HOME BLOG BACKBAR JUKEBOX ABOUT US CONTACT US AD INFO FREE SUBSCRIPTION
COCKTAILS
     A GREAT CLIPPER SAILS ON SENECA LAKE white logo
STORY AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY CHRIS POH

A lone Osprey glides above the gently sloping vineyards as the early morning mist places its sweet moist kiss on the skin of the Riesling, Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc. The scene could be the Bordeaux region of France or California’s much touted Napa Valley, but instead we are less than a two hour ride north of the anthracite coal deposits around the city of Scranton, Pennsylvania. This setting, which seems like it could only exist in the dreamscape of a viticulturist, is in fact repeated many times over in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York. And here, like so many other areas of the country which are blessed with an abundance of character and natural beauty, provincial pride impacts the local parlance. I recall the gauntlet being thrown down by the gentleman who was conducting our tasting at the Bully Hill Winery a few years back when he emphatically stated, “Napa makes auto parts - the Finger Lakes make wine.”



Wagner Vinyard in Lodi, New York as seen in American Public House Review
WAGNER VINEYARD IN LODI, NEW YORK





Morning over the Finger Lakes in Lodi, New York as seen in American Public House Review
MORNING OVER THE FINGER LAKES




While I fully appreciate the merits of the grape, my first choice is always the juice of the barley. So imagine my delight in discovering a winery that also handcrafts remarkable beer. WAGNER VINEYARDS is one of the oldest wineries in the region, and in 1997 they were at the vanguard of vineyards entering into America’s micro brewing industry. Today, there are still only a handful of vintners scattered throughout the United States that have embraced the grain, as well as the grape.


Brent Wojnowski, the Brewmaster at Wagner Vinyards in Lodi, NY  as seen in American Public House Review
 Brent Wojnowski is the head brewer at Wagner


From their rustic brew house and tasting room overlooking the tranquil waters of Seneca Lake, the team at Wagner handcraft a variety of inspired recipes that utilize local agricultural products, and incorporate both the European and English styles into their uniquely American approach to beer. Their products have earned countless accolades and high praise from both their customers and industry experts. Lew Bryson, author and the managing editor of the Malt Advocate, had this to say after naming Wagner’s IPA the Best New York Beer for 2003, “Damnation bracing hop power, svelte malt strength, and coolly refreshing.” He and I had come to a similar conclusion at about the same time, the only difference being my acclaim for this classic pale ale extended well beyond the borders of New York State. Here was a world-class recipe that rivaled my long lost and much lamented first true beer love – the Ballantine India Pale Ale.

 
Wagner Valley IPA from Wagner Vinyards in Lodi, New York
Ballantine Ale as seen in American Public House Review
THE AUTHOR CONTENDS THAT HIS ALL TIME FAVORITE INDIA PALE ALE WAS THE NOW EXTINCT BALLANTINE IPA. THE CONCENTRATION OF HOPS, THE CONDITIONING IN WOOD BARRELS, AND THE ATTENTION TO DETAIL WAS UNPRECEDENTED AND UNMATCHED BY ANY LARGE SCALE PRODUCER AND RARELY EVEN BY ANY BOUTIQUE BREWER. CERTAINLY, THE WAGNER IPA IS IN THE RUNNING FOR HIS NEW ALL TIME FAVORITE.


Since the 1983 demise of that well hopped heavyweight, (60 IBUs during its prime recipe years}), I’ve been on a personal quest for the next great IPA. Thankfully, we live in a time when so many American brewers are emulating the style and techniques of those early masters of the craft that filled the holds of English merchantmen with the clear copper colored elixir. As with all great accomplishments in history there is always a bit of controversy as to who did what and when, and it becomes difficult to discern where the facts end and the legends begin. What we do know to be true is that the British Admiralty was determined to deliver a proper ration of beer to those brave lads that served the interests of the Crown in the Empire’s remote colonial outposts.

Prior to modern refrigeration and the discovery of Pasteurization, there was no practical method to keep beer from spoiling during extended voyages in equatorial waters. During the last quarter of the eighteenth century attempts were made to complete the brewing process while onboard ship. Sailors would add water, spruce and some additional yeast to a wort concentrate with the hope of reconstituting and reviving the spirit to its original vitality. Unfortunately, this grand experiment yielded only a few minor successes in temperate climates, and in tropical areas the results were even less promising. Then, around 1790 events occurred that would eventually make it possible for Brits serving from the Khyber Pass to the Kalahari to keep their tankards filled with something a bit more robust and refreshing than your standard London Porter.

By some accounts George Hodgson, the proprietor and brewer at London’s Bow Brewery reformulated his popular autumn ale recipe with additional hops and alcohol content in order to construct a beer that would survive the rigors of the passage to India, thus being credited as the creator of IPA. Although he certainly impacted the development and export of pale ale, there is little evidence to support this oft repeated and accepted bit of beer lore. His early dominance of the trade can for the most part be attributed to location, luck and liberality.

Hodgson offered exceedingly generous terms of credit to the captains that were chartered by the East India Company, and since his brewery was in close proximity to the company’s docks, it was simply a matter of good business sense to buy your beer from Bow. As it turned it out, one of those beers, the October ale, would arrive in India untainted by the transit. In fact the beer was better in Bombay than it was in London. For reasons that are still not fully understood, the nature of the transoceanic route proved quite favorable to that particular style of brew. A beer that normally required up to two years of maturation in English cellars was somehow transformed into a premier potable after the four to six months at sea. The October beer, now aptly marketed as Hodgson’s select Pale Ale, soon became the much vaunted darling of British expatriates in India.

This love affair would only last for about three decades. Eventually George Hodgson’s sons took over the brewery, and there aggressive business tactics, which included price fixing and an attempt to ship their products themselves, did not lay well with those whose fortunes were tied to the wellbeing of the East India Company. In 1822 the company’s court of directors made a proposal to Samuel Allsopp, a Burton-on-Trent brewer, that he formulate a product similar to Hodgson’s pale ale. The resulting brew turned out to be superior in quality because of the calcium sulfates (gypsum) found in the surrounding waters. The effect of this mineral profile was to produce a well balanced beer that had struck a far more harmonious relationship with the hop. In short order a number of other Burton brewers got on board with their own versions of the recipe, and soon Hodgson’s once well traveled and illustrious pale ale was sailing into obscurity.

During my last visit to WAGNER, after completing another pleasurable tasting conducted by Tour/Taste Guide Eric Bishop, myself and David McBride adjourned, with pints of IPA in hand, to the brewery’s spacious rear deck. As I looked out over the fog shrouded waters, I could almost see the great clipper approaching the shoreline, its hold filled with casks of the Wagner Valley IPA. Here was an ale that could sustain one through life’s arduous voyage – and an ale that would enrich ones experience in any port of call!



Brewery deck at Wagner Vinyards in Lodi, New York as seen in American Public House Review
BREWERY DECK AT WAGNER VINEYARDS



Photograph by K Reynolds   
Restaurant at Wagner Vinyards in Lodi, New York as seen in American Public House Review
THE GINNY LEE CAFE


Tasting Room at Wagner Valley Brewing ion Lodi, New York as seen in American Public House Review
THE BEER TASTING ROOM


East Indiamen in a Gale by Charles Brooking 1759 as seen in American Public House Review
EAST INDIAMEN IN A GALE BY CHARLES BROOKING 1759


Growler from Wagner Valley Brewing in Lodi, New York as seen in American Public House Review
A GROWLER OF THE GOOD STUFF


Eric Bishop of Wagner Valley Brewing in Lodi, New York as seen in American Public House Review
TOUR/TASTE GUIDE ERIC BISHOP





Tasting Room at Wagner Valley Brewing in Lodi, New York as seen in American Public House Review
tasting room


WAGNER VINEYARDS

AND WAGNER VALLEY BREWING



9322 STATE ROUTE 414

LODI, NEW YORK 14860

866-924-6378


www.wagnervineyards.com/wagnerbrewery

DIRECTIONS

AMERICAN PUBLIC HOUSE REVIEW text, images, and music © All rights reserved. 
All content is subject to U.S. and international copyright laws. Email: ed.petersen@americanpublichousereview.com for permission before use.

HOME BLOG BACKBAR JUKEBOX ABOUT US CONTACT US AD INFO FREE SUBSCRIPTION
COCKTAILS