You know that old college adage, “liquor before beer, you’re in the clear, beer before liquor, never been sicker”? I found out my second day in the finger lakes that it’s a whole lot of bull. I did a cider tasting, wine tasting, and had a pint of Guinness with lunch, all before sampling some locally distilled spirits (ie: taking 3 shots in a row) and I more or less felt fine the next day. I also found out, or should I say, re-found, that this does should not apply to me anyway, because liquor and I have never been, nor never will be friends.
We were up early due to our early Saturday night and after a healthy family breakfast at McDonalds (which btw, I just discovered the mcgriddle and might be in love) and decided to follow said healthy breakfast with an hour of actual healthy activity.
While it seems like most people I know go to the Finger Lakes to overindulge in food and booze, there’s actually a lot of really great hiking, state parks, and of course, aquatic activity. We went to Taughannock Falls State Park, located just north of Ithaca in the small town of Trumasburg. It’s an easy mile and half hike up and back to the titular falls, which is what we did. There’s plenty of other trails, including one on the rim of the gorge, but since it was almost noon by the time we finished, and most of the wineries are only open till 5, we opted not to explore anymore.
Ithaca itself is home to two other water-fall centric parks: Robert H. Treman State Park, known for its gorge and 12 waterfalls, and Buttermilk Falls State Park. Watkins Glen State Park sits just below the town bearing its name over at the bottom of Seneca Lake. You could easily go up and hike and boat all weekend. I’m interested in heading up in the winter to XC ski and snowshoe.
Our first tasting on Sunday was at the Bellwether Cidery, which coincidentally happens to be just up the road from Taughannock Falls. Ciders becoming a big business up in Finger Lakes. Shawn and I had a split a bottle at Chateau Lafayette Reneau Winery the previous day, and my sister had been drinking Hazlitt’s hard cider on a few of our stops. Bellwether though, was the first in the area to exclusively do cider (The Finger Lakes Cider House, Black Diamond Cider Redbyrd Orchard Cider, and South Hill Cider, also near Lake Cayuga, have opened in the meantime) and has been open since 1999. Bellweather also has wine tastings.
Bellwether was my first official tasting of the trip, as I’d been sticking to beer the day before. At any of these wineries, you pay a set fee for a set number of tastes, and the staff explains to you the difference between the offerings. We started off with very dry cider, which almost tasted like champagne. I was not a fan, but then progressed to more Magners-esque drinks. We bought a few bottles to share outside afterwards, which we sampled along with a jar of craft made pickles. The Brothwells are a classy people.
Stop number 2 was Lucas Vineyards, somewhere my dad had remembered from when he and my mother had visited the area a couple of years earlier. It became apparent why as soon as we walked in. One of their flagship wines was “Tugboat Red,” as one of the Vineyard’s founders was a tugboat captain. Jim Brothwell always claims that if he had to do it all over, tugboat captain would be his chosen career.
Lucas Vineyards is strictly wine only, so here I was forced to broaden my horizons and suck down some grapes. You know what? I didn’t hate it. I’m not going to go clamoring for a Pinot Noir next time I go barhopping, but at least now if I need, I could find and drink a wine that I like. I really enjoyed the tasting here, maybe because unlike beer, wine is still new and I could learn something, but a big part of it was due to the guy guiding us through our tastings, who was very unpretentious. He didn’t talk about floral notes, or bouquets, and broke it down to a wine-for-dummies level that I could comprehend. I appreciated that. I think we all did, actually, as we came out of there with a whole case of wine.
We stopped and had lunch at O’Malley’s Cabin on the Lake, a little neighborhood pub right on the water, that I could see getting stuck at had I been the one in charge of the itinerary (this had a really convenient location in the middle of the wine trail-as I mentioned on my Saturday post, most of the wineries do not serve food).
Stop number four was a little bump on the road. We visited the Myer Farm Distillery, the only distillery on Cayuga Lake, which crafts locally made whiskeys, gins, and vodkas. As stated before, I’m not friends with liquor. It makes me cranky, irritable, and sick. I also drink it like beer, which is more my problem, then liquor’s fault, but that’s neither here nor there. At Myer Farm you get to taste 3 of their products, and luckily, they will add a mixer for you. I did pineapple vodka with pineapple and orange juice. whiskey with blueberry juice, and coffee vodka with cream soda. I learned that I will not be going to another distillery. While my brother and parents were able to sip their drinks like civilized humans, my sister and I did them likes shots, then walked around gagging like 8th graders who tried booze for the first time. My only purchase here was two bottles of water.
Stop number five was Goose Watch Winery, one of the bigger names on the lake. We didn’t do any tastings here, rather bought a bottle, sat on the deck, and enjoyed the view.
Our 6th stop was my favorite. I wish we could’ve spent more time here. The Boat House Beer Garden is Cayuga Lake’s newest addition. It’s a beer garden and taproom specializing in local craft beer. If you want to sample all the local brews in one location, this is your stop. I got a Finger Lakes flight, but also had my eye on the Ithaca Brewing Company Country Pumpkin, and on a can of Porkslap, but sadly we’d made it just in time for last call. This will 100% be a return stop.
To continue the sampling theme of the weekend, we had dinner at Just a Taste, a tapas restaurant in downtown Ithaca. I’m pretty sure tapas restaurants are my new jam. I love nothing more then ordering and sharing rounds of apps, and that’s pretty much what tapas is. And the good news was that their small plates were simply just small, not abysmally tiny, so everyone got more than a bite. My new life goal is to recreate their deep-fried russet potatoes with chipotle aoli (I feel like such a douche saying that, but it’s true!).