For the LOVE of Beer
Rieslings. Chardonnay. Cabernet. Catawba. Concord. Niagara. These are all the vernacular of the Finger Lakes Region of the Southern Tier. The Finger Lakes Region is Wine Country and home to over 100 wineries. Finger Lakes Wine Country is well renowned and known across the world. In fact, some may say only Napa Valley in California is more well-known for American wines, than here in the Southern Tier. If you travel in the Finger Lakes Region these days however, you are beginning to see a new explosion joining Wine Country. With new terms to add, such as IPA, Hops, Rice, Lagers, Barley, Flights and so many more. Beer, Craft Beer to be exact has exploded across the world and especially here in the Southern Tier with over 75 microbreweries in the Finger
Lakes alone. Now if you think craft beer is a new thing, think again. In 1979 then President Jimmy Carter signed legislation making home brewing legal. Cam Lavallee, co-host of “What’s On Tap”, says that most of the pop-up breweries did indeed, begin at home. “Everywhere we've gone to we've heard different stories about people taking their love of beer, as well as the creating process, and starting out in their homes or at a similar small scale then, they realized what they were making was actually a really good product. Typically, they had a lot of positive feedback from those who tried it and convinced them it might actually be a worthwhile endeavor to try and brew on a larger scale.”
So what makes craft beer so appealing? Why is it so different from your traditional beers (Budweiser, Miller, Coors, etc.)? The traditional beers are mass produced. Whereas Craft Beers focuses more on flavors and nuances and often has higher alcohol content than regular beer. Does this mean that craft beers are becoming more popular than traditional beers? Numbers suggest maybe. According to brewersassociation.org, overall U.S. beer volume sales were down 2% in 2019, whereas craft brewer sales continued to grow at a rate of 4% by volume, reaching 13.6% of the U.S. beer market by volume. Craft production grew the most for taprooms. Retail dollar sales of craft increased 6%, up to $29.3 billion, and now account for more than 25% of the $116.0 billion U.S. beer market. So will we see a day where craft beers a more popular than say, Budweiser? “I mean, you're still always going to have those guys in the game. Says Lavallee, They've gotten to that level for a reason. You're always going to have people who swear by Bud, Coors, or Miller. Now, it seems like they just need to find a way to adapt to the beer scene and its constant changes. I feel like that's why you're seeing such a strong push for the hard seltzers from the major brands now. They've realized that selling one style won't cut it any more. I wouldn't be surprised if, in the next few years, you start to see those companies begin experimenting more in the IPA game, or another easy-to-drink style. Nothing crazy, but something to keep everyone happy.” Tom Brown, CEO of Media Barker and host of the 2020 Beer Festival, says that while he doesn’t see craft beers overtaking the big dogs, taste and diversity is the big game changer. “When you try something like a Budweiser or Coors or Miller Genuine Draft, yeah…that gets you there, but if you have something that’s an interesting challenge to your palate, and it happens to be local, that’s going to pull off from the others.”
While the Craft Beer Explosion is picking up steam, it’s not relatively new, and it definitely wasn’t overnight. Upstate Brewing Company opened its doors in 2011 and at the time was brewery number 1650 in the United States. There are now currently over 8,000 breweries in the country. Mark Neumann, owner of Upstate says it’s definitely been a labor of love. “We started in 2011 with 2 beers; we now have over 60 different beers. But it wasn’t overnight. We didn’t turn a profit for the first 3 years.” Upstate is one of the first local breweries and they currently have their beers in bars and restaurants across the state.
With the growth and the opening of so many breweries, Cam Lavallee and his co-Worker Eric Webler, decided they wanted to try different local beers. So in the summer of 2020, Cam and Eric premiered their Vlog, “What’s On Tap”, Cam and Eric want to showcase the breweries and the beers that they make. They have visited different breweries and reviewed different beers and the stories behind them. “Eric said he had been watching Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives the night before and wondered why there weren't any shows in that style for breweries. ”Says Lavallee. “We had only recently found out how much we liked beer and became friends, but he was about two or three sentences in and I was sold. And from there, we just started mass emailing any breweries we could find through Google in the area. We wanted to start in the Binghamton area, so we were thankful to be able to get Farmhouse, Water Street, Beer Tree, and The North all onboard very early on. And once other places started to see what the show was about, it became easier to pitch it to places, and we even started to see suggestions from viewers about where to go next, as well as having a few places reach out to us, which was pretty cool.” Lavallee says the best part has been meeting the people. Hearing the stories about how they got started in brewing, and how they were able to open up their own shops, and many of them said they went into it with a "betting on themselves" mentality. It inspired the co-hosts to try and brew their own craft beer! “Well, as of now, we've only brewed one beer, a Holiday Ale, and while it may not have come out exactly as it should have, it was a really fun experience. We spent several hours going through the whole process, learning little tricks to help make things work better and faster.” Lavallee went on to say… “The biggest thing we struggled with was getting the wort to cool down quickly. We had it on my back porch in about 15 degree weather, with the pot surrounded by snow, and it still took close to 2 hours to get to the temperature we were looking for. So, a really big lesson learned on the first try.”
Cam and Eric have caught the Craft Beer Bug! They are a part of the Craft Beer Phenomenon, which is right here in our backyard. You can see Cam and Eric and What’s On Tap on YouTube, and you can also follow them on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.