Even a barely observant person these days would find it hard to ignore the proliferation of beer. The opening of new breweries in the United States has exploded at an unheard of rate. There are more breweries open at this moment than there have been at any other time in the country's history.
Rochester has its fair share of new breweries and brewpubs, but there's no shortage of beer options in our surrounding areas. Hop in the car and hit up one of the following spots for a fun few hours; these day-trip destinations are solid entries in an ever-expanding list. And of course, don't drink and drive — bring along some friends and use a designated driver.
Local beer drinkers are likely familiar with Ithaca Beer Company offerings, such as the flagship Flower Power IPA. Flower Power and many other Ithaca brews are readily available in the Rochester market, but the Ithaca brewery and taproom is worth the dedicated trip down Cayuga Lake. Set away from the town center, the brewery has grown in size with multiple expansions in recent years. The menu features traditional pub fare with an elevated slant, and several year-round, seasonal and specialty beers are featured on tap. Lots of outdoor space is available for lawn games and general merriment with a familiar, relaxed vibe typical of the town. Brewery tours are available on the weekends, and the taproom is open Wednesday through Sunday.
On a smaller scale than Ithaca Beer, though no less impressive, is Prison City Pub and Brewery. Located east of Rochester in Auburn, New York, the brewpub operates under a general theme forged in the shadows of the Auburn Correctional Facility just down the road. Beers such as The Klink and Bleek Worden are in the rotation, which encompasses a wide array of styles, all executed with skill. Despite the brewery's having been open only since late 2014, Bleek Worden emerged with a silver medal at the Great American Beer Festival in the Belgian Pale category, a prestigious award at the largest American Beer competition. The food is worth the trip if you're the designated driver (please do have a designated driver), and the atmosphere is better than most for visitors with kids, with a children's menu that can be customized and a box of Legos for entertainment. Open seven days a week.
With the explosion in popularity of IPA's and other hop-centered beers, there is something of a premium on hops of all kinds, especially those that provide particular fruit, citrus, and pine notes that drinkers are looking for in their beer, be it craft, indie, or otherwise. Prior to imparting unique flavors and characteristics to beer, hops begin as the flower of the noble humulus lupulus plant. Hop plants climb upward and are classified as bines, meaning they wrap around support trellises in a helix pattern. The flowers are harvested and can be used whole or in a pelletized version during the brewing process. There are a great many varieties of hops, and depending on the specific strain and when it is introduced in the brewing process, they can be used to provide bittering or flavoring agents to the brew. Hops also provide very practical antibacterial properties.
It follows then, that hop growth is something of an emerging market. A brewery having the ability to grow proprietary hops is a rare thing. Climbing Bines Hop Farm came to fruition several years ago, with hops swallowing up space previously devoted to vegetables. In the past few years, the farm has morphed into a farm brewery, utilizing the hops grown on the property to brew its own small-batch beers. Grab a pint or fill a growler any day of the week from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
The first thing you'll notice when you approach the entrance at Resurgence Brewing Company in Buffalo is the gorgeous beer garden. Depressed from the main building and fenced off from outside entry, it is an ideal spot for a refreshing drink on a warm, sunny day. If sitting outside isn't your thing, the environment indoors – the building is an old converted warehouse – is no less inviting. The focus at Resurgence is on the beer, with multiple rotating styles, and fomenting conversation among friends. There are a few games around the building, including giant Jenga, and communal tables have well-worn Trivial Pursuit question cards to open dialogue. There are limited food offerings as well, should you find yourself hungry and reluctant to leave. The brewery is open Tuesday through Sunday.
Set in an unassuming building just up Niagara Street from Resurgence, Community Beer Works has been open for just over four years, and is seen as one of the catalysts of reinvigorating beer in Buffalo and Western New York. Due to the small size of the operation and its increasing success, the brewery is in the process of expanding and will move its main operations to a larger building later this year. Local beer enthusiasts may recognize the name, as several beers have made their way onto the taps at Rochester's Swiftwater. Try one of the acclaimed beers Thursday through Saturday.
Another Buffalo brewery eyeing expansion is Big Ditch Brewing Company. Fresh off being named the best craft brewery in the state at the TAP New York festival, Big Ditch is pursuing additional brewing equipment and a production line with the goal of canning for wider distribution of popular brews. As with the rest of the breweries on this list, the beer is made in-house. Located in downtown Buffalo, the building houses a production area that is separated from a large tap room. The space is bustling with energy and has a sophisticated vibe, perhaps attributable to its proximity to the business district. Food offerings are a bit more expanded than some of the others on this list, but beer is still the focus. Stop in Tuesday through Sunday.