Watch a bartender make a cocktail these days and you might be left thinking you need a lot of fancy ingredients and equipment -- and a degree in chemistry -- to pull off cocktails at home. But all you really need is the RIGHT ingredients, a measuring glass, metal shaker, a jigger or shot glass, some simple math skills (2 ounces x 2 ounces = 4 ounces), a little confidence and a willingness to taste and experiment.
I signed up for a workshop called Mixology 101 at the Savvy Wine Cellar, in Camillus, last month.
James Reed, bar manager at Pastabilities in downtown Syracuse, walked our group of 20-plus guests through four hand-crafted cocktails: a Margarita, Cosmopolitan, French 75 and Mint Julep. Each was very tasty (even the Julep; I'm not a bourbon fan) and easy to make. No powdered or liquid mixes, no blenders required.
During Colonial times, it is said, every American had a cask or two of hard cider in their cellar. And no wonder: Good hard cider is a beautiful thing. It's crisp and refreshing on its own, and a versatile partner with food and desserts.
We were late to the party on the comeback of hard cider in New York State (the nation's No. 2 producer of apples) because we thought hard cider was sort of a spiked, amped-up version of traditional sweet cider. As usual, we were we wrong.
Some hard ciders are bone dry and some are so fruit-forward they're like a party in your mouth. Some are still, some are bubbly and there's even a super-sweet version called ice cider. Some ciders are combined with fruit or fruit juice (think cherries, raspberries and blueberries) to take them in another direction. These are delightful chilled, or even chilled and poured over ice, if it's hot out.
So give our local and regional hard ciders a try. They're as distinct as the people who produce them. And they could become the apple of your eye.
SIX TO TRY:
1911 Spirits: You gotta love that Beak & Skiff introduced a hard cider six-pack. This gives 1911 a presence on store shelves right next to the Redd's, Johnny Appleseed and other mass-produced ciders made with apples from who knows where.
1911 Spirits ciders are available in five flavors: original, raspberry, blueberry, light and crisp and sweet apple. The six-packs, for now at least, are available only in the original. Note: It took us several stops, but we found the six-packs at Nice 'n' Easy.
Harvest Moon Cidery: Ciders from this farm winery at Critz Farms, south of Cazenovia, are made in small batches from apples grown and pressed on the farm, using an antique cider press. Harvest Moon ciders were our first experience with hard ciders. Eureka! We're especially fond of the Rippleton Original, a dry, Champagne-style cider, the Heritage Hops Hard Cider (made with hops grown in Madison County, which gives it slightly "hoppy" aroma and flavor) and the Cherry Moon hard cider, which is blended with tart cherry juice.
Eve's Cidery: Eve's is a small, family-run orchard and cidery in Van Etten, in the Finger Lakes. The farm doesn't have a tasting room. We happened on their stand at the Ithaca Farmers Market one Saturday in October and gladly enjoyed a tasting (at 10 a.m., no less). We especially enjoyed the 2013 Northern Spy, a clean, dry, sparkling cider made with one of our favorite pie apples. The young man doing the pouring recommended serving this cider with spicy Thai or Vietnamese food. It also would work well on the Thanksgiving table.
Bellwether: Bellwether is one of the leaders of the hard cider revival. They've been making hard cider near Trumansburg (Cayuga Lake West) since 1999 using many varieties of New York State apples. Ciders range from dry to semi-sweet, and include sparkling and still varieties. I regret we came home with only one bottle of the original, which is crisp and refreshing and said to pair well with grilled meats, chicken, fish and spicy foods. So we'll have to get back there this winter. The tasting room is open year-round.
Steampunk: Can a cider be called a joy? Or killer? We enjoyed our first taste of Steampunk cider, made by Leonard Oakes Estate Winery in Medina, on a visit to the Niagara Wine Trail. It's bold and tangy and golden -- and my favorite hard cider, to date.
When we spotted Steampunk on the shelves at Ryan's Wine and Spirits in Canandaigua recently, we had to bring some more home.
Here is the church. Here is the steeple. Open the doors and see all the…
Eremita Winery is located in the former Reformed and (later) Presbyterian Church, which stood vacant for years, in the village of Lodi, Seneca County (Seneca Lake East). The church dates to the 1870’s.
Owner Josh Parker, a native of the Utica area who previously worked as a construction project manager in Florida, purchased the building in 2010 after seeing it advertised online.
He is restoring and repurposing the building in increments, putting reclaimed materials and his own design and construction skills to use. He lives there, as well, and his dog, Matouk, greets visitors.
If Parker were to say his winery is one of the most unique in the Finger Lakes, he would be justified. I can’t think of another winery in a former church, with light streaming in through stained glass windows. The church’s original wood floors gleam.
Parker makes and cellars Riesling, unoaked Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Noir, a blush wine called Goddess and others on the premises, using grapes from Wagner Vineyards and other growers.
It’s small in terms of staff and volume – about 1,500 cases a year. Stop in Eremita for a tasting and the chances are good you will find Parker working solo, pouring wine, answering questions and making and closing sales.
Eremita welcomes groups, but it’s a good idea to call ahead.
Speaking of small Finger Lakes wineries: About five miles south of Eremita, and off the beaten path (Route 414), is Silver Thread Vineyard. The vineyard produces small quantities of premium vinifera wines, including Riesling, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir and Gewurztraminer that have gained notice well outside the Finger Lakes. The winery is rated among the top six Finger Lakes wine producers in the latest Robert Parker Wine Guide.
Silver Thread is a hidden gem, offering a secluded setting, gorgeous views of Seneca Lake and a small tasting room built into a hill, where co-owner Shannon Brock pours samples. Buses and recreational vehicles aren’t allowed on the gravel road that leads to the winery. Groups of eight or more must call in advance to make arrangements to visit.
There are advantages to visiting a small winery. When the owner pours, you learn things. Such as: Veraison – that’s the term used to describe the point in the growing season when grapes soften and change color. And that Gewurztraminer is a pink grape that yields a straw-colored wine.
Eremita Winery is at 2155 Church St., Lodi. Hours are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday. For information, call 607-474-5002. A website is under construction. Click here to visit Eremita on Facebook.
Silver Thread Vineyard is at 1401 Caywood Road, Lodi (about a mile off Route 414). The tasting room is open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday through Monday (through November). For information, call 607-582-6116 or visit the website.
Greenwood Winery, at 6475 Collamer Road (Route 298), opened to the public several weeks ago. Construction of a bar and bistro, adjacent to the tasting room and wine-processing building, will soon begin.
DeWitt’s first winery? A winery in the suburbs? It’s not as strange as it sounds. Grapes are now being grown in an estimated 80 percent of New York’s counties.
And wineries are popping up all over New York State: along Lake Ontario, in the Thousand Islands, near Watertown, on the Tug Hill Plateau, near the Adirondacks and Lake Champlain.
Greenwood Winery is an artisan winery owned and operated by local real estate developer Tom Greenwood. Wines are made from grapes grown in DeWitt and in the Finger Lakes. The tasting area shares space with sparkling new storage tanks and crush pads.
Most of the grapes Greenwood is growing are cold-hardy varieties developed by developed by Cornell University and the University of Minnesota: Traminette, Noiret, Chancellor, Marechal Foch and others.
In a Riesling rut? Looking to branch out from your nightly Merlot? Eight wines are available for tasting: four whites, a blush wine and three reds. Our $5 tasting included our choice of five wines and came with a souvenir glass.
I’m no wine expert, not by a long shot, but I do know what I like. I particularly enjoyed the Traminette, a crisp white wine that reminded me of the sunny Gewurztraminers I’ve enjoyed in the Finger Lakes, as well as two reds, the Noiret and Enthusiasm (Chancellor). The reds are dry but not bone dry. They’re full-bodied and flavorful, with a clean, smooth finish.
They definitely have a place at home, as we transition from light summer meals to heartier fall and winter fare, like soups, stews and braised meats.
They also have a place right at the Greenwood Winery, which has tables and Adirondack chairs on a patio overlooking the small vineyard. Wines are available by the glass, and bottles range in price from $10 to $14.
There’s also a small market section with local and regional food products, like Thousand Island River Rat cheeses and mustards, artisan breads, olives and cured meats – and other items that pair nicely with wine. A small farmstand holds tomatoes, cucumbers, summer squashes and other produce for sale, all from Greenwood’s nearby farm, we were told.
Stroll around the vineyards and you’ll lose awareness of the car and truck traffic on Route 298.
Enjoy a glass of wine and a little picnic on the patio.
You’ll think you’re in wine country instead of the wine suburbs.
Note: Greenwood Winery won a Gold medal for its Baco Noir at the recent New York Wine and Food Classic, considered the Oscars of New York State wine. It was not available to taste when we visited – one more reason to visit again.
Greenwood Winery is at 6475 Collamer Road (Route 298), DeWitt, a couple miles east of Carrier Circle. Tasting room hours are 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday, noon to 6 p.m. Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. For information call 315-399-0835.
It’s fortunate, then, that the Finger Lakes Beer Trail is close at hand. The trail, founded in 2011 to celebrate and promote craft breweries in the Finger Lakes Region, stretches from Rochester to Syracuse and includes nearly three dozen breweries (including several still in development).
In Syracuse, you can hop on board the hoppy trail by stopping at Middle Ages Brewing Company, Empire Brewing or Syracuse Suds Factory. On a recent Saturday, we decided to venture a little further out.
First stop was Cortland Beer Company in Cortland, about 35 miles south of Syracuse. The tasting room is clean, modern and bright – and was uncrowded on a winter Saturday.
Our 10-sample tasting flight began with a pour of Naked Lap Lager, which is light in color and body and goes down super-easy. Next up was Fire House Pale Ale, named for the 1914 Cortland firehouse across the street from the brewery. It was heavier in body, crisp, malty and smooth. We liked it enough to take home a growler of it for later enjoyment.
The beers got darker and heavier (and higher in alcohol, by volume) as our tasting continued. After years of avoiding them, I was surprised to discover that I DO like stouts and porters – in small doses, at least.
CBC’s Seven Valley Stout, for example, was earthy, roasty and malty – with a slight sweetness and hints of caramel. Sunrise Coffee Stout is made with locally roasted coffee beans. Our tasting room server described it as tasting like a cold espresso – and he was right on the money. I wouldn’t recommend it for breakfast, however!
The Black Widow Stout had a richness to it and hinted of chocolate. A small pour of it on a cold night, in front of a roaring fire, would make a lovely nightcap. A seasonal barley wine – was a lovely deep amber in color with notes of toffee and nutmeg. Barley wines are beers that are as strong as wine – 9 to 12 percent alcohol by volume, hence their name.
We hadn’t planned a second brewery stop, initially, but decided to continue 10 miles further south to Dryden on learning about Bacchus Brewing Company.
The brewhouse, tucked back in an office park off Route 13, brewed its first beers in February 2012. The enthusiastic young women manning the taps said Bacchus brews six beers at present – Blonde Ale, Irish Red, an IPA, Pale Ale, Spiced Brown Ale and Oatmeal Stout.
We especially liked the Blonde Ale, clean and crisp with hints of citrus, and the strong, slightly bitter IPA. Once again, a stout (Oatmeal Stout) was a pleasant surprise to my taste buds. Chocolate notes. Slight nuttiness. What’s not to like – every once in a while?
We ended our excursion along the Finger Lakes Beer Trail with a stop at the Dryden Hotel. With Cortland Beer’s Firehouse Pale Ale on tap and Syracuse University vs. Louisville on TV, we weren’t in a big hurry to head home.
Cortland Beer Company is at 16 Court St., in downtown Cortland. The tasting room is open Monday to Saturday. Info: 607-662-4389.
Bacchus Brewing Company is at 15 Ellis Drive, Dryden. The tasting room is open Thursday to Saturday. Info: 607-844-8474.