While the Ontario side of the Niagara region may get a lot of the spotlight when it comes to food and drink, New York’s Niagara County is developing its own "spirited" culture. The area is home to a network of local entrepreneurs working to create a unique trail that includes everything from wine and beer to mead, cider and boozy ice cream.
One thing you’ll notice as you sample the region’s offerings is that the makers behind this creativity are very hands-on and community-driven. Largely small, locally owned operations, these businesses give off a welcoming and unpretentious vibe – book that designated driver and head out to visit them all.
Citrusy New England brews in Lewiston
Just a short jaunt up the road from Niagara Falls is Lewiston, a small town with heaps of historic charm. It’s here that you’ll find Brickyard Brewing Company, a two-story brewhouse nestled along downtown’s main street. The place is a buzzing meeting spot (especially when the Buffalo Bills are playing) and serves up a varied menu of house-made and local taps. You’ll find creative suds inspired by everything from blueberries to gelato, but don’t miss their White Bronco, a New England IPA that keeps people coming back for more.
Wine pairings near Olcott
Strolling into Black Willow Winery and Meadery feels like you just walked into your favorite eclectic aunt’s living room. This stop on the Niagara Wine Trail specializes in tasty food pairings, offering local Amish cheeses and gourmet chocolates. Of their wine selections, house favorites include the Trilogy signature blends (both white and red) and the Estate Diamond. Black Willow was also one of the first mead makers in the Niagara region, and its meads, made from fermented wildflower honey, range from dry to sweet. Tastings run $15 apiece and include food pairings.
Boozy frozen custard in Barker
If you need a break from your standard drink tastings, head to In the Mix Brewery and Creamery for a taste of their beer- and wine-infused frozen custard. The custards are made with 50% beer and 33% wine; custard flights are available for the indecisive. In the Mix also offers their own brews on tap and is well regarded for their burgers, should you be looking for something a little more substantial to eat.
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Award-winning ice wine in Burt
Ask anyone about wine in Niagara County and Schulze Winery will inevitably come up in conversation. This respected wine producer is a family affair inspired by the wines of Germany (Mr. Schulze's native land), and they take much pride in their 27 acres of grapes, which are home to nine different varieties.
Schulze is known for its sparkling wines made from their unique Seigfried hybrid grape, and their ice wines, a regional specialty. Ice wines are sweet dessert wines made from grapes that have been frozen on the vine; normally found in Ontario and New York’s Finger Lakes, Niagara is now taking their piece of the ice wine pie. Tastings here are a great value – four tastes for $4.
Fresh lakeside cider in Barker
Niagara County is located along the regional “Fruit Belt,” producing some of the northeast’s tastiest grapes, cherries and apples. And where there are apples, you’re likely to find cider of both alcoholic and non-alcoholic varieties. Cider lovers would be remiss to skip Blackbird Cider Works – situated right on the shore of Lake Ontario, this cozy cidery offers creative takes on one of the region’s favorite drinks using the apples grown right in their backyard.
Available ciders range from dry to sweet and feature unusual twists: try their White Hurricane, a medium-dry variety aged in local gin barrels. A standard tasting will run you $5 for four samples. If you happen to miss Blackbird in Niagara, don’t despair – they also have a tasting room in Buffalo.
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Wine and beer at a farmstay in Gasport
Finally, someone has made a pumpkin patch that's equally fun for adults and kids. Becker Farms does it all, and does it well. This family-run country compound began with their winery, eventually adding a brewery to keep beer enthusiasts happy after a day of wine tasting; parents can kick back and listen to live music while kiddos explore the expansive pumpkin adventure area and petting zoo. Becker Farms also has a small collection of cozy cottages where you can spend the night under the stars, a highly recommended option after a long afternoon of touring the county.
Meddling with meads in Medina
Mead fans can really go wild at 810 Meadworks, indulging in creative takes on the ancient tipple – the mead selection is extensive, ranging from classic flavors to raspberry, ginger and mesquite, orange and cinnamon, the list goes on! 810 offers charcuterie-style snacks as well as chocolate pairings for tastings, and it’s home to a "Beegarten" that hosts live music and has axe throwing lanes (because why not?).
Bailey Freeman traveled to the Niagara region with support from Niagara Falls USA. Lonely Planet contributors do not accept freebies in exchange for positive coverage.