I often think I’m exceptionally lucky to live in upstate New York. After all, we have one of the country’s most inspiring landscapes, sans big crowds, plus a phenomenal farm-to-table food scene. As if that weren’t enough, we’re home to the lion’s share of New York State’s 400 distilleries, cideries, wineries, and breweries. Thanks to a mix of longstanding talent and innovative newcomers — many of whom use hyperlocal, organic, and heritage ingredients, or environmentally sustainable farming methods — the craft beverage scene in the upstate region is rich, varied, and unforgettable.
The varied terrain of upstate New York is conducive to all sorts of craft beverages. For example, in the north, the moderating effects of the water in the Finger Lakes makes for prime wine grape territory. Nearby, the broad plains surrounding Ithaca are an excellent location for growing hops and barley for beer. In the Hudson Valley, where summers are warm and humid, winters are cold, and the soil is rocky, apple growing has a long and storied history — and with 600 commercial apple orchards statewide, it’s no wonder the state ranks first in the nation in hard cider production.
Here’s a guide to some of the more unique craft beverages you’ll find in upstate New York. Always check websites before you head out, as some tasting rooms require reservations, and others are tricky to find.
Founded in 2002, Eve’s Cidery is one of the longest-running craft cideries in the country. Situated at the intersection of the Finger Lakes and the Northern Appalachian Plateau, the cidery’s gambrel-roofed red barn seems to materialize out of the woods near Cayuta Creek. Eve’s is known for dry, artisanal ciders, some made from a single apple variety or from an individual location.
Finger Lakes Cider House
The Finger Lakes Cider House, just outside of Ithaca, is a great bet for those who are new to cider or who want to sample drinks from more than one maker. The tasting room features ciders from five local producers, including their own, which is made from apples in their regenerative, organic orchard. The atmosphere is casual and welcoming, and the staff is helpful in providing suggestions based on your taste in wine and beer.
Bad Seed, located in Highland, proudly mixes old and new techniques with a nod to craft beermaking in their dry ciders. From India Pale Cider, a takeoff on India pale ale, to The Farmer, which is brewed with French saison beer yeast, Bad Seed’s ciders are creative and small-batch as well as gluten-free. In a first for the region, they contain zero grams of sugar. Bad Seed uses apples primarily grown on their own sixth-generation farm and serves them in an industrial-chic taproom lined with warm woods and cool metals.
One of the newest entries on the New York hard cider scene is Seminary Hill. The focus here is sustainability and holistic orchard-management methods, which result in dry and semi-dry ciders with pronounced effervescence and a good balance between sweet and bitter. The 4,000-square-foot tasting room, made with reclaimed wood from the underwater pilings of the original Tappan Zee Bridge, is bright, airy, and rustic with an upscale feel. The views of the orchard and the Delaware River Valley off in the distance are unmatched.
Pro Tip: There are a handful of upstate cideries that don’t have their own tasting rooms but sell their products through farmers markets and wine and spirits stores. While traveling through New York State, look for Metal House, which crafts terroir-focused ciders, often from heritage varieties. East Hollow Cider makes small-batch cider from foraged wild apples and abandoned orchards.
Millbrook Vineyards & Winery
While the Finger Lakes are synonymous with wine, you can find quality wineries in several cities. In the bite-size historic village of Millbrook, Millbrook Vineyards & Winery has been turning out well-regarded chardonnay, pinot noir, Cabernet Franc, Riesling, and Tocai Friulano since 1982. Stop for a tasting at their restored Dutch barn and you’ll be wowed not just by the vino, but by the exceptional views of rambling vineyards and the Catskill Mountains.
A quintessential country winery, Sabba Vineyard in Old Chatham commands 100 lush acres in an old farming community. It’s owned by sculptor/vintner Abby Youghabi, who displays many of his artworks in the adjacent sculpture garden. Visiting in warmer seasons is a treat, as the winery hosts live music and onsite food trucks. The dry Rieslings are a local favorite, but my top pick is the Three Hearts Ice Wine, a beautifully aromatic, vibrant blend of Vidal Blanc and Traminette.
Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyards & Winery
Now about those Finger Lakes: you’ll undoubtedly have the best selection of wines here, especially around Seneca Lake. Plan to visit Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyards & Winery, which has been producing superior wines since the 1970s. In the 2000s, they turned their attention toward farming methods that use no pesticides, promote biodiversity in adjacent fields and forests, and use cover crops and homeopathic teas instead of synthetic fertilizers. The results are spectacular, especially in their Grüner Veltliner, Blaufränkisch, and wide selection of Rieslings.
Standing Stone Vineyards
Standing Stone Vineyards, established in the 1970s, is also at the forefront of biodynamic wines. Like Hermann J. Wiemer, which purchased their vineyard in 2017, they focus on low-intervention growing practices and ecosystem health. Although they’re known for their white wines, don’t miss the Farm Red, a juicy, food-friendly blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Saperavi, a varietal from the Republic of Georgia.
The Drowned Lands
It’s getting difficult to keep up with the accolades for The Drowned Lands, a farm brewery that opened in Warwick in 2020. They craft a range of rustic beers and have gained attention for their double IPAs, farmhouse ales, and wheat pilsners. The chicly modern, light-filled taproom is the antithesis of most taprooms, which tend toward the dark and moody.
Suarez Family Brewery
Headquartered inside a former lamp factory, Suarez Family Brewery is laid-back and cool without even trying. A stop at the brewery, on the outskirts of city-on-the-rise Hudson, feels like a visit to an eclectic friend — if that friend made addictive pilsners, mixed-fermentation ales, and saisons.
Roe Jan Brewing
In the upper Hudson Valley, you’ll find two buzzy breweries, both in historic buildings that are stunning examples of adaptive reuse. Rustic with a modern edge, Roe Jan Brewing in Hillsdale is headed by the rare female brewer, Hayley Shine. The Yonder View IPA is a standout, and the Cozy Flannel brown ale is like an autumn hug in a glass. Because Roe Jan is also a restaurant, you can enjoy a pint with a local-foods meal. Then head across the street and walk it off on the Harlem Valley Rail Trail, which stretches for 46 miles through rolling farmland.
The Roaring ’20s in New Lebanon is a new kid on the block. Its brick-clad, Victorian headquarters was once a school, a post office, and a junk shop. It was rescued from a state of decay and reimagined into a brewery and warm, inviting taproom. Roaring ’20s features 11 beers on tap, including the flagship malty, fruity Pandemic Pale Ale, named for when they began brewing it. Dark-beer lovers: do not pass go without ordering the Nutty Buddy Peanut Butter Stout, a rich, creamy beer with chocolate and liquid peanut butter added during the fermentation and bottling processes.
Tuthilltown Spirits in bucolic Gardiner is New York’s first distillery since Prohibition. Visionary founder Ralph Erenzo didn’t just create a distillery; he also started a movement by advocating for the reform of beverage laws. Although the distillery was purchased by Scottish whiskey giant William Grant & Sons in 2010, Tuthilltown holds fast to its craft roots. It’s a whiskey specialist, offering five different types, including an excellent rye whiskey finished in peated Scotch barrels.
Denning’s Point Distillery
In Beacon, a favorite weekend destination for New York City visitors, Denning’s Point Distillery is serious about crafting a superior local product — with a sense of humor. They produce bourbon, brandy, vodka, and gin, made mostly with ingredients sourced from family farms within a 50-mile radius. Their tasting room, in a repurposed auto body shop, mixes tones and textures with splashes of their signature bright turquoise. The cocktails, including Love Handles (bourbon, lime juice, and maple syrup) and Double Chin (apple brandy and cider with club soda) are delicious.
A woman-led distillery, Catskill Provisions in Callicoon is all about locally harvested ingredients that are distilled, mixed with botanicals, and proofed with mountain spring water. The star is 100% raw wildflower honey, gathered by head distiller Claire Marin, a magazine publisher-turned-beekeeper who tends 300 hives in the area. The honey is most apparent in the Beespoke Gin, an aromatic spirit with the tangy grape-berry note. The tasting room serves samples of their whiskey, vodka, gin, and bourbon, as well as kicky cocktails and artisanal nibbles for lunch and dinner.
Cooper’s Daughter Spirits
I’m conflicted about spreading the word about Cooper’s Daughter Spirits, another woman-led, family-run distillery in tiny, forested Claverack. On the one hand, their spirits deserve to be shouted from the mountaintops. On the other, I want to keep them to myself. Alas, friends don’t let friends drink crummy craft beverages, so consider this your PSA. Everything here — from the spirits to the barrels they’re aged in — is crafted by hand, and the Black Walnut Bourbon, Buddha’s Hand Vodka, and Black Currant Liqueur are standouts. The cocktail garden, open year-round (with heat lamps in the winter!) is perfect for sipping creative hot and cold cocktails with the soothing sound of a rushing waterfall in the background.