Sips of Summer
This is the first in a limited series of stories about small, locally owned breweries across the state of New York.
Emily Sorokes never wanted to book trips in New York state, let alone near Buffalo.
“But thanks to my love for beer, that’s changing,” the Buffalo Beer Influencer said.
Brewery culture is bringing out a different side to cities close by, prompting Sorokes to travel around to see what’s in the area — like brew festivals where beer lovers walk around with 3-oz. glasses in one hand and pretzel necklaces in the other (for a snack).
New York State is home to more than 500 breweries, making it the second-largest craft beer market in the U.S., according to the New York State Brewers Association. And with the growth of the industry continuing each year, craft breweries now surpass the 494 wineries in the state, according to the New York State Liquor Authority.
NYSBA doesn’t track the number of festivals across the region, but it does hold several of its own festivals. Right now, the group has one scheduled in Buffalo (June 24) and two in Syracuse (July 14-15 and November), according to Executive Director Paul Leone.
“The breweries have allowed me to explore my neighboring communities and cities,” Sorokes said. “But beer fests are an accessible way for different people to try and experience new things.”
About 10 years ago, the craft beer movement really kicked off in the area, Leone said.
In Catskill, a father-and-son duo revamped their family-owned pizza place, Angela’s, to create Rip Van Winkle Brewing Company. They just celebrated 9 years of business.
“There’s been a few big waves for the beer industry,” said Anthony LoBionco of Rip Van Winkle. “I just think society is looking for that super-local, hyper-craft product, just like you do for food, and a lot of ingredients can be sourced locally, too, which helps get people interested in your product.”
Single Cut, a brewery with three locations around NYS, has been in business for 11 years, according to tap room manager Sarah Crowe.
“NYS is definitely on the rise with breweries — people say it’s a flooded market, but it’s just more room for opportunity. Like, these brewers and people in the industry are just so creative, and there’s nothing stopping them,” Crowe said.
The Finger Lakes region is known as the state’s premier craft beer destination, particularly thanks to the Finger Lakes Beer Trail.
In addition to breweries featuring local ingredients and promoting other local businesses, craft breweries also use location names to add that local flavor to their brews.
Rip Van Winkle Brewing Company is located at the base of the Catskill Mountains, home to the beautiful Kaaterskill Falls.
“With the Falls in our backyard, we used that to our advantage and named our most popular beer ‘Kaaterskill Krush,’” LoBionco said.
In Syracuse, Talking Cursive features a lager called “Crash Into Me,” inspired by the Onondaga Lake Parkway Bridge — which trucks infamously crash into regularly.
Festivals bring boom in business
Central New York is home to more than 50 breweries and holds one of the largest beer festivals, CNY Brewfest. Jason Purdy, owner of Now & Later Bar in Syracuse, inherited the brewfest in its 21st year and has been its organizer since.
“The bar I have used to be a convenience store selling a lot of craft beer, so we sold a lot of tickets. And when they were going to sell it, they said, ‘Listen, you’re our best ticket-seller; any interest in taking it over?’ And it kind of fell into my lap,” Purdy said.
The brewfest consists of 90 breweries from Central and Western New York, with each brewery bringing two different styles of beer. “So there’s about 175–180 beers for everyone to try,” Purdy said.
Many breweries offer IPAs, sours and ales to appeal to everyone’s interests. Buried Acorn, with three breweries in CNY, specializes in barrel-aged sour beer.
“Our business opened to bring new beer and new experiences to the local population, but also attending festivals allows us to make connections with our brewery neighbors and share what we have going on with what they have,” general manager Charlie Oberheide said. “If you’re not a beer lover or if you are, it’s just nice to give their back and show appreciation and be there for those who were there for us.”
In addition to making connections with brewery neighbors, going to the breweries and festivals can build a bigger beer community or allow people to build a new appreciation for beer, Purdy said.
By attending brew festivals, you’re able to try new things, talk with the brewers and understand the process or even hear the story behind the brewery, he said.
“Since we sell a lot of different beer at our brewery, if someone likes a beer they try at a festival, they will ask us if we have it, and it helps increase awareness and to get brands out there,” he said.
Going around to the different breweries you see at festivals gives you a chance to understand who those breweries are, Oberheide said. And if people are excited, that just gives them another reason to go out to the brewery.
“The more breweries you have, the bigger space the festival will be and the more opportunities people will have,” Oberheide said. “Even if you don’t like beer, the environment is welcoming and very much worth it.”