Drive north on route 14 out of Watkins Glen and you climb high on the west side of Seneca Lake, through a serene countryside flanked by beautiful vineyards and wonderful views of the lake. At every vista you fight the urge to pull over and load up your cell phone with photos that would never really convey the experience, no matter how many you take. Best to just be there.
Cindy gazes out the window at passing grapevines, the landscape and Seneca Lake beyond as I ramble on about how we should just open a brewpub or something and make a living enjoying what we love to do: make beer, grow things and enjoy nature and life.
“It’s just another mile ahead, on the right,” she says, glancing down at the map on her iPhone.
Briefly silenced I pay attention to the road ahead and ponder the idea of operating a brewery or brewpub. Even if we found the funding could we really run a business like that? Dunno. For now we’ll just stick to exploring our fair land for cool places to find cool beer.
On this road trip we have our course set on Climbing Bines Hop Farm which, though not a brew pub, also happens to be a craft ale brewery. The farm is located about halfway up the west side of Seneca Lake near Dresden, NY. A beautiful drive, as I mentioned.
We swing right onto Hanson Point Road, a loose gravel arrangement that conjures images of the Duke boys skidding away in the General Lee kicking up a wake of dust.
Instead of turning left into the parking lot of Climbing Bines we follow the winding road down to the lake shore and take a slow drive behind lakefront homes, not far at all from the waters edge. Boats bob in the lazy afternoon sun, lashed to docks and waiting for their owners to take them on one last spin before dusk. Or maybe one last spin after dusk.
The road dead ends so we turn back. As we make our way back toward the hop farm we round an uphill curve and I goose the accelerator, sans “yeehaw,” whipping up a brief dust cloud as we rumble up the slope.
Gripping the handle on the passenger side A-pillar to steady herself Cindy remarks, “Nice. You may want to slow down though because the entrance is right up there.”
The Hop Farm on Seneca Lake
I made a quick turn passed the large stacked-stone cairn into the lot at Climbing Bines, found a spot to park and we headed in for a look. It was a bit slow during our visit but that worked out well because we had a chance to talk with Chris Hansen, hop farmer, co-owner and co-brewer at Climbing Bines Craft Ale & Hop Farm.
Friendly and enthusiastic, Chris told us the story of their business. He along with homebrewer friend Brian Karweck and others started the larger hop farm in 2009 after a couple of years growing a smaller garden outside of his grandfather’s old tractor shed. Initially they used their hops for homebrewing but as their knowledge of hops and brewing grew, so did the hop garden.
The farm eventually grew to include 7 varieties of aroma and high alpha acid hops — Cascade, Centennial, Chinook, Goldings, Magnum, Nugget and Willamette — with almost 1500 hills on 1.5 acres of the same property where the shed stands, high on the shore of Seneca Lake.
Craft Ale Brewery
In August of 2013 the growers and homebrewers of Climbing Bines officially opened a 3.5bbl brew house and tasting room in that old shed. They use seven 7bbl fermenters and two 7bbl bright tanks to condition their ales before kegging and getting them on tap. Chris mentioned that they are hoping to expand to a 10 bbl brewing system within the next year or two.
Climbing Bines craft ales feature most of the estate grown hops mentioned above. Originally their beers were made with 100% estate grown hops, though due to increased demand and production they have recently had to source out hops from other local producers.
Rest assured, if not from the estate, all additional hops are sourced from farms in the local area. Climbing Bines also sources barley, wheat and rye from local growers and malting houses. Chris commented that the cost of producing their craft ales with local sources is substantially higher than it would be if they used mass-produced ingredients from larger companies but Climbing Bines is determined to keep their business local.
Bartender Eden poured us a sampling of brews including their Tart Cherry, Hefeweizen, Dunkelweizen, Amber, Pale, Brown and India Pale Ales — all of which are spot on per style, very well balanced and delicious — then Cindy and I headed out to the farm to walk around.
Visitors can walk among the bines, enjoy the property, take in views of the lake and load up their cell phones with pics like we did, then head back to the covered patio to sample some great tasting brews. Between sips you can enjoy a cornhole game, or just relax and enjoy the day.
The unique Climbing Bine tap handles, which are sort of mash-paddle-shaped, are adorned with very cool pyrographic art created by Jesse Georgia. You can see the tap handles and more of his work at JGeorgia.com.
Check out the stacked stones which you’ll find all around the property, mostly standing on the support line posts at the end of each row of hop bines. Reminiscent of the Inuksuit we saw during our trip through The Muskokas in Ontario last year.
A great selection of Climbing Bines t-shirts, hats, frisbees and stickers are available to help you spread the word about this cool little hop farm. Cindy got a nice long sleeve Tee and I picked up a sticker to add to the growing collection of brewery stickers on my guitar case.
Climbing Bines gets the Road Trips and Brew Pubs thumbs up as a unique and interesting experience and a great place to enjoy some great tasting craft brewed ales.