After leaving Cooperstown and zoning out for 150 miles of country roads we pulled into an unassuming parking lot in Ithaca, NY. A modest building built into a small strip mall had an easy-to-miss sign out front reading Ithaca Beer.
I thought it was about time I got in the spirit of the Finger Lakes, and so I did. Ithaca Beer maintains a small but diverse inventory of homebrew equipment and ingredients alongside a sizable brewing operation behind the scenes. The tasting room offers a number of Ithaca beers (8 on the day we visited) that include both year-round offerings and a few seasonal choices to wet your whistle. If that wasn’t enough, the tasting room is full of friendly folks working to answer questions and fill growlers in spare moments.
The tasting we went through was from lightest to darkest, as many breweries are wont to do. The summer line-up was on tap and it looked something like this:
Partly Sunny – A nearly 5% witbier that was on tap as the summer seasonal. I have to admit this was probably my favorite beer on the chalkboard, though it’s almost entirely because of the weather. We had spent two hours in the car in 90 degree heat, and as our first beer this was so damn refreshing I had to smile. Light, straw-colored, dry, and a bit tart this hit the spot and would be a great lawnmower beer.
Apricot Wheat – For all my praise of Partly Sunny, I thought Apricot Wheat fell short of the mark. A bit too sweet overall and overwhelmingly apricot flavored this beer is simply not up my alley. While I enjoy fruit beer, I prefer it to be the underlying flavor to the beer, and here it takes over the show.
Rough Draft – This wheat ale poured a hazy yellow and had a mild citrus nose that dissipates quickly, at least on a taster glass sized serving. There’s a bit of banana in the nose as well, though it also goes too soon. I enjoyed the small serving, but in a larger serving I don’t know that I would go for more than a pint.
Pale Ale – Proof that Ithaca has been around a while, their Pale Ale is called simply Pale. A strong fruity aroma emanates from the amber brew and this is the first brew with a hop presence. A solid pale that strikes me as an East Coast version of Sierra Nevada’s classic green bottled offering.
Flower Power – My second favorite of Ithaca’s taps this pours a dark straw color with a ton of haze and strong hop aromas from a few feet away. Surprisingly balanced for how strong the aroma is, the beer finishes dry on the palate after a powerful starting line blast of hop flavor and background malt. A great summer beer again, and extremely tasty.
Cascazilla – A dark red ale with a direct Cascade punch (thus the name) the brew has metallic tints and an almost harsh hop presence. Not as balanced as Flower Power, though I think that the intention with this beer is a hop bomb in the truest sense. Smooth and tasty, but I don’t think I would be able to finish a full pint of this hoppy monster.
Smoked Porter – No link on this one as the only listed porter on BA was named differently, though it might just have been a name change. We had this last and it was tremendously smoky and smooth, and a nice change in pace from the previous brews. We also had a chance to try a soured version of the beer that I preferred to the smoked version slightly. It tasted more like a beer made with acidulated malt, and had a mild tartness I enjoyed.
After our tasting we went on a tour through the brewery’s back hallways and equipment, checking out where the magic happens. As we made our way back through the break room and into the brewery we passed a pile of casks for Ithaca’s special events.
We heard about upcoming Ithaca brews, including a repeat of a sour beer that should be hitting the market soon if it hasn’t already. We passed a pallet of acidulated malt waiting to make its way into the tun and bring you another round of tasty sour beer in 750 ml bottles.
After the brewhouse we wound around past the mill room and saw the packaging and bottling line. A bottling system that puts out a good portion of Ithaca’s nearly 10,000 barrels per year was sitting silent while a brewer moved beer and sanitizer around the fermenters.
After a few questions we made our way back out to the front room. On the way I spotted an oddity and snapped a shot – not entirely sure but it might be the cork and cage setup.
Back in the tasting room we wandered the selection for a bit and chatted with the locals grabbing beer. It was nice to see a solid mix of tourists from out of town grabbing some local beer and folks from just around the corner sneaking in for a quick growler fill for the weekend.
I felt at home in Ithaca I think because of its similarity to the Bay Area. Both are known for wine but have incredible beer culture, both are intrinsically gorgeous (or Gorges for locals), and both are full of outdoorsy folks that like to go on long hikes and wash down the dust with a great craft beer.
And finally, before we headed out we took a glance at the expansion plans hanging on the wall – a plan for impressive growth.
If you live in the area head out to Ithaca Beer and have a few tastes before you decide on a growler or bottle to leave with – after all the beer is Finger Lakin’ Good.