Beer Paradise

              Unlike a Muslim terrorist who envisions
Paradise as a place where he will get to sample the
favors of seventy two virgins after he blows himself up,
a beer enthusiast can equate Paradise to a place where
he can sample more than seventy two new, untried
beers and remain living in order to seek out still more.

       For those of us in New Jersey, Beer Paradise can
easily be defined as Central New York, specifically the
Finger Lakes region, usually noted only for it’s wineries.
For a beer lover who doesn’t want to waste money on
airfare or drive thousands of miles up and down the
east coast in search of new brews, Beer Paradise is only
a couple of hours and a tank or two of gas away.
(Depending on whether he’s driving a “Smart” car or a
Ford Expedition). There are literally hundreds of
breweries in this famous wine area.

       My wife expressed a desire to celebrate her 65th
birthday by renting a lakeside bungalow on Seneca Lake,
largest of the Finger Lakes. Thanks to the Internet and
Air B&B, one was found at a reasonable price for the
week we wanted. And so, on a Saturday morning we set
out in her new Beetle convertible to begin a week of
touring, wine tasting and brewery visiting.

       Our first stop in O
swego, NY, eliminated the need
for an immediate second stop for lunch. The Farmhouse
Brewery tasting room in downtown Owego (the brewery
is actually several miles away) offered not only flights of
their dozen or so available beers, but also free hot dogs
and snacks to tide us over until we reached Watkins
Glen at the foot of Seneca Lake and home of
Roosterfish Brewery, where another flight or two was

       A trip to the local Walmart to stock up on
provisions for the week ahead enabled me to procure
my least expensive and favorite acquisition of the trip.
After driving three hours in an open convertible, I
needed a cap to deflect the rays of the sun, my
Ballantine IPA cap having been forgotten in the coat
closet when packing for the trip. A patriotic display of
caps in the Walmart caught my eye, and being an ex-
jarhead (are there really any EX-marines?), I fell in love
with a cap that proclaimed “US Marine Corps Veteran”
with the eagle, globe and anchor logo on the front,
“Proudly Served” on the bill and “Semper Fidelis” on the
adjustable strap at the rear. I say least expensive,
because it only cost $5.99, but even that cost was
defrayed. Later that evening, in the Scale House
Brewery, while having a flight of Scale House brews with
the hat proudly displayed on my head, a man came up
to me, shook my hand and said “Thank you for your
service. Can I buy you a pint?” This scenario was
repeated a few days later at the Bandwagon Brewery. I
never took advantage of the GI Bill, VA loans or VA
hospitals, so finally I’m beginning to reap the benefits of
my Marine Corps service. With free pints a possibility,
the hat rarely comes off my head.

       With all the breweries nearby, I had planned on
growler fills for my beer needs while in the cabin, but it’s
a little tough to bob around in an inner tube on the lake
with a pint glass, so I picked up a couple of twelve packs
of cans at the Walmart, one of which was Pabst Blue
Ribbon, which, in addition to accompanying the
lawnmower, is a perfect “inner tube beer”. The other
twelver was a sampler pack of four different Trouble
Brewing Company beers from Rochester. My daughter,
who was down from Buffalo for the weekend, looked
them up and discovered that they are a product of the
Genesee company, brewed as a house brand for
Walmart, and that some misguided fool was suing
Walmart for having marketed them as “craft” beer.
What a jerk! The twelve pack cost something like
$12.47.and all four tasted pretty good. A lawsuit
because he was misled? Give me a break! If he didn’t
like them he could have simply poured them out and
redeemed the empty cans for sixty cents, or better yet,
donated them full to an appreciative, homeless wino.

       One day we drove to Auburn for lunch at the
Prison City Brewpub. Auburn is also home to Auburn
Prison, site of the world’s first electrocution in 1889,
and boasts Swabby’s Pub, current (no pun intended)
home of the very electric chair in which that execution
was carried out. After an excellent outdoor lunch at
Prison City (I especially liked the Lockdown Brown Ale,
served both on tap and cask conditioned), we walked
around the corner to Swabby’s only to find out it

doesn’t open until 4:00pm, so I wasn’t able to view the
furniture in which William Kemmler drew his last breath
this time around. But many more trips to Beer Paradise
are planned, and a stop to look at Old Sparky will be on
the agenda.

       The Finger Lakes Brewing company in Hammond
sport has a huge collection of growlers from other
breweries. I wondered out loud to my wife if there were
any from Jersey. I grabbed my pint, walked over to one
of the walls where the growlers were displayed and was
astonished that the first one I saw was from my “local”,
The Gaslight, in South Orange. Small world.

       The Wagner Valley Brewery and Winery, probably
the largest in the region, makes the best beer. I liked
every one I tried, although I must admit I didn’t try the
sours. If this nouveau style ever becomes the only style
available, I’ll give up drinking beer forever.

       Beer Paradise even offers a venue for those who
won’t drink anything but cask ale. Beerocracy, tasting
room for the Seneca Lake Brewing Company in Rock
Spring, on the western shore of Seneca, serves nothing
BUT English style cask conditioned ales. The Cranley’s
Old Ale was my favorite.

       The only drawback to the trip was made worse by
the fact that we had planned for it to be the highlight, a
“last night” dinner in Watkins Glen at Captain Bill’s
Restaurant, a vastly overpriced and terribly staffed place
at the foot of Seneca Lake. The food was just passable
(or terrible, if the price is taken into consideration), the
ambiance of swatting at gnats at the outdoor table
where no ceiling fan or any other type of repellent was
provided was horrendous, and the long wait for pint
replenishment was intolerable. A drink order was taken
when we sat down and twenty minutes later the drinks
arrived and our order was taken. After about a half hour
the entrees arrived, and my pint being empty and
unnoticed for twenty minutes, I immediately ordered
another. That one arrived ten minutes after we had
taken our last forkful and 874 dead gnats later. I sent it
back, even though by this time I was dying of thirst.
Thankfully, the Roosterfish brewery is almost directly
across the street.

       I hate to end this article on a sour note, so I’ll
relate an as yet not mentioned VERY positive aspect of
Beer Paradise. For those beer lovers like me who are
married to wine tasting beer haters, many of the
wineries offer taps of local brews for antsy husbands
waiting for their wives to complete their tastings and
practically ALL of the breweries have local wines available
for wives who don’t want to sit idly by while their
husbands sample flights.

       A trip to the Finger Lakes Beer Paradise should be
on every hophead’s bucket list.


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