Back in early March, I got a text from an old college friend I don't see too often these days. He was planning a day trip to Massachusetts with two of his friends — whom I'd only met once or twice — and he asked me if I wanted the fourth seat in the car. They were leaving Camillus at 5:30 a.m. And this was on a Thursday, so I'd have to take a vacation day to tag along.
I was being asked, then, if I would take one of my vacation days to get up at 4 a.m., sit in a car for five hours to Massachusetts, continue sitting in a car driving around the state all day, then sit in a car for another five hours returning home — all with one friend and two guys I barely knew.
I said "yes" immediately.
Why? Beer. Our destinations in Massachusetts were Trillium Brewing Co. in Canton, Jack's Abby Craft Lagers in Framingham and Tree House Brewing Co. in Monson. All three are world-class breweries and, in the case of Trillium and Tree House, their beers are only available in take-home form at the breweries. Buying some from Tree House even means standing in line for an hour.
One bitterly cold January afternoon, Joe Shelton and Mark Grimaldi walked into Prison City P…
Craft beer fans are surely familiar with my experience, my compulsion to go so far out of my way to spend an exorbitant sum of money on beer. It's called beer tourism. And according to the Brewers Association, it's something several million people do yearly. It's something I'll do again in June, when my wife and I visit Vermont and some of its many breweries on a two-day trip.
So yes, beer tourism is most certainly a thing. But beyond those of us who'd wait in line for Other Half or drive for hours to Hill Farmstead, there are people who give craft beer much shorter economic and cultural shrift. There are people who think it's no different than Bud Lite, no better than an addictive vice. And some of those people are in Cayuga County.
At The Citizen, we've seen some of those people respond to our reporting on Cayuga County's burgeoning craft beer scene. You name a positive of craft beer, they question it: the community it builds, the tourist dollars it attracts, the jobs it creates. After I reported on Prison City Pub & Brewery's announcement that it will open a production facility that will employ up to 25 people full-time, I was baffled to read one response saying, dismissively, that Auburn instead needs factories and manufacturing jobs. As if that's not a factory, and those aren't manufacturing jobs?
As Prison City, The Good Shepherds Brewing Co., Lunkenheimer Craft Brewing Co. and Aurora Ale & Lager Co. continue growing, there could come a day when someone in Massachusetts is asked to make the same arduous day trip that I did. And if Cayuga County attracts enough of those visitors, maybe then those critics will come around on the value of craft beer.
What's on tap
Prison City Pub & Brewery
With American Craft Beer Week from May 15 to 21, the 28 State St. brewpub has events planned every day. Highlights include beer trivia from 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesday, May 16, and Pinfest, a tapping of a few house cask beers, on Saturday, May 20. Prison City will also team with Good Shepherds and the Thirsty Pug Craft Beer Market to present the BeerMuda Triangle from 5 to 8 p.m. Thursday, May 18 — though that may be a misnomer now, as the Copper Pig BBQ & Taproom will join the three sites this month to offer food and specialty beer flights at the monthly event. The Copper Pig will also host daily American Craft Beer Week events. For full details on the events, visit prisoncitybrewing.com or facebook.com/copperpig.
Lunkenheimer Craft Brewing Co.
Fresh off attending the Tap NY 2017 Craft Beer and Food Festival in Hunter Mountain along with Prison City, the Weedsport brewery will celebrate American Craft Beer Week by breaking out its randall. Brewers can load the double-chamber filter with ingredients, attach it to a tap and run the beer through it, infusing it with new flavors. Brewers Derric Slocum and Kristen Lunkenheimer-Slocum's plan includes "something with citrus and vanilla," they said, but they haven't finalized it yet. New on tap at the North Seneca Street brewery is Kold Brew Kölsch, featuring coffee from Simple Roast Coffee in Sennett. Lunkenheimer is also collaborating with Roscoe Beer Co. and Seneca Lake Brewing Co., brewing at their facilities, and talking about hosting another collaboration with Cayuga County's own Aurora Ale & Lager Co.
Gallery: Cayuga County's new craft beer scene
Four craft breweries have sprouted up in Cayuga County within the past year, and along with a new craft beer market, they've all seen sales surpass their original projections. Local brewers talk about what they have planned next and the state of the craft brewing industry.