When it comes to drinking in the Finger Lakes, your first thought is going to be wine. Ours was. The region is famous for its wine, and the marketing you hear at home is always wine, wine, wine. We tried our fair share of wine from the Finger Lakes during our visit, and know that this is definitely true.
But one thing that shocked us had nothing to do with the wine, but was instead about how many other alcohol types are available for those who are looking for something different. So if you are invited on a trip to the Finger Lakes but do not like wines (or more appropriately, white wines like Chardonnay, Riesling, or Gewurztraminer), there will still be something for you, too!
During our explorations we made an attempt to try some of the different alcohols that the region offers, and below are some of our favorites that we highly recommend!
Cider from Cider Creek Hard Cider
Cider Creek Hard Cider is a new entrant into New York‘s cider scene. Their first cider was sold in 2013; the tasting room was opened outside of Hornell, NY, in late-2015; and the cidery is making waves across the region with its award-winning products.
Our favorite cider from our visit was the Saison Reserve, a farmhouse recipe using saison yeast which blends the flavors of saison beer and cider in a beautiful pairing. Many of the seasonal beers also follow this concept, with the fall special during our visit being a smoked cherry cider which was in perfect balance between the smoke, cherry, and cider, as well as a winter cider featuring a Bavarian wheat yeast that we sadly were just a little too early to sample (that one sounds amazing).
Located in Canisteo, a visit to Cider Creek Hard Cider’s tasting room may be a bit impractical for visitors unless you are coming in from the south like we were as they are located roughly 45 minutes from Keuka Lake. Luckily for you, the grocery chain Wegmans carries several of their ciders in 500 mL bottles in their stores (at very good prices, too). So if you can’t make it into this cidery during your visit, do yourself a favor and pick up a bottle or two at the store before returning home.
As cider is becoming one of the newest trends in the alcohol community, many of the vineyards are also picking up new cider lines as well. We sampled several during our travels around the Finger Lakes, and although delicious and easy to sample, none of them came close to the complexity and balance of the ciders from Cider Creek Hard Cider!
Honey Mead from Earle Estate Meadery
Made from fermented honey, mead is a unique beverage in that it can take on many characteristics of wine ranging from dry, subtle flavors to intense, sugary creations all with the flavor of honey we know and love.
At Earle Estate Meadery on Seneca Lake this spectrum is covered in their numerous offerings with traditional, sparkling, and fruit flavored meads being some of the most popular available. In fact, the fruit flavored meads offered from Earle Estate Meadery succeed quite well at achieving a balanced flavor of fruit and honey, and are definitely worth trying during a visit. If have a sweet tooth you’ll probably be leaving with a few of the unusual sounding, but delicious tasting, raspberry mead- just like we did.
Champagne and Sherry from Pleasant Valley Winery
When we visited Pleasant Valley Winery on Keuka Lake, the first bonded winery in the USA, we were expecting to taste wines much like at every other vineyard in the region. It didn’t take long after our tour began that we realized how wrong we were in this thought, as Pleasant Valley Winery is, first and foremost, a champagne maker!
Over the last 150+ years, Pleasant Valley Winery has been making some of the USA’s most popular champagnes, some of which even beat out the top European producers in international competitions in the mid-1800s. The winery carried on this tradition throughout the decades, survived prohibition and several ownership changes, and is still making its famed product to this very day.
In addition to champagne, the winery also specializes in ports and sherries, with their vanilla cream sherry being one of our favorites (we left with two bottles). Suffice it to say, you can visit this vineyard for a tasting and leave without trying a single traditional wine at all!
Spirits from Finger Lakes Distilling Company
Since the Finger Lakes have just about every kind of alcohol there is, it is only fitting that a distillery popped up over the years- and Finger Lakes Distilling Company on Seneca Lake produces just about everything spirit lovers may be looking for.
We visited this particular distillery with one spirit in mind: grappa. Made from the skins and seeds from discarded grapes in the wine making process, this high-proof spirit can often be found in regions where wine is made. After asking around and confirming in a Google search, we discovered Finger Lakes Distilling and were on our way.
The strong fruit flavors and aromas in Finger Lakes Distilling’s grappa did not disappoint, and I was thoroughly prepared to buy a bottle until we began tasting some of their other spirits which included rye whiskey (with little to no bite of that rye flavor you expect), aged gin, cherry liquor, cassis liquor, maple bourbon, among over a dozen others.
The winner of all of the spirits for us was the cherry liquor, as the cherry and spice flavors rivaled some of the European brands that we adore (including the Italian Luxardo and Croatian Maraska). So while I had to pass on buying yet another bottle of grappa, leaving with an amazing cherry liquor was not a bad alternative in the slightest.
Craft Beer from… Just About Anywhere
Finally, we come to beer. Much like everywhere else in the country, the craft beer scene in and around the Finger Lakes is exploding, and the dozens of breweries in the region are doing their part to shift the region’s fame from the wine to its thriving beer scene.
My one regret of our visit from the Finger Lakes was that we ran out of time to truly explore more breweries as the ones we visited, the Brewery of Broken Dreams on Keuka Lake (focusing on more European style beers) and Railhead Brewery in Hornell near the cidery above (producing more of the standard beers in the craft beer scene), gave us a great introduction to what breweries in the region are putting out.
Although we thoroughly expect our future visits to cover more vineyards that we missed on our first trip, you can be certain that we will also visit more breweries to uncover the popular, but lesser talked about beer scene in the region. From what we saw, it was just the tip of the iceberg.
We’d like to thank the Steuben County CVB for hosting us during our visit to the Finger Lakes. As always, all opinions are our own.