Smuggs and Stowe Aren’t Just for the Winter

After a very, very busy July and August, Cody and I finally got around to a summer vacation in September. We chose Vermont after an afternoon of research on the couch last spring. Our first choice was one of the state parks within Groton State Forest, but they didn’t have as many camping options as we were looking for.

That led us to Smugglers’ Notch State Park a little further north. The Park is surrounded by ski trails and the mountains are dotted with luxury lodges. It’s obvious how ingrained skiing is in the culture here. Finding travel guides written about visiting in the summer proved challenging.

What ended up being so nice about Smugglers’ Notch was how close it was to Stowe. We could hike and cook breakfast over a fire, but also go out for pizza and get coffee in the morning.

We packed a lot into a long weekend, especially considering we slept 10 hours a night and never managed to leave our campsite for the days’ activities before 11.

Day 1: Road Tripping to Stowe

We spent Wednesday night at Green Lakes State Park, both because we had never been and it would get us 2 hours closer to our final destination. After a walk around Green Lake Thursday morning, we got in the car, ready for the 5 ish hour drive to Smugglers’ Notch. Most of the trip was through the southern end of the Adirondack Mountains, making for a much prettier, more interesting drive than, say, the 7 hours on the NYS Thruway/Mass Turnpike it takes to get to Boston.

You emerge from the mountains just in time to cross the New York/Vermont state line over Lake Champlain and are immediately in the prettiest farmland I’ve ever seen. We drove toward the Green Mountains, taking in the view and coming up with a game plan for setting up and getting dinner.

Our campsite was tucked back into the woods, making it feel like we were much more remote than we really were. The one downside to this was how early it got dark in the trees, but it was nice to sit around a fire every night and just listen to the sounds around us. We set up the tent, blew up the air mattress (priorities…) and took quick showers before heading into Stowe for dinner.

After three days of showers in the coin-operated Smugglers’ Notch showers, I think I’m 100% on board with the idea that a campsite should charge for hot, high pressured showers, instead of provide free lukewarm showers that don’t have enough pressure to even get the shampoo out of your hair.

Another thing I really enjoyed about the Park was how attentive the rangers were. They were easy to find if you had questions and even stopped by our campsite to see if we needed anything or were looking for trail recommendations. We ended up with extra tomatoes from the camp volunteer’s garden too, which were delicious.

We did a little bit of restaurant research before leaving for the trip, and decided Piecasso was worth checking out. Like most Stowe restaurants, they have a draft list filled with local craft brews and try to source their ingredients from local farms and producers.

Sunset, Stowe, VT

Piecasso, Stowe, VT

It was just the right temperature to sit on the patio for the last few minutes of the sunset. Our pizza was delicious, as were our beers (Zero Gravity Strawberry Moon for me and Burlington Beer Company and Lost Nation’s Mosaic IPAs for Cody). We headed back to our site tired and full, but excited to explore more of the park and Stowe.

Day 2: Exploring Smugglers’ Notch State Park

We chose to explore the park on Friday instead of Saturday hoping to avoid some of the weekend crowds. We started with Bingham Falls, which is a short trail right outside the campground that leads to a series of waterfalls and crystal-clear pools, perfect for swimming if you don’t mind water so cold you can’t feel your legs. It wasn’t warm enough to stay all day, and we wanted to cook lunch and have plenty of time for another hike.

Bingham Falls, Smugglers' Notch State Park, VT

Our next destination was Sterling Pond. To get there, we drove through the Notch along Scenic Route 108, which was equal parts amazing and terrifying. I didn’t take a single picture during our drive because I was too distracted by the view and the blind turns. As you drive between Mt. Mansfield on one side and Spruce Peak on the other, you can definitely see how goods were smuggled though this pass before it was widened and paved for the enjoyment of nature enthusiasts. At the higher altitudes of the Notch, the leaves are beginning to change colors, hinting at how gorgeous this drive becomes each fall.

The trail to Sterling Pond from the Notch is pretty much straight up the side of Spruce Peak, but the view at the top is worth it. The trail connects to Long Trail, which reaches across the entire state from North to South. We could have reached the Pond exclusively on the Long Trail for a much more gradual hike, but it would have made for a much longer round trip than we were planning on.

Sterling Pond, Smugglers' Notch State Park, VT

Sterling Pond, Smugglers' Notch State Park, VT

We caught our breath taking in the deep blue water and watching two friendly ducks go about their afternoon. There’s a trail around the pond as well, which, if we started earlier in the day, we may have done. Instead, we headed down to continue our drive along Vermont Scenic Route 108.

On our way back to the campground, we stopped at Barnes Camp Visitor Center and walked along the boardwalk there, which winds through a wetland created by busy beavers. We were lucky enough to see a few of these beavers going about their day against the dramatic view of the Notch.

Boardwalk, Smugglers' Notch State Park, VT

We had grand plans of taking in part of the Stowe Jazz Fest after dinner, but that never happened. Instead, we got another 10 hours of sleep, which felt way better.

Day 3: Drinking Our Way Through the Green Mountains

Vermont feels almost synonymous with craft beer. Stowe and nearby Morrisville have more than enough breweries to fill a day with. However, we started at Black Cap Coffee (which actually also sells craft beer, although you can’t drink it in the shop).

We brought our bikes with us to Vermont and until this point, all they had done was sit in the truck bed. We finally put them to good use on the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail. This trail runs across the state in two long sections, one of which conveniently goes directly behind Lost Nation Brewing.

Lost Nation Brewing

After a short ride, we were ready to find a new favorite beer or two. We took a seat on the covered patio at Lost Nation among bikers much more serious than us and ordered a pint each. My blueberry gose, The Wind Blue, was delicious.

Lost Nation Brewing, Morrisville, VT

Lost Nation Brewing, Morrisville, VT

Lost Nation Brewing, Morrisville, VT

Our one complaint was how refined the food was. Maybe it’s because every brewery in Buffalo has chicken wings and pretzels on the menu, but we were looking for a snack to tide us over and nothing on the apps menu was calling our names.

Ten Bends Beer

We weren’t originally going to stop here because it seemed out of the way, but we realized it was only five minutes from Lost Nation! The location would remind Buffalonians of 12 Gates; Ten Bends shares a building with a reuse store and has picnic tables in the parking lot. Just like our first trip to 12 Gates, we drove right by the brewery before realizing we went too far down Main Street.

The beer list was small but impressive, there was a dog to pet when we walked in, and the bartender had really good suggestions. Cody and I split a flight, considering we still had a lot of stops and the nearest Lyft was in Burlington. I was recommended the Cream Puff War because, despite its IPA style and 8.3% ABV, it was fruitier and less bitter than the blonde ale. The iteration on tap when we stopped was peachy, which I loved.

Ten Bends Beer, Hyde Park, VT

Rock Art Brewery

Rock Art only offers pints once a week, so we settled for a tasting of each of the brewery’s beers. Nothing here was super impressive, but I do have to say they get points for creativity.

Idletyme Brewing Company

We headed back to Stowe, very ready for lunch. Idletyme was more restaurant than brewery, but the food was delicious and the biergarden was exactly what I wanted a Vermont brewery’s outdoor space to be, filled with flowers, tomatoes and hops.

I tried both the Danube and Pink N’ Pale before settling on the later, a grapefruit-infused American-style pale ale. After lunch we sat in the sun in Adirondack chairs before heading off to our next stop.

Idletyme Brewing Co, Stowe, VT

The Alchemist

Cody was more excited for this tap room than I was because of The Alchemist’s reputation for their IPAs. (Heady Topper anyone?) This was another brewery that only offered samples, but it wasn’t stopping people from walking out with dozens of cans.

The Alchemist, Stowe, VT

Because of Jazz Fest, the grounds and tasting room were packed, but the atmosphere was great and views were amazing. We walked through the vendors before heading back to the car.

von Trapp Brewery

We weren’t really planning on having time to make it to the von Trapp Brewery, but because we didn’t order pints at very many places, we still had plenty of time before the sun went down. I ordered an Oktoberfest Lager and we grabbed a picnic table with an amazing view of the mountains and sinking sun. While this beer wasn’t our favorite, the weather was perfect and there was a cozy buzz of conversation around us.

von Trapp Brewing, Stowe, VT

Hindsight is 20/20. If we were to do it again, I think we’d start at the von Trapp Brewery and then head to Idletyme for lunch. Next would be Ten Bends, and then we’d bike before hanging out at Lost Nation for the afternoon. The tastings at Rock Art and The Alchemist weren’t really worth the stop, considering we didn’t buy any cans.

Lost Nation was by far our favorite. They had a great mix of beers and a relaxed, not too busy atmosphere. Because it was our first stop and we were getting a little hungry, we only had one drink here. It set the bar really high, but no one else quite lived up to that expectation.

Stowe Ice Cream

Nothing like fueling your body with a dinner of ice cream after a day filled with beer… But hey, we were on vacation. The homemade ice cream at Stowe Ice Cream is delicious, and the view of Main Street from their Adirondack chairs is darling.

Stowe Ice Cream, Stowe, VT

Saturday night was another low key evening. We burned the rest of our wood, showered and put on enough layers to sleep through the 40° night. Sunday morning we packed up and hit the road for the 7 hour drive back to Buffalo.

This four day trip was exactly what I needed after a summer of constant motion. It felt so good to catch up on sleep and start our day at 11 am instead of 6. I was worried we wouldn’t have enough to keep us busy in Stowe and the State Park, but I don’t think we even scratched the surface. That just means we’ll have to go back someday, hopefully soon!

No Bad Choice at Ellicottville’s Steelbound Brewing

After a weekend of camping at Allegany State Park with Cody’s family, we stopped at the new Steelbound Brewery on our way through Ellicottville. Camping with the Jones clan means almost constant eating, so we were not hungry for a meal, although everything coming from the kitchen looked great.

Steelbound Brewery, Ellicottville, NY

Taps at Steelbound Brewery, Ellicottville, NY

We ordered two flights, mixing and matching Steelbound’s huge draft list. Cody went with 8 IPAs (which wasn’t even all the IPAs on the list) and I went for a more eclectic combination. I enjoyed everything, from the Blueballs (their much, much juicier answer to ECB’s Blueberry Wheat with 600 pounds of blueberry in every batch) to the Fat Porter.

Flight at Steelbound Brewery, Ellicottville, NY

Flight at Steelbound Brewery, Ellicottville, NY

For a new brewery (they opened in May of 2018), these guys have very impressive beer and a huge distribution network. They’re really embracing their tagline (“Where Buffalo meets Ellicottville”) with lots of Bills references and a big presence at this year’s Buffalo Beer Week.

If you’re heading to Ellicottville for Fall Fest, doing some last minute camping or hitting the slopes this winter, it’s definitely worth stopping at Steelbound!

LyonSmith Brewing Co. is an English-Style Hidden Gem

Walk in to any number of upstate New York breweries and you’ll be greeted by exposed brick and unfiltered IPAs in chic industrial spaces. When Paige and I wandered into LyonSmith Brewing Co. while walking down Penn Yan’s Water Street on an overcast May day, it felt different.

There’s still exposed brick and the beer is tasty, but LyonSmith really feels like the small, family-owned business it is. The bartender’s dog greeted us as we walked in the door and toys for the kids were within arms reach.

Water Street | Penn Yan, NY

LyonSmith Brewing Co. | Penn Yan, NY

Paige and I split a tasting (8 tastes for $10), which was more than enough considering we were on our way to the grocery store. If you’re spending an afternoon between LyonSmith and Water Street Wine Bar next door, have one all to yourself.

All the beer is English-style here, which I didn’t (and still don’t, despite the bartender’s best efforts) know a lot about, and is named after people, places and events from England’s history.

I loved the absence of really bitter, hoppy pale ales. There was not a single beer that I wouldn’t drink a pint of. My personal favorites were the Harvest Apple Graff, which tasted like apple juice, and the very cinnamon-y Stingy Jack’s Puimcin Ale.

LyonSmith Brewing Co. | Penn Yan, NY

LyonSmith Brewing Co. | Penn Yan, NY

I’m not the only one impressed by the beers here. LyonSmith took home a gold medal in the strong ales category for their Rylie Pale Ale at the 2016 Tap-NY festival.

The decor reflected the English-style beer, with US vs UK darts, foosball and a map that invited visitors to let everyone know how far they had traveled for a taste of LyonSmith’s brews. I probably won’t be in Penn Yan on a Thursday any time soon, but there’s a board game night every Thursday and outside food is welcome, which I think sounds pretty fun!

LyonSmith Brewing Co. | Penn Yan, NY

LyonSmith Brewing Co. | Penn Yan, NY

If you’re looking for Instagramable spaces with trendy beers, skip this stop on your Finger Lakes brewery tour. But if you want to spend your time drinking something a little different, I recommend trying LyonSmith Brewing Co. I know I’ll be heading back this summer for a taste of their warm-weather seasonals!

Quick Trip: 24 Hours in Rochester, NY

How many things can you fit into a single day in Rochester? A lot.

My friend Mary lives in Rochester, and while it’s not far, we’ve spent months trying to find a few days that we were both free. When we found a full 24 hours without work, family obligations or weekend trips we already had scheduled, we jumped into full planning mode.

I picked a few places on my Rochester bucket list (almost all involving either coffee or beer) and Mary put together a perfectly designed itinerary. She also instructed her poor boyfriend not to eat or drink anything we ordered until I was done photographing it.

First up was dessert before dinner at Scratch Bakeshop‘s new location in the Neighborhood of the Arts. Just like the other small businesses in this stretch between University and Atlantic Avenues, Scratch has the cutest decor, high quality products and a friendly vibe. We opted for a mix of desserts, including vegan options, which were amazing!

24 Hours in Rochester, NY | Scratch Bakeshop | Neighborhood of the Arts

24 Hours in Rochester, NY | Scratch Bakeshop | Neighborhood of the Arts

It wasn’t on the original schedule, but Three Heads Brewing is literally across the street from Scratch, so… we stopped in for a flight before dinner.

24 Hours in Rochester, NY | Three Heads Brewing | Neighborhood of the Arts

For dinner, we headed downtown to try Fifth Frame Brewing Co.,a brewery and roastery that opened last fall. Who knew that beer and an egg sandwich would taste so good at 8 pm? Actually the welcoming staff at Fifth Frame know this; “comfort food with unwarranted but welcomed riffs” is what they’re all about. Their Half & Half, an espresso oat stout, was amazing.

24 Hours in Rochester, NY | Fifth Frame Brewing, Co.

After dinner and drinks, we headed to Mary’s to watch dramatic TV shows and get a good night of sleep.

The next morning, we bundled up to venture to Turning Point Park and walk off some of the giant cookie and cake slice we consumed the day before. The boardwalk over the water was so pretty, if wind-whipped. We didn’t make it far, but I’ll definitely be back in warmer weather!

24 Hours in Rochester, NY | Turning Point Park

After our minimal exercise, we needed coffee, so off to Glen Edith Coffee Roaster‘s Park Ave Neighborhood location we went. There were way more people doing homework than I would have expected for a Saturday afternoon, but the cozy, quiet vibe was great. As was the coffee, of course.

24 Hours in Rochester, NY | Glen Edith Coffee Roasters | Park Ave. Neighborhood

24 Hours in Rochester, NY | Glen Edith Coffee Roasters | Park Ave. Neighborhood

Our last stop was the Rochester Public Market, which was surprisingly busy for a cold February Saturday. I can’t imagine how crazy this place gets on nice summer days. There was lots of fresh produce at really good prices and I was impressed with the number of fish and meat vendors as well!

24 Hours in Rochester, NY | Public Market

24 Hours in Rochester, NY | Public Market

24 Hours in Rochester, NY | Public Market

The newer buildings make it obvious that this market is a big piece of Rochester’s plan for the future, and they compliment the shops that hint at the age of the Public Market. It’s been operating in its current location since 1905.

Although my trip was short, I really enjoyed everything we were able to fit in. Thanks for hosting Mary! I’ll be back in warmer weather to try more coffee, more beer, more hikes and other items on my bucket list.

3 Buffalo Beers to Try this Fall

Fall is such a delicious time of year, and the seasonal beers from local breweries are no exception. Apple, cinnamon and pumpkin make for a great addition to the bar as well as the dessert table.

If you’re looking for a new Buffalo beer to try this fall, check out these 3 tasty brews:

3 Buffalo Beers to Try this Fall | Southern Tier Brewing Co. Cold Press Coffee Pumking

1. Southern Tier Brewing Co. Cold Press Coffee Pumking

STBC’s Pumking is a autumn staple. Last year I enjoyed Rum Barrel Aged Pumking, so this fall I tried the cold press coffee variation of the beer. The cold press coffee and pumpkin spice mix to create what pretty much tastes like a pumpkin spice latte in beer form. What’s not to love?

3 Buffalo Beers to Try this Fall | Big Ditch Cinnamon Apple Amber Ale

2. Big Ditch Cinnamon Apple Amber Ale

Big Ditch seasonals are always delicious, and this fall’s Cinnamon Apple Amber Ale is no exception. You have to like cinnamon and allspice to enjoy this beer, because it is seriously spiced. It’s also not as sweet as you might expect from a beer made with local apple cider, which I enjoyed. If you’re looking for fall in a can (yep, it comes in a can!), look no further.

3 Buffalo Beers to Try this Fall | Hamburg Brewing Company 550 Game Time

3 Buffalo Beers to Try this Fall | Hamburg Brewing Company 550 Game Time

3. Hamburg Brewing Company 550 Game Time

Fall wouldn’t be the same without listening to the Bills’ game on WGR on Sunday. Hamburg Brewing Company captured all those game day vibes in their American Pale Ale, 550 Game Time. This is nothing fancy, but neither is Buffalo, and I thought this tasted pretty good!

Cheers to the Weekend at 12 Gates Brewing Company

I’m not going to lie, when Google Maps told Cody and I we had arrived at 12 Gates Brewing Company, I thought Google was experiencing a glitch. That was the only reason I could think of that would explain why we were looking at the entrance of an industrial complex just minutes from the Buffalo Airport. After double checking the address with the brewery website, we turned into the parking lot and followed the signs to the back of the complex, where the brewery did in fact await us.

Cody and I were looking for a new brewery to try without driving to the Southtowns on a Friday afternoon (we still need to check out Hamburg and 42 North, but this wasn’t the day). 12 Gates fit the bill. It’s in Williamsville and serves a good variety of bar snacks that would tide us over until dinner with Cody’s family.

12 Gates Brewing Company | Succulents and Sunnies

After getting over our initial shock about the location and passing the door to a machine shop on our way to the tap room, we settled in with a flight and nachos inside. The bar was packed with a Friday afternoon happy hour crowd from surrounding businesses and everyone was happy to be there.

I tried the coffee porter, which was good in flight form but would likely get overwhelming in a pint. Instead, I went for the seasonal wheat, which was still the spring apricot variety. After polishing off our nachos we moved outside to enjoy the sunny day. The patio might just be a collection of picnic benches on a corner of the parking lot, but the tall wooden planters filled with hops and bright flowers help you forget that fact. There’s also corn hole and we saw four little bunnies hopping around behind the asphalt.

Because of the proximity the the airport, a plane approaches the runway every 15 minutes or so almost directly overhead. I rather enjoyed this added entertainment, but I can see it being a little bit anxiety-inducing for some.

The atmosphere, outdoor space and very nice bartender more than made up for the initial shock about the location. We thoroughly enjoyed our first trip to 12 Gates and we’ll definitely be back!