“Matt Sherman at Stump City, Mitch Rogers at Rogers’ Cideryard, Erik Stevens at Great Sacandaga Brewing Company, and Dave Webber at Higher Ground Distilling asked if we could have a conversation about a craft beverage trail,” said Anne Boles, Director of Tourism Development for the FMRCC. She readily agreed. “I had four pioneers who are unique in their own way and in different locations of the county who could really showcase the beauty in each part of the county.”
In 2021, the Chamber and local craft beverage makers launched the 44 Lakes Craft Beverage Trail. Not only were they able to help their own businesses grow, but they also boosted tourism to benefit the regional economy in general and created a vehicle to showcase what the region has to offer.
“The craft beverage trail has helped us as far as partnering with each other and building that strength in numbers,” Webber said, noting that the craft beverage makers carry each other’s products. “It gives us much more exposure to our clientele and an opportunity to have our products available at multiple locations.” Higher Ground Distilling Company in Mayfield is what Webber dubbed his “retirement project.”
Nick Sherman, who co-owns Stump City Brewing in Gloversville with his brother, father, and a couple of friends, likes the idea that Stump City can promote other craft beverage makers. “We get to communicate that there are other places in the county,” he said, noting that being exposed to other local craft beverages at his brewery increases the possibility that a customer would visit another distillery, brewery, cideryard, or winery, making it a win-win scenario for all craft beverage makers.
The craft beverage trail establishments team up when they combine their own products with others’ to create a variety of innovative specialty cocktails, giving customers a chance to sample what else is available in the area.
Boles points out that each craft beverage establishment on the trail has its own unique offerings. For example, Stump City distinguishes itself by using floor-malted grain, an older, more artisanal method of malting the grains, in its beers. Great Sacandaga Brewing Company gives people that quintessential Adirondack feel the minute they walk into the taproom with its décor, including an elk’s head mounted on the wall, a fireplace, and a bar decorated with tree trunk rounds from trees Stevens felled on the property. KBC Beer in Mayfield focuses on Belgian-inspired and red ales, and Eisenadler Brauhaus in Palatine Bridge specializes in Bavarian-style brews. Higher Ground offers whiskey, bourbon, and moonshine and is the only Fulton County distiller on the trail. Erie Canal Distillers in Fort Plain uses 100 percent locally grown ingredients in its spirits and is the trail’s only Montgomery County distiller. Hummingbird Hills Winery, the sole winery on the trail, differentiates itself by using only fruits grown on its own farm in Fultonville or other farms in Montgomery County.
CRAFT BEVERAGE MAKERS AS ECONOMIC DRIVERS
Craft beverage makers have bettered the communities in which they operate when they pursued their own passions to bring fine craft beverages to Fulton and Montgomery Counties. Several built from scratch or upgraded existing structures to house their establishments.
For example, the Shermans cleared land and constructed a building which now houses their brewery and taproom. Remodeling an existing structure on the property owned by his daughter, owner of Zippy’s Ice Cream, was easy for Webber, a U.S. Air Force veteran who used to own his own construction company. Stevens, a career U.S. Army veteran and electrician, purchased an older, vacant building in his hometown of Broadalbin and completely remodeled it, stripping it down to the studs. He opened Great Sacandaga Brewing Company as a means to give back to the community and offer a service that did not yet exist in his hometown. He has been excited to see the economy turn around with new businesses opening up. “The economy will continue to develop around us, and we can grow right along with it,” he said.
The newly created 44 Lakes Craft Beverage Trail
is a prime example of how the Fulton Montgomery Regional Chamber of Commerce (FMRCC) partners with area business owners to drive tourism, foster inter-business collaboration and growth, and build the area’s economy.
In the case of Rogers’ Cideryard in Johnstown, Mitch Rogers ensured that the family business would continue to grow when he founded a hard cidery five years ago as a companion business to Rogers Family Orchards, which was founded by his father. In addition to traditional apple hard cider, he makes ginger, strawberry-jalapeño, blueberry, and peach ciders. At the cideryard, customers can also enjoy a menu of rotating appetizers and entrées, including Rogers’ own pork hotdogs with homemade meat sauce, adding another healthy business to Fulton County’s economy.
The trail has been a great success thus far. “We’re communicating a lot better, we’re informed, we trade products, and we promote each other,” Sherman said. The trail’s success in its inaugural year led to its expansion into neighboring Montgomery County in 2022.
In addition to boosting the economy, the trail adds to the counties’ leisure offerings. Customers can not only sample locally made craft beverages, but also enjoy a bite to eat and, at several places, some music too. Boles notes that the craft beverage trail pairs well with another tourism draw, the Fulton County Tourism Department’s Fulton County Five Hiking Challenge (www.44lakes.com/fulton-county-5-hiking-challenge/) that also started in 2021. After completing a trek, hikers can stop for refreshment at one or more of the establishments on the craft beverage trail.