When it comes to being a “locavore,” it seems like food gets all the spotlight. People aren’t quite as conscious about what they are drinking. I know that the produce grown on and around my farm are the best anywhere, but sometimes I forget that the delicious beverages that accompany this produce on my table are also homegrown, right here within 100 miles of my little abode. Amazing! To me, that’s one of the best parts of being a locavore – discovering things in your own backyard that might have been overlooked. When you restrict where your food comes from, you become more inventive. You eat better not only because of the innate benefits of locavorism, but also because you have a deeper appreciation for food and how it is prepared. It seems somehow more precious. You think outside the box a bit more, contemplating how this ingredient and that ingredient might come together and form something new, something distinctive, something interesting. Hmm, I wonder if I can marinate that chicken in that wine and local honey I scored at the Swap? Let’s try it… Or, well, I’ve got corn and I’ve got apples… looks like corn fritters with apple relish for dinner. When you take this mentality and apply it to what you’re drinking, you start to develop all new flavor pairings and profiles than make you wonder why the hell you didn’t think of this earlier!
There are several (dozens, even) breweries, distilleries and wineries around the Capital Region, and even some great stops for old-fashioned sodapop and creamy milk. This list could go on forever. Today, I’m offering up a small sampling of what is available within 100 miles of Albany, NY in terms of drink. I plan to continuously add to this list, so I hope you’ll bookmark it, add it to your favorites bar, or leave a little note on your bedside table that read, “Don’t Forget: Check out Deanna’s post on local booze again.” If you have a favorite not on this list, please leave me a note in the comments or holler at me on Twitter. I’ll try to include your suggestions in the updates! In the meantime, happy (and safe) drinking.
A small-production winery that grows its own grapes and imports grapes from around New York State, Altamont Vineyard and Winery offers
about eight different wines. Go for a tour or order wine online and host a tasting of local wine along with some local cheese and nuts!
Drink it With: Pair the Leon Millot Reserve with braised shortribs. Pair the Gewurztraminer with spicy enchiladas or chicken-corn chowder.
Part winery, part cozy neighborhood wine bar, there is surely a wine to please all palates at The Saratoga Winery. Nearly 20 value-priced offerings compose the wine list at the Spa-city hangout, but the horseracing-themed vinos create the perfect trifecta of tasting. Grab some friends, a glass of your favorite flavor, and listen to some local jams while you unwind after a long day at the Track.
What to Try: The Steeplechase
Drink it With: Fresh potato chip with herbed salt and bleu cheese
This award-winning distillery has made waves in the liquor world in the past four years. Berkshire Mountain Distillers sources its materials and ingredients as locally as possible to craft offerings like seasonally-based Gins, corn and “Bourbon”-style Whiskies, Rum, and Vodka. The company’s website includes a fabulous library of cocktail recipes, I highly recommend you have a look. Spirits from Berkshire Mountain Distillers are readily available.
Drink it With: Cane sugar syrup and a squeeze of lime over ice for a perfect Gin Gimlet.
Tuthilltown Spirits boasts that it is the first distillery in New York to produce whiskey since Prohibition, built on the grounds on a 220 year old gristmill. A small-batch distiller, Tuthilltown sources ingredients (mainly grains and fruits from within 10 miles of the distillery) from around New York State to create unique spirits that include Bourbons, Whiskies, Ryes, and Vodkas. Tours are available, or turn to the extensive recipe listing to concoct your own sampling.
What to Try: Hudson Manhattan Rye
Drink it With: Vermouth, bitters, a maraschino cherry and an orange slice for the namesake Manhattan (a tasty nightcap).
“Homegrown Hudson Valley spirits from tree to bottle,” says it all. It’s the motto of Harvest Spirits, and it’s what the company strives to create with it’s Core Vodka, Pear Brandy and Cornelius Applejack. All seasonally produced by an artisanal method, Harvest Spirits captures the essence of the autumnal pilgrimage to the orchards in over-21 form. Take a tour of the farm and distillery, have a little tasting, and support local agriculture while doing it (bonus karma points!).
What to Try: Cornelius Applejack
Drink it With: Popcorn Balls and your kids’ stash of Halloween candy
A local touchstone of good beer, Brown’s is a go-to for a healthy libation. Surprisingly, though, I don’t seem to see if on as many draught and bottle lists in area restaurants as I would expect. While some beers are nearly guaranteed to be available, go seasonal and try some limited-release varieties, like the Whiskey Porter or Harvest IPA. The quality of the beer offerings are matched by a superb pub menu. Check the Brown’s website often for seasonal releases and great events. This is definitely a craft beer company dedicated to the locavore movement.
What to Try: Oatmeal Stout
Drink it with: Enjoy it alone or use it in chocolate cake (when the recipe calls for melting chocolate in water, substitute the water for Oatmeal Stout. PS – You’re welcome).
Talk about a place with history: C.H. Evans Brewing Company was founded in 1786 (that’s three years before Washington became President)! If you know anything about Albany in the early days, in the time when the city was still a major trading hub in the “New World,” then you’d know it was like the Vegas of the Northeast (seriously, it was). Of course a rowdy town like that would need it’s own roadhouse. Today’s incarnation of the company, the Albany Pump Station, is still a fun place for good times and good drink, just tamed a little. Stop in for a great meal and even better beer, like the Quackenbush Blonde or Pump Station Pale, and get a first-hand look at the brewing process (most of the equipment is behind glass for patrons to marvel at).
What to Try: Kick-Ass Brown
Drink it With: Roasted game, like a herb-roasted pheasant or venison tenderloin with mushroom gravy.
Okay, I’ll admit it right now: I’m a bit biased about this brewery. I just love it. Rare Vos is my favorite beer on Earth. If you ever want to make Deanna a happy girl, just hand her a bomber bottle of Rare Vos and she’ll perk up quick. (Okay, you could hand me a Peroni or an Anchor Steam, but let’s leave technicalities aside for the sake of being a Locavore, okay? Okay.) At the American Craft Beer Fest this year, I had to deprive myself from going to the Ommegang booth for knowing that I wouldn’t even give the other fabulous beers a chance. So, if that rave hasn’t convinced you to trek out to Ommegang, perhaps the setting will. The brewery is perched on a hill overlooking Cooperstown, NY, a drinking town with a baseball problem. And since I’m in Cooperstown basically every-other weekend, I’ve come to adore just about everything about Ommegang, especially its commitment to protecting an ancient brewing method and supporting local economies. Ommegang has daily tours and a great variety of events, like a Christmastime visit from St. Nick for the kiddies and more adult-friendly concerts featuring stellar performers like Steve Earle and The Avett Brothers.
What to Try: Rare Vos
Drink it With: Thanksgiving dinner or backyard clambakes
Matt’s Brewing Company (known to the masses as Saranac) is well-loved for the amazing variety of beer it pumps out season after season. But people tend to forget the amazing root beer is also crafts (thanks to my buddy and fellow hard-cider enthusiast Evan for reminding me!). When prepping your locavore feast, don’t forget about the youngest guests and non-drinkers – include this great root beer to please everyone (and don’t be surprised if the booze diehards steal a swig, too).
What to Try: Saranac Root Beer
Drink it With: Slow-churned vanilla ice cream
Photo credits in order of appearance: Hudson River Valley Wineries, Saratoga Seen, Berkshire Mountain Distillers, Seasonal-FoodandDrink.com, Drinking Made Easy, 105.7 Crush FM, Albany Alive, Brewery Ommegang, Rootbeer Reviews