Where we’re at: I’m jumping ahead to share my trip in October 2020 with Finger Lakes Wine Country. I’ll jump back into chronological time eventually!
And PS: An exciting Wander Women Retreats announcement related to this post is coming soon — stay tuned!
The holidays have come and gone — and I, like many, toasted to the end of an old year and the beginning of a new one with a glass of one of my favorite beverages.
Many travelers love to discover a destination through its food. In recent years, I’ve seen a shift in that more areas are starting to introduce themselves to the world through their drinks, too. As a native New Yorker, I couldn’t be prouder of the craft beverage explosion that’s taken place in the Empire State in recent years. And there’s nowhere better to experience the full breadth of it than in the Finger Lakes.
Traditionally, the Finger Lakes were known as a wine destination. And it continues to be one of my favorite places in the world to vineyard hop! But one of the delights of my recent fall trip to the Finger Lakes was getting to see the full breadth of bevvies they’ve expanded to excel in.
Beer drinkers, cider lovers, spirit shooters rejoice! There’s something for all of you to toast to in The Finger Lakes. There are over one hundred craft beverage producers in the region, making it impossible to summarize them all (at least not without a slight hangover to follow — ha!) so instead, here is a curated list of a few of my new favorites.
Finger Lakes Distilling
From our seats in the tasting room at Finger Lakes Distilling in Burdett we could look out the floor-to-ceiling windows and enjoy views of not just Seneca Lake in the distance, but the very vineyards the vodka we were sipping had been distilled from in the foreground.
That’s what local means around here. Vodka made from Seneca lake grapes, apple brandy made from New York State apples, ninety percent of all crops coming from a fifty mile radius. And yup, you read that right — vodka made from grapes. When in wine country, no?
No matter when you come to the Finger Lakes, you’re in luck as Finger Lakes Distilling is open year-round for tastings and cocktails either at their onsite bar or to-go. And this is no Napa. As is true throughout the region, tastings are accessibly priced, with four samples from the full product line on offer for a mere $5 fee.
While they normally operate behind-the-scenes tours, current offerings are in flux for public safety — check in before your visit to see what’s available at the moment. My favorite is an OriGINal Gin Workshop, an experience in which you design and distill your own gin, starting with botanical selection and ending with applying your own label! Wouldn’t that make a cool party?
While there are now over one hundred and fifty distilleries in New York State, Finger Lakes Distilling was one of the first “field-to-flask” producers in the state, even helping guide legislation that has allowed the industry to boom into what it is today. I really beamed with New York State pride while hearing their story — I’m totally in the local spirits spirit, these days!
One more thing to be proud of? Like many New York State distilleries, Finger Lakes Distilling stepped up in the early days of the pandemic to shift production towards creating hand sanitizer produced from corn grown in nearby farms to donate to local healthcare providers when shortages plagued the nation. It’s now available to consumers, too — pick up a bottle when you stop by for a tasting.
Grist Iron Brewing
No, I’m not normally a beer drinker. But even I couldn’t resist making a fall trip to the Finger Lakes and not try a pumpkin ale. Grist Iron Brewing in Hector was the spot — it’s so good my older sister regularly makes the trip from Rochester to stock up there.
And it’s more than just a microbrewery — it’s the perfect place to stay while on a tasting tour in the region. We spent one night of our road trip at the Grist Iron Lodge and were charmed sideways by the whimsical accommodation.
From the vintage room keys and check-in brews to the clever “shower beer” coozies, we didn’t think this place could make us smile wider — until we discovered the “Let’s Get Toasted” package, which includes a 32 oz. Crowler of the Grist Iron beer of you choice plus s’mores supplies for two to use in the onsite fire pit. Other packages include treats like cheese boards from local farms. Yum!
Our affection only grew in the morning when the so-called “continental breakfast” that was included turned out to feature make-your-own waffles, eggs, yogurts, and beyond, all with views over Seneca Lake. And if you want to walk off your meal (or your drinks!) there’s a 1.59 mile trail through the property, leaving right from the lodge — bring Fido too, since pet friendly rooms are available.
With over thirty wineries, breweries, and distilleries within a ten mile radius of The Lodge, I can’t think of a more appropriate place to end a day sampling the best sips of the Finger Lakes!
Well, I can’t come to the Finger Lakes and not drink some wine! Actually, what brought us to Tabora Winery was not their tasting room but their dining one — their onsite deli and bakery is renown in the Finger Lakes for its creative and comforting quiches, salads, soups.
We originally planned to get them takeaway and go for an outdoor picnic, but when we arrived a rainshower invited us to slow down, eat on the covered patio, and then wander into the tasting room. When Gil remarked that it reminded him of some of the wineries he’d visited in Stellenbosch, the woman pouring our flights looked delighted, and told us that one of the owners was South African.
After our tasting we poked around the property looking for the guinea fowl that wander freely, and had no luck. But when it came to wine, we were more fortunate: we left with two bottles; one for us, and one for a housewarming gift for my younger sister.
Many of the wineries in the Finger Lakes are very whimsical and fun and I love that about them — but if you’re looking for something a little more traditional and refined (and with some of my favorite food of our trip!) don’t miss Tabora along the way, too.
Cider Creek Hard Cider
Cider drinkers, rejoice! The Finger Lakes is ready to spoil you rotten now, too.
I was extremely excited to visit Cider Creek Hard Cider’s Hammondsport tasting room for a few reasons. Not least because one of my favorite restaurants in my hometown of Albany, Dove and Deer, serves their Cran Mango cider year-round, and it’s one of my go-tos. I couldn’t wait to check out a few more of their offerings.
Cider Creek opened in 2013 turning a family recipe for a favorite home made cider into a popular brand that proudly uses 100% New York State apples. At their charming tap room in downtown Hammondsport, they serve a rotating menu of seasonal food specials (cider-mosas and breakfast pizzas, yum!) to go with their four-cider flights. Don’t miss the penny-and-dime floor in the shape of Keuka Lake.
As usual, I left the Finger Lakes with more things on my wish list for my next trip than I’d checked off on this one — I already can’t wait to return and check out Cider Creek’s main location in Canisteo.
Point of the Bluff Vineyards
I quickly realized that Point of the Bluff Vineyards is far more than just a boutique winery. It’s the type of place that fosters a community — not somewhere you visit once and check off your list, but rather a place that makes the destination richer with everything it does.
Our experience at Point of the Bluff began in their open-air tasting room, converted from their previous concert pavilion to safely host guests throughout the summer and fall season. We opted for a local cheese pairing — a chocolate option was also available — while we soaked up views of Keuka Lake and learned about the events they held in the space, like fall centerpiece workshops and an upcoming local holiday market.
After, we wandered down the road to their organic produce gardens, which supplies restaurants in the region from right down the street all the way to Rochester, and took a tour of their production facility with their winemaker. We were charmed when he told us he was an “old world winemaker” — ninety percent of what we do here, he said as we sipped a sample straight from a barrel, is by taste.
From everything we’d seen, that taste was fantastic.
Point of the Bluff might be in the running for my new favorite winery in the Finger Lakes, and I can’t wait to return. Also added to my list? Rooftop Reds, their sister spot in Red Hook, Brooklyn.
The Park Inn
While as a restaurant it might seem a funny fit for this list, bear with me — The Park Inn is a must stop on a drive-by of the best drinks in the Finger Lakes.
Owned by the same team behind Point of the Bluff, you know they know their wine here. But instead of simply offering a traditional wine list to go with their menu of seasonally inspired dishes, they’ve created a curated list of flights that feature local wineries, as well as highlight different flavors.
I went for a Finger Lakes rosé flight, while Gil indulged in an old worlds red version. We had our best meal of the trip here, with everything on the table touched by farms and wineries within a handful of miles. How special is that? In my mind, it’s a must-do.
Krooked Tusker Distillery
I knew I loved Krooked Tusker Distillery from the moment we pulled up and saw their colorful theme woven through their outdoor tasting garden decor.
This place takes the unpretentious fun of certain wineries I love in the Finger Lakes, like Pompous Ass Winery and Bully Hill, and brings them into the distillery world. After meeting the Southern owner, who was brought to the Finger Lakes by his native New Yorker wife, offerings like Peach Pie Hooch and ManChild Aged Whiskey made much more sense — and couldn’t have been tastier.
We loved chatting to the friendly bartender while we nibbled on popcorn and tried spirits and cocktails alike. As with many of the drinking destinations we visited on this trip, Krooked Tusker is deeply invested in their community. They donate 1% of all cocktail sales each month to a local charity — check the board for the month’s recipients.
If you do stop by, don’t forget to drop a pin — in the analog sense! — on their map of visitors from around the country and the world.
Well this was something new! In Apalachin, we dropped in at Waterman’s Distillery, which promised “locally sourced, hand-crafted liquors.” After settling in at a cozy high top, we probed the bartender on what, exactly, we were ordering. It’s a white spirit, she laughed, admitting it was hard for people to wrap their heads around the ambiguous term.
Made from New York corn and four times distilled before being infused with hand-crafted flavors, we quickly concluded that we didn’t mind what these spirits were called — they were delicious.
And historic, too. The distillery is placed along the state’s moonshine trail, established by bootleggers during the prohibition era.
. . .
So there you have it. My new drink discoveries from this trip — and so many more to look forward to in the future. Finger Lakes, I’ll be back — I’m still thirsty!
Where would you head on a trip to the Finger Lakes — to the wineries, breweries, cideries, or distilleries? Let me know in the comments, I’m curious what to buy when I throw you all a party 😉