Difficult, yes, but not impossible. I called George de Piro, known as Professor Beer (see professorbeer.com) and the brewmaster for C.H. Evans Brewing Company's Albany Pump Station, and he helped me assemble a pint-size look at the best places to knock back a beer in this great state (plus one famous inn with an astounding beer list). Consider it a temporary road map.
-Brewery Ommegang (www.ommegang.com; 656 County Highway 33, Cooperstown; 800-544-1809): "Everything they do is interesting, and some of what they make is incredible," says de Piro. "It's local, and they have a beautiful brewery." The third weekend in July, the brewery hosts Belgium Comes to Cooperstown, a beer and food festival with 100-plus beers, camping, food vendors, and live music.
-C.H. Evans Brewing Company at the Albany Pump Station (www.evansale.com; 19 Quackenbush Square, Albany; 518-447-9000): Okay, de Piro makes the beer here, but there's more than just his award-winning ale, which was twice awarded the Great American Beer Festival gold medal for the best brown ale in the United States. There's also the building itself: 45-foot-high ceilings, original ironwork forged by hand on-site, and massive cranes hanging around.
-Wagner Vineyards (www.wagnervineyards.com; 9322 Route 414, Lodi; 607-582-6450): Located on Seneca Lake and in the heart of the famous Finger Lakes wine region, this winery does an impressive side business in beer. In fact, its Sled Dog Doppelbock garnered a silver medal at the 2005 Great American Beer Festival. A large deck wraps around the winery and offers spectacular views of the rows of grapevines that lead down to the lake.
-Southampton Publick House (www.publick.com; 40 Bowden Square, Southampton; 631-283-2800): "They win a ton of awards, and their beers are always interesting," says de Piro, who notes the brewmaster enjoys experimentation and has even made a beer brewed with edible flowers. "Even in winter, it's beautiful out there." Which is why supermodels and celebs spend a lot of time at this posh Long Island playground.
-Brooklyn Brewery (www.brooklynbrewery.com; 79 North 11th Street, Brooklyn; 718-486-7422): One hundred years ago, Brooklyn was home to around 48 breweries. That legacy continues in this brewery. "Their business model is brilliant. They started out as a contract brewery," say de Piro. "And they helped revitalize the neighborhood." Many credit Brooklyn Brewery with helping to make Williamsburg the hip,
cool place it is today.
-The Country Inn (www.krumville.com; 1380 County Road 2, Krumville; 845-657-8956): With a way-out-of-the-way location, an unassuming building, a decent jukebox, 12 beers on tap, and about 500 different bottled beers to choose from, this hideaway is often referred to as "beer camp." "You go in thinking there would be a lot of [ordinary beer], but everybody in there is drinking something interesting," says de Piro. "If you get lost going there, as I did, just stop at somebody's driveway, as I did, and say, 'Hey, where's the Country Inn?'?"
Will all of these spots make the Empire State Brewery Trail list? They had better. If not, Governor Pataki and company have some explaining to do.