On Tour: Empire Farm Brewery
An oddly hot September day is a good day for a beer. Really, any day is good for a beer, but a day as hot as this deserves a good brew. Or many.
That’s how a group of us ended up at Empire Brewing Company’s newest spot.
The farm brewery — meaning at least 20% of the produce it uses is locally grown — is a stone’s throw from Cazenovia Lake. Tucked away on 22 acres of farmland to the southwest of the village, the 4,000 square foot facility is a beer lover’s paradise.
The tour offers an insight into how the delicious beer goes from four simple ingredients — water, barley, hops and yeast —to the myriad of different flavors and styles Empire prides itself on offering.
Tour guide, Chad Talboom, an eager, bearded brewer who is quick with a dad joke and even quicker with his beer knowledge, jests with tour groups about how he is practically a “glorified custodian,” while also being careful to let us know he loves working in the fully electric, almost $13 million facility.
Talboom, with the help of his trainee tourer, Adelaide Dunn, guides the group through the process of making the beer, on to the lab where it is tested and to the mechanism where it is bottled. The last place Talboom takes the tour to is into Empire’s extremely large fridge. The brewer is particularly happy about this, probably because this is where the final product is stored.
One thing jumps out. Talboom admits that the beer isn’t pasteurized, meaning it will last only about 9 months if it is not consumed. That doesn’t seem to faze the tour guide. “We don’t pasteurize our beer because it doesn’t stay on the shelves very long” Talboom said, to raucous laughter from the group.
Now that the tour is almost over, there is an air of thirst over the group. It’s time to sample some of Empire’s impressive array of beers.
The outside seating area is caked in sunshine, perfect weather to sample eight of Empire’s finest. The drinking begins with their Cream Ale, a delightfully light, hoppy beer with a distinctive smooth mouthfeel. It sails down the throat with its velvety texture and easy drinkability – a must try.
It feels like a summer day thanks to the mid-80-degree weather, so naturally Empire’s Grindstone Blueberry Ale feels like a solid choice. A slightly fizzy, cider-like pint soothes the warm weather with it’s refreshing taste. The fruity aroma is carefully contrasted to a slightly bitter, beer taste, reminding the drinker that they are enjoying a beer instead of a cocktail.
After two pints (and a slight softening of the senses), a quick-fire round of six tasters helps continue the journey. Black Magic Stout is the perfect dark beer drinker’s choice. Chocolate and coffee notes remain familiar to a regular craft stout, but the perfectly smooth texture shows Empire’s attention to detail.
Apres IPA gives strong, hoppy aroma and a high percentage. Not for the faint hearted. Still, a well-crafted IPA is welcome among the sea of IPA’s dominating the shelves at the moment. This one is carefully made to balance the classic hoppy flavor with a sweetness, as opposed to a usual bitterness. This palette shock provides a uniqueness that Empire should be very happy with.
Empire’s East Coast Amber Ale, Two Dragons (a complex lager), and their Belgian style Saison all offer unique flavors compared to their peers. Two Dragons in particular brings a nuttiness that might not be sought after in a lager, but convinces that experimentation in beer can really be a good thing.
The Amber Ale, a tad fizzier than is typical, smells like sweet caramel and slides down the throat with ease. An unctuous, full flavor explains why this beer is one of Empire’s best sellers.
The Saison, meanwhile could deter with it’s strong aromas but don’t be put off. Their homage to Belgium is well worth the time. The wheat beer was a perfect compliment to the now simmering sun.
The best of the bunch though, is their distinctive Deep Purple. Weighing in at a potent 7.5 percent ABV, Empire’s pilsner based ale packs a subtle punch. Subtle because the delicious, wine textured beer made with concord grapes is so drinkable, it would be very easy to sink a few before realizing the effects. Dangerous!
After sampling their wide range, it’s easy to see why Empire proudly hangs banners of the awards they’ve been winning since 1995. The ten banners aren’t even representative of the full haul Empire Brewing Co. has won over the years. The diversity of beers — from Hefeweizen to Octoberfest — that have won the awards offer even further proof that this Central New York brewery take their craft very seriously and have pushed some boundaries in brewing.
On the way out, a little hazed (speaking of, the Peach Haze is another great summer libation), it would be rude not to pick up a six-pack of some of the beer that has been thoroughly enjoyed. It was a struggle to carry it all.
Over all, the entire Empire experience was a thoroughly enjoyable one.
Empire Farm Brewery in Cazenovia, NY. on Saturday, September 23, 2017. Photographs by Gina Gayle