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Lunkenheimer Craft Brewing Co.

Kristen Lunkenheimer-Slocum prepares a flight of beer at Lunkenheimer Craft Brewing Co. in Weedsport in June 2015.

When I started working in the tourism industry many, many years ago, I never would have dreamed that there would be something called "beer tourism,” which is the idea of traveling specifically for beer itself. We knew people would travel for wine, but who knew the craft beer industry would explode into a reason to travel? Beer tourism can range from just seeking out the local brewpub or brewery while you are on vacation to actually planning your travels based on the local beer scene to taking an organized beer tour or beer vacation organized by a beer tour operator!

The practice of traveling to a certain brewery or beer region is indeed on the rise as people want to feel more connected to the food and drink they consume (called culinary tourism) while exploring the regions and cultures where they are created. With the United States now boasting thousands of breweries and regions specializing in different styles, they generate a great excuse to travel — for beer!

Craft beer tourists differ from those that visit the larger breweries in Milwaukee or St. Louis. Many of them are home brewers themselves and are interested in the "personality" of the craft breweries; others are just craft beer fans. Destination Marketing Organizations (tourism offices) are now starting to pay serious attention to beer as a way to lure visitors to the region. In the Finger Lakes region, we have our own Finger Lakes Beer Trail to help beer enthusiasts navigate their way around the region. They even have their own beer "passport." And there is no sign of beer tourism slowing down anytime soon.

In the restaurant business, the trend is open kitchens, where the "theater" of food production is presented. Similarly, in the craft beer business, the opportunity to smell the barley and hops and to watch the process while holding a glass of local beer in your hand gives visitors a peek into the brewing process, and they love it. There is such a variety of flavors and styles among craft breweries that the possibilities are pretty much endless for beer tourism. And like wine, you can take that local taste home with you in cans, growlers and bottles.

Besides producing some of the best craft beverages anywhere, the craft brewing industry is an important economic impact generator for New York state. According to a research report prepared for the New York State Brewers Association and the New York Wine and Grape Foundation, the full economic impact of New York’s craft breweries on the New York economy is $3.5 billion, with 207 operating breweries supporting 11,366 full-time equivalent jobs. These numbers are based on 2013 data, so they can be considered conservative.

Cayuga County is fortunate to have four craft breweries and even a craft beer market, all worth a visit by locals and tourists.

In Auburn you will find Prison City Pub & Brewery, which is our only brewery that also features a restaurant, as well as The Good Shepherds Brewing Co., which specializes in American and English ales while drawing inspiration from the German style of brewing. Beer aficionados will also want to make a visit to the Thirsty Pug Craft Beer Market, where they will be introduced to a whole world of craft beer.

Cayuga County also has breweries to the north and south of Auburn. Lunkenheimer Craft Brewing Co. in Weedsport offers an ever-changing variety of creative and unusual ales. I love the idea of their Park & Ride IPA, so perfectly named for a brewery right off of Exit 40! To the south, we have Cayuga County’s newest brewery, actually a nanobrewery, Aurora Ale & Lager. Perched on a hilltop overlooking Cayuga Lake just past Long Point Winery, this brewery is perfect if you want to mix a little beer tasting with your wine tasting experience.

We still love our wineries here in the Finger Lakes and that will never change, but we encourage you to visit our breweries and sample beers made from some of the freshest and highest quality ingredients, meet the brewmasters and see a little of the process that creates these unique and tasty brews.

For more information on Cayuga County breweries, visit

Meg Vanek is the executive director of the Cayuga County Office of Tourism, the designated tourism promotion agency for Cayuga County that promotes the county’s attractions, events and lodging establishments. For more information, visit


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