My friend Jacki and I have been talking about going up to Cooperstown for the longest time, and visiting Brewery Ommegang and the rest of the Cooperstown Beverage Trail. Jacki was one of my go-to brewery partners when I lived down in Lancaster, but since I’ve moved back to our motherland, and she doesn’t come home that often, and I don’t make it back down to the Lancaster/Chester county areas as much as I’d like, scheduling time to visit new ones gets hard. She was up one night this summer, and sitting on my back deck over a couple of Shiner Ruby Red’s, we decided that we’d travel to Cooperstown over Thanksgiving break, Saturday to be precise, since that’s typically the only day of the holiday break I don’t have plans, and she always comes home. I was all set and as the date approached, we’d chat on Facebook every once in a while in anticipation.
Then, as per usual, the wrench.
As the date got closer and closer, I realized I’m at that age where people stop coming home for Thanksgiving, and thusly it would be just Jacki and me. We didn’t want to spend the money on a hotel if it was just the two of us, and Cooperstown is far enough away that driving up for a day just to brewery hop, isn’t the smartest idea. So, I came up with a plan B, and decided we’d do a brewery tour of the Catskills since I’ve been somewhat of a Catskills fiend lately. I’ve written prior about Roscoe Beer Company and the Catskill Brewery. I was impressed with both and knew Jacki would like their beer. There were also a couple of breweries up in the New Paltz area I’d laid eyes on during various hiking trips to the Minnewaska State Park and Mohonk Preserve, including the Arrowood Farm Brewery, which looks like an awesome place to spend an afternoon. We had our plan B itinerary in place and drunkenly discussed how wonderful it was going to be Thanksgiving night when she stopped by the house.
Then, as per usual, the second wrench.
I woke up Saturday morning to the welcome site of falling snow: big, fat flakes, which were starting to cover the ground. This wasn’t the first snowfall of the year, but it still carried that same magic, with it now officially being the Christmas season and all. Then, I remembered I was supposed to be hitting up 5 breweries and a distillery via car, and panic set in. A quick sneak at the Weather Channel showed me that snow would dissipate by 10, which was our planned departure, but that rain and snow would be intermittently appearing throughout the day. The over-enthusiastic meteorologist assured me not to cancel my plans, however I figured maybe I should amend them to ensure we were never more than an hour and a half from home, just in case the weather decided to not follow verbatim what the meteorologist said. Luckily, there were an additional two breweries I’d never been to, and we weren’t planning on hitting, but were all in the confines of Sullivan County, where Roscoe and Livingston Manor (Catskill’s hometown) were located. What we ended up doing was an awesome loop through Sullivan County, stopping at three breweries, one distillery, my new favorite pizza place, and two bars. The initial drive up was about an hour and ten minutes, but once we got to Roscoe there was never more than a twenty-minute drive between stops, which made for a pleasant and easy beverage tour. We did a loop from Roscoe to Narrowsburg, but it could easily be done in reverse if that’s better for your itinerary. This is super accessible for anyone living in the Northeast part of the state, and for those of you in more distant areas of Pennsylvania, there’s plenty of cheap, unique lodging which would make this a pretty affordable overnight trip. I’m going to suggest right now that you start planning this for next fall, as the countryside up there is very picturesque. Here’s our seven stops.
Roscoe Beer Company:
Again, I’ve written about this place before, and a little more about the town of Roscoe itself in a previous post, but it’s worth talking about again, because this has become somewhere I’m always excited to stop. The brewery here is just outside of the town of Roscoe itself, and true to its trout-town theme has a giant fish tank as it’s centerpiece. We came here first because it opens the earliest, at 11, and because out of all of the places it’s closest to my home, and started our day with two flights, which encompassed all their beer, and some free popcorn. Roscoe also serves some select food, but since I dislike both chili and pigs in a blanket, and thought eleven thirty was too early for ravioli (though in general I’m a big ravioli supporter), we didn’t eat any of their specials. We did end up splitting a pre-packaged provolone and salami package, and while it wasn’t artisanal, it was delicious, and I respect that while they don’t have a full kitchen, they do keep snacks at hand for folks who are probably spending an afternoon sampling beer.
Out of all the breweries we were at, Roscoe is the one I would most advice setting up camp for an extended period of time. There’s plenty of high topped tables, as well as a sitting area with couches and armchairs. There’s plenty of games and books lying around, and they even have a self serving beer wall, a unique idea for those who are going to settle in a for a few hours. Roscoe itself is also a cool little town to explore. Plus, you can’t complain for 5 dollars a flight. I remember liking Roscoe’s Eagle IPA because it wasn’t bitter just for the sake of being bitter, but ended up really being taken by the Darwin’s Theory, which is a hoppy ale, and which I ended up getting a pint of after the flight was done.
It’s well documented here that for the most part, I’m strictly a beer drinker. I will tolerate the odd shot of Fireball or Blackberry Brandy here or there, but even their over-sweetened flavors are not something I enjoy. I’ve tried. I really have, but I just can’t get past the burn of most liquors, and usually a visit to a distillery has me “discreetly” pouring things out, or unwittingly insulting the people giving me a tasting as I gag and make faces throughout the entire proceeding.
Something really weird happened at Prohibition Distillery. I genuinely liked, and would drink, all the spirits they produce. I also learned a lot more than I was expecting, which I’m not going to share with you. Not because I don’t remember it (I remember some, but not all, it was a lot of information), but because I genuinely think you should go and experience this yourself. The distillery is located in an old fire house, and conveniently is only about a mile down the road from Roscoe Beer Company. It consists of a tasting room, as well as the actual distilling area. They give tours for $10.00, but when we got there, one was already in process, so one of the other distillers introduced himself to us, and gave us a quick overview of our options. We told him we’d do the tour, but would do the tasting while we waited. We ended up not doing the tour at all, because he was so informative during the tasting, we really didn’t think it would be necessary. Tastings don’t have a fixed price, but they do suggest giving a donation, which goes towards military charities.
Prohibition Distillery produces vodka, gin, and bourbon. The vodka was first, and was smooth as hell. I didn’t even pop in the handful of Altoids I had ready in my fist. The gin was next. While I don’t love much liquor, I have a special aversion to gin’s Pine-Sol-like qualities. I vocalized this, and our guide let me know that I was precisely this gin’s audience. It’s a gin for people who don’t like gin, he explained, as the pine notes are subdued, and what you get instead our more citrus notes. The man didn’t lie. I can’t believe I’m typing this, but it was actually refreshing. Similarly, the bourbon was also drinkable, and when he described a cocktail of bourbon on the rocks, with just a charred orange peel as a garnish, I could envision myself sipping and enjoying that. During the summer, Prohibition has an outdoor seating area with cocktails, food, and music, and that’s been effectively added to my summer bucket list.
I’d also previously been to the Catskill Brewery and really liked their beer. The brewery is located in a barn-like structure (I’m not sure if it was re-purposed or just designed that way), and was very lively when we got there. They too had complimentary popcorn, which is a highly weighted item on my “good bars and breweries” checklist. We got another sampler, and I remember liking their Flood Watch IPA from when I visited the past spring. I also ended up really liking their double IPA, and Freak Tractor wild beer, which is what I ended up getting an extra pint of. We didn’t end up spending a ton of time here, as we were starving, and it’s more of a tasting room, versus Roscoe, although in nice weather I could see hunkering down at the picnic tables outside.
Word of warning for those with weak stomach’s for it: the eau de hipster is strong here.
Benji and Jake’s
My brother and I discovered Benji and Jake’s this past September on our way back from hiking Gertrude’s Nose in Minnewaska State Park. The pizza place sits on the shore of Kauneonga Lake, just outside the town of Bethel. When we went in the summer, we sat on the back deck, overlooking the lake, which was fun, not only for the great view, but for how lively the steady streams of coming and going boats was. I don’t know that I could adequately write about how good the pizza is. Editor’s note: I’m terrible at describing food in anything but very base terms. It’s thin crust, and they have a ton of specialty pies for those who like their pizza adventures, well, adventurous, but it was their classic margarita pizza that my brother and I fell in love with. It was just, to me, the perfect combination of crust, sauce, tomatoes, mozzarella, and fresh basil, so when Jacki and I visited this time, I didn’t feel the need to try anything else, but rather demolished an entire margarita myself. She got a jalapeno pizza she assured me was also delicious. In the summer, they also make their own gelato. The pizza, gelato, and views are a combination that I think is going to turn me into one of their super fans (plus, it’s just a little over an hour from my house, so not an awful ride).
Shrewd Fox Brewery
Shrewd Fox Brewery is the newest brewery on our stop (although I don’t know that anywhere we went was “old” by any stretch), as they let us know that they’d just recently celebrated one year in business. Shrewd Fox is a start up in the best sense of the word, with a tasting room that had just about 8 seats. We once again got a couple of flights, and what I liked about them is that there were quite a few wheats and lagers-I always respect a new brewery that’s not JUST all about the IPA’s. The husband/wife team that ran the brewery was also super friendly and happy to talk about everything from their logo, to the beers they had on tap.
BVH Sports Bar.
Shrewd Fox is only a couple of miles from Barryville, NY, a Catskill town I spent a decent chunk of time in during my early 20’s. Some of my favorite memories are my camping trips at Kittatiny campground just outside Barryville. There were a couple of years in a row where we went every year, sometimes twice, rafting in the summer, and paintballing, or just hanging out in the fall. While we spent a lot of time on the river, we never ventured into Barryville much, as it’s not exactly walkable from the campground. We did spend a lot of time at Cedar Rapids, a bar (which also has it’s own campsites) on the river we were able to walk to. Cedar Rapids in a lot of ways is your typical country bar, but since it’s typically filled with vacationers, things could get a little wild. I have fond, hazy memories of body shots, light up dance floors, and people dancing on the bar into the early hours of the morning. Jacki and I were hoping it was open, and that we’d be able to capture some of our youth, but alas, it was closed for the season.
We figured we’d make a stop in Barryville, so turned around and headed back towards town. We passed a few places that looked rather nondescript, but then a BBQ joint, in an old Victorian House with a Budweiser sign in the window caught my eye about a block too late. We turned down a side street, and when it was evident it wasn’t making a loop like we assumed, started looking for a driveway to turn around in. Jacki spotted what appeared to be a parking lot a little further up, so we sped and and turned right into a bar parking lot. We figured what the hell, might as well stop for a drink, but were unprepared for the glorious hot wing smell that greeted us. We inquired if it was wing night when we sat down, already having decided on the long 15 foot walk from the door to the bar that we would be getting wings, and were told that no, it wasn’t, but BVH Sportsbar is known for their wings. We got hot honey garlic, which were absolutely delicious. What they’re known for is their “white trash” wings, which I saw, and almost immediately discounted as country gravy, which I’m not a fan of, but what actually is a garlic parmesan, mashed potato sauce that was weird enough to pique my interest in a return trip. I also respect how friendly everyone was. BVH looked like the type of place were newcomers are greeted with a cold shoulder and quizzical look, but the bartender, and other patrons were all super talkative. I learned during one of these talks that this was not a new bar, as I had assumed, since I’d never heard of it during my camping days, but rather a 25 year old something of a local institute that also might be Barryville’s best kept secret.
WHERE TO STAY:
We ended our New York journey with a quick stop at the Narrowsburg Inn & Grill, where I switched over to domestic for some good old Coors Light, and they were nice enough to bring us a sampler of their teriyaki wings which were tasty. We didn’t stay long, because at that point it was getting late, we had a 40 minute drive home, and let’s face it, we’re getting old. However, they are one of those fun throwback bars that also includes several rooms, if you wanted to make a night of it. Narrowsburg is a quiet town, but that might be an ideal place to stay after a day of booze-tasting. I’ve also read quite a bit about Blue Hill Farm, a “glamping” facility in Narrowsburg. I don’t know that I believe in this “glamping” trend, but I figured I’d throw it out there for those of you allergic to real tents.
If you’re going to make this an overnight, I’d stay in Narrowsburg, Barryville or Roscoe. Livingston Manor and Bethe are both cool places in their own right, but they’re in the middle, and this way you’re not backtracking or anything. If you’re going for Barryville, check out another bar/lodging hybrid in the form of the Carriage House. The Stickett Inn or the Catskill Mountain Resort both look good if you’re willing to shell out a bit more dough for more stylishly rustic digs.
You could always go the traditional route and camp at Kittatiny if it’s in season, or try out Tentrr, which I’ve been dying to. This new website seems something like a glamping/camping/Air Bnb mashup, and I am INTO IT. Conversely, I’m sure there’s tons of really gorgeous Air Bnb’s in this area.
If Roscoe is where you’d like to end, well, the town website has all your options covered.