Keuka Lake (pronounced Cue-kuh) is a breathtaking Y-shaped body of water, nestled right in the heart of the Finger Lakes wine country, here in Upstate NY.
After spending the majority of my childhood summers on its waters, I have countless reasons to justify my longtime love affair with this quaint and quiet corner of the world. After this past weekend, I have one more and it’s a big one.
Keuka Lake has a lot to offer when it comes to good beer.
Saturday morning I had a chance to visit Keuka Brewing Co. in Hammondsport. Owner Rich Musso was kind enough to show me around and explain how the lake’s first microbrewery came to be.
After years of homebrewing, Rich made the decision to turn his hobby into what he hoped would be a profitable business. With a location right on the wine trail and a passion for beer, he was confident his little brewery could do big things.
When he opened the doors to his tasting room in the fall of 2008, the response was overwhelmingly fantastic. Without any advertising or promotion Rich had so many people coming in for tastings he ran out of beer.
Rich and his staff went right back to brewing and they haven’t stopped since. Their handcrafted ales are made with premium ingredients and produced in single barrel fermenting tanks. Rich says his brewery is more of a “nanobrewery” and considers his operations to be just a few steps up from the homebrewing you might do in your garage. He likes it that way, as he believes that brewing smaller batches helps to preserve some of the integrity of the beer that might get lost in large-scale production. Another advantage of small batches is the freedom to be creative. He and his brewer are free to push limits and try new things. As Rich said, “what’s the worst that happens? If it doesn’t work out, we dump the batch and start over.”
To satisfy the thirsty bars and restaurants of the area, Keuka Brewing does have beer commercially produced at Custom Brewcrafters in Honeoye Falls, NY. Everything you’ll taste at the brewery however, is produced right on the other side of the tasting room wall.
I wasn’t surprised to learn that Rich attributes much of his business to beer loving husbands dragged along on wine tours with their wives. There’s also a big local following. The tasting room even stays open until 7pm on Friday evenings so people can stop by after work and have their growlers filled.
Mr. Musso was kind enough to allow me to sample some of the beers on tap and I was very impressed. I’m an IPA girl in general, so I’m not surprised that my favorite was the Imperial IPA. It was perfectly hopped for a subtly bitter flavor that was noticeably wonderful.
I purchased a growler of KBC Pale Ale to take home to my dad, who I’m trying to convert to craft beer. Old habits die hard but I have a feeling he’ll like this lightly hopped copper ale. It’s almost too drinkable.
I also grabbed a bottle of Briglin Road Red (named after the road the brewery resides on) for my Uncle Bill, a Keuka Lake loving man of Irish descent. Ironically enough, its dark red color comes from Dark English 120 malt. I’m confident the sweet yet refreshing flavor will win him over.
The passion that goes into each and every beer is evident and the friendly staff makes for a wonderful experience. If you ever find yourself in the Finger Lakes, I highly suggest you make time to visit. You won’t be disappointed. Tastings are just $3 per person.
After visiting the fine folks at Keuka Brewing Co., I headed into the village of Hammondsport for some shopping and lunch. A playoff hockey game was about to commence, so I insisted that we eat at the only bar in sight, the Village Tavern Restaurant & Inn. I knew nothing of the place and my only real expectation at that point was a television with the Sabres game on it. I was shocked to find one of the best drink menus I’ve ever seen. Their beer list was 4 pages long and it was organized by country. That’s always a good sign. There was even Chimay on draft! To say I was pleasantly surprised would be a serious understatement.
After lunch and the devastating Sabres loss, sheer curiosity led me into the little village grocery store, aptly named Hammondsport Grocery. Inside I found a ridiculously impressive craft beer selection for a sleepy little lake town.
As it turns out, there’s a little bit of beer heaven smack dab in the middle of wine country.
[techtags:CRAFT BEER, KEUKA LAKE, KEUKA BREWING CO, BREWERY TOUR]