You’ll develop your own tastes, but Don suggests two: Buried Acorn Brewing, 881 Van Rensselaer St., Syracuse, is notable for the way it ages its beer in wooden barrels and experiments with yeasts. Heritage Hill Brewhouse & Kitchen, 3149 Sweet Road, Pompey, sits on one of the highest farm hills around, giving an expansive of Onondaga County, and the owners’ restaurant uses fresh farm-to-table products grown right outside.
Every weekend seems to bring another event centered on beer. Chances are, you’ll enjoy any of them, but two stand out for Don. They’re fun, and they attract beer experts from beyond New York. One is the Central New York Brewfest, always held at the State Fairgrounds on the day before the Super Bowl. Another is the New York State Brewers Festival each fall at the Landmark Theatre. It’s put on by the state's brewers association. Brewers and owners will be there with the best they have to offer to impress other brewers. Plus, they pour their own beer, so you can talk to them directly about it.
Other events feature beer for a cause. “Brews for Builds” is a collaboration with Syracuse Habitat for Humanity. For a $25 donation, you receive a Passport valid for one free brew at each participating location. Visit them all, and you’re entered to win a sweet prize. “Brew at the Zoo” gathers dozens of brewers and restaurants for a one-night fund-raiser to benefit Syracuse’s Rosamond Gifford Zoo. It’s an unusual setting and makes a fun date night. Waves of German immigrants brought their brewing skills with them in the 1800s. It meant Central New York’s farms dominated American hop growing and Central New York became one of America's premier brewing locations – until Prohibition. If you want to try some of the old-style tastes, the Onondaga Historical Association has been working with craft brewer Willow Rock Brewing Co. to bring back recipes. They started with Congress beer, brewed until the 1960s by the Haberle Congress Brewery.
If you like trying craft beer, you might also like visiting craft distilleries around the region. Old Home Distillers, 964 Campbell Road, Lebanon, is typical: A family approach with local products and a willingness to try something new. Finally, it's OK to have fun but worth remembering to designate a driver or have Lyft or Uber loaded on your phone.