For going on six years, Jane Simos ran the Morning Brew, a coffee shop at the crossroads here in High Falls. Then a few months back she abruptly closed the place, revamped, and reopened as HopHeads Craft Beer Market & Tasting Bar, offering different brews altogether. As a beer fan, I consider this a smart move — and another sign that good beer is slowly creeping up on the gnat’s pee that’s presently the number one best-seller in the U.S. (Yes, Bud, I mean you.)
Simos’s interest in craft beers grew in the 1990s, when she was living in Colorado, where microbrews were already really popular. Simos managed a microbrewery herself, and worked at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver, so she knows her stuff. At HopHeads you’ll find about 35 small-batch breweries represented, including many from New York State. Eight coolers and racks hold bottles covering the suds spectrum from Coors Light to the dark, rich, Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout. You’ll also find ales from our local brewery, Keegan, along with those from the likes of Magic Hat, Dogfish Head, Sawtooth and Samurai.
The six beers on tap are “constantly rotating,” Simos says. “I try to keep up with the seasonals and one-time-only brews that are here today and gone tomorrow.” You can sit at the tasting bar and nibble potato chips and chorizo or currywurst while you sample. Among those we tried were Old Capital from Keegan (good and crisp); Captain Lawrence’s Kolsch; Ithaca’s 13th Anniversary brew (yeasty and assertive); and Dogfish Head’s Aprihop (very hoppy, with a hint of apricot, and so tasty that my husband was up getting a four-pack to-go before you could say Dogfish Head’s Aprihop). You can fill 64-ounce growlers to take home, too. Simos also offers sandwiches, a pasta of the day and blackboard specials as well as local charcuterie and cheeses, coffees, and Harney teas.
Central New York State was practically one big hop garden during the 1800s. (“The hop was king,” declared James Fenimore Cooper.) Sixty million pounds were harvested in 1870-something. But in the first decade of the 1900s, downy mildew killed off thousands of plants. Those that survived suffered a rampant aphid infestation, followed soon after by the strongest blight of all: Prohibition. But there’s talk of growing hops in the region again. I grew up amid the fragrant hop gardens of southeast England, so I hope it comes to pass. They’re beautiful, and the hops go to such good use, now that the microbreweries are multiplying.
“The thing with microbrews,” adds Simos, “is that there are so many to explore, and only so many you can discover in a lifetime.” So true! Let’s get on it, fellow beer-lovers!